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

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit -  An Unexpected JourneyThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Release Date: December 14, 2012

Director: Peter Jackson

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

Runtime: 169 min

Tagline: From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends

A curious Hobbit of The Shire, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is confronted by the magnificent wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who wonders if Bilbo would enjoy going on a great adventure. The quest is to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Bilbo soon joins Gandalf and thirteen dwarves, led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Amitage). They must gander through Middle Earth, fighting the likes of Goblins, Orks, and many other creatures. Their mission is to get to the East where the Lonely Mountain is, but the Goblins and Orks are close on their tail. Bilbo learns how to muster up enough courage that he didn’t even know he had, with a little help from the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis).

Mostly everyone knows that Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) is a fairly innovative director. This time, he shows his innovative side by being the first person to film using 48 frames per second (f.p.s.). While it is an admirable experiment, it is mostly a needless one. The visuals have the tendency to get very distracting, even though the screen is very clear. However, the visuals are nonetheless beautiful and usually not that bothersome as other critics might say. It might deserve a second watch in a 2D regular 24 f.p.s. screening.

Everyone also knows that his features are usually lengthy (like The LOTR Trilogy, or his remake [more like new film altogether] of King Kong). He gives us another awesome, but long, adventure back to Middle Earth. He writes it with help from three other writers, including the also legendary Guillermo del Toro (writer/director of Pan’s Labyrinth) and it is adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. All the writers express that they are not afraid to insert some silliness and foolishness into a great Middle Earth fantasy story. However, they insert some jokes so relentlessly, that you may forget that any of the story is intended to be serious. Usually, though, it isn’t bad – and you just can’t help but laugh and have a good time. Especially when the great Gollum shows up. There’s an exuberant amount of comedic dialogue inserted in that specific riddle scene shared between Gollum and Bilbo, but it also makes for one of the greatest scenes in the film. This time around, some of the more talky scenes are the best; while the action sequences are simply visually stunning and intense, but the material we’ve seen before outweighs the new and fresh content.

I am unsure of how faitful the writing is to its source material, but the fun that the cast and writers had making the film is definitely present. The writing is very smart; and the introduction of Old Bilbo putting his journey into writing for Frodo is a perfect touch for any fan of the adventures of Middle Earth. The antagonists (like the Pale Ork or the nasty looking Great Goblin) are also fine and the backstories for some characters and the plot lines are great.

There is never a dull moment in this feature, but there are some scenes that could have been so not over-the-top. When Bilbo, Gandalf, and company, visit the land of Rivendell, the introduction of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is just too over-dramatic. Sure, she’s beautiful as anything, but it didn’t have to be over-done like that. Also, when Saruman (Christopher Lee) does his brief cameo, the audience (those who have seen Lord of the Rings) will feel a certain loathing because we know what this character will do in sixty years. Often enough, the problem with prequels is we know some good characters will turn evil (like Saruman) or we know some will survive. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LORD OF THE RINGS Like we do with Bilbo and Gandalf. END OF SPOILERS. It may take away from the suspense, but it’s all about knowing how they survive. The reappearance of certain characters (like Galadriel, Elrond, Gollum, Frodo) will be a treat for any fan of Tolkien’s magnificent universe. However, it’s a little difficult to get emotionally-invested with the new characters like we did the first time we saw the older characters.

There are just too many dwarves to keep an eye on. Thorin Oakenshield, the leader; Ori, the one with the slingshot; Balin, the charming elderly one; and Bombur, the chubby eater, are the ones that really stand out. If any dwarves decease, the viewer may feel sad for a minute, but it’ll soon wear off because there are many others. All share the same traits, and it feels as if the writers took traits from Gimli and Legolas (some dwarves are archers) and lent them to the new dwarves. The majority feel, unfortunately, expendable. They are just a little too alike, or don’t say much. Bilbo is both a new character, and an old one. Those who have seen Lord of the Rings are familiar with the older version of him. Now, we are introduced to the young Bilbo, before he learned all the life lessons or even left The Shire. He is great, and the fact we get to watch him grow is a scrumptious treat. Martin Freeman is the perfect actor to play him, as is the casting of the dwarves.

The first installment of a new Middle Earth trilogy is much like The Fellowship of the Ring; not a lot happens. They only complete a small amount of the journey, and upcoming antagonists and ones that are going to appear again in the series are established. However, please don’t forget that the story will all come together in the end of the trilogy. For what it is, it is a great experience, and there are enough action scenes to probably keep you satisfied. Though, some of those said action scenes are a little familiar. Am I complaining, though? Not particularly, because it’s still fun.

As a stand-alone feature, this is an awesome adventure-fantasy film. Compared to the likes of The Lord of the Rings, it is simply satisfying and usually visually stunning. Some of it is familiar, the visuals are distracting, and the dwarves are a little too alike. However, there is never a dull moment – even when one moment is over-dramatic. The cinematography, the visuals, the writing and the performances are stellar. The silliness is very enjoyable, especially the scene shared between Bilbo and Gollum (and Precious, of course). Simply put, this is the beginnings of a fine, new Middle Earth trilogy.

75/100

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

Release Date: June 8, 2012

Director: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon

Stars: Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock

Runtime: 93 min

Tagline: Six years ago, they disappeared without a trace. Next summer, they finally resurface

After Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman (David Schwimmer) get abandoned by the penguins and the monkeys, they have to find a way to get off the African island. They swim to Monte Carlo to reunite with them, so they can get a ride home. They run into the antagonist of the movie when their actions attract the attention of Animal Control. How does the king of the jungle, a zebra, a hippo, and a giraffe get around Europe without attracting attention? The answer: they bamboozle their way into a circus. The penguins buy the circus with their earnings from Monte Carlo, and the gang try to find a way home.

The message is pretty nice and the story is great; the characters they meet are great, too; but most of all, this feature is fun.

It’s the ultimate road trip film of all animated films. It’s really the longest detour to home of all films. This is the third film featuring the New York Zoo gang, but they still haven’t found their way home. The Madagascar trilogy isn’t a great one, but it’s a good one. It isn’t great because the first two features aren’t anything special. This is a series that has improved in quality each endeavour. That is quite rare for a trilogy (the only other that comes to mind is The Lord of the Rings), and that makes it admirable.

The new characters they meet along the way are quite great. The character of Vitaly (voiced by Bryan Cranston) is a reserved character with a grudge toward life and the circus, itself. Though, the mystery behind this towering tiger is sort of intriguing. The other character of Gia the jaguar (voiced by Jessica Chastain) is nice. The potential relationship between Alex and Gia at first feels forced, but then it gets a little charming. Lastly, the other new main character is the scene-stealing Stefano (voiced by Martin Short). Stefano is hilarious, and he’s my favourite sea lion, ever (sorry scary sea lion from Eight Below and any sea lions at Sea World, but you guys can’t talk and this guy can, so he wins). Sometimes, he’s funnier than the primary characters themselves.

The message is a little preachy. It’s all about having a passion and finding one’s homeland; home is where the heart is, apparently. They don’t water this one down. It’s way out there.

Sometimes, the filmmakers just don’t give enough focus on the primary characters of Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman. The supporting characters are so vast in numbers, they just make the story feel a little flooded. Though, they’re all screen stealers and they offer some jokes the feature – so I won’t complain that much. The biggest screen-stealers are, as expected, the penguins. They’re masterminds at work, and they could probably work for the penguin version of James Bond. They’re little penguin Q’s in the making! The other large screen-stealer, besides Stefano, is King Julien, Maurice and that little big-eyed lemur, Mort. That little dude just multiplies the cuteness factor by 1002. Maurice may not get a big part in this (he has about two or three lines of dialogue) but when they’re all together [Julien, Maurice, Mort] – they make one of the funniest scenes in the film, possible.

The main antagonist, Captain Chantel DuBois (Head of Monte Carlo Animal Control), is simply annoying and over-the-top. Whenever she comes onscreen, it may make the viewer quite exasperated. She plays out sort like a parody of Cruella DeVille. She is despicable like Cruella DeVille, but she isn’t nearly as good a villain. Also like DeVille, their motivations are, in a way, similar. DeVille wanted the dogs to make herself a fur coat, and DuBois wants the lion’s head to put on her wall. They both wants trophies of sorts. Anyway, back to DuBois. I realize that the film must have a main antagonist, but it’s just a tad ridiculous to think that she’d have the audacity to follow this lion to Rome and London, while she only has any real authority in Monte Carlo. A few more notes on her: Why is her butt on backwards? And what’s up with that when she sniffs and crawls on the ground? She’s like a psychic spider. Her portrayal makes the people of France seem like a very animated and despicable people, and it’s sort of just a smack in their face. I’m not sure how much those from France would appreciate this sort of humour.

Madagascar 3 is filled with so many scene-stealing characters, that at times, they feel like the primary focus instead of the intended four zoo animals. The message is quite preachy and the antagonist is very irritating, but this is still great animation. The experience it offers is fun, and at times it is very exciting. There’s great humour for children, and for the older audience, too. It’s a great installment to the series, but in all honesty, I hope it’s over. They should really end it on a good note.

70/100

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Snow White and the Huntsman

Release Date: June 1, 2012

Director: Rupert Sanders

Stars: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron

Runtime: 127 min

Snow White, the daughter of the late King, escapes from the clutches of the wicked Queen Ravenna after years of imprisonment. She has just escaped when the Magic Mirror informs Ravenna that Snow is the only one who could defeat her, because of her innocence and purity. If the Queen obtains and eats Snow’s heart, she won’t have to feed on any being’s life source ever again, and she will achieve immortality. The Queen sends a squad of men, led by the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), into the dark forest to get her back. When the Huntsman learns he is being played like a fiddle, he turns against the Queen’s men and teams up with Snow in the process. Meanwhile, Snow’s childhood friend, William, learns that she is alive and he sets off on the road to find her and offer some assistance to the situation.

Ah, Snow White and the Huntsmen, you fulfill your purpose, and you do it well. Snow White’s purpose is to offer a nice twist on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, and it does just that. Almost so well, that I forgot what happened in the general source material (but that may because I haven’t seen it for a while), and this became a film of its own. It’s so convincing, that this may as well be the source material itself.

The character of the Huntsman is okay, because one could understand his motivations, but he wasn’t anything special. He was pretty sweet in war, and he’s likeable enough that one would be upset if he died. Hemsworth offers an okay performance at the same time, and says, “Hey! Forget Thor’s hammer, I’m pretty good with an axe, too!”

Ughck, why couldn’t the filmmakers have found a better person to cast as Snow White? Oh yeah, that’s right, Sanders wanted a good candidate to sleep with after the film finished. Seriously, Stewart is such a boring screen presence. As for the looks, she’s pretty fitting as Snow, but as for the acting skills and presence, not so much. What happened to her potential flare in 2002’s Panic Room? She has gotten so boring since that time, and she really should not have had the chance to be in another potential teen franchise. Please, Bella, stop it, and no one believed that phony accent (whatever the Hell it was) for a second. It’s sad that I liked her best when she was sleeping. Two battles were being fought in this one: the obvious one, Ravenna’s forces vs. King Magnus’ forces; but, there was also a not-so-obvious battle between Kristen Stewart and Sam Claflin (William), entitled “Who’s Going to End up Being more Boring?”[.] I think Claflin won, but not by much. That one scene where it was just those two, I almost fell asleep. The real person who truly shines through is the always-fantastic Charlize Theron. She’s just great and sometimes truly eerie as the wicked Queen Ravenna.

Most of the characters are just okay for me, Ravenna is the best. Snow White in the source material is great, but she isn’t as good now, mostly because Stewart is the face of her. The dwarfs were pretty great. There’s a number of known actors as the little people (like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, the great comedic presence Nick Frost, and Toby Jones). It was sort of cool how they made them look so small, too. I like the characters of the dwarfs, but I wasn’t a fan of the appearances. I just couldn’t help but pick on their hair. As a kid, their parents must have given each of them a bad haircut. And to add onto that, they went to Kindergarden class and a class bully took safety scissors and thought they were a hairdresser, and he made the hair even worse, and it never grew back. At least, that’s my theory.

Snow knows where it’s going, but at times it feels like it’s a struggle getting there. It does get there, but after some effort. I must add, the finale was great. It’s a little better than that battle scene of Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but it pales in comparison to any battle scenes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The make-up is great, the finale is great, and the characters were just okay. The action, when it comes, is purely great, and the human Mirror thing was actually very cool. Charlize Theron steals the show, and at times, she’s almost as ugly as she was in 2003’s Monster.

70/100