LEGO Batman: Yup, Still Good

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I can’t tell you how kids will feel about this movie, though based on what my brother has told me about my nephew I suspect they’d be pretty excited. Personally, I thought it was hilarious. Perhaps more impressive, Lego Batman somehow managed to reprise the meta-level commentary and self-awareness of The LEGO Movie without simply copying the same shtick. This is a Batman movie that makes Batman (and Batman movies) a part of the punchline as well as the setup, and revels in that the entire way through without feeling mean-spirited about it at any point. It helps that they’re using basically the same Batman character from The Lego Movie, appropriately heroic and usually annoying as hell at the same time. It gives him plenty of opportunities for character growth. It’s a good movie.

This movie also does something that I admire in any story that takes place in a series, or as part of an ongoing story-world: I don’t think there’s any need for the viewer to be familiar with the rest of the Batman mythos in order to enjoy this. For one thing, the movie makes most of its other setting references explicit. For another, all of the issues at hand are so well established that there’s no need for outside sources. You might benefit from knowing more about other Batman stories, but they’re not strictly necessary.

And as I implied at the top, this movie is constructed like most good children’s entertainment; the comedy and drama are constructed in variably accessible layers, with some things clearly geared towards the adult audience which will almost certainly be forced to watch the movie over and over again. It’s a good quality to have in a kids’ movie, especially since the people who actually have the money (and perhaps thus the true consumer) are the adults paying for the children’s tickets.

Overall, I don’t think I’d line this up with the best Pixar movies. I think Pixar somehow manages (managed?) to have excellent comedy alongside really good emotional content and drama, and despite feeling *good* in all those categories, this doesn’t match the emotional poignancy of a really outstanding Pixar film. But while it didn’t hit those emotional depths for me, I’d give Lego Batman solid marks. It’s fun, funny, genre savvy, and eminently self-aware. Definitely worth watching.

Would Watch Again: Fury Road

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This movie is awesome.  It is awe-inspiring.  It is, very literally, spectacular.

If you like action movies, or you like the post-apocalyptic aesthetic, this movie is for you.  If you normally turn up your nose at action movies because they are laden with troubling bullshit, you can still try this movie.  Not because there aren’t troubling themes dealing with sex slavery and the subjugation of women, but because these things are dealt with well, with considerable respect and aplomb, in a movie that treats its female characters as real and very impressive people even when some of the movie’s characters do not.  Fury Road may or may not be a feminist movie (more on that later) but I think it’s a movie that you can watch without feeling like someone snuck you a shit sandwich.

Plus, it’s a really well made action movie, period.  I saw it on Saturday and would happily see it again RIGHT NOW.  It isn’t the tightly-plotted / intricately arranged tapestry of Die Hard; it’s like a formidable piece of Brutalist architecture.  It dominates the landscape with its physicality, its constant tension, and the relentless pace of its driving (heh) narrative.  For more of my thoughts on the matter, read on.

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As Fancy As It Looks: Furious 7

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I’ve now seen both Furious 7 and Age of Ultron.  I like both of these movies, but I think I might actually like Furious 7 more. To be fair, my expectations were so startlingly low when I walked into Furious 7 that the movie had nowhere to go but up; even so, this supremely goofy movie successfully hit me in the feels when I hadn’t expected it, and I like that.  It hit me in the feels partly for reasons outside of the movie itself, but it didn’t really matter in the end.  It was still good.

On the topic of my low expectations, it seems that I’d forgotten what I learned with the previous movie in the series, 6 Fast 6 Furious, or whatever it was called.  It turns out that I really enjoy the speed and enthusiasm of this fast-car soap-opera-with-guns.  I still have some significant problems with it, from the omnipresent male gaze to the inconsistent outcomes of characters’ consistently dangerous shenanigans, but … somehow I still found it highly entertaining.  Maybe I’ll be able to explain. Continue reading

Misleading Movie Titles 101: Jupiter Ascending

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Jupiter falling.  Again.  I lost totally count.

What a poorly titled movie.  Sure, one could argue that there’s an overall metaphorical upwards trajectory for Jupiter’s (Mila Kunis’) life, but over the course of the movie she spends far more time falling.  And being caught or carried by Channing Tatum (who was often agreeably shirtless).  Yet there were a few things that rose over the course of the movie: my excitement, my confusion, and my blood alcohol level.  Oh, and my voice, because I gave up on staying silent and just started talking in the movie theater.  I think the Wachowskis may be branching out into straight-to-RiffTrax movie releases.

You want to hear a few of the redeeming features of the movie?

Sean Bean doesn’t die.  Also, the movie has a hilariously recognizable cast, with many very watchable faces.  The depictions of the terrifying spacefuture (well, spacepresent) are intriguing and gorgeous, even when they’re super goofy and prominently feature terrible science.  The concept art and overall design are beautiful, fascinating, and leave the movie chock-full of eye candy.  And the comedy commentary practically writes itself, especially if you know and like Oedipus.

None of this makes up for the fact that the movie is terrible, but they’re all compelling reasons to see it on a very large screen with good sound for as little money as possible.  Preferably with enough booze to get you tipsy, because facing this movie sober seems like a terrible idea.

Fury should be called Trauma

Brad-Pitt-Fury-Tank-Like a clown car, but with less comedy and more violent death.

War movies, in my mind, must tread a very fine line in order for me to consider them good.  I prefer for them to leave out bombast and propaganda, and I dislike seeing filmmakers pretty up what I regard as a fundamentally brutal and painful exercise in destroying human life.  To quote Robert E. Lee, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”  I don’t feel comfortable with anything that purports to show real life also showing war as a ‘good’ thing.  At the very least, it should be problematic and leave you feeling conflicted.  The problem, of course, is that if the film doesn’t also tell an engaging story few will go and see it.

I also recognize that I have very different expectations and desires for what I’ll call “action movies,” and I’m somehow more ok with an action film showing combat and war in a more glamorous or unrealistic light.  The recent A-Team movie, for example, totally ignores many of the realities of war and combat (and physics), and I was ok with that.  Some old WWII movies (like Where Eagles Dare) fall into the same category, though they seem to do a far worse job of overtly signaling their lack of contact with reality.

When I saw it, I wasn’t entirely sure where Fury stood with regards to this distinction between ‘war’ and ‘action,’ and that left me uncertain of how I should feel.  As you might guess by the title of this post, much of the movie delivers an intensely traumatic view of the war… no, that’s not quite it: the movie follows a group of men who have been as traumatized by the war as seems possible, without having them break.  Even that may be pushing it, since the men certainly seem broken when you look at them more closely.  They’re just still able to do their job, which is killing others before others can kill them.  This, in my mind, is part of what makes it such a good war movie.  But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Fury does have an odd change in tone at one point.  It’s almost as though it consciously tries to straddle the divide between ‘war’ and ‘action,’ and suffers for it.  This doesn’t make it a bad movie, but like I said above, it does leave me less certain of how I should feel.  I’ll give you more about this (and some other non-spoilery things) after the break.

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The Expendables 2: How Did They Count That High?

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Watching them is a guilty pleasure, but it’s mostly guilt.

Have you ever spent two hours wondering why you’re staring at an overstuffed sausage?  Watching Stallone in The Expendables 2 feels a little bit like that, especially when they give you closeups of his veiny, muscular arms.  Or maybe the experience is more like watching a slightly stiff bulldog trying to be more athletic than its bulky frame will allow.  It charges about at decent speed, its jowls swinging back and forth determinedly as it tries its best to be fierce and intimidating… yet from the safe distance of my screen, it looks more funny than frightening.

That failed delivery might be the real take away message here.  I never watched the first movie, so I don’t know whether this is true for both of them, but The Expendables 2 feels like someone has distilled the essence of the overblown action movie and made an occasionally palatable bounce liquor* instead of something really worth drinking.  There were moments when its ridiculousness so exceeded my expectations that I couldn’t help but marvel at it, but for the most part it wasn’t as good as the vintage it was attempting to refine.  I say ‘for the most part’ because there are some truly terrible action movies out there, and I don’t want to go to the effort of deciding how this compares.  I’m pretty sure it’s better than some of them, if only because The Expendables 2 clearly had more budget for stuntmen and action scenes.

Speaking of “more”…

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2 Bad 2 Guns isn’t 2 Better

The short and sweet version is as follows: 2 Guns delivers everything that I’d expect from light and entertaining action-movie fare, and even does some of it decently well.  It does not, however, exceed expectations, and even dips below them at a point or two.  This comes despite the presence of fairly good actors and a potentially highly interesting premise, hence the title of my review.  Maybe seeing Denzel Washington across from Mark Wahlberg got me too excited?

I’m not saying that 2 Guns is bad.  It might even be above average for an action-movie (though where the mean lies is difficult for me to determine, given the prevalence of outliers and misleading clumps in the data).  But I don’t think that it will stick around in our collective memory for any considerable period of time, except perhaps as inspiration for something that could have been done a bit better.

Keep reading, I’m not done yet.

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Guns, Gams & Go-Fast Machines: Fast & Furious 6

I feel a little embarrassed saying this, but I recently watched and enjoyed the fast-car soap-opera-with-guns Fast & Furious 6.  It was just as intelligent as I had expected it to be, with plenty of zoom-zoom-bang-bang to make up for its intellectual shortcomings.  Which is to say, the movie was almost entirely about action and cars.  Much as in other entries in the series, women’s legs also made an important appearance by filling the screen at (in)appropriate moments.

While the writers clearly didn’t care one whit about how computers actually work (normal for the genre), they surprised me by offering a genuine sense of continuity with the other Fast/Furious films.  This made me very happy indeed, as the various tie-ins towards the end brought Tokyo Drift into relation with the rest of the series.  They also clearly established where the next action will most likely take place and why it will be exciting…

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