In 2014, The Lego Movie shocked everyone by being more than a cheap, soulless tie-in movie. Three years later, the same creative team behind the original Lego Movie (along with some fresh new faces) is back to wreak some more havoc on your typical animated film formula. And does lightning strike twice? It sure does.
SPOILERS AHEAD. BUT YOU PROBABLY DON'T CARE, BECAUSE YOU'RE... NOT BATMAN.
The good news going into this film is that you don't have to see the last one to understand much (gasp)! About the only things retained between the original and this first-spin off is the concept of Master Building and that massive, dark abyss below practically everything. And of course, there's Batman himself (Will Arnett), rendered in full CG, Lego, cocky glory.
Setting up this film would be rather repetitive, as it draws from and pokes fun at nearly everything in the Batman mythos, from the corny 1966 TV Show to the critically-derided Batman v. Superman. However, all this comes with a twist. Didn't you ever think that Batman would get tired of working alone (and I'm not referring to all incarnations of him, just certain ones).
Well, this film touches upon that concept in a rather hilarious and touching way. Batman, beyond all his typical fourth-wall breaking, joke firing and crime fighting persona, is portrayed here as rather lonely and without a family. After the infamous Joker (Zach Galifinakis) and a who's-who of A and B villains supposedly "surrender" themselves at the retirement ceremony of Commissioner James Gordon and the promotion of Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), Batman is forced by Alfred to take care of their recently adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), whom me met earlier at the ceremony as Bruce Wayne.
From there, things quickly get awry as Batman brings Dick (Robin) along to steal a Phantom Zone teleporting gun from Superman's Fortress of Solitude to teleport the Joker to the Phantom Zone. And guess how that turns out? Spoiling the film any further would deny you access to some of the best fourth-wall and in-jokes this side of Deadpool, a touching message about family and togetherness expanded to unexpected places, and everything and anything being literal with Lego puns in the climax of the film.
END OF SPOILERS. MIC DROP, BROCHACOS!
The Lego Batman Movie is, much like the Angry Birds Movie and Lego Movie before it, somehow more than a cash-grab. Bring your friends and be prepared to (barely) ever stop laughing for the duration of the film. It's what we need in times like these- a good laugh.
Rated PG (contains rude humor, behavior and perilous scenes.)
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM: *** 1/2
Fifteen years ago, Warner Bros. introduced us to the iconic boy wizard known as Harry Potter. Fifteen years later, and only five years after Deathly Hallows Part 2, they continued the story of the wizarding world... with a prequel. Now normally, when you say the word prequel, people shudder (I'm looking at you, Attack of the Clones), but JK Rowling has managed to create a prequel which could suitably start your Harry Potter Marathon. Spolierus Aheadus!
So, what the heck could a prequel to Harry Potter be about? Well, when we begin, it is 1926. The dark wizard Grindewald is continuing his reign of terror across the world. But in America, our wizards have some problems of their own to deal with. Like uber-telling it as it is magi-zoologist Newt Scamander (Academy Award Winner Eddie Redmayne), who is bringing a TARDIS-like case full of magical creatures to the city of New York because... reasons. As the lead of the film with a rather shy yet charming demeanor, does a remarkably good job filling Daniel Radcliffe's shoes- well, that is a little unfair, because he's older. Anyways, after briefly encountering the New Salem Society (which is this film's second, yet somehow not as interesting plot), he runs into an aspiring baker named Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Kowalski steals the show every second he is on screen, and serves as perfect humorous balance to Newt. Of course, cliches happen, some of his creatures run loose, and after building a friendship of sorts with Kowalski, Tina (Katherine Waterston) who serves on the MACUSA (or American Ministry of Magic, to be blunt and finds it very odd that Newt has a No-Maj (or non magical man) with him) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol). Now, after meeting some of these creatures, which in addition to being well animated and quirky, are also well animated and bring up the question of how much Eddie Redmayne got paid for this. Their goal- simple, get all the creatures back in Newt's case. But this isn't as easy as it sounds. MACUSA is after them, one of Newt's creatures (an Obscurus) has dark connections, and a member of the New Salem Society has ties to something truly terrible. How does this all tie together (especially considering Grindewald), and how the heck do they get all of Newt's creatures back in the case? Watch and find out.
Being a Harry Potter prequel, the film is full of clever callbacks and spells that any sharp-eyed viewer would notice. an Sure, the film is overstuffed, but it makes up for it with clever visuals and top notch performances from the entire cast. New York looks beautiful in the film, and unlike The Secret Life of Pets, it isn't just there to be there. It's a Harry Potter movie- and it's not a Harry Potter movie. Apparate to your nearest theater and rediscover the magic of the wizarding world!
Rated PG-13 (contains period smoking and drinking, intense images, and violent and disturbing scenes.)
MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN: ** 1/2
And I thought The Magnificent Seven had a hard time wrapping things up! Tim Burton can't catch a break these days, because Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a visually interesting train wreck of a movie, with spectacular visuals, acting, and a splendid musical score, but no solid plot to back it up. I guess if I read the books, I would understand all of this. But I don't. You know why that is? It's because this is ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS all over again! Except this time, nothing goes anywhere with any reason to back it up. So, here's what I can gather from the "plot":
SPOILERS AHEAD. UNLESS YOU DO NOT INTEND TO SEE THIS INSANITY FOR YOURSELF, DON'T READ ON.
When young teenager Jake (played by Hugo and Ender actor Asa Butterfield) plans to visit his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), his grandfather warns him not to come, mentioning something about a September 3, 1943 time loop and a children's home (it gets stranger), he goes to his home and discovers him dead. Tracing what he said to stories that he told him about said house when he was young, he goes to Wales and discovers all that his grandfather talked about, with a house full of children with strange, X-Men style abilities run by the titular Miss Peregrine (played masterfully by Eva Green). But after meeting the peculiars, from there, nothing is sensible. Secrets spill out about evil peculiars (led by the disguising Mr. Barron, played by Samuel L. Jackson; who looks like he had too much fun doing this film) who wish to become immortal by.... eating peculiar children's eyes? What? So to stop them, they have to go after them and despite having two peculiars who can turn anything into stone, the film neglects that and stretches the third act beyond the point of comprehension. You'll have to see it to believe it! A shipwreck, a squirrel, Judi Dench, and too many plot holes to name all collide in a film that has no rhyme or reason.
So, do you care to enter the bizarre world of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children? Your mind and sanity will never be the same.
Rated PG-13 (contains disturbing images and sequences involving supernatural elements, a character smoking, and some violent deaths.)
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: ****
If you're looking for a dark horse to enter the Best Picture race this year, I think we have a winner! When I heard that the last film that James Horner (one of my personal favorite music composers) ever wrote music for before his untimely death caused by a plane crash was this, I asked myself- why a Western remake? I think I know why now.
FIRING UP THE SPOLIERS.
When rich and violent miner Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) decides to make the small town of Rose Creek his personal dumping ground to acquire new land for mining (I must mention that at times, this film behaves by the book), he kills several of the town's residents in a way that makes me wonder how this got a PG-13. One of these said residents is the husband of Emma Cullen (no relation to Edward Cullen, whom despite looking like Jennifer Lawrence, is played instead by Haley Bennett). As a result, she begins to seek justice for Bogue's various murders. When looking for help, she comes across Sam, a lawful bounty hunter (played by Denzel Washington), who then assembles, as the title of the movie shows, five other con men (played by Jurassic World's Chris Pratt and Vincent D' Onofrio, Red 2 and Terminator: Genisys' Byung-Hun Lee, Ethan Hawke, and newcomer Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and a Comanche Sniper named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), to create a team of seven deadly fighters. From there, all hell breaks loose as the film runs wild with incredible chemistry between the leads, insane gunfights, classic one-liners (So Far, So Good), some of the best sound mixing i've ever heard, a hilarious act of sacrifice, and an incredible musical score by James Horner and Simon Franglen (who completed the score for Horner). But still, there are some problems. To extend the film and create a third act syndrome problem, during the final battle, Bogue uses a Gatling Gun in a way that requires you to suspend your suspension of disbelief a little too much, and when a personal connection is revealed between two of the leads, it felt like a annoyingly groan-worthy afterthought. But other than that, the film is a triumph on the level of the 2010 remake True Grit, worthy of at least one viewing. Go see it on the largest screen you can, and enjoy the finely crafted western remake that is The Magnificent Seven.
To finish up, I must say that this film was an incredible way to wrap up the career of maestro James Horner. Thank you for everything, James.
Rated PG-13 (contains grisly western violence and language, disturbing images, some alcohol use, and smoking.)
STAR TREK BEYOND: ****
This is the wittiest script of the year.. and also the most fight-scene filled film of the year.
So, what do I say about this sci-fi extravaganza? Well, it is certainly better than it's bloated predecessor Into Darkness, but is not as good as Star Trek (the 2009 one). The film picks up in the middle of the five-year mission that began at the end of Into Darkness, and you could say everybody's starting to wonder why they are doing this in the first place... until a swarm of bee like ships led by Krall (Zootopia's Idris Elba, who doesn't even sound like Idris Elba here) destroy the Enterprise, causing a crash landing on a uncharted planet and causing it's crew to be scattered all over the place, with some being kidnapped by Krall. This actually helps them in the long run, especially when Scotty (Simon Pegg, who wrote the film and also acted in it) meets Jaylah (played by unknown Sofia Boutella), who helps the Enterprise crew out on getting themselves reunited. Jaylah lost her parents to Krall, and she wants retribution- as well as to help the crew by using something rather surprising. (Yes, it's another ship- but which one? You'll have to watch to find out.) So, the plot's good but overblown with some holes, the jokes and one-liners work well, the audio mix and score by Michael Giacchino don't repeat to death, and Krall cares about his fellow men like Khan- but with a much better plan! The acting by Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Zoë Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and the late Anton Yelchin fit the script well, and a tribute to Leonard Nimoy through the plot (while paradoxical) made me burst into tears. And now you may be asking- well, what happens to Spock, Kirk, the rest of the crew, Jaylah and Krall? You have to watch to find out.
And now, the gripes... The camerawork is like a man drunk on liquor, with too many zoom ins during the fight scenes. If you want to hurt my eyes, throw some lens flares at me! And the third act syndrome is strong with this one, so the last 15 minutes could be edited slightly. But still, this film works in every way. And stay for the first part of the credits- there is a subtle, beautiful tribute to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.
Rated PG-13 (contains intense sci-fi violence and perilous and disturbing scenes, as well as alcohol use and brief language.)
Ghostbusters is the most fun I've had at the movies since The Angry Birds Movie. It doesn't drag on like The Secret Life of Pets, rather it realizes that the best kind of comedy is one that gets its jokes from the plot. The cast could not be more perfect.
Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are perfectly cast leads, there's no doubt about that. But the supporting cast is where the film goes nuts. Leslie Jones steals the show as Patty, a once subway station worker turned Ghostbuster. You can tell that every time she delivers a line, her delivery is always right! Chris Hemsworth is perfect as not one, but technically two characters. I won't spoil that further, because it would ruin the fun surprises this film brings. And lastly, Kate McKinnon shines as Holtzmann, who you can call the weapons expert of the team. No one takes themselves seriously- because they don't need to! It's GHOSTBUSTERS! The plot- well, if you've seen the first two, it's like they got thrown into a blender, sprinkled with some ingenious running gags, jabs at this generation, and callbacks.. Speaking of callbacks, Slimer is there in all his glory, and so is the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The iconic Ghostbusters logo is introduced in a way you'd never expect, and the main theme is reenergized and remixed wonderfully... And voila- you have Ghostbusters 2016!
Ghostbusters is a nearly flawless film, and while a few gags fall flat (thus the four-star rating), it is Ghostbusters like you never imagined it- for a whole new generation to enjoy and continue the legacy of the question most of us already know by heart- Who you gonna call? A loving tribute to the original Ghostbusters films- both visually and written, while managing to also do it's own thing- Ghostbusters is highly recommended.
Rated PG-13 (contains unnerving paranormal-related scenes and some raunchy humor, including a boob joke.)
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS: ***
From the moment The Secret Life of Pets starts, something is amiss. While the visuals of Manhattan and the rest of New York made my jaw drop from first glance, the film itself can be described like imperfect pieces of a shattered pot, forcefully glued together to make a feature film.
What this film calls a plot begins with us being introduced to Max, a Woody-type (yes, I am going to say that) dog voiced by Louis C.K.. His life seems perfect with his owner Katie in every way, and after she leaves every morning, he waits for her to come back, while hanging out with a colorful cast of supporting dogs (such as his "love" interest Gidget, who is voiced by Jenny Slate), a cat named Chloe (Lake Bell), a guinea pig who shows no alliances, and a bird named Sweet Pea. When his perfect world is turned upside down by Katie bringing in a dog from the pound named Duke, this film's Buzz (Eric Stonestreet), the film goes all over the place in what can only be described as organized chaos. When their combined frustration and sarcasm gets them Lost in New York (this film is quite derivative), it's up to Gidget and the gang to rescue both of them, with the help of such characters like the desperately-trying not to eat anything hawk Tiberius (Albert Brooks from Finding Dory and The Simpsons Movie), who I think stole the show. Meanwhile, Duke and Max run across Snowball (Kevin Hart), a revolutionary anarchist bunny who leads a rebellion against man in the sewers of New York, whom whether they like it or not, will be their biggest ally and enemy. Through all these characters, both supporting and main, their journey home is full of Looney Tunes style visual jokes and clever references (though not as clever as those of Zootopia, released a few months earlier). There are problems, though. Every animated film these days seems to suffer from the third act syndrome (too much content and plot), so this film overstayed it's welcome in too many ways. A series of short films would have truly done all of the featured characters justice. But instead, we get this anthology of plot contrivances, hit and miss jokes, characters with switching personalities, many questionable adult jokes (that don't even try to be subtle), and telenovelas (which I admit, was very funny).
I'm not sure whether or not to recommend this film to you, the reader of this review. I think seeing The Angry Birds Movie or Zootopia again would be a better choice, but of course, it's up to you.
Rated PG (contains multiple instances of toilet humor and adult jokes, as well as a drug reference.)
MOWER MINIONS: ****
The Minions are at it again- and their humor is certainly better in small doses!
Case in point- this short, where the Minions wish to purchase a As Seen on TV blender by mowing a retirement home's lawn. What follows is a humorous collection of rapid fire jokes that end with them getting the blender they wanted. Except there's a new and improved version out- certainly starting the process all over again. A humorous short tale that isn't afraid to take a poke at consumerism, this short gets a A! We still do need some subtitles, though, and the toilet humor may have gone a bit too far in places.
FINDING DORY: *** 1/2
I wanted to give this film five stars. I really do. But the- OK. Compose yourself Nathan.
SPOILERS. JUST KEEP SPOILING...
Whereas the short Piper has a lesson of getting past your fears, this one has a lesson of returning to your family. And it's "almost" handled right. After a brief look into the Shamaylaninan past of Dory (played masterfully again by Ellen DeGeneres) and how she lost her parents, we cut to one year after the first film (funny, they all sound older), where after some brief hijinks involving Mr. Ray (fan service!), Dory begins to remember her parents and something involving the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. So, another adventure begins- one involving product placement, a third act that seems to go nowhere, clever characters turned into chump change, What a Wonderful World, and Sigourney Weaver. Just Sigourney Weaver. You can guess how this ends up. As the film progresses, it feels like they had all the ingredients in place for a good film- when Dory is reunited with her mother Jenny and father Charlie (whom were established in further flashbacks), it feels just right. But a few minutes later, we have wasted character #1 Hank the Octopus driving a truck like its the last 15 minutes of Over the Hedge! Which pushed me Over the Edge! They tried too hard to pull your heartstrings- and while the humor department succeeded, you know you're stooping to an all-time low when you reuse a joke from The Cat in the Hat. And while the film ends with a nice callback to the dropoff from the first film, the octopus truck driving ruins it all. (Sigh) Well, as I finish typing this review, I am about to go to swim practice- and think of better films.
Rated PG (contains rude humor and perilous situations.)
Its a new ROMVIEWS RECORD! 5 Stars! Ok, so about the short.
FLY AWAY FROM THE SPOILERS IF YOU DON'T WANNA SEE THEM!
A baby sandpiper, who gets food in the form of seeds from his/her mother (you decide), decides to hightail it on his own. The one problem is- there's water- and this bird is afraid. That is, until some animals help him out to overcome his fears. Who? You have to watch to find out. END SPOILERS. FLY BACK IF YOU MUST!
The water and visuals in this short are too real- from waves to sand to the feathers of the birds! It's a trip into the uncanny valley that's enjoyable- and has a neat lesson for small children to learn. You'll love this short- perhaps even more than the feature itself.
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: **
How bad is this film? It's so bad that I kept getting suggestions from my family for this review. So, what do I say about the highly anticipated Alice sequel?
WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW.
Well, there are some great jokes and zingers every once in a while, and it is nice to look at. After Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns from a seagoing voyage that results in a opening scene that looks a bit too much like Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice returns to find that the person she decided not to marry in the last film wants her father's ship. And as for her father? He died- and if you didn't watch the first film before watching this.... you won't understand any of it. Not too long afterward, the real plot begins. And it's stupid is as stupid does. So, Absolem the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman, in his final film role) leads Alice back to Underland (Wonderland for all you purists) and she finds that the Hatter (Johnny Depp) isn't well- with one weird makeup change. See the problem is that there is no consistency. Anne Hathaway, you don't have to make the hand motions you did in the last one- it made sense there, but it doesn't here, okay! And when the Red and White Queens (Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter) reveal a dark secret about their childhood pasts, it doesn't mesh with the first film- it feels more like an afterthought! Sigh. So, to solve all this, she has to go steampunking back in time, going to key dates of practically every main character, and find the Hatter's family (which is glossed over with too many subplots and secondary characters). Not to mention, she has to get past one of the only good things in this film- Time himself, played with all the charm and charisma you'd expect from Sacha Baron Cohen. Everything about his lair is gorgeous- the design, the workings, everything! If they had developed him more, I'd give this an additional half star. But no- we have to go through a lesson Jack Dawson already taught us in Titanic! Make each day count- it sounds so familiar! I guess that's what we get for a time-related film. Back to the Future did that lesson better with brilliant time travel! There's a laundry list of things wrong with this film- CinemaSins, take note! Now you may wonder why this review goes all over the place. This movie goes all over the place! Alice created too many dang paradoxes throughout this film- she's the hero of this? Give me a break. Even Pink's song was brilliant and deserved to lend itself to a better film! The first film sets up itself in a traditional way. The one I'm reviewing right now- it's bonkers, and not in a good way either! 2 hours I'll never get back- if I had a Chronosphere (what that time traveling deus ex machina is called in the film), I'd go back and leave this review on my computer desk- at least I'd be prepared ahead of time to know what awaited me. Now, can I go see the Angry Birds Movie again? That had heart. That had pacing. This did not! Save me Finding Dory- save me from this sequel misery! Oh and Independence Day: Resurgence- that looks good too. Your regularly scheduled non-rant review will hopefully be back in a few weeks.
Sometimes, a supporting cast does better than it's leads. I think Alan Rickman knew what he was getting into when doing this- and so did Sacha Baron Cohen.
Rated PG (contains some disturbing scenes.)
This review is dedicated to the memory of Alan Rickman. Always.....
THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE: *** 1/2
How do I describe this film in a way that is easy to understand? I for one, really enjoyed this film. It's no Zootopia, but it sure is something. If you have played the hit mobile game that reached it's peak long before this film's release, then you will understand it well. It takes everything I loved about the games and fleshes it out successfully to fit a hour and a half film. And if you didn't play the games- then you will be lost the moment the film starts... So where do we begin?
WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS. DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT IF YOU HAVEN'T PLAYED THE GAMES.
So, we all know that every time those darned pigs go after the bird's eggs, they get mad and nuts! But how did this all start in the first place? Well, for one, we now know why Red (played with all the sarcastic charm and charisma you'd expect from Jason Sudekis of Horrible Bosses fame) is so frustated with his life- he was bullied as a young bird for his big, bushy eyebrows. But he isn't alone. After being told by the island's bird judge (no, I'm not kidding) that he needs some anger management, he meets the speedster yellow bird Chuck (voiced by Josh Gad, who was also in Frozen and Pixels) and the explosive Bomb (voiced by Danny McBride). But once the contradicting pigs led by Leonard the King Pig (Bill Hader of Inside Out fame) arrive on Bird Island, the gloves are off. It is here I had way more fun watching the film than I possibly imagined, and the references get off the wall. Side characters like the Mighty Eagle (Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage) are then fleshed out via backstory, and we finally find out where the infamous slingshot came from- you'd never expect it! And lastly, the main theme from the games is used to great effect during the film- I couldn't help but smile the first time it popped up!
NOTE: HERE END SPOILERS. SKIP TO HERE IF YOU HAVEN'T PLAYED THE GAMES.
Well, weird cameos and somewhat uneven writing are this film's only main weak points, and the supporting cast (Maya Rudolph, Sean Penn, Blake Shelton, and Peter Dinklage) all excel at their best. Play the games if you haven't yet, and then go watch the movie (you can just see it if you have played the games). It's cute, funny when it needs to be, and the adult jokes fly fast. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Rated PG (contains rude humor, adult jokes, and brief language.)
When the concept and plot of the animated film ZOOTOPIA was first announced, I was intrigued. A city made by animals? That's the ballsiest thing Disney has ever done! And the film itself? Well, let's just say that while being well written and timely in it's message, it definitely loses steam during the third act. With strong voice acting performances from Ginnifer Goodwin (who shines as Judy Hopps, a bunny who wants to fulfill her dream of being a police officer), Jason Bateman (starring as the sarcastic, somewhat pessimistic, and clever con artist fox Nick Wilde) and supporting performances from Academy Award(R) winners JK Simmons and Octavia Spencer, Emmy Award(R) nominee Idris Elba, and Shakira, this one is full of wit, emotional moments, perfectly timed humor, and surprises. If the fan art isn't enough to convince you, go see it now!
Rated PG (contains some perilous situations and adult jokes.)
STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS: **** (NO MAJOR SPOILERS, I PROMISE!) Going into a screening of the 7th installment of the long running space opera, I truly did not know what to expect. Having mostly stayed away from spoilers and seeing the film late, I knew my patience should be rewarded. And rewarded I was. From the moment the opening crawl begins, we are treated to a galaxy turned upside down by the Empire offshoot First Order. Shockers, hissy fits, and a new rebellion bent on destroying yet another Death Star make this film a worthwhile experience. Retreading aside, don't be surprised to see this as an OSCAR threat.
Rated PG-13 (contains intense sci-fi violence, disturbing images, and some instances of language.)
THE MARTIAN: **** 1/2
Famous ALIEN director Ridley Scott probably pitched this film with four words: CAST AWAY in Space. But instead of hanging out with a volleyball, our main character Mark Watney (played masterfully by Matt Damon) uses Mythbusters-style science, unusual growing methods for crops, and his wit to make it through five or so years on Mars. After his mission crew (portayed by Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig and others) mistakenly leave Watney behind on Mars after a freak sandstorm, he is forced to survive. There is humor, drama, and a excellent supporting cast to boot, and to not spoil anything more, shall I say that this is recommended viewing!
Rated PG-13 (contains a graphic scene, intense images, and some language.)