I was going to start this review with “I can’t believe I liked a movie based on a toy,” but then I remembered that I enjoyed TRANSFORMERS.
So… I can’t believe I liked another movie based on a toy.
Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an anonymous construction worker in a perfect (vaguely fascist) Lego metropolis where the coffee is $37 and the number one sitcom is “Where’s My Pants?” Every day is choreographed to an excruciatingly catchy Tegan and Sara song and overseen by the Orwellian President Business (Will Ferrell), sold separately. When Emmet stumbles onto a mysterious artifact, he sets in motion an ancient prophecy that could save – or destroy – not just his Lego universe, but all of them. He soon allies with an ensemble cast including Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and Batman (Will Arnett). And Abraham Lincoln. And pirates. And a unicorn-cat thing.
I promise, it’s funny. Funnier than anything I’ve seen in a long time. THE LEGO MOVIE boasts a razor-sharp script and a canny sense of the absurd, hurling joke after joke and challenging you to keep up. Chris Pratt’s empty-headed but sincere hero is a standout comedic performance in a cast full of them. Who’d have known a movie about a toy brand would have more laughs than both HANGOVER sequels?
Visually it’s stunning, although not always for the right reasons. Every inch of the Lego world is lovingly animated, right down to the authentic smudges and imperfections on the pieces. Even the dust and smoke is made of tiny bricks. It’s imaginative and vibrant, but also a little overwhelming. Every frame is crowded with so many small touches of genius, and it’s all edited so blisteringly fast, that THE LEGO MOVIE sometimes looks like a colorful headache. But it’s a headache worth having.
This excess of creative passion is why I like this movie so much. It overachieves. It works hard. The plot is lightyears ahead of competing fare, eventually launching its third act into a sort of CABIN IN THE WOODS-ish meta-narrative. Few movies are brave enough to even try this, and even fewer stick the landing. To be fair, THE LEGO MOVIE does stumble a little bit toward the end, when the cleverness reaches a sort of critical mass, the fourth wall falls, and the story grinds to a halt so we can be force-fed a moral about the importance of individuality. Cue the hugs.
The real moral is “buy Legos.” It’s the funniest, best Lego commercial ever.
By: Taylor Adams
Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY is exactly what a western should be: gritty, violent, and full of double-crosses. There’s no shortage of quotable lines but most of the storytelling is visual; alternating between extreme long shots of the scorched world and extreme close-ups of the hard men that inhabit it. Even today, it’s stunning to look at.
The titular characters are three freelancers united in pursuit of a stash of Confederate gold. The “Ugly” is Tuco (Eli Wallach), an impulsive Mexican bandit currently on the run for God-knows-what. The “Bad” is Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), a sadistic bounty hunter with his own twisted moral code. And the “Good” is Blondie (Clint Eastwood), a mysterious gunslinger in full-on Clint Eastwood mode. He’s not much “better” or more heroic than the other two – he’s just smarter and a quicker shot. In this Mars-like world of rock and sky, that’s all that counts.
Watching these three characters trip over each other to reach the gold first is a delight, especially since they so frequently depend on each other. Tuco knows the name of the cemetery the gold is buried in. Blondie knows the grave. Angel Eyes knows neither, so he needs both men alive. Every alliance is fragile, calculated, and temporary, and there are more betrayals here than a game of RISK.
And Leone doesn’t sugarcoat it – this is a deeply cynical film populated by selfish people. While the rest of the country is fighting the Civil War, these guys are fighting for their own wealth. The ongoing war is just part of the terrain to them and later, an obstacle, in the form of a futile battle of attrition over a shabby bridge. Blondie and Tuco arguably do the right thing here – but this “right thing” conveniently aligns with their shared goals. What if it hadn’t?
It’s often darkly funny, too. Eli Wallach’s Tuco is a strangely relatable antihero, whether he’s throwing a body under a moving train or fighting off a bounty hunter from a bathtub (after which he delivers one of the film’s best lines). There’s enough oafish comedy in Wallach’s mannerisms to make him appealing, and enough cold efficiency in his gunfighting skills to make him dangerous. An early gun store robbery is mesmerizing because we never quite know what he’s capable of. All three players are well-drawn and well-performed, but Tuco is easily the most developed. Good and Bad are archetypes pulling together for the inevitable standoff, the outcome of which we have little doubt. But Ugly? We don’t know where he’ll be standing.
Or if he’ll be standing at all.
It’s entertaining as hell, and it’s a classic for good reason. Westerns just don’t get any better.
Check it out this Saturday, February 15th, at 4pm on ThisSpokane. Or see an encore on February 19th or 28th.
Review By: Taylor Adams
Don’t mess with Hollywood special effects guys.
The villains in F/X make this mistake, and spend the next ninety minutes paying for it in increasingly hilarious ways. This is a clever popcorn thriller with some great payoffs.
Our hero is effects wizard Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown), reluctantly recruited by the Justice Department to fake the assassination of DeFranco, a New York mob informant. Compared to goblins and car flips, this looks like easy money for Rollie – just a restaurant, some blood packs, and a .38 loaded with blanks.
Or… were they blanks?
Now Rollie is on the run, DeFranco is really dead, and the Justice Department is “tying off loose ends.” Hunted by corrupt spooks and a detective with an agenda of his own (Brian Dennehy), Rollie must untangle the conspiracy and learn who framed him and why. Along the way he uses every trick in his arsenal (accumulated over a long career of gory B-movies such as “I Dismember Mama”) to outwit his pursuers, and eventually, fight back.
The script is entertaining and well-paced, serving up a constant supply of problems, solutions, and even few major twists. Early on, F/X surprised me by killing of a character I assumed to be protected by plot armor, and a late double-cross involving Dennehy’s detective had me laughing. The tone walks a careful tightrope – dark enough to build real suspense, but light and goofy enough to be fun.
Dennehy is great as a Dirty Harry-esque cop, but it’s Bryan Brown’s show and he makes a charmingly unconventional action hero. He’s basically an ordinary guy with an extraordinary talent for deception, so the obligatory shootouts and fistfights are handled creatively. Being an eighties film, Rollie’s portfolio is refreshingly free of the high-tech stuff we’ve grown so accustomed to in recent movies. It’s strictly hardware – mirrors, latex masks, pyrotechnics, and good old superglue – and F/X is all the better for it as we watch Rollie jerry rig a lethal surprise with little more than the contents of his trunk.
Sure, his tactics are so immaculately timed and staged (particularly in the final thirty minutes) that he seems to possess some mild form of precognition. Many of his ruses depend on the bad guys reacting in a very precise way – and not, for example, putting an additional bullet into an apparently dead body just to be sure. But why pick at improbabilities? It’s a piece of entertainment, not a thesis paper. At one point in F/X, Rollie literally kills a man with a balloon.
To see how he accomplishes this, check out F/X this Saturday at 9pm on ThisTV (or catch an encore on February 25th or 27th).
Review By: Taylor Adams