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: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann, Peter Stormare
If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. That’s right, the little boy and girl who got lost in the woods and found themselves in a witches cottage made of candy are all grown up, and armed with an arsenal of medieval machine guns and crossbows they travel the countryside ridding towns of their witches.
The Brothers Grimm’ tale is the latest in a growing number of traditional fairy tales to get Hollywood revisions in recent years. In 2011 we had Red Riding Hood, last year we had a double dose of Snow White with Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, and Jack the Giant Slayer is due to hit our screens in March. In actuality Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was shot two years ago and Paramount have been waiting for the right moment to let it out. This provides some answers for those people wondering what on earth Jeremy Renner was doing in this after appearing in genuine blockbusters like The Avengers, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Bourne Legacy.
The first time I saw a poster for this movie I shook my head. When I saw the trailer it just made me a bit sad. Surely this had to be one of the most ridiculous premises for a movie yet, I thought. But then I saw it and guess what, it is ridiculous… but it isn’t terrible.
Don’t get ahead of yourself, it is far from being good, but it isn’t terrible. Where it drops the ball is that it doesn’t seem to realise that it is ridiculous. Ridiculousness in itself is not a bad thing. Had the filmmakers embraced the ridiculousness of the notion that Hansel and Gretel might grow up to be arse-kicking supernatural bounty hunters they could have played it up a bit, earned a bit of camp appeal and maybe even gathered a cult following. Instead the movie seems to take itself a bit too seriously, surprising given that Will Ferrel and Adam McKay of Anchorman fame are among its producers.
While most of the movie is pretty inane, there are moments of cleverness. For example, not only did their childhood experience set them on the path to their present day profession, it has also left Hansel a diabetic, suffering from “the sugar sickness” and requiring regular insulin injections.
In a movie that is so predictable that you feel like you know what is around every corner, the one thing that is surprising about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is how schlocky it is. While the premise seems to suggest a very light gothic horror, the movie has a lot of blood, a surprising amount of coarse language and even a little bit of nudity. As a result it has been given an MA15+ rating (R in the USA) which will surely only serve to restrict the access of the primary demographic who might have been persuaded to think Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters sounded like a good idea.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Matt Piedmont
Starring: Will Ferrell, Genesis Rodriguez, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Efren Ramirez, Adrian Martinez, Nick Offerman
Will Ferrell is probably the biggest name going around in comedy movies at the moment, so it seems amazing that a Will Ferrell comedy could fly under the radar as much as Casa de mi Padre (‘My Father’s House’) has. That is, until you see it. Then it all makes sense.
Ferrell plays Armando, the simple son – simple both in terms of intellect and in terms of what he wants out of life – of a Mexican rancher. One day his more successful brother, Raul, his father’s favourite, returns home with a new fiancée in tow. But Raul brings trouble with him as unbeknownst to the family, his success has come as a result of his work in the drugs trade, and his fiancée is the runaway neice of the local drug lord, Onza.
What makes this movie different from every other Will Ferrell movie, and provides both the movie’s primary point of interest and the number one reason that it has nowhere near the profile of his other work, is that it is almost entirely in Spanish. Casa de mi Padre pretends to be some cross between a cheap, Mexican B-movie Western and a Telemundo Spanish soap opera. Credit should be given to Ferrell who spent a month working with a dialect coach to get his Spanish dialogue down pat and appears to hold his own alongside a cast of native Spanish speakers, albeit in the opinion of a non-Spanish speaker.
For what is clearly meant to be a comedy though, there aren’t really that many gags. Instead the film relies on that premise – that it is pretending to be a poorly made Mexican melodrama – to get its laughs. So we get constant breaks in continuity, obvious painted backdrops, bad puppets in place of animals and actors being replaced by mannequins at for dangerous moments. There is even a moment where in place of a scene we get a letter from the 2nd Assistant Cameraman apologising that we won’t get to see a particularly exciting scene due to a terrible accident that resulted from poorly trained animals. While this premise might work quite well for a sketch, or even a series of sketches, on Saturday Night Live, it has been stretched really thin to reach even the relatively short runtime of 84 minutes. As a result the laughs are few and far between.
Rating – ★
Review by Duncan McLean