Movie Review ~ The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part


The Facts
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Synopsis: It’s been five years since everything was awesome and the citizens are facing a huge new threat: LEGO DUPLO® invaders from outer space, wrecking everything faster than they can rebuild.

Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Channing Tatum, Tiffany Haddish, Will Arnett

Director: Mike Mitchell

Rated: PG

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Admittedly, I wasn’t the biggest champion of 2014’s The LEGO® Movie and I fully recognize I was certainly in the minority. In fact, while many were gnashing their teeth when the film failed the land an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature I was silently in my own little corner doing a small victory dance. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the film for its creativity but it was largely an obnoxious exercise of meta self-referential humor that took a misguided turn in its last act by bringing in a live-action subplot that failed to connect. Re-watching the film before heading out for the sequel screening only confirmed my original feelings that the movie was a colorful lark struggling to be more than the sum of its one-joke parts.

With the overall success of the original film and two other LEGO follow-ups released in 2017, The LEGO® Batman Movie (which I quite enjoyed) and The LEGO® Ninjago Movie (the one I haven’t seen), it was only a matter of time before Warner Brothers reassembled the players for a second outing and they’ve largely delivered more of the same. So fans of the original should be pleased while those that didn’t necessarily fall out of their seats for the first helping won’t find anything here to convert them. Sadly, the weakest element of the first film (the live-action scenes) is the one thing the filmmakers decided to expand upon here, creating an even greater disconnect between the action and the audience.

Nicely connecting with the original by picking up in the last few moments of the first film, the sequel introduces our heroes to an alien race (Duplo blocks) that sets about destroying the world they had just saved from the evil President Business (Will Ferrell, Daddy’s Home). Five years later, Emmet (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World). Lucy (Elizabeth Banks, People Like Us) and their friends have built Apocalypseburg out of the ruins of what was once their thriving community of Bricksburg. Even in the face of a life considerably less awesome, Emmet is resolutely positive, much to the frustration of his more grounded life partner Lucy.  Wanting a life of peace and harmony, Emmet even builds a quaint suburban style house for Lucy in the midst of the ruins they now call home.

It’s only when General Sweet Mayhem from the Duplo army arrives and kidnaps Lucy, Batman, and their other friends and brings them to the Systar system to meet Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip) that Emmet is forced into action. The Queen wants to marry Batman and unite their worlds to gain ultimate power and it’s up to Emmet and his new friend Rex (also voiced by Pratt) to rescue his pals and stop the Queen before it’s too late. The adventure tests everyone as they are tempted by pop music distractions along the way, giving the movie ample opportunities to musicalize scenes and amp up the meta humor ten-fold.  (Reading this description back sounds like I’m telling a bedtime story to a toddler that’s only half-listening to me, doesn’t it?)

The first film saved the live-action reveal for the very end, showing the world we’d been watching was merely a playground for a young boy playing with his dad’s LEGO blocks. It didn’t make much sense then and it doesn’t make a lot more sense in the sequel that finds the boy and his sister having a turf war over their toys, forcing their mom (Maya Rudolph, Life of the Party) to step in and lay down the law. It never is clear just how the animated action is directly related to this live-action business and every time we switched to the actors badly going through their dialogue the movie ground to an interminable halt. Even the normally dependable Rudolph can’t turn the dial on this to make it funnier.

This is too bad because the film is once again beautifully animated and rendered with dazzling color and clarity. Far more musical than its predecessor (Haddish gets two songs of her own and the ear worm song, Everything is Awesome, comes back in several versions), the movie doesn’t break much new ground in terms of forwarding the story and it’s severely lacking the spark of invention that made the first film at least interesting. Now it’s just a good-looking movie with some fun nostalgia bits for seasoned movie-goers (you may need to see the movie twice to catch all of the references to other films) and a quaint message of self-acceptance Disney’s been making bank on for years.  With a run time stretching past 90 minutes and the longest end credits I’ve ever sat through, this is one you’ll need to think carefully on if you want to devote time to in theaters.  You’ll lose nothing by waiting to see this in the comfort of your own home.

Movie Review ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: As Shredder joins forces with mad scientist Baxter Stockman and henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady to take over the world, the Turtles must confront an even greater nemesis: the notorious Krang.

Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Stephen Amell, Tyler Perry, Laura Linney, Brian Tee, Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly, Gary Anthony Williams

Director: Dave Green

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 112 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: On the way out of the theater after my screening of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, I had to sit down. Feeling like I just got off of a carousel I rode upside down going backwards, my brain was mush, my eyes unable to focus. It’s only then that I realized that, like a crazy ride I rode recently at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN, I had only myself to blame for feeling queasy.  I’m not saying I knew I’d hate this sequel to producer Michael Bay’s mindless remake/reboot from 2014, but I didn’t know I would hate it so very much.

Where to begin when discussing this second installment in a franchise requiring a wealth of suspension of disbelief for its talking turtles, a crusty old rat father figure, and Megan Fox (This is 40) as a serious television reporter?  It’s been several years since the events of the first film which saw the teenage reptiles and their human helpers (Fox and Will Arnett, The LEGO Movie, who gets smarmier with each passing hour he’s alive) send big bad nemesis Shredder to prison. Preferring to stay underground, the turtles let Arnett take the credit for stopping the crime wave and while becomes a NYC hero the real champions are stuck eating pizza and watching basketball from the rafters of Madison Square Garden.

Meanwhile, scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry, Gone Girl) breaks Shredder out of prison in an elaborately staged (and seemingly endless) action sequence for reasons never made totally clear to anyone, least of all audience members. There’s some mumbo jumbo about black holes and the time space continuum before Shredder comes face to face with another villain, Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb).  Looking like a Jell-O-molded brain creation housed within a titanic robot, Krang wants Shredder to gather some alien remnants on earth in order to create a portal between Krang’s world and ours.  In return, Krang gives Shredder a vial of purple ooze that will help enact revenge on the teen turtles that did him wrong.

Back on Earth, Shredder uses the purple ooze on fellow prison escapees Bebop and Rocksteady, turning them into a warthog and rhinoceros in order to take down the turtles. TMNT fans have been waiting a long time for these two popular villains to appear onscreen and if the overall result is less than satisfying (imagine Beavis and Butthead but uglier and stupider) it at least takes some attention away from Brian Tee’s stilted Shredder.  Add in some paltry dissention in the turtle ranks and you’ve got a lengthy film that eventually rendered this viewer completely numb.  At one point I considered taking a walk on the nonsense but the neverending onslaught of quick cut 3D action scenes coupled with a blaring soundtrack left me paralyzed.

Director Dave Green helmed the respectable family sci-fi yarn Earth to Echo so I was interested to see if he’d add the same heart and curiosity he brought to that little seen film. Taking over the reins from the bombastic Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans), Green succumbs to the Michael Bay side of his directing psyche and delivers a movie that’s all noise. The CGI turtles feel less life-like than the previous entry and so much of the film is computer generated that action passages (nearly all at night in dark locales) turn into washes of greens and dark blues, indistinguishable from one moment to the next.

Fox manages to retain a pouty face even in the most dangerous of situations while Arnett chews so much scenery I’m shocked he wasn’t 500 lbs by the time the film wrapped. Perry continues to be an absolute disaster of an actor but he’s given a run for his money by Stephen Amell as fan favorite Casey Jones. Poor Amell has to recite the most terrible dialogue from Josh Applebaum (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and Andre Nemec’s pathetic script, though I think if Amell was a better actor he could have made it less laughable. I mean, the awful lines can be given some dramatic weight and three-time Oscar nominee Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes) shows us how its done. Make no mistake, Linney’s performance is as terrible as the rest but at least she knows she’s slumming it and nabbing a neat paycheck for her trouble.

It’s a pity that this turtle turd of a film will make enough money to warrant another installment while smaller films deserving of a TMNT -sized audience will go unnoticed this summer. Representing everything that’s terrible about summer blockbusters (no heart, no brain, no point), these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles need to be grounded.

The Silver Bullet ~ The LEGO Batman Movie

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Synopsis: A spin-off featuring LEGO Batman from the The LEGO Movie.

Release Date: February 10, 2017

Thoughts: I know I’m in the minority but I found 2014’s The LEGO Movie to be an absolute nightmare.  It was loud, obnoxious, and seen in 3D it came close to giving me a full on seizure.  Just not my cup of animation tea, thank you very much.  Popular enough to warrant not only a sequel in 2018, it also is getting a 2017 spin-off featuring Batman…because audiences are experiencing a serious Bat-drought, right?  Arriving on the eve of the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, this first teaser is a puzzlement, filled with the kind of drawn-out jokes that lead me to believe I’m going to have serious issues with this one as well.  Am I too old for this?  Am I too snobby?  What am I not getting about these LEGO movies? (Don’t tell me, I don’t care.)

The Silver Bullet ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles : Out of the Shadows

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Synopsis: The Turtles return to save the city from a dangerous threat.

Release Date: June 3, 2016

Thoughts: The 2014 reboot (the second attempt at one, mind you) of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a loud, crass, critically reviled bit of summer dunderheadedness…but it made a hefty profit at the box office…which leads us to this sequel subtitled Out of the Shadows.  Where the first film seemed to at least attempt to find a bit of grit, this one looks like a pure  gonzo fest of oversized performances, special effects, and cleavage shots of star Megan Fox (What to Expect When You’re Expecting).  Fans of the TMNT franchise will likely warm at the sight of villains Bebop and Rocksteady but I see just another questionable use of CGI and likely a large waste of time.

 

 

Movie Review ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The city needs heroes. Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny.

Stars: Megan Fox, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Noel Fisher, Will Arnett, Danny Woodburn, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I can still recall waiting in line at the Eden Prairie East movie theater back in 1990 on the day the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was released. An unexpected hit at the box office, I remember the film being exactly what I anticipated, filled with the necessary laughs and stylized butt-kicking action by our reptilian heroes. Followed by two sequels and one strange quasi-reboot in the form of an animated endeavor that I seem to have totally blocked out, the Turtles were comic book creations of 1984 and have demonstrated staying power through the years in television series and video games. However, it seemed like another big screen take on the ninjas would languish in the planning stages forever.

Originally intended for release in 2012, Paramount’s Michael Bay (Transformers: Age of Extinction) produced, Jonatha Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans) directed live-action reboot is the stuff that nostalgia killing dreams are made out of. I’m sure the concept of talking teenage ninja turtles has always been as silly as it sounds but there’s something about this labored effort that drives that point home over and over again, leaving even the most engaged of TMNT fan audiences in a bit of a stupor.

Producer Michael Bay has made nice with his former Transformers star Megan Fox (What to Expect When You’re Expecting), putting to bed the rift that resulted in her being replaced in that franchise.   He casts her here as plucky news reporter April O’Neil but Fox comes across more as weather girl material than investigative journalist. Delivering each of her lines as if she’s ordering Chinese takeout, Fox’s misplaced emotions are truly the mystery that needs solving.

I’m convinced Will Arnett (The Nut Job) and William Fichtner (The Lone Ranger) signed up for this film to prove once and for all they aren’t the same person…why else would these two usually decent actors ham it up in roles that should have been filled by soap stars more on Fox’s level? The normally attentive Arnett can’t make lemonade with his lemon role and Fichtner simply gives up two lines in.

While the Turtles themselves are nicely rendered and given genial voice by three unknowns and Johnny Knoxville (Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa), they are now almost too life-like. At least when they were in the rubber suits during the 90s there was arguably more of the kind of required suspension of disbelief those early movies went the distance with. In 2014, they just come across as creepy.

Perhaps the problem lies in the overall scale of the film. Built as a mega-million dollar 3D would-be blockbuster, the campy, wise-cracking nature of the turtles is all but obliterated within a soggy script that mixes a slackly delivered origin story with tired plot points liberally lifted from numerous other comic book flicks. The whole dastardly scheme enacted by Shredder and his Foot Clan bears such a close resemblance to that of The Amazing Spider-Man that Marvel Studios should be calling their lawyers.

Still, a lawsuit from Marvel would be the most exciting thing that could happen for the film. Supposedly more in line with the recent comics, aside from an admittedly spectacular chase sequence down a snowy mountainside there’s precious little happening here that would be of interest to anyone outside of curious die-hard Turtle fans. Add to that unimpressive digital effects and a ho-hum re-imagined Shredder that reads more like Edward HuntingKnifeHands and you have a late summer dud.

It’s truly time to let these teenage reptiles graduate, just as so many of their fans have grown up in the 30 years since they made their debut.

The Silver Bullet ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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Synopsis: The city needs heroes. Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Release Date: August 8, 2014

Thoughts: I had to resist the urge to just publish the words that accompany the theme song for the classic animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series as my review of the first teaser trailer for producer Michael Bay’s reboot. Though a big screen animated restage of the franchise was attempted in 2007, it didn’t catch on like everyone had hoped…until Bay swooped in and brought the turtles over to Paramount Pictures. Directed by Bay protégé Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans), I’m surprised how fondly I’m reacting to our first glimpse of the redesigned turtles who work with reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) to combat The Shredder (William Fichtner, The Lone Ranger) and save the city. The humor looks to be on par with the original 80’s films while the action/effects/make-up is modern times all the way. Hope this is a nice retro ride for fans like myself weaned on the TMNT movies, animated series, and Nintendo video game.

Movie Review ~ The LEGO® Movie

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The Facts
:

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 ~ The Nut Job

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Surly, a curmudgeon, independent squirrel is banished from his park and forced to survive in the city. Lucky for him, he stumbles on the one thing that may be able to save his life, and the rest of park community, as they gear up for winter – Maury’s Nut Store.

Stars: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Sarah Gadon, Jeff Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Gabriel Iglesias

Director: Peter Lepeniotis

Rated: PG

Running Length: 86 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: No one owes a bigger debt to the advent of cheaply produced animation more than the vermin of the world.  Where else but in a colorful bit of family friendly fluff can your run of the mill flea infested squirrel be transformed into a purple-ish hero voiced by Will Arnett?  Well squirrels, moles, raccoons, rats, and a host of other hairy creatures get their chance to shine in this well-intentioned but subpar attempt by small studio Open Road Films to weasel into the playing field with the likes of Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks.

The Nut Job centers on Surly the squirrel (Arnett), who of course is pretty surly (har har) and doesn’t like sharing his carefully gathered nut goodies with his fellow dwellers of a spacious park.  When he’s responsible for the eradication of the food gathered for winter, he’s cast out of the park along with his silent rat friend.  In the hustle and bustle of the big city just outside the quaint park, he has the good fortune to find himself in front of an honest to goodness nut store and his worries are over.

Trouble is, the nut store is really a front for a bunch of gangsters using it to rob a bank across the street. In a variation of your classic caper comedies, they’re digging underground to break into the vault just as Surly and his growing gang of scampering rodent folk keeps trying multiple methods to gain entry into the store for all the walnuts they could every dream of.  Despite the somewhat quaint set-up of a robbery within a robbery, the movie never comes off as clever as it wants us to think it is.

Arnett is just fine but is perhaps a bit too sly in his delivery to truly open up his character beyond a grumpy squirrel who winds up changing his tune.  There’s nothing particularly memorable about his low registered characterization and when paired with regal sounding Liam Neeson (Battleship, The Grey) it feels like a basso-profundo face-off.

Saying this is Katherine Heigl’s best work may sound like a dig…until you consider her long long LONG string of failed films over the past several years.  Heigl (One for the Money) for once sounds as animated as her character, one of the few to be given a name other than their general moniker: Raccoon, Mole, Rat, etc…only species with multiple representation get their own names in the world of The Nut Job.  I’d say that Brendan Fraser was awful voicing a doofus brawny popular squirrel but as the film went along it became clear that Fraser was really the only one that fully embraced his surroundings and turned up the dial on the exuberance…and then busted the dial right off and went higher.  Though he’s exhausting, it’s the kind of liveliness the film is sorely lacking.

Running a long 80 some odd minutes, The Nut Job caps off it’s time with us via a curtain call finale set to South Korean rapper Psy’s Gangnam Style…nearly two years after it become popular and then went the way of the flashmob.  I know an animated film takes time to make its journey to the screen but including a song that was a dated cliché before the release date approaches is a true puzzlement.

The kind of film that could be popular since there’s little in the way of family entertainment at the movies this month, The Nut Job is exactly as good as you think it looks.  Falling into the mid-tier of animation efforts, it’s neither here nor there how well it does at the box office because it can’t have cost that much to make.  I’d say skip it…but if you have kids driving you crazy at home there are a lot worse ways to take them to the movies.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Lego Movie

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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.

Release Date:  February 7, 2014

Thoughts:  Though I believe with the release of The LEGO Movie we are one step closer to seeing Lincoln Log: The Film or Yo-Yo: The Musical, I must admit that I’m interested to see how well this film will play to larger audiences.  Bolstered by an impressive roster of voice talent including Elizabeth Banks (People Like Us) , Chris Pratt (Zero Dark Thirty), Will Ferrell (The Internship) I’m hoping that the movie itself is easier to watch than the trailer.  While more than a few waves of nostalgia will wash over you as various LEGO characters are introduced, it does look like any number of homemade YouTube videos.  Let’s see if the final product is more animated than it appears because I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to make it through the film without my head imploding.