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!) 

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