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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Oh … Legos. My mom asked me for Legos this past Christmas, and I thought, sure, why not? That’s kind of cute, buying Legos for your mommy on Christmas.

So I grabbed a Star Wars X-Wing Fighter Lego set at a well-known department store (OK, since we are already advertising Legos here, I’ll name it: JCPenney), and figured my Christmas shopping was off to a good start. No, I did not look at the price.

After the lady at the cash register announced my total, I stood aghast and realized Mom had her big gift already. Damn … Legos are expensive!

Incidentally, earlier today, Mom sent me a photo of the fully operational X-Wing built and ready for play. It’s pretty glorious. It might even be worth the money.

Why did I tell you this story? First, to let you know how commercially out of touch I am when it comes to gift-giving, and second, as a sort of preamble to my thoughts on The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.

Taking some cues from Mad Max, the Book of Revelations and, yes, Radiohead, The Second Part is another healthy dose of family-friendly fun, with plenty of laughs. One of my favorite things to hear at a movie theater is an adult laughing, with his or her kid following suit. Either the kid is, indeed, in on the joke, or he/she just wants to be like his or her parent. Either way, it’s a lot of fun and really cute when a movie produces these reactions for its entire running time.

It’s five years after the end of the first movie, and our hero, Emmet (the voice of Chris Pratt), is happily buying coffee in Apocalypseburg, a devastated Lego land with sullen tones and broken dreams. Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) has taken to dramatic narrating at all times, and things are getting knocked down as soon as they are built up. Invading aliens called Duplos are mostly to blame—forces that are undeniably adorable, yet unabashedly destructive.

It’s a crazed world in which Batman (Will Arnett) winds up engaged to Queen Waterva Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), leader of the Duplo, and Emmett winds up running with a Kurt Russell-type antihero who is suspiciously like Emmett. The reasons for all this craziness will not be revealed here; find out for yourself.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller do not return as directors, but they did contribute to the screenplay. Directing chores go to Mike Mitchell, whose illustrious career has included Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. While this is easily Mitchell’s best directorial effort, some of the charm and zest of the original is lost in the transfer. The movie feels a bit repetitive at times, and some of the action is too fast to be taken in properly.

Flaws aside, the movie is still a lot of fun, especially when Arnett’s cranky Batman is at the forefront. There’s also a slightly dark underbelly here; it’s fun to see a kids’ flick that doesn’t totally play it safe. As I mentioned before, there’s plenty here for adults to appreciate, too. There are some great gags involving raptors (which is funnier considering Pratt’s Jurassic World participation), and a terrific small role for an iconic action hero who spends a lot of time in air ducts.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part has a feeling of finality, as if these characters are being closed out. But, let’s face it … money talks, and with Toy Story 4 on the way (Chapter 3 was supposed to be the last), it’s clear that animated movies can keep on trucking as long as adults and kids line up. I’d be surprised if they didn’t find a way to keep the Lego movie ball rolling after this.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part opens Thursday, Feb. 7, at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

It’s tough being a puppet these days. After what seemed like a return to puppet glory with The Muppets in 2011, the cinematic Muppet momentum ended three years later with Muppets Most Wanted—and then the 2015 TV series tanked.

Considering this stalling of The Muppets franchise, it seemed like a good time for a former Muppet stalwart, Brian Henson (son of Muppet founder Jim), to take puppets in a more-adult direction. After all, Jim Henson had a more-adult incarnation for The Muppets in mind way back in the 1970s when they appeared on the first season of Saturday Night Live. (It’s true!) A raunchier band of puppets would be a fine addition to the Henson legacy.

That is, it would be a fine addition had Henson Alternative—an “adult” branch of the Jim Henson Company—made something better than The Happytime Murders, a listless, joyless, humorless exercise in how not to make a puppet movie.

The film is set up like a Muppets movie, with puppets interacting with humans—but Kermit and company are banned from the set in favor of bland, seriously unfunny puppets that fail to distinguish themselves in any way. Brian Henson directs, his first big-screen directing gig since Muppet Treasure Island, and it’s a lost puppet cause. Henson’s directing chops have not aged like fine wine; they’ve aged like a mango that got lost in the back of the refrigerator six months ago.

Melissa McCarthy—having a disastrous year with this and the terrible Life of the Party—takes the lead human role as Det. Connie Edwards, former partner of puppet cop-turned-private investigator Phil Philips (voiced by Bill Barretta).

The two team up again when puppet cast members of ’80s TV show The Happytime Gang start getting the cotton pulled out of them in a series of visually uncreative deaths. (OK, the one puppet getting shredded by band of dogs led by a Boston terrier made me chuckle a little, but it’s only because I have a Boston terrier currently living in my home, and I’m pretty sure she would shred a living puppet if given the chance.)

While there are hints of some funny premises—for example, Connie got a puppet liver transplant, so she’s tragically addicted to sugar—none of them are taken to fruitfully funny extremes. That’s because writer Todd Berger’s screenplay thinks gags should be a laugh-getters just because they’re naughty. There’s no room for wit or depth in his land of puppetry, just F-bombs and silly-string ejaculate. Frankly, I’m surprised the film doesn’t have an overload of puppet farts. (Actually, puppet farts might be funny. They’d sound like wind passing through sheets left out on a line to dry on a sunny summer day.)

Other human actors looking totally lost include Joel McHale as an FBI guy. (I couldn’t help but notice that McHale’s hairpiece/transplants look less convincing than the hair on the puppet heads.) Maya Rudolph fares a little better as Philip’s human secretary, but Leslie David Baker appears to be in serious pain delivering his typical police-chief lines. Elizabeth Banks gets the worst gig as Jenny, the only human member of the Happytime Gang, who is forced to make out with Philip.

I am very much up for some nastily funny puppet activity. I think Team America: World Police is one of the 21st century’s funniest movies, and The Happytime Murders had good people involved. Alas, a mundane McCarthy and babbling felt heads lead to what will stand as one of the year’s lousiest movies.

I’d say nothing that nothing good could come out of The Happytime Murders, but maybe its failure will create a hankering for the return of Kermit and friends. Regardless, something tells me if McCarthy gets a script for a new Muppet movie by courier in the future, she’s going to kick that courier in the nether region.

The Happytime Murders is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is the third trip to Camp Firewood after the original film (Wet Hot American Summer) and the Netflix prequel series (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), and it’s the least-funny of the three.

It’s still one of the funniest things you will find on television.

Most of the group is back again for the eight-episode series, by writer-director David Wain and writer Michael Showalter. At the end of the original movie, the camp counselors (including Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and Janeane Garofalo) promised to reunite 10 years later to see how things turned out. Here, they do just that, with their reunion threatened by an evil Ronald Reagan (Showalter) and George H.W. Bush (Michael Ian Black, in what has to be the worst and most hilarious George Bush impersonation ever). The two presidents want to nuke the place for nonsensical reasons.

Cooper, a superstar actor now, had to drop out (though he’s replaced in a very funny way by Adam Scott), while Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd, manages to return as rebel Andy. This time out, Andy is sporting grunge long hair, and it often looks like he is inserted into group shots in post-production, probably because Rudd couldn’t stick around for the whole shoot. Wain finds ways to make this obvious and, yes, very funny.

There are a lot of early ’90s references. Wain is the king of wiseass humor, and this might be the most wiseass effort of them all. The humor involves a young Reagan taking spherical shits; Ken Marino’s Victor and his still pathetic virginity; and a psycho nanny played by series newcomer Alyssa Milano. Elizabeth Banks spends most of the show in a separate storyline. A moment in which a door is slammed on her hand made me laugh harder than I have all year.

This series seems like a final chapter, with everything winding up in one of those clever ’90s twist endings. However, I hope they continue to get the band together for years to come. The world needs the continuing saga of Camp Firewood.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Paul Dano and John Cusack play Brian Wilson younger and older—and both are spectacular in this well-done biopic focusing on the Beach Boys legend.

Dano occupies the 1960s and ’70s, with Wilson experimenting in the studio, experimenting with drugs and starting to lose his mind. Cusack picks up the story later in life, with Wilson journeying outside after years of seclusion, and eventually falling in love with a car salesman (Elizabeth Banks). Paul Giamatti is sinister as Dr. Eugene Landy, the man who kept Wilson secluded for years and basically terrorized him into remaining mentally ill.

While neither actor is a dead ringer for Wilson, they are successful in capturing his mannerisms. Dano plays Wilson as a man with childlike wonder as he leads dogs into the studio to make music. Cusack gets everything from the facial tics to Wilson’s soft-spoken voice. They both deliver stunning performances—and because the film had the cooperation of Wilson, you get to hear Beach Boys music, too.

Both stories are told in parallel, rather than chronological, fashion, and it’s a great way to see Wilson’s life.

Love and Mercy is playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342); the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

Things take a darker, more underground and perhaps more understated turn in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1. While the film is a step backward from the rousing Catching Fire, it’s still a sturdy installment.

After being rescued at the end of Catching Fire—shortly after destroying the Hunger Games for good—Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is taken underground to join the rebellion. Rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use the reluctant Katniss as a propaganda tool to inspire the masses against the Capitol and its evil leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Katniss is getting a little grouchy at this point, exacerbated by the fact that Snow has imprisoned Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and is using him as a propaganda tool. Televised interviews with Peeta and Caesar (Stanley Tucci, playing my least-favorite character in the series) suggest that Peeta wants the resistance to lay down their arms and accept the Capitol. He’s being labeled a traitor.

In exchange for help rescuing Peeta, Katniss agrees to assist with the resistance and be their “Mockingjay.” In the film’s best sequence, Katniss is asked to perform in a staged, studio production of what’s supposed to be a rousing, call-to-arms propaganda piece. Alas, Katniss can’t act.

It’s decided that a more realistic approach would do, so Katniss goes above ground, where a couple of decent action sequences ensue. A TV crew is embedded with her, and they capture Katniss in real action alongside District 12 friend and semi-love interest Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, awarded more screen time in this installment).

Mockingjay—Part 1 is the result of taking the final novel in the popular Suzanne Collins series and splitting it in half; after all, more movies equal more dollars. However, I didn’t feel like the material was being stretched out in a detrimental way—like, say, what’s happening with the Hobbit movies. This film has plenty moving it forward, and I like where it ends.

There’s a cliffhanger, for sure, but it’s a cliffhanger with just a one-year wait. In my day, we used to wait more than THREE YEARS for the answer to a nasty movie cliffhanger. My junior high school grades suffered due to the malaise brought on by The Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger. I think it truly damaged me, and may be why I hate parties and am not married.

Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch, now a part of the underground movement, isn’t allowed to drink anymore, so he’s grumpier than Katniss. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has also gone underground, where she is no longer adorned with extravagant wigs, gowns and makeup. It’s actually a pleasure to really see Banks, who takes the character to new places without her powdered face.

Moore is a welcome presence, as she often is in movies. Sutherland has really progressed with the Snow character; I didn’t like him all that much in the first movie. (Actually, I didn’t enjoy much of anything in the first installment.) In one of his final performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman is strong as Plutarch, the double-agent architect of the Hunger Games now helping the resistance. Hoffman completed filming before his passing, so we will see him in Mockingjay—Part 2 as well.

Lawrence doesn’t get to strut her action-heroine stuff as much in this installment (although she does shoot down a plane with an arrow). She’s required to emote more in this one, and a couple of her moments are actually a little overwrought. I’ll blame director Francis Lawrence for the film’s more awkward moments, because I don’t want to blame Jennifer Lawrence for anything. She’s just so damned delightful!

Diehard fans: You already know how Mockingjay will end, so buck up and calm down. I heard people actually crying in the audience, because they were pissed with the cliffhanger ending. Just go read the book again, or practice a little thing called patience. It’s all going to be finished up in next year. Everything is going to be OK.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Lego Movie is a most welcome surprise. Fast-paced, frequently hilarious and visually fun, this is the sort of movie we’ve come to expect from Pixar—one that appeals to both kids and adults on many levels.

However, this isn’t a Pixar film; instead, it’s a product of the formidable but inconsistent Warner Bros. animation wing.

Sure, it’s a big commercial for Lego toys, but the product placement is more of a sly wink than a hammer over the head. I’m more offended by, say, frequently placed Subway sandwiches in an Adam Sandler movie than the constant presence of Legos in this one. Lego has developed its own universe over the years, especially with its video games, so I never felt like I was watching a commercial.

Instead, we get a movie that hurls jokes at breakneck speed, to go along with its super-kinetic visuals. The voice talent is a who’s-who of subversive humor, including Will Ferrell, Chris Pratt, Will Forte, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Jonah Hill and Charlie Day. It also has Morgan Freeman as a God-like character—and he is given some of the movie’s greatest lines. It’s co-written and directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, the guys who did Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the decidedly non-kid-friendly 21 Jump Street.

The plot follows Emmet (Pratt), a “generic” builder who goes about his homogenized life, building structures under strict deadlines and listening to the same song (Tegan and Sara’s terrific “Everything Is Awesome”) every minute of the day, while following the rules of the omnipotent President Business (Ferrell). President Business demands conformity in a decidedly socialistic way—but he keeps everybody at bay by promising Taco Tuesdays.

Things change instantly when Emmet meets Wyldstyle (Banks), who reveals to Emmet that there’s the possibility for real life beyond the walls of his pre-programmed world. (There are echoes of The Matrix and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.) Emmet joins forces with Wyldstyle and her extremely cool boyfriend, Batman (Arnett), to take down the establishment and restore freewill.

I confess to being totally blindsided by the ending, which warmed my heart in a way that is on par with the wonderful endings of Pixar’s Up and Toy Story. It is, without giving anything away, brilliant, ingenious and wholly satisfying. It also manages to tie the whole movie together in a way that is beautifully mindboggling.

There are terrific cameos along the way, including members of the Star Wars universe, other heroes from the Justice League, Gandalf and others. Liam Neeson is killer funny as Bad Cop/Good Cop—and even his father, Pa Cop, who is constantly breaking and kicking things. (He’s this movie’s Darth Vader.)

The film relishes random humor. At one point, a cowboy in a saloon asks quite earnestly, “Are zeppelins a good investment?” (I laughed out loud to an extent that was a little embarrassing.) Arnett’s Batman is arguably on par with those played by Christian Bale and Michael Keaton. Stick around for the credits, and Arnett’s Batman theme, “Untitled Self Portrait,” which repeatedly touches upon Batman’s dead parents and penchant for dark things.

The Lego Movie is a bit exhausting at times, but the constant stream of activity is super-intelligent. It’s a cliché, but I’ll say it: “Fun for the whole family!” Sorry to be so cookie-cutter here, but it’s the truth. 

The Lego Movie is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I didn’t care all that much for Movie 43, a new-millennium attempt at something akin to Kentucky Fried Movie. But I won’t be trashing it, because it crosses many lines, is terribly offensive, and is often screamingly disgusting. I’m a little demented when it comes to comedy, so I say: Bring on the farts, excessive curse words and scrotum necks!

However, if you are going to do a gross sketch comedy, you had better do gross well. Your jokes better have the proper punch lines and kickers, and your sketches have to end strong.

Many of the sketches in Movie 43 end like bad Saturday Night Live sketches. Too many of the sketches, which are directed by various directors, just aren’t funny. They land with a thud.

First, I’ll talk about the good stuff. I must give props to real-life couple Naomi Watts (a current Oscar nominee) and Liev Schreiber for their funny turn as a couple proudly homeschooling their son. They want their kid to get the full high school experience, so they humiliate him, alienate him, nail him with dodge balls and ultimately try to make out with him. Yes, I laughed hard at this. Movie 43 would’ve been better if it had been 90 minutes with these nuts.

I must also praise Terrence Howard as a black basketball coach who gets fed up with his youngsters being afraid of a bullying white team. Yes, this joke has been done to death, but Howard sells it big-time. This is one of the sketches that ended badly, but not before Howard had me laughing out loud.

Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott kidnap a foul-mouthed leprechaun (Gerard Butler)—and excessive violence and obscenity ensue. Real-life couple Anna Faris and Chris Pratt deal with a desire to get pooped upon—yet they somehow make it romantic. Jason Sudeikis gives us a commentary on Kristen Bell's bush. There are some laughs to be had in these uneven segments.

Hugh Jackman (another current Oscar nominee) shows up for a blind date with Kate Winslet sporting testicles on his neck. This would be the first time in movie history where an Oscar nominee, mere weeks away from hearing whether he has won the golden boy, appears onscreen with hairy balls protruding from his neck. I’m thinking that this moment in movie history will cost Mr. Jackman a few votes. It’s also not funny.

Another sketch (directed by Elizabeth Banks) features Chloë Moretz and her Kick-Ass co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It has, not surprisingly, a menstruation theme: Moretz gets her first period after her first kiss, and two brothers spaz out until their dad (Patrick Warburton) comes home—and doesn’t help the situation. Another dud.

Even worse would be Elizabeth Banks starring in a post-credits segment that has her getting peed on by a masturbating/animated cat. And even worse would be a truth-or-dare sketch in which Oscar-winner Halle Berry makes guacamole with surgically enhanced breasts. Far worse would be a skit in which Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin talk dirty at a supermarket, unwittingly broadcasting over the PA system.

Worst of all would be Richard Gere as an executive confused at the notion that young boys are trying to have sex with the iBabe, an MP3 player that looks like a supermodel but has a nasty, member-mangling exhaust fan in its nether regions.

The bad far outweighs the good, and that’s what makes Movie 43 a loser. I dare Hugh Jackman to wear his scrotum neck on the Oscar red carpet.

Movie 43 is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews