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.

Ghostbusters (no, the 2016 one)

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My first title for this was “Deconbusting Ghoststructures,” but I’m setting my sights a bit lower than that.

New Ghostbusters and Old Ghostbusters are not the same movie. Thank goodness. I can watch both of these movies, enjoy both of them, and not have to worry that I’m stuck watching the same thing twice. There are plenty of moments that are obvious homages to the original, and they pretty obviously had to tie the new movie to the old one given the subject material and premise, but I feel like they’re different enough that the connection is almost more baggage and drag than it’s worth. The name and premise are enough to make this a target of nostalgia-hazed criticism, when it really ought to be viewed (and reviewed) as it’s own thing.

The fact is, New Ghostbusters is an enjoyable movie. It fits into the summer blockbuster mould. It made me laugh, it scared me a bit, it was fun. I have some problems with it, but on the whole I’d say it’s worth watching.

Now, with that out of the way, I’ll engage in hypocrisy and do more to compare the two.

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Why David Weber, Why?

Reading about flat characters in E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, I have just been reminded of one of the things that routinely frustrates me in David Weber’s work.  Weber likes trying to make characters who should essentially be flat, more or less caricatures intended to draw up conflict or drama or comedy (or maybe they should be comic but he refuses to use them in that way, making them painfully comic instead… more on that later).  But instead of accepting that these characters should be flat, he tries to flesh them out.  He tries to make them round, and make me care about them.  Nine times out of ten, he fails.

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Gravity Falls: X-Files for kids, Comedy for adults

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I just spent much of Saturday evening blazing my way through Gravity Falls, Alex Hirsch‘s absolutely wonderful cartoon series.  Gravity Falls was first described to me as “like The X-files but with kids in rural Oregon,” which does a decent job of introducing it.  That also puts it dangerously (tantalizingly?) close to Twin Peaks territory, but fails to convey just how damn funny the show is; I was chortling the whole way through, and would happily watch many of the episodes again (a rare experience for me with most TV shows). There’re still many more episodes for me to watch, and I honestly can’t wait.  I might take a break from writing this just to watch the next one.

So yeah, Gravity Falls is what would happen if you mashed Twin Peaks and the X-Files together in a hilarious and intelligent kids show.  It chronicles the summer adventures of Dipper and Mabel, a pair of twins who’ve gone to spend the summer with their great-uncle (Grunkle) Stan.  They live with him in his house / Mystery Shack tourist attraction, and have the dubious pleasure of working for him while they try to enjoy their summer in the bizarre town and its even stranger environs.

They must face boredom:

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Beasts:

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And popcorn-machine math:

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What’s not to like?  And yes, I did just watch another episode.  Honestly, if you’re at all interested in smart animated comedies, you should give Gravity Falls a look.  It’s definitely a kids’ show, but like the best kids’ programming it uses that as a vehicle to go deeper than you’d expect, instead of holding back.  Despite the innately fantastical nature of the show, it still feels like a very real depiction of the emotional lives of its protagonists, and it doesn’t shy away from the realities of social pressure for impressionable youngsters.  Now, if you’ll pardon me, I really want to watch another episode.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Pilferers of Pocketbooks

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I made two trips to the theater this weekend, two nights in a row, to see Guardians of the Galaxy.  At least I watched it in Burlington instead of Boston, and thus offered my wallet some protection from the box office’s depredations.  To be perfectly honest, I want to watch the movie again; the Guardians of the Galaxy’s punchlines are a delight, and I consistently missed the followup lines in the audience’s waves of laughter.

If you’ve enjoyed the previous high points of the Marvel movie franchise and are looking for more of the same with a good dose of silly, Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie for you.  It hits its timing wonderfully well, with a great comedy-action plot well-leavened by stupid and/or greedy and selfish characters, without leaving me feeling that anyone had the idiot ball for too long (or even at the wrong time).  On my first watch-through, I enjoyed myself but was almost disoriented by the movie’s pacing as I came time and again to totally new material (well, new to me).  The second time, it felt like the film fairly well flew along, flowing seamlessly from scene to scene in a rush of drama, action, and excellent comedic timing.  Like I said before, I’m interested in seeing it a third time, though next time I’d like to be able to hear the lines I missed the first two times around.

I liked the actors, I liked their interactions and side comments, and I thought that even the completely wooden Groot was wonderfully expressive.  More tidbits after the break, including a few complaints.

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Tremors: Horrific Comedy Done Right

Kevin Bacon as a rural Nevadan handyman, facing off against subterranean worm-snake monsters alongside a surprisingly entertaining ensemble cast?  Yes please.  Tremors is nutty, ridiculous, and entirely more fun than you’d first think.

Despite being billed as a comedy-horror, in my mind the film is almost entirely comedy.  I’m sure some people will be scared by watching Tremors, but I can’t say that I know any of them.  There are a few good startling moments, and some particularly dreadful scenes in which people die horribly, but I never really felt the same tension or clenching fear that I would expect from a horror film.  It’s laughable to think of this movie as being the same category as something like Aliens; despite having ostensibly similar story arcs and genre expectations, they are not at all like each other.

Case in point: the very first shot sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with Kevin Bacon pissing off a cliff down into the valley below.  Tremors repeatedly leavens its tension with humor, and it nearly always does it with moments that ring true to the characters involved.  Better put, it didn’t feel like any lines were being delivered as jokes.  If something funny happens, it feels like it happens because the characters would do that thing rather than because someone decided that that was the right point for a punchline.  I had no idea that people living in a remote town in Nevada could be so unintentionally entertaining.

I should clarify.  Living in a remote town in rural Nevada is mind-numbingly boring, but the characters are a delight.  Burt and Heather Gummer, the town’s two survivalists, are some of my favorites.  They are so enthusiastically over-prepared and so happy to finally have a chance to be proven right that it very nearly hurts.  And the town’s children are similarly entertaining; it’s their clear boredom that really sells me on the town’s isolation, even though I wouldn’t give them high marks for their acting and even though they don’t play a large part in the film.  It’s fascinating to see what develops when terrible things start to happen in a town where everybody knows everybody, and nobody has all that much to do.

Give it a try.  For more of my thoughts, read on after the break.

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