Tag Archives: Warner Bros.

“THE LEGO MOVIE” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Bricks, businessmen, and Batman.

The last thing I expected from anything titled The Lego Movie was anything good. How could I? The trailer had the reeking stench of an advertisement, barely differentiating itself from the Lego set commercials that air on children’s cartoon networks. Believe me, I went into this movie expecting an artificial, brainless experience looking only to profit itself from the name of it’s toy line. Boy, do I love it when I am proved wrong.

Based in a colorful world full of Lego bricks, buildings, and set pieces, The Lego Movie follows Emmett (Chris Pratt), an average, regular, 100% ordinary minifigure who loves coffee, people, Taco Tuesdays, cats, cars, work, television, and just about everything else under the orange Lego-bricked sun. If any of the characters in the film knew that they were in a movie, none of them would expect Emmett to be the main character: he has the personality and the appearance of a background character if anything.

One day, while working at his construction job, Emmett comes into contact with a strange red object called “The Piece of Resistance”, and passes out. When he wakes up, he is recruited by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a punky and feisty master builder who tells Emmett that he is part of a prophecy that declares that a powerful being called “The Special” will find the Piece of Resistance and use it to overthrow Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and his plans to conquer the Lego-verse. As a result, Emmett gets catapulted into a decade-long conflict between wizards, robots, businessmen, DC superheroes, crazy cats, cyborg pirates, spacemen, and Batman.

Good God, where do I start with this? The Lego Movie is by every definition, a surprise; a fun and wacky little adventure that is just as original and audacious as it is clever and funny. Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the same guys who co-wrote and co-directed Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, these filmmakers worked to instill the same sense of energy, youth, and entertainment from that movie into this one. It’s surprising that the movie is not just good: it’s borderline great.

One of the things I love most about the movie is the animation. Like any great animated film, it reaches out to you in vivid, eye-catching detail, it’s beautiful colors and visuals striking out to you like a panel on a beautifully-crafted graphic novel. But it’s not just how the animation looks in itself: it’s also in how Lord and Miller achieved the effects they were going for. Nearly everything in the film was modeled from lego bricks and pieces, and I do mean everything. The buildings, the vehicles, the space stations: even seemingly trivial things such as the water, lava, and clouds are all made out of lego pieces, with explosions literally showing red-and-orange lego studs as they blow up. It would be so easy just to be cheap and give basic effects for the wind, the water, fire, sky, and everything else in the film, but Miller and Lord didn’t want to go that route. They wanted to make an authentic, accurate world jam-packed with lego pieces and objects. To put anything else in there would just cheapen the effects, and their persistence made for the best visual result that they could possibly have had.

Just as much though, I love the characters Lord and Miller wrote for this movie. Like the animation and lego bricks, they all have variety to them, and they all have colorful, unique personalities that make you want to relate to each character. You have Benny, a 1980’s space astronaut who is so obsessed with spaceships that he could build one from a pile of garbage bricks if you dared him to. You have UniKitty, a unicorn/kitten that has such a split sweet/violent personality that she would scare little children if they were locked in the same room with her. There’s Metal Beard, a pirate-turned-cyborg whose body literally blows up like a amalgam of lego bricks like a real lego mini figure. Also, Batman is in the movie.

The key character here, however, is Emmett, a sweet and charming little mini figure with intentions so pure, he at times can seem like a child with his quirky little antics. Emmett is the epitome of childhood in this movie: innocent, curious, creative, passionate, and at times a little too immature for his own good. His strengths and his flaws both make up for a very interesting character, a mini figure that we can all relate to because of his average nature and his desire to be greater than he already is. He may be made out of Lego pieces, but Emmett is more human than most of the live-action actors you’ve seen in motion pictures this year.

The movie does suffer from a slight drag in run time, and like it’s protagonist, the movie is at times too childish for it’s own good. That doesn’t change the fact that this movie is a clever, funny, original, and heartfelt take on childhood and what it means to be grown up, but always remain young at heart. The Lego Movie is much more than just a movie. It’s a celebration of creativity.

Post-script: Did I forget to mention that Batman is in the movie?

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“GODZILLA” (2014) Review (✫✫1/2)

Should have been called “Mutos” if you ask me. 

There are two questions that always come into my head every time I watch a reboot: Is it different from the original, and is it necessary? The answer to both is usually no, it isn’t. Why would it be? Most studios just cash in on the name of their franchise and re-brand it, rather than coming up with an original take of their story, breathing life and energy into a franchise that has since been left stale. Perfect example: did anyone find Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version of Godzilla to be even remotely tolerable?

With this new version of Godzilla, I can say that it at least succeeded as a reboot in that it is different from the original. Whether that is a good different is something I’m still struggling with. I feel like I’m one of the helpless human beings running away from all the giant monster ruckus going on in the middle of Japan: I’m in the middle of a disarray of loud noise and violence, and while I’m fascinated by what is going on, I’m ultimately distraught because these giant monsters are destroying the things that I love.

Directed by Gareth Edwards, the writer/director behind 2010’s Monsters, Godzilla stars Aaron Taylor Johnson as Ford, a lieutenant who just came back from his service in the Navy. His wife and child (portrayed by Elizabeth Olsen and Carson Bolde) are more than eager to have their family whole again, and couldn’t be happier to see him when he finally comes home.

Only one problem: Ford’s father, Joe (Bryan Cranston) just got arrested in Japan for intrusion on private property. You see, about fifteen years ago, poor Joe was dutifully working as an engineer for a power plant in Japan. After scanning some strange readings off of the richter scale, he witnesses the death of his wife as the power plant quickly collapses before him.

Everyone around Joe believes that what he witnessed was a massive earthquake, including his son Ford. Joe doesn’t believe that it was an accident, and thinks there’s something much more sinister afoot than what everyone thinks. As Joe and his son continue to investigate the evidence he’s collected, they begin to become more aware of a giant conspiracy that the Japanese governments are working to hide, and soon, they come into contact with the biggest and most dangerous secret of all: a giant monster, the king of all beasts nicknamed “Godzilla”.

Looking back at this film, I am reminded by not how much I enjoyed this movie, but how much Peter Jackson’s King Kong got right as a remake. When reboots are done right, they are like King Kong: they are smart, clever, well-structured stories that are exciting, involving, and pay delicate homages to the source material. When they go wrong, they are like Emmerich’s Godzilla: explosions of CGI and visual effects garbage that go in every direction except for to the point.

With this new Godzilla, it takes steps to be a unique monster-sized reboot, but whether it reached the top of the staircase is another thing to be decided. I liked a lot of things about this movie. Edwards does a good job balancing the destruction with the human interest. Godzilla himself is a sight to see. The fights between him and these Cloverfield-like monsters called “Mutos” are a thing of classic Godzilla fandom. And Bryan Cranston was a clear emotional standout in the movie, giving a invested performance that was more than what the movie deserved.

One my biggest gripes with the movie is this: Godzilla isn’t in it. Or at least, not as much as I would like him to be. When you watch monster movies like King Kong or Jurassic Park, you get an overwhelming sensation of the scope and size of the creature’s presence, of the ground shaking when they take a step, or their shadows lurking over you as they quietly stalk their prey. I’m frustrated not by Godzilla’s physical appearance, but rather how infrequently he appears during the movie. The Godzilla movie has a total run time of 123 minutes, and where is he during the most of it? Swimming around in an ocean, spikes popping out, chasing monsters smaller than him that he could have easily killed 30 minutes ago.

Granted, I know what Edwards was trying to accomplish here. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Cranston compared the film to Steven Spielberg’s 1970 classic film Jaws, in that it doesn’t immediately show the monster, but its tension and presence could always be felt in it.

There, however, is one big reason why that doesn’t work with this movie. The shark in Jaws is a 300-foot shark lurking and sneaking through it’s quiet habitat in the waters. Godzilla is a 9,000 ton monster stomping his way through cities. I don’t think subtlety is supposed to be part of its nature.

As far as it’s lead goes, Taylor-Johnson is stock, a plain and uninteresting cutout of a soldier whose character is so one-note that he might as well be a cowbell instrument. For Pete’s sake, if you’re going to go to use the Hollywood hero archetype, can you at least get someone who is good at it? I could easily see someone like Tom Cruise or Jude Law in Taylor-Johnson’s role and succeed just as much at doing it. In fact, I almost prefer it. His emotions aren’t subtle, he doesn’t do a good job at expression, and at times he recites lines so casually that we could possibly be fooled into thinking that he was reading off of a cue card.

I went back and forth on whether or not I liked this movie, juggling around the things in my head that I did and didn’t like in the film. Ultimately though, if I’m having this hard of a time understanding what the movie was supposed to be, then usually so did the film itself. Godzilla is a decent reboot, restarting the franchise with a modern twist that I know many film aficionados will appreciate, but it should have been more. More as in better acting. More as in better handling, and more as in more of the freaking monster, period. Either way, the movie didn’t leave its mark on me, and when I talk to fans of the franchise since it’s debut, they too indicate that they prefer the original over the reboot. Hey, at least Godzilla had more screen time.

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“GRAVITY” Review (✫✫✫✫)

“In space, no one can hear you scream”

We fade in on a list of statistics about space as the edgy synthesizer music builds in the background.  The earth rotates at a speed of about 1000 miles per hour.  The temperature is about -273 degrees celsius.  There’s no gravity.  No oxygen.  No air pressure to carry sound. No one to hear you scream or cry for help. Nothing to save you if your suit fails to sustain you. Nothing to stop your momentum if you’re flying in the wrong direction. If you get into trouble out in space, you are all alone. Life in space is impossible.

This sort of tension and desperation is felt on an emotional level so intense in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity that I feel like I’m in space experiencing the same things that these characters are experiencing, not watching the chaos unfold from mission control.  The plot follows three astronauts who are working on repairing a satellite in orbit. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a mission specialist who is working hard at repairing the satellite on her very first space mission. Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is an experienced space veteran who is retiring after this final expedition.  Shariff Dasari (Paul Sharma) is a flight engineer who carries a photo of him, his wife, and child inside his suit.  Early into their mission, the team gets a warning from mission control, saying that there is debris from a missile strike on a Russian satellite orbiting the earth, but that it shouldn’t collide with their trajectory.

Now if that isn’t a case of foreshadowing, I don’t know what is.  Eventually, the debris sets off a chain reaction of destruction, and it eradicates the shuttle that they came on.  Shariff is killed, Kowalski loses communication with mission control, and Stone is left desperately hanging on to her life as she floats aimlessly away from their space module. When Stone and Kowalski eventually meet up again, they have to race against time and fate as their oxygen levels continue to deplete, and need to find a way home before they are truly lost in space forever.

Man oh man, where to start.  Gravity is a film for a generation, a picture that is so convincing and so believable in its approach that its nearly impossible to think that it wasn’t even filmed in space.  It is visually stunning, emotionally gratifying, immensely captivating, and surprisingly involving, a picture that latches you on in its first shot and doesn’t let you go until hours after you’ve left the theater.

Who is responsible for this feeling of attachment and interest?  Why that is director Alfonso Cuaron, of course, who co-wrote the script with his son Jonas. Cuaron, who is most known for his mainstream films including Children Of Men and the third Harry Potter movie outdoes himself here. Not only has he made a compelling and visually breathtaking science-fiction film that visually challenges that of Avatar and Inception: he’s also made a emotionally captivating story with the human interest equivalent of Argo or Captain Phillips.

Oh, I’m not saying he isn’t already a great director: lord knows he’s delivered as much visual and emotional appeal as he did with Children Of Men and Prisoner of Azkaban.  But Gravity is head and shoulders above anything else he’s done in his entire career. Why? Everything in the movie is immaculate and intentional, from the physics and dangers of space to characters emotions and complexions. Look at the delicacy and the concentration on Cuaron’s shots. Look at how well he orchestrates a scene, whether a large, imposing space station is crumbling all around Earth’s orbit, or a astronaut is just awkwardly fitting herself in tight corridors around a space station. In each shot, there is interest, there is intricacy, and there is involvement. Whether its a big, intimidating destruction scene or a small conversation between characters doesn’t matter. The interest remains, and its boy does it keep your attention.

Visually, the film is unparalleled, hooking you on with all of its space-station grandeur and elegant scenery of earth from outer space. Part of this no doubt goes to the visual effects team led by supervisor Tim Webber, but a large accreditation needs to be made to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski, who collaborated on Cuaron’s other films including Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien. Lubeski, who was nominated for an Oscar a few years ago for Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life returns with the same artistry and craftsmanship that made him an artist in his own right. The camerawork in the film evokes a feeling of both reprehension and serenity, the same eerie feeling you get when you watch the slow, steady moments building up in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It works in conjunction with the film’s plot and with Cuaron’s handling of it, a marriage of collaboration so essential that its doubtful anyone could be as fluid or as controlling as Lubeski is, not even Wally Phister’s steady, reliable camerawork from Christopher Nolan’s Inception or Dark Knight trilogy.

High praise, I know, but it’s well deserved. The visual effects alone have not made this movie. It’s Lubeski’s intricate framing and filming that not only captured these great shots, but intensified them, evoking the anxiety and unease of space just as much as the visual effects and sequencing does.

Bullock and Clooney are affectionate and grounded in their performances, pun intended.  Going in to the movie, I was really worried that the both of them were going to phone in their roles and just let the visuals take over, much like the Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich action movies you see nowadays. Boy, was I wrong. Their characters are real, charismatic and likable people in their own right, people who you’d probably like to sit with and share a conversation with over at Starbucks. Their chemistry is infectious with each other, as memorable and dynamic as the relationship Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon shared with their crew mates during Ron Howard’s Apollo 13. You don’t only care for these characters because of their situation: you care for them because they are human beings, because they have hopes, dreams, and letdowns of their own and you want to see them make it through all of it.

This is what I love most about the movie: not just that it handles itself well as a science-fiction movie, but it handles itself well as human drama, period.

This is seriously one of the best films of the year. I’m not saying that because it is science-fiction. I’m saying that because it is seriously one of the best films of the year.  Under a different director, a different writer, cinematographer, composer, or even under a different cast, this film could have failed.  It’s hard to take a movie that takes place in an enclosed, blocked off environment separated from society with only one or two characters and make it interesting, and the filmmakers here have accomplished that in spades.

But Gravity is much more than a survival film.  It’s more than a science-fiction film.  It’s an epic and emotional story about an astronaut trying to survive, a woman trying to cope with living, reality, and tragedy, and the unhindered spirit that pushes her to keep living, even when all of the forces of nature tells her that she can’t. It blurs the line between science fiction and science reality and is quite possibly the best space movie I’ve ever seen.

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DC Versus Marvel: Why “The Justice League” Will Not Be As Successful As “The Avengers”

Well, this’ll ruin your morning coffee.  Due to recent developments, I am now convinced that no matter what DC does, that the much-speculated Justice League movie will not be as unique or outstanding as Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was, is, and always will be.  Why all the pessimism?  Call it intuition.  Before The Avengers cinematic universe was conceived, Marvel had a wider grasp of successful projects to boast of, including (but not limited to) SpidermanX-menBladeWolverine, Kick-Ass, and Men In Black.  DC, in comparison, only has SupermanBatman, and arguably RED and Watchmen as their most successful properties.  Also, I have an unhealthy amount of OCD.  Just thought you should know.

Believe me, I would like nothing more than to see a well-made Justice League movie hit the horizon.  There are as many characters that are as creative and dynamic in the DC universe as there are in the Marvel universe, many of them with memorable stories and villains of their own.  While I want to see a movie eventually, I now believe it will not happen, and if it does, it will not hit the mainstream success that The Avengers did.

Why am I so convinced of this?  DC has every inconvenience against them, and they have to deal with issues Marvel never had to face while producing The Avengers.  I’m not saying Marvel had it easy while making The Avengers.  Lord knows you’ll have a fair amount of doubt and backlash when you try to combine five comic-book properties into one high-adrelanine, action-packed adventure.  Regardless, DC is facing a lot of issues Marvel didn’t have to worry about, including competitive release with The Avengers in itself.

Let’s face facts: When The Avengers was released, we didn’t know what to expect.  All we knew was that it was incorporating six superheroes into one movie, they would be mostly featuring the same actors, the writer/director of “Firefly” was at the helm, and we were hoping it wouldn’t turn into the Saturday Morning Power Hour.  It didn’t, and now we have the exciting, exhilerating, witty, and entertaining Hulk-box-office-smash that The Avengers was.

This is the biggest issue that DC has over Marvel: the comparison game.  If DC would have thought of a plan similar to this ahead of Marvel and released Justice League incorporating elements from multiple DC universe movie properties at once, they would then have had a substantial edge over Marvel and would give them reason to compete for their box office revenue.  But the plain simple fact is that Marvel beat them to it, and now we have something to compare to when Justice League hits the theaters.  How big of a catastrophe is that?  What could possibly compete with The Avengers as far as box-office superheroes go?  I’ll name a few just for facetious effort: X-menFantastic Four, and Watchmen.  Now be honest with yourself: do any of those movies stand out in your mind at the level of enjoyment as The Avengers does?

If you’re being honest, it probably doesn’t, and what’s worse is that DC is now pressured into that because Marvel did it first.  But like I said, DC has a lot of issues against them, and many of them have to deal with their very own properties.  Take the following franchises as an example:

THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY

If we were talking about the movies by themselves, there’s no reason for concern.  The Dark Knight trilogy is among the greatest trilogies ever released into theaters, and it not only pleased long-time fans of the caped crusader: it pleased moviegoers who were not associated with the comic books.  The Dark Knighttrilogy isn’t only one of the best comic book movies of all time: they one of the best movies of all time, period.  Very few bad things are said about that franchise as a whole.

Which would enhance excitement to the fans when they think this same character will be incorporated into the Justice League, right?  Wrong.  Producer/Director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer have stated multiple times that the Batman in the new Justice League is not associated with Nolan’s trilogy.  The quote from Goyer pulled from IGN says it all:

“…Zack has said that Bruce Wayne exists in this universe. It would be a different Bruce Wayne from Chris’ [Nolan] Dark Knight trilogy, and it would be disingenuous to say that Zack and I haven’t had various conversations on set, around ‘what if’ and ‘moving forward'”.  

On top of that, Christian Bale himself admitted to Entertainment Weekly that not only will he not be portraying Batman in the upcoming DC team-up film: he doesn’t even know about a release date.

“I have no information, no knowledge about anything. I’ve literally not had a conversation with a living soul. I understand that they may be making a Justice League movie, that’s it”.  

So what is their plan?  End a movie series in 2012, release a Superman movie in 2013, and reboot the character only a few years later?  Don’t they remember how many people saw those movies?  How much people praised them?  How those movies stuck out in people’s minds when someone mentioned the word “Batman”?  What are they thinking?  How on Earth do they think can they replace that?

Now, someone could offer the argument by saying Nolan’s universe was meant to be seen as realistic, whereas the rest of the DC universe wouldn’t be.  To which I respond that as hogwash.  Snyder also saidMan Of Steel was meant to be seen as realistic too, but we all know how realistic it is for an alien from outer space to get super powers on earth, or having a guy dress up in a halloween costume to beat criminals to near death.  The thought of superheroes in itself is fictitious, with powers or without.  So why are we trying so hard to differentiate in between reality and fiction?

Another possible argument someone could make is that The Dark Knight trilogy has ended, and there would be no way to revive the character for the Justice League.  To which I would say you are half right.  If we are talking about the Batman after The Dark Knight Rises then yes, that Batman is no more with us. But what about the Batman in between movies?  There is a two-year split in between Batman Begins andThe Dark Knight, and a five-year split in between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.  Surely, someone could find room to fit Nolan’s Batman into the JL somewhere in that time stamp?

So, already you have your greatest property and you’re sending it out the window.  That’s great.  What else could go wrong?

MAN OF STEEL

I’m just going to go ahead and say this: Man Of Steel was a great film.  It had depth, it had character, it had development, and it had plenty of high-octane turbulent action.  It was a great reboot for Superman, and it was a great jump-off point for a possible Justice League series.  That much I will give to Snyder and his crew.

The complications with the Justice League universe, however, are plenty.  The biggest issue right now is their speculated release dates.  As many of you might expect, Warner Bros. has been trying to push for the Justice League movie to be released in 2016, to be released competitively with The Avengers 2 andStar Wars: Episode VII.  The original plan was to release Man Of Steel this year, release a possible sequel in 2014-2015, and then release the Justice League movie

That puts a great amount of pressure on Man Of Steel, and I don’t think it can handle it.  Again, not to play the comparison game with Marvel (even though I am), but like Man Of SteelIron Man was a great jump-off point for The Avengers, even though it was more charismatic and down-to-earth than Man Of Steel was.  It was a great film.  Great enough to jump right into The Avengers though?  Absolutely not.  It had to release four more movies before the buildup to the Avengers was complete and the excitement was at its highest.

Like Iron ManMan Of Steel is a great film to set up its expanded Universe.  Enough to jump right into aJustice League movie though?  Not even close.  Another sequel, maybe, but to jump right into the DC-team-up film would be suicide.  The announcement of a JL movie that this point wouldn’t be an anticipation: it would be a surprise.  How is that a good setup for a box-office smash?

Also, many other audience members felt the tone was too serious and did not fit into the joyous, silly veins of the original Christopher Reeve series.  To which I would say quit being a stooge and enjoy the movie for what it is.  People who wanted Green Lantern to be fun and silly got what they asked for, and look at how that movie faired with the moviegoing audiences.

Speaking of which…

GREEN LANTERN

Many people hated this movie, and their hate was warranted.  Green Lantern was silly, stupid fun, and that’s all it needed to be.  I for one enjoyed the movie and appreciated it for its confidence, its stellar visual effects, and its smirking charisma.  Others, however, obviously do not share my opinion, and ultimately their opinion as a whole matters more than mine does.

To which I know disregard and ask this: what are you going to do with him now for the Justice League?  They can’t bring this same character in and have him do the same thing he did the first time: that will resurrect everything audiences hated the first time they watched the Martin Campbell film.  What are they going to do then?  Are they going to revamp him?  Recast him?  Reboot him?  Maybe even cut him out entirely?  Batman has a great story behind his success and Superman a great following.  Green Lantern has none of that.  So what can DC do to the character to give him a new spin and a spirit on the franchise?

The list of issues goes on and on.  How are they going to incorporate Wonder Woman into it?  What about the Flash?  Martian Manhunter?  Who would they cast?  Who would be the villain?  And how on Earth are they going to make Aquaman not look stupid???  

Bottom line: Justice League will not be as good as The Avengers.  DC just isn’t prepared for it.  There is the off-chance that it can still be good, exciting, and entertaining blockbuster fun, but I’m convinced that there’s no way that DC can give these characters the same treatment Whedon did for The Avengers solely because they won’t be as recognized as those characters have.  Even if you do give each Justice Leaguer his own movie and give time to set up each character: how do you know you’ll be as successful as The Avengers was?  Won’t you be following a formula at that point?

Of course, there is the off-chance that I’m completely wrong and that the Justice League will be vastly more successful than The Avengers will be.  I’m going to see it regardless of what RottenTomatoes says, and I hope it’ll at least be as good as Man Of Steel is.  But that’s unlikely, and no matter how it turns out, lets just be grateful that Robert Schwentke won’t be directing, writing, or having anything to do with the movie.  The last thing we need is a PG-13 version of RED.

Oh, wait a minute.

Source: EMPIRE, Entertainment Weekly, IGN
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