The LEGO Batman Movie

In a movie that’s more fun than funny, The LEGO Batman Movie centers around Batman’s (Will Arnett) relationships: With longtime villain The Joker (Zach Galifianakis), with Robin (Michael Cera), with Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and with Albert (Ralph Fiennes).

From all the live action Batman movies, particularly those directed by Christopher Nolan, we know that Batman/Bruce Wayne has an austere personality. Despite his wealth and luxurious surroundings, he is a private individual whose innermost thoughts are known to few.

The LEGO Batman Movie takes viewers inside Wayne Manor for a peek at Batman’s private life which includes an affinity for romcoms—one in particular. You may be interested to learn Batman enjoys eating Lobster Thermidor.

The film also touches on the rivalry between Batman and Superman (Channing Tatum) and a device Superman has that transports evildoers to the “Phantom Zone.”

The LEGO Batman Movie is ever kinetic with an abundance of energy and over-the-top effects including many explosions. As with 2014’s The Lego Movie, the depiction of characters both well known and unknown via Legos is exceedingly clever.

And, as with its predecessor, you don’t have to have spent time playing with Legos to appreciate The LEGO Batman Movie. Although, having watched my two sons and my grandson play with Legos for hours, I have a warm spot in my soul for these wonderful building blocks (and their accessories).

Whereas the earlier film ended with a heartwarming live action father/son interaction, the new release does not contain such warm and fuzzy emotion wrangling. The 2014 film exceeded expectations and delivered surprise after surprise. The LEGO Batman Movie does not outpace expectations but comes close to fulfilling them. As noted at the top, it’s fun if not overwhelmingly funny. (Although the four 12-year-old girls sitting behind me at my screening—and giggling often—might beg to differ.)

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Birdman

Birdman delivers. It is an amazing thing to see. Michael Keaton’s terrific performance in the title role is likely to earn him an Oscar nomination. Director Alejandro Inarritu (who co-wrote the script) should receive awards, as well.

Riggan Thompson (Keaton) is a well-known movie star who played a character called Birdman in a series of films before he stepped away from the franchise. Now he is starring in and directing a Broadway play whose script he adapted. The movie covers the few days spanning the time from final rehearsals to opening night. Yes, it’s a comedy, but one with a dark, often subtle, wit.

Is Riggan crazy? Is his inner voice—the voice of Birdman— just the conscience we all have or is it the voice a mentally ill person hears? Does he really (within the movie) have super powers or is that just his imagination? Can he possibly be as insecure as he often seems? And there are more questions that are not clearly answered, questions that can’t be referenced here without being spoilers.

Other key players include Mike (Edward Norton) who is a last minute replacement in the play’s cast. He’s a pro and Riggan knows it, but Mike’s on-stage confidence and Broadway pedigree rub Riggan the wrong way. Naomi Watts is Lesley, another on-stage cast member. She and Mike have a past together. Riggan’s girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) is the 4th member of the play’s cast. His response when she tells him she’s pregnant reveals much about their relationship.

Samamtha (Emma Stone) is Riggan’s daughter, just out of rehab. She confirms to her dad that, yes, he is no longer relevant. She chides him for not being on Twitter and Facebook, equating social media presence to existence.

Jake (Zach Galifianakis), the show’s producer, is a different role for Galifianakis. He plays a less wacky, more normal guy, though one with some funny lines.

Because of its technical style, long takes and unorthodox camera angles, Birdman is film that will be dissected and analyzed by film classes for decades. The Steadicam used extensively in filming Birdman earns back every cent producers paid for it.

If you see Birdman with a friend, you’ll have plenty of things to talk about after the show, such as: Who, besides Keaton, had the most award-worthy performance? (I’d say Norton.) Were things Mike said to Riggan based on jealousy of his notoriety or were they sage wisdom? (Both, I think.) Was Birdman‘s “continuous take” clever or tedious? (For me, mostly clever.)

More discussion topics: How about that soundtrack, provided mostly by a single drummer? (It magnified the tension, but I detest drum solos at concerts, so I got tired of it quickly.) Is the alternative title Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance really necessary? (No.) Was Riggan’s putdown of critics valid? (To a degree, yes.) What did you think of that ending? (No spoilers, so no input from me on this question.) We can talk after you see Birdman. And you must see it!

The Hangover Part III

The Hangover Part III is intermittently funny. But a handful of good laughs and outrageous bits do not make up for a weak story with a less-than-stellar supporting cast.

Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Justin Bartha are the Wolfpack (Alan, Phil, Stu & Doug) whom we have come to know and like from the two previous films. Then there’s Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow, who gets way too much screen time. As with Sriracha sauce, a little bit of Chow adds flavor, but an excessive dose can be hard to swallow.

As the Wolfpack takes Alan to an asylum, the gang is detained by bad guy Marshall, played by John Goodman. Doug is held captive while the other three Wolfpackers are sent to recover the gold stolen from Marshall by Chow.

While we in St. Louis all love John Goodman, he adds little here. Same can be said for Heather Graham, Mike Epps and Jeffrey Tambor.

There is one standout among the supporting crew: Melissa McCarthy. As she did in This is 40, she provides the film’s saving grace moment. In THP3, she plays a pawnshop boss who has a beautifully acted flirtation with Alan. Her dash of Sriracha is just the right amount.

The Hangover was funny, outrageous and cleverly assembled. The Hangover Part II was more outrageous, somewhat funny, but lacking in cleverness. Part III has a “let’s just get it done and collect our paychecks” feeling. It’s not as funny as it should have been. The outrageousness seems perfunctory. And the word “clever” will never ever be used in the same sentence as The Hangover Part III, except for this one.

Why should you see this movie? You’re a big Zach Galifianakis fan. You think Mr. Chow was the funniest thing about the first two Hangovers. You have a thing for Paul Rudd. (Sorry, but Justin Bartha seems like a less smarmy Rudd clone.) You dig Melissa McCarthy and want to see her brief, but memorable, scene with Zach G. You hope The Hangover sequels will continue for years to come.

Why should you skip this movie? It’s not that funny. It’ll be on cable in January. There are better movies on other screens. It’ll make you think less of Bradley Cooper (who was so good in Silver Linings Playbook). You have four unwatched episodes of Doomsday Preppers on your DVR.

According to the THP3 trailer, “this year, it ends.” We can hope. III is definitely enough for this franchise.

The Campaign

If you’ve waited for the sequel to “Talladega Nights,” this is it. Ricky Bobby has changed his name to Cam Brady and been elected to the US Congress. His fuzzy, dim-witted counterpart has morphed from John C. Reilly to Zach Galifianakis.

“The Campaign” is not just hilariously funny, it’s also a clever satire of the US political system and the way we elect candidates. You’ve seen tons of negative ads recently here in St. Louis. Maybe you’ve wondered just how low a candidate would go to slam his opponent? You’ll howl when you see how low in “The Campaign.”

Will Ferrell as Cam Brady is a standard issue congressman who keeps getting re-elected and figures to be run unopposed again this year. But two wealthy brothers who are moguls with political clout (played by Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow) draft a yokel named Marty Huggins to oppose him.

Galifianakis as Huggins is a likeable dweeb, who benefits from a Cam Brady campaign miscue and moves up in the polls. With help from a seasoned campaign manager played by Dylan McDermott, he actually becomes the favorite to win. Then the campaigning goes really negative.

As in “Talladega Nights,” there’s a strong cast of sidemen and women. Jason Sudeikis as Brady’s campaign manager, Brian Cox as Marty’s dad and Sarah Baker as Marty’s wife all turn in good performances. But they are trumped by Karen Maruyama who scores huge laughs as a housekeeper with an interesting way of saying things.

Not everything works in “The Campaign,” but the funny and often outrageous developments will keep you engaged and entertained for the movie’s hour and a half run time. Cast your vote at the box office today.