The LEGO Batman Movie

February 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson
Directed by: Chris McKay (TV’s “Robot Chicken”)
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), Chris McKenna (“Igor”), Erik Sommers (“Spider-man: Homecoming”), Jared Stern (“The Watch”), John Whittington (debut)

Learning, post-screening, that “The LEGO Batman Movie” director Chris McKay cut his stop-motion, pop culture incisors on three-seasons-and-a-movie of “Robot Chicken” feels something like — if you’ll be a peach and pardon the simile — the final piece clicking into place in that pixel-y, scale-model-ish helicopter/racecar/pontoon boat/Millennium Falcon you’ve been coaxing into being from a puddle of disparate, primary-colored, plastic Danish peg-bricks.

That is: It fits. It makes sense. It was always there, formless yet undeniable until it was made explicit and you uttered a sotto-voce “of course!” It’s what Lego Oprah (surely that exists) might call an “Everything is Ahawesome” moment. (Good gravy. No more Lego puns for me.)

It explains, in other words, the palpable kinship in sensibility between the incumbent Bat-comedy and the wryly frenetic Seth Green brainchild, which strobe-lights references both broad and arcane at its adoring viewers with the stamina and breakneck pace of a Gatling gun manned by a circa-’90s Dennis Miller.

In case this sounds like a complaint: It isn’t. For one thing, if “Lego Batman” feels something like kissing cousins with “Chicken,” it feels even more unmistakably and specifically at home (by purposeful design, certainly) with its record-breaking, Chris Pratt fronted forebear, “The Lego Movie” (on which McKay served as editor and animation co-director, among other credits). Fans of the latter, thus, should find much to enjoy here. For another thing, it’s replete with more than enough fond-and-loving nods to Batman’s greatest hits (Burton/Keaton, Nolan/Bale, et al.) and deep cuts (Killer Moth? Gentleman Ghost? CONDIMENT KING?) — as well as to pop culture at large — to satisfy Batman casuals, diehards, and don’t-cares alike.

As the film opens, we’re re(re-re)introduced to our iconic, mildly bell-shaped, adorably Byronic antihero (Arnett): He broods, raps cavalierly at the fourth wall, raps (and beatboxes) and thrashes on electric guitar, and saves the city in a stunning pyrotechnic display of superheroic prowess without so much as breaking a shiny yellow sweat. And: He never takes off the cowl. Figuratively, at least, but pretty much literally, too. At home, he absently microwaves lobster thermidor, pads through cavernous, echo-chamber hallways, gazes wistfully at pictures of his parents when he thinks no one’s looking, and otherwise generally worries manservant/father figure Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes, in apparent and much-appreciated observance of my deeply held personal belief that Ralph Fiennes should be in everything, please), who wants nothing more, in keeping with canon, than for his ward to lighten up and let people into his hermetic, kevlar-insulated world. Enter Richard “Dick” Grayson: uncommonly spry orphan, megawatt-candlepower Pollyanna, recent adoptive-son-via misunderstanding to billionaire Bat-beard Bruce Wayne, and soon-to-be alter ego of pantsless ur-sidekick Robin — limned, in a stroke of mad casting genius, by Michael Cera.

“The Lego Batman Movie” is at its best and most brilliant in these moments of winking, hyperbolic-yet spiritually-reverent adaptation. The characters we know like family, the tentpole relationships that have been hewn in granite for decades, are giddily skewed and exaggerated here, but are also yoked to the thrust and load-bearing theme of the tale: No Batman is a Bat-island. (Or, if you like, a Batcave beneath the surface of a Bat-island.) As did “The Lego Movie,” “Lego Batman” creates fruitful comedic juxtaposition by imagining The World’s Greatest Detective as a whiny, moody, braggy, dim, nigh-pathologically self-absorbed virtual adolescent who happens to be a superhuman athlete and crime-fighting savant.

Wisely, though, the film digs deeper to suggest the roots of this Big-style emotional stunting: Bruce is, in many ways, just a well-muscled kid who misses his parents. Alfred, ever of sage word and furrowed brow, a sea of tough love restrained by propriety and diction, struggles to shepherd his Herculean middle-schooler: In one of the cleverer bits divulged in trailers, he places a parental lock on the Batcomputer. Robin, traditionally conceived as a youthful, bright counterpoint to the “Dark Knight,” is here pushed to 11-and-then-some: He communicates in giddy squeals and effervescent ’80s pop songs and takes the world in guilelessly via Coke-bottle lenses that turn his eyes into saucers.

The most inspired mutation, though, is in Batman’s relationship with Zach Galifianakis’s Joker. Under Lego’s watch, the well-documented “you hate me but you need me,” intertwined-fate, two-sides-of-the-same-coin trope is writ flatly and unapologetically as an “An Officer and a Gentleman”-style “why won’t he let me in” movie romance, to the point that, when it resolves, you almost want Bats carting the Clown Prince off in his arms to the silky-gravelly strains of Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker. It’s one of those moves, an idea so simple and immediately, obviously right that you can’t believe you haven’t seen it before, or that you didn’t think of it yourself. Well played.

There were brief moments in which I found myself drifting. The story progresses logically and well, and even drew tears from me at certain points (it gets sweet, and I’m a crier), but “Lego Batman” is so engaging when it’s poking practical, affectionate, self-aware fun at the monolithically established Bat-Universe that I found myself wishing for a companion version of the film that eschewed plot and emotional resonance and cohesion and character growth and just let its writers loose to “Robot Chicken” jokes at me for 106 minutes. Still, McKay and company do an impressive job of weaving the thing into a working, breathing, family-friendly cautionary tale about overcoming pain and fear and letting oneself love and be loved again. (Again: I cried. At “Lego Batman.”)

And again, the writing, concepts, and casting are so smack-your-face fantastic at times (Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn!) and so warmly considerate of its fan base (Billy Dee as Two-Face!) that I’m eager for a second viewing. My viewing partner, an enormous “Lego Movie” fan, didn’t dig this outing as much, and I don’t know that I’d necessarily call it a perfect movie, but there are lots of things about it, particularly as a Bat-fan, that I love and appreciate to an extent that, frankly, I want to hug them and never Lego.

(Last one.)

The Internship

June 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Shawn Levy (“Date Night”)
Written by: Vince Vaughn (“Couples Retreat”) and Jared Stern (“The Watch”)

When the modestly budgeted comedy “Wedding Crashers” came out in 2005, few people (not to mention the studio) anticipated its mammoth success. Not only was it the highest grossing comedy of the summer, but it, along with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” spawned a resurgence in the edgy R-rated comedy genre, a trend that still hits box office gold today. Arguably the biggest reason for “Wedding Crashers’” success was the pairing of actors Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Eight years later, Wilson and Vaughn join forces again in “The Internship.”

After their company goes bankrupt, middle-aged watch salesmen Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson) are forced to throw themselves back into the job market. Desperate for something new, Billy and Nick apply for an internship program at Google. When they arrive, they find themselves to be the oldest interns (by decades) and are teamed up with a group of youngsters and an enthusiastic Google employee. As they go through a series of challenges to try land a job, Billy and Nick realize they’re in over their heads in a program full of tech-savvy people.

Predictably, Wilson and Vaughn fall into character structures similar to the ones they had in “Wedding Crashers.” Wilson plays the part of the charming go-getter while Vaughn is his neurotic and persuasive counterpart. Unfortunately, these characters are far more flimsy than the ones in “Crashers.” Wilson probably fares the better of the two, as his relationships with his fellow interns and Rose Byrne work decently. Conversely, Vaughn’s fast-talking, stumbling-over-his-own-words shtick is tiring and becomes grating very quick. The rest of the cast is rounded out by secondary characters and a few cameos, none of which are particularly noteworthy.

For a film that boasts bankable comedic talent, “The Internship” really struggles to find consistent laughs. Most of the jokes fall flat, including a bizarre recurring 30-year-old reference to the movie “Flashdance,” which is never funny despite the three or four times they go back to it. In place of a clever screenplay, the film relies too heavily on Vaughn and Wilson for laughs. Another bothersome wrinkle in the film is its obvious product placement for Google. Everything is green, yellow, blue and red, and virtually every service that Google provides is name-dropped at some point during the film. It wouldn’t be so bad if each scene didn’t contain some sort of corporate shilling.

At its core, “The Internship” is an underdog story about people who are being phased out by a new generation. From a sheer storytelling perspective, director Shawn Levy follows the formula close enough to sustain the films watchability, especially through the back half of the movie. The problem, however, lies in the unfunny script, average characters, and overextended run time. It’ll take something a little more substantial and effortful for Vaughn and Wilson to regain their once held spot as kings of the summer comedy.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

June 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury
Directed by: Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”)
Written by: Sean Anders (“Hot Tub Time Machine”), John Morris (“Hot Tub Time Machine”), Jared Stern (debut)

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is poppycock – a poorly prepared picture packed with pleasantries for the pipsqueaks and pathetic puns for parents who are paying the painful price.

Alliteration aside, “Penguins” is a family film based on a children’s book from the 1930s written by Richard and Florence Atwater. Jim Carrey (“Yes Man”) stars as title character Mr. Popper, a real estate businessman who is left a plethora of penguins by his estranged explorer father who has recently passed away.

On deadline to complete a very important real estate deal, Mr. Popper is forced to bird-sit a set of six penguins who he deems his childrens’ pets when they come over for a visit with his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino).

For whatever reason, everyone seems nonchalant about everything the penguins do from the moment they take over Popper’s apartment. Not much makes sense in “Penguins” for people over the age of seven. It’s harmless drivel for Carrey who phones in his performance and proves he can still collect a paycheck by putting a pothole in his comedy résumé the size of the Arctic Circle.