The LEGO Movie

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Imagine drinking eight cans of cola, snorting a line of cocaine and standing on the roof of a skyscraper during a hurricane whilst listening to heavy dance music. That is what it feels like when watching a movie by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the million-miles-a-minute, comic genii behind this year’s surprise smash hit, The LEGO Movie.

Everything is awesome in the life of an ordinary LEGO construction worker, Emit. That is until he accidentally stumbles upon a plot by the evil, Lord Business; a lover of conformity, Business wants to put an end to life as LEGO knows it. Can Emit and his band of merry pop culture references save the day, and the LEGO universe, forever?

I will put my cards on the table now and say that, as a child, I was a huge LEGO fan. There was something so compelling about having the freedom to create whatever you wanted out of the small plastic bricks, even when it never looked as good as it was on the box. It is for that very reason that, after 5 minutes of watching The LEGO Movie, I was sold. The way the directors have incorporated, what feels like, every type of brick was extremely satisfying (even the little translucent fire!) It felt as if I was watching two drunk guys build the movie in front of me, talking to each other, saying “dude, what about this piece? And this piece? Oh man, that would be awesome to use that piece for the car! And the fire! Let’s use the fire on his hair! Haha, awesome; pass me another beer”. The film, while having all of the pop culture references and humour one would expect from Lord and Miller, felt very playful, which made for a great cinematic experience.

Ironically, even though it is in vogue with these directors’ style, one thing that may put some people off is the pacing. While the characters are hilarious, the story is compelling and the visual design is wonderful, the pacing is ridiculous. There are many occasions when the imagery is literally flying past the camera, so if you don’t mind the risk of seizure then you should be okay. I did find the humour hitting the mark for most of the movie, but the times when the jokes failed to hit the mark was mainly due to me being unable to register that it was a joke before we were onto the next one.

Aesthetics aside, the movie also contains a contemporary allegory that is concerned with conformity and independence. Much like the best animations – and greatest movies in general – one can read something from the narrative that teaches one something. For the first two acts, The LEGO Movie teaches us that conformity, rigidity and not getting out of one’s comfort zone is not good for creativity, or for culture and our society; the world in which Emit lives is rife with awful TV shows, annoying songs and friends who don’t see the real you. The independent thinkers out there are the one’s who influence change it says, however, for a movie that purports this message for 80% of its run-time, as we get to the climax, the message gets diluted by references. As evidenced by the last half a decade, it is easier to package an allegory within the threads of your movie without the presence of humans. Unfortunately, when Ferrell and his child share the screen time with Emit in the real world, even though it was a decent change of pace and I thought it worked in a superficial context with the story, the message gets lost in the saccharine; this is a shame because it was doing a satisfying job commenting on the vapid nature of entertainment culture.

Now that I have taken off my ponsy film school hat, it’s not everyday you get transported back to your childhood, yet, Lord and Miller have done it to me again. After watching The LEGO Movie, even though the ending didn’t quite hit it out of the park, I have to admit, mostly everything, really is, awesome.

 

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Now You See Me

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The FBI and Interpol assign detectives to investigate a team of magicians – the self-proclaimed ‘Four Horsemen’ (Eisenberg, Fisher, Harrelson, Franco) – who perform elaborate bank thefts in their shows and repatriate the money that they steal to their audiences.

Now You See Me, a movie that tries so desperately to be this generation’s Ocean’s Eleven, is one of the most boring, inconsequential and utterly preposterous movies I have seen this year [no hyperbole]. This confused, half-arsed mess of a film is over-stylised and heavily post-produced, presents completely dislikable characters that do sod all, and has zero story arc. Zero. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

The film has a singular, long, flat, dull act that trudges along in first gear and barely makes it to the finish line in one piece. No amount of lens flare (of which there is an obscene amount), or Isla Fisher flying around in CG bubbles, or Jesse Eisenberg being the jive turkey cunt he plays so much of late, or Dave Franco shooting CG flames out of his sleeves, can save this movie. It’s absolutely awful.

One of the huge problems I had with this movie was its tone. It’s nestled somewhere between magic shows in which they try to present the magic as ‘real’, yet has scenes filled with CG effects that aren’t magic at all, where it’s basically a fantasy narrative. The Prestige, a movie also about magic, barely relied on CG effects to deliver its scenes of wonderment. Now You See Me used a computer to execute card tricks, which was a complete insult to the entire concept of magic.

Another issue was the writing and the story itself. The screenwriter felt compelled used Basil Exposition in the character played by Morgan Freeman. The only scenes in which we see the Four Horsemen (which should be Four Horsepeople on account of Isla Fisher) together are when they are on stage or about to go on stage. There are no character dynamics explored, nor is there an explanation of motivation for the great mystery revealed at the end of the first act, which as discussed, is at the end of the film.

The final nail on the coffin for this movie was how the crowds were reacting to each trick. In the final scene, whole swathes of people, chant and whoop for these characters in a similar display to the people of New York City in Ghostbusters 2. It was such a strange departure from the tone of the rest of the movie.

I could go on and on about it’s utter failure as a movie, but it’s not even worth my time. Now You See Me, the movie which if you do what the title says, you’ll be bloody annoyed you did.

Olympus has Fallen

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Well I’m definitely eating my proverbial hat right now. What’s that phrase about a book and a cover? Forgive me if I can’t remember, my brain is still ringing from watching the latest GERARD BUTLER (sorry, Wittertainment joke) offering. After seeing the trailer I had dismissed this as another poorly written, poorly executed, action by numbers affair but having watched Olympus has Fallen last night, it has more to offer than you may think.

I’m not giving anything away by saying that the set up of the film; the partial destruction of The White House, the evisceration of the Secret Service and kidnapping of the President, is all structured to get Butler, disgraced Secret Service agent Mike Branning, alone in The White House with a gun, a knife, 20 generic terrorists and some brilliant one liners. This is a film that knows where it’s strengths are and it tries to get there as quickly as possible, which is why it is no surprise the first quarter of an hour is easily the weakest part of the film. The characters aren’t anything we haven’t seen before and the dialogue borders on cliché and, dare I say it, boring. Then, all of a sudden, the first shots are fired, it all kicks off and I was gripped for the next 100 minutes. I would even go as far as saying I was riveted.

The action in this film is fantastic and, once it starts, it doesn’t stop until the film finishes. The set pieces are executed tremendously well and, despite it being a stretch to accept the notion of a successful attack on one of the most secure locations in the world, the director, Antoine Fuqua, injects a tangibly real quality to the film. It’s not surprising considering Fuqua’s previous work; Training Day, Exit Strategy, Tears of the Sun and Shooter are evidence enough of an understanding of the genre. Faqua clearly knows how to work his way around around a shoot out. The fight sequences here are no different. They are savage and expertly choreographed, drawing the audience in without glamorising the increasing violence. Credit also needs to be given to Gerard Butler in his role; he is credible, physically convincing, charming and powerful, and drives the film from start to finish as our lone hero. There are also some commendable performances from Aaron Eckhart and Melissa Leo in supporting roles, who manage to keep the film ticking over outside of the action.

Olympus has Fallen isn’t doing anything new in terms of narrative, character or script, but what the film does achieve is an hour and a half of masterfully executed action sequences and a few quips of which John McClane would be proud. I hope all of this translates onto the small screen, and in case it doesn’t, go and see this in the cinema. You won’t be disappointed.

Gone Baby Gone

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Gone Baby Gone, the 2007 directorial debut from Ben Affleck, is a masterclass in how to make a crime thriller. Starring his younger brother, Casey, Gone Baby Gone pulls no punches and rightly so. The screenplay, based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, written by Affleck and Aaron Stockard, follows Casey Affleck’s character, Private Investigator Patrick Kenzie, and his wife Angie, played by Michelle Monaghan, as they become deeply embroiled in the hunt for a missing child, Amanda McCready, in the outskirts of Boston.

There are so many things right about this film its difficult not to gush. The narrative is engaging, original and doesn’t patronise the audience by resorting to unnecessary exposition. The dialogue is culturally relevant, poignant and despite the danger of sounding trite or overly sentimental, especially with such a heavy subject matter, it manages to steer clear of being either. The cast more than delivers; Michelle Monaghan brings a softness and femininity, without being clichéd, which emotionally tethers the film; Casey Affleck manages to be credible, understated yet intense, and Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris are predictably compelling in their supporting roles. It’s important to note that even with such Hollywood stalwarts as Freeman and Harris, Ben Affleck manages to resist the temptation to unnecessarily beef up their roles, instead utilising them just as much as the narrative requires.

Gone Baby Gone really is a stonking debut. Affleck demonstrates his competency and unnatural maturity as a filmmaker from the get go. The film is heavy on plot, yet doesn’t feel rushed, and heavy on character yet the characters feel sufficiently developed. His relationship with his hometown injects tangible realism; Affleck actually used real life footage, taken whilst filming, for the opening scene. His deep-seeded connection with Boston gives the film an authenticity that many a seasoned director could only hope to achieve. It’s his Boston, his truth as he sees it, but he invites you to decide on your own truth, never preaching or dictating, just guiding the audience through the story and landscape.

This film truly gives us a glimpse at what Affleck will go onto achieve. He has an eye for filmmaking that cannot be forced. Affleck gives his characters room to breathe on screen yet constantly draws the audience in to the drama. His storytelling is void of pretension and he is not afraid to shock, but when he does it never feels gratuitous or out of place. Gone Baby Gone made the world sit up and pay attention to what Affleck can do as a filmmaker and, dare I say it, an auteur. Ben Affleck, you definitely have my attention…