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!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Nebraska

Nebraska is one of the year’s best movies and Bruce Dern gives one of the year’s best performances. Huge credit goes to screenwriter Bob Nelson and director Alex Payne for their story, their characters and their settings.

If you’ve ever heard or read about Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, or if you have spent time in a rural plains community, you’ll recognize many of the people and places in Nebraska.

Hawthorne, the town in Nebraska where much of the movie takes place, has both Lutheran and Catholic churches, plenty of bars and large plots of farmland surrounding the town. It’s the hometown of Woody Grant (Dern) and his wife Kate (June Squibb). They live in Billings, Montana now.

The journey to Nebraska begins when Woody gets a letter in the mail naming him the winner of a million dollars. He wants to go to Lincoln, Nebraska to cash it in. Woody’s son David (Will Forte) finally agrees to drive his dad from Billings to Lincoln. After an accident slows them down, they decide to stop in Hawthorne and spend the weekend with Woody’s brother and his family.

Kate and David’s brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) also head over to Hawthorne and a family reunion of sorts gets underway. Old memories are recalled. Will runs into his former business partner and town blowhard Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach) who stirs up old turmoil. David learns things about his family that he never knew.

A favorite scene is a cemetery visit where tombstones elicit memories of past family members, friends, lovers and enemies. (I lived a version of that scene in my own life in 2009 with a visit to Gully, Minnesota, where my father-in-law and many more of my wife’s relatives are buried.) A visit to the old abandoned homestead brings back memories, some unhappy, for Woody.

Nebraska has several side characters that add spark to the film, especially David’s two cousins who are hilarious. Woody’s brother Ray, incidentally, is played by Rance Howard, father of Ron “Opie” Howard.

Director Alexander Payne shot Nebraska in black and white, which is perfect for showcasing a town that probably looks about the same as it did 50 years ago. He punctuates the film with lingering shots of plains landscapes, which communicate the sense of being in the middle of nowhere.

Dern won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival and is a likely candidate for an Oscar nomination. His character appears to be simple, but is revealed to be complex, with demons and resentments that have haunted him for a lifetime. Dern should be ever grateful to Payne and Nelson for handing him such a wonderful role, especially at this point in his life. He’s 77.

84-year-old June Squibb brings spunk to her role as the wife who has endured much during her marriage to Woody. She should also be mentioned in awards conversations.

Nebraska is engaging on many levels, but mainly for capturing true human emotion. I highly recommend you see this film and, if they’re still around, take your parents and grandparents.

The Watch

You are hereby officially notified: This is a bad movie.

The setup: Ben Stiller is manager of a Costco store in a small town in Ohio. When his night watchman is brutally killed. Stiller sets up a community watch team.

Stiller is joined on the team by Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and an unfamiliar actor, Richard Ayoade. Ayoade is interesting because of his mixed ethnicity, British accent and vaguely intellectual look. He’s a decent enough actor who may have a future in film comedy.

The watch team eventually discovers that what they are up against is… aliens! But their battle with aliens isn’t enough to fuel a whole movie, so we get somewhat lame subplots about infertility, wild teenagers and arrogant small-town cops.

In comparison to other R-rated movies with dirty language (such as “Ted”), this movie seems to bring the raunchiness just for the sake of raunchiness. Yes, there are some laughs along the way, but much of the script languishes in that zone between “almost funny” and “ecccch.”

SNL vet Will Forte’s roles this summer in “That’s My Boy,” “Rock of Ages” and now as the smart-ass cop in “The Watch” (along with his bizarre role on “30 Rock”) appear to have positioned him as a go-to guy for comedy character roles. Rosemarie DeWitt appears as Stiller’s wife.

Unless you feel obliged to see every single movie that Stiller, Vaughn or Hill make, watch this one in a year or two on cable or Nexflix. Believe me, you can wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s My Boy

Before I saw “That’s My Boy,” I asked a friend: “What was the last decent movie Adam Sandler made, ‘Fifty First Dates?’” That question, I am sad to report, is one that can still be asked.

Not that “That’s My Boy” doesn’t have some funny stuff. It does. But this is a bad movie with too much business going on. Could an editor have made the movie better by cutting out, say, 25% of the movie? Yes. That would make it 25% less painful.

Sandler plays a ne’er-do-well named Donnie who, as a high school kid, fathered a baby with a Mary Kay Letourneau type teacher. The teacher went to prison and Sandler’s character eventually got custody of the baby. He was a horrible father—so bad that the son changed his name when he grew up and cut off all connection.

After being notified by his attorney that he needs money to pay back taxes, Donnie sees his son’s photo in the paper. The son, played by Andy Samberg, is now wealthy and about to get married. Donnie crashes back into his son’s life and becomes a big part of the wedding weekend.

The movie is rife with crude, raunchy humor. The most uncouth character, of course, is Sandler’s Donnie.

Among the supporting cast are NY Jets coach Rex Ryan as Donnie’s attorney, sports anchor Dan Patrick as a Jerry Springer type talk show host, Tony Orlando as Samberg’s boss, Vanilla Ice as one of Donnie’s old friends, James Caan as a priest, Susan Sarandon as the modern day version of the teacher and SNL’s Will Forte as one of Samberg’s co-workers. Sandler takes a huge artistic risk with this movie by NOT including his buddy Rob Schneider in the cast.

There are scenes in the movie that are designed to shock and they do. Sadly, there are numerous elements in the movie that are designed to be funny and they are not. Too many misses in a movie that’s too long bring “That’s My Boy” down to D level. That’s “D,” as in, “don’t.”