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.

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Everyone is Awesome, and Deserves a Lego Figure

I love Lego, it is hands down one of the best toys ever invented. When I was a kid I spent hours playing with the blocks and even now I’ll stop at the Lego Store in town for some window shopping.
It also inspired a rather awesome movie and cut their ties with Shell over their arctic drilling.
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All good right?
Well, there is one area that the Danish company has failed on, and that’s when it comes to representation.
They can make wizards, superheroes and dinosaurs, but apparently they don’t make disabled Lego people which kinda sucks.
I know Lego aren’t alone in this, Playmobil only recently decided to change in this regard, after a campaign by the Toy Like Me group.

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Artwork for the Playmobil campaign

The group is now going after Lego, which makes a good sense. Lego is a more visible brand and that’s why it’d be great if they changed.
Representation matters.
A few disabled toys would make a big difference to a lot of kids’ lives. For disabled kids I can only imagine it would be a massive thing to see people who are like them, just like Harry Potter was great for kids with glasses or Static was for urban black youth who were largely ignored in the comic world.
For these kids a couple of toys might make a big impact in how they view themselves. They won’t feel ignored and given the right toys they can see that their disabilities don’t mean they can’t participate.
Representation is important, it can make people view themselves in a more positive way and help them to accept and celebrate their differences.
It’s not just the disabled kids who can benefit, others seeing these toys can gain better understanding of disability. That, of course, depends on their parents talking and explaining the issue, which some may balk at, but really, isn’t that a major part of parenting? Educating your kids, even about stuff that is uncomfortable or difficult to talk about. Your job is to guide those kids to adulthood, and explain the world around them.
So I really hope that Lego takes notice and changes this, gives these kids a chance to see and learn about disability, which will hopefully remove some of the stigma around disability and improve attitudes towards it in the future.
If you agree and want to add your voice you can sign the petition here.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: How to Start a Revolution by Lucy-Anne Holmes

A lot of shops put little cheap items by the till in order to prompt idiots to make impulse buys. I know because I am one of those idiots.
Sometimes, however, my idiocy pays off and I pick up something like this book, which is a gem.
I hate to admit I wasn’t familiar with Lucy-Anne Holmes, I haven’t read any of her novels and the name didn’t ring any bells. The campaign she founded did though.
LAH founded the No More Page 3 campaign to get The Sun newspaper to drop its traditional topless models.
I must admit that for years I hadn’t given Page 3 much thought, it just being one of those things that was just there in the background. I don’t read the paper so I wasn’t exposed to it.
When I heard about the campaign I did think about it, and agreed. I’m not a prude, this was about context. Why was a newspaper featuring topless women and what effect did this have?
Probably negative ones. Not only was it objectification but what did it tell people about women’s role in society? That they were just meant to look pretty? That all they had to offer was tits?
LAH’s book details her campaign and she concisely lists her objections, but the book, as the title suggest is also a great guide to how to effect change and mount a campaign, in a positive manner.
Holmes is clear on this throughout, the campaign wasn’t uptight, it was fun (they included a LEGO page 3 girl due to the toy company’s association with the paper and the problems this might cause, which is an eye catching and interesting approach, as you’ll see below) and friendly, there was very little ranting and self righteousness, they simply expressed their passionate opposition and explained why Page 3 was problematic. And in the end they won.
Its a great quick read and Holmes is a warm, engaging writer and gives good advice on how to mount a campaign and how to deal with trolls. It’s just wonderful, one of the best impulse buys I’ve ever made.
Verdict: A warm and witty guide to 21st century campaigning and a brief history of the No More Page 3 campaign. Holmes is a wonderfully charming voice and the book has a nice, positive vibe. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Lego Movie

I actually saw this a while ago and planned to review it sooner, but it kept getting pushed back for different reasons, but I wanted to get the review in before the end of 2014 and the yearly Top 10 movies list.

There have been a couple of games based on toys and most have been lacklustre (I enjoyed the first Transformers movie, but the sequels were woeful and Battleship was just terrible), luckily there’s this movie to stand as the best example of the genre. It’s quite fitting that a movie based on Lego, a toy all about creativity and possibilities should provide a movie that crackles with imagination.

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The basic plot of a regular Joe having to realize their potential is standard fare, but it’s where the movie goes with it that shows genuine imagination, wit and ambition.

The movie follows Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), a cheerful, dim-witted Lego man who lives a normal day-to-day life following the instructions that he’s provided with and never really thinking for himself. All seems good for Emmet, but one night he gets sucked into a rebel plan who don’t like that President Business (Will Ferrell), plans to use a weapon called the Kragle to stop the Lego world being different and inventive.

Emmet

Emmet

Emmet touches the “Piece of Resistance” a brick that grants the owner, the prophesied “the Special”, the power to stop the Kragle. The Piece was hunted by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), an ass-kicking master builder who works for Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), who made the prophecy.

Wyldstyle kicking ass

Wyldstyle kicking ass

Wyldstyle is frustrated by Emmet’s stupidity and lack of imagination, and they doubt whether he is actually the Special. Aided by Wyldstyle’s boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett) they travel across different Lego worlds and try to figure out how they can stop Lord Business from his evil plan, building to a climactic showdown.

I totally dug this movie, which is jam packed with wonderful graphics and a wealth of gags throughout. It’s a kids movie that truly works on two levels, with younger viewers loving the story and the visuals, but lots of jokes that might go over their head, the best example of this being the decision to have Will Arnett’s Batman being a bit of a douche, and the scene where he plays his band’s demo is a delight.

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The voice cast across the board are fantastic, especially Chris Pratt as the clueless Emmet, with this and Guardians of the Galaxy this year, and Jursassic World coming soon, Pratt seems to have arrived in a big way, and here he is on sensational form, with his vocal skills really bringing Emmet to life.

Morgan Freeman does his usual voice of wisdom thing as Vitruvius, and they have fun with this, especially when he makes his opening prophecy.

Freeman as Vitruvius

Freeman as Vitruvius

The movie makes little jokes about Lego’s history, with cameos from Lego’s Star Wars line and the plot having a slight dig at those Lego fans who just build once and keep them pristine, thanks to the live action section (also featuring Will Ferrell). The live action sequence is a bit cliche, but by that time the movie had built up such a feeling of good will in me I went for it.

From the start to the finish I was utterly charmed and it had me chuckling consistently, especially at daft gags like Liam Neeson’s split personality character Bad Cop/Good Cop. It’s a cheerful, vibrant and engaging movie that will work for all ages and is an utter gem.

Bad Cop/Good Cop

Bad Cop/Good Cop

One word of warning though, the cheesy song “Everything Is Awesome” from the movie will lodge in your head for a long time after, and recur frequently.

Verdict: An utter delight of a movie, filled to the brim with quality gags and strong vocal performances. It’s a fast based, fun and inventive movie and easily one of the better animated movies of recent years. Delightful. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Unsung Heroes

Earlier this week Douglas Engelbart died. My response was “Who’s Douglas Engelbart?” but it turns out that Engelbart was the inventor of the computer mouse, which is a pretty big deal.

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I found it kinda sad that the dude wasn’t more well known, I mean here’s a guy who invented something which has been used by millions and millions of people around the world have used and which has become part of everyday life in the West.

It got me thinking about people who invented other stuff that are part of our regular lives but that who’s names have vanished unlike your Alexander Graham Bell types. So here are a few I had to look up, and hopefully won’t forget about-

Ole Kirk Christiansen- Lego, the greatest toy ever.

Spencer Silver and Art Fry- The post-it note.

Alexey Pajitnov- Tetris, my favourite computer game ever.

Thomas Sullivan- Who commercialized and popularized the tea bag.

Washington Sheffield- The squeezable toothpaste tube.

And of course, the nameless unknown people who were first to sort out things like fire, cider, pizza, air guitar and kissing.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


She has the technology

So the other day I was just surfing around online (I think you can get a handle on someone’s age by whether they use the term “surfing”, it seems to have died out a bit now) and I came across this story about this young lady called Christina Stephens, who makes videos on YouTube. Earlier this year she had her left foot amputated, and several of her videos are about adapting to her now life and several of them are quite charming and interesting (here’s her YouTube account).

Anyway, last month she posted this video of her just randomly making a prosthetic leg out of Lego. It’s not her most insightful video, but there’s something so charming and sweet about it.

I mean, Lego is hands down one of the coolest things that humans have ever invented (along with “Gimme Shelter”, football and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups), and it’s nice to see them being used in a new and interesting way. And it’s kinda fun and shows that she’s maintained a sense of humour, so here’s to you Christina Stephens, you rock.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.