Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Release: Wednesday, June 16, 2021

👀 Theater

Written by: Tom O’Connor; Brandon Murphy; Phillip Murphy

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Starring: Ryan Reynolds; Samuel L. Jackson; Salma Hayek; Antonio Banderas; Morgan Freeman

**/*****

Short review: Well, I’ve seen worse. But that’s not exactly the endorsement I was wanting to write. Not that I was necessarily expecting to come out of this thing with effusive praise, but I was also hoping it would be a lot of fun. Alas, those expectations were too high.

Misfiring like an over-adrenalized rookie, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, the sequel to 2017’s quickly forgotten (but in the moment, reasonably diverting) action-comedy adventure The Hitman’s Bodyguard, is an attempt to build a family out of the odd-couple dynamic that made the first film enjoyable. Unfortunately this more inclusive adventure amounts to little more than an excuse to get Salma Hayek to scream as many swear words and to get kissy-kissy with on-screen partner Samuel L. Jackson as often as possible in 100 pretty cringe-inducing minutes.

I’m going to skip over the fact that Wife’s Bodyguard is a cliched sequel (the original was not exactly an original either) and move directly to the more glaring issue. Hopped up like a virgin on prom night, this movie has a problem of energy. For the first time, maybe ever, I’m going to complain about an action-comedy having too much of it. Hayek’s painfully OTT performance makes her an easy target, but she’s not the only one to bear blame. Returning as director, Patrick Hughes believes that in cranking up the crazy dial past 10 we’ll be able to more easily look past the uninspired and highly contrived machinations that once again pull hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) into erstwhile retired bodyguard Michael Bryce’s (Reynolds) life.

Following the events of the first film, Michael is being forced to reevaluate his life having lost his license to protect and now under orders by his amusingly unsympathetic therapist (Rebecca Front — The Aeronauts; Transformers: The Last Knight) to take a much-needed sabbatical. Travel the world, maybe. One of the better gags in the entire picture revolves around the rather inconvenient fact a normal person’s vacay destination could be a well-traveled bodyguard’s potential trigger. This turns out to be close to the height of intelligent joke delivery in the sequel, for much of what happens after Bryce invariably gets roped back in to the bloody game becomes increasingly farcical and reliant on tired jokes.

The pacing is frenetic and the direction clumsy, making the progression of the central threat from a minor inconvenience into a continent-spanning catastrophe harder to buy than it ought to be. Off seeing the world in the luscious Capri, Italy a hapless Michael Bryce runs smack into Sonia Kincaid (Hayek); or, rather, a part of her body that the movie is keen on you noticing constantly smacks into him amidst a bullet-storm. Before long we’re linking up with Interpol, represented by an over-acting Frank Grillo (Point Blank; Captain America: The Winter Soldier) who coerces Michael and the violence-prone love-birds to work together to bring down a Greek terrorist hell-bent on sending Europe back to the Stone Age through some dark magic/tech wizardry stuff.

I will eventually get around to saying something positive for this is not a total wash, but Wife’s Bodyguard also suffers for its villain — this time, the confused nationality bordering on cartoonish. Gary Oldman is a Londoner but can sell you on a brutish Belarusian dictator. I don’t know in what universe a Spanish accent passes for a Greek accent, but here’s Antonio Banderas playing a terrorist named Aristotle Papadopoulos, anyway. As it turns out, Mr. Papadopoulos and Sonia have some history, which of course presents a roadblock for our heroes. And while we’re on backstory stuff, Morgan Freeman reminds us of his ability to play on either side of morality, and is capable of being more than just a lovable, 100% trustworthy, esteemed expert of some kind or loving family member. He’s quite good here playing father (of a sort) to Ryan Reynolds — his intro another you can file under the column of memorable moments.

While pretty much everything about this follow-up is forceful, what remains natural and enjoyable is the love-hate relationship between Reynolds and Jackson. Third-wheeling alongside them is Hayek, whose characterization is both overly sexualized and overcompensatory in its crudeness. Beneath this unfortunate layer though lies a woman terrified of not living the life she wants. There’s poignance — and sweetness — in her desire to have a baby with her murderous sugardaddy and in Darius’ explanation as to what’s really going on in that department. Wife’s Bodyguard so often lacks for these quieter, more relatable moments that you end up holding on to them for all they’re worth when they do happen.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard wasn’t the caliber movie one expects to get sequelized but when you have bankable stars like Reynolds and Jackson all bets are off. It could have used one, sure, but it really needed to be better than this.

“This one time, at bodyguard camp . . .”

Moral of the Story: Man, if they just dialed down the slapstick-level comedy here Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard would be a movie I could more easily get along with. It is unfortunate that in this case a sequel just means “go bigger and crazier than last time,” and not in a Fast and the Furious kind of way, but rather in the performances — a decision that effectively turns already heightened characters into straight caricatures. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “Now, get off my trash. You’re a stain on my legacy.”

Here’s the Official Trailer from IGN. All squeaky clean and green-band and everything! 

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

Angel Has Fallen

Release: Friday, August 23, 2019

→Netflix

Written by: Robert Mark Kamen; Matt Cook; Ric Roman Waugh

Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh

Angel Has Fallen is the third but definitely not last installment in the Fallen action movie franchise. That there are enough of these movies to justify the word ‘franchise’ seems an indictment of the American Secret Service. How many other landmarks and VIPs are going to fall on Mike Banning (Gerard Butler)’s watch before he gets fired? Before the concept itself falls into parody? Are we there already?

Angel has probably fallen out of the memory of anyone who caught it in theaters last year but it’s the one I would return to again, no arm-twisting involved. And with no driving involved either, it’s quite possible this review is going to be much sunnier than others you have read. Ric Roman Waugh is the third different director in a series that has at least three more films planned and a TV series spinoff, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how the quality goes from here. For now it seems the third time’s the charm. Angel Has Fallen is a surprisingly fun diversion that I actually had a good time with.

The tables have turned against Butler’s bulletproof Banning as he becomes Public Enemy #1. The story sees the formerly disgraced Secret Service agent due for a promotion to Director. He would be replacing Lance Reddick‘s Director David Gentry, a man who suggests some level of class might be required for the position. The time has finally come to domesticate Banning the wild animal. (The script has these very manly men actually calling each other lions.) While his body is telling him the days of saving the president over and over again are indeed over, what with the chronic back pain and migraines that he keeps secret from his wife (Piper Parebo), his ego is what keeps him in the field and wincing off to the side.

Besides, if he graduates to a big boy office job, when is he ever going to find the time to reminisce about those crazy days in the Army with his old buddy Wade Jennings (Danny Huston)? (Now the CEO of a private military outfit called Salient Global, Wade is the second of the two self-proclaimed lions.)

During a private fishing trip President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) extends Banning the offer but a drone strike rudely interrupts the day and lays waste to the rest of the security detail, ultimately leaving Mr. President in a coma and Mr. Indestructible handcuffed to his own hospital bed. Banning awakens only to find he has been named a prime suspect by what Special Agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) of the FBI is calling an attempted assassination. One rather aggressive interrogation and a couple of pretty thrilling developments later and Banning’s on the loose, on the run, in a race against the clock to clear his name and establish the identities of those responsible.

There’s no denying Angel Has Fallen is a generic action thriller. You’re never in doubt as to whether the hero will succeed, or even as to what his next move is going to be. Undoubtedly its biggest flaw is the lack of character development. It’s pretty pathetic that after three movies we still don’t know much about Mike Banning (well, we now know he’s a lion). In fairness, the filmmakers do attempt a deeper background check on the guy than their predecessors. One of the best stretches of the story takes us down the twisty backroads of West Virginia where Banning eventually makes a pit stop at his old man’s heavily fortified cabin to lay low for a while. Clay Banning (Nick Nolte) is your quintessential disillusioned war vet who no longer trusts the government and hasn’t seen his family in years. The grizzled and bearded Nolte somewhat succeeds in providing some emotional weight to the story but his character, like all the other supporters, is a walking cliché.

It’s interesting to note that series creators and original screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt are not along for the ride this time. Filling in for them are Matt Cook and Robert Mark Kamen, who have Patriots Day, Taken and The Transporter writing creds between them — all solid action thrillers if not entirely game-changing originals. More importantly they seem the right kind of background for those looking to add their own link in this chain of middling action movies. The pair collaborate with the director on a screenplay that turns out to be very formulaic. However their concept incorporates more of an adventure element into it, making this effort different enough for me to feel more comfortable recommending. That’s definitely a first for this series.

He said I was a lion. Was he lyin’??

Recommendation: Netflix has made this a win-win situation. I get to experience more of the world’s most generic action movie franchise, now at least 60% more guilt-free: I don’t have to put gas money towards a Gerry Butler movie. I’m spared the shame and possible confusion of a ticket attendant mistaking me as a fan of this series even after London Has Fallen. I can pause the show however often I need (per empty beer glass, in this case). And best of all I get to prop my feet up and yell at the screen every time a character does or says something dumb, which in this movie happens a lot. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “I’m glad it was you. Lions, Mike . . . lions.” 

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Photo credits: IMDb

Going in Style

Release: Friday, April 7, 2017 

[Theater]

Written by: Theodore Melfi

Directed by: Zach Braff

Geriatric crime comedy starring three Academy Award winners and directed by former Scrubs star Zach Braff is a bit of an underachiever. Even that might be giving this, a remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 caper of the same name, too much credit because I’m unconvinced this movie achieves anything other than wasting a ton of potential.

The 2017 film updates the plot for a post-Great Recession America, using the unlikely robbery at the heart of the story as a commentary on the outrage felt by the majority of middle-class Americans burned by the 2008/’09 economic crisis. The likes of Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman replace Art Carney, George Burns and Lee Strasberg as Al, Joe and Willie respectively — lifelong coworkers and friends who decide to rob a bank after learning that, on top of losing their jobs, their retirement funds have been repurposed by their former employer to settle its own substantial debts.

They say that one of the first rules of bank robbery is to never rob your own bank. Well, Joe ain’t having any of that shit. Not when his own bank is complicit. Not when, after having witnessed a heist first-hand, he realizes that it isn’t rocket science; that a trio of 70-something-year-olds could pull it off. Plus, he reasons, it’s not like what they’re planning to do is inherently wrong. This is a righteous act of reclamation, a Robin Hood-esque performance in which they’ll steal from the corrupt and give back to . . . uh, themselves.

Going in Style is, to put it nicely, not very good. It goes, but it doesn’t have any style. It’s hard to believe this is a movie written by the guy who directed Hidden Figures, though to be fair, while powerfully moving, that film, which was nominated for three Oscars this year, wasn’t without its cliches and awkward moments. But Theodore Melfi’s script here smacks of laziness and conventionality. Great actors can overcome a lousy script but there are of course limits. Not even Christopher Lloyd in an over-the-top supporting part comes out unscathed. You believe them as lifelong friends but as robbers, eh. This appears to be one of those movies where you have to kind of accept the people on screen are having more fun than you. If it weren’t for these names, I’m sure I’d be more upset.

Recommendation: Uninspired comedy fails to capitalize on its star power and takes viewers on a predictable and not-as-fun-as-it-could-have-been ride through Clichetown. Going in Style comes very unenthusiastically recommended by me if you just HAVE to see everything that any of these actors have been in. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 96 mins.

Quoted: “These banks practically destroyed this country. They crushed a lot of people’s dreams, and nothing ever happened to them. We three old guys, we hit a bank. We get away with it, we retire in dignity. Worst comes to the worst, we get caught, we get a bed, three meals a day, and better health care than we got now.”

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London Has Fallen

london-has-fallen-movie-poster

Release: Friday, March 4, 2016

[Netflix]

Written by: Creighton Rothenberger; Katrin Benedikt; Christian Gudegast; Chad St. John

Directed by: Babak Najafi

London Has Fallen was a theatrical release I happened to miss out on and I am glad for having saved that money. Buying a bag of crack cocaine (which is what I did) would have been a better use of that money (and it was).

Gerard Butler reprises his role as Mike Banning, and he’s still President Asher (Aaron Eckhart)’s body guard. The two have now become homies, and you know this because you see Banning jogging backwards alongside the Prez on one of their many morning runs in DC. That’s a skill that’ll come in handy! (Actually that’s not even really sarcasm; the two dudes end up running a LOT in this movie, although you’d have to believe they don’t engage in too much running in reverse — that wouldn’t be practical, unlike driving in reverse.) For director Babak Najafi, apparently this is character development.

Despite the privilege of sharing dude-bro-isms with his Commander-in-Chief, Banning is considering resigning so he can spend time with his wife, with whom he is expecting his first child. But the nursery will have to wait because the British Prime Minister has passed and President Asher and his security detail must attend the funeral in London. Many world leaders show up to pay their respects, but before they can many of them are riddled with bullets when Najafi decides to dispense with the bullshit.

Then the rest of the movie happens, which is, ironically, even more bullshit than the bullshit that came before. Need I address it? Are you really curious for more? Sigh. Alright, well here’s this:

Just when it looks like the good guys are about to get away from what appears to be a developing war zone in the heart of London — ground zero being Westminster Abbey — their chopper is shot down by some assholes on some rooftops because hey, they shouldn’t be able to get away THAT easily. And so ensues 90 minutes of Call of Duty, the map manifesting as a smoldering metropolis castrated of its most famous landmarks. Brainless action sequences follow as do some of the worst lines of dialogue exchanged between actors playing supposedly important characters, men and women of prestige. But that doesn’t stop members in the Situation Room chatting about being partial to the Kardashians (I’m not kidding) as they prepare for what they think is going to be another normal day.

The main objective of the terrorists is to get revenge on the guy who wiped out some notorious Middle Eastern crime lord’s family and they plan to record the assassination live so it can be on YouTube. (I’m also not kidding.) The main objective of the Americans is to kill every last man with dark hair, dark skin and thick beards. The script, penned by four different idiots, is so xenophobic it makes my skin crawl. Unlike in the previous outing, there is zero tension between Banning and the President so ultimately there is no reward in seeing Butler macho his way through another terrible movie. All we really get that’s new is watching Eckhart sling a gun around awkwardly for 30 minutes as circumstances become increasingly dire and as the baddies make communication with friends across the globe extremely difficult.

The story is atrocious but the film’s attitude is so much more cavalier. London Has Fallen doesn’t give a shit about England. It’s more about the greatness that is America than it is about the character and prestige of one of her longest standing allies. What’s more embarrassing is that the basic premise doesn’t even hold up logically: the terrorists claim they are retaliating after Asher ordered a drone strike on a Pakistani fortress two years prior, and yet they make an attempt to eliminate every single leader who happens to be present in London. I guess just for shits and giggles? Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman gets paid to breathe.

This is quite simply one of the most pathetic action movies I have ever seen and if you are looking for logic in a movie like London Has Fallen, I’m afraid you may have made some deeper errors. Indeed, standards have fallen and they have fallen pretty far mate.

fuck-this-shit-man-what-a-stupid-movie

Recommendation: Terrible. And pointless. What’s next, Sydney Has Fallen?* Aside from a few fleeting moments of mindless, distracting action, and plus the fact I do like Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart (they’re easily the best part of this movie even though they both look like they were struggling to take this seriously), there’s absolutely nothing to recommend about London Has Fallen, a most unnecessary sequel made by a very xenophobic director that I’m not sure too many people asked for.

Rated: R

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “I was wondering when you were gonna come out of the closet.” 

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

Now You See Me 2

'Now You See Me 2' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 10, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Ed Solomon; Pete Chiarelli

Directed by: Jon M. Chu

The implausible Now You See Me sequel — yes, this is a thing — is a magic trick you can see right through from the very beginning. For all the entertainment it seeks to provide, the film delivers an equal dose of numbing visual effects that do nothing but obscure any theoretical cinematic magic wand-shaking under the blinding lights of confused, contrived, utterly lazy storytelling.

Three of the Four Horsemen are back. And no, not from vacation. Well, it was kind of like a vacation. Since the events of the first, the pompous pranksters — J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) — have gone into hiding after exposing the unethical business practices of one Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and fleecing him out of millions of his own easy-earned cash. (Much like director Jon M. Chu has done to us, minus the whole money coming easy part). Isla Fisher’s Henley Reeves, seemingly jaded by the realities of becoming part of the global underground society of illusionists called The Eye, is nowhere to be found. She’s better off.

Uninspired tale finds the group once more answering the call of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who, now firmly in control of his puppets (remember that twist?), has this big spectacle planned out during which they’ll expose a tech wizard’s . . . unethical tech-ing practices, some bloke named Owen Case (Ben Lamb), who in no short order becomes nothing more than target practice when it’s learned that the film’s actual villain is Daniel Radcliffe’s even bigger tech geek Walter Mabry.

What does Mabry have to do with anything? I’m glad you asked, because it gives me the opportunity to rave over the next rabbit Now You See Me 2 tries to pull out of its hat. Turns out, Merritt has an evil twin named Chase who works for Mabry, and in one of many underwhelming action sequences he manages to capture the Horsemen and take them to Mabry’s lair (muahaha!), where they’re informed of a high-risk but high-reward job, likely the trickiest task they will have ever pulled off. Do they have a choice? In an exchange that confesses the depths of this film’s Oscar-baiting screenplay, the Horsemen are told they either “do this or die.” Well, I don’t know about you but I’m inspired.

In the meantime, Mabry’s been busy trying to bring about the downfall of the Horsemen from afar, hijacking the aforementioned show by letting the public know that, hey, yeah, remember how Jack Wilder died? Well, he didn’t really. Also, Rhodes is a two-faced cop and is working with the Horsemen. Be outraged, people. Be very outraged. As a result, Agent Rhodes suddenly becomes Agent Rogues when he and the rest of the magicians find themselves scrapping to clear their name all while trying to eliminate the threat of Mabry.

It’s not exactly the most original conceit, but this new globetrotting adventure could have spawned a genuinely exciting mystery thriller if put in the right hands. Co-writers Ed Solomon and Pete Chiarelli were not those hands. Their story, one that at least adheres to the spirit of reckless abandon established in the original, leans entirely on the magic of post-production tinkering, and with Chu’s terribly flat direction further promoting contrivance and convenience, Now You See Me 2 quickly wears out its welcome.

Not helping matters is a runtime that eclipses two hours and a couple of surprisingly annoying performances from Lizzy Caplan, who plays Fisher’s “replacement” Lulu May — because there has to be a Horsewoman, obviously — and one half of Harrelson’s performance as the evil twin Chase. ‘Harrelson’ and ‘annoying’ don’t seem like they belong in the same sentence but then again the guy is a consummate actor. He really can do and be anything. As to Caplan, someone should have taken away the fourteenth Red Bull she was guzzling before stepping on set. This is way too much team spirit for a movie not named Bring It On.

More irksome than Harrelson’s sinister side and Caplan’s insufferably peppy presence is the film’s knack for reducing living legends like Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman to cardboard cutouts. Neither Caine convinces he’s this bad of a dude nor Freeman of his ever-complicated backstory. You could defend this as an exercise in allowing actors to have some genuine fun while collecting another paycheck. There’s no shame in putting together a supergroup of talent like this for a bit of escapist entertainment but Caine and Freeman couldn’t look more bored.

Now You See Me 2 pulls gimmicks and cheap tricks left and right in its quest to prove editing can on its own sustain a story. The approach suggests the filmmakers think audiences won’t know the difference between ‘real’ magic and clever camerawork. It’s actually pretty insulting.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 6.48.20 PM

Recommendation: Eyeballs, get ready to roll. Now You See Me 2 takes the worst tendencies of its predecessor and magnifies them. I can handle cheesy films, and NYSM2 is certainly cheesy but it’s more problematic in terms of convincing us that what’s happening in front of us is real. The irony of that is pretty hard to reconcile. This is the epitome of surface gloss hiding no real depth. With that in mind I can’t recommend watching this one to anyone who felt the first one was kind of silly. What follows is much sillier. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “Hell will look like a day at the spa once I’m through with the Four Horseman.” / “You had me at ‘Hell.'”

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

TBT: Unforgiven (1992)

Thursdays come around pretty quickly, do they not? It seems only yesterday I was babbling on excessively about Chinatown and now, here we are, forging new frontiers yet again in October. This month is shaping up to be one of the most eclectic groups of films I’ve yet had on this blog, which is kind of cool (or I hope it is, maybe it’s really not. People are probably disappointed that I’ve gone the non-horror route this month. . .). Life is full of grim realities, as is evidenced in 

Today’s food for thought: Unforgiven.

Enforcing that pesky ‘no-guns’ ordinance since: Friday, August 7, 1992

[Netflix]

So I blindly stumbled into 1992’s Best Picture winner, not realizing it had picked up any awards, let alone taken home top honors and garnered several others including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Editing. I’m glad I watched it without this knowledge. I didn’t have my viewing experience tainted by the lofty expectations brought on by Best Picture winners. I did, however, have a sneaking suspicion it was a sure-fire winner for Best Cinematography, for the film’s romanticism for the old west is impossible to ignore. Alas, that was only one of its nine nominations.

Clint Eastwood produced, directed and starred in this harsh, uncompromising vision of life on the frontier, specifically 1880s Wyoming. His last Western, Unforgiven tells the bleak story about a farmer with a dark history who gets roped into collecting one more bounty after a group of prostitutes in the town of Big Whiskey are shaken up by some thugs who get off lightly thanks to the local sheriff. Rather than making the cowboys pay with their own blood for disfiguring one of the girls, Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman, earning his second Oscar) decides they will find a suitable number of horses to give to the brothel owner, a total of seven horses fit for hard labor. Infuriated by the injustice, Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher) announces a cash reward for whomever can find and kill the men responsible.

Decrepit old pig farmer Will Munny (Eastwood) was once one of the most feared men in the midwest, known for ruthlessly killing men, women and children alike. When he met his wife he vowed to change his ways, although she passed away before the film opens, leaving him vulnerable once more to the loneliness and despair of bachelorhood on the prairie. Word about the bounty travels fast and Will finds he could really use the money (I can only imagine how long you could make $1,000 last back in the 1800s . . . ). After telling his children he’ll be back “in a couple weeks” he rides south, headed for an old accomplice and friend’s homestead, one Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman).

On their ride the pair encounter an excitable young cowboy nicknamed ‘The Schofield Kid’ (Jaimz Woolvett) who doesn’t exactly view killing the same way the older and jaded Ned and Will do. Whereas he can’t wait to kill the sumbitches responsible, the other two, haunted by violent pasts, anticipate and to some extent dread what they will soon have to do. Meanwhile in Big Whiskey, a town that strictly prohibits visitors to carry guns on their person, Daggett has to contend with the contemptible English Bob (Richard Harris), who’s come to town in hopes that he’ll get to claim the cash reward. His out-of-town status is made amply clear on the virtue that he believes the superiority of the British royalty is based upon how easy it is for an American president to get shot and killed (the assassination of President Garfield has just made the papers).

Indeed, English Bob is a bit of an annoyance, but he’s all bluster compared to the aggressive sheriff, who takes pleasure in kicking Bob all around the town after he refuses to hand over his firearms to the proper authorities, and subsequently kicking him out of town. In a single scene a couple of things become clear: 1) Big Whiskey is a well-defended and hostile little community; and 2) Gene Hackman deserved that Oscar. His law enforcer is a real bad seed, Hackman’s penchant for intimidating characters culminating in the dastardly Daggett.

Unforgiven is a departure from many western films and violent films in general in that rather than glorifying and exaggerating the violent nature of survival in supposedly simpler times, it emphasizes the personal toll it takes on someone who has killed, be it for survival or in self-defense. Killing just for the sake of killing isn’t the issue here. The difference between the Schofield Kid’s lust for blood (in a fireside scene he boasts about killing five men already despite his age) and the older men’s reluctance to keep pulling the trigger comes under scrutiny as they inch ever closer to their destiny. Eastwood, the director, emphasizes subtlety and ruminates on the extreme nature of killing. “It’s a hell of a thing, to kill a man. Take away everything he’s got, everything he will ever have,” Will says to the deeply disturbed Schofield Kid in the aftermath of a shoot-out.

The delicate treatment of life and death is handled brilliantly in said scene, where the trio come across their targets in a shallow canyon and stalk them out. In a western, it’s all too natural to expect the scene to erupt into a battle of bullets and bloodshed, but Eastwood keeps it contained. As one of the cowboys slowly bleeds out, from around a protective hill Will asks one of his fellow riders to give him some water, an act of compassion that, rather than softening the film, bolsters Unforgiven‘s comity.

As a result, the action that pops up sporadically — this film is also restrained in terms of how often it breaks into fits of chaos and one-upmanship, as these things often do — hits much harder. Because we learn to respect the violence when it happens, it’s that much more difficult to watch Daggett lash out (literally) against those who defy him. This isn’t to say Unforgiving is a bloodless picture, of course, but Eastwood deserves credit for recognizing the difference between effective depictions of violence and simple mind-numbing excess. In a time when civilization was more obviously defined by responses to matters of life-and-death, it’s refreshing to journey back to that time where seemingly more trivial concepts like decency, courtesy and respect have more of a role.

Eastwood’s final journey out on to the frontier manifests as a thoroughly enjoyable, occasionally jarring and often somber adventure that has far more intelligence than the typical shoot-’em-up. And the final showdown between Will and Daggett confirms once again that there is no one more badass than Clint Eastwood.

Recommendation: A restrained picture in terms of how it depicts violence and stages action set pieces, Unforgiven is a unique western that reminds one far more of a psychological drama than anything John Wayne or Paul Newman might have starred in. Well-acted and beautifully shot, this is a trip well worth taking if you haven’t seen it before and are curious about one of the last truly great westerns. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 131 mins.

TBTrivia: Only the third western to ever win the Best Picture Oscar. The other two being Dances with Wolves (1990) and Cimarron (1931).

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Ted 2

Release: Friday, June 26, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Seth MacFarlane; Alec Sulkin; Wellesley Wild

Directed by: Seth MacFarlane

Ted 2 turns out to be ridiculous, which in itself is ridiculous. . .because it’s ridiculous to think the first was ridiculous enough to justify something ridiculous like a sequel.

Everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed stuffed teddy is growing up in the follow-up to Seth MacFarlane’s surprisingly successful debut about a child who wishes for his favorite cuddly toy to one day come to life. Now Ted’s getting married to his bear-boo, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) — who barely gets to show any, boo!

As predictable as an episode of Family Guy, a conflict materializes out of rather contrived circumstances, where we see their relationship falling on emotional hard times only shortly after nuptials were made official. Desperate to make Tami-Lynn happy again, Ted suggests they have a child, reasoning that if they learned to love a kid they might remember how to love each other again. Of course the epiphany has probably come right on the heels of what may presumably have been Ted’s fifth or sixth Bud Light. Still, it’s . . . it’s whatever. It works, leave it alone and let’s move on.

When finding sperm donors proves to be more of an issue than the couple expect, they turn to adoption as their last resort. Sadly it’s a move that brings the crushing blow of reality down upon them when their applications draw attention from the state government. Ted and Tami-Lynn’s marriage becomes annulled when officials declare Ted isn’t human, rather just a piece of property. He then finds himself enlisting the help of his thunder-buddy-for-life John (Mark Wahlberg) in his quest to prove both his status as a human being and a citizen of Boston, and that his marriage should be recognized as legal. It may not be a voice many are expecting to hear, but MacFarlane does contribute something to the conversation surrounding marriage equality and it’s welcomed.

What the film lacks in MacFarlane’s signature, perfectly choreographed musical interludes it makes up for with a surprisingly sensitive story. Suffice it to say, there have been far worse comedy sequels before; MacFarlane could have also chosen to build upon his western comedy concept. He shows restraint by not going that route. Not that this film is going to go down as a particularly memorable comedy. MacFarlane still can’t help but sketch outlines of supporting characters who do nothing more than function as signposts, convenient for when you inevitably get lost in this meandering little tale. Amanda Seyfried, while likable enough, seems to be twiddling her thumbs with her throw-away role of a pot-smoking attorney. Morgan Freeman is all but wasted as a more reputable civil rights attorney they all hope will help them after failing to get the courts to rule in favor of Ted and Tami-Lynn in the first of several courtroom scenes.

Beyond failing to justify such big names in such insignificant roles MacFarlane struggles to shape all the events into a cohesive whole. Although it feels slightly less episodic than the last outing, and certainly less so than A Million Ways to Die in the West, this narrative does its fair share of aimless wandering as Ted and John befriend Seyfried’s Samantha Jackson. As their legal representative she has the appearance of being book-smart, but then she smokes a ton of weed in her office so she’s obviously not too street smart. Do we need a 10-minute scene to get that point across, though? Freeman gets to have his moments (hearing him deliver the line “After I’m finished fucking myself. . .” is for some reason very satisfying), even if they, too, contribute far more to a bloated running time than to this campaign for emotional resonance. Indeed, the first time we even meet Freeman’s character it turns out to be nothing more than a wild goose chase. But hey — more time spent with this adorable teddy bear and his likable Bostonian pothead friend, the better, right?

There’s plenty of time to spend, too. At five minutes shy of two hours Ted 2 runs a risk of overstaying its furry little welcome. There’s this whole other subplot involving Hasbro toys and the company’s evil underbelly — John Carroll Lynch’s money-hungry executive and a creepazoid janitor named Donny, played once again with unbridled enthusiasm by the one and only Giovanni Ribisi. These men are after the teddy bear, determined the court will rule against Ted and declare him property, thereby making it legally safer for Hasbro to abduct the toy and use him in experiments to see if they can recreate his lifelikeness in other bears. It’s up to, who else, the stoner lawyer and her newfound friend John to save the bear from danger and then also get him legally declared a person before the film reel runs out. Ted 2 stuffs a lot in and not all of it works, but on the whole this sequel charms just as much as the stuff(ing) upon which it is based.

Recommendation: I never would have thought I’d be here justifying another round of teddy-bear-related hijinks but here I am doing just that. Ridiculous. On that ground alone, MacFarlane’s third feature film directorial effort should be labeled a success. If you laughed at the first one, you’ll likely have a good time with this, even though it in no way demands to be seen in theaters. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Did you hear that? You’re covered in rejected black men’s semen. You look like a Kardashian.”

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 

Lucy

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Release: Friday, July 25, 2014

[Theater]

While it’s true this outing is a step up from last year’s The Family, with director Luc Besson even seeming willing to dip his toes into deeper waters as far as interesting concepts are concerned, we are, unfortunately, still not operating at 100% yet.

It might seem dismissive to rule this summer’s latest sci-fi obsession guilty of association based on who’s directing it (a man whose last effort found Robert DeNiro and Tommy Lee Jones competing to see who could look more disinterested in being involved), but at the same time it’s also clear that there has got to be some kind of three-strike rule in place for at least this reviewer. There’s only so many times one can go to a film expecting the worst, then receiving pretty much just that and then going to do it all over again another time, hoping for something different.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s the definition of insanity.

Even the great Morgan Freeman can be heard stumbling over a few awkward lines of dialogue at some of the worst times possible. An image of humanity rendered without a brain as powerful as the one it’s been given is a compelling one, but this actual idea is realized as much as the concept car you ogle over in magazines and faux advertisements is ready for the general public.

Uhh. . .it isn’t.

One is left at the end credits with the nagging thought that if anyone else had gotten into the driver’s seat of this car, maybe we might have gone to some truly cool places.  While it is at times undeniably fun, Lucy fails to engage on a more significant level as it trades out far too much potential in exchange for the quick and easy thrill, a la mainstream Hollywood. In fact there is so much left to be desired at the time of the flaccid conclusion we wonder if there was anything here that didn’t go to waste.

Well, there’s the central character for one. Scarlett Johansson’s casting indeed becomes the film’s saving grace. She instantly affords Besson and his oft intentionally-stilted screenplay a level of gravitas that helps this story gain traction as it plods ever forward, simultaneously with purpose and without any at all. Lucy is a young woman with not much of an identity seen in the film’s open getting wrangled into a drug deal she never wanted to be a part of. Now handcuffed to a briefcase containing who-knows-what, she’s wrestled into a den of some threatening-looking Asians, led by Min-sik Choi’s mean old Mr. Jang. At such time she’s informed she’s now a drug mule for them, and is subsequently sent out to board a plane for somewhere else in the world. Poor girl. Or is she?

Lucy’s intellectual journey begins quiet, innocuously, as she first sets about finding out what has happened to her. After awakening in a hotel room with a bandaged abdomen and being told she’s carrying a pouch of an extremely potent substance, she makes moves quickly to rid herself of the package. The contents of the bag are a synthesized form of the natural chemicals found in a pregnant woman during late stages of her pregnancy. Their power’s asserted to be the necessary boost that helps form bone structure in the yet-to-be-born child. Needless to say, if this drug (labeled CPH-4 in the film) can do that to an infant, what would a quadruple dose do a fully-grown person?

This is going to be, annoyingly, as confronting and as experimental as the material ever feels like becoming. Instead of detailing all of the ways in which someone’s life could be enhanced — and perhaps just as compellingly, how it might be devalued, even destroyed — by the power of being able to access 100% of one’s brain power and an ever-expanding ocean of information, we get surface-level glimpses at what Besson thinks could happen, you know. . .theoretically.

There are, admittedly, a few drool-worthy visual sequences: Lucy physically manipulating radio and electromagnetic waves to suit her needs; her ability to multitask is on a level most Bluetooth-wearing businessmen would be sorely jealous of; and then there’s the traveling through time and space as a means of exploring what we are meant to be doing here on Earth (if anything at all). To reiterate, its all eye candy for the sake of providing action sequences that immediately yank us out of an intellectual discussion and into a pseudo-summer blockbuster.

Lucy is also guilty of devolving into a somewhat plodding affair. It oftentimes holds all of the enthusiasm of a tenured history professor dragging his students through another 8 A.M. lecture. Ironically enough, this is the very character Morgan Freeman has been hired to play. Professor Norman is first seen speaking extremely National Geographic-narratively to an audience of some nondescript understanding about the fact that people only are typically able to use 10% of their brain function. He stands there apologetically, regurgitating a script that begs us to ponder what we might be able to do if we just used all of our brain. The character, despite Freeman’s unyielding watchability, is a complete cardboard cutout of a layman pondering the true depth of the thinking man’s soul. I’m not going to feign pretense here — the movie is too stupid to be taken seriously.

Norman isn’t the problem, it’s Besson’s handling of what could have been an incredibly inspiring premise. For the second time in a row (that I have seen, anyway), Besson has taken a solid concept and fumbled it at the eleventh hour. Lucy, poised to become a modern sci-fi mind-bender, exists now as a crowd-pleasing slice of mainstream Hollywood entertainment, which should be taken as no insult. But it’s a significant step down from the thought-provoking journey into the essence of what it means to be human — something that this excellent performance from Johansson more often than not hints at.

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Not a good time to become claustrophobic

2-5Recommendation: Starpower and an interesting premise unite to dupe audiences into watching a very run-of-the-mill action flick featuring some awe-inspiring visuals and a brief period of hectic violence. Lucy is not what is advertised, but unfortunately that was something that might have been foretold by the names of those involved behind the camera. I’d recommend this film on the basis of Johansson but not much else. There are some truly impressive moments but not enough of them carry through to warrant the kind of Roger Ebert two thumbs-up that I was looking to give here.

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “We never really die.”

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 

Transcendence

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Release: Friday, April 18, 2014

[Theater]

Lol, uh. . .wut?

Well, this WAS supposed to be the ‘don’t-give-up-yet-on-Johnny-Depp’ movie, one that would give the colorful thespian room to breathe without his usual cloak of weirdness. . .no Captain Jack Sparrow accent, no scissor hands and no crazy Tonto face paint this time. In a cruel twist of fate, Depp is rewarded for his refreshingly restrained performance by playing one of the most outlandish characters he’s ever been handed, an ill-fated scientist who ends up having to communicate through an advanced computer system in what can only be described as the best performance ever committed via Skype.

Sound strange? That’s barely the tip of the iceberg.

This, the debut film from acclaimed cinematographer Wally Pfister — yes, Christopher Nolan’s Wally Pfister since Batman Begins  starts out as a rather unsuspecting sci-fi/mystery but quickly devolves into a thoroughly unbelievable and downright laughable affair that only gets more mysterious by the minute (a compliment, that is not). First-time direction from Pfister, coupled with Jack Paglen’s first major motion picture screenplay, creates an atmosphere that recalls a particularly acid-trippy episode of The X Files. So much for Depp coming across as normal.

Drs. Will (Depp) and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) Caster are brilliant scientists on the cutting edge of technology with their research in the field of artificial intelligence. Together they yearn to create a computer with the collective human consciousness uploaded to it — an advanced machine like the world has never seen before. Such experiments have of course drawn massive publicity of both the positive and negative variety, and after a presentation one afternoon Will is gunned down by some anti-technology extremist. The shot itself isn’t fatal, but unfortunately for Will and Evelyn the bullet was coated in radioactive material which has infected his blood. In his dying days, Will watches as his wife and their long-time friend and fellow researcher Max (Paul Bettany) tempt what they only think is conceivable and not necessarily doable at the moment.

(Please don’t laugh at me in the comments when you read the next part. I am just the messenger here.)

They will try and upload Will’s consciousness into their computer system and keep him alive digitally since his brain/mind is in tact but his physical body clearly has been compromised. Just typing that conjures up images of a less gory Re-Animator. Except wacky, old Herbert West the med student might have had a more logical experiment going on in his lab.

Ethical boundaries begin to be flirted with (and later on prove to be violated) as Evelyn refuses to acknowledge the fact that once he’s dead, her husband will cease to be the man she has loved, and instead will only exist in some weird, nebulous cyberspace as a collection of pixels arranged on a screen his face happens to appear on. Pfister, in one of many ill-advised directorial movies, has Depp’s voice echo in a surround-sound like fashion whenever he’s on-screen following the. . .transformation. . . .to place emphasis on the concept that this man — this lunatic — hasn’t just merely disappeared inside a computer. He’s transcended human existence and can quite literally play God with the wealth of information and knowledge he now has.

The film’s only rational character Max isn’t so sure about the idea of his best friend being resurrected in a digital form. What good is going to come of this, he wonders as he notices Evelyn becoming more obsessed with the idea of keeping her husband alive. Meanwhile, the audience has checked out and is currently noticing that the cupholders in these particular armrests have no bottom to them so that’s why whenever you put your cell phone in there they fall right to the floor. Well, cool. Mystery solved!

In the meantime, Transcendence continues talking to itself in a language only it can understand. The characters are unsympathetic because they are completely kept out of our reach — we can’t really identify with or get behind any of them. Perhaps Max, but even then this connection is rather fleeting. The script is much too interested in stuffing technobabble down our throats than drawing us in with character development. In an area where Hall typically excels, she gives it her all to seem saddened by her loss as Will succumbs to radiation poisoning, and it comes close to making us feel somewhat human in this doggedly mechanical affair.

Boring, confusing and more often downright nonsensical, Transcendence fails to engage on any level and is perhaps the first film of 2014 that should be outright avoided at the theater.

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The very white Rebecca Hall in a very white hall. She looks even more cheesed off about the irony than I am. I guess that makes sense.

1-5Recommendation: Considering I’ve only just gotten over my sobbing about my disappointment in this final cut, I would have to pretty much recommend getting pneumonia over seeing this one. Well, okay. Maybe not pneumonia; that’s a bit extreme. Maybe a cold, though. It is quite simply ridiculous from the ground floor-up, on every level this movie makes no sense and refuses to try to explain itself.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Where are you going?”

“Everywhere.”

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 Lego Movie

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Release: Friday, February 7, 2014

[Theater]

The 7-year-old in me nearly wet his bedsheets in anticipation of the first ever full-length feature film involving his favorite toys from childhood. The essential. . . . . . . . . .e-hem. . .building blocks of my youth have come to life on the big screen in 2014 in ways I never could have imagined.

In light of this special occasion, let’s make things a little more fun in this review. I am going to style this piece in an interview format, with my 7-year-old self asking my future self what a film would be like if it were ever made, and me in the present now being able to answer all (or at least most) of his questions. In the process, I’ll let him know that the many hours he spent on the carpets building up and destroying Lego villages and whatnot were not spent in vain. (Not that they were without this film, but the arrival of The Lego Movie proves that grown-ups can have just as much fun with the stuff as kids have had for years.)

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Do you think they will ever make a movie with my Legos? I really like them, and I hope that they do that. I think it would be so cool!

 

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Hey buddy, you know what? That is a really great question. And I am here to tell you that yes, yes they will. You are going to someday be watching a movie with all of your toys and characters — and a bunch of new ones you never even thought about — brought to life.

 

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Really? Do they have any of my favorite characters in it?

 

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Well, who were your favorite characters? I seriously can’t remember who those were! Haha. If you mean things like Spaceman Benny, the little put-together shark and maybe an alligator piece, then yes. You’ll recognize a few guys. But the rest is a bunch of insanely imaginative characters that you are just going to have to wait to grow up a little more to fully appreciate. That’s a good thing, though pal.

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What happens in the movie?

 

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Welp. It mostly focuses on this regular, average-Joe Lego man named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt. . .I don’t know why I just told you that, you don’t know him). He’s an obedient little construction worker who stumbles into a most unusual situation. After a typical day at work, Emmet discovers a secret power that has been lost through the ages. He comes across this thing called the Kragle, which is a huge, enormous super-weapon that, if in the wrong hands, could destroy the entire world. When he finds it, he becomes the target of the evil Lord/President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell — don’t worry, you’ll know him later), who sends his good cop/bad cop henchman out to get him and inadvertently sets the guy on a date with destiny.

 

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. . .I’m confused.

 

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Tee-hee. It is pretty complex. But just wait until you see this thing, and learn how many different people this ordinary guy meets! He may seem like a boring old fart (like your older self is going to inevitably become) but he’s really pretty exciting to watch. Don’t be put off by the complicated situation. Little Tom, it’s actually even better because I enjoyed the film as much as you would. . .maybe even more. And I often can’t get out of my mind sometimes and think in terms of innocent things like Legoland anymore. Although, that place is pretty awesome. . .Granddad is going to take you there sometime.

 

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Is there a really bad guy in the movie? Am I going to be scared of him?

 

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There is a pretty nasty villain in the movie, yes. Scared? Hmm. . .I don’t think so. He has some funny parts and yes, he’s a real mean guy but he’s not that scary. That’s what’s so good about this movie, bud. It’s really, really clever. You’ll know who’s evil and who’s nice but there’s never a point where you get really scared. It’s just good old-fashioned fun. I swear, I didn’t think they’d be making kids films like this ever since Toy Story, but I was wrong.

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Toy Story, I don’t know what that is. . .

 

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Damn it! Nevermind. . .I had a really awesome follow-up reference there but. . .apparently YOU’RE TOO YOUNG!!!

 

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I guess. So, would mommy and daddy like this movie? To me, if they make a movie on my Legos, I don’t know how they would be interested. . .

 

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Oh man. How they would be! The Lego Movie is going to be just as much fun for them as it’s going to be for you. In fact, I’d even argue that there’s more material here for them to think on and laugh about than little kids. There’s a lot of stuff here that could go right over you youngsters’ heads. Themes like corporate greed and monopolization (big word, right?) are just as clear as the themes of believing in yourself, and not giving up on dreams and living your life as you want to. This is a classic film for all ages, in my snobby opinion. Tee-hee.

 

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Who’s the best character in the movie?

 

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Wow buddy, you’re just firing out all sorts of good questions, aren’t you? That’s a tough one to answer since there are so many people to like here. But. If I just had to make a choice, it would be the Batman character, who is voiced by Will Arn. . .you know what, it’s just someone you don’t know yet. And maybe won’t ever know. But he’s awesome because he makes fun of the Batman legend so much. It’s great!

 

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Does anyone die? I hope not.

 

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Now that is one I can’t answer man. There’s a little thing in the movie reviewing  business that we call ‘spoilers,’ information that can possibly reveal too much information about a movie so as to ruin the fun of the whole thing. So I won’t answer that one. Sorry buddy.

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What was your favorite part about the movie, and do you think I would think the same thing? Do you still like Legos twenty years later?

 

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Wow. Gosh. You know, my favorite thing about The Lego Movie was something so very simple. And so I guess I’ll answer the third part of that first: I loved, loved, loved Legos then, and I still love them to this day. The creators of that product are simply geniuses. I don’t think I have any laying around anymore, which is kind of a bummer, but I tell you, this film made me want to break out any boxes that I might still have stored at the ‘rents house. My favorite part of this movie was the way the simple shapes were realized. Those awkward, cup-shaped hands; the basic facial expressions. . .actually, some of those become more complicated in the movie, which is even better. And the fact that everything, and I do mean everything in this film is either made out of pieces of Legos or is edited using stop-motion to make the non-Lego elements move realistically (or like Lego pieces would). I’m pretty sure this is the biggest appeal for kids your age, is the Lego men. Their faces, their movements and their actions. The dialogue and story is almost more appropriate for us grown-ups.

 

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Was there anything about it you didn’t like?

 

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In all honesty, this was a pretty perfect little diddy. Actually, I shouldn’t call it ‘little.’ It is very much large-scale. It’s epic, and the marketing for it is a little unclear. Is it for kids of the now generation, or for the 80s? My guess is, given the amount of stuff covered here it’s meant for both. But sometimes it gets overwhelming. That’s not really a bad thing, but it’s definitely at times too much for a little kid like you to handle! Sorry buddy! Wait until that brain of yours develops a little bit more and maybe when you grow up you’ll understand it more. Oh wait. Too late.

 

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.14.21 PMIf I were with you right now, if I was your kid, would you take me to see this Tom?

 

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.14.20 PM What a precocious little dude you are! Aw, and that really kind of breaks my heart, because I know this isn’t possible. But yes, I absolutely would take “you” with “me” to this movie. I guess, in a way I have. Watching this movie was one of the most nostalgic film experiences I have ever had. It was remarkable what these guys have accomplished. I so badly want to be back where you are. You may not like where you are now because you have to go to bed early, but trust me. Things get a little harder later on. This movie is a nice reminder that things don’t always have to be so serious.

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4-5Recommendation: The Lego Movie is a jolt of energetic vibrance the film industry has needed for awhile. On several levels. First of all, it’s only February, so to have a movie released that is of this kind of quality seems like a rarity; secondly, it’s probably the best animated film I have seen since Toy Story, almost without question. And third, there were so many red flags I saw before this movie was coming out. My main concerns were: how could they possibly animate such limited figurines in a full-length movie? How could they maintain interest for that length of time? And even if they did that, would they just submit to being a silly, childish story that doesn’t really appeal to general audiences (which, of the three concerns I had, was the least problematic. . .sometimes dumb kid fun is what you need from a film). But Warner Brothers struck gold with this. Good for them. This is a must-see.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “A house divided against itself. . .would be better than this.”

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