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Obsessing over furniture at ‘Tron: Legacy’ and at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Olivia Wilde in "Tron: Legacy"
Walt Disney Pictures
Olivia Wilde in “Tron: Legacy”

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert hates 3D movies. He rails against them constantly on his Twitter account. I don’t mind them. They’re a bit of a gimmick, yes, but complaining about Hollywood making use of gimmicks is like complaining about Jello making use of wiggling. Yes, Hollywood often handles 3D poorly. You know what else they often handle poorly? Writing female characters, creating credible plots, and keeping their budgets down. That doesn’t mean none of these things can be done well. The 3D version of “Coraline” was subtle and gorgeous. “Pirhana 3D” was the opposite, and worked just about as well.
I mention this because of “Tron: Legacy,” Dinsey’s fantastically expensive sequel to its fantastically expensive 1982 flop, in which Jeff Bridges played a computer programmer who is zapped inside his own hard drive, only to discover that his programs have adorable little costumes streaked with light and busy themselves with such things as murdering each other with Frisbees. It wasn’t much of a story, but it was one of the most visually inventive films of the ’80s, and made notable and fondly remembered use of early techniques of computer animation.
As for the new one? Still not much of a film. I won’t bother you with the plot, except to say Jeff Bridges is still in the computer, and there are two of him. The first is aging and spouts the sort of fortune-cookie Buddhism that is culled from reading one book by Alan Watts. The second is young and evil, and this is achieved by digitally aging Bridges backwards and having him frown a lot. He manages to look evil, but mostly because this computer facelift is deep into the uncanny valley. As a result, the evil young Bridges looks a bit like somebody wearing a badly fitting Jeff Bridges mask, which might explain the frowning.
Into this world plunges a young man, the son of Jeff Bridges’ good character, played by Garrett Hedlund, who manages not to look especially worried about the fact that he’s inside a computer and programs are flinging Frisbees at him. He’s assisted by Olivia Wilde in a haircut that looks like celebrity hairstylist Ken Paves had decided to try his hand at putting a bowl on somebody’s head and cutting around it. And that’s all I will say about the plot, because it doesn’t matter, or, at least, it didn’t to me. I went for the spectacle, which is why I saw it in 3D. The film reportedly had a costume budget of $13 million — by comparison, the total cost of the first film was $17 million. Thirteen million samoleans in costuming? You’re going to want to see that in all three dimensions.
There’s some real pleasure to be had. The film looks terrific, especially the set design, which often manages to look like a cross between a Bauhaus glass box, a chintzy discotheque, and that room in which astronaut David Bowman met his fate at the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Everybody sort of lolls around on the furniture, looking like extras from “I Claudius” in blue track suits with illuminated piping, while the music of Daft Punk plays on the soundtrack (and, occasionally, in the film itself; the electronic music duo appear as themselves, which doesn’t seem out of place, as they’ve always looked like they belonged in the world of “Tron.”) And everybody in this computerized world is rather outrageous, from the retinue of dithering henchmen that circle the evil Jeff Bridges to Michael Sheen playing a nightclub owner as Ziggy Stardust, including David Bowie’s strange ’70s-era mullet and the gold disc he used to wear on his forehead.
Alas, about halfway through the film, the plot kicks in and the fun ends, and the whole movie becomes a race against time to complete a task that I feel comfortable in declaring that nobody at all cares about. And there’s the real problem with 3D. I wanted to climb up onto the screen, pop inside, and head back to the nightclub. But I couldn’t. I suppose in the future, we’ll be able to go wherever we want in a movie and follow whatever plot seems interesting to us. Or, if we prefer, as I do, we can just stare at the furniture and wonder how it might look in our apartment.

Pallone Chair by Leolux
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Pallone Chair by Leolux

Speaking of which, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has instituted an interesting curatorial approach. Instead of placing their artwork together by geographic region, or era, or movement, they’re instead clumping together things by theme. An example of this is an exhibit they have called “Chairevolution! 300 Years of Designing the Chair,” which is a small exhibition, but, if you fuss over just the right furniture for your apartment, is illuminating. As its name suggests, it’s nothing but chairs. So there’s a Tudor chair, and a Wassilly chair, and a Frank Lloyd Wright chair, and a Philippe Starck Ghost Chair. It’s the sort of thing you expect to see design snobs bunched up around, oohing and aahing and dreaming of the day their apartment might become a testament to their exceptional taste in furniture, as I did. But what also stands out is just how uncomfortable many of these chairs look. I swear, Frank Lloyd Wright, who was a notoriously difficult man, was attempting to permanently damage spines with his chairs.

There’s an aquamarine leather thing called the Pallone Chair by Leolux that looks less like a chair than a cartoon teardrop by some animated character from a Hayao Miyazaki film. Even one of the older chairs, a Scottish piece from 1897, seems less intended for daily use than as a stage property for when Lady Macbeth comes in crying that she can’t get the blood off her hands. But comfort is overrated anyway. Fashion — in furniture as in clothes — is a discipline. We endure it in the way that an ascetic engaged in mortifying the flesh might endure a hair shirt or bed of nails, which both might come into vogue soon.
Just down the street from the Institute, right on what seems to be the principal crossroads of Eat Street, is the Black Forest Inn, and I like to stop in there after staring at art for a while. Particularly, I appreciate the bar. It’s a cozy place arched around an enormous, square counter and ringed by stained glass and stern-looking German portraiture. Better still, they serve both Barenjager, which is a honey liqueur, and Apfelkorn, an apple-flavored liqueur; they will combine the two into a shot if you ask, which I believe I invented and so will name: The Rosh Hashana. They also have potato pancakes, which they make with onion and serve with applesauce and sour cream, which they describe as comfort food. And so it is; after a drink and pancake, I feel a genuine need to find a corner I can roll up into and take a nap. In my happiest dreams, I have $13 million to spend on track suits, and all my furniture draws blood.

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