Tag Archives: elizabeth banks

The LEGO Movie (2014)

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Some ideas just don’t sound good on paper, no matter how much you may want them to. The LEGO Movie is one of those movies – who wouldn’t want an all-LEGO movie to be awesome? Well, fortunately for us (and for Warner Bros.), everything about this movie worked better on the screen than it did on paper…everything about this movie is awesome.

This film features Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt), an everyday, run-of-the-mill conformist construction worker who is happy to follow the “instructions” set by President Business (Will Ferrell), who secretly masquerades as the evil Lord Business. Lord Business has acquired a super-secret-superweapon called “The Kragle,” and it has been foretold that someone “with face of yellow” will one day stop Lord Business and overcome the power of the Kragle. However, when this person ends up being Emmett – who is vastly unprepared and unqualified to save the world – he must team up with Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), and Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), master builders who will hopefully prepare Emmett for the task set before him.

(Wow…that synopsis was hard to type because of how silly it sounds!)

The humor in this film is what I like to describe as “Muppets-esque”…very tongue-in-cheek and self-aware comedy that allows the characters to be aware of who and what they are, which is LEGO objects that use LEGO instructions to build other LEGO objects, just like we do as humans. One great moment is when Batman’s Batwing goes in for a landing, at which point Batman jumps out and quickly makes the necessary conversions to turn it into the Batmobile. The silliness of the film is never overdone to the point of it being childish, but, rather, it’s “fun silly.”

The characters are all quite lovable, with Chris Pratt bringing a lot to the character of Emmett. He’s easy to relate to as well; though we may not generally be as not-special as he is, I think it’s easy to find a part of ourselves that thinks that we are not good enough or that thinks we can’t break away from what is expected of us rather than setting our own expectations and defining our own abilities. Because of this relatability, it’s really easy to feel for Emmett when he is scorned by others and belittled for not being special enough, even by the people he thought were his friends. Chris Pratt plays the character with a lot of variety in inflection, making Emmett incredibly fun as well because of how unpredictable and eclectic his personality actually is.

The other characters in the film are also fantastic, with Liam Neeson’s Good Cop/Bad Cop probably being my favorite; I would love to see behind-the-scenes footage of Neeson in the recording studio as Good Cop because of how ludicrously not like himself he sounds. A stand-out moment for his character is when he idly sings “Danny Boy” under his breath while sitting in the security room of Lord Business’ tower. Will Arnett’s Batman is also worth mentioning because of how he plays off all of the established Batman stereotypes – the low, gravelly voice as played by Christian Bale, his ability to disappear and reappear without notice, etc. – in incredibly fun ways. Shout-outs to Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle and Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius as well; the way these two characters interact with Emmett, especially Wyldstyle, and how she grows with him over the course of the film, is actually simultaneously hilarious and endearing.

The visuals of the film are super colorful and vibrant, and the stop-motion feel of the film is believable despite the fact that it was created solely with CGI. The making of the world entirely of LEGOs is impressive in its detail, with even the ocean and shower water being made of various LEGO studs that flow together. There are a couple of scenes that are live-action toward the end of the film that I won’t spoil for you if you haven’t seen it, but they bring a strong human element that makes the film hit home and become even more emotionally absorbing.

As you can tell, I have literally zero complaints about this movie. I was thoroughly entertained throughout, and the score by Mark Mothersbaugh is engaging and eclectic, bringing together a lot of styles of music that are both amusing in their variety and absorbing in their presentation. I should also mention the song “Everything is Awesome” by The Lonely Island which is used extensively in the context of the film – and is also hysterical. Check it out if you haven’t heard it already. To sum everything up, The LEGO Movie is one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in a long time, and I can’t find a single fault with it. If you want to have good, clean fun that also teaches on teamwork, imagination, belief in yourself, and even aspects of family, this movie is for you. I can’t praise it enough.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG – for mild action and rude humor


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

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Adaptations of books are often difficult to pull off, but 2012’s The Hunger Games (my review), based on Susanne Collins’ 2008 book of the same name, managed to be both a decent adaptation of the source material and a pretty good film, though it was certainly not without its shortcomings. When director Gary Ross was replaced by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), the question arose: will this new director be able to improve on Ross’ film, or will he make the same mistakes? I can happily answer that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an improvement over the original film in every possible way.

The events in this film pick up shortly after where we left off at the end of its predecessor. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have returned to District 12 as the victors of the 74th Hunger Games. Since the Games, Peeta has learned that Katniss’ apparent feelings for him were merely an act in order to survive, and, as a result, interactions between the pair have grown cold. However, in a surprise visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) before the two leave on a tour of the districts, Katniss is told that her actions have incited rebellion in the other districts. She must convince everyone that her actions were of love for Peeta, not defiance against the Capitol, or the lives of her family, Peeta’s family, and her best friend/real love interest, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), will be at stake. When she fails to pacify the districts, Snow and the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), come up with a plan to not only get rid of Katniss, but to get rid of all of the other victors as well.

Perhaps this film’s greatest strength is in its character development. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as Katniss and Peeta, respectively, bring out the conflict of their characters’ relationship so well that it is sometimes even difficult for the audience to tell whether Katniss’ apparent affection for Peeta is genuine or merely an act. Katniss’ reactions to her sort of post-traumatic stress, to learning that she would be competing in the Hunger Games once again, and to Peeta’s near-death experience are all heartbreaking and incredibly intimate; it’s a true testament to Lawrence’s abilities as an actress. Her feelings for Gale seem more believable in this film because more time is spent displaying them. Liam Hemsworth does a fine job of displaying the hurt his character feels for having been betrayed by the girl he loves, and his defiance to leave and determination to fight the Peacekeepers to protect his district make the character more likable and make the question of “Peeta or Gale?” much more of a difficult question for both the audience and Katniss to answer.

All of the familiar faces are also excellent, with my favorite performances coming from Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, and Donald Sutherland as President Snow. Haymitch has a great duality as both occasional antagonist and father figure to Katniss, and Effie is elevated above her role as comedic relief in the first film to a mother-like figure; when she bursts into tears to tell Katniss and Peeta how sorry she is that this is happening to them again, you just might shed a tear or two yourself. President Snow is, perhaps even more intimidating this time around as he threatens Katniss and the people she loves, or plots with Plutarch to kill Katniss in a new twisted iteration of the Hunger Games. Speaking of Plutarch, Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays him perfectly; his dry voice and cruel plans set the character up for a solid twist…one that I won’t reveal here. And, of course, all of the new faces are perfect fits for their roles. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair, Jena Malone as Johanna Mason, Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, Amanda Plummer as Wiress, and Lynn Cohen as Mags all have their moments to shine and are all likable in their own ways. There are no weak performances in this film, which not every film can boast.

The higher stakes of this film are introduced and dealt with extremely well. The themes of government control, independence vs. teamwork, and excess vs. deprivation are all explored and dealt with in their own ways. Katniss struggles with her desire to be independent, when in reality she needs to be interdependent on others – Peeta, Haymitch, Finnick, Joanna, Beetee – in order to survive. What we see in the Capitol versus what we see in the districts provide the contrast for excess vs. deprivation – colorful vs. colorless, joy vs. depression, stuffed vs. starved. It’s a powerful juxtaposition that really shows the extent of what President Snow and the Capitol will do to stay in control. The filmmakers don’t shy away from these deep themes, and they also don’t shy away from the same cliffhanger ending that the book leaves us with.

There is much more to talk about here, but all would involve spoilers, so I’ll refrain for now. The point of the matter is that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire manages to take what was already a great film and improve on it to make a truly excellent film. In fact, I might even say that this is one of the only instances of me enjoying a film adaptation over its source material; while the book is great in its own respect, parts of it, like the excessively long beginning, worked better for me on the big screen. What Francis Lawrence has done here is, for lack of a better word, awesome, and it has me even more excited for the two-part adaptation of the third book in Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language