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Out in Theaters: ‘THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE’

A visual sugar rush, The Lego Batman is Bayhem for 5-year olds. A skittle-colored collision of kid-friendly set pieces and jokes that never manage to be as clever or irreverent as its predecessor, even when peppered with good-natured and adult-oriented laughs throughout, this overactive spinoff hosts a collection of pop culture friendly winks and nods with references spanning the last 60 years of cinema but the overabundance of side characters and endless maze of action sequences leaves the animated film feeling dizzying, muddled, overwrought and headache-inducing. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING’

It was 2003 when I first stumbled across the The Lonely Island. Their rib-tickling send-up of soapy MTV teen dramas ‘The Bu’ played top billing on Channel 101, an off-color, online shorts fest where hungry filmmakers featured their work gratis for weirdos like myself to ingest. Credit Frazzles the Squirrel (and his unfaltering demand for removing and reapplying one’s 3D glasses) for inviting those curious few to investigate these Lonely Island boys down a certifiable rabbit hole of YouTube oddities starring Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer. Preeminently awkward shorts from the Lonely Island trio included such deadpan standouts as ‘Just 2 Guyz” (later adapted into ‘We Like Sports’ for their 2009 album Incredibad), ‘The Backseatsman’ and ‘Ka-Blamo!’. After a momentous run on SNL that saw the three breach viral numbers with just about every digital short they dropped, Sandberg, Taccone and Schaffer have reunited for their second feature film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and have demonstrated that though their production value may be more refined and expensive than ever and their cameo catalogue infinitely more vast, their comedic stylings have adamantly refused to mature, a tendency which proves to be both a gift and a curse for The Lonely Island and their creative offspring.     Read More

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Out in Theaters: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

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Like eating an entire pepperoni pizza to yourself, Jonathan Liebesman‘s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an exercise in corpulent gluttony. The jocular quips drip just as much cheese as the pizzas they scarf. An unnaturally meretricious Megan Fox oozes virginal sex like fat from a pepperoni. The CG eye-candy glistens like glitter on a stripper. But like that greasy, calorie bomb of a meatlover’s pizza in the wreckage of a hangover, it works. The solitary fart joke even lands.

Like Norville Barnes, people have insisted this effort is, you know, for the kids, but I’m not entirely convinced. Firstly, TMNT rides in on the parent-frightening PG-13 wave, even though the violence is inconsequential and entirely bloodless. And involves turtles. Add to that the fact that a good spell of the humor riffs around a few hardly risible rapey jokes and the fact that one of the turtles courts an unrequited sexual obsession with Fox’s April O’Neill. From this we can pretty much conclude this isn’t solely intended for the kids. Unless they’re really into rape jokes now.

Continuing on that note…WAIT WHAT?! Are you telling me that not one but two of the characters (Will Arnett, shame on you) actively promulgate the fact that they want to lay a bone down on our pea-brained female protagonist? Even though she’s more 6th grade science fair student here than voluptuous femme fatale? Yes. And yes. Hmmm, I think I might be talking myself out of semi-liking this movie.

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But I can admit up front that this was never a movie crafted with me in mind, making the fact that I found myself under the spell of a fair many turtle-chortles all the more miraculous. Not with the rapey stuff though. That’s still pretty weird.

In lieu of turtles forcing themselves on supple female jokes, what does actually work is the brothers themselves. Hell, why not throw that into the catalogue of adjectives to precede the word turtle: Teenage Mutant Ninja Brother Turtles! Because when you really break it down, the defining feature of this film adaption is the familial aspect of it. That and bulletproof shells.  

I’m getting ahead of myself and thinking it’s probably time to actually break down the plot, as if that’s really a requirement for a movie called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Fox is April O’Neil, a low rent reporter with stars in her eyes. She wants the big stories. It’s Pulitzer or bust. Concurrently, she’s straight up bummed when she gets assigned news stories that have her bouncing on trampolines for the latest fitness craze. As if that’s a coincidence.

When she gets wind of a local terrorist group known as the “Foot Clan”, April takes matters into her own hands and decides to investigate Watergate style. Minutes later, she’s discovered the existence of the shell-bound ninjas. Soon after that, she realizes they’re the product of her own dead father’s experiment. Minds are blown.

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As April cohorts with the turts, the judiciously evil Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) schemes with the blatantly bad, full metal jacketed Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). Their plan, world domination. Their strategy, does it really matter?

Step one: poison city. Step two: everyone’s a leper. Step three: sell cure for ONE MILLION DOLLARS! (Pinky to lip). It may be Doctor Evil-level silliness but, let’s be very clear here, Shredder is confirmed BA. The guy has a smattering of swords that he shoots out like they’re Spiderman goo and then sucks back up magnetically. If I may quote Jesse Pinkman, “Magnets bitch!!” It makes for some pretty geeky nerdgasms. Especially when everything is all fuzzy and scrambled.

Liebesman’s scenery is draped with clumpy snow, which not only got me excited for next year’s skiing season but set the table for some exquisite “high” stakes action sequences. As the set pieces comes to life, the cameras zip around like on a Nimbus 2000, keeping things hectic, fluid and fun. Though the Turtles keep their weapons mostly holstered, Liebesman whips his out like a kid leaving summer camp. His touch is perfectly puerile, his tone nefariously juvenile.

As TMNT rips to a rather forecasted conclusion, it’s quite clear that Liebesman’s goal has been accomplished. His film is a puckering cherry bomb. But rather than blow up in his face, it erupts in the toilet. Us feckless few snicker. His film is crapulously inconsequential. It’s the epitome of dumb summer movie. And it pulls in at under an hour and 45 minutes. For that alone, it’s way better than the latest Transformers flick.

C

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Out in Theaters: THE LEGO MOVIE

“The Lego Movie”
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Starring Chris Pratt, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie
Animation, Action, Comedy
100 Mins
PG

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Dripping with commercial appeal and name brand recognition, The Lego Movie could have easily joined the ranks of previous toy-turned-tale blockbusters. With the likes of Transformers and Battleship, studios have established a shady history of leaning on bankable properties to churn out flimsy showcases that add up to little more than an audio assault and visual fireworks, a cheap attempt to capitalize on audience familiarity and earn a quick buck. While those movies sifted our childlike glee through a filter of blue-toned, sensory bombardment, attempting to twist our arms in hopes of nostalgic forgiveness and financial reward, The Lego Movie goes the completely opposite route and awards those hankering to see their favorite childhood toys onscreen with a gleefully told story of epic Lego magnitude. Irreverent and hyper-self-aware, this adaptation takes everything we loved about the buildable blocks and seamlessly weaves it into a startlingly awesome and fully engaging narrative about creativity, imagination and encouragement, resulting in the best animated movie since 2010’s Toy Story 3.

At the center of the Legoverse, lovable goof Chris Pratt voices Emett, a run-of-the-mill construction worker figure who tries his darnedest to assimilate with the uber-chipper Lego society marching in perfect formation around him. In Emett’s city, uniformity is the bee’s knees. Everyone loves the same song (“Everything is Awesome”), watches the same TV show (“Where Are My Pants?”) and has the same water cooler conversations day in and day out.

It’s a society structured around structure, a sociopolitical climate that’s laid out with instruction booklets (*wink*) and enforced with hive mind mentality. And no matter how hard Emett tries to fit in, he’s just so extraordinarily ordinary that people hardly remember his face (well that may be the result of everyone’s face being composed of same shade of iconic yellow, plastered with a smile and bulbous black eyes.) So when Emett stumbles upon a coveted brick and is mistakenly identified as “The Special”, he goes along with it. He allows new ally Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) to believe that he’s a world class master builder because it’s the first time anyone has ever recognized potential in him.

Behind the scenes, President Business (a perfectly wacky Will Ferrell) secretly runs the show, cunningly steering the fate of the city’s inhabitants, hell bent on a maniacal scheme to unleash the ghastly Kragle, a weapon so devastating that it will forever glue the world into its proper place With Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) at his every beck and call, Business is out to destroy creativity as well as Emmet, the supposed harbinger of prophecy, and his fellowship of master builders.

Backed by enough voice cameos to keep you wracking your brain and a solid heap of characters pulled in from nearly every imaginable franchise, Lego is overflowing with talent. You’ll find the likes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day as an 80’s astronaut, Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett as Batman, Will Forte, Jonah Hill, Nick Offerman, Cobie Smulders, Channing Tatum, Jake Johnson and even Morgan Freeman‘s sultry tenor all giving rock solid voice performances that aid the laughing stock The Lego Movie becomes.

With Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creative minds behind the first Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the recently rebooted and well-received 21 Jump Street, at the helm, the project has just as much focus placed on the comedy as the storyline and stylish animation. Accordingly, the jokes fly a mile a minute.

But beneath it all is a genuine heartbeat. Emett’s journey is a common hero’s quest but his goofy antics and self-sacrificing ways provide an emotional basis for our ongoing investment in his arc. Driving home a message that everyone’s special may be a little pear-shaped in the age of the Great Recession but there’s something intentionally ironic behind all the hackneyed encouragement. Maybe The Lego Movie would like to tell us we’re all special but that’s a message that only lingers on the surface. Beneath that, Lord and Miller reach out and say “We know that’s not true, but that’s still cool.”

The film is loaded with irreverent, double entendre moments like this, a self-aware meta angle that makes the experience just as much rewarding for adults as it is for kids. The screenwriting duo even take potshots at the lesser regarded Lego properties to great comic effect. Rarely taking a break from tongue-in-cheek mockery of Business, who for all intents is a place holding satire of the very company footing the bill for this movie, their voice is strangely misaligned with the lousy money-grubbing staples of the industry. They preach thinking outside the box while the inevitable accompanying merchandise will deal in exactly this kind of box-set salesmanship. Just eat up that irony.

Going back to the kids, those sugar-stuffed Ritalinites are sure to just eat this up as the partially CGI, partially stop-motion visual style is mind-boggling enough to make even a surly old man’s jaw drop much less a wide-eyed youngster. Cross the delectable ratio of genuine belly laughs with the crafty visual palette and Miller and Lord deserve a hearty pat on the back. Congratulations guys, you’ve made the best animated film in years.

A-

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