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.)

Ep. 86 – Sausage Party, Gleason, and a whole bunch of rambling

August 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, a hyper-lucid Cody chats with Jerrod about “Sausage Party,” “Gleason,” “Stranger Things,” Kyle Chandler, and a whole lot of other random stuff while Kiko is enjoying the Olympic games somewhere.

 

[00:00-36:41] Intro/South Park tease/random chatting

[36:41-48:58] Sausage Party review

[48:58-55:54] Gleason review

[55:54-1:04:42] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

August 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”)
Written by: Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”) and Michael Bacall (“Bookies”)
 
While it might be easy enough to dismiss a movie adapted from a comic book or video game in some cases as too cartoony or CGI-heavy, the liveliness radiating from “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” – even when beyond ridiculous – is exactly the type of fanboy flair director Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead”) was born to create. It’s unfortunate, however, that “Scott Pilgrim” substitutes a sensible script with scattershot scenes of hyper-unrealistic imagery set in an alternate universe void of any real emotion.

In the film, adapted from the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, our hero Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera in a very familiar, geeky role) spends his time making due with his cute, high school-aged girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) and rocking out in his band Sex Bom-omb (a Super Mario Bros. reference for those keeping score).
 
When Scott meets hipster Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he doesn’t want anything else out of life except to make her his girlfriend. The problem is that Ramona has more than her fair share of baggage. Waiting in the wings as her and Scott’s relationship begins to blossom is Ramona’s seven evil, superhuman exes (six boys, one girl) that Scott must battle and defeat if he wants to date her.

But who really wants to see six separate fights (one is a 2-on-1 against twin brothers) when neither the hero nor the villains are very likeable? Why should “Scott Pilgrim” get a pass when so many other movies (even ones based on video games) are criticized for taking the video-game style too literal?

“Scott Pilgrim” feels suffocated. It’s a movie that is well aware of the gimmick it’s selling, but one with aspirations for something with more substance and character development. Part of that problem is, of course, that the entire “Scott Pilgrim” comic book series has been shrunk to fit into a single feature. It’s a valiant attempt by Wright and Universal Pictures, but one that ultimately can’t carry the load as everyone wears out their welcome.

As Scott fights the exes one by one (Spoiler: He kills the vegan ex-boyfriend with half-and-half…sigh), you sort of forget what he’s fighting for in the first place. Sure, it’s a clever idea if you’re into the whole save-the-princess storyline, but ultimately you’ll wish “Scott Pilgrim” would find one of those portals that’ll transport him to the final level so he can just get it over with already.

Youth in Revolt

January 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl”)
Written by: Gusten Nash (“Charlie Bartlett”)

It’s common knowledge in most Hollywood circles that when making a movie (indie or otherwise) where the script calls for a soft-spoken, insecure character with a heart of gold the actor on top of most people’s lists would be Michael Cera (followed closely by the fidgetiness and nervous rambling of Jesse Eisenberg).

While Cera’s style works rather well in most cases like in “Superbad” and “Juno,” it would still be interesting to see what he could do out of his comfort zone. How much longer will he be able to pass for a dweeby teenager anyway?

His newest comedy, “Youth in Revolt,” isn’t the breakout role some of us might be looking for, but it’s a nice transition piece that could expose him to some dimension. It’s ironic that a role like this also does the exact opposite and pigeonholes him into what we already know he’s good at.

In “Revolt,” which is adapted from the epistolary novel by C.D. Payne, Cera plays Nick Twisp, a shy high school kid who listens to Frank Sinatra and is mystified by the opposite sex. Still, he’s a sweet, old soul who wonders why “in the movies the good guy get the girl and in real life it’s the prick.”

With nothing better to do, Nick goes on a spontaneous vacation to a trailer park with his mother (Jean Smart) and her loser boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). While there, he meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), the girl of his dreams who is culturally aware of all things French and would think Nick was much cooler than he really is if he’d just show a little backbone.

He gets the chance when their fling ends and both realize the only way they can be together is if they can pull off an intricate plan. Part of the mischievous plot is for Nick to get himself kicked out of his mother’s house. To do this, Nick creates an alter ego named François Dillinger (also played by Cera), a rebellious little punk with a pencil-thin mustache, blue eyes, and sharp tongue. Basically, François is the man Nick wishes he was because he’s the type of guy Sheeni could go for without hesitation. François, however, become more trouble than anticipated when he turns Nick into a fugitive.

This is where Cera breaks out of his usual mold and shows us something different, but not entirely unconventional to where one might think he was trying too hard. François puts Nick on edge and gives Cera a great character to explore alongside another that basically comes naturally to him at this point. The identity crisis works well as his battling personalities match wits. Cera alone has it in him to push the adapted material well passed a month most would deem as a cinematic dumping ground.

Surprisingly, “Youth in Revolt” is a rarity for early new-year releases. With filmmaker Miguel Arteta (“Chuck & Buck,” “Star Maps”), who has been making solid albeit small films for the past 12 years, the journal entries of one Nick Twisp are a creative and amusing journey about what it means to be at an age where the world begins and ends with whether or not you have the ability to grow facial hair.

Paper Heart

August 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake M. Johnson
Directed by: Nicholas Jasenovec (debut)
Written by: Nicholas Jasenovec (debut) and Charlyne Yi (debut)

The onslaught of quirky romantic comedies continues this year with the well-intended but off-centered love story “Paper Heart.” Part mockumentary and part fictional narrative, the idea behind this essentially one-woman show is more attractive in a pure form than it is in a genre blend.

Nevertheless, at least director/co-writer Nicholas Jasenovec has Charlyne Yi in his corner. Charlyne is the saving grace of a picture that starts promising but loses its way once it realizes what kind of film it is becoming. In the more documentary-driven portions of “Paper Heart,” Charlyne goes on a personal quest to face her own uncertainties on love and the opposite sex.

With a camera crew and director in tow, Charlyne, who is best known as the giggly pot smoker in “Knocked Up,” travels across the U.S. to interview everyday people about love-related issues. During her journey, she aims to understand why she doesn’t believe in something most people hope to find at least once in their lives. From an interview with a biologist who tries to explain love in scientific terms to an impromptu chat with kids on a playground, Charlyne gets a few lighthearted and smile-worthy quotes from her subjects. Other interviews aren’t as well-planned, however. The idea to visit a fortune-teller lacks creativity while a trip to Paris proves to be an unnecessary indulgence.

Truthfully, Charlyne really is the only genuine part of this romantic crossbreed. A few scenes into “Paper Heart” – when it’s obvious how hard it will actually be to capture Charlyne falling in love – Jasenovec, who is actually portrayed in the film by actor Jake M. Johnson (TV’s “Derek and Simon: The Show”), calls out an audible. In this instance, the monkey wrench is actor Michael Cera (“Super Bad”). Like Charlyne, Cera plays himself, which, oddly enough, is the same character he plays in all his movies. For this role, however, Jasenovec (the real one not the fictional one) uses him as a pawn so that he can force his leading man and woman into a narrative that never completely develops.

While Michael Cera is usually as well-received as a surprise birthday party, he’s sort of a downer in “Paper Heart.” What we really want more of is Charlyne, a real-life stand-up comedian based out of L.A. A reality show centered on Charlyne would charm the pants off anyone. It’s too bad “Paper Heart”‘s flimsy script rains on her happy-go-lucky parade.

Year One

June 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”)
Written by: Harold Ramis (“Analyze This”), Gene Stupnitsky (TV’s “The Office”), and Lee Eisenberg (TV’s “The Office”)

Just when you thought terrible comedic parodies were recently monopolized by the two-headed monster known in Hollywood as filmmakers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (“Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” “Disaster Movie,” etc.), director Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”) tosses his name into the mix for at least one satirical take on a genre that really hasn’t seen the light of day since Universal Pictures ruined “The Flintstones” with a pair of live-action duds.

Before that, prehistoric comedy was rocky at best with movies like 1981’s “Caveman” starring Beatle Ringo Starr and 1992’s “Encino Man” about a thawed-out Neanderthal who is taught how to party hard. Now we have “Year One,” a timeline-jumping spoof starring Jack Black (“Nacho Libre”) and Michael Cera (“Juno”) that feels 20 years too late and a handful of well-executed gags short of keeping anyone’s attention.

In the film, Black and Cera play Zed and Oh, two simpletons who are shunned by their tribe for their inadequate hunting and gathering skills. Tired of being ridiculed by the other tribesmen and rejected by the tribeswomen, Zed decides to take a bite out of a forbidden apple from the Tree of Knowledge. When the rest of the tribe finds out he has broken the law of the land, he is cast out of the village for fear that he is cursed.

With nothing to live for back at the village, Oh joins his hairy friend on a road trip by foot through undiscovered lands and time periods. During their adventure, the odd couple dive into the Old Testament where they meet Biblical characters such as Cain and Abel (Paul Rudd and David Cross in an unfunny exchange of sibling rivalry and violence) and even stop Abraham (Hank Azaria) from sacrificing his only son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, AKA McLovin of “Superbad” fame). Later on, Abraham reveals he is the mastermind behind circumcision when he recommends to Zed and Oh that they should allow him to perform the surgery because “it’s going to be a really sleek look that’s going to catch on.”

The rest of the film follows our journeymen to the unholy city of Sodom (described here like a first century version of Las Vegas) where they travel to save the women they love after they are captured and forced into slavery. It’s a storyline that is knocked out of sync by one uncreative skit after another.

Relying on cheap and childish jokes (most revolve around bodily excrement and an oily Oliver Platt) and unmemorable one-liners, “Year One” falls face first somewhere in the rear of the evolution line (maybe between the amoeba and the chimpanzee). It’s a primitive, pun-filled hodgepodge that screams Monty Python without any of the wit or style.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

September 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Alexis Dziena
Directed by: Peter Sollett (“Raising Victor Vargas”)
Written by: Lorene Scafaria (debut)

There’s a point in “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” when Michael Cera and Kat Dennings are walking through the streets of New York City where I was hoping screenwriter Lorene Scafaria would use some creative license and make the film break rank and venture into a teenage version of “Once.” Instead of thoughtful humor and tangible relationships, however, “Playlist” parties hard enough to become just another expected teenage adventure.

Tending to his broken heart after getting dumped on his birthday by his girlfriend Tris (Dziena), Nick O’Leary (Cera) is coerced by his bandmates to go into the city to play a scheduled show and start moving on with his life. His fun-filled night starts when he meets Norah (Dennings), a friend of Tris’ who asks Nick to be her boyfriend for five minutes so she can prove to her naysayers that she hasn’t come to the club alone.

Soon, the subtle encounter leads to Nick and Norah running around New York looking for their favorite band’s secret show. A subplot comes by way of Norah’s other friend Caroline (Ari Graynor), who is supposed to be driven home by Nick’s gay bandmates but is so drunk and confused she wakes up in their van and thinks she has been kidnapped. Along with searching for the secret show, Nick and Norah now have to look for Caroline, too.

As always, Cera makes dweeby look so effortless and matches well with Dennings and her poised character. The dynamic works fine for the most part, but “Playlist,” adapted from the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, simply gets too comfortable within its narrative. It’s an easy-going gig having to watch these kids talk about music and listen to music, but there’s not much more they offer.

It’s not a total miss for director Peter Sollett, whose 2002 debut film “Raising Victor Vargas” was one of the year’s pleasant surprises. He doesn’t match the strong characters of his first film, but he’s still able to sail smoothly on the natural likeability of Cera and Dennings.

Other than being an emo kid’s dream soundtrack, “Playlist” could be the little brother (or at least the third cousin twice removed) of “High Fidelity” if it was able to match its sharp wit and sarcasm. It tries, but the script can only go as far as Cohn and Lavithan’s creation will take it. A couple extra bar-hopping scenes at 4 a.m., and I was petered out by the same ol’ shenanigans.

Michael Cera and Kat Dennings – Nick and Norah’s Infinate Playlist

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

If you believe in “musical soulmates,” look no further than the teenage adventure flick “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” The film stars Michael Cera (“Superbad”) and Kat Dennings (“Charlie Bartlett”) as the young title characters who jump from club to club all night in New York City searching for a secret show by their favorite band.

While in Dallas promoting their film, Cera, 20, and Dennings, 22, talked about staying up all night to make a movie and their own musical preferences and talents.

I read there was a pretty crazy shooting schedule for this film.

Kat Dennings: We shot from around 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. probably.

Michael Cera: Yeah, whenever the sun went down.

Had either of you ever shot in the middle of the night like that?

MC: I really liked doing it, actually.

KD: I had only done a little night shooting, but this was all-night shooting.

MC: I’m nodding.

Had you ever experienced New York City at 4 a.m. before?

KD: My friend Maria and I used to walk to restaurants in the middle of the night when we were hungry. I thought someone was going to kill me, so I would always have like scissors or hairspray in my pocket just in case. For protection, or to cut someone’s hair and style it.

MC: I’ve been up all night before, but I’ve never chased a band around.

Had either of you made a mix tape before like Nick?

KD: I’ve made mix tapes just for the intention of introducing friends to music that they’ve never heard.

What about for a significant other?

KD: I’ve done that, yeah, but it didn’t work out, so it must’ve not been very good.

So, is someone’s taste in music a make-or-break factor for you in a relationship?

MC: Not for me. Who’s to say who has bad taste in music?

KD: No, unless it’s like some crazy, white supremacist rock, I don’t think I would have a problem with it.

So, if someone pulled out a Michael Bolton CD on a date, you’d be okay with that?

MC: Totally. There’s no need to be a snob.

Michael, I know you’ve proven your musical prowess with your guitar-playing in Juno, but what about you, Kat? Do you have any musical talent?

KD: I don’t have any talent, but I really like to play instruments. I don’t know if I’m any good. (Laughs) I’ve played every instrument for like 10 minutes and enjoyed them all. I really liked playing the saxophone and the drums. Those were great.

MC: I want to take trumpet lessons one day.

During your travels making movies, what city’s music scenes have impressed you the most?

MC: Austin’s got a good one. It’s really active. People seem to be really enthusiastic about it. I think Toronto has a good one.

KD: Yeah, I was gonna say Toronto. I went to one of my first concerts in Toronto. Toronto has a lot of great bands.

Since this film is the first time both of you are working from a script that is actually adapted from a book, did you get to talk to the authors about the characters and how you would play them in comparison to how they originally imagined them?

KD: They were on set a bit and we talked to them. I think they felt good about us being in the roles and had faith in [director] Peter [Sollett]. I’ve talked to them since. They were at the premiere in Toronto, and they were really ecstatic about the movie.

Kat, is there more pressure on you having two films out at theaters at the same time, “Nick & Norah” and “The House Bunny?”

KD: Not at all. It’s nice for my family. I know they get a kick out of it. But it’s just back to my life [after shooting].

Back to doing more video blogs [subscribe to katdennings on YouTube.com]?

KD: Oh, yeah. I have to get back on that. I’ve been working on other video projects for the “Nick & Norah” DVD but I haven’t been doing the others.

Michael, are you comfortable being this quasi sex symbol for hipster girls worldwide?

MC: Yeah, I’m comfortable with it. Enjoy the show, ladies.

KD: (Laughs)

OK, so you walk into a club on a Saturday night. What do you want the DJ playing for you as your theme song when you make your entrance?

KD: Um, the theme song to “The Golden Girls.” Or maybe “Night Prowler” from AC/DC.

MC: Or what about “You’re the Best” from “The Karate Kid?”

KD: Or maybe the “Rocky” theme song. If they played it when I was going into a club, it would be awesome. If they played it when I was going into a library, it would be double awesome.

Kat, you’ve had the chance to play college-age characters in a couple of movies, but Michael, you seem to be stuck in high school mode. How long can your boyish looks get you by?

MC: I’ll probably do a couple more movies as a high-school kid. Then I’ll be ready for college.

So you don’t want to end up like Ralph Macchio, almost 30 and playing Daniel Larusso in “The Karate Kid III?”

MC: I’d rather be Ralph Macchio in “My Cousin Vinny.”