There’s something of a shaggy dog story quality to Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), the offbeat road movie / caper film starring Clint Eastwood as Thunderbolt, an ex-thief on the run from his former partners, and Jeff Bridges as a hotshot kid who calls himself Lightfoot and decides to become this flinty veteran’s sidekick. It was the directorial debut of Michael Cimino, who wrote the original screenplay. Eastwood had initially intended to direct it himself but was impressed enough by Cimino’s work co-writing Magnum Force that he gave the young filmmaker a chance to take the helm. Cimino directs the film as a mix of character piece and lighthearted crime story with dark shadows around the edges, taking his time through the twists to hang out with his odd couple heroes.
Cimino introduces the two characters in tandem in the opening scene: Eastwood playing preacher in a rural Midwest church while Bridges (dressed in a pair of black leather pants) smiles his way into the seat of a Trans Am on a used car lot. Before the sermon is over, a gunman (George Kennedy) steps into the church and opens fire on Eastwood’s minister, who takes cover and makes his break with the calm focus of a man who is no stranger to such situations. As he runs from his would-be assassin, Lightfoot revs the engine and then takes off from the lot, leaving the salesman in a cloud of dust and confusion, and he inadvertently ends up playing getaway driver for Thunderbolt. A partnership is born of the chance meeting and Lightfoot clings to his reluctant new friend and mentor as they hit the road.
True Grit (Paramount) on DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack (with DVD and Digital Copy)
The Coen Brothers insisted that their “True Grit” was not a remake of the 1969 film that earned John Wayne his Academy Award but a faithful adaptation of the Charles Portis novel. Whether or not it’s true that they had not seen the Henry Hathaway film since they were kids, it is interesting to see how close both hew to the story and the dialogue of the Portis novel, and how the difference in the details makes the Coens’ film uniquely their vision, and the most accessible and successful (financially speaking) film of their career.
Jeff Bridges practically croaks his lines as Rooster Cogburn, a veteran manhunter, unapologetic killer and well-practiced drunk, yet for all his leathery character and wry humor of his performance, newcomer Hailee Steinfeld holds her own as the driven young Mattie Ross, a slip of a girl who armors up in the clothes of her dead father and sets out for revenge against the man who murdered him. And next to the lush mountain landscapes and daylight beauty of Hathaway’s 1969 film, the Coens offer a tougher, more scraggly frontier, often shrouded in fog and darkness.
Tron: The Original Classic (Disney) is coming back to home video after years of being on moratorium. The Blu-ray is available exclusively in the deluxe “Tron: Legacy 5-Disc 2-Movie Blu-ray Combo Pack,” but the DVD is also available separately as a two-disc special edition. The animated menu alone is more sophisticated than the then-pioneering digital effects of the 1982 original, but that’s nothing against the film, which was groundbreaking in its day in terms of effects and stiff and silly as a dramatic adventure.
In light of the “Legacy” sequel, Tron is a quaint product of its time, a visualization of computing culture before home computers, point-and-click operating systems, and cyberspace. The digital world is envisioned as a video game and the Master Control Program super-villain is HAL by way of Roman Emperor Nero, an all-powerful computer program with a God complex and a love of terminal video games. Take away the zippy motorcycles and the ethereal sailship and it’s a downright gloomy purgatory where ghostly B&W figures in incandescent suits wander a dungeon-like maze that periodically surges and cackles with electrical pulses—surely not what Disney thought they were getting into with the original video game adventure. Jeff Bridges makes for a shaggy fun video-game geek turned cyber-warrior and Bruce Boxleitner is stalwart as the good guy program Tron and nerdish as his human user/creator. Cindy Morgan and Barnard Hughes co-star as fellow video rebels and David Warner does villain duty again as the corporate shark and his cyber alter ego.
Tron: Legacy (Disney) is a videogame of a movie that is, in fact, about characters living inside a computer world that has transformed cyberlife into a despotic realm where life is a (mostly fatal) videogame and the losers of the digital bread-and-circuses are “derezed.” Garrett Hedlund is the ostensible hero, the bad-boy genius son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges’ character from the first film) who follows his missing father’s trail right into the matrix. But the real draw, outside of flashy but soulless effects, is the return of Bridges himself as a grizzled guru hermit living in exile outside the core and (thanks to digital scrubbing) an ageless, creepily artificial cyberversion of himself that has turned himself (itself?) into a ruthless dictator eradicating all forms of life in the grid.
The original Tron was groundbreaking in its day for visualizing computing culture in an era before home computers, point-and-click operating systems, and cyberspace, and for using rudimentary computer animation to create the computer imagery… or at least most of it. Director/writer Steven Lisberger came from an animation background and resorts to old-school tools and simple animation to enhance the live action shooting and computer effects. And for all the dazzle of the cybercycles and sailships and glowing game characters, it’s a pretty simplistic film: the first videogame movie. Which is to say it takes inspiration from the imagery of arcade games of the era and then creates its own conceptual world out of the cues. Just not a particularly deep one.