Movie Review ~ The LEGO® Movie

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The Facts
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Synopsis: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.

Stars: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman

Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Chris McKay

Rated: PG

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: The first preview for The LEGO® Movie gave me one heck of a headache…so much of a headache, in fact, that I questioned if I’d be able to sit through the full length film upon its release.  The filming style, a mixture of stop-motion and computer animation made to look like stop-motion, was a little too overwhelmingly retro for my tastes and I found myself wishing instead for a Lincoln Log drama instead of LEGO adventure.

After a recent screening of the assembled finished product I found myself desperate for an aspirin (or four) because while the film is endlessly creative and as weird as the day is long, it’s also one of the most overwhelming mind melters you’re likely to see stone cold sober.  I can’t say I liked the film enough to see it again because so much of it was BIGGER BOLDER LOUDER than it had to be but I also can’t rightly tell you not to see it either.

At 100 minutes long, the first 50 minutes plays like a Nintendo game on fast forward, barely stopping for air as it zips through introductions to our main character, an ordinary construction worker named Emmet (Chris Pratt, Her) that’s part of a futuristic society conformed to following instructions to be happy.  It’s a thinly veiled condemnation of our own society and how we follow the popular trends and are content to NOT stand out from the crowd.

Individuality is the lesson of the day kiddos and it’s a message the script from directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller makes abundantly clear as it points out all the ways that Emmet is a drone follower with nary a leadership bone in his plastic body. That all changes when he becomes attached to (literally) the  Piece of Resistance, a mystical object that has the potential to save the world from the evil President Business (Will Ferrell, The Internship, The Campaign) and his  plot to…well…do something that involves Krazy Glue.

Joining forces with a hip rebel (Elizabeth Banks, Walk of Shame, Man on a Ledge), her boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett, The Nut Job), a wise sage (Morgan Freeman, Now You See Me, Oblivion), and a host of wacky LEGO creations, Emmet travels through several cleverly designed LEGO worlds as he overcomes his normalcy to save the world.  Listen up for nicely rendered vocal work from Jonah Hill (This is the End), Channing Tatum (Magic Mike), Liam Neeson (The Grey), Will Forte (Nebraska), Nick Offerman (We’re the Millers), and Charlie Day (Pacific Rim).

Just when I was starting to be won over by the good natured humor and laudable creativity Lord and Miller throw a curveball into the final act that was a heinous mistake.  Not only does it introduce a deus ex machina twist that makes little sense, it can’t maintain consistency with the new rules it set for itself.  It’s a disappointing misstep that unnecessarily breaks up the action, betrays the theme, and isn’t well executed.

Overall, the film is a mish-mash of wild ideas that work well 65% of the time with the other 35% teetering between eye rolling frustration with its brain-stem shaking animation.  I’m not quite sure who the target audience is either.  It’s too sophisticated a concept for small children, even if it does go over their head there are some scary moments they may recoil from (several unhappy children beat a hasty retreat in our theater) so parents should proceed with caution.  While I’ve no doubt it will open big, I get the sneaking suspicion the film will play better at midnight screenings down the road where potheads and hipsters alike will bask in the Crayola box colors on display and acid-trippy stylings.

Movie Review ~ Lone Survivor

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Marcus Luttrell and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, in late June 2005. Marcus and his team are left to fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Ali Suliman, Alexander Ludwig, Eric Bana

Director: Peter Berg

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: “Holy moly.”  That’s what I found myself instinctively saying out loud several times during Lone Survivor, a taut war film that brings its audience along for a bone crunching journey along its razor’s edge of a true life tale.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Lone Survivor when early trailers were released.  I’ve grown wary of war films after years of similarly themed cinematic excursions both fictional and documentary-like that I just couldn’t fathom that this film, directed by Battleship helmer Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, would have anything new to bring to the battlefield.  Just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover; or in this case judge a film by its marketing materials.

Berg opens the film with images from the limit-testing training that United States Navy SEALs undergo to take their place alongside the brave men and women serving our country.  It’s an eye-opening and pulse raising start, illustrating in no uncertain terms that only the best of the best make it through.  As the action transfers to a military base, we’re introduced to the members of the team of Operation Red Wings, tasked to track a high ranking dangerous Taliban leader.

Leading the team is Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch, John Carter, Savages), he’s joined by Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch, Killer Joe, The Darkest Hour), Matthew “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster, Contraband), and Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg, Ted, Pain & Gain) who wrote the book (along with Patrick Robinson) on which Berg adapted his screenplay from.  Comrades and brothers, this recon and surveillance team is a well oiled machine venturing into no man’s land with an important mission.

It’s not long before one wrong (but I suppose morally right) decision tosses the men into the path of mortal danger…leading to a middle section that puts the audience through a white knuckle gauntlet.  So many war films make the mistake of favoring jittery camera work to establish chaos but Berg and cinematographer Tobias Schliessler play against this and let their staging of these combat scenes tell the story instead.  There are several skillfully crafted heart pounding passages as the soldiers come face to face with their enemy and their own mortality.  Having already won a SAG Award for their work, special mention must be made again to the stunt performers on the film…with two sequences involving falling down the sheer edge of a mountain you’ll be wincing with each somersault/tumble.

Though the title gives the ending away, it doesn’t lessen the impact the film or its characters have on us.  Even when the film dips into standard stylized action fare in the last act there’s an underlying message of salvation to be had by everyone involved.  Berg has cast the film so well that he doesn’t need to coax committed performances out of anyone onscreen.  All four actors could have headlined the picture but Wahlberg again shows he’s light years away from his Funky Bunch days by turning in a layered rendering of Luttrell.

I expected the film to end with a dedication to the men who lost their lives but wasn’t prepared for how much of an emotional force it would have on me.  Berg and company have approached this material with the utmost respect for the bravery of those that put their lives on the line for their country and have delivered a superior war film that doesn’t glorify, grandstand, or proselytize…  It’s a better film that I ever would have thought it would/could be – and comes highly recommended.

Movie Review ~ The Monuments Men

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The Facts
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Synopsis: An unlikely World War II platoon are tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners.

Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, John Goodman, Dimitri Leonidas

Director: George Clooney

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Though I was engaged for much of the two hour running time of The Monuments Men, while George Clooney and company were romping over Europe tracking down stolen art from the Nazis I couldn’t help but find my mind wandering to a movie playing in the theater next door.  While many a critic went goo-goo-ga-ga over the 70’s set heist drama American Hustle I remain an unmoved viewer. Moreover, The Monuments Men represents the film that American Hustle should have been…capitalizing not only on its cast but an interesting plot to keep audiences busy.

That’s not to say The Monuments Men is a model of perfection because its flaws are evident to the naked eye…but they’re somehow easier for me to forgive.  This is thanks in no small part to star/screenwriter/director Clooney (Gravity, The Descendants) and his great fortune in assembling a cast of talented character actors, and the resulting movie is a mostly satisfying experience.

Based on the true story of a special task platoon appointed by President Roosevelt in the middle of World War II, the museum curators and art historians that make up The Monuments Men set out to locate and protect famous works of art from falling into the hands of the Nazis.  While this set-up makes it sound like the movie could have been titled Raiders of the Lost Art, Clooney adapts the novel by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter into less of a National Treasure-esque globe hopping adventure and more of a wartime drama laced with Clooney’s trademark caustic comedy.

Trouble is, for a film that’s linear in shape it’s curiously disjointed in execution with large lapses of time happening in the blink of an eye.  If you’re someone that can’t sit through a two hour movie without popping out to use the restroom beware…you may return to a film that’s jumped ahead a significant amount of time.  Even though I was following the film closely these leaps threw me for a loop and it became increasingly difficult to track where we were.

Perhaps the star wattage (and schedules) of the cast wound up demanding this but it’s also strange that so many of the A-listers spend such precious little screen time with each other.  Clooney and co-screenwriter Grant Heslov send The Monuments Men off in pairs which may provide actors like Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson), Bob Balaban (Altered States), and John Goodman (Argo, Flight, Stella) the breathing room to find their rhythm but it robs the audience of the nifty sparks that fly the few times the gang is all together.

Timelines and screentime aside, Clooney continues to demonstrate that he’s a movie star for the ages and a snazzy director to boot.  By working with 2013 Oscar-nominated cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska) and composer Alexandre Desplat (also Oscar-nominated this year for Philomena) he’s able to create a fine period production that looks great and is scored in tune with the film’s narrative turns.

Some viewers may be put off by how episodic the film is and in truth this is one of the rare times I left a screening wishing it were significantly longer.  This would have allowed more time for affable Matt Damon (Elysium) and tightly-wound Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) to flesh out their characters more…as it is they feel uncomfortably shoe-horned into the proceedings.  I find that the best kinds of ensemble films with overlapping storylines are the ones where you’re pleasantly surprised when one arc leads to another…with The Monuments Men you find yourself saying “Oh, I forgot about them”…not good.

Clooney’s a good sport as both actor and director — even casting Jean Dujardin (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Artist), the man he lost the Best Actor Oscar to back in 2012.  Though the film visits the well of Schmaltzy Big Speech one too many times, I can’t fault the film for being more pleasing than informative, more goofy than learned, and less memorable than monumental.   It’s worth seeing, but do know its overall impact is fleeting.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Synopsis: The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

Release Date: March 7, 2014

Thoughts: Are you ready for The Grand Budapest Hotel?  No, really, are you ready?  Because I have the inkling the first great movie of 2014 will arrive once Wes Anderson’s follow-up to Moonrise Kingdom opens its doors in early March.  Anderson is an acquired taste and truth be told it’s taken me a while to really warm up to his style but if it’s half as precise as Moonrise Kingdom this one’s going to be another strong entry in Anderson’s growing list of cinematic treasures.  As is always the case for an Anderson film, the trailer is more of an excuse to introduce the slam-dunk cast on board than it is to reveal plot details…I found myself saying “Like him, like her, love him, like him, love her…” as this second preview played on.  Highly anticipated to the point where it may not meet expectations, I’m trying to keep a lid on this one until I see it for myself.