Archive for February, 2014

Image

The Lego Movie is one of the most ambitious films I’ve seen in awhile, and it delivers on the promise of a lot of laughs. It’s a dystopian sci-fi movie, a Western extravaganza, a good old fashioned romance, and just plain funny. The ‘funny’ part cannot be understated.

The beginning starts off a bit awkward. It was focused on showing how completely all the citizens were being manipulated, and that even among all these blank slates, the main character is even blanker. 

Chris Pratt voices the main character, Emmet Brickowoski. He’s a regular construction worker whose favorite song is Everything Is Awesome, just like everybody else. 

Image

Chris Pratt manages a fine performance in the portrayal of the blank hero. He does a believable job of an Everyman, but manages to avoid sounding dull or fake throughout the entire film.

The beginning may not be funny, but it’s the setup for a lot of great lines. After five hours of singing his favorite song, Emmet hears a strange noise, and he goes in search for said noise. He finds a hooded individual, and consults a manual telling him that he should report any mysterious people. He’s about to sate his intentions when the hooded individual removes the hood, and exaggerated slow motion ensues as Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) shakes her hand to straighten her head. 

Image

Elizabeth Banks delivers a great performance in the “insecure” Master Builder with the name of a DJ.

She leaves, and when he tries to follow her, he falls into a ditch. He sees a strange object, and slowly moves to touch it. Below him, we can see the page in the manual specifically advising against such a thing, but completely entranced, he grabs unto it. 

Different images intercut together follow, and he’s woken up by a gruff Liam Neeson playing the Bad Cop who is in the middle of interrogating him, apparently.

Emmet points out that he is a real expert from watching cop shows, and notes the absence of a Good Cop. Bad Cop then swivels his head, and the “Aww-shucks” Good Cop appears. This is an example of the directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – the makers of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) using their subject matter to its utmost advantage. Sure, it’s not the most innovative thing in the movie, but it was a nice touch. It showed self awareness that these characters were all legos, and that unlike with a lot of toys, you can do plenty of different things with them.

The interrogation is interrupted when Wyldstyle rescues Emmet, and tells him about a prophesy naming him as the Greatest, Most Talented, Most Specialest Person Ever. Yeah. At least they aren’t simply using the Chosen One, I guess… There’s a really cool chase with Emmet and Wildstyle on a makeshift motorcycle while cars and helicopters tail them.

The action sequences in this film are really good. There are a few issues here and there, such as the fact that certain characters move too fast. You get used to it, but it’s initially difficult to track them across the wide screen. (Especially if their attire blends into the background.)

They escape through a tunnel, and enter The Wild West. Apparently, there are other realms in the Lego World, and it was a real treat to see images of the actual box sets of the different “realms”. Ah, childhood. They track down Vitruvius, the blind Master Builder as portrayed by Morgan Freeman. 

Image

Vitruvius feels like Morgan Freeman’s way of poking fun at his “wise, practically omnipotent” characters in the past. Shows that even someone with the perfect voice for narration can have a sense of humor.

They perform something similar to a Vulcan Mind Meld, and enter Emmet’s mind. Which is… completely blank. When asked to envision something he always thought was good, he conjures up an image of a Bunkbed Couch. Wyldstyle promptly tells him that it’s a bad idea, but Vitruvius interrupts her. 

Instead of saying that it’s just an abstract idea, he actually says much harsher words than her, calling it the worst idea ever. I’ll stop describing everything in detail here. I just felt it was necessary to describe the beginning because the potential for so much more is apparent from just these scenes. Don’t even get me started on the rest of the movie. (Unless you REALLY want to, because I’ll be happy to oblige.)

The villain is portrayed by Will Ferrel. I don’t how he does it, but he can mispronounce the most simple words, and make it seem completely unintentional and natural. He does it in such a convincing way that when he calls a Nail Polish a “Na-eel”, it seems completely normal. You begin to start asking yourself the question, “Why would I think he’d pronounce it that way?”

Image

As he’s shown in Megamind, Will Ferrel can play a really funny, great sympathetic villain.

He is President Business, and he wants to use the Kragle (a tube of Krazy Glue with the Z, Y, and U scratched off) to permanently keep everything in place. He wants to bring order into chaos. Honestly, it’s a rather good evil plot. To demonstrate this to Bad Cop, he uses the Kragle to glue the feet of Bad Cop’s parents. When prompted to glue them completely, the Good Cop refuses to do so, and that’s when his face is brutally erased. 

The Lego Movie, on the story and characters alone, would be considered imaginative and creative. However, it took it to a different level with their use of stop motion animation (probably thanks to their recruitment of Robot Chicken veteran, Chris McKay), and other cool stuff that I won’t spoil. 

Image

Considering the reception Ben Affleck received, Warner Bros. might want to consider Will Arnett as a replacement.

At the end of the day, this movie is funny, charming, and something that the whole family will enjoy. Sure, the parents will have to deal with being pestered to buy more legos, but that’s a risk they’ll have to take for some really good entertainment. Frozen deservedly received a lot of fans and critical acclaim, and the Lego Movie feels like a fitting followup to that great animated movie. 

I think that children should have more movies like the Lego Movie and Frozen, and that’ll only happen if we make the effort to tell people to watch them. (Although, at this point, Lego Movie and Frozen are huge successes. And Lego Movie isn’t even out of the theatres yet…)

Watch this for the quirky characters (Unikitty. All I’m saying), the hilarious superheroes (the love/hate relationship between Superman and Green Lantern, the brooding artist that is Batman), and legos. Watch it for those reasons, and you won’t regret it.

4.5 out of 6

Image

Advertisements

Image

 

My problem with Leonardo DiCaprio is that every time I watch his latest movie, I immediately think it’s his best performance to date. And the Wolf of Wall Street is no exception. 

The Wolf of Wall Street is the true story about Jordan Belfort (based on his book), with a script written by Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire, the Sopranos), and directed by Martin Scorsese (think of a gangster movie besides Godfather, it was probably made by him.)

The movie begins with Leonardo DiCaprio telling us that he made 49 million in a year, and he was really pissed off because it was three million shy of a million a week. He has a white ferrari, a huge yacht, an amazing house, and an equally amazing wife. 

He’s living the dream, really, and then he recounts how he got there. Earlier this year, I reviewed American Hustle, written and directed by David O. Russell. I mentioned how much he channelled (truth is, he copied) Martin Scorsese, and this movie proves why directors like David O. Russell can’t replace Martin Scorsese yet. I feel like Martin Scorsese saw American Hustle, and decided to make a movie to show David O. Russell how it’s done.

Image

I’m not even the biggest Scorsese fan. I liked Goodfellas and the Departed, but I’m definitely not a huge fan by any means. Wolf of Wall Street has made me want to watch more of his movies.

All right. Let me explain a little bit about the plot. Jordan Belfort is an ambitious young guy looking to make money quick, and he sees Wall Street as the way to do that. On his first day at work, he’s already hooked on the adrenaline in the room. I have to interject with a warning. If you find cursing uncomfortable, it’s safe to stay away from any Martin Scorsese movie. The first fifteen minutes of the movie feels like it’s warning you about what’s to come, so I just thought I should mention that to anyone that’s squeamish about that sort of thing. Moving on… He’s taken as a protege by Mark Hanna (portrayed by Matthew McConaughey), and he quickly learns the ropes. Matthew McConaughey’s performance really is more of a cameo, but man, it’s a great cameo.

Image

He teaches Jordan an anthem that comes up throughout the movie, and I have to say, it is really catchy. You can hear it in the trailer, I think. 

Right after Jordan’s promotion, he’s loses his job (because of Black Monday), and he’s forced to look for a new job. His wife suggests that they sell her engagement ring, but his pride does not allow such a thing. From this scene alone, you could probably guess that his pride will come back later to bite him in the ass. He finds a job at a small business dealing in penny stocks. Penny stocks belong to the companies that aren’t big enough to qualify trading at Wall Street, and because of this, the traders get a 50% commission. Belfort picks up the phone, calls a random client, and the room quiets. Another stockbroker takes out a notepad and begins writing down what he’s saying, and by the time the phone call is over, he’d made over a thousand dollars. 

He gets a new car, and while eating at a diner, meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). With phosphorescent teeth, a voice that sounds like gravel being poured through a garbage disposal, he provides much of the movie’s comic relief.

Image

He becomes Jordan’s selfish, crack addicted sidekick after he quits his job when Jordan shows him proof that he makes over 70k a month. 

Jordan starts a new company called Straton Oakmont, and pretty soon, he has a huge office and too much money to spend. (It’s a different kind of money problem…)

DiCaprio addresses the audience directly, saying: “The question is… was any of this legal?”

He smiles, and says: “Absolutely not!”

It isn’t long before his private investigator learns that he’s being investigated by a straight arrow FBI Agent, and Jordan stupidly invites him to his yacht to bribe him. Thankfully, he was at least smart enough not to mention an exact figure, but not smart enough to listen to his PI. 

It reminded me of another Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Catch Me If You Can. He played a gifted young con artist being hunted by a dedicated law enforcement agent (played by Tom Hanks). It isn’t much of a spoiler to tell you not to expect the same amount of… playfulness between Belfort and the FBI Agent. 

Image

Sure, they fake politeness in their initial meeting, but there’s no interesting banter here. There’s just plain animosity between the two of them, and it was refreshing to see this done after watching so many movies doing the Catch Me If You Can formula. (I loved that movie, by the way.)

DiCaprio is my favorite actor. I think he’s the best actor of my generation (well… technically it’s my sister’s generation), and I love all of his movies. However, I’ve come to expect a little something from his roles. His movies are generally serious, and while his acting for each character varies greatly, they all have the same feel about them. They all had the sense that the entire world was on their shoulders.

In this movie, he shows that it was all intentional. When Jordan Belfort parties, he parties. He’s superficial monster that doesn’t care about the people he steals from. It’s also DiCaprio’s funniest performance to date, and one of his most dramatic.

Image

After flying a helicopter drunk on alcohol and pills, he wakes up to his wife (played by Margot Robbie) tossing a glass of water in his face. His reaction here is just brilliant. I have two other favorite scenes, but I won’t even hint about them. You should just watch the movie and see it for yourself. They’re too good to spoil. (Even for a huge spoiler like me.)

In these types of movies with a criminal protagonist, it’s always the same. It shows the rise, the peak of all their achievements, and inevitably, the fall. It’s unavoidable. *coughs Like A Certain Scorsese movie coughs*

People need to see the bad get their comeuppance, and I always thought that this was the most enduring formula of movies. So, it isn’t a big spoiler to tell you that things do start to go awry for Jordan Belfort. He has to make a deal with the SCC, and still face criminal charges from the FBI. His relationship with his wife starts to go downhill. 

I don’t believe in karma, but even I have to admit that karma finally caught up to him. He left his loving wife for Naomi, and you can see that he really loves her. He cheats on her… but he really does love her. And maybe it’s karma that his wife doesn’t love him as much, if at all. 

Image

The ending, though, is really good. I won’t describe it to you, but it’s one of my favorite endings of all time. (Coincidentally, my other favorite ending is the ending of the Departed.) Now, I hope Leonardo DiCaprio gets an oscar for this, but considering the hype of the other performances, it’s not likely. I think this is the best Martin Scorsese movie I’ve seen, and having watched a few of the other nominees for Best Actor and Best Picture, I really do think this movie deserves to win. (Don’t let me get started on Gravity…)

I just hope that Christian Bale doesn’t beat DiCaprio for Best Actor. Yes, he gained a lot of weight, but come on. I guess I’m biased when I say that DiCaprio’s acting in this movie beats almost everything Bale did in American Hustle. Just saying. That’s what I think.

In conclusion (do you like how I suddenly became very professional?), this is an amazing movie. My favorite of 2013, and probably going to be one of my favorites for 2014. It’s already earned a place in my Top 15 Favorite Movies, and it might even rise in my list after viewing it a few more times. If you like great black comedy, great performances, great writing and directing, you’ll like Wolf of Wall Street.

If you hate watching an evil man get a lot of money, a huge amount of cursing, drug abuse… You probably won’t like this movie. It is not for everyone, but if you don’t mind any of that, then this is worth a watch. 

 

6 out of 6

Image

 

~Jian