The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

Lego 2

As surprisingly great as the first The LEGO Movie was, the latest LEGO movie, by comparison, is a bit of a disappointment. It’s not bad. It just lacks the magic that the first film delivered with its story, its songs, its characters and its surprises.

The story in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is less coherent than in its 2014 predecessor. The songs, while amusing, don’t come close to those in the earlier film. The characters Emmet (Chris Pratt), Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and Batman (Will Arnett) are back as the focus of the meandering tale.

Other voices you may know include Tiffany Haddish, Nick Offerman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Cobie Smulders, Jason Mamoa (Aquaman!), Ralph Fiennes and Bruce Willis, among many more.

The interaction between the imaginary LEGO world and the real world is not quite as emotional as the live action bit in the first movie. (That segment with Will Ferrell was truly touching.) Maya Rudolph is the real-life mother as the narrative shifts back and forth between the two settings in this newest film.

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is colorful and the animation is impressive. It will make you chuckle and it will make you happy. Just don’t expect to be blown away like many of us were by the first The LEGO Movie.

 

 

 

 

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The 10 Best Films of 2014

Birdman red Again this year, the 3 things that make a film great—a fresh story, indelible characters and clever story telling—have come together beautifully in several movies. Beyond those on my “Best Of” list are a few that simply made me feel good (which signifies a different kind of greatness). The Best of 2014:

  1. Birdman. Creativity unleashed. A fantastic story with a memorable lead character who elicits a variety of responses from his incredibly strong cast as well as from audience members. And what an ending! Excellent use of the film medium.
  2. Boyhood. Richard Linklater’s idea of telling the story of a young man growing up, using the same actor from start to finish, was risky. So many things could have gone wrong, but, based on what is on the screen, they mostly went right. Ellar Coltrane was a perfect choice for the lead role.
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s masterpiece is zany, madcap, silly fun. Anderson’s attention to little details and inspired performances from a large cast of stars make this his best yet.
  4. Whiplash. The concept doesn’t sound that exciting: a music instructor who’s an abusive bully meets up with a cocky young drummer. But the story, the music and the over-the-top character that J.K. Simmons inhabits combine for a movie that sizzles.
  5. The Lego Movie. Filled with fun and surprises. This film doesn’t just use Lego pieces as characters, it captures the way kids use Legos. The live action postscript was a beautiful touch.
  6. Snowpiercer. Praise begins with love for the French guys who did the graphic novel. And to the publisher who chose to sell the book in Korea, where the director/co-writer discovered it. Strong multinational cast. Dystopian class warfare at its best.
  7. Gone Girl. Everything works here. Acting, directing, scriptwriting. The most meaningful soundtrack of the year. Gone Girl satisfies on so many levels. Thanks to (most) everybody who resisted spoiling.
  8. The Theory of Everything. A British genius tries to channel his immense brilliance into something useful, while dealing with a challenge that could torpedo his efforts. For Stephen Hawking, it’s ALS. Multiple Oscar noms on the way for this one.
  9. The Imitation Game. A British genius tries to channel his immense brilliance into something useful, while dealing with a challenge that could torpedo his efforts. For Alan Turing, it’s closeted homosexuality—a crime in the UK in the 40s. Cumberbatch shows again why he’s the “go to” guy for so many movie makers.
  10. Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal is, as they say, a revelation as a free-lance videographer who crawls throughout the underbelly of L.A. for sleazy TV news footage. His story is well-crafted and his performance is maybe his finest ever.

My “feel good” list for 2014:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy. Characters, soundtrack, story, effects—wow!
  2. Chef. Beautiful food, wonderful music. And it gets social media right. Thank you, Jon Favreau!
  3. Big Hero 6. Appealed to my inner 12-year-old boy. I loved lovable robot Baymax and the film’s cool blending of U.S. and Japanese culture.
  4. St. Vincent. Bill Murray is loathsome, pathetic, hilarious, generous and sweet all in one movie. Good supporting cast, especially the kid.
  5. Get On Up. The James Brown biopic may have been too raw to be a big hit but it made me feel good. (I knew that it would.)
  6. Life Itself. The talented Mr. Ebert had a wonderful life.
  7. Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. I met Glen Campbell and am a longtime fan. His good humor in dealing with Alzheimer’s plus the love shown by all his family was what made me feel good.
  8. Edge Of Tomorrow. The structure of this movie, similar to Groundhog Day, could’ve come off as dumb. Happily, it’s clever and fun.
  9. Draft Day. As an NFL fan, I enjoyed the football parts of the movie. The flyover shots of the stadiums were beautiful.
  10. Into The Woods. Sondheim songs and a mighty cast. A pure delight.

Guardians Of The Galaxy

 

Guardians of the Galaxy is a big ol’ chunk of sci-fi fantasy fun. Because of its characters, the film resembles a cartoon. But it’s all live action, with some help from computer-generated images. St. Louis native James Gunn directed and co-wrote the script.

Earthling Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) AKA Star-Lord is a child of the 80’s who grooves on music from the 70’s. (Come And Get Your Love by Redbone is the film’s opening theme.) He’s the quasi-leader of this motley crew, similar to Han Solo, but with more flaws and funnier.

Rocket Raccoon is a CGI figure that could pass for real. He’s voiced by Bradley Cooper and has a sardonic smart-ass attitude and several good laugh lines.

Another CGI guy is Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel. Groot—who resembles a big tree—is not particularly graceful but he gets to play a vital role as the 5 guardians try to save the galaxy.

Rounding out the team are Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an alien assassin with bad attitude and Drax (Dave Bautista). You saw Saldana as a blue character in Avatar; here she’s green. Drax is an enormous hulk of a creature with a violent streak.

The film’s plot centers around a mysterious orb that Quill has stolen. Bad guy Ronan (Lee Pace) and his henchmen and women want it back.

The story is not why you want to see GOTG. You want to meet and enjoy these characters, especially Quill. This role appears to be a star-making turn for Chris Pratt. (He also was a key player in another of the year’s better films, The Lego Movie. He voiced lead character Emmet Brickowski.)

Another reason to embrace Guardians of the Galaxy is its cool oldies soundtrack. From Go All The Way by Raspberries to It Takes Two by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Good stuff!

Is GOTG suitable for younger kids? It’s rated PG-13, so this is where moms and dads will have to exercise real parental guidance. Today’s 8 and 10 year olds may have been exposed to more violent images than Millenials born just a few years earlier, so recommending a minimum age is dicey. But the content has huge kid appeal.

Presuming that your age is well into double digits, I have no qualms about recommending Guardians of the Galaxy to everyone. Big fun!

 

 

 

 

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is just okay. It looks good. The voice actors are excellent. But the film isn’t clever. And, worse, it’s not particularly funny.

Maybe I expected more because Dreamworks animation has a strong track record (Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, etc.) Maybe it’s because the recent The Lego Movie raised the bar for animated films.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is based on a segment from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Those bits on the TV show employed primitive animation, but they were well written. They dripped with silly, funny cleverness. And horrible puns. Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell of Modern Family) shares a few bad puns but they’re perfunctory.

Burrell’s voice work is spot on. (An early choice for this voice gig was Robert Downey Jr.) The child who voices Peabody’s adoptive boy Sherman (Max Charles) does a nice job, but often he sounds more like Rocky the Flying Squirrel.

The movie’s story has Sherman starting school and getting into a fight with classmate Penny (another Modern Family cast member, Ariel Winter). To resolve the issue, Peabody invites Penny and her parents (Steven Colbert and Leslie Mann) over for dinner.

When the kids are sent off to visit together, Sherman invites Penny to check out the WABAC machine. After Peabody hypnotizes the parents into a trance, he joins Sherman and Penny on trips back to the French Revolution, ancient Egypt, etc. They also drop in on Leonardo DaVinci. As mentioned, these segments look great, but their content fails to sizzle.

The film’s resolution has to do with the use of some voodoo physics to correct a time travel induced problem. Thankfully, these last few minutes of the movie manage to offer some of its funnier content.

A highlight of Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a sequence on Sherman set to John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy.”

For younger generations who may be less familiar with the TV version of Mr. Peabody & Sherman, the movie version may rock. But for me, a boomer who has watched them most of my life, Mr. Peabody & Sherman is okay. But it should’ve been better.

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is a pure delight! Colorful, clever and FUNNY! With a memorable song you might find yourself humming on your way home. And a story that springs from the dilemma that many Lego users face: do I follow the instructions or do I make my own creations?

The Lego Movie is my first “must see” film of 2014. Even if you’re a not a fan of silly stuff, you need to check it out for the visuals. Even if you never played with Legos or never had kids who played with Legos, the Lego movie will entertain you.

Emmet (Chris Pratt of TV’s Parks and Recreation) is an everyman Lego guy. But thanks to a series of unexpected events, he goes on a trip that’s almost as mindbending as Alice’s journey to Wonderland.

Emmet, through no effort of his own, is the chosen one, charged with derailing the plans of President Business (Will Ferrell) to glue everything in the universe together with something called “The Kragle.”

Along the way he meets a bizarre cast of Legos: a girl named WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson), Vitrivius (Morgan Freeman), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie) and Lego pirate Metal Beard (Nick Offerman).

Other Lego characters seen briefly are Abe Lincoln (Will Forte), Lando Calrissian (Billy D. Williams), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Wonder Woman (Colby Smulders) and Superman (Channing Tatum) among many others.

The various Lego universes seen in the film are universally spectacular. And The Lego Movie‘s coda (whose content will not be revealed here) is sweet and touching.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller shared directing and screenplay duties. The soundtrack is by Mark Mothersbaugh, best known as a founding member of DEVO, but also known for doing music for the Rugrats TV show.

\My first thought when walking out of the theater was: “I want to see it again!” And I will! Soon!