CVIndependent

Wed10232019

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

Let’s face it: The Dark Knight has been really living up to the word “dark” since Tim Burton’s Batman came out 28 years ago. He can certainly be a morose sourpuss.

Wait a minute … has it really been 28 years since Burton’s Batman came out? Holy crap! I just totally freaked myself out. Hang on … I need to catch my breath and gather my thoughts. It’s been nearly three freaking decades since Nicholson played The Joker? I need to drink five beers.

All right … OK, I am back. As I was saying, Batman has been a downer at the cinemas. Even when he wasn’t being quite so dour, he was just plain sucking in the Joel Schumacher Batman movies that started coming out 22 years ago.

Wait a minute … did Kilmer really do Batman more than two decades ago? I think I’m having a panic attack. I have to do the breathing-into-a-brown-bag trick … I’ll be right back.

OK, back. Granted, Batman is inherently dark by nature, being all orphaned and inspired by bats and dispatching vigilante justice at night and whatnot. But, hey, sometimes it’s good to have a laugh or two while watching the Caped Crusader do his thing, if only because some of us have a sweet spot for the time when Adam West played the character for laughs in the original Batman TV series, which went off the air 49 years ago. Wait … 49 years ago?

OK … seriously. I have to take a long break and contemplate my life before finishing this review. I’ll be back in the morning after a good cry and extended sleep.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Batman. Batman’s a trooper all right, having survived the debacle that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. (Ben Affleck is a good Batman; his cinematic vehicle was not.) Thankfully, The LEGO Batman Movie is the great Batman story that Batman v Superman failed to be.

Even better, it has Will Arnett voicing Batman in a new, super-amped, yet dark incarnation that is surprisingly well-rounded. After all of these years watching dark (and sometimes brilliant) Batman movies, it’s nice to have a vehicle where we can just have fun with the character.

Director Chris McKay, along with a long list of writers, has come up with a story that will please adult Batman fans as much as kids. Arnett’s Batman not only faces off against the Joker (a very funny Zach Galifianakis), but he finds himself in a scenario in which he’s battling a smorgasbord of movie villains including King Kong, the Gremlins, Dracula, evil British robots and Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), to name just a few. It’s a nutty plot element that also allows for Batman mainstays like Bane, Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams, who voiced Harvey Dent in Burton’s Batman) and the Riddler (Conan O’Brien!) to get in on the act.

It’s a geek-fest—a movie-lover’s delight that has funny little trivia at nearly every turn, and an emotional center (Batman has family issues; the Joker longs to be hated) that gives the movie a surprising depth among the chaos.

Michael Cera and Ralph Fiennes bring good humor as Robin and Alfred, although Fiennes doesn’t voice Voldemort, which seems like a wasted opportunity: You had the real Voldemort on hand! It just seems like some money could’ve been saved. Oh, wait, maybe Fiennes actually costs more than Eddie Izzard, and Fiennes would’ve demanded full scale for two characters rather than one. OK … I’m distracted again.

The LEGO Batman Movie gives us a Batman tale that is a little brighter than those brooding Nolan films, and way better than last year’s Zack Snyder atrocity. It’s loaded with funny nods to the entire history of Batman, and fully functions as a standalone Bat story. May sequels abound!

(Writer’s addendum: After mentioning Adam West above, I was reminded that West and Burt Ward revisited Batman and Robin last year, voicing the characters in Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. I watched it, and it’s not as good as LEGO Batman, but still pretty cool!)

The LEGO Batman Movie is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Legions of Michael Bay’s detractors were jumping all over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot before it even hit screens.

Well, it’s not actually a Michael Bay film; he only served as a producer on this one. Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans, Battle Los Angeles) is the director here, and he’s put something together that is far more coherent than the latest Bay-helmed Transformers movie. This is not to say that the movie is any good—but it is markedly better than most of Bay’s output.

Megan Fox plays April, a wannabe reporter who stumbles upon a vigilante force protecting Manhattan from an evil terrorist group. The vigilantes turn out to be the infamous turtles (also, coincidentally, the pet turtles that April had as a child). The turtles, the result of scientific experiments, were raised in the sewers by a rat, and now they are ready to rise above the surface and kick some ass.

The film has some good moments; the turtles eat some pizza and get some laughs. However, Fox is a bit of a bore in the central human role; Will Arnett is virtually wasted as her cameraman; and I’m sick and tired of William Fichtner playing bad guys. The special effects are OK, but the story offers nothing special.

A sequel is already being prepared. A director with a better sense of wonder, and a better sense of humor, would serve this franchise well.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 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

Netflix subscribers who find the entertainment selection a little weak at times currently have access to one of the year’s greatest television surprises: An new 15-episode season of Arrested Development is currently available on the streaming service, and it’s as if one of TV history’s funniest and oddest families never left.

Each episode generally focuses on one character, like Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth, with the other family members playing supporting roles. The episodes’ chronologies overlap, but the character focus changes. This amounts to a lot of fun.

If you are a fan, you will not be disappointed. Will Arnett’s Gob still performs magic to the refrain of Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” David Cross’ Tobias is still a “never nude.” Portia de Rossi’s Lindsay is still shopping-obsessed, and so on.

The new shows also feature great cameos, including Ron Howard providing more than his voice, and a blessed reunion of Henry Winkler and Scott Baio.

There’s been some talk of an Arrested Development movie. As far as I see it, this is a 7 1/2 hour movie, since you can currently watch them all in a row.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing