Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Exodus: Gods and Kings

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Produced by: Peter Chernin
Ridley Scott
Jenno Topping
Michael Schaefer
Mark Huffan

Screenplay by: Adam Cooper
Bill Collage
Jeffrey Caine
Steven Zaillian

Starring: Christian Bale
Joel Edgerton
John Turturro
Aaron Paul
Ben Mendelsohn
Sigourney Weaver
Ben Kingsley

Music by: Alberto Iglesias

Cinematography by: Dariusz Wolski

Editing by: Billy Rich

Studio(s): Chernin Entertainment
Scott Free Productions
Volcano Films

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): December 12, 2014 (United States)
December 26, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 150 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $140 million

Box-office revenue: $253, 200, 795

Alrighty, so, if you've read the introductory paragraphs, you can tell that I am quite busy right now with catching up on as many of the significant movies of 2014 as I can, but I'll spare you the details this time and begin on a different note. I feel that I should pay appropriate homage and acknowledge the one-hundred and fifty-fifth birthday of Anton Chekhov, one of the great masters of Russian literature and writing as a whole. Despite practicing as a medical doctor for much of his life, it didn't stop him from his endeavours as a writer ("Medicine is my lawful wife and writing is my mistress."), scribing some of the masterworks of the stage and an abundance of terrific short stories. A selected Wordsworth collection of his short stories is one of the few books that never leaves my bedside, and I often find myself going towards Chekhov when in a bit of a stick in my own writing. One of a very select few one could claim single-handedly change literature, Chekhov is a joy to read; touching, humorous, frank, entertaining and truthful, it's hard not feel inspired by such mastery of the written form. Hopefully I can live up to the spirit of great writing such as Chekhov someday. Anywho, for all the latest and greatest as regards to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Exodus: Gods And Kings, the latest film from Ridley Scott, and the second big-budgeted biblically-inspired epic backed by a major Hollywood studio this year after Darren Aronofsky's Noah, which unfortunately I will be unable to see before year's end but I am reliably informed is an interesting watch, regardless of what side your opines fall down on. 2014 saw a number of prominent movies with Christianity being a big driving force in their story; not only was there the aforementioned Noah, there was God's Not Dead, a film I didn't like myself but was a surprise sleeper hit (making over $60 million off of a $2 million budget), the Oscar-nominated Polish drama Ida, which was a great film, and, erm, Left Behind. Now, as I said in the preamble to my review for God's Not Dead, even though I'm agnostically inclined, I have absolutely no problem with watching a movie with a Christian message, if it's biblically-inspired or what have you. Although people are loth to mention it in a positive light these days, I think Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ is an extraordinary piece of work, but what I don't like, which was the case with God's Not Dead, is if the message is rammed down your throat, or if the filmmakers' decide to play so every which way but loose with the material that it borders on disrespectful. Here though, we have an elder statesman of cinema in Ridley Scott, a director who I think is among the best for realising a film's world and atmosphere. Although there was controversy about the Anglicised casting, biblical and historical inaccuracies, the negative response from elements of the Muslim community, and the generally negative critical response, despite the weight of all this, I went in with a head to try to enjoy it. Ridley Scott, while his recent work has not been good (Body Of Lies, Prometheus and especially The Counsellor were all unworthy films), this is the same man who made masterpieces with Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator. Anyone who is able to make movies at that level has proven, in my opinion, that they are still capable of reaching it again. So, plot synopsis goes that in 1300 BCE, Moses (Christian Bale) is a general and member of the royal family, preparing to attack the Hittite army with Prince Ramesses (Joel Edgerton). Ramesses' father, the Pharaoh Seti I (John Turturro) tells the two of a prophecy in which one of the two will save the other and become a leader. During the attack on the Hittite, Moses saves Ramesses life, leaving both men troubled. Moses is sent to the city of Pithom to meet with the Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn), who oversees the Hebrew slaves. Encountering the slave Joshua (Aaron Paul), he is appalled at their treatment, and meeting with Nun (Ben Kingsley), he is informed of his true lineage, that he is the child of Hebrew parents and was sent with his sister Miriam (Tara Fitzgerald) to be raised by the Pharaoh's daughter. This is overheard by two Hebrews, who inform Hegep, who in turn informs Ramesses, who has become Pharaoh after Seti's death. Under urgings from Queen Tuya (Sigourney Weaver), he interrogates Miriam, who refuses to reveal her secret, but Moses himself confesses, and is sent into exile, carving out the beginning of the journey of Moses leading the Hebrew's in their titular Exodus. Mouthful I know, but there's that much plot to get through to just set it up (more of which in due time). Got it? Good!

So, starting off with the good about Exodus: Gods And Kings, in much the same way I complimented The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, I have to give my respect to the achievements in the mise-en-scene, the sheer size and scope of the film. I know CGI plays a part in achieving this, but it doesn't take away from the fact that in some of the film's scenes you do genuinely feel the weight of thousand-strong armies and populaces. Speaking of CGI, among the film's most spectacular scenes involve the supernatural interventions of God. Be it in the form of the Ten Plagues, the rivers of Egypt running with blood, the burning bush or the climactic parting of the Red Sea, the visual effects are imaginatively realised and spectacular to behold. Also, from a design standpoint this is a film that stands out. The sets are not only big, but have an attention to detail which highlights the level of effort that went into the craftsmanship involved in their construction. Looking at some of these you can't help but get the impression almost of a literal construction of the Pyramids by builders for the sake of the film, and it is at times quite breathtaking to see literally thousands of extras occupy these spaces. Also, the costumes are at a level that matches that of the production design. While people bemoan the racial casting of some of the actors, I don't think it can be denied that the garbs with which they adorn do look rather well and appropriate to the setting of the film. Finally, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski shoots a gorgeous looking picture. It's no secret that Ridley Scott has always had a keen eye and a legitimately great visual sensibility, regardless of the quality of some of his work, and here he's got the right guy to shoot it. Wolski's photography not only highlights the hard work done by those involved with the mise-en-scene; in fact, he elevates it. Where his own work truly shines however is in the location shoots. Some crisp, captivating imagery is to be sought during Moses' travels across the sun-soaked deserts as he battles against the elements, sandstorms and all. In these regards, Exodus: Gods And Kings excels, and if we were to look at only these things in terms of judging a movie, it might deemed 'excellent,' in and of itself.

However (the big however), the fact is is that Exodus: Gods And Kings is a poor outing for a colossus with so much potential, and here are the reasons why. Much like that previously mentioned Hobbit film, the last film I reviewed, this is a film with an epic scope and scale which at times a marvel to behold but unfortunately it is also bequeathed with a poor script. In fact, the case is more so with Exodus: Gods And Kings. For starters, the film is home to some preposterous dialogue that could be translated from just about any other period-set picture. It's full of that poxy kind of dialogue that makes guffaw in reaction to it because no one in the real world at any point in time every spoke to each other in conversations like that. Believe it or not (I neither ask nor care that you do or don't), I was actually able to call out the lines in the film before the actors onscreen even spoke them. Furthermore, it is one of those what I call 'nothing' scripts, in that it simply works on a base level, telling a story. While that in itself isn't necessarily a problem, the story of Moses and the Exodus of the Hebrews has been told x-number of times before, and by simply telling the story again, it has nothing new to add that hasn't been done before. Furthermore, similar to what I was referring with the dialogue, for all of it's biblical inspiration and period setting, it's the kind of film whose plot structure could have been moulded to fit just about any setting. For instance, you can find whole plot elements and characters, done in a superior fashion, in Ridley Scott's own Gladiator. Here's a quick example of what I'm talking about, let's re-make Gladiator, hypothetically with this film's cast (I know I'm going off the wall here, but fuck it, this is my blog!): Christian Bale is Maximus, Joel Edgerton is Commodus, John Turturro is Marcus Aurelius, Aaron Paul is Juba, Ben Kingsley is Proximo. Exodus: Gods And Kings also has none of the finer details and undertones which make Gladiator, a film which on the surface is merely a big-budget peplum, such a robust, solid and profoundly resonant picture. Much as I said with regards to Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, being the seasoned veteran that he is, should have known better. Granted, he has never been much a writer's director, his best quality being as an extraordinary visualist, but after all this time it really is not enough to keep delivering sub-par work this. Once or twice I can excuse, but to constantly disappoint and be under-performing as a filmmaker like this is not excusable. Some people have argued that age has done this to him, something which I thoroughly disagree with. Many directors have made great work well into their seventies and eighties; just ask Clint Eastwood, and in the past you had the likes of John Huston, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet, and that's just the Yanks! The last great Ridley Scott film I've seen was Black Hawk Down, and that was about thirteen years ago. It's hard to continue to be a Ridley Scott fan sometimes, because, while this is not a bad film, it's still a poor one, and the latest in a line of consistently inferior outing from the director.

At times, it's hard not to be bowled by the scope and scale of Exodus: Gods And Kings. From a design standpoint (production design, costumes, hair/make-up), it's at quite the standard of excellence. With the use of the extras and CGI, you get the opportunity to appreciate the sheer size of what is trying to be achieved here, particularly in the the supernatural interventions of God. Also, all of this shot well and elevated by Dariusz Wolski, whose gorgeous, crisp photography makes for some captivating imagery. However, the film is unfortunately like Peter Jackson's Hobbit film bequeathed with a rubbish script which does a disservice to the material. Dialogue, characters, subplots, structure, the whole shebang here is in the negative. Director Ridley Scott should know better, but time and time again, he seems content churn out inferior works such as this. Not to sound flippant, but let's face it, the Bible is a source which could lead to all sorts of potentially great films and indeed has been in the past. Exodus: Gods And Kings, while not disastrous, is still a poor and flat film that will not be added to that pantheon of greats, and actually it's probably too forgettable to be added to a list of the worst biblical epics. It's just kinda naff!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - In need (of the toilet!)

P.S. Was anyone out there keeping count of how many times Christian Bale's facial hair changed over the course of the film?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Produced by: Carolynne Cunningham
Zane Weiner
Fran Walsh
Peter Jackson

Screenplay by: Fran Walsh
Philippa Boyens
Peter Jackson
Guillermo del Toro

Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Starring: Martin Freeman
Ian McKellen
Richard Armitage
Evangeline Lilly
Lee Pace
Luke Evans
Benedict Cumberbatch
Ken Stott
James Nesbitt
Cate Blanchett
Ian Holm
Christopher Lee
Hugo Weaving
Orlando Bloom

Music by: Howard Shore

Cinematography by: Andrew Lesnie

Editing by: Jabez Olssen

Studio(s): New Line Cinema
WingNut Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): December 12, 2014 (United Kingdom)
December 17, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 144 minutes

Country(s): New Zealand
United States

Language: English

Production budget: $250 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $866, 846, 308

I may be tired, cranky, irritable, in short, all things to all people right now (don't worry, I smile all the while), but the show must go on, and I'm getting on with these reviews. Films in the proverbial line of fire include Exodus: Gods And Kings, The Wind Rises, Oculus, The Theory Of Everything, Whiplash and American Sniper, and also soon to be marched out and scrutinised by my piercing gaze Nymphomaniac, Stranger By The Lake, Boyhood, Calvary and The Basement. Hopefully I'll get through a few more as well (specifically, I'm wanting a look in at Inherent Vice and Life Itself), because what I've decided to do is to continue my reviews simultaneously as I work on my Best and Worst of 2014. I'll just ensure that I have my cutoff point and I stick to it (somewhat!). So, for all the latest and greatest as regards to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, the final film in both Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy of films and (for now anyway) his last instalment of the six-film Middle-Earth saga adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. Being marketed with the tagline "The Defining Chapter" puts a lot of weight of expectation upon the shoulders of this film, especially with the quality of the work beforehand. It's no secret that The Hobbit films were less well-received than The Lord Of The Rings pictures, but An Unexpected Journey was still a very good flick and The Desolation Of Smaug was a great film, just shy of entering my top ten of last year. However, as evidenced by the box-office numbers, they are still profitable movies and people are clearly more than willing to pay to see them. Also, with the production history of this whole Middle-Earth saga, a twenty-year journey since Jackson and Fran Walsh pitched a trilogy of Middle-Earth films the first two based upon The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings back in 1995, an adventure certainly worth lengthy chronicling in it's own right, clearly they're looking to go out with a bang. One thing we should note before I start this, is that as regards production, we cannot forget that The Hobbit trilogy was originally meant to be a two-part film and that it was decided six months before the release of An Unexpected Journey that it was to split into three films. I have to admit that I opposed the decision, for if you read the book it is quite clear where exactly you would cut that into two parts. Obviously, Tolkien didn't write it that way, but it works well for adaptation. That being said, Jackson, Walsh and co are quite clearly passionate about this stuff, so I'll always give something the benefit of the doubt before I see it and make my decisions. So, plot synopsis goes that after his emergence from the Lonely Mountain, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) is slain by Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), but not before destroying Laketown in his wake. Becoming leader of Laketown, Bard forms an alliance with Thranduil (Lee Pace) the Elvenking, who has provided aid for Bard's people, to claim a share of the treasure in the Mountain, gold to aid the rebuilding of Laketown and an elven necklace of white gems, in the absence of Smaug. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) the grey wizard arrives to warm them of the impending arrival of a massive orc army who are looking to seize the treasure upon the death of Smaug.  Meanwhile, they are informed by the intrepid Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) that Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) has gotten "dragon sickness" and been driven mad by his obsessive pursuit of the Arkenstone, the royal jewel of the dwarf-kingdom of Erebor, ordering his band of dwarves to seal them into the Mountain. The key to their ability to negotiate, though, lies in the fact that Bilbo has stolen the Arkenstone himself, for Bard and Thranduil to bargain with and so that Thorin can see reason amidst his mania. Got that? Good!

To start off the good, as is perhaps to be expected but not taken lightly, the mise-en-scene is wonderfully realised. I mentioned in a review for Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem that Peter Jackson is one of the best filmmakers for seeing to the realisation of his film worlds. His Middle-Earth, as ever, is up to the standard we have come to expect from these films. Every aspect, from the costumes to the production design to the makeup and hair to the craftmanship of the weaponry is done on a massive scale and yet not without the finest attention to detail. You see this abundance of extras all fully kitted out and while I know that CGI plays a part in that, you still sometimes can't help but go "wow!" at just how big everything is. The sets also make this feel like a living, breathing world. Also, the large battle sequences, particularly the stunts and choreography involved the destruction of Laketown and Five Armies sequences, are of a consistently high standard of excellence. Now, that's the mise-en-scene, I've got to mention some of the technical qualities of the film, which tend towards the standards set by those involved in the mise-en-scene. Andrew Lesnie is a fine DP who has shot just about everything, from modest little pictures like Babe (one of my favourites) to all of these colossal Middle-Earth pictures with the same approach to quality control. People had been sniffy about the whole 48 FPS when the first film came out, and I said then that it wasn't a problem, and now it seems almost like a footnote. The first film looked good, so did the second and so does this one. Not only that, but in the midst of his doing a fine job of capturing all the action on hand, it has a look that is visually distinctive to that of The Lord Of The Rings films. Another of the regulars, Howard Shore, is of course on board and gives a very good score. It's his musical compositions that among the things people look forward to with these films, and he delivers with gravitas and gusto. Not only are there individual pieces of distinction (Guardians Of The Three), he also plays appropriately to the movie's tone and pace. The argument could made that these regular collaborators like Lesnie and Shore are phoning it in, simply doing what they always do, but the fact is is that they do it well and you certainly get the impression that they, like everyone else, legitimately care about the material. The final thing I'd like to praise about The Battle Of The Five Armies (which I shall now refer to as TBOTFA. I normally hate acronyms, but I'm not especially fond of overly mouthy titles) is the performance of Richard Armitage. Now, while you've also got the likes of Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen in there, it's Armitage work as Thorin, particularly during his descent into madness, which impresses most. I've always found him to be a believable and strong leader for the band of dwarves, but this is the first time we have really got to see him dig into a challenging role, and he passes with flying colours. His tones of speaking are at times frighteningly menacing, and even just watching him walk around this sea of gold, his facial expressions as he sits on a makeshift throne like Tony Montana sitting behind his mountain of cocaine, there's something distinctly Macbethian about his slouching about. It's a standout performance, and on the basis of this I can tell you I'm looking forward to seeing his interpretation of Francis Dollarhyde in the upcoming third season of Hannibal.

Now, as you can gather from all that, there's a good bit I liked and admired about TBOTFA. However, despite have these positive attributes, it is a deeply flawed film which, frankly, is a major disappointment in light of the work preceding it. The main reason for this is the film's script, a screenplay that I am shocked didn't come under the radar of those writing it. Four people (Jackson, Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) are credited as having wrote this and all of them gave it the okay. Not one of them noticed just how it is structurally all over the place and in fact rather messy.  This is no spoiler alert, but the prologue of the film consists of the fifteen-minute Laketown destruction and slaying of Smaug, which is fine in and of itself, but it's place in the overall story is terribly misjudged. The Desolation Of Smaug finished on that cliffhanger note, and it disappoints on the promise that ending, and degrades the character of Smaug and his importance to the story by relegating him to a prologue before the fancy film title design comes up. Also, much of the film, which consists of a setup to the titular battle, feels like a ponderous, overlong prelude. One could perhaps justify it as the third-act of a trilogy, but as a three-act movie itself, it feels like the whole movie is a portentous third-act, dragging it's feet along and trying to get as mileage out of this as is possible. The flimsiness extends too to some of the subplots involved in the film. The romance between Tauriel (an original character not from the Tolkien book that I actually praised in my review for The Desolation Of Smaug) and Kili is botched, leaving poor Evangeline Lilly and Aidan Turner walking on thin ice that threatens to collapse around them, what with the ship-shoddy dialogue that they've been given. Furthermore, strangely quite the opposite to the criticisms (false criticisms, in my opinion) levelled at The Return Of The King taking too long to finish, TBOTFA is too hastily brought to a conclusion, leaving none of the resonance that we gained from many of the other films in the Middle-Earth films. What this concludes to me is that, while it was a financially lucrative prospect, this quite clearly should have been a two-part film. Cut back all the unnecessary Basil Over-Expository stuff, have the slaying of Smaug be the end of the second-act and TBOTFA itself be the third-act to a film. Have both films hit near the three-hour mark so you can both improve An Unexpected Journey and compress the last two films into one. Many have commented on the 144-minute running time as a lean and welcome surprise; instead, I think it's indicative that this story was running on fumes, trying to pad it out so that it'd be an 'epic' feature film with an equivalent running time. My final conclusion is that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh in their respective roles as director and producer should have realised this and that just because the movie is guaranteed to make at least $800 million it is not justifiable to deliver a sub-par film. I have to admit that for all it's faults, it's still a decent movie, but given the standards of excellence that have been set before, it is truly disappointing to conclude on this note.

TBOTFA is a movie whose production standards more than match that of it's predecessors. I've nothing but good things to say about the wonderfully realised mise-en-scene, whose production design, costumes, make-up/hair and general craftsmanship is superb. Technically, it's an astute film, with terrific CGI, shot with aesthetic care and quality control by Andrew Lesnie, and it features another solid score from Howard Shore. Also, Richard Armitage delivers an almost Macbethian performance as Thorin Oakenshield. However, while it has those things which doubtless worthy of merit, they do not all maketh a great movie, as is evidenced by the film's shoddy script. It truly is a mess of a work; structurally flimsy, full of throwaway subplots with weak dialogue and rather hastily put together, it in fact degrades Tolkien's work, particularly the character of Smaug, as oppose to enriching or enlightening it. Jackson, Walsh and co should have been aware of this, because for all the money it makes and however decent it may be, I'd rather see a truly great work than a disappointing, sub-par Middle-Earth film not up to the standards which have been set.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright (busy little bee, believe you me!)

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Big Eyes

Directed by: Tim Burton

Produced by: Tim Burton
Scott Alexander
Larry Karaszewski
Lynette Howell

Screenplay by: Scott Alexander
Larry Karaszewski

Starring: Amy Adams
Christoph Waltz
Danny Huston
Jon Polito
Krysten Ritter
Jason Schwartzmann
Terence Stamp

Music by: Danny Elfman

Cinematography by: Bruno Delbonnel

Editing by: JC Bond

Studio(s): Silverwood Films
Electric City Entertainment
Tim Burton Productions

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

Release date(s): December 25, 2014 (United States)
December 26, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 106 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $10 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $19, 901, 102

Ah hoy hoy! So, this being the first review for a movie from January 2015, I see it fit to keep y'all up to speed with what I've been at in this regard. Oscar season and catching up on as many of the releases as I could over the course of this past month has been fruitful, and I have seen, as well as this picture, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Exodus: Gods And Kings, The Wind Rises, Oculus, The Theory Of Everything and Whiplash, all of which will be reviewed in the coming month or so before my year-end awards, which will be published the night before the Oscars. Also, I can guarantee that I'll be giving into Calvary, Nymphomaniac, The Basement and Stranger By The Lake, while I'm sure I'll also see some more. In the vein of finality, it must be said that I beginning work on my year-end awards, shortlisting the films brick by brick, and will begin this shortly with this year's inductions into The Thin White Dude's Hall Of Fame. As ever, it's a wide and varied bunch which reflect the eclecticism of this reviewers tastes and opines, so I hope you'll enjoy that when get to crossing the proverbial bridge. So, for all the latest and greatest as regards to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Big Eyes, the latest film from director Tim Burton. I have an interesting relationship with Burton; I have a huge admiration for some of his work, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street are certifiable masterworks, and his two Batman movies with Michael Keaton are very good interpretations of The Dark Knight. His debut short Vincent went into my filmmaking Hall Of Fame last year. Hell, I'll even through down my gage to anyone who wishes to argue that Mars Attacks! isn't a good, fun film, for all it's absolutely barmy ludicrousness. It must be said though, lately I do feel that Burton has fallen off the wagon. One has to admire Burton, in that he has such a distinctive and unique visual style and production sensibility, he has become one of the few working American filmmakers, like Spielberg, Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Scorsese, who has almost become a brand in his own right. However, all that makes him a distinctive and interesting filmmaker has of late (really the past six or seven years, let's be honest) been over-indulged to a massive degree. All of his recent work has been positively dripping in quirk and eccentricity, none of which I have a particular problem with (okay, I admit, I'm not a huge fan of quirk), but when a filmmaker's every whim is pandered to ad nausea, the result is greatly inferior to the control that is exhibited on their very best films. Tarantino is an example, as is Wes Anderson, but the other two I mentioned there, Spielberg and Scorsese, have had such illustrious careers because, for the most part, they never over-indulge. Burton, unfortunately, has recently been cut of the same cloth as the former two. All this culminated in 2012, which saw him release two films over the course of the calendar year, the first being Dark Shadows, an adaptation of the TV series of the same name, which at the time I gave a five out of ten but in retrospect wasn't particularly worth much. The most notable moments came from a terribly executed sex scene, especially given that it's Johnny Deep and Eva Green (with those two, it should bleed hotness!) and my nearly being hit on the head by an extension lead winding up in a pendulum motion at The Strand. Also that year, he released Frankenweenie, a remake of his own short from 1984. As such, Big Eyes, the first non-remake/adaptation since 2005's Corpse Bride for Burton, on the surface represents a change of pace. Scribed by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the team behind Ed Wood, who were also slated originally to direct, Big Eyes stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as Margaret and Walter Keane, a wife and husband whose heated divorce trial was a national sensation when it was revealed that Walter, a national celebrity and purportedly the artist behind a series of widely-produced paintings of large-eyed waifs, was a plagiarist, and that it was in fact Margaret was the true artist. This film is a biographical depiction of their life together, before, during and after their marriage, focusing more specifically on Margaret Keane. Got that? Good!

So, starting off with the good, the film is fronted by a strong lead performance from Amy Adams. Hot off winning a Golden Globe for the part, Adams brings all of the natural charm that she possesses to the table. It's a role that is made for Adams, whose tenderness and all-round sweet-natured persona fits the innocent naivety of the character of Margaret Keane. The movie begins with her leaving her first husband, young daughter in tow, finding her feet again in the world. Adams in these early scenes plays it just right between comedic and serious, her Margie being a solid anchor for the audience as we watch her in her endeavours to make it as a painter. Furthermore, as the movie goes on and into slightly more twisted territory, we witness Adams' whole gait change. The warmth is distilled, her body is tense, even her voice changes as she chain-smokes painting the pictures of her waifs. I'll say outright that anyone who doesn't like Amy Adams probably lacks a soul, but this is an accomplished, well-developed performance. We've also got the mighty Christoph Waltz in there playing her husband-cum-captor Walter. Charm is a quality that Waltz too possesses, and we too want to believe in Margie's falling for this eccentric dandy. However, even if you don't have the context of his previous work, you get the feeling Waltz's Keane is a smiling devil who win make merry to your face and just as soon put a knife in you when you turn your back if it is a means to an end. Indeed, Waltz cranks it up to eleven as the film goes on, hamming it up in the most megalomaniacal of ways possible, and even if it seems ridiculous to have him acting like a supervillain at times, it's never anything less than engaging. Part of the reason that they are able to give good performances, notwithstanding their own talents, is that screenwriters Alexander and Karaszewski develop the central Keane characters well. These are three-dimensional people from the moment we meet them until the very end of the film. They go through change, sometimes subtle, other times dramatic, but yet that whole time we never get the feeling that they are anything less than real people. The key strength and best scenes in the film involve the relationship/tete-a-tete between Margie and Walter, and the writers know this, maintaining this focus for most of the film and keeping it grounded. The film also has a splendid sheen to it's visual look from cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. I mentioned Dark Shadows earlier, and one of the best things about that movie was it's cinematography, and it's interesting to see him ply his craft to the real world. Delbonnel has worked on the Harry Potter franchise and got his major breakthrough working with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, so to see his colour palettes make lush San Francisco seem aesthetically like something more akin to magical realism is a visual treat that elevates the work as a whole, helping blur the lines between fantasy and reality. Also, this is the best Danny Elfman score I can recall hearing for some time. Although I think his overall quality of work has deteriorated, in Big Eyes you get something of the pazazz and sense of wonder that comes from his very best when he's telling a story and not just phoning in something that the studio wants to sound grand and glorious. Accompanying Elfman's work is the two original tracks singer-songwriter Lana Del Ray has contributed to the film, the title song in particular being an emotive piece very much in fitting with the picture. Finally, in reference to Tim Burton I made reference to this being a change of pace, and frankly it is a most welcome one. This is an assured, solid piece of work which shows that Burton can not only still deliver a good movie, but that it doesn't have to be full of gimmicks and set in a fantastical world. Big Eyes is a tactful drama about two people and the machinations of their twisted relationship, and delivers a clear message about the important role of women in all medium(s) of the arts, and it does that without ramming it down our throat in a sanctimonious manner. 

Now, in case you can't tell, I rather liked Big Eyes. It's a solid, perfectly good little movie. In fact, it's Burton's best movie since Sweeney Todd. However, I must say that though it is very good, it's not a movie of high importance or great significance in the bigger scheme of things. Part of the reason for that is the screenplay which, while praiseworthy in terms of the strong character development, peters off plot-wise as the film goes on. I mentioned earlier that Waltz goes a bit nutty, and as the film enters this territory, and Walter becomes rather psychotic, it becomes a bit like haunted house/slasher film, but not in a good way, full of conventions and is in fact a bit off-putting. Also, although I know it is based on a true story, but the whole Mexican Paint-Off sequence is executed rather awkwardly. When I saw the film, I was exclaiming to my good friend at Danland Movies "it's like Frost/Nixon over again," the difference being that it came out the wrong end, for while Ron Howard's film manages to make a series of conversations come across as though it was Cassius Clay versus Sonny Liston, the Paint-Off is awkward and too farcical. Part of that I suppose is also down to the editing by JC Bond. The first half of the film is engaging and thoroughly flies by, but with the addition of the second half, this hundred-minute film feels closer to two hours. Despite the fact there is more 'action' per se, JC Bond's editing in this section is flat and threatens to bring the film to a grinding halt. Thankfully, there was enough momentum from the first half to sustain my interest, but this lack of awareness editing-wise and as a whole amongst those involved makes this a very good movie, not a great one. 

In conclusion, while I did find that the script petered off a bit in the second half and lost focus to some degree, and that the editing in the second half is also deprived of brisk pacing, I still think Big Eyes is a very good film. Fronted by two solid lead performances, especially Amy Adams, the screenplay, faults and all, has a strong level of character development, Bruno Delbonnel's shoots a lovely looking picture and Danny Elfman delivers his best score in some time. Finally, it's proof that Tim Burton has not 'lost it,' and that he is still more than capable of executing a solid piece of dramedy whenever he puts himself down to it.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Slightly irritable (at least I think I would be. Bloody migraines!)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: November/December 2014 - Under The Skin

Under The Skin is one of the very best films of 2014. Fronted by an amazing central performance from Scarlett Johansson, it's a masterfully shot picture by Daniel Landin, whose cinematography works in tandem with the expressive and stark visual effects. There are some images in this film which will be indelibly etched upon my memory, soldered together with seamless grace by editor Paul Watts, whose opening sequence sets the mood for the film. If Watts sets the mood, while Mica Levi's experimental, avant-garde score maintains it. All of this is presided over by Jonathan Glazer, acting as a sower planting seeds, tending his garden and letting them grow of their own accord into something majestic. This is a dark and rather poignant fairy-tale that moved me, to the point of tears, in fact, and is a thought-provoking and stimulating piece of work. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.2/10

Runner-Up: Nightcrawler - A very close runner-up. Between Jake Gyllenhaal's extraordinary lead role, Dan Gilroy's multi-faceted and textured script, the work of his collaborators, cinematographer Robert Elswit, editor John Gilroy and composer James Newton Howard, Dan Gilroy's confident, assured directorial debut is the most consistent movie of those I've seen from 2014 so far.

Honourable Mention(s): 

(1) Birdman - The best ensemble cast of 2014, especially Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton, marvellously executed one-take concept by Emmanuel Lubezki, and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, as both writer and director, exemplifies both control and artistic ambition with this Beckett-esque absurd meta-modernist comedy.

(2) The Lego Movie - One of the most deliriously entertaining films of 2014. Phil Lord and Chris Miller have created something truly bizarre, a capitalist movie that is somehow anti-capitalist. The Lego Movie also boasts a barmy soundtrack and score from Mark Mothersbaugh, Animal Logic's animation is a great piece of craftsmanship and there's a fine voice cast on board.

(3) Interstellar - Characterisation and plot is noticeably weak, and in another movie this would have taken away greatly from the overall piece. However, even with flaws, Christopher Nolan's monolith reaches heights with it's ambition and drive that most fail to conceive much less accomplish. Not perfect by any stretch, but a nevertheless remarkable work.

Dishonourable Mention: The Grand Budapest Hotel - It's a decent movie with things to admire, but I feel that given the amount of awards recognition and acclaim it has received, an example must be made out of this. Wes Anderson's picture is stylistically overwhelming, self-indulgent and akin to the crime most normally associated with the acronym GBH. One of the worst nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture to come along for some time (probably since The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button). 

Second-Most Deadly Disease: Walk Of Shame - Everyone's been pulling the old "I felt like I made a walk of shame buying a ticket to this movie" quip, but that doesn't reflect my sentiments. Lord knows I like Elizabeth Banks, but this is a terribly unfunny movie based on a stupid premise which basically asks us to buy into the humour of a middle-class Caucasian being terrified of working-class black and hispanic people. 

Avoid Like The Plague: The Pyramid - It might from Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur, both of whom have made films I like, but this is a movie which, while not truly disastrous, lacks absolutely any passion whatsoever in order for it to end up that way. There's so much potential for a great horror movie to come out of Ancient Egyptian mythology, and instead we get a movie that is along the lines of what Randy in Scream was lampooning, and Scream is near twenty years old! I'd be shocked if anyone could make an argument as to why they liked this film.

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Nightcrawler

Directed by: Dan Gilroy

Produced by: Jennifer Fox
Tony Gilroy
Michel Litvak
Jake Gyllenhaal
David Lancaster

Screenplay by: Dan Gilroy

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
Rene Russo
Riz Ahmed
Bill Paxton

Music by: James Newton Howard

Cinematography by: Robert Elswit

Editing by: John Gilroy

Studio: Bold Films

Distributed by: Open Road Films

Release date(s): October 31, 2014 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 117 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $8.5 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $38, 448, 376

For those of you who ain't been keeping track, this is my last review for the November-December bracket, and then I'll be following it up with a review for the month(s) before I swiftly proceed into January. In case you've been under a rock, awards season is officially well under way, what with the Golden Globes having been and gone. On that note, the Globes as ever proved to be shambolic in it's own way. Amy Adams, who I like very much, won Best Actress (Musical or Comedy) for her portrayal of Margaret Keane in Big Eyes, which last I checked was a drama (I should know, I've seen the film, so a review will be coming soon...), and The Grand Budapest Hotel won Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy). I know it's entirely based on opinion and I'm in the minority here, but we're only one down in the big three (Globes, BAFTAs and Oscars) and I'm already sick and tired of The Grand Budapest Hotel. I said in my review, there are things to admire, but it's a stylistically overwhelming and highly self-indulgent film undeserving of the accolades it is receiving. To see that this film got eleven nominations for the BAFTAs (the most nominations a film received this year) over masterpieces such as Gone Girl and Under The Skin is a crying shame. Anywho, excusing my rant, business on this front is good, and I've so far for January seen the aforementioned Big Eyes, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Exodus: God And Kings, The Wind Rises, Oculus and The Theory Of Everything, plus there'll be more in the mix, so, with that being said, for all the latest and greatest as regards to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Nightcrawler, which has come onto the radar primarily due to the prominence of acclaim for Jake Gyllenhaal's performance. In case you're unaware I'm a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal. I've admired his work since I first saw him in Richard Kelly's magnificent debut Donnie Darko playing the titular outcast. Since then, from The Day After Tomorrow (which in fairness was terrible) to Brokeback Mountain to Zodiac, he really grew up as far as performance is concerned. Now, over the past five years he has been on as hot a streak as any actor working in Hollywood, nabbing lead roles in Prince Of Persia, Love And Other Drugs, Source Code and End Of Watch, plus giving a magnificent supporting turn as Detective Loki in last year's Prisoners (for which he won my R. Lee Ermey Award for Best Supporting Role by a Male Actor). The other most notable player in terms of the context around Nightcrawler is that it is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, a longtime screenwriter (he also wrote the screenplay for this picture) who has worked most notably of late with his brother, writer-director Tony Gilroy of Michael Clayton and the Jason Bourne series fame. Interestingly, with Nightcrawler Dan uses many of the same collaborators who are regular players with brother Tony, who has a producer credit here, including cinematographer Robert Elswit, composer James Newton Howard and editor John Gilroy, their brother and Dan's fraternal twin (yeah, lotta Gilroys!). I should also mention on a quick side note that I saw this way back in November, and the reason I've kept from reviewing it for nearly two months is because I saw it in The Strand, and unfortunately there was a consistent level of booming coming from the sound in the neighbouring screen playing Christopher Nolan's colossus Interstellar. I felt that those occasional interruptions were punctuating my viewing of the film and that I needed some time to reflect upon the movie so as to interpret my genuine opines. I'll keep it quick with the plot synopsis, because as a thriller, much of the enjoyment is derived in finding out what happens as it goes along. In all sincerity, I'd recommend it as an unwritten rule to go into movies cold if you can. Anywho, the story follows Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a thief who after seeing a freelance film crew at the scene of a car crash, is inspired to start shooting footage of accidents and crime scenes all over Los Angeles, selling it to news channels, in particular to Nina (Rene Russo), the morning news director of a local TV station, who encourages him to continue his work. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, and get the main talking point out of the way, Jake Gyllenhaal's central performance is extraordinary. He doesn't so much play the role as completely embody the character of Lou Bloom in every way shape or form. To my shame, I can't forget who it was that said it, but someone made a great point, in that what you see over the course of the film is the evolution of a predator. He starts off the movie a shady, slivering cretin, who, finding his calling in life, gradually puts the pieces together, not only of the story, but also of himself. It's also a step away for Gyllenhaal, in that one of his prevailing qualities as an actor is his charm and ability to connect with an audience. Here, there is nothing redeeming about his personality, and at times it is flabbergasting to listen Gyllenhaal gab away, rather eloquently I might add, these big monologues which unveil him as nothing less than a master manipulator. His Lou Bloom is, in many ways, the ultimate sociopath; charismatic, self-serving, determined, and most importantly, fully able to function in everyday life in a manner as pervasive as it's effect upon the viewer. In a stellar career which, as I mentioned upon his winning my award for Best Supporting Male for Prisoners last year, is still young, this might well be his best performance to date. Matching him in a terrific supporting turn is Rene Russo, who I haven't seen for quite a while but gives her best screen performance as Nina. A vibrant yet powerful and intimidating presence, she's more than a match for Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom, and in a part which is key to the narrative, she too evolves over the course of the picture. We see how she begins the film very much in control, and as Bloom plies craft, manipulating her, often sexually, she reveals a painful vulnerability, and at times a complicity towards it, informing the viewer just how twisted things are getting. Then of course you have Riz Ahmed, who hopefully with the strength of his part as Lou's assistant Rick gets more work Stateside. He informs the viewer of the immorality of Lou and keeps us grounded in the realm of reality as things begin to go off the wall. But he is far more than a device, and Ahmed gives Rick the genuine empathy and pathos crucial to our looking at him as more than just 'the other guy.' Notwithstanding the performers, but the other main reason we are able to look at all of these characters this way is because of the strength of Dan Gilroy's script. Lou Bloom is an iconic creation in it's own right, but all of the supporting characters around him are fleshed out and three-dimension people that you can fully believe exist. Also, he has a superb ear for sharp dialogue. Lou's convoluted, sprawling monologues are a marvel to behold, if only for rhetoric sake. There is a painstaking, meticulous quality to them, right down to the placement of words in a given sentence. Along with the central concept, being that the film essentially follows a gonzo paparazzo, who for all intents and purposes could be a bounty-hunter in a Western (and an antagonist), the film is rich in thematic content. For a film that doesn't feature much 'violence' per se, the tension and layered subtext emerges from the transgressive material. What does it say about us as a viewer, marvelling in the complexity of Lou Bloom's voyeurism as we gaze through his camera (the proverbial looking glass) and observe all around us? Are we active participants in these scenes or merely complicit observers? Furthermore, we're not battered on the head with this stuff or belittled a la Funny Games, but engaged in an entertaining manner that still retains it's artistry. As I mentioned, Nightcrawler's main crew shares a number of collaborators who have worked in the past on Dan Gilroy's brother Tony's pictures, and their contributions into Dan's directorial debut cannot be overlooked. Veteran DP and Academy Award winner Robert Elswit shoots a terrific looking picture which is reflective not only of the crisp clarity which is almost an inherent trait of his cinematography but also aesthetically in keeping with the project. Many of the stills from the film are beautifully textured images in their own right, taken out of the context of the bigger picture. Indeed, the picture's look, though distinct, is not dissimilar to that of 2011's Drive, without the extreme colour contrast and stylised lighting. The close-ups and profiles of Gyllenhaal really emphasise and highlight his performance, so that even in his rare moments of silence, the face of Lou Bloom speaks a thousand words. Also, for a DP who has such a crisp efficiency to his work, it's interesting how well he manages to easily slide into and appropriately capture the immediacy of the footage that Lou Bloom shoots. You've also got John Gilroy in the editing suite, which is perhaps rather fitting, being the writer-director's twin, who seems to know exactly what his brother wants. Nightcrawler is the kind of movie that in the hands of less-skilled people could have become a lot more sprawling, and in doing so probably would have been quite boring. However, John Gilroy manages to cut as much of it down with a fine tooth-comb as he can, keeping things tight and breezy. Despite pushing two hours and dealing with at times tough subject matter, Nightcrawler flies in and is an indisputably easy watch. James Newton Howard is also on board as the composer of the film's music, his work setting and maintaining the tone. For those of you who don't know, Newton Howard is one of the most prolific of contemporary film composers, reported to be a quick worker. Earlier in the year, I reviewed Maleficent and said that his score sounded rather "phoned-in," but that perhaps the studio didn't care much how it sounded as long as there was a score there. I don't know the man's attitudes, maybe he cares about his work, maybe it's just a job, but hey, the point is here with Nightcrawler you wouldn't be able to tell because it's a fine score. This is in many ways classical film composing, but Newton Howard does it well, and this is something keeps the film's juices flowing, the blood pumping, and the pulse is maintained consistency. Moving effortlessly between minimalist, almost downtempo pieces which are meditative but with an air of intrigue and mystery to faster, more driving sounds which gradually quicken the pace, this is an accomplished bit of film scoring and composition. The final thing I have to say is that although I've mentioned Dan Gilroy's script, I have failed thus far to compliment his obvious skills as a director. All of the various elements are brought together under his watchful gaze, and what comes of this collaborative effort is one of the most consistent and engaging movies of 2014. In the hands of another filmmaker, this could have been all about the script (Lord knows, we've had plenty writer-director indulgence pieces, cough, Wes Anderson, cough!) or completely Gyllenhaal's performance, but just about every portion of the film is well-developed and nobody tries to steal the show. Dan Gilroy proves with his debut to be someone with very capable hands, and on the basis of his assured, confident direction, that anything with his name on it in the future is worthy of garnering this reviewer's interest.

Now, in case you haven't gathered by now, which if you haven't I must say I do doubt your abilities of perception, I loved Nightcrawler, and yes, I would go so far as to say that it's a masterpiece. What a fine year 2014 was for thrillers, getting this, Gone Girl, and even Under The Skin is to some extent a thriller, although definitely more science-fiction. Three masterpieces. Wow! However, I have to say that Nightcrawler is the lesser of those three films, and now I shall tell you why. Once again though, it's one of those cases were I will end up sounding like a cop-out and talking about feeling, as opposed to there being anything technically wrong with the film. There isn't, and out of those three it is certainly the most consistently strong, but it does fail slightly to reach just quite their peaks. The big feeling though in terms of this though is that I know there will be people positively alienated by the film. Lou Bloom is one of the most loathsome protagonists ever to grace the big screen, and I think that he will be rejected outright by some viewers. At least Malcolm McDowell's Alex in A Clockwork Orange had a great degree of joyous charm to him, even in the midst of his adventures of rape and ultra-violence; Lou Bloom doesn't even have that, and is the kind of person you could imagine kicking a baby if he thought that it's flying body would make good footage. While I personally do not have a problem with the character (I love it!), there will be people who do, especially as he is the central figure in the film.

So, despite the fact that I feel that the character of Lou Bloom will alienate some people, I thought Nightcrawler was perhaps the most consistently strong of the films I have seen from 2014 so far. Jake Gyllenhaal's extraordinary lead performance is the best lead part of the year, Dan Gilroy's script is so rich, dense and multi-faceted, and each of his primary collaborators, Robert Elswit, John Gilroy and James Newton Howard, do great jobs in their respective departments as DP, editor and composer. It's an assured, confident directorial debut from Dan Gilroy, who proves himself to be more than capable of fronting a film in the big chair as he is at the writer's desk. Granted, I have a whole month's worth left to get through before Oscar season (more of which in the coming month and a half), but I'd be surprised if Nightcrawler wasn't among my top five films of the year by the time I wrap this thing up.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Dead on (looking forward to getting through this glut of movies!)

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Lego Movie

Directed by: Phil Lord
Christopher Miller

Produced by: Dan Lin
Roy Lee

Screenplay by: Phil Lord
Christopher Miller

Story by: Dan Hageman
Kevin Hagemen
Phil Lord
Christopher Miller

Based on: Lego Construction Toys

Starring: Chris Pratt
Will Ferrell
Elizabeth Banks
Will Arnett
Nick Offerman
Alison Brie
Charlie Day
Liam Neeson
Morgan Freeman

Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh

Cinematography by: Pablo Plaisted

Editing by: David Burrows
Chris McKay

Studio(s): Village Roadshow Pictures
Lego System A/S
Vertigo Entertainment
Lin Pictures
Animal Logic
Warner Animation Group

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures (United States)
Roadshow Films (Australia)

Release date(s): February 1, 2014 (Copenhagen, premiere)
February 7, 2014 (United States)
February 14, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 100 minutes

Country(s): United States

Language: English

Production budget: $60 million

Box-office revenue: $468.8 million

Alrighty, so I've told you outright already the lay of the land in terms of the reviewing front, and I have went into the blogging equivalent of beast mode. After this, I have a review for Nightcrawler (finally) on the way, and then I will wrap up the November-December bracket (yeah, I know, it's near the middle of January, but my fingers are burning, so shush!). I've gotten ahead for January and have seen Big Eyes, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Exodus: Gods And Kings and The Wind Rises. I will also have guaranteed reviews for Nymphomaniac, Stranger By The Lake, The Basement, Oculus and Calvary, plus probably a few more (I do so want to see Inherent Vice, Boyhood and Life Itself; i'll probably be obliged to watch The Theory Of Everything...). So, for all the latest and greatest according to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is The Lego Movie, which actually came out around the beginning of 2014 but I've only got round to looking at now for various reasons. When I first heard that there was a Lego movie on the way, I was horrified at the prospect, but I saw a trailer for the movie and thought I'd give it a chance. Then the reviews came out, which were near universally in a positive vein (my good friend at Danland Movies named it #9 in his top ten films of 2014) and people flocked to see it, so at this stage I had to see it. Only, that chance just came along in the past week or two around the Christmas holidays. I can recall an amusing anecdote with fondness how during my travels working security at the festivals during the summer that on the long boat trips (because we don't travel planes any more; I 'wonder' why?) the boys would often chill out by going in to watch The Lego Movie, and they loved it. That's right, a bunch of security guards chomping at the bit to get in and watch The Lego Movie nearly every time we went on a boat, which probably casts a better light on the characters in our profession than most people would associate with us. Anywho, I never went in because I was too stubborn to consider reviewing a movie in such an environment (unsupervised children on a boat is never a good thing, believe me! Parents just let them run rampant, thinking that the staff/help will babysit them!). Only on Boxing Day, when my mother made offered me a £10 Tesco voucher that needed to be used or else it would expire, did I get The Lego Movie on Blu-Ray, and even then I was looking for Hayao Miyazaki's latest film The Wind Rises. So, after all this, I've got the movie, I sit down and watch it, and here's what I think; but first, plot synopsis! In the world of Lego, the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) attempts to protect a superweapon called the Kragle from falling into the hands of Lord Business (Will Ferrell), failing, but prophesies that a person known as The Special will find the Piece of Resistance capable of stopping the Kragle. Eight and a half years later, average joe construction worker Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) comes across a woman named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), literally falling head over heels and unintentionally finding the Piece of Resistance, whereupon touching it, he faints. Awakening in the custody of Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), the now President Business' lieutenant, he discovers that Business plans to use the Kragle to freeze the world. He escapes with the help of Wyldstyle to find Vitruvius, and with the aid of Batman (Will Arnett), they band together to battle the forces of President Business and save the Lego universe. Got that? Good!

(Blogger screws up again at this stage. Dear Blogger, please, for god's sake, stop giving me the impression that you're saving my work when a whole chunk that took an hour and a half to write goes missing when I reload the draft!)

Shooting from the hip with the good here, I have to say that this is one of the most wildly imaginative and creative pictures I have seen in this year. As I mentioned, initially I was horrified at the prospect of a feature-length theatrical Lego movie. I thought that it would be major overkill and an exercise in consumerism merely encouraging people to buy the toys. However, in the hands of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the proverbial Master Builders, if you will, we get something wholly unexpected altogether. Known for their absolutely barmy Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and the recent Jump Street comedies, they bring their own brand of humour to the Lego franchise, turning everything on it's head in the most entertaining of ways. The wacky zaniness and just plain outrageousness of some of the material in this film is simply hysterical, and had me laughing consistently throughout. There's something very positive about watching a movie that wallows in utter ridiculousness. Also, it's not stupidity by any means, because while one can take it for what it is on the surface, there's a far more intelligent picture at work underneath it all. Twice already, I've alluded to my feelings beforehand, but it's like Lord and Miller decided "hey, if we're gonna sell out, we're gonna completely acknowledge it and have a blast while doing it!"

(That's all I was able save from a quick copy and paste routine, so sincerely, Blogger, screw you! I had good material and it's going to be a bitch trying to get back that pazazz from here!)

(Oh, yeah, on another note, I've got a chunk out of my left index from putting away Christmas decorations, so now I've to type the bulk of a review I've already written once with a hindrance which'll probably end up sounding like I'm typing off a hymn sheet because I'm repeating myself! Thank you, Blogger!)

Animation supervisor Chris McKay said something that is really quite indicative of the nature of the film, in that "We took something you could claim is the most cynical cash grab in cinematic history... and turned it into a celebration of creativity, fun and invention." Incredibly, Lord and Miller have managed to make a capitalist movie that is vehemently anti-capitalist. This reflexivity is depicted in numerous ways, such as the film's theme song, Everything Is AWESOME!!! This catchy little number, which has become a sensation in it's own right, is a hit single in the film's world, acting as a sort of the opium for the masses. Mark Mothersbaugh the film's composer in an interview said regarding the song (performed by Teagan and Sara, featuring The Lonely Island, who also co-wrote), "It's totally irritating, this kind of mindless mantra to get people up and working." There's something very distinctly Orwellian about the whole thing. With Lord and Miller going off the radar, it's natural I suppose that their collaborators do the same, and Mothersbaugh completely relishes in it. Anyone familiar with his work in Devo knows the man has penchant for the unconventional, this is a consistent theme throughout, from the ditty little melodies that keep the ball rolling to genuinely insane pieces like Untitled Self Portrait, a ludicrous parody of the Batman character. Another of the film's praiseworthy attributes is certainly the animation itself. Although no doubt it was a technical challenge, given that they've tried to replication stop-motion animation through computer graphics, notwithstanding the sheer abundance of detail in the film's world, I'm sure that the animators relished the opportunity to do this. It's a beautiful and superbly-realised diegesis, with a splendid colour and tonal palette as the characters move to and from each of the film's various locations. In my review for The Zero Theorem, I referred to Terry Gilliam as one of the greats in terms of realising a film's world, well, by jove, Animal Logic, the Australian animation studio spearheading the craftsmanship in this, give Gilliam and other such filmmakers a run for their money. Finally, the last thing I'd like to praise is the voice cast, who uniformly are on form, but I'd like to point out specifically a number of whom are foremost due the praise. Chris Pratt, who between this movie and Guardians Of The Galaxy has had a stellar year, is a great lead. Playing average-joe stumblebum Emmet Brickowski, Pratt pitches this character somewhere between being a completely ignorant fool who just happens to have ended up in extraordinary circumstances and a knowingness that doesn't quite break the fourth wall but certainly involves the audience. Will Ferrell is funnier here than he has been for a long time, revelling in the outrageous supervillainy of President Business. I admit, Ferrell at times gets on my nerves, and it should be made clear that shouting loudly and wearing wigs and moustaches doesn't always equate to great comedy (his best live-action performance of recent years, incidentally, was as the straight guy in 2010's The Other Guys), but here it is justified. Even down to his hyping up of the Kragle (and it's reveal), this is an absurdly good performance. Also, not to give away spoilers, but Ferrell also displays real tact, intelligence and indeed charm when it comes to some of the more complex material involved in this character. Elizabeth Banks, after the monstrous Walk Of Shame, reminds me why I like her so much with her sassy yet vulnerable Wyldstyle, proving the unwritten rule that any Elizabeth Banks, even in voice only, in better than no Elizabeth Banks. Also coming off of a poor comedy (Seth MacFarlane's underwhelming sophomore feature A Million Ways To Die In The West) but proving her has the gift is Liam Neeson. Playing off of his onscreen persona while also being really hammy and lampooning it at the same time, Neeson is a joy, and his split-personality Good Cop/Bad Cop is proof that it's all down to the material that one has got to work with. In this case, the material is strong and, even considering the fact that it ain't no masterpiece (more of which), it remains one of the most deliriously entertaining films of 2014. 

Now, I've already made it very much clear that I had a whale of a time with The Lego Movie. Not only is it highly entertaining, but there's a lot more going on in the subtext and under the surface than one might initially expect at work. However, much as I liked it and admit fully that it will probably finish out as one of my favourites of 2014, I just don't think it is up there in the upper echelon I've talked about before. For those of you unfamiliar, it is my opinion that there are usually four or five masterpieces a year (sometimes six), which are followed by pictures of great merit that end up comprising the bottom half of a top ten list. This is one of the those movies. Why, you ask? At risk of sounding like a copout, it's down to the fact that while I saw that the movie has a warm and positive message, it didn't contain for me that additional emotional resonance. It's another one purely down to feeling, because what I take away from The Lego Movie is the outrageous humour and intelligent subtexts, but not the resonating crescendo of something like Gone Girl or Under The Skin, both in their own ways fundamentally genre films but elevated beyond that. Unfortunately, while I loved The Lego Movie, it didn't strike a chord in quite the same as those other pictures.

So, while I have to admit that I have that reservation about the film lacking that extra level of emotional resonance that makes a great film a masterpiece, I still think that The Lego Movie is one of the most deliriously entertaining films of 2014. Phil Lord and Chris Miller have crafted something truly bizarre and in many ways brilliant. Full of outrageous humour and intelligent subtext, this is, I think, perhaps the first film that manages to be capitalist and anti-capitalist at the same time. Mark Mothersbaugh is let off the proverbial leash and goes wild, not dissimilar to Benny and his obsession with building spaceships, crafting a suitable bonkers aural landscape. Animal Logic's animation flourishes with colour and is a solid piece of technical craftsmanship, and the film is endowed with a terrific voice cast, specifically Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson. A real bona-fide pleasure!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (a bluff was not called!)