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Entries in charlie day (3)

Wednesday
Feb122014

The LEGO Movie

When “The LEGO Movie” was announced, the world let out a collective groan. While the beloved brand has branched out in recent years to various media forms, including an ever growing popular series of video games starring Batman, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, the Marvel heroes and more, a movie just seemed too much. At the time, it would not have been unfair to assume it would be a 100 minute commercial and, in a sense, it is, but this final product so much more than that. This is not a cheap cash grab by the company and the movie doesn’t have a singular purpose to sell product (though I imagine that will be an added bonus). This is a funny, thoughtful film with a surprisingly resonant story that warms the heart. Older audiences will hope “The LEGO Movie” will at least be watchable while it entertains their kids, but they’ll soon find a childlike wonder they haven’t experienced in a while. If you’ve been pining to feel like a kid again, “The LEGO Movie” will do it. It’s not just “good for a kid’s movie,” as many cynics may suggest. “The LEGO Movie” is destined to be one of the best of the year.

The story starts out silly enough. Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an ordinary guy, which is meant in the purest sense of the word. There is truly nothing special about him. He wakes up, does a few jumping jacks and heads off to work as a lowly construction worker. He’s a happy person, though much of that happiness is simply a façade to hide his loneliness. One day, however, things change when he stumbles onto an artifact known as the Kragle. Long ago, as the wise sage Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) puts it, a prophecy was foretold of a Master Builder who would save the world from the potentially devastating effects of the Kragle, and much to his surprise, he's that hero. Along with his newfound partner, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), he sets out to stop evil mogul, Lord Business (Will Ferrell), from freezing all of the world’s inhabitants and creating a perfect city.

These early moments are seemingly the most inconsistent for “The LEGO Movie.” It has some satirical bits, lampooning simplistic, one-joke television sitcoms with the LEGO world’s most popular show, “Where’s My Pants?” and generic pop music with the equally popular “Everything is Awesome!” But these moments are fleeting, as it quickly moves onto something else. It similarly pokes fun at itself, namely the immobility of the LEGO figures. When Emmet does those aforementioned jumping jacks, for instance, his motions are awkward, almost like he’s jumping up to cheer for something than to exercise, as the LEGO arms don’t extend out like is required for jumping jacks, only forward and backward. Another great moment is when the film admits that all LEGO characters essentially look the same (a search for Emmet by the evildoers yields no results because he “matches everyone in our database,” an underling says). But these moments come so rapidly as to seem a little inconsistent.

The story too is all over the place, a little bit like an ADD child on a sugar bender. Once it introduces its multiple universes angle, you start to wonder if the film is going to go completely overboard. But then something magical happens. A twist, which I dare not spoil, brings everything together. It explains why the story jumps around and why all of these seemingly unrelated characters from the vast Lego collection (which ranges from Shaquille O’Neal to Michelangelo the painter to Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle) have come together in one place. Unexpectedly, the film finds a purpose. In this silly, joke-a-second corporate product pushing movie with what appears to be, at first, a sporadic and inconsequential narrative, a giant heart is found. What happens is something that will seem all too familiar to certain members of the audience. While hardly revelatory, its ultimate message of letting loose your imagination and creativity is nevertheless endearing. It’s enough to make the parents in the audience want to take their kids home and let them run around and explore, creating magical worlds in their heads that only they can comprehend. It is that impactful.

If, somehow, the ending doesn’t touch you, there’s so much more to enjoy that it will hardly detract from your experience. The sight gags are contextually brilliant, like the fire effects that are merely see through orange plastics, and the absurd amount of cameos thrown into this thing is enough to make any nerd, LEGO fan or otherwise, smile with joy. From Harry Potter to the Simpsons to real life historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, the movie is packed to the brim with excellent inclusions, most of which you need to see for yourself. Even its soundtrack brings the goods, including a hilarious song written by Batman (Will Arnett) that satirizes the brooding nature of the character’s recent cinematic endeavors. Like a good spoof movie, the jokes come so rapidly here that one viewing is simply not enough. Most viewers are bound to miss the more subtle references and quick comedic jabs that “The LEGO Movie” throws in.

Too many adults these days seem to be lacking an imagination and a childlike sense of wonder. Their cynicism seeps through every facet of their being and they find that the ability to lose themselves in an adventure is now seemingly impossible. If you’re one of those people, especially one of the ones who desperately wants to recapture that youthful spirit, go see “The LEGO Movie” immediately. It’s about as magical and wondrous a movie as I’ve seen with more laughs per minute than any movie in recent memory. “The LEGO Movie” is an absolute delight.

The LEGO Movie receives 5/5

Friday
Jul122013

Pacific Rim

Much hullabaloo has been made about Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim.” You have two groups of people: those who are excited for it and those who think it looks like a glossed up “Transformers.” While the former staunchly defend the director (as they should given his track record of quality), can they really blame the latter? It’s hard to deny that the trailers, almost all of which focused on the action heavy sequences, were making a correlation between the two and reaching for that demographic. The good news is that this is no “Transformers.” Its approach to similar material is markedly different, both in tone, style and storytelling. It’s nothing particularly amazing and it’s certainly not one of del Toro’s best, but it’s well made, gorgeous and it has some truly terrific action.

In the near future, humanity is at war, but not amongst ourselves. Whatever petty problems we had before ended when we were one day invaded by a giant creature we eventually dubbed the Kaiju. At some point, a fissure between two tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean opened a portal between two dimensions, allowing these beasts to come and wreak havoc. In response, humanity built giant robots to fight them. These machines, called Jaegers, are controlled by two pilots who link their brains together to become one. However, the world governments are phasing out the Jaeger program because it is quickly becoming clear that as the attacks become more frequent, we’re unable to keep up. Their plan is to build a giant wall, which quickly proves to be futile. In the meantime, the military, led by Stacker (Idris Elba), changes their categorization into a resistance and plans to hold them back for as long as possible, eventually concocting a plan that could end the war for good.

The first thing one notices when watching “Pacific Rim” is its surprising focus on its characters. Contrary to something like the aforementioned “Transformers” movies, which were less interested in story and more in making things go boom, the film crafts its narrative around the people. The trailers may indicate otherwise, but there’s more story here than action. Unfortunately, the story is relatively uninteresting, mostly traditional and filled to the brim with action movie clichés like the late movie motivational speech and the celebratory crowd welcoming a hero home after a big victory. These moments do little to complement a movie that is already struggling for conflict, seen most noticeably by the forced human quarrels between bickering pilots, one blaming the other for their current predicament. All of these moments are supposed to build these characters and give us a reason to invest ourselves in them and their plight, but they are perfunctory at best and don’t do a particularly good job bridging the action scenes together.

But in the moment, those action scenes will make you forget all that. Guillermo del Toro does a magnificent job of portraying the scope of what’s happening, slyly placing objects in the foreground to contrast between the hulking monstrosities in the background, toying with our perspective and giving us a true idea of how massive these things are. When one of the creatures or machines go flying through the air towards a major city, we know this isn’t going to be like Iron Man falling out of the sky and taking out a previously well-constructed block of road; it’s going to result in catastrophic damage and lives lost. The seriousness of what’s happening is rarely lost on the viewer (aside from the comic relief scientist played by Charlie Day, who is horribly miscast here). In particular, the terrific finale and a nail biting sequence that takes place, no joke, on the edge of space, are mind-blowing. With a score that complements its scope, “Pacific Rim” gives off the feeling of a truly epic Hollywood blockbuster.

The reason these action scenes work as well as they do is due to a calm editing style that isn’t reliant on frenzied cuts to manufacture a sense of excitement. They’re occasionally bogged down by some unnecessary zooms, nighttime darkness and lens flares brought on by nearby bright city lights, all of which make what happens a tad hard to see, but for the most part, they stand as an excellent example of how action should be filmed and presented.

Unfortunately, it all comes back to those characters, all of whom are flatly written and blandly portrayed. For example, Charlie Hunnam, who plays our protagonist, Raleigh, speaks in a whispered dramatic tone full of sentiments and recollections, but he can’t properly convey the required emotion needed for the role. The opening sequence shows the loss of his brother in combat, whom he was mind-melded with at the time, so the memory of his death, all of his brother’s feelings and fears, are trapped in his head, but you wouldn’t know it based on his performance. He basically walks around and scowls for two hours and then the movie ends.

With all that said and with all those problems, including characters that are focused on, yet are still uninteresting, “Pacific Rim” still manages to work, mostly due to the wonderful Guillermo del Toro and a surprisingly effective use of 3D. It really is striking to see the size of the creatures off in the distance in relation to a helicopter up close, making that otherwise impressive flying machine look like a child’s play toy, and the 3D really helps accentuate that. Despite the majority of its pre-release hype being undeserving, “Pacific Rim” is a fun, if a bit shallow, time at the movies.

Pacific Rim receives 3.5/5

Thursday
Jun202013

Monsters University

With last year’s middling, but still solid, “Brave” and 2011’s “Cars 2,” the only movie ever to receive negative reviews from the otherwise untouchable Pixar, people began to question whether or not the animation studio had lost its edge. Their warm, emotional and downright brilliant movies like “Up,” “Wall-E” and the “Toy Story” franchise had devolved into kiddie fare (as opposed to the family friendly movies that had come before and were accessible to everyone) with simplistic themes and unimpressive stories. Well, it looks like they’re back on track with “Monsters University,” a wholeheartedly impressive movie that takes a subject from the wonders of a child’s imagination and injects it with a truthful examination on failed dreams and the meaning of friendship.

The movie begins with Young Mike (Noah Johnston). He’s a happy-go-lucky kid with a wonderfully positive attitude despite his classmates’ negativity towards him. While on a field trip to Monsters Inc., the company responsible for scaring children and powering the monster world with their screams, he finds his calling. He’s going to be the greatest scarer that ever lived. Now he’s all grown up and Mike (Billy Crystal) is headed off to college at Monsters University. His entire life has led up to this moment and nothing will stand in the way of him achieving his dream. However, when it’s decided he’s just simply not scary, he’s taken out of Scare School along with the unfocused Sully (John Goodman). But his determination won’t keep him down, so he partners with the dorkiest fraternity on campus, Oozma Kappa, and his newfound frenemy to compete in the school hosted Scare Games. If they win, they’ll all be allowed back into Scare School and Mike will have a second chance at achieving his dreams.

And if you’ve seen “Monsters Inc.,” you know he doesn’t. While Sully goes onto break records while scaring children at night, Mike is relegated to sidekick, the unsung hero who lives vicariously through Sully. Yet as a child and a college student, Mike just knows that if he works hard, his aspirations will naturally fall into place. He has a naiveté that many in his position share, unaware of the fact that no matter how much you want something and no matter how hard you work for it, it may not pan out. Life throws curveballs and takes you down different roads than you originally imagined.

It’s a brave stance to take in a kid friendly movie and is opposite of the “you can be whatever you want to be” message so many kids are exposed to these days. It may even seem like a negative stance, but the opposite turns out to be true. Although the movie takes an honest look at failed dreams and shows that life sometimes doesn’t work out the way you had planned, it’s ultimately a hopeful and encouraging movie because it shows that other skills can lead to happiness and success. It emphasizes the idea that one dream crushed is another dream created and even though Mike is initially disheartened by the sudden realization that his lifelong dream will never come to fruition, he discovers other opportunities in his strengths.

This is exactly the type of theme Pixar needed to tackle, one that is necessary for children, but also relatable to adults. Very few people have lived their lives and achieved their one lifelong dream, so many in the audience may be shocked to see such a truthful representation of themselves in a movie about monsters learning to scare children. As far as storytelling goes, “Monsters University” is nearly flawless, if only one little inconsistency that fails to connect the two movies didn’t rear its ugly head. In “Monsters Inc.,” Mike specifically says to Sully, “You’ve been jealous of my good looks since the fourth grade,” implying that they have known each other nearly all their lives. But in “Monsters University,” they’re meeting for the first time at college. Although relatively minor in the big scheme of things, the stories of the two movies don’t connect as they should, which is a cardinal sin for any sequel or prequel.

Nevertheless, the most important aspect of “Monsters Inc.” carries over without a hitch: its amiable charm. In terms of pure wit, this is perhaps the cleverest movie Pixar has done since, well, “Monsters Inc.” As Mike walks down the main university strip on his first day, for instance, he passes by the debate team led by a monster with two heads that can’t seem to agree with each other and the improv club that can’t even improvise their pitch to get him to join. These small moments are delightful and really give the film a humorous appeal.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical of Pixar after their last couple films, especially when those disappointments followed their three best and most mature efforts to date, “Wall-E,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3,” but they’ve renewed my faith in them after this. “Monsters University” is gorgeously animated, wonderfully voiced (with additional help from John Krasinski, Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day, Aubrey Plaza and Helen Mirren as the Dean of the school) and all around magical. It’s that rare film that mixes childlike wonder with adult themes while never neglecting the details that are needed to bring the world to life. “Monsters University” is a joyous experience.

Monsters University receives 5/5