Tag Archives: David Warner

John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness

Any enthusiastic reader will attest to the power of books, how they can transport you to other worlds and open doors to new realities. John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness takes that idea and whips it up into something terrifyingly literal, deliciously meta, relentlessly gruesome and thoroughly addictive for any horror fan whose tastes are rooted in pop culture.

It starts off with a crazed Sam Neill being shunted off to a remote asylum, raving like a loon about things that go bump in the night. This is cool because inherently Neill seems like a collected, pragmatic fellow onscreen so it’s especially disturbing watching him come apart at the seams and go ballistic. As he tells his story to a state appointed shrink (the great David Warner) so too do we learn of how he was once a hotshot insurance investigator hired by a publishing tycoon (Charlton Heston in an awesome extended cameo) to find their golden goose horror author Sutter Cane, who has gone missing. Cane is of course a spiritual avatar for Stephen King here but King also exists in this universe because they proudly and hilariously proclaim that Cane outsold him by a landslide, the first little meta touch of many. Neill heads off to Hobbs End, a town in one of Cane’s books that doesn’t seem to actually exist… until it does. He finds a whole lot there including Cane himself, now gone mad and played by ever intense scene stealer Jurgen Pröchnow in a devilish turn.

I’m not sure why this didn’t make as big a splash as some of Carpenter’s flagship works but for me it’s one of his very best. As Neill realizes the kind of chaos that his visit to Hobbs End will cause the audience gets to experience a medium shattering dose of immersive horror that breaks the boundaries of screens in front of us and feels both hilariously and eerily alive all it’s own (think Last Action Hero in the horror realm). That’s not to mention some truly spectacular special effects to almost rival Carpenter’s The Thing and sly, tongue in cheek performances from all involved including Julie Carmen, Peter Jason, Bernie Casey, Willhelm Von Homburg, Frances Bay and John Glover as the freaky deaky asylum administrator. You can’t ask for much more from a horror film as far as I’m concerned; reality bending narrative, gore to spare, atmosphere in bushels and humour as well. Grab the Shout Factory Blu Ray if you can because the single DVD release is a grainy, cropped affair and this film deserves to have all its gristle, guts and Lovecraftian glory shown in HD. Horror classic.

-Nate Hill

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Neil Jordan’s The Company Of Wolves

Hollywood loves it’s dark, R rated takes on classic fairytales and Little Red Riding Hood has gotten the treatment a few times, the latest being an ill advised, awful attempt with Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman. To cleanse the pallet of that mess you could check out the gorgeous, creaky, atmospheric hidden gem that is Neil Jordan’s The Company Of Wolves, a lyrical, mesmeric take on the folklore that combines traditional elements with nastier psychological subtext and some terrifying werewolf mythology with effects so gooey they make The Howling look like Balto.

Somewhere in a drafty English countryside manor a young girl (Sarah Patterson) tosses and turns in her sleep as some unknown force beckons her from outside the walls. As we are literally drawn into her subconscious while she slumbers we see her exist in a dream world, living in an enchanted forest with her parents (Steven Rea and Tusse Silberg) and sister. Also with them is her persnickety granny, played with plummy mother-hen fussiness by the great Angela Lansbury. Granny warns her not to venture too far outside the village because werewolves have been sighted, and that the worst kind of wolf a young girl can encounter is one whose fangs are hidden on the inside. This is of course an apparent theme that would fit right in in today’s cultural climate and could teach people a bit about subtlety and restraint when exploring the subject matters. She’s just at that stage between childhood and adolescent that is confusing, alluring and oh so dangerous, and the film uses the fairytale elements to uncover something darker and closer to home lurking beneath. It’s also just a fantastic werewolf flick too, there’s stories within stories told by Lansbury and you can really get lost and swept up in this fantastical world like the dream it ultimately is.

Jordan is a director who clearly cherishes the complexities and challenges of the medium, not one single film he’s released has felt hollow, compromised or candy coated for the masses. This one has absolutely knockout production design, creature effects that will have you covering your eyes (that poor crying toddler when buddy turns into the wolf) and a musical score by George Fenton that’s achingly melodic and threatening in equal doses. As much as all this style is on point though so too are the themes and substance in storytelling, carrying a dense weight that justifies all the visual grandeur. This feels like an important film, albeit absorbed through the scattered prism of a breathless, sweaty nightmare because after all, it is all inside a dream. Until it’s not. One of the best horror films of the 1990’s, nab a Blu Ray if you can but they’re probably scarce. Oh and watch for a diabolical cameo from Terence Stamp too as the Devil himself.

-Nate Hill

Eternity’s Music, Faint and Far: Nate’s Top Ten Time Travel Films

I love a good time travel film. There’s something so purely exciting about opening up your story’s narrative to the possibility, and once you do the potential is almost endless. From the mind stretching nature of paradoxically puzzling storylines to the sheer delight of seeing someone stranded in an era not their own and adjusting to the radical development, it’s a sub-genre that always has me first in line to buy tickets. Here are my personal top ten favourites:

10. Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time

How’s this for a concept: H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) chases Jack The Ripper (David Warner) around 1800’s London, through a time machine and all over 1970’s San Francisco. This is a brilliant little picture because as sensational as this high concept is, the filmmakers approach the story from a place of character and emotion rather than big style SciFi spectacle or action. McDowell plays Wells as a compassionate, non violent fellow while Warner’s Jack relishes in the ultra-violent nature of the time period. This is also the film where McDowell met Mary Steenburgen and shortly after they were married.

9. Rian Johnson’s Looper

Time travel gets monopolized by the mafia in this stunning futuristic tale that is so specifically high concept it requires a near constant expository voiceover from Joseph Gordon Levitt so we can keep up. Playing an assassin hunting his future self (Bruce Willis), this has a vaguely steam punk feel to it, an uncommonly intelligent and surprisingly emotional script as well as scene stealing work from Emily Blunt, Pierce Gagnon, Paul Dano and a scruffy Jeff Daniels.

8. Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits

A young boy tags along on one hell of a epic adventure with a band of time travelling dwarves on the run from both the Devil (David Warner for the second time on this list, how nice) and God himself (Ralph Richardson). This is an exhilarating, lush example of what can be done with practical effects, from a giant walking out of the ocean to a Lego castle somewhere beyond time and space to a recreation of the Titanic. Not to mention the cast, which includes cameos from Gilliam’s Monty Python troupe regulars as well as Ian Holm, Shelley Duvall, Jim Broadbent and Sean Connery in several sly roles.

7. Robert Zemeckis’s Back To The Future

“Great Scott!!!!” Man, who doesn’t just love this film. It’s practically it’s own visual aesthetic these days, and spawned two fun sequels that couldn’t quite capture the enchantment found here. From scrappy antihero Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) to demented genius Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) this just hits all the right notes and gets a little taboo in the process as we see what would happen if someone ended up in the past and got hit on by their own mom. Yikes!

6. The Spierig Brothers’s Predestination

The less you know about this tantalizing, twisty flick going in the better, except to know that it will fuck your mind into submission with its narrative. Ethan Hawke plays a rogue temporal agent who’s been pursuing a relentless terrorist through time since he can remember, and finally has a plan he think will work to end the chase. Featuring Noah ‘exposition in every other SciFi film’ Taylor and the sensational new talent Sarah Snook, this is not one to miss and you’ll need a few viewings to appreciate it fully .

5. Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu

Scott’s trademark visual aesthetic blesses this kinetic, elliptical story of secret FBI technology used by keen ATF agent Denzel Washington to find and stop a mad bomber (Jim Caviesel) who has already slaughtered hundreds in a riverboat explosion. Adam Goldberg and Val Kilmer are welcome as agency tech experts but the real heart of this film lies in Washington’s relationship to a survivor of the incidents (Paula Patton) and how that plays into the fascinating central premise that doesn’t start *out* as actual time travel but gradually becomes apparent.

4. Gregory Hoblit’s Frequency

A father son relationship is the beating heart of this tale of cop Jim Caviesel (again!) and his firefighter dad Dennis Quaid. They are able to communicate across a thirty year gulf of time and the barriers of death itself via a miraculous HAM radio and some pseudo science involving the aurora borealis. This provides an exciting, involving and heartbreaking dual experience as the son races to find ways to save his dad from several different grim fates and take down a nasty serial killer while he’s at it. This film has aged so well mostly due to the genuine emotion felt between the family including mom Elizabeth Mitchell. The yearning to escape perimeters of linear time and reconnect with passed loved ones is especially prescient for me nowadays days based on my own recent experiences and as such the film holds extra weight now. A classic.

3. James Cameron’s The Terminator

Artificial intelligence works out time travel for itself in Cameron’s ballistic gong show of an action classic that sees freedom fighter Michael Biehn, civilian turned survivor Linda Hamilton, homicidal cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger and a few hundred short lived cops engaged in a bloody, brutal fight for the future. I picked this over the sequel because the notion of time travel in the saga overall feels freshest and most well worked out here, despite my love for T2 being just a smidge higher on the gauge. Perhaps it’s also because the excellent Biehn makes damn believable work of convincing us that he’s a weary, distraught soldier from a different era, and sells the concept with his beautiful performance.

2. John Maybury’s The Jacket

Hazy, experimental, haunting and atmospheric, this was not a critical hit and it’s chilly vibe is evidence of that, but beneath that there’s a heartfelt story of confused gulf war vet Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) trying to make sense of his shattered psyche while surviving a gnarly mental institution run by a madman with a god complex (Kris Kristofferson). Somewhere along the way he discovers he can jump through time and uses the phenomena to investigate his own death and prevent others from happening. Featuring a low key, emotional turn from Keira Knightley and fantastic supporting work from Daniel Craig, Kelly Lynch and Jennifer Jason Leigh, this is a harrowing psychological thriller that gradually reveals itself as a meditation on life, death and the realms in between.

1. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

Gilliam gets two on this list, lucky him! He deserves it though, this is a curious film with unbelievable production design, a deeply felt performance from Bruce Willis and one from Brad Pitt that kind of defies description and erases doubts of his immense talent from anyone’s mind. Willis is a convict sent back in time from a bleak future to discover how and why a deadly virus wiped out most of earth’s population and sent the rest into subterranean caves. It’s not the film you’d expect and the sad, eerie resolution at the end is something that will stick with you for a long time.

Once again thanks for reading! There’s many that didn’t make the list as it’s tough to just pick ten, but I’d love to hear some of your favourite time travel films!

-Nate Hill

TNT’s The Alienist

Looking for a binge-worthy show to keep you going? Check out The Alienist, a terrifying tale that in the realm of dark murder mysteries, goes just about as dark as you can go. A period piece produced by TNT and conveniently dropped onto Netflix in it’s entirety the other day, it’s one part Jack The Ripper with a twinge of True Detective, but the truth is it’s way more psychological and well constructed than any log-line description could give, and it should be seen, savoured and absorbed as one long film rather than episodic tv. Darker and more fucked up than anything really has been since season 1 of True Detective, it sticks to its guns and pulls forth a doozy of a crime story to put anyone’s hairs on edge. Set in the late 1800’s before the turn of the century, New York is slowly becoming the economic and cultural hub it is today, but there’s still long shadows cast by the primitive customs of the past, and in one of those shadows hides a serial killer, a phantom who preys on young boys and leaves viciously mutilated corpses behind. As each episode will remind you in writing, people who studied mental illness back then were called ‘Alienists’, because those afflicted were seen to be alienated from their true natures. One such alienist is Dr. Lazlo Kreisler (Daniel Brühl), an eccentric, difficult but altogether brilliant man who takes an immediate and laser focused interest in these crimes, with the help of his friend, crime scene illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans). Joining their crusade is Sarah Howard (Dakota Fanning) the first woman to work for the NYC police department and a plucky investigator herself. Orbiting them is a galaxy of characters, red herrings, dead ends, violent encounters, murders, and love triangles that stretch all the way from the slums and boy-whore brothels right up through the political ranks to New York’s richest and most powerful. It’s not an easy mystery to solve, for the three unconventional detectives, the bumbling, often corrupt police force or we as an audience, it’s a dense, compelling and very complex story with a lot of moving parts, well hidden clues and challenging story beats that demand attentiveness and force you to not look away, which is often an impulse in a horror story with so many atrocities marching across the screen (life, it seems, was incredibly rough for a good many people back then, especially in the Big Apple). The story pays a lot of attention to Kreisler’s deep fascination with the human condition, what makes a brain malfunction and cause the kind of behaviour we see here, and although one might get a little agitated at certain parts of the climax in the final episode, I believe that it wasn’t lazy storytelling but a very deliberate, unusual way to wrap up a story like this and says something important in the story arcs revolving around the human mind. The supporting cast is a rich, deep and rewarding patchwork quilt of young upcoming talent, familiar faces, brilliant cameos and veteran character actors. Brian Gerarty is perfectly cast as Teddy Roosevelt, commissioner of police and yes the same Roosevelt that would later go on to be President. Ted Levine earns sleaze points as Thomas Byrnes, the semi-retired chief of police who’s a slippery, untrustworthy devil with great influence over the worm of a new Captain Connor (David Wilmot, despicably good). Michael Ironside blusters in as a wealthy, powerful finance kingpin who is more disturbed by the ripple effect the killings have throughout the city than the actual murders themselves, as he sheepishly admits. Robert Wisdom and gorgeous Q’orianka Kilcher play loyal friends and pillars of Kreisler’s household, and the cast goes on with impressions from Sean Young, David Warner, Jackson Gann, Antonio Magro, Peter McRobbie, Bill Heck, Grace ‘Sarah Palmer’ Zabriskie and more. The heart of it lies with Brühl, Fanning and Evans though, who all three represent different factions of the human condition in various measure, from courage, compassion and intuition to persistence and empathy, their collective performances are spectacular and made me look at each artist in ways I never have, a hallmark of excellent, transformative work. I know there’s already clamour for a second season, and I want to see their further adventures as much as the next viewer, but I’m just as content with this season as it’s a standalone, beautifully bookended piece of work that thrives as a singular story, and is one of the best times I’ve had following a long-form series in a while.

-Nate Hill

Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes


I’m going to catch some heat for this, but I’ve found Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes to be a far better film than any of the three recent versions. I can’t explain it, but there’s something so otherworldly and exotic about the production design, makeup and effects, a true storyteller’s touch used, resulting in a piece with elements of fantasy and world building brought lushly to the forefront, whereas the newer films just felt somewhat clinical and sterile, going through minimalist motions without any real sense of wonder applied. Oh and another thing: real, tactile makeup on actual human actors, which will win against motion capture/cgi any day. There’s also an old world, medieval feel to this planet, as the ‘humans being subservient to apes’ dynamic has already been in full swing for generations, as opposed to a lengthy origin story that takes up most of the newer trilogy. No build up here, just Marky Mark getting marooned on a distant world dominated by simians, fighting his way through their ranks, sort of falling in love with one (Helena Bonham Carter as a monkey=kinky) and attempting to find a way back to earth. There’s various apes of all shapes and sizes at war, the most memorable of which is a sleek, snarling Tim Roth as Thade, a volatile warlord who despises humans. Michael Clarke Duncan towers over everyone as Attar, his cohort and fellow soldier, and seeing already be-jowelled Paul Giamatti as a cumbersome orangutan is priceless. The human faction is led by weathered Kris Kristofferson and his daughter (Estella Warren, quite possibly the most beautiful girl on the planet), leading the dregs of humanity as they exist in hiding and fight for their lives. No expense was spared in filling every frame of this planet with lived-in splendour and atmospheric decoration, from suits of armour and architecture to the overgrown thickets of mountainous vegetation that grow on this world. As for the apes themselves, it’s terrific how real they feel. It’s the same thing that happened with Lord Of The Rings vs. The Hobbit, and the switch from practical Orc effects to the overblown cgi madness of the goblins in the later films. The human eye is inherently adept at deciphering what is real and what is not, and the effects of the later Ape films with Andy Serkis just felt lifeless and orchestrated, whereas here the makeup prosthetics are organic, authentic and wonderful to look at. Don’t even get me started on the ending either, it’s completely brilliant and will leaving you in cold isolation as the credits roll, a perfect gut punch to a film that could have easily turned sappy in the eleventh hour. So that’s my two cents. Bring on the backlash. 

-Nate Hill

TRON – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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When Tron came out in 1982, it was intended to be a visually stunning parable against the abuse of powers by computers and technology. More than thirty years later, the film plays more like a nostalgic ode to the early 1980s than a simple good vs. evil morality tale. Tron evokes the heady days when video games like Pac-Man, Defender and Centipede ruled the arcades and when it seemed like everyone owned a Commodore 64 or an Atari 2600 – the eight track of personal computing. It also anticipated the proliferation of CGI special effects and was not a big hit back in the day but its influence is widespread – it enjoys a loyal cult following today.

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a hot shot computer programmer turned computer hacker after being fired three years ago by ENCOM corporate big wig, Ed Dillinger (David Warner). To add insult to injury, the executive stole a series of video games that Flynn created and transformed them into wildly popular and profitable products, chief among them Space Paranoids – much to the young programmer’s chagrin. Flynn can prove true authorship of the games but only if he can gain direct access to ENCOM’s mainframe. Enter ex-girlfriend Laura (Cindy Morgan) and her current beau, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) – both disgruntled employees at ENCOM – who give Flynn the access he needs to find out the truth. However, the corporation’s artificial intelligence, the tyrannical Master Control Program, discovers what Flynn is doing and uses a high tech laser to digitize the troublesome hacker and transport him inside the computer world.

This is where Tron really begins to get interesting as writer/director Steven Lisberger creates a flashy, neon-drenched world, a cybernetic version of Social Darwinism where lowly computer programs must participate in gladiatorial battles against the Master Control’s ruthless minions. These involve games where opponents throw glowing discs at each other or, in another game, hurl a ball of energy at one another. If either one of these things hits someone, they are killed or de-rezzed – slang for deresolution. Even though the computer effects are primitive by today’s standards, back then they were considered ahead of their time. There is a certain clunky charm to the effects that makes Tron all that more endearing to its fans. The look of the computer world is all blacks and dark blues, which is in nice contrast to the vivid neon red and blue of some of the characters and vehicles that inhabit it.

Undeniably, the coolest sequence in the film is the light cycle race where Flynn, Ram (Dan Shor) and Tron take on three of the MCP goons. It involves futuristic vehicles made out of energy and that leave behind a solid trail that one uses to block in their opponent and destroy them. The action is fast-paced and exciting to watch with dynamic visuals. The computer world is beautifully realized in vivid detail that immerses one fully and is obviously a large part of the film’s appeal. Lisberger adopts a pretty simple color scheme of predominantly primary colors. Tron is one of those rare examples where style over substance works. The computer world that Lisberger and his team worked so hard to create is rich in detail. It also plays on our romantic notions of what really goes on inside our computers – not a collection of microchips and circuit boards but a vast world where programs fight each other for survival. It’s no wonder that visionary science fiction writer, William Gibson once commented in an interview that the cyberworld in Tron is how he envisioned the cyberspace in his own novels.

The film’s genesis began in 1976 when Lisberger, then an animator of drawings with his own studio, looked at a sample reel from a computer firm called MAGI (Mathematical Applications Group, Inc.). At the time, he was researching technology in the late 1970s. Shortly afterwards, Atari came out with Pong and he was immediately fascinated by them. He wanted to do a film that would incorporate these electronic games. According to Lisberger, “I realized that there were these techniques that would be very suitable for bringing video games and computer visuals to the screen. And that was the moment that the whole concept flashed across my mind.” He was frustrated by the clique-ish nature of computers and video games and wanted to create a film that would open this world up to everyone.

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Lisberger and his co-producer Donald Kushner borrowed against the anticipated profits of their 90-minute animated television special, Animalypmics to develop storyboards for Tron. They moved to the west coast in 1977 and set up an animation studio to develop Tron. Originally, the film was conceived to be predominantly an animated film with live-action sequences acting as book ends. The rest would involve a combination of computer generated visuals and back-lit animation. Lisberger planned to finance the movie independently by approaching several computer companies but had little success. One company, Information International, Inc., was receptive. He met with Richard Taylor, a representative, and they began talking about using live-action photography with back-lit animation in such a way that it could be integrated with computer graphics.

Lisberger and Kushner took their storyboards and samples of computer-generated films to Warner Bros., MGM and Columbia – all of whom turned them down. Lisberger spent two years writing the screenplay and spent $300,000 of his own money marketing the idea for Tron and had also secured $4-5 million in private backing before reaching a standstill. In 1980, Lisberger and Kushner decided to take the idea to Disney, which was interested in producing more daring productions at the time. However, Disney executives were uncertain about giving $10-12 million to a first-time producer and director using techniques that, in most cases, had never been attempted.

The studio agreed to finance a test reel which involved a flying disc champion throwing a rough prototype of the discs used in the film. It was a chance to mix live-action footage with back-lit animation and computer generated visuals. It impressed the executives at Disney and they agreed to back the film. The script was subsequently re-written and re-storyboarded with the studio’s input. At the time, Disney rarely hired outsiders to make films for them and Kushner found that he and his group were given a less than warm welcome because “we tackled the nerve center – the animation department. They saw us as the germ from outside. We tried to enlist several Disney animators but none came. Disney is a closed group.”

One the reasons why the cyberspace in Tron is so striking is because of the creative brain trust assembled to help realize it. Futuristic industrial designer Syd Mead, legendary French comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, and high-tech commercial artist Peter Lloyd served as special visual consultants. Mead designed most of the vehicle designs (including Sark’s aircraft carrier, the light cycles, the tank and the solar sailer). Moebius was the main set and costume designer for the film. Lloyd designed the environments. However, these jobs often overlapped with Moebius working on the solar sailer and Mead designing terrain, sets and the film’s logo. The original Program character design was inspired by the main Lisberger Studios logo, a glowing body builder hurling two discs. CGI had been used in films before, most notably in Westworld (1973) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), but it was used much more extensively in Tron. In order to pull it off, four of the United States’ foremost computer graphics houses produced the computer imagery for the film. They invented the computer techniques and created the visual effects in approximately seven months. More than 500 people were involved in the post-production work, including 200 inker and hand-painters in Taiwan.

Jeff Bridges brings a playful energy to the film both in the real world – like when he breaks into ENCOM – and in the computer world, like when he gets acclimatized to his new surroundings. Tron is the no-nonsense hero while Flynn provides comic relief. We are introduced to Flynn in his environment – the video arcade that he owns, beating the world record score for Space Paranoids, one that he invented but was stolen from him. Now, he plays the game and the only profits he sees from it are the quarters that kids put in it. Bridges brings an engaging, boyish charm to the role as is evident in the way he gleefully circumvents ENCOM security and then proceeds to sneak in so that he can find and use an unattended computer terminal. There are the little touches, like when Flynn sneaks on ahead and hides from Laura, that keep the mood light and fun, just before our hero is zapped into the computer world.

In the real world, Tron’s alter ego, Alan is a bespectacled, slightly bookish programmer who is frustrated by the lack of access he has to his company’s computer system. Bruce Boxleitner plays these two contrasting roles quite well. He knows he’s the straight man to Bridges’ charismatic goofball Flynn. We meet his character as he tries to access a high level of security so that he can run his Tron program, an independent security program that would act as a watchdog to the company’s MCP computer. There is a cut to a long shot and we see that Alan’s cubicle is one of hundreds – impersonal and he is treated as an insignificant cog in a massive corporation. Interestingly, the corporation’s name is ENCOM, which eerily foreshadows another evil empire, but in the real world – ENRON.

tron3Amazingly, Tron wasn’t even nominated for a special effects Academy Award because “the Academy thought we cheated by using computers,” Lisberger remembers. However, his film and the world he and his team created captivated a small group of moviegoers. A loyal cult following developed around Tron over the years. The film may have not captured the public consciousness when it first came out but it has since developed a loyal following that loves it dearly. In many respects, Tron is a snapshot of the early ’80s when video games were just starting to take off, but it also was a harbinger of things to come. It paved the way for the elaborate computer graphics we see in movies like The Matrix (1999) and the new Star Wars movies. However, Tron warns that we cannot rely totally on computers to do everything because in doing so we run the risk of losing our humanity. I always imagine Flynn going on to become Bill Gates or maybe Steve Jobs.