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The LEGO Batman Movie – Review

22 Feb

Back when The LEGO Movie was released in 2014, I expected it to be one of the worst movies to hit theaters in a long time. I really thought I was about to sit through an advertisement for LEGOs that lasted over an hour and a half. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The LEGO Movie was one of the funniest movies I saw in a long time, and repeat viewings only seem to make it funnier. I will say I also had some hesitation about The LEGO Batman Movie. I thought maybe this was just going to be a watered down version of the first film, which is not something I wanted to see. I’m happy to report that The LEGO Batman Movie is another frenetic and brutally hilarious trip into this world made of LEGO bricks, even though it doesn’t quite match the energy of the first film.

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Gotham City has a lot of problems, but none of them are a match for the awesomeness of the self proclaimed best superhero ever, Batman (Will Arnett). After stopping the Joker (Zach Galifanakis) yet again, he is taken aback when the Joker says he values the ongoing hateful relationship that the two share, but Batman quickly shoots down that thought which leads the Joker to plot his greatest attack on Gotham to date. Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) has been announced as the new police commissioner who vows to unify the police force and make it so that Gotham doesn’t need to just rely on Batman for protection. This comes much to the chagrin of Batman, who knows the Joker is up to something devious. With his new protégé, Dick Grayson, aka Robin (Michael Cera), Batman is forced to come to the realization that he is going to need all the help he can get when the Joker unleashes an absurd amount of villains on Gotham from the mysterious Phantom Zone.

The biggest thing I have to say about The LEGO Batman Movie, which is what I said about The LEGO Movie, is that I love its relentless style of humor. When a movie has so much humor and jokes jam packed into it that I have to watch it more than once is something I consider to be a strong positive. The days since I’ve seen The LEGO Batman Movie, I still find myself laughing because I’ll remember a scene or a line that didn’t stick with me right away, but came back to me nonetheless. This movie isn’t quite as hilarious as the first film in this new franchise, but it still made me laugh harder and more often than any other movie I’ve seen recently. It’s a pretty common misconception that just because something is animated and rated PG that it is something made solely for kids. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s worth noting that there’s plenty of jokes and references in this movie that are made just for all the adults in the audience.

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Beneath all the humor and over the top energy that makes this movie so great, there’s a lot of really good messages that can be thought about after the movie’s over. Again, these are messages that both kids and adults can understand and this film never panders to any specific demographic. There’s themes of friendship, family, and a very important one about self worth and knowing when to ask for help. It’s something a viewer of any age can really understand and support. Speaking of what’s hiding behind the barrage of humor, there’s an outrageous amount of Easter eggs, self referential jabs, and pop culture references. There’s enough to make your head spin, and and pop culture freak, comic book nerd, or cinephile will have a blast picking everything out.

Much like its predecessor, The LEGO Batman Movie has a very cool style and is animated very well. Things still look as if they could be done through stop motion using LEGO bricks, but it’s really just a very well done piece of computer animation. There were actually a few scenes in this where I was downright shocked by just how good looking it was. There’s one quick scene of a villain walking along the top of a plane in the beginning of the movie that got me hooked on the visuals, but the action sequences are what really sold this movie to me in terms of its animation.

Simply put, The LEGO Batman Movie is another relentlessly hilarious movie that gives me more hope for the LEGO movies to come. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first film, but it’s a leg above a lot of the other comedies I’ve seen of recent. The jokes are non stop, the references and jabs at itself and other franchises is a lot of fun, and there’s even some good messages to take away from it all. The LEGO Batman Movie is a film that can lift anyone’s spirits and provide some much needed laughs.

Final Grade: A-

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Unstoppable – Review

20 Oct

 

I can’t really say I’m the biggest fan of the late film maker Tony Scott. His filmography is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I can’t get into movies like Top Gun or Déjà Vu no matter how hard I try, but on the other hand Domino is a highly underrated action film and True Romance might even be one of my favorites. Like I said, it’s a mixed bag. Scott released his last film in 2010 titled Unstoppable, and it kind of serves as an exclamation point for the run on sentence that is Scott’s body of work. It has that signature frenetic style that everyone will recognize, but it also has a really interesting plot based on true events and some good characters to keep that story going. I was kind of surprised by it.

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Will Colson (Chris Pine) is a new train conductor  assigned to veteran engineer Frank Barnes’ (Denzel Washington) train scheduled to make stops in a number of small Pennsylvania towns. All in all, it sounds like a pretty mundane day for the two railroad workers. What they don’t know is that further up north, a completely inept hostler has lost control of a half mile long train that has cars containing a highly toxic substance called phenol. Now this train is barreling through towns without any control and is a risk of derailing at any moment and releasing this substance that could poison an entire town. Yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) rounds up her usual employees to stop the train, but corporate interference is making the task almost impossible. With time running out, Colson and Barnes decide to catch up to the train and slow it down themselves. With Hooper giving directions back at the train yard, the two railroaders push their train to the limit to stop a massive potential disaster.

Going into this movie, I wasn’t really expecting too much. Every time I asked someone about Unstoppable or it was brought up in conversation, no one ever seemed to excited about it. I’m really glad that these unremarkable responses didn’t deter me from actually watching it and formulating my own opinion. This is a well paced, well directed, and well acted film that, along with Domino, is a highly underrated Tony Scott movie. The plot takes its time in many places and that’s a smart choice because a movie like this could easily be rushed and contain non stop action. The first half hour or so sets up the characters and the setting while also giving the audience enough information to be able to follow the story. I really don’t know much about trains or how they work, so without this set up, I would have been completely lost during some of the more technical discussions. So, just because the action doesn’t start right away doesn’t mean it’s boring. Scott’s visual style and direction always keeps things interesting until the real meat and bones of the story begin.

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When the action does get started, it rarely ever lets up. This is an incredibly fast paced movie that, like I said, doesn’t feel rushed. This is where Tony Scott’s direction really shines. For one thing, most of the crazy stuff that happens was all shot with very little CGI. Instead, Scott opted to go with stuntmen, real trains, and lots of disposable things for the trains to crash into. This is a great looking movie for reasons like that, and also Scott’s kinetic and highly saturated visuals. The way the action is laid out also gives the tension and thrills time to build up. When the train is first lost and out of control, it isn’t moving too fast. By the time the climax of the movie happens, however, it’s traveling nearly 80 miles per hour with all of those other train cars, some of which contain a highly toxic and combustible chemical. This is one of those movies where you’ll find yourself slowly inching to the edge of your seat and letting out those wonderful sighs of relief.

Amidst all the mayhem with the trains, there’s also a story of corporate interference and disrespect for all of the people working in the field and not operating out of a boardroom on the fiftieth floor. This isn’t a subject that’s often shied away from, because a lot of working people can relate to it, but Unstoppable handles it in a way that resonated with me well. A lot of it has to do with the surprisingly three dimensional characters. Washington’s character is the veteran who’s getting screwed over by the company, Pine’s character is just getting into the company that’s obviously flawed, and Dawson’s character is the person who has made somewhat of a name for herself, but still isn’t respected by the higher ups. It really all of the bits and pieces of a company from the completely inept employees to the veterans just trying to finish their time on the job.

Unstoppable isn’t going to go down as an action classic in the years to come, but not every movie has to have that kind of status. This is a very well put together action thriller with fully realized character and plenty of mayhem and destruction to keep your eyes glued to the screen. I wouldn’t call this movie great, but it’s certainly really good and epitomizes most of what made Tony Scott’s vision so unique. This one’s worth checking out.

Final Grade: B+

Trance – Review

29 Apr

Hypnotherapy is a pretty crazy concept if you really stop and think about it. If you believe in all of it, the patient is pretty much allowing the therapist to pick the lock of the subconscious in order to help the patient figure something out. Danny Boyle and his writers, Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, tackle this subject using the narrative push of a complex auction house robbery. This brings about some triply scenes and an unbelievable head game that will leave the viewer desperate for answers by the end of the movie.

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Simon (James McAvoy) is an art auctioneer who is the victim of a heist in which the target is an unbelievably expensive painting, Francesco Goya’s “Witches in the Air.” During the heist, Simon gets hit in the head by Franck (Vincent Cassel), who is participating in the robbery. To Franck’s surprise, Simon has already hidden the painting, but the whack on the head has made him forgot where he hid it.  Through a series of revelations and twists, the crew of robbers and Simon hire Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist, to tap into Simon’s mind and find out where the painting is hidden. What they all find in his subconscious is a multilayered story that connects all of the players and will bring some to their ends.

This is a trippy movie that makes the viewer literally feel like they are being thrust into Simon’s troubled mind. The story at a point becomes very nonlinear and will trick you a number of times. There came a point where I really couldn’t discern what was real and what was not. This seems like a term that is thrown around a lot, but this truly applies to Trance. While McAvoy’s character acts more as just a simple protagonist than a defined narrator, it is his mind we are tapping into making him, I would consider, a very unreliable narrator. Sound and visual trickery become very important to the storytelling, and never felt overwhelming.

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If one were to just look at the surface aesthetics, I feel like this would be considered a masterpiece. There’s almost a visual thematic element to be seen in Trance. One thing that I really noticed was how symmetrical everything appeared to be. One shot showed a building in the dead center of the frame with train tracks on both sides. Another memorable shot was a blown out scene on a balcony in which Simon peeks his head out of the glass door. The sun makes his reflection on the door very defined which makes a really neat sort of mirror effect. Of course a lot of these beautiful shots were done through clever editing, they are still something to marvel at. Another scene on a highway splashes many different colors that appear to be moving on the character’s faces. This reminded me of a living, talking Impressionist painting. As for the sound, the music is what stands out the most. When something serious was about to go down, the thumping electronic score would boost the intensity and pull the viewer deeper into the surreal atmosphere.

Trance‘s narrative is definitely good, but compared to the visuals and music, it doesn’t quite stand on the same level. For one thing, it may be a little difficult for some viewer to really buy into the idea of hypnotherapy and amnesia. It is a little contrived, but the whole movie has an otherworldly feel that serves to remind the viewer that, yes, this is a movie. The acting is great all across the board, with Vincent Cassel’s performance standing out. But, then again, I’ve been pretty biased towards Cassel ever since Black Swan.

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Danny Boyle has once again shown that he is an exceptional film maker, just in case the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics wasn’t enough of a clue. I didn’t find any problem with the movie, personally, although I can see how some people may be turned off by the entire plot of the movie and the highly stylized approach. Trance was a huge treat in a time of final projects, exams, and papers. It’s bursting with creativity and an artist’s love that you can’t always find in thriller films. I definitely recommend Trance.

Clerks 2 – Review

11 Jun

Although Kevin Smith intended to end his View Askewniverse series with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, he was always open to the possibility of making more. After the failure that was Jersey Girl, Smith reopened the Askewniverse to properly end the series with Clerks 2. 

As Dante (Brian O’Halloran) is about to open the Quick Stop store for another long day at work, he is shocked to find it in a blaze. How could this have happened? Well he soon finds out that the blame falls on his co-worker Randal (Jeff Anderson) for leaving the coffee pot on after closing. Now they are forced to find new jobs, and wind up at a Mooby’s Restaurant. Dante is soon to be married to his fiancé Emma Bunting (Jennifer Schwalbach) and moving to Florida the next day, so Randal has to give his best friend the best going away present ever at the expense of their boss, Becky (Rosario Dawson), who has her own plans when it comes to Dante. All this is done over the watchful eyes of Jay and Silent Bob who occasionally put in their two sense or wreak their own havoc.

When fans of Clerks found out that there was going to be a sequel, many were very upset even though they haven’t even gave the film a chance at that point. To be honest, I was also a little nervous before popping in Clerks 2 just because of how fantastic the original was. It seems like a very difficult act to follow, and after how ok Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was, I wasn’t as confident in this one.

To my pleasant surprise, I find it easy to rank Clerks 2 up there with the original. It still hasn’t lost it’s irreverent flair that made it so fantastic. There are jokes ranging from the Holocaust to beastiality. The slapstick humor that invaded Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is gone, which leaves room for Smith’s use of brilliantly clever dialogue that mirrors real life and his talent for creating ridiculous situations.

Seeing the original characters again for one last hoorah was a little sad, but awesome at the same time. Throughout the films in the Askewniverse, we’ve heard references and briefly seen Dante and Randal, but we never got to spend a lot of time with them. They are the original characters, and I find them the most interesting so another slacker adventure with them was a must. Jay and Silent Bob are back as well and as crazy as ever. Since they both are clean of drugs (yet, still selling them) they have to do their best to keep themselves occupied to avoid relapse. This is a clever and surprising twist on these beloved characters.

That’s what has always made these characters so great. They are so relatable. I work in retail and love talking about movies and annoying customers, although I do like to think I work a little harder than Dante and Randal. But still, seeing them just trying to get through the day is so satisfying. This time around, Kevin Smith has added a new level of maturity to the characters. They still are mostly up to no good, but they’re beginning to realize that they need to find a set path in their life. They also deal with changing friendships as adults, which may be easier the younger you are. There is a great dramatic monologue given at the end which is surprisingly impacting.

In the end, Kevin Smith has created a foul mouthed gem with Clerks 2. You can tell that Smith treats these characters with a special kind of respect and works hard in creating a story arc that we can all believe. This is a fitting end to the Askewniverse, leaving us with a newfound knowledge of Dante, Randal, and Jay and Silent Bob. The characters live on without our eyes watching, and I even caught myself thinking about what these guys would be up to today. If you love Clerks, then Clerks 2 is a must see.