REVIEW: The Lego Movie

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The Lego Movie
Directed by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Written by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (screenplay & story), Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman (story)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman

The two things that The Lego Movie most immediately recalls are the South Park “Imaginationland” episodes and Team America: World Police, biting pop cultural critiques from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The Lego Movie is, obviously, much more toned down and targeted at children (there is no MPAA trolling “sex” scene like the marionette one in Team America).  What exactly the movie seems to be satirizing becomes a bit watered down by the hypocrisy of its own design.

It starts off in a Lego world that George Orwell or Ray Bradbury may have built, where the inhabitants all follow the instruction manuals or risk being melted by President Business (Will Ferrell).  The Lego Movie is not (and cannot) be totally anti-business, though.  President Business eventually becomes Lord Business who eventually becomes (spoiler) a micromanaging dad in the human world telling his kid not to mess with immaculately constructed (and unimaginative) Lego buildings.  The movie is designed to show how much fun a dad and son can have with (spoiler) Legos!  The movie is more pro-child imagination, though I’m sure all Legos made after this movie will still come with instructions.

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REVIEW: Oblivion

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Oblivion
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Written by: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt (screenplay), Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson (comic book)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman

Machines are typically a main enemy in science fiction narratives, often stand-ins for the mechanical processes of fascism or bureaucracy .  This is true both in front of and behind the camera in Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion, a dull, overdone futuristic movie that tries amicably to be more than the Tom Cruise vehicle it ultimately is.  It is so bogged down by needless special effects excess that its fine polish glosses over any semblance of life.

Set in 2077, Oblivion at first follows Jack (Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), two engineers who repair drones that guard resource mining operations on what’s left of Earth.  Of course the drones turn out to be evil, and Jack is forced to choose between helping those he once helped destroy (a pack of human survivors led by Morgan Freeman) or stay the course.  It isn’t really much of a choice, and neither the script nor the camera captures any rebellious spirit or sense of urgency.  There are a some well done firefights and amusing exchanges between Cruise and Freeman, but Kosinksi sacrifices all major opportunities for political commentary to indulge in them.

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REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan (screenplay), Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer (story) and Bob Kane (characters)
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

It’s often impossible for a highly anticipated movie to live up to expectations, though Christopher Nolan certainly gives it his all in the conclusion to his Batman trilogy.  The Dark Knight Rises is as large-scale a production as almost anything that Hollywood cranks out on James Cameron’s down time, a pitch black morality play on the grandest scale imaginable.

Nolan is one of the premiere modern directorial maximalists, able to sustain brooding tone and narrative complexity while also delivering spectacle on a blockbuster scale.  His movies, however uneven in quality, are always eye-popping and visually inventive.  The Dark Knight Rises is not the near-masterpiece that its predecessor was, though like the first film in the trilogy it is still a highly admirable, disturbingly relevant vision.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan (screenplay), Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer (story) and Bob Kane (characters)
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman

The Dark Knight changed the landscape of comic book movies by taking the super out of “super hero.”  The caped crusader at its center is a man tasked with an evil so great, so uncompromisingly senseless and terrifying, that he must sacrifice his moral superiority in order to fight it.

To me, this is not only Christopher Nolan’s crowning achievement as a director (so far), but also one of the best summer blockbusters ever made.  Just as Batman (Christian Bale) is brought toward the moral center, the movie’s heavy-handed post-9/11 politics and its gloriously conceived action sequences must also meet in the middle.  
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REVIEW: Red

Red
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (screenplay), Warren Ellis & Cully Hammer (graphic novel)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise-Parker, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren

How do you confront aging?  Many don’t, avoiding the fact that they’re retired with hobbies, community service, or a condo in Florida.  The aging agents of Red charge straight ahead with guns blazing.

If this movie were to be described in one way, it would have to be an adolescent revenge fantasy aimed at Baby Boomers.  It’s for every mid-life-crisis-stricken adrenaline junkie who wants to make the whipper-snappers pay for looking at them like they’re unhip.  Of course, since this is a big-budget Hollywood action film with A-list names, there’s something everyone will enjoy, even if none of it is anything new or even good.

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