Monday, February 20, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie


After the explosive success of the bright, hilarious and unexpectedly deep The Lego Movie, it's no surprise that the series was continued. This spin-off flick was given to for his brilliantly rendered serious goof of a Batman. No other character deserves the solo spotlight more, and it couldn't have been handled any better -- leaving me wondering whether it might have actually surpassed its mother film in hilarity and excellence.

Because... he's Lego Batman.

Right off the bat (Get it? It's a bat pun!) there's around twenty minutes of non-stop gut-busting comedy. Really smart stuff too. Jokes flew over the heads of the crumb-crunching, popcorn-barfing target audience at the same impressive speeds at which the plot moved along to keep them interested. I think I laughed more than they did. Will Arnett was already the comedy highlight of the last Lego Movie; here, the entire script was catered to that wonky, surprisingly highbrow style of comedy that works so well for the humorously serious, satirized character of Lego Batman and leaves me in stitches embarrassingly often... some might say.

The humor does tone down eventually, just enough so that the plot can be developed with the proper amount of importance. There's not much to the plot -- the threat of the movie being directly connected with Batman's character development, with just a few unusual elements, so everything fits together neatly and simply. Just as it should be. It leaves more time for the delightful wise-cracks and overly-dramatic parody, and you gotta pack it in with the kiddie run time.

The wit is strong with this one.

The theme is similarly connected and similarly simple. Granted, it didn't move me nearly as much as the theme of The Lego Movie, but it did have some nice things to say about unity and love that mean a lot it the world today -- but was presented more tactfully than most movies with a purposeful message these days, without placing blame or pointing fingers or encouraging the creation of bad guys at all. With help from a Michael Jackson song, it says to take a look at yourself first when there's a problem, and suggests that the people you're fighting against may actually be important in the big picture and not as evil as you might think.

The movie made me very happy with the amount of movie references it made, including many references to other Batman films, and also films outside of the universe. The supporting cast, made up of as Robin, as Alfred, and as Batgirl in the core group, to and , and spreading out into cameo after cameo including many returning cameos from The Lego Movie, as the Eye of Sauron and Siri as... a... computer... -- they were all great. I'm bad at the game of "Guess the Actor without Seeing Their Face" but I enjoyed playing nonetheless.

You might think the Joker is played as the main villain by now... which is perfect for this.

In direct comparison to The Lego Movie there are some wins and some losses. It's at least just as funny. I would argue funnier. The plot isn't as creative or original, but it's a Batman movie, and in spite of being Lego is somehow is relevant when held up against even the best live action portrayals of the character, which cannot be a small feat. The theme wasn't as personally effective and moving as the last Lego film, but I enjoyed it plenty, and (for whatever it's worth) approved of it equally.

One random comment: the medium of this film allows for something to be done with Batman that no other film has done -- make the Wayne mansion huge. It was really, truly, mindbogglingly, depressingly, no-way-even-James-Cameron-could-get-the-budget-for-live-action-scale-like-this massive. Almost as cool as that was how it was used not only for comedy, but for effortless dramatic effect too. For some reason all that impressed me.

But, mostly, it's just a whole bunch of goofy fun.

It was almost exactly what I expected, so color me a satisfied consumer. The biggest worry I had concerning this spin-off was that it might just ride the coattails of the original flick, but that apparently wasn't even a potential issue that was worked around. Hardly even worth being called a spin-off at all -- it is after all, Batman. Comedy or drama, fighting or dancing, saving the day or beat-boxing, Batman -- and especially Lego Batman -- flies on the merit of his own wings.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Second to The Lord of the Rings, I credit this adaptation of C. S. Lewis's The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe for being the movie that made me a movie fan. The Lord of the Rings was a party I was late to, but with Narnia, I was obsessed from seeing the trailer -- in fact, seeing this movie's trailer was the most memorable thing about seeing Revenge of the Sith in theaters. It was my first fandom, and has always been so personal to me that I never reviewed it, but after not watching it for a few years I came back to it, and found that I can view it now... if not without bias, at least with open eyes, so time to give it a review, I think!

It's not perfect by any means, but to me, it's still magical.

Along with not watching it for a long while I also haven't given the book a read in years either. When the film came out, I critiqued every single little change; with this most recent viewing I could hardly remember which things were changes at all. I also saw it in a less Christian light. I still of course appreciate the allegory and symbolism present, but before, I think I saw it almost religiously -- like the Christian meaning in it was the most important part. And since I've realized that in spite of all that, and how neat and thoughtful it is, it's fundamentally a story, and that's where I'm coming from now.

So, story-wise; The Chronicles of Narnia. I've done some serious picking on the changes this movie made in adapting, but truthfully this is an excellent adaptation of the book. It adds scenes of action to keep the pace going, but also takes great pains to preserve the heart of the story -- along with as many little details as possible. Like the bluebonnet in the window. Before I'd complain that the bug was supposed to be dead. Truthfully, the writers and director Andrew Adamson were obviously dedicated to the quality of the film, and I appreciate that so much.

It took a while for me to notice the difference between making changes for artistic reasons, and lazy ones.

The movie starts off beautifully with the raid and subsequent removal to the country -- still one of the most lovely film openings I can think of. They take their time to establish characters and mood, set to gorgeous music that has you drawn into the world of Narnia way before Lucy even steps foot there. Then once she does the world of Narnia is so rich and feels like it could be real. New Zealand's landscapes helped with that, as did Weta's prop and costume designs. This movie took notes from Lord of the Rings and applied it all well. Lord of the Rings has had a huge influence on so many films, but in the more recent years the borrowing has become lazier and lazier. Narnia used the influence to create and be its own thing.

Of course I still find the river crossing scene awkwardly fake. And the more I see it, the the more apparent the spotty acting gets. The four children were well cast as their characters, but the acting and line delivery is sometimes cringe-worthy. Lucy and Edmund -- and -- have a better excuse, being young kids, but they're actually the best of the four with that consideration. Peter and Susan -- and -- had moments of equal awkwardness in spite of being older. However, they look the parts and are perfectly capable of maintaining a character and character progression. After that, line delivery can fall flat and be covered up.

....with the assistance of more seasoned and dedicated actors.

Plus there's a top notch supporting cast to make up for it. 's iconic faun Mr Tumnus -- spot on. 's voicing of Aslan is as great as the lion's animation which is still holding up. And 's Jadis is ever-incredible. She makes a beautiful, deeply evil and deeply captivating villain. These three probably carry the movie more than the kids do. I also love 's Professor Diggory Kirke. He's a wonderfully charming bookend character for the story.

What with the iconic characters, the many roadblocks that probably came with creating the magical and mythical creatures of the world -- not to mention the detail of the world itself -- and the pressures that came with adapting such a story, one of the things I appreciate most now it how simply the story is told. It just is. Pacing is steady and natural and scenes themselves are unrushed, patient and involving. This movie came from and was put together a lot of different places, but there was a clear vision and that vision was maintained consistently. There are parts for me to wrinkle my nose at still, but I love how tidy and complete the movie is as a whole. It's simple, but there's artistry to it; its not just a prewritten story cranked out onto film.

And it kept loyal to the themes of the book too.

I have long known that Lewis's books themselves were permanently set in my affections, but I am pleased to find that this adaption has found it's way there too. With maybe a smidgen less adoration, but seemingly just as permanent. For a long time I was both afraid to see flaws in this film and smugly pointing out flaws where they really didn't exist, but finally the movie has settled to a place of happy contentment with me. So, long live Aslan -- and if you need me, I'll be daydreaming of adventure and checking the backs of wardrobes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Upcoming Movie Roundup - February

In January I accomplished my oh-so-ambitious plan of seeing one movie in the theaters! La La Land was excellent and worth the wait. Here's my gushy review. Of the TV shows I talked about last month, Sherlock was such a sad failure. (I'm not mad, I'm just... disappointed.) Here are my untempered thoughts on that. Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events was an absolute hit for me though -- everything that I hoped the new attempt at an adaptation would do was done every bit as excellently as I dreamed. I haven't reviewed it though, and I'm not sure I will. If you're interested to read a review of it from me, let me know! But just know that I highly recommend it! I've also been watching Emerald City on NBC. It's not great, but is good enough that we haven't quit yet. The promise of a definite end is definitely what's keeping me in. Anyone else watching this? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

February is back to normal with a nice wide spread of interesting releases -- most of which I'll be looking out for reviews on. There's no huge must-see, but I'll be very surprised if we don't go see The Lego Batman Movie!

What looks good to you this month?

The Space Between Us
Feb 3rd; PG-13
This one's based on a book, so of course now I'm more interesting in reading it than I am watching it... although I do like Asa Butterfield, and Britt Robertson isn't bad. The thing is, the most appealing side of this is the space/Mars stuff, but it looks like he's gonna spend most of his time (and therefore most of the movie's time) on Earth. And then it's in serious danger of being just another fish-out-of-water rom-com, which would be a waste of the premise in my opinion.

The Lego Batman Movie
Feb 10th; PG
Will Arnett's Batman gets his very own very well-deserved movie! There's been so many trailers that we've probably seen most of the movie already, and it's unlikely this one will have the same real-world connection as The Lego Movie did. But gosh, so far I've seen nothing that is short of hilarious with this film's advertising, and it seems to set up for a good amount of depth too. So even if it's not as exceptional as The Lego Movie, I'm excited for a fun time at the theater with the best Batman ever!

A United Kingdom
Feb 10th; PG-13
Looks like a decent romance, and probably a political drama too. Not at all my favorite genres, but I thought it was worth mentioning. There's been a lot of movies lately with themes focused on racism, so if this one wants to stand out it would need to be a worthwhile story, (and perhaps have something new to say on the subject too) and of that, it's hard to tell from the trailer. It is done by the director of Belle though, and that's a promising sign.

The Great Wall
Feb 17th; PG-13
Dear Matt Damon -- What are you doing, buddy? You were in The Martian, and now this? Okay, as far as action-centered lite fantasy films go, this one looks like it could be fun, and will probably be at least decently entertaining from the its visual alone. As far as all that goes. I don't get Matt Damon in this, though. What's the appeal -- for him and for us? There's so many other actors that could have played the part, probably do better on the action side, and not waste their acting chops... but hey, maybe I'm missing something. Or... maybe not.

A Cure for Wellness
Feb 17th; R
If it weren't for the too-hard-for-me rating this might've been the most interesting movie of the month. Dane DeHaan and Jason Isaacs are typically great, the plot is intriguingly crazy and mysterious, and it is visually both creepy and spectacular. If it turns out as good as it looks, I'll look forward to an opportunity to see it. However I'm not counting on it -- it could very well be one of those films that edits together a memorable trailer out of a lot of good-looking nonsense.

Feb 24th; PG-13
Nicholas Hoult. Felicity Jones. Action flick. I mean, even if it is otherwise the worst movie on the face of the Earth it's still gotta be worth watching just for that, right? Also Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins support. The appeal of the cast makes the any issue of the movies quality pretty much obsolete -- I'm gonna want to watch this no matter what. It doesn't look like it has the most original plot or ideas, but I seriously doubt it'll be the worst movie ever either. In fact, it looks quite fun and action-packed!

FX starting Feb 8th
Some crazy stuff is about to go down. This new Marvel TV series stars Dan Stevens as the X-Man Legion, and... the trailers don't make any sense and promise all kinds of crazy-cool mind-bending. I only know the basics about this character, but it wouldn't make a difference if I knew nothing at all. It's Marvel. It's Dan Stevens. It looks like this. What else do you need to know? Oh, Aubrey Plaza is in it too -- that's just icing. Definitely excited for this!