Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Alison Brie
The Lego Movie marks the latest step in the recent diversification of the Lego Group, producers of everyone’s favourite colourful, interlocking construction toys. The last decade-and-a-half has seen them produce a series of best-selling video games and DVDs, but a $60 million motion picture backed by Warner Brothers represents arguably their most ambitious step yet. However, rather than feeling like a film made by a toy company, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the writer/directors behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, have delivered a film that is surprisingly clever, creative and funny.
The Lego world is under the control of the tyrannical Lord Business. Business likes logic and order. He separates the Lego world into different realms, keeping the city of Bricksburgh separate from the Old West, Pirate Cove, Clown Town and the rest. He encourages people to follow the instructions and stifles creativity. But there is a prophecy that tells of the Special, “the most talented, most interesting and most extraordinary person in the universe,” who will reunite the Master Builders and remove Business from power. Somehow, the Special turns out to be Emmett, a simple, lonely construction worker from Bricksburgh. He is identified by the spunky heroine Wyldstyle who takes him to meet the Master Builders so they can prepare for their assault on Lord Business. Oh, and of course Emmett becomes quite smitten with Wyldstyle. But she has a boyfriend… and he’s Batman.
The Lego Movie is all about imagination, both in its form and its content. Visually, the film presents us with a world in which everything is made from Lego. And when I say everything is made from Lego, I mean everything. Buildings, vehicles, landscapes, water, fire, all Lego. But rather than this limiting the scope of the film, it makes it entirely limitless. The internal logic which guides the film is that of a child’s imagination. Rather than being kept separate and adhering to real world story logic, the different realms of the Lego world intermingle resulting in an amazingly diverse story where our characters include Batman, cowboys, the cast of Star Wars, Abraham Lincoln, pirates, Gandalf, Michelangelo (both the Renaissance artist and the ninja turtle), space men and Shaquille O’Neal.
A fun, irreverent adventure that feels a bit like Toy Story meets Inception or The Matrix, the film’s narrative reinforces this focus on imagination and individual creativity by taking its lead from the very toys which inspire it. Yes, Lego comes with instructions but the real fun is to be had when the instructions are thrown out and your imagination takes over. So while Lord Business desires order and conformity, our heroes are the Master Builders whose creativity enables them to see the potential of their surroundings, enabling them to dismantle the world around them to build something new.
The Lego Movie is magnificently animated by the team from Australian animation house Animal Logic. The animation, while clear and vibrant, has a slightly clunky quality to it which works perfectly with the limited pliability of Lego figurines. This animation is then complemented by a strong voice cast including Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell. You get the impression that these funny people have been given a little bit of freedom in their characterisation, so while the film is very much G-rated in its content, the humour has the same patterns and rhythms of today’s more successful comedies.
With creativity and originality in mainstream animation appearing to have plateaued over the last couple of years, The Lego Movie feels fresh and exciting. Clever, funny and with enough heart to prevent it from being a cynical product promotion, it is possibly the best animated feature since Toy Story 3.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Lego Movie? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen
Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline. Between them they boast five Academy Awards and a further nine nominations. With Last Vegas the stars have aligned, enabling these four greats of the screen to come together and do the least ambitious work of their career. One can only assume that the lure of an easy pay cheque for a few weeks of not particularly demanding work with some old friends in Las Vegas was too good for them to turn down. However, just because they might have had fun making the film doesn’t mean that you are going to have fun watching it.
Billy, Paddy, Archie and Sam have been the best of friends since they were kids, but as they hit their twilight years, life has got a bit tougher. Paddy’s wife has passed, Archie has had a stroke, Sam has lost his spark. When Billy, the eternal bachelor, announces that he is engaged to a woman young enough to be his daughter, Archie and Sam decide that a bachelor party in Las Vegas is just what the group needs to put a bit of a spring back into their step. But such an event means bringing together Billy and Paddy, who have had a falling out.
Obviously trying to tap into the success of The Hangover (at least the first one) and Bridesmaids – two films which in their best moments were quite subversive – this tale of old men behaving badly sets the bar pretty low. Last Vegas is exactly what you imagine it is going to be and nothing more. You get bombarded with cheap laughs about bad hips, medication, poor hearing, obliviousness to popular culture and, of course, Viagra.
Douglas, De Niro and Freeman are all playing to type; Douglas as the sleaze, De Niro as the curmudgeon and Freeman as the irreverent old guy with a bit of perspective on life. It is only Kline who succeeds in creating a vibrant and engaging character, which is problematic as the lion’s share of screen time goes to the less interesting dramatic conflict between Douglas’s Billy and De Niro’s Paddy. Mary Steenburgen, as lounge singer who catches the eye of both Billy and Paddy, is quite charming and proves herself to have quite a voice.
You can’t help but feel the whole film is summed up in one particularly low moment which sees Robert De Niro, one of the absolute legends of the American cinema, sit uncomfortably while LMFAO singer and X-Factor Australia judge Redfoo thrusts his speedo clad crotch into his face. In the end the goodwill engendered by the quality cast only goes so far in disguising what is otherwise an entirely unremarkable piece of fluff.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster
After watching Olympus has Fallen the makers of the Die Hard franchise must have been kicking themselves. How did they not think of this first? Olympus has Fallen is ‘Die Hard in the White House,’ but instead of Jon McClane, our one man army is Gerard Butler’s Secret Service agent Mike Banning.
Formerly a part of the Presidential Detail, Banning was stood down after a car accident cost the First Lady her life. Banning just happens to be in the vicinity of the White House, codename Olympus, when a group of North Korean terrorists attack the capital. With terrifying brutality, speed and precision, they take the building and the President as their hostage, but in the frenzy of the assault Banning works his way inside. With the rest of the military unable to enter the building for fear of prompting the terrorists to assassinate the President, Banning finds himself the nation’s only hope. But for him it is about more than just a sense of duty to his country. Banning feels a personal responsibility to protect the President and his son, and this moment provides him the opportunity for redemption not only in their eyes, but in his own.
While North Korea is a pretty safe bet for Hollywood to source its villains from – American films don’t get released in North Korea so there is no danger of alienating a potential audience – the film does emphasise the point that these particular villains are terrorists not acting under the guidance of Pyongyang. It is a peculiar moment of thoughtful diplomacy in a screenplay that is otherwise pretty simple and unthinking. It is a story you just have to go with without asking questions, no matter how far-fetched and improbable things get. The White House, undoubtedly one of the best protected buildings on the face of the Earth, is taken down in 12 minutes by a team of terrorists whose secret appears to be that they brought lots of guns and had some semblance of a plan? Don’t question it. Just go with it, because, much like Die Hard, the movie really starts once everyone is inside and everything before that is just setup.
As should be expected of a blockbuster about a siege on the White House, Olympus has Fallen is pretty gung-ho with its patriotism. You get your fair share of Stars and Stripes, whether in flames and falling to the ground, or fluttering triumphantly in the breeze. The movie’s plot device also allows us two Hollywood Presidents for the price of one. Aaron Eckhart as President Benjamin Asher, is the action hero President typified by Harrison Ford in Air Force One. We are introduced to him early in the film as he enjoys a sparring session in the ring with Banning (this introductory scene is intended to give us insight into the nature of both characters, particularly through Banning’s willingness to put one on the chin of the Commander and Chief). He is tough and brave and in the thick of the action. Morgan Freeman plays Speaker Trumble, who is promoted to Acting President for the duration of the hostage crisis. As you would expect of a Morgan Freeman character, Trumble is wise, thoughtful and measured. So between the two of them we manage to both of Hollywood’s favourite patriotic Presidential depictions.
The similarities to Die Hard mean that Olympus has Fallen will feel incredibly familiar and comfortable for fans of the action thriller genre. Butler has tried a number of different things over the years: he’s been a romantic lead, he’s done comedy, he’s done Shakespeare, and he was even the Phantom of the Opera. But the action thriller appears to be where he is most at home. Butler, Eckhart and Freemen are surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Angela Basset, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott and Ashley Judd, and while director Antoine Fuqua – of Training Day fame – doesn’t break any new ground, he delivers a well-crafted action film that, ironically, trumps A Good Day to Die Hard as the best Die Hard of the year.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Emma Fuhrmann, Virginia Madsen, Madeline Carroll, Nicolette Pierini, Ash Christian, Fred Willard, Kenan Thompson, Kevin Pollak
Monte Wildhorn is a grumpy old man. Once a respected author of Western epics, he has not written a word since the death of his wife. Instead, the wheelchair-bound curmudgeon has devoted himself fulltime to his drinking. One summer his nephew organises him a summer house in the small town of Belle Isle for him to stay at and clear his head. The house comes with a dog and neighbours – a recent divorcee and her three young daughters. As the summer goes on, Monte lets down his guard and with the help of some new friends this old and broken man rediscovers the will to write, to live and to love.
The Magic of Belle Isle is a reunion for Morgan Freeman and director Rob Reiner, who previously worked together on The Bucket List, another exploration of growing old. Reiner is, unfortunately, not the filmmaker he was in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he put together one of the most impressive and diverse bodies of work you’ll see from a Hollywood director. What was impressive about Reiner at his peak was his versatility. In an eight year period between 1984 and 1992, Reiner directed the greatest mockumentary ever made, This is Spinal Tap; a great coming-of-age tale, Stand by Me; a much loved children’s fantasy story, The Princess Bride; one of the best romantic comedies of its era, When Harry Met Sally; a Stephen King horror/thriller, Misery; and a courtroom drama, A Few Good Men. Not only is that a streak of great diversity, it is a streak of really high quality filmmaking. In recent times though, Reiner seems to have lost that versatility or at least lost the desire to try different things. He now tends to favour overly sentimental schmaltz (see the aforementioned The Bucket List), and this is more of the same. The Magic of Belle Isle is pretty uninspiring work from a once-impressive filmmaker.
But being uninspiring doesn’t mean the film is unenjoyable. Morgan Freeman possesses everybody’s favourite speaking voice and his character, being an author, is quite eloquent. So, one of the real pleasures of this film is simply listening to Morgan Freeman saying some quite lovely things. The relationships that Monte forms with the adventurous nine-year-old next door, a local young man with a mental illness and the old Labrador he reluctantly finds himself responsible for, are all fun to watch develop.
The Magic of Belle Isle can be sickly-sweet and predictable, but it is still warm and affectionate. Despite its present day setting it feels like it takes place in a simpler time, when people actually had time for one another. It is a lovely, feel-good story, simply told. It is not going to challenge you or make you think and it probably won’t stay with you, but for the hour-and-three-quarters that you spend with it you will be smiling.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean