The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Release: Friday, February 8, 2019

→Theater

Written by: the Lord Philip; Christopher, a distinguished member of the Miller clan

Directed by: someone of indeterminate skill (Mike Mitchell)

Cough. It’snotasgoodasthefirst. Cough.

Excuse me. The weather lately, I’m definitely under it — while also being totally over it. It was in the 60s last Friday, mere days after a cold snap introduced single digit temps, and now here we are again dealing with snow’s annoying cousins, hail and sleet. This streak of wild weather might explain the modest crowd that I experienced The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part with on opening night. Or have audiences just moved on? Remember the first one came out five years ago, and while there was more to come it took three years before those obligatory spin-offs came about (The Lego Batman Movie, another hit, and The Lego Ninjago Movie, not so much — both released in 2017). Is Lego Movie fatigue a real thing? Are we spoilt for choice? Whatever the reason, the release of Lego 2 feels much less of an event, the kind of Big Deal I would have anticipated given the success of that first film.

The classic crew return in Mike Mitchell’s space opera adventure, with Chris Pratt earnest and naive as ever as hero Emmet Brickowski, Elizabeth Banks more dark and brooding as Wyldstyle/Lucy, Will Arnett even more baritone-voiced as “The Man of Bats,” Alison Brie reliably Unikitty, Charlie Day as Spaceman Benny and Nick Offerman full-metal-bearded as the . . . pirate . . . guy. Away from them we are introduced to a handful of new personalities, some of them as memorable as any of the preexisting ones. And while the specifics of the plot are entirely different the basic shape of the story is retained, the animated characters and action foregrounded against a live-action environment where those plot developments emulate what is happening in a child’s imagination. No, the set-up isn’t as fresh a second time around but I still find it to be one of the great strengths of this franchise, and even as Lego 2 returns to the surface more often it does it to great effect.

After standing up to the all-powerful Lord Business/The Man Upstairs (Will Ferrell) in the first movie, Emmet feels quite optimistic about the future, despite present-day Bricksburg (now called Apocalypseburg) looking like a Mad Max/Blade Runner wasteland where everything is far from awesome. An inter-racial war between Legos and Duplos have ravaged the land and turned the good Bricksburgians into hardened plastic cynics. Yet amidst this abyss of humanity Emmet has gone ahead and built a little house for him and Lucy to carry out their lives in, and it has everything, including a double-decker porch swing and a Toaster Room.

When General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), the leader of the Duplo invaders and hench-woman of the “not evil” Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), pays a visit to the people of Bricksburg, now confined to a fall-out shelter á la Star Wars: The Last Jedi, she abducts Lucy and a few other unfortunates, coercing them to take part in a wedding ceremony in the far-away Systar System. Emmet, with little support from his peers — not even Lucy, who is yearning for a more mature, less naive Emmet given the times in which they live — determines it is his duty to save them. Along the way he meets a badass named Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Chris Pratt), who will help Emmett not only become “more badass” but as well prevent the impending plastic nuptials that will bring about “Our-Mom-Ageddon.”

Plot and themes suffice, but that’s really all they do. They fail to wow. We deal with familiar notions of dealing with change and staying true to one’s identity in the face of societal/peer pressure. What is new, however, is the deconstruction of action hero tropes. Is being “The Badass” all that it’s cracked up to be? Emmet, ever the underdog, is challenged both by his past actions and his present conflict. It is suggested he took a disproportionate amount of credit as “The Special,” when Lucy did as much if not more of the ass-kicking. In the present the essence of who he is becomes tested — can he become this more serious, more assertive, less frequently pushed-over Lego piece Lucy wants him to be? What happens when he succeeds at that?

The answers to those questions and a few more may well lie in the egotistic Rex Dangervest, a fun new character who showcases everything that is inherently silly about icons of machismo like Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis. In fact his very existence is a parody of Chris Pratt’s own career, whether taking aim at that stupid thing he did with the raptors in Jurassic World or poking fun of his potential casting as Indiana Jones — all of which being material more geared towards the adult chaperones in attendance.  It seems unlikely kids are going to get many of those references, never mind comprehend the time traveling twist that is rather convoluted to say the least.

Beyond that, Lego 2 makes a conscientious effort to balance the perspective, making the female characters just as integral to the emotional core of the narrative, whether that be on the macro — the real-world drama depicted as a sibling squabble, with Finn (Jadon Sand) not wanting to play nice with his younger sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), who’s gotten into Legos herself and wants to do her own thing with them — or the micro level, Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi presenting a shape-shifting femme fatale who turns out to be more than what meets the eye — her “Not Evil” song suggesting she may well be an aspiring Masked Singer contestant. And let us not forget who it is that has inspired Emmet to change.

The release of The Lego Movie back in 2014 was a hugely nostalgic ride for this former Lego enthusiast. I was reminded not just of my obsession with the building blocks but as well the genius of Pixar’s Toy Story. It may not be the most accurate comparison given that the characters technically have less autonomy in the Lego universe. Unlike in Toy Story where the movie happens in the absence of the humans, here the characters are wholly reliant upon human interaction and manipulation — which, incidentally, is what makes Lego 2‘s grand finale so incongruous; I won’t say anything more, but suffice to say it really doesn’t make sense. Still, the very concept of a child’s play things coming to life and given such personality struck me as kind of profound.

Lego 2 clearly aspires to be a Toy Story 2 but unfortunately it is not that movie. In fairness, what sequel is? It takes a similar tact in expanding the canvas, taking the action into outer space, but ultimately it’s unable to escape the shadow of its more successful older brother. That’s most obvious in its attempt to create another ear bug in the form of “The Catchy Song,” a tune that ironically turns out to be nowhere near as catchy as “Everything is Awesome.” It’s a poppy jingle more than an actual song, and its fleetingness tends to sum up the experience as a whole.

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss.”

Recommendation: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part delivers more of what fans should have expected but it cannot overcome a sense of been-there-done-that. That the law of diminishing returns applies even to the brilliantly quick witted Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (and the guys at Animal Logic who provide the animation) just goes to show how difficult it is to improve upon an already strong foundation. Even if Lego 2 is a step down, it once again will reward older viewers while keeping the little ones busy with the hectic action and bright colors. Despite the flaws it is still worthy of being seen in a theater. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “I ain’t Selina Kyle. I ain’t no Vicki Vale. I was never into you even when you were Christian Bale.”

“I’m more of a Keaton guy myself.”

“Oh, I loved him in Beetlejuice!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Peanuts Movie

'The Peanuts Movie' movie poster

Release: Friday, November 6, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Bryan Shulz; Craig Shulz; Cornelius Uliano

Directed by: Steve Martino

In The Peanuts Movie, Charlie Brown is still (mostly) the center of attention and adults remain out of sight, except for the few who lend their voices to the tune of a muffled, and possibly mangled, kazoo.

Here is a movie of extraordinarily simple pleasures, about a boy who crushes hard on the new redheaded girl at school and whose dog writes a compelling bit of fiction that details his most recent clash with the Red Barron. There is absolutely nothing here that you haven’t seen before, be it in previous incarnations of ‘Peanuts’ in celluloid form, in the comic strip or in any middling bit of entertainment aimed towards children 6-12. Surprisingly, in the comfortable and safe confines of unremarkable direction familiarity does not breed contempt. It breeds deep pangs of nostalgia.

I can’t even remember the last time I watched or so much as looked at anything ‘Peanuts’-related. It has to be at least a decade since, not counting, of course, the teaser posters that were unveiled last year for this film. Three years ago this project was announced, but I don’t know where I was. Sleeping on top of a doghouse, perhaps? (I have always considered myself more of a Snoopy than a Charlie Brown.) This November marks the 65th anniversary of the comic strip’s debut, and the 50th anniversary since the first TV movie, A Charlie Brown Christmas. The strip itself ran for half a century, debuting in 1950 and ending in 2000. Of course, its beloved creator, Charles M. Shulz, passed away the day before his final Sunday strip ran in the papers.

As any ‘Peanuts’ fan knows the strip wasn’t destined for continuation as the Shulz family felt strongly about Charles remaining its first and only drawer. That might partially explain why we don’t get anything even close to original in The Peanuts Movie, a product now 15 years removed from the end of a significant era. Shulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan drafted a production that honors the legacy without stepping on any hand-drawn toes.

The formula requires introducing Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) to a “new” obstacle. Yes, he’s still having major issues with getting his kite to fly but when a new girl moves in next door, he finds himself with bigger fish to fry. Smitten by The Redheaded Girl, he remains paralyzed with fear when it comes to walking up to her and introducing himself. The conflict manifests as an amalgam of many smaller social anxieties good old Chuck has had in the past, be it overcoming Lucy’s bullying or avoiding Peppermint Patty’s advances: “You kind of like me, don’t you Chuck?” Charlie’s often been involved in love drama and that’s not the only thing that hasn’t changed here.

In the movie he must overcome his pessimism, and prove himself worthy of The Redheaded Girl’s affections.

In the movie he struggles, as he always has, to understand his place in the bigger picture when he aces a test and suddenly becomes popular.

In the movie he muffs the punt on the football, because Lucy is still a jerk.

The movie isn’t all about Charlie Brown, though. You guessed correctly. Snoopy, along with his trusted ally Woodstock (both of whom are given life thanks to archived recordings of Bill Melendez), dreams — writes, even — of the moment he rescues his own damsel in distress in the form of an exciting aerial adventure. The Red Barron, curse him, will stop at nothing to ensure Snoopy doesn’t succeed. A subplot as whimsical as it is perfunctory.

Here’s a production that manages to extend the legacy without expanding much of its horizon. It’s a win-win: we reap the benefits of being reunited with some of our favorite comic strip characters; the Shulz family will undoubtedly reap the financial benefits of the big screen treatment.

Charlie, Snoopy and Woodstock Got Talent

Recommendation: Good grief this is a nostalgic movie. Fans of ‘Peanuts’ should and probably will see this regardless of anything I write. I think it’s kind of telling that this is the first G-rated film I have reviewed on the blog. I just couldn’t resist diving back into this world, even if it is exactly the same as when I last left it.

Rated: G

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “You say you’ll hold it, but what you really mean is you’ll pull it away and I’ll land flat on my back and I’ll kill myself.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Some Kind of Hate

Release: Friday, September 18, 2015 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Adam Egypt Mortimer; Brian DeLeeuw

Directed by: Adam Egypt Mortimer


This review is my fifth contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. A big thanks to James for hooking this one up!


Adam Egypt Mortimer takes a stand against bullying in his feature film debut. The irony is he bullies viewers into sharing in his frustration using a relentlessly clichéd, propagandistic approach to make anyone watching feel really, really bad.

Someone has to do the job of course, because the acting department can’t. The comic book writer and short film director blends elements of real-life horror with a sprinkling of supernaturalism to produce Some Kind of Hate, a brutal and bloody take on the physical and psychological effects on targets of aggressive bullying. The cause is noble, but unfortunately the end product is so in-your-face it has an adverse effect. I found myself, especially circa the blood-soaked climax, cheering on neither said supernatural element nor the good guys, but rather the time marker on the film’s total runtime as it neared the end. Go! Go! Go!

The film starts off on the wrong foot and has to fight an uphill battle over the course of 80 minutes, sending its quietly angry protagonist Lincoln (Ronen Rubinstein) down a gauntlet of seemingly endless taunting and physical confrontation. We first see him getting intimidated by his loser father (Andrew Bryniarski) before leaving for school, where he’ll immediately get bullied by some dude with a tucked-in shirt. A crowd quickly gathers around the scene to make the incident as humiliating as possible. When Lincoln can no longer take it he reacts, rather brutally, which sets up the events of the rest of the movie in a fairly compelling fashion. He’s sent to a reform school in the middle of the desert where the counselors hope to unpack many of their campers’ issues and help them move forward with their lives.

Surprise surprise, Lincoln doesn’t find any sanctuary from his problems here either, as one of the campers takes it upon himself to make the new guy feel ‘welcome.’ It’s not until Lincoln retreats into the basement of one of the facilities that he finds some kind of solace from the hell that has become his life. But there’s something else down there waiting for him, watching him.

Chief among the issues facing this would-be-thriller is the frustrating lack of exposition regarding this reform facility, weirdly named Mind’s Eye Academy. The remote, arid location is certainly foreboding but there’s no lore, no exposition, no explanation. The camp leaders, themselves victimized by various forms of abusive upbringings — Michael Polish’s Jack and Noah Segan’s Krauss — are so vaguely defined that their creepiness comes across as a byproduct of nonexistent character development. Jack appears to enjoy meditating and speaking in hushed tones, while his underling isn’t sure what good the Mind’s Eye Academy is doing for anyone. Quite incidentally, neither are we. All we know is that this place serves one purpose and one purpose only: to stage some bloody scenes of supposedly justifiable revenge.

Some Kind of Hate rams its social commentary down your throat. Not only that, but there comes a point where the message becomes obscured by something more alarming: bullies may be bad but worse are the victims who don’t stand up for themselves. Grace Phipps’ troubled former cheerleader Kaitlin tries to convince Lincoln of this, and though he’s the closest person within earshot it’s evident she’s preaching to us. All of a sudden fellow campers start disappearing. That’s right folks, ‘innocent’ people are getting killed to death. Is it Lincoln? Lincoln seems to be the only one around here with a big enough chip on his shoulder to warrant suspicion.

Look, I’m all for a vicious revenge plot, if it’s executed well. (I admit that may have been a poor choice of words.) Few things are more gratifying than watching the baddies receiving their comeuppance, particularly when it’s been coming to them the entire time. Annoyingly, the film’s latter stages justify little more than the film’s quota of supplying the red gooey stuff. Some Kind of Hate had a message to send, but unfortunately it all gets lost in a production that is some kind of awful.

Recommendation: This B-horror film is certainly aimed at a niched audience. It features gore, unlikable characters and self-harm in almost equal measure. Count me out of that audience. Apart from a few creative and fun kills, there’s really not much to like about Some Kind of Hate as it carries all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 82 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com

TBT: 50 First Dates (2004)

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Tragically, yet another Drew Sandler-Adam Barrymore film is debuting this coming weekend — I don’t know, something called Blended, and to help celebrate this simply FABULOUS event. . . . (he says, with the entire jar of sarcasm spilled out all over the table). . . I am throwing it back to 2004, to a time when the two were reunited for their second go-around in a rom-com (bonus points go to the commenter with the other film they are in). This movie I do have to admit to enjoying on some level roughly approaching loving. I know, I know. I know what this means. Well, I don’t know, actually. . .because I have assumed my little laminated Film Critic Card was revoked the day I started this theme for TBT! So I basically have no apologies at this point. I’ll just come right out and say it. One of my guilty pleasure films is definitely

Today’s food for thought: 50 First Dates

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

Release: February 13, 2004

[DVD]

Adam Sandler has gotten into this very nasty habit of recycling his old friends in his movies. It’s almost as if a phone call is made to each and every one of them — including the Rob Schneiders, the Kevin Nealons, the Allen Coverts — within days of their latest outing being released to international audiences. The phone call probably goes a little something like:

“Hey, you assholes wanna go do that again? Aright, sick! Just come up with another cool, exotic location and we’ll do it; I’ll stuff my egg-shaped head in my private jet and pick ya’ll up on my way. By the way, you’ve still got that really funny-looking penis, right? Okay, alright. Awesome. We’re going to rely on that as our running gag for this next movie. Shut up. It’ll work. Trust me.”

Quite frankly I’d be excited to be receiving that phone call if I were any of those names just mentioned. The one thing about working with a guy like Adam Sandler is you really can’t complain about the job security. He’ll keep you in business, but unfortunately and in no small way ironically, that would be to your career’s detriment in all likelihood.  He’s comfortable magnetizing the same names again and again because that’s exactly what it is: comfortable. While that’s a strategy not likely to benefit Sandler’s acting range, it’s one that has actually produced the odd one or two little charmers.

50 First Dates was a good example of a final product reaping modest benefits of Sandler’s almost defiant conditions of labor. The cast is one that catches sparks, though it never catches fire; and while the contents aren’t anything a Monday-through-Friday Adam Sandler hater would ever bat an eyelid at, it’s with a great sense of relativism when I say you could do a lot worse than when Henry met Lucy.

Henry Roth, the man apparently no woman can resist (what a joke that is!) had stumbled across someone who he considered the woman of his dreams in the totally, amazingly, ridiculously, stupendously romantic locale of Hawaii. One morning while grabbing breakfast at a local diner on one of the main islands, Henry spotted a cute blonde girl sitting alone, and decided to approach her. An employee at the diner cautioned him, informing him she suffered from chronic short-term memory loss following a terrible car accident years back. Henry found himself too smitten to listen, though, and proceeded to do everything in his power to help Lucy remember who he was. The resultant pursuit of love wound up far more interesting than it had any right to be, even as all the jokes still appeared to attend the same old Sandler school of the scatological.

Life lessons are, naturally, in abundance in Adam Sandler flicks. Let’s see all the ways in which I can twist the plot of this one into suiting my blog’s own selfish needs, shall we:

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    Life’s full of tough choices. If it comes down to playing a trick on a really fat, heavily-tattooed bartender, or playing one on an innocent, sweet little girl with memory loss, pick which one will make you the lesser asshole of the two.

  2. MV5BMjAxNzI2MDA4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDExMzE3._V1_SX640_SY720_

    Variety is the spice of life. Tired of the bar scene as a place to pick up girls? Try faking a breakdown, with only a cute little penguin as your road buddy, as an attempt to flirt with potential female passers-by. If this doesn’t work, you could always fake your own kidnapping by hogtying yourself up in the back of your truck. That might be overreaching, though. . .

  3. 1677474,YLP7zQLz6ZSLuWzmze0PW+cnYRhdXbprbGh7njsvg0iMHY6n9UFdx_F1sfhwcUnP_6c6uuIOt37+Um3E6fWHFg==

    Is today a shirtless day? Or is it a mesh-shirt day? Sometimes it’s f**king impossible to make the decision. Life really is difficult sometimes. Especially if you live in Hawaii.

  4. 166614-210970-504png-620x

    Hey man, if aquariums make you super-horny, then aquariums make you super-horny. Often, life requires no further explanation or conditions other than what’s obvious. Some people are just touched in the head.

  5. MCDFIFI CO041

    Life demands you ingest the advice of your elders. With time comes experience, so if you have the legendary Dan Aykroyd in your face telling you your movie needs more ghosts to be busted in it, then by god you should listen. Too bad the advice here falls on deaf ears. . . .

3-0Recommendation: 50 First Dates narrowly avoids being lumped in with the rest of Sandler’s monotonous schlub-fests as it pays attention to something fairly important: chemistry between it’s two leads. Of course, this particular film banks on the fact that Sandler and Barrymore have that already established. Even still, it remains routinely funny, occasionally vulgar and always cliched and predictable viewing that offends the palate far less often than many other Sandler offerings. 50 First Dates is a film with a beguiling charm, if only because it relies on the strength of two actors who have done the very same thing years before.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “Sometimes I wish my wife had Goldfield Syndrome. That way she wouldn’t remember last night when I called her mother a loud, obnoxious drunk with a face like J. Edgar Hoover’s ass. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: google images 

Ernest & Celestine

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Release: Friday, February 28, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Ernest & Celestine may only be an hour and twenty minutes long, but within such a short time span a world is created that no viewer can possibly walk away from willingly. No, they’ll have to call upon the indie/arthouse theater bouncers to physically remove me from this theater seat! (And. . well, it looks like they are doing that right now so I’ll have to be brie. . . .)

The one word that perfectly sums up this adventure? ‘Adorable’ comes to mind. ‘Warm.’ ‘Fuzzy.’ Yes, these are all good. But the one that really sticks out:

‘Awwwwww. . . .’

Work with me, people. Onomatopoeia counts, especially if the film in question is an animated feature, because that’s the sound we make throughout most of these things. This one in particular is an English-language version of a French adaptation of a popular Belgian children’s book series. It tells the story of an intrepid little mouse, Celestine (voiced by the young Mackenzie Foy) who melts the icy heart of the big, lumpy bear Ernest (Forest Whitaker).

Neither of the two seem to really fit in to their respective societies: with the bears living above ground, and the mice being relegated to the network of sewage systems below. Each population must fend for themselves in a world dominated by fear and a hilarious misunderstanding of one other. Mice fear bears for bears love to eat mice, but the sheer irony of it is that bears are just as fearful of the little rodents they’d sooner throw their paws in the air and surrender than put up a fight.

Ernest is a poor bear who lives alone and is now having trouble finding any food to survive the winter that is officially upon his doorstep, so he scrounges his way through the local village in a feeble attempt at filling his tummy. Police aren’t having any of it, though, and justice is swiftly brought to the panhandling bear. However, Ernest and his problems aren’t the first things introduced to us. Instead, the film opens up and immediately immerses us in the underground society of mice, where Celestine is settling into bed for another unpleasant night at the orphanage overseen by a dreadful mousekeeper (yes, that’s a term invented by yours truly) mysteriously referred to as The Gray One (Lauren Bacall).

This misery of a mouse likes to tell her children all sorts of horrible stories about the bears, though Celestine is inclined to not buy into them. Her encounter with one in particular will affirm that indeed, not all bears are bad. In fact, they can be quite lovable.

As a member of a society that builds and chews things for survival, Celestine is studying to be a dentist. Her instructor, the Head Dentist (voice of William H. Macy), has taken a keen interest in Celestine, as she hasn’t been keeping up with her teeth collecting like all of the other students. He demands she go out and scoop up 50 in a single night. During this mission, Celestine finds herself in hot water when, in the process of taking a tooth from one bear cub, she is caught in the act and chased out of the house by the terrified bears. She proceeds to stuff herself into a trash can to sleep for the night, where she is later found by Ernest while he’s out looking for leftovers again.

From minute one, Celestine is intent on Ernest forming a different opinion of her, other than the one he probably already has thanks to his being a bear and all. But Ernest isn’t like most and would rather Celestine just disappear not because she’s a mouse but because he’s a grouch and prefers to be left alone. When the two find themselves wanted fugitives after breaking into a candy shop, Ernest has no choice but to put up with Celestine for the time being. He takes her back to his secluded woodland hut, where he at first puts her in the basement. . .below ground, where mice belong.

As days turn into weeks and weeks into months the odd pair’s bond only strengthens, with Ernest slowly warming to the mouse’s presence. . .after his initial reluctance to break the rules. And the little squeaky one is just happy that someone finally cares about her. Unfortunately, while all is bright in Ernest’s neck of the woods, the town has formed a search party (bear and mouse police forces remain segregated until a hilarious scene in which they all meet in pursuit of the pair) to arrest and jail the pair of perceived renegades. The proceeding adventure is incredibly endearing to watch unfold.

Joint directorial efforts from Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar ensure Ernest & Celestine is consistently charming, absorbing and gleefully funny. Imaginative use of animation, coupled with the film’s innocuous tone and subject, might make the film seem as if its catering to a young crowd. Yes, the film is relatively harmless, and yet there are larger themes at play here, even beyond the amusing comparisons to the outlaws Bonnie & Clyde. The friendship between the two animals certainly functions on the surface as an odd-couple dynamic. These characters are well-developed and well worth loving.

On the other hand, as the film develops, we see more than a. . e-hem. . .bare resemblance to the relationships in our world that often face judgment — relationships of a non-traditional variety. The beauty of the film is that it’s open-ended in what qualifies for ‘non-traditional;’ defining what these are doesn’t matter, but recognizing the parallel does. This is a concept that children won’t necessarily pick up on while watching mice and bears running around on a beautiful watermark palette. But the allegory is as obvious as a bear caught in a mousetrap.

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4-5Recommendation: A great little escape that features a terrific voice cast who turn in endearing work. There is no harm in bringing the kids along for a family viewing here, but a wide audience ranging from the single adult to the young married couple truly benefit more from some of the story’s subtler suggestions about coexisting in a judgmental and often misinformed society.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 80 mins.

Quoted: “Do you know the story of the little mouse who did not believe in the big, bad bear. . .?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Spectacular Now

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Release: Friday, August 2, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Miles Teller had but one chance left to impress before I completely wrote him off as an actor who may have talent, but is perpetually doomed to recycling poor role choices. Even though his resumé may be limited, there’s enough to notice the pattern of him being typecast as the boisterous, most extroverted alpha male in the room. Never one to take anything seriously, the 26-year-old Teller in drunken fiascos like 21 & Over and Project X has been highly unlikable and the movies themselves never led me to believe the kid could really act. Fortunately, that opinion needs to be amended, now that I’ve seen his work in The Spectacular Now, an unusually refined story that shows a young couple falling in love and dealing with the complicated realities of being on the cusp of adulthood. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age story, but not one you’ve seen before.

Teller takes on a more civilized version of his once-and-future frat boy persona. Where he was once trying much too hard to channel his inner John Belushi circa Animal House with his high-spirited debauchery and general disregard for anyone around him (including his friends), his Sutter Keely is dressed in a decorum which really goes the extra mile in this new film from James Ponsoldt. While he’s still not my favorite element to the film (that recognition goes to Shailene Woodley’s stellar performance) this guy is a much more likable person and is one that is easy to get behind and root for. Finally.

Sutter’s that kid who refuses to think about the future. He lives very much in the moment, which is typically a healthy practice, but for him it’s become a mindset that has eroded more of his potential than fulfilled it since he seems content to just drift by in school, at his job and even in his relationships, all while embracing being king of high school — even if that is a clock that is set to expire pretty soon. Of course, he knows that, so isn’t that even more reason to remain in the here-and-now?

After a fall-out with his ex, Sutter goes on an inexplicable drinking spree (how does anyone get away with serving this kid when they know he’s underage?), gets tanked and drives home, which results in him laying in someone’s front yard, and being discovered by a concerned passer-by early the next morning. Thanks to his reputation, the girl immediately recognizes him, but he can’t quite put a name to this pretty face. She introduces herself as Aimee Finecky (Woodley). Call the rest history.

The film tumbles into a fierce love story between the two young stars that is intensely captivating. At a certain point, the performances and direction work so seamlessly that the script seems to be relegated to more of a guideline-type role and the real human element, the gut instinct, takes over. Being a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, facing real-world problems suddenly with secrets being revealed about one another’s own families and their histories, there’s no doubt that in particular Sutter and Aimee’s transitional year from high school to. . . . . whatever comes next. . . is particularly turbulent. Well, more like explosive, and Ponsoldt was adept in capturing as many sparks as he could. The fact remains that while teenagers do “have it made” more or less, there’s a lot to figure out about one’s self this early on. This film utilizes that time period to explore some deeply personal and complex emotions and head spaces.

In the end, it’s the details that really arrest. From discovering certain underlying reasons as to why Sutter drinks just so damn much; to him convincing Aimee that she needs to quit doing the paper route for her mom (“Mom, get off my motherf**king back!” being one of the movie’s more memorable lines); to what happens on the side of a road one fateful night. The film is a complete tour-de-force as far as the emotional spectrum is concerned. It’s almost a little bi-polar — but that term doesn’t sound good, so we’ll just go with extremely moody. At the same time, it’s a complete package. The ups are terrific and moving, while the low points almost break you to pieces. The last thing I thought I would be doing would be nearly coming to tears concerning Teller’s character at one point.

At the end of the day, with me being completely nonplussed by Teller’s previous output and then being blown away by his performance here — that’s saying something. However, it should also be mentioned that he’s got plenty of great material surrounding him, but it’s obvious he has stepped up his game for this role. He’s really quite likable and to me that was one of the largest payoffs. With that said, the rest of the cast is simply wonderful as well and the movie benefits tremendously from top-notch work turned in by all.

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4-0Recommendation: This is an emotional rollercoaster and if this had a massively long queue lined up for it, it’s surely worth that wait. The cast bring career-defining performances (although for Woodley, she started off on an equally impressive foot with her work in The Descendants) and the events that go down here are all but guaranteed to affect everyone in attendance substantially. If not, then those are some pretty cold-hearted moviegoers. And I pity the fool(s).

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “What do you mean? Everybody’s got a story.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com