The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego MovieReleased: February 7, 2014. Directed by: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman. Runtime: 100 min.

“The LEGO Movie” isn’t just a great animated film, it’s filled with humour and satirical jabs at corporate America, namely the leader of the lego world being called President Business; the fact that if you’re on TV, people are going to listen to you; and coffee being priced at $37 for the public (here’s looking at you and your overpriced coffee, Starbuck’s). It’s a clever take on totalitarianism, a sort-of dictatorship where a leader has full control over a part of society. President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) takes control by giving good citizens tacos, distracting citizens by a TV show called “Where’s my pants?” after he says “Non-behaving citizens will be put to sleep!” If that show wouldn’t be distracting, I don’t know what would be. He also keeps the people satisfied by a catchy song that literally plays on every radio station called “Everything is Awesome.”

How did the tyrannical President Business get into power, you might ask? In another realm of the LEGO universe (where he is known as Lord Business), he stole a super weapon called the Kragl from the master of all master builders, Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), which grants him ultimate power. Before Business is able to take it, V speaks of a prophecy – a master builder who finds the piece of Resistance will come along and be the most talented, most brilliant and most important person ever and challenge Business’ plans to glue the universe together.

The person who fills this prophecy is not one that you might expect. He, Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a completely ordinary LEGO minifigure that looks like all the rest of the LEGOs, and he becomes the one to fill this prophecy completely by accident. There’s a charm about it because it’s so unexpected that the one will be so ordinary, making this feel like a subtle underdog story, at least to me. It boasts a message that everyone is special in their own way, even if you don’t think so at first. To all the master builders of the universe, this guy looks totally useless; mostly because he’s a victim of conformity in the realm Pres Business rules. Emmet’s favourite song is “Everything is Awesome,” his favourite TV show is “Where’s my pants?” and he follows instructions because he wants tacos. Building instructions helps Emmet, and otherwise, he doesn’t know what to do without them. (The difference between him and other master builders is funny because it’s hard for original thinkers to follow instructions, it seems).

Business is a clever ruler because by giving these people instructions, he doesn’t let them have a solitary original thought. He needs everything to be in tip-top-shape, and he asks for perfection at every turn, not letting anyone build anything that they want. I think a main message of the film is imagination, something the President doesn’t believe in, at all.

Since master builders can build something out of nothing, I think this film urges children all over the world to use their imagination and create cool LEGO structures, and use their imagination in other parts of life. To build something out of nothing, and it says that everyone can be a master builder if they want to be. I think there’s sheer brilliance in the idea that this world looks like it could be derived from the minds of children, but I don’t think the story would be as smart. The settings are just stunning and creative, and some might particularly like the animation used in the smoke, explosions and water. It’s a whole world made of LEGO, and it’s incredibly detailed (the great animation is thanks to Animal Logic) This film is, of course, also nice advertisement for the LEGO product, but it is a lot more layered than just a big toy advertisement like the “G.I. Joe” flicks or the blockbuster franchise “Transformers”.

The humour will keep both children and adults entertained, because writers and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have such referential and clever senses of humour. They reference things from “The Terminator” to “Clash of the Titans” to “The Godfather”, and one of the realm’s names is a clever play on the world in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise (Middle Zealand – a mash of Middle Earth and New Zealand, the filming location of those films). There are a lot of big laughs in this, and some spectacular action sequences, where teamwork is used; making this sort-of like the superhero teamwork movie many anticipate. I enjoyed this as much as I wanted to enjoy “The Avengers.” With the film’s humour, Lord and Miller are experienced to entertain both children and adults, by tackling animated movies (the two “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” films) and R-rated action comedies (“21 Jump Street”). The real charm about the Lord/Miller pair is that they keep surprising us with films that could be decent, but turn out to be pretty extraordinary; and this is no different. One character they created I was amused by is Bad Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson), who plays to the Good Cop/Bad Cop strategy used by interrogators. He has a bit of a split personality, you can say, but I’ll let you watch that hilarity unfold for yourselves.

The other characters are great because they are great presences. Emmet is a relateable hero because he is so average, and his love interest Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) is great because they are so alike in ways. Other characters on the lovable LEGO save the world team include a crazed pirate called Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), an all-too positive cat with a unicorn horn called UniKitty (Alison Brie), 1970s Space Guy named Ben (Charlie Day) and the hilarious caped orphan himself, Batman (Will Arnett)! There are many other classic characters at the meeting of the Master Builders (ones from the DC Universe, among a lot of others), and they’re great cameos – but nothing more, really. It’s good because if they were more, the film would be too crowded. There’s enough characters and hilarity to keep the film moving at a brisk pace.

Score96/100

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Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific RimRelease Date: July 12, 2013Director: Guillermo del ToroStars: Charlie Hunman, Idris Elba, Rinko KikuchiRuntime: 132 min.

“Pacific Rim” is the first movie I attended a premiere for since “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” back in December. As the day of the premiere approached, I became more and more excited. Heck, I could hardly even sleep one night coupled with my excitement and crappy sleeping habits. Let’s just say, “Pacific Rim” satisfies in most of its critical aspects.

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, and creatures attack at an increasingly rapid rate, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to go on a high-stakes mission in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

There are some refreshing aspects to this feature that one might not see in an average summer tent-pole. There’s no leading star power, but Charlie Hunman (TV’s “Sons of Anarchy,” “Children of Men”) is good as a character you’ll enjoy, but you probably won’t remember his name. In this film, there doesn’t have to be much star power, because everybody knows the real stars are the robots (Jaegars) and the monsters (Kaiju). If one had to compare this to anything, it’s like a “Godzilla” movie and that Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game. There’s a lot of new content here, and it’s an awesome ode to monster movies. This is going to stand out in memory as one of the most original movies of the year.

I appreciate that this movie isn’t merely just a visual feast. The story gets care put into it and it keeps the viewer guessing. It’s ridiculous at times, but it’s going to have to be in a sci-fi monsters vs. robots feature. The concepts of the Drift and the Neural Handshake are fascinating. It is the most effective storytelling presented in a movie event so far this year, so that’s a compliment to this, but not exactly to 2013 blockbusters as a whole. The thing is, one’s average big-budget extravaganza has a larger focus on visuals and less on story – so to see that in a film like this is refreshing. Though, like the modern big-budget flicks, this is going to feature a lot of loud noises!

There are also some appealing characters, even if they aren’t memorable. Mako (Kikuchi) is given layers, as something from her past is haunting her. Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Elba) is quite possibly the character you’ll care about the most. Elba delivers one of the year’s most memorable speeches, and it’s still pretty damn effective when one finally sees the movie after seeing the trailer seven times. The research team of Newton (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, “The Dark Knight Rises”) is comedic gold, and one of the movie’s best aspects. It also shows that this movie has a comedic way about it, as well, even if it has the tendency to be cheesy. That pairing is the movie’s best aspect besides the big battles, of course.

The battles everybody is anticipating are spectacular in a visual way, and lots of fun. You’ll nerdgasm a few times throughout, at the battles and the great creature design, but mostly at the battles. I cannot help but wish that more battles occur during daylight. All of the mashes occur during the night, mostly in the middle of the ocean, and in the pouring rain. Granted, the monsters’ invasion might alter the climate to make it rain a lot, but it would be nice to see them fight without the rain. It would also be great to see a little less splashin’ on the screen, and some more monster mashin’. It’s as if they’re in a wave pool.

This feature also has to find a comfortable pace before it can really get to the heart of the story, so a shorter film would be welcome. Nobody wants to see the humans. We nerds are here for the robots. You’ll care about the humans, sure, but you’ll only truly care about the survival of a select few characters, and since these characters believe in the greater good of the humankind, we’re taken on an emotional roller coaster with them. These folks also make a great ensemble cast, made up of little to no bankable actors. This is visually stunning in its IMAX 3D glory, and you’ll be getting a front row seat to one of the most awesome speeches of the year.

This movie is awesome. It will remain one of the 2013’s best blockbusters. It’s also a great addition to a fantastic year of science fiction, a genre that is growing on me. I know I’ve thrown a lot of ‘Most memorable speech’ and ‘Best storytelling in a sci-fi extravaganza’ so far this year, but I remain undecided if this will be included in my Top 25 of the year, looking at what is coming in the second half of the year. It’s immensely enjoyable, but I’m not sure when I’ll feel the urge to revisit this. At the end of the year, if I think back to the pure awesomeness of a Jaegar picking up a giant boat and using it as a baseball bat to hit a Kaiju with repeatedly, this movie might find its way on my Top 25 list.

Score80/100

Monsters University (2013)

Monsters UniversityRelease Date: June 21, 2013

Director: Dan Scanlon

Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi

Runtime: 110 min

Pixar is one of this century’s most consistent studios; but they are fallible. I’ve seen 10 out of 14 of their movies. Cars 2 is apparently the runt of the litter, and I haven’t seen that, or the original. Brave (my review) is a good animated movie, but I’m not so big on the story and I haven’t (nor has anyone else, I doubt) forgiven it for winning that Oscar for Best Animated Feature yet. Monsters University is the fourteenth film out of Pixar’s creative cannon, and their first prequel.

From the moment Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) met, they couldn’t stand each other. Monsters University brings us a look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley when they weren’t exactly two peas in a pod.

Many people, mostly critics, have set their expectations for Pixar movies too high after the release of Toy Story 3. They’re a studio, they’re going to make a mistake. Their movies won’t be near-perfect or beloved each time. Deal with it. I’m here to tell you that this time around, Monsters University is deserving of being called one of Pixar’s best movies in years. I’m sure it will become a classic one day. It’s a great animated movie and a great Pixar movie. I’m not going to mention any other Pixar movie (excluding Monsters, Inc.) from here-on-out in this review. I want to review it as a Pixar movie, and not as a Pixar movie in the shadow of other, possibly better Pixar movies. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t a Pixar movie, because that just isn’t possible, and a disservice to Pixar. It also isn’t possible because their exemplary animation is present.

This is the most creative, the most charming, and the best, animated movie of the year so far. It’s heart-warming, moving, and funny. Everything here is top notch. The story features great entertainment and a whole lot of heart. The animation is beautiful, and the creativity put into this is prominent. The stakes are high during the movie; because of a situation caused by Mike and Sulley’s feud. Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), is a frightening monster who, in some ways, is reminiscent of Henry Waternoose from Monsters, Inc. Thankfully, and impressively, this Dean is a completely different character. One might get the vibe that this franchise teaches University deans and bosses cannot be trusted.

I love how Pixar can create movies that both children and adults will love. The humour isn’t always cutesy, it’s usually extremely clever. The plot is also smart and rather enthralling for an animated family feature. The last thirty (or so) minutes is an amazing final act, and one of the best and most memorable in Pixar’s filmography. Even people with the smallest bladders should hold their urine like there’s no god-damn tomorrow. This is set at a university (hence: Monsters University), which might play a part in the appeal to older audiences. This isn’t set where it is purely because of marketing to older audiences (because Monsters, Inc. definitely would be enough to bring fans back to the theatre to see this). This is set at a university because it’s the best time for these two monsters to meet. It’s when people meet their lifelong friends. It’s where their feud makes sense. This wouldn’t be set at a pre-school, mostly because their feud could be over petty things like a crayon or Teddy Graham crackers (even though those are really freaking tasty). The creators really know what they’re doing, and how to give each of these characters depth.

You better believe this little guy is the cutest thing about the movie.

You better believe this little guy is the cutest thing in the movie.

There’s a new slate of colourful and inventive characters. This university looks like a great place to go to school. (And since Mike and Sulley can attend university, it makes me think I can do it, too!) This is part coming-of-age tale because the fraternity house crew, Oozma Kappa, that Mike and Sulley fall into, are a group of misfits who cannot scare, but they do have a lot of heart. The gang, and Mike, must find it within themselves to let out their scariest and mightiest roars.

One of the main criticisms this movie might receive is that “it doesn’t need to exist”. Justin Bieber doesn’t need to exist, but some people like him. (Yes, I did just compare this to Justin Bieber. If Monsters U is going to go up against Justin Bieber, MU is going to win ten times out of ten.) If you do feel MU didn’t have to see the light of day, you’ll be glad it gets made. As a fan of Pixar, a lover of movies, and a lover of Mike and Sulley, I’m estatic this exists. This movie is so entertaining, and I love it. It’s a great opportunity to see beloved characters in a new light.

They get new layers. Mike is a student who knows everything about everything, but he hasn’t always felt like he belongs. Sulley is a student who thinks he can get by just because of his family name. We see these characters in new, more vulnerable situations. We get to see these two monsters become an inseparable pair. We also get to see how Randall Boggs came to hate this dynamic duo. We also get to see some hilarious cameos. And for those opportunities, I will always cherish this fantastic film. I will always watch this with a big smile on my face. This is an impressive prequel to Monsters, Inc., and an impressive Pixar movie.

90/100