Film Review: The Lego Batman Movie

I was a massive fan of The Lego Movie and one of the many good things about it was the treatment of Batman (Will Arnett), who they transformed into a cocky, self absorbed show off. When it was announced that he’d be getting a solo run out, it instantly joined the list of movies I was looking forward to and yesterday MWF and I went along with a friend to check it out.

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The film kicks off with the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) leading a team of Gotham’s villains in a daring attempt to seize control of the city by threatening with a gigantic bomb. Unfortunately for the Clown Prince of Crime, Batman arrives just in time and makes short work of his associates. As the duo face off the Joker is hurt to discover that Batman doesn’t regard him as special or his archenemy, announcing he doesn’t care.

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Tears of a Clown

Batman saves the day and all is good, however, it is revealed that when he returns to Wayne Manor he is lonely and bored. His trusty butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is concerned that he has no life beyond Batman, but he refuses to acknowledge this. Bruce—0s0A\\\ attends the retirement party of Jim Gordon, where his replacement is to be announced. The replacement is Jim’s daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson), who Bruce is attracted to. Distracted by Barbara’s beauty Bruce agrees to adopt nerdy orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera).

Barbara announces a bold new plan for Gotham and her desire for Batman to work with the police, and highlighting that despite his efforts Gotham is still the worst city for crime. Joker and Co. attack but Joker then surrenders, much to the suspicion of Batman and Barbara. Joker and the other villains are imprisoned, and the city celebrates.

With nothing to do Batman is bored and sad, resisting Alfred’s urging to spend time with Dick and act as his father figure. Batman continues to spy on Joker and decides that the only way to be safe is to send Joker to the Phantom Zone, where the universe’s worst villains are imprisoned. Recruiting Dick as his sidekick, and giving him an old colourful costume the duo steal a device to send people to the Phantom Zone from Superman (Channing Tatum), who Batman discovers is throwing a party for all the superheroes that he was not invited to.

They send Joker to the Phantom Zone, but Barbara imprisons them. Unfortunately, this has played into the Joker’s plans and he breaks out with several other villains to get revenge on Batman and Gotham.

Batman reluctantly agrees to allow Barbara, Dick and Alfred to help him, but can they triumph and can he resist his urge to go it alone? And will he be able to admit to himself that his insistence on working alone comes from his fear of losing people again?

This is an incredibly daft and fun movie which works because of the central character, with Batman continuing to be a swaggering, boastful jerk who has to face up to his failings and feelings. It’s a big twist on the traditional way the Dark Knight is portrayed and the egomaniac is hugely entertaining, especially when he is repeatedly outwitted or out of his depth.

This happens often with Barbara who is a clever, confident woman who has his number from the jump and provides sensible advice he routinely ignores. As the movie unfolds he is forced to accept that teamwork is key and slowly acknowledges the help the others provide him with.

The other supporting players work well, especially the irritatingly cheery Dick Grayson who slowly breaks down Batman’s stern exterior.

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The Dynamic Duo

The storyline of the Joker’s rejection and his relationship with Batman is quite well done, playing it as almost a warped romance, with Joker believing it was a deeper connection and Batman brushing it off saying that he “likes to fight around”. The Joker’s plan is pretty clever and allows a whole host of cameos from different villains in the final act, with King Kong, Voldemort, Daleks, Gremlins and the Wicked Witch of the West among others.

The action is fact paced and largely comical, with characters making the sounds of the guns they use and the Lego world allowing for inventive chaos. Batman, as a master builder, continues to build massive, crazy contraptions and visually it is stunning.

It’s also a delight for geeks as it’s rammed with little gags and references. The beginning and end poke fun at the seriousness of some superhero movies, and there are nods to the many different incarnations of the characters (including a brief clip of Adam West in action). The Joker’s posse includes a host of Gotham’s villains including lesser, dafter enemies and there are nods to the comic book conventions, especially how inept the Gotham police are and one hostage’s relaxed response to being confronted by the Joker. It’s quite clever and funny, but I did wonder how well it would play for kids as a lot of it is very ironic and pokes fun at the character and the world.

Plot wise it’s quite straight forward, and the issues of teamwork, family and Batman accepting help from others and letting people in hardly groundbreaking. It’s not quite as good as The Lego Movie in terms of sheer manic energy, but it’s still a very solid comedy adventure and keeps moving at a decent pace. But it feels like this is a good place to leave the block Batman, as any more would overplay the joke.

Verdict: Consistently funny and loaded with injokes, this is an extremely entertaining movie. Daft in places it, it works well as a fast paced romp. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Sausage Party

Warning! Spoilers ahead!

Despite the success of adult orientated animation on the small screen, Hollywood has been less ready to dip it’s toe into feature length animation geared for grown ups. There have been a few attempts, but a 15 rated animated film is still a rarity. The trailers looked fun so MWF and I joined a friend and went to check out Sausage Party.

This, co-written by star Seth Rogen starts off with a simple, Pixar like premise “what if food in the supermarket had feelings” but then takes it in a far more darker direction. All the produce view humans as their gods and dream of being chosen to go to the “great beyond” outside their home in Shopwell’s supermarket.
Hot dog Frank (Rogen) and bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) develop an attraction and want to be together, hoping to be getting selected together. The relationship between dogs and buns is leant a sexual element.

Frank and Brenda

In the run up to Independence Day a jar of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned and appears traumatised by what he saw on the outside, ranting that the “gods” are evil. When he is chosen again, alongside Frank and Brenda, he freaks out and tries to kill himself. Frank leaves his packaging to save him, followed by Brenda. In the confusion that follows both fall from the trolley, along with other products who are damaged in the chaos.
Lost in the store they try to get home although Frank is troubled by what Honey Mustard saidand begins questioning what is really going on. One of the other products that fell from the cart is Douche (Nick Kroll) an obnoxious feminine hygiene product (obviously) who blames Frank for his being discarded and damaged. Seeking revenge he begins drinking other products becoming stronger as a result.

Meanwhile, Frank’s friends Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera) have been taken home and witness the other products being cooked and eaten, horrified by what they see. Barry escapes and decides to head back to the store where things were better.

Can Barry get back? Will Frank work out what really happens in the great beyond? And if he does how will he change things?

As the premise tells you this is an incredibly silly film, and rather stupid. The film keeps the jokes coming quick and fast, and I laughed a fair few times but it doesn’t quite work. While the premise is clever there’s not enough there for a full length movie, as a short it might work but here it’s laboured and some of the jokes are worked to death.

Take Brenda and Frank’s companions on their journey Sammy Bagel Jr (Edward Norton) and Lavash (David Krumholtz). Both are stereotypes, a Woody Allen-like Jew and an angry Arabic character. While the initial gag about the Israel style situation between the two is funny, it drags on far too long and the continuing stereotypes feel lazy and old fashioned.

There are some parts that work though. A running joke about puns is quite well done especially when they acknowledge how laboured some of them are. It’s also quite clever in the way that it cuts between the human view of the world which is drabber and the colourful world of the products where they have facial features and so on.

The human version of events

It’s also quite a funny sequence where a stoner (James Franco) pierces the veil between the two worlds while tripping.

There are some quite dark moments as the film unfolds particularly when the products declare war on the humans, and it’s kinda jarring. And the attempts to go for a deeper subtext of talking about faith, acceptance and finding what people have in common, but it never really goes deep into anything and most importantly the characters don’t engage you fully. Without forming a connection with the players it’s hard to care and leaves this as a series of vulgarity and OTT moments which after a while lose their charm.

While it delivers some laughs it feels kinda like a bunch of teenagers trying to be as shocking as possible, and while they probably enjoyed it’s very messy, particularly a food orgy at the end which goes on far too long. It’s self indulgent and could have done with some trimming, which for a film that doesn’t even reach an hour and a half is quite damning.

Most telling is that it’s a day later and I don’t remember a single line. It’s a pity as I usually like Rogen’s stuff and this boasts an impressive cast, but it all feels a bit of a waste.

Verdict: There are enough laughs along the way but it feels flat and self-indulgent. They obviously had fun making it, but it doesn’t quite translate and it loses it’s way. I laughed but it gets old doesn’t have a lasting impact. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Finding Dory

I love the movie Finding Nemo which for me is right up there with The Incredibles and the Toy Story trilogy as the best work Pixar have done, so I was pretty stoked about a sequel, especially one that focused on Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), the upbeat fish with short term memory loss.

Picking up a year after the original Dory is still living with Marlin and Nemo (Albert Brooks and Hayden Rolence respectively). One day she remembers something about her childhood and parents, and decides to go find them, aided by an excited Nemo and reluctant Marlin. They cross the ocean where they find the Marine Life Institute. Unfortunately they are separated when Dory is captured by humans.

Inside the institute, Dory begins to remember some things and is marked for transfer. Enlisting the aid of cranky octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) who doesn’t want to be released back in the wild and agrees to help if he can get Dory’s tag which will help him be transferred. They begin searching the institute looking for clues.

Dory and Hank

Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo must try to get in and find their friend. Along the way both are aided by different marine residents including two lazy sea lions, a shortsighted whale shark and a lonely clam. 

Can Marlin and Nemo find Dory? Will Dory find her parents? And if she does which family will she live with?
I quite enjoyed this film which is fast paced and fun. The plot is simple but the Pixar team load it with some exciting sequences, colourful characters and plenty of emotion, but it falls short of the original. it lacks the scale of Marlin and Dory’s journey across the ocean or the heart of the Marlin and Nemo story.

That’s not to say this isn’t emotionally involving as they take the comical Dory and add depth, exploring the isolation and sadness that comes with her condition. It also shows us her family life which is incredibly sweet and features an unbelievably cute baby Dory.

Baby Dory

This is the heart of the film, as is the theme of family, with Marlin and Nemo being driven to find the adopted Dory as she seeks out her biological family. The question of whether Dory will leave them is a major question and one we see the characters have to face with some reluctance.

The flashbacks are warm and sweet, and Dory’s fears and frustration about her loss and getting back are well done and moving. DeGeneres manages to make Dory engaging and likeable through her voice work and adds just the right wobble of uncertainty to the formerly cheery and charming character. It’s the same Dory audiences fell in love with, but with a slightly deeper insight.

The story moves along briskly and the action sequences have a chaotic, humourous tone which keeps the audience hooked and the laughs coming, as do a selection of new characters.

I laughed numerous times and it continues Pixar’s knack of layering jokes for adults into their family films. There are some nice running gags and Hank’s camouflage skills are used well throughout, and an OTT car chase is wonderful.

It’s gorgeous to look at and quite good fun but MWF and I both left with the feeling that this is a lesser Pixar work, good but with their ridiculous high standards a slight disappointment.

Verdict: Full of fun and with likeable characters, a simple, engaging plot. But it can never match the original and feels slightly lightweight in places. Good but not great. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.



My Favourite Films #40: Tangled

One of the (many) perks of being in a relationship with MWF is her Disney collection. As a total Disney addict she owns all of the “Classics” series, which is cool as my Disney viewing has holes in. Of course, I’ve seen most of the big ones, and most of the ’90s ones but before we started dating there was a massive gap between Mulan (1998) and Wreck-It Ralph (2012), however, this has been sorted and I’ve now actually seen almost every single film, especially from the gap. Among these is one that has quickly become one of my favourite all time Disney movies, Tangled.

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The movie is a retelling of the Rapunzel myth but with added bits. It begins with the story of a drop of sunlight falling to Earth which creates a magic flower which an aged witch Gothel (Donna Murphy) uses for eternal youth, however, when the pregnant queen falls ill the plant is discovered and used to save her. Gothel, incensed goes to slay the newborn princess, but discovers the magic has been passed onto the girl’s hair. She then steals the princess away and imprisons her in a high tower, keeping her secret and posing as her mother. To keep her there she teaches the young girl, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) that the world is scary and people are after her hair.

However, as she grows up Rapunzel chafes against the confines of the tower and longs to explore the world. She also wants to see the “floating lights”, lanterns which are lit annually for her by the royal couple.

Hope arrives in the form of roguish thief Flynn Rider (Zachary Quinto), who stumbles on her tower while on the run. Rapunzel takes the crown he has stolen and uses it to blackmail him into taking her to see the lights. Flynn is initially unwilling and attempts to put her off by deliberately scaring her by taking her to a rough bar, which backfires thanks to the rough patrons revealing that they also have dreams. This is by far the best music number in the movie a hilarious sequence where the thugs reveal their hobbies and passions before forcing Flynn, at sword point, to join in.

As they travel, Flynn discovers her hair’s secret and takes her to the city, however, Gothel is in pursuit and allied with Flynn’s former associates the Stabbington Brothers (both voiced by Ron Perlman). Her plan is to trick Rapunzel into thinking that Flynn has no feelings for her, thus making the heartbroken girl easier to control and contain.

The movie has two parts played by Ron Perlman, what's not to love?

The movie has two parts played by Ron Perlman, what’s not to love?

Flynn honours his promise to show her the lights and this scene, accompanied by a decent ballad is utterly beautiful, the CG creating a beautiful sequence where the lanterns take flight making it for me one of the all time highlights of any animated film.

The lantern sequence is glorious

The lantern sequence is glorious

Double crossed Flynn ends up in the custody of the guards, but escapes, racing to rescue Rapunzel.

Here’s the thing, I love this movie and a large part of that is down to Zachary Levi’s funny performance as the swaggering Flynn. Flynn is a world away from the usual Disney hero, being cocky, self-absorbed and sarcastic, in fact he’s more akin to a Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds type. Of course, underneath this he is still a goodie and has some form of code. Flynn’s frustration at Wanted posters not capturing his face is a running gag and his vanity is one of his flaws.

Flynn Rider: Smooth criminal

Flynn Rider: Smooth criminal

The relationship between the cynical Flynn and naive, cheery Rapunzel works in an opposites attract way, and the movie should get props for the fact that Rapunzel is in charge of her own destiny and quite heroic herself. Her naivety feels realistic given her sheltered upbringing and she’s not a complete idiot. She’s wary of what happens and knows when to step up, not relying on Flynn or others.

Their relationship develops wonderfully and is paced correctly, not feeling rushed or forced. The finale where Flynn reveals that being with Rapunzel has replaced wealth as his dream is sweet, and his decision to sacrifice himself to free her is a truly emotional moment. That this is reversed with some old school fairytale endings doesn’t diminish it and the ending is strong and satisfying.

Also the supporting cast are great, the animal sidekicks are cute and funny, and in Gothel there’s a truly despicable villain. I can’t think of another kid’s film where the villain is so manipulative or a film where guilt tripping is shown so clearly. Gothel is the kind of villain you just hate and it’s because a lot of her evil isn’t magic or fantastical, it’s worryingly normal and her key weapon against Rapunzel is emotional blackmail and manipulation.

Tangled manages to combine the fairytale magic of the old Princess movies (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White) with a knowing sense of humour and more independent heroine, making it the perfect choice to be the 50th Classic. It both nods to the past and represents a change in tone for Disney, and benefits from a funny, sparkling script which plays well to all ages.

An utter gem of a movie and one I can rewatch over and over.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Lava

Last week I saw Inside Out and loved it, and before the film there was a short film. Being a short movie, this will be a short review.

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The cute, adorable short follows a lonely volcano who, witnessing other couples being happy sings a song, hoping for a love of his own.
As the years pass he loses his hope and his lava and size dwindles, however, an underwater volcano hears his song and decides to go to the surface to meet him.

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Is she too late? Or will they find happiness together?
Based around a simple, glorious Hawaiian style song which puts a grin on your face. The animation is typical of Pixar, full of warmth and character and in a few minutes it manages to be more heartwarming and genuinely affecting than many features manage.
I loved it, making me smile like an idiot and appealed to me as a soft git. It’s full of charm and an easy, light touch which stops it from being too sickly.
Verdict: Brilliantly cheerful and the right kind of sweet, it’ll warm the cockles of your heart. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Inside Out

This might have been the year I turned 30, but so far my top movies of the year list is topped by cartoons. This movie joins Big Hero 6 as one of the best cinematic experiences I’ve had this year.

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As with most Pixar movies this is based on a simple, but clever premise, taking us inside the head of a young girl, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), and showing us the emotions who run the show in there.
First and foremost is Joy (Amy Poehler), who’s usually in charge of keeping the others in line and Riley happy.

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Joy at work

The others are Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black). Joy accepts they all have a place, apart from Sadness, who she can’t quite work out.
So far Riley’s life has been happy and simple, and the happy core memories she’s formed have helped form the islands of personality that make her who she is.
But when Riley’s dad gets a new job and they have to move to San Francisco things start to get harder and Joy reacts badly to the fact Sadness causes Riley’s first sad core memory. Joy, Sadness and the core memories wind up thrown out of HQ and lost in the memory banks. Realising that if they don’t get back Riley will never be happy and that her personality can’t stay the same without her memories to inform them they set out across Riley’s mind to get back to HQ.
Can they survive and make it back? How will Fear, Anger and Disgust manage? And what will happen to Riley?
This movie is just flat out great, and should be really cool in helping kids (and adults) understand emotion better. It shows how each emotion can effect us and why they are there.
It’s also, like most Pixar movies, chock full of invention. The design of Riley’s mindscape is glorious, with HQ and the memory banks clearly designed on different parts of the brain. It also reflects how our minds work in clever visual ways, like a Train of thought that meanders and changes route frequently or the fact the memory workers who clear the forgotten ones and delight in randomly sending up an advertising jingle to HQ.
But there’s real substance here amidst the crazy visuals and a consistent stream of laugh-out-loud jokes. For one Riley is an engaging character and believable, with the writers capturing genuine emotions and relatable situations. From embarrassment over well meaning parents to the desire to be cool, there’s lots here that most of us will have experienced.

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Embarrassing parents, familiar for many of us

The emotions, despite having one major characteristic are well done and involving, especially Joy who over the course of the film gains new perspective and understanding. The movie shows us that each emotion serves a purpose and that Sadness isn’t always a bad thing.
What I especially liked were glimpses into different characters heads and their emotions, particularly a boy who meets Riley and who’s emotions we’re shown being thrown into utter panic as a “Girl” alarm sounds. It felt painfully real remembering my own experiences in my early teens.
And it wouldn’t be Pixar without an emotional body blow and a sequence about Riley’s almost forgotten imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind), had me a little bit teary.

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Bing Bong, Sadness and Joy

All in all this movie is an utter delight, funny, moving and clever, it manages to both show how we grow as people and a simplified way of how our minds work with real wit and an engaging, captivating story. It easily ranks among the best of Pixar’s movies which is saying a lot.
Verdict: Pixar knock it out of the park with a movie that bursts at the seams with clever touches, invention and warmth. Over the course of the movie it had me laughing loudly, almost in tears and thinking about pretty big concepts. A gem of a movie and I already want to watch it again. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.