Thursday, February 27, 2014

The LEGO Movie

    Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller must be psychic, because this movie was almost perfect for me, and has quickly become my most recommended flick. It has incredible depth; not only does it combine combine rich and unique comedy with surprisingly thrilling (and not to mention equally unique) action sequences, it also appeals just as much to me as the 8 year old kids who flocked in to see their dream movie. On top of all that, the stunning animating and wonderful voice acting (along with some very exciting cameos) left me with a giddy smile for the whole 100 minutes, which stayed on my face well after I pulled back into my driveway.

   As an aspiring animator myself, the thing that stuck out most to me during the film was the animation. Lord and Miller also worked on the stunning Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which had animation closer to the norm. But what makes The Lego Movie's animation so unique is the illusion of stop-motion technique. Throughout the film, I was sitting in my chair not knowing whether to devote my attention to the art or the laughs. It is seriously impressive that they were able to make their computer animations look like production-level real LEGO stop motion movies. (There are some very impressive home made videos out there). They imitated this style by only using sequences that would work under the laws of LEGO. i.e. feet had to be placed in the holes on the floor, hands couldn't hold anything that didn't have a holding bar, etc. This really drew sympathy from me and all of those who struggled with the limitations of live LEGOs. In addition, the attention to detail was very impressive: they even went so far as to use some real lego sets and to make some of the characters hold imperfections so as to look used. To note the detail and incredible artwork, you don't even have to look further than the trailer. Please, please take a second and just focus on each small movement. Then watch it again for the hilarious writing.

   Lord and Miller went with a fairly safe storyline in making this movie: a seemingly normal guy who turns out to be "the one", featuring the plot driving (and cleverly named) piece de resistance—the only weapon to stop the Kraggle. I think, however, that this relatively overdone plot is acceptable in this situation. The movie is, advertised at least, for kids, so the story would be easily lost in the minds of the youngsters anyways. That also leaves more room to appreciate the animation and comedic talent featured in the film. Adding to the story were some great LEGO (not acting) cameos that not everyone can truly appreciate.
DC United
There is a very satisfying appearance made by some quality Justice League characters (Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Superman, and Flash), with Batman playing a more permanent role. A lesser known Ninjago shows up in the forum, a new addition to the LEGO family. The 2002 NBA All Stars! What could be better? Oh, I don't know, maybe a nerdgasm-inducing fly-by featuring the Millennium Falcon and crew? I think it's safe to say there was plenty to keep you occupied during viewing.

   Did you notice all of the voices behind the pasted on faces of the LEGOs? My guess is you didn't, because there were 14 people that I would consider "stars". Can I name them all for you? I'm going to anyways (in order of their role's importance): Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrel, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Jonah Hill, Will Forte, Keegan Michael Key (sans Peele), and finally, oh yeah, Shaq. Shaq's digital presence has been almost as massive as his suits lately. Will Ferrel, a king of comedy, in a movie with some of my favorite tv stars in Day, Pratt, Key, and Brie. Every new character put me further and further in awe. The fact that big names such as Hill and Forte only have one line goes to show how impressive this cast is. And paired with the animators, they nailed every punch line. Every new scene sent the audience roaring with laughter, while subtle jokes kept a constant giggle. This isn't much of a surprise, seeing how Lord and Miller were also responsible for the 21 Jump Street reboot, a film with endless re-watching potential. Plus, the depth of the film was overwhelming.
Starbucks, anyone?
One one hand, there were a multitude of jokes clearly not meant for the little kids: references to pricy coffee, an old quote from Abe Lincoln, the 2002 NBA all star team, a sly homage to Terminator ("come with me if you want to not die"), an Austin Powers reference baby, a perfectly timed Bionicles touch, and not to mention one that sent me off my seat: Batman's "he's the hero you deserve", which is a hilarious nod to the brilliant scene in Batman: The Dark Knight. On the other hand, there were subtle nuances and themes of existential crises, as well as multi layered conversations that some weren't in the mood to analyze.

   However, I can't finish this post without asking the one burning question i had walking out of the theater: why the live action sequence? Look, I get what you were trying to do. Transcend the fantasy world to show that the themes in the movie can apply to real life. Maybe just to have real world resolve between childish father and son, to show that the magic of the movie can apply to real life. But to be perfectly honest, it really didn't translate well into live action. First of all, I'm a massive fan of Will Ferrel, but I don't want to see him getting all sentimental. Secondly, it turned what was an incredibly well thought out and fantastical movie that allowed us to suspend our disbelief, to a movie about the imaginings of an everyday kid. Somehow, it just made it so much less special and personal.

    That being said, The LEGO Movie is one that was expertly crafted on all fronts, and although it was basically a massive ad for LEGO, it was one that can bring a surplus of laughs upon multiple re-viewings.



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

    Here goes. My first entry. My first time writing outside of English class or my Personal Statement. I think I'm in way over my head. Shout out to Giles Scott, my English teacher from Manchester, Josh Cain, a fellow student with talent beyond his years, and Bill Simmons, whose reputation should precede him. What do these three have in common? They all have blogs, from which I drew inspiration—I advise you to click their links. DO IT. DOO ITT. No? Nothing? Maybe there's a better Starsky and Hutch quote I can use in the future. Maybe there's a better movie I can quote from in the future. But enough rambling, time to man up and cut to the chase. Time to talk about The Great Gats-I mean The Wolf of Wall Street.

    I'd like to start by talking about one of the most powerful scenes in any movie and one that set the stage for the remainder of Wolf: Matthew Mcconaughey's chest bump chant. This was heavily featured in trailers preceding the release of the film, and rightfully so. In it, Mccounaughey embodies the ideal (wording?) Wall Street fiend. He is headstrong, stoned, influential, and jubilant, with an aura of confidence that has well past overflowed into cockiness. I say influential because, as viewers, we know that all these traits will envelop the dreamy Leo, only stronger, and more psychotic. After seeing him in this movie, preceded by compelling acting in Mud and followed by an increasingly entrancing and complex performance in True Detectives, I have fallen in love with Mcconaughey. And I haven't even seen Dallas Buyers Club yet (I know, shame shame). In short, I thought he perfectly sprung into action the events that would transform our blessed Jordy Belfort, even though he had a meager 20 minutes of screen time out of a whopping 180.

   I watched this movie in Park City (I live in Los Angeles) on a family ski vacation. The snow (or should I say ice) was so bad that I fell 20 times per day instead of my usual 15, and the majority of the time I was skiing over rocks and the hopeful buddings of pine trees. Anyways, I went into the theater having an idea of how raunchy it would be, but my older sister said there was no way she was sitting anywhere but on the aisle. So, I somehow ended up snuggled in between my loving mother and father, whose minds (and mine) were about to be blown to shreds. Roll opening credits. Martin Scorsese, Paramount Pictures, etc. Some guys, some I recognize, throwing little people. Ok. Some exposition. Ok. Some road head from one of the most beautiful women i've ever seen. Fine, could be worse. Lots of expensive things. Then BAM! Scorsese hits me with this (skip to 1:26). While our little lovebird Jack Dawson blows coke into a hooker's ass, I am left quivering in fear, knowing full well that my parents are stealing reproachful glances at each other. Don't get me wrong—it was a great opening sequence... just one I would have preferred to watch in the privacy of... well anywhere far away from Mom and Dad.

    I think we can all agree on three things: Leonardo DiCaprio plays a near perfect wasted stock broker; this movie is way too long; and Margo Robbie is topped by few when it comes to beauty and seductive capabilities. (See F.1)
F.1: This is exactly how she
makes me feel, too
Leo did what he does best: he was charming, manic, and ambitious. But he was also able to let us in; he gave us an opportunity to look past the pretty face. He had plenty of time to develop his character and display it's grand arc, and he took full advantage of it. During his first meeting with McConaughey, Jordy was a timid young blood with nothing but his instinct and a twinkle of ambition in his eyes. By the end, that twinkle morphed, albeit as a result of the wildly dangerous (but hilarious) Quaaludes, into an illumination of greed which came to overpower any possible sense—this is shown by his decision to stay with the company when he had the chance to get out while he could. He also had one of the most lunatic drugged out scenes I have ever witnessed, as he struggled to persevere through his highly volatile overdose on expired Ludes. I wanted to laugh out loud at the full body acting, but my sympathy held back those immature desires. Dicaprio was accompanied by Jonah Hill, Margo Robbie, and Kyle Chandler, among other impressive cameos.
Jonah's grin
gives Gary Busey's a run
for its money
Jonah Hill plays Donnie Azoff, who falls into Belfort's trap willingly, quitting his job and signing for Jordy after seeing his car. Hill was absolutely hilarious, and it earned him a well-deserved oscar nod as a result (2 and counting, who said stoners cant act?). Robbie plays the trophy wife, called the Duchess, who goes from adoring mistress to betrayed mother. While she didn't have the most demanding role, she did a fantastic job of displaying the mistreatment by a power hungry money grubber like Leo. And apparently, when he isn't melting hearts in the immortalized Friday Night Lights, coach Taylor, A.K.A. Kyle Chandler A.K.A. agent Denham, hunts down wolves with a surprising amount of wit and ferocity.

     I wasn't surprised by the impact or controversy of the film. Almost every normal citizen I talked to hated it, regardless of age. "No story, all fluff, too much gratuitous sex, drugs, etc.". While I am a fan, found it highly entertaining, and would watch it agin, I also found problems with Wolf. While it did a fantastic job displaying the rise and fall of the thieves in thousand dollar suits, it also failed to provide the refreshing perspective that I craved at least a taste of. Only once, and briefly, was there any mention of the pain suffered by those who were cheated out of their hard earned green. While you could argue that they willingly "invested" their money and kept coming back for more, it is clear that there was no intention of helping the "top 1 percent". As Mcconaughey put it nicely, "move the money from your clients' pocket into your pocket". I can't complain about a lack of plot, because that isn't what I entered the theater for. It would be hard to relate to a man who made just shy of a million a week. But the film seemed fairly one dimensional, with hardly anything to take away from it when you throw your ticket stub away.