Tag Archives: Charlie Day

Movie Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Sometimes sequels are lazy cashgrabs, (especially animated sequels– looking at you, Cars movies!) but the followup to the movie everyone thought was going to be terrible but was actually groundbreaking and amazing is almost equally as… um… “awesome.”

I say “almost” because it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube for the original conceit of the movie: that the Lego toys (and our characters) exist in the real world in a suburban basement somewhere in what was an extended metaphor about capitalism, fascism, consumerism, playing with your toys, and having childlike wonder and fun with them.

Having expended that creativity in the twist ending (and further exploring it in both the Lego Batman and Ninjago movies), the only answer in the sequel is to double down on what else worked so well in the first — humor, songs, childlike anarchy and imagination — and move forward. While this isn’t quite the revelation the first one was, it’s still easily the best movie of 2019 (so far).

Our story begins where the last one ended (literally) with the arrival of Duplo aliens from the “Sistar” system. Now 5 years later, the aliens continue to come and destroy anything that our heroes build in the former metropolis of Bricksburg, which is now a Mad Max style apocalyptic wasteland, complete with broken Statue of Liberty!

However, this doesn’t dampen the spirit of Emmett (Chris Pratt) who continues to think everything is awesome. The more cynical realistic Lucy / “Wyldstyle” (Elizabeth Banks) along with Metalbeard (Nick Offermen), Benny (Spaceship! Charlie Day), UniKitty (Allison Brie), and Batman (Will Arnett) rule over the city protecting it from incursion and destruction. But Emmett starts to have dreams of an upcoming “Mom-ageddon” where all the Legos are put into storage forever.

When one day a mysterious spacewoman named General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) shows up to “invite them all to a wedding,” she kidnaps all of our heroes except Emmett and takes them to the Sistar system. Our optimistic construction worker then has to travel into the great beyond up the staircase and to the new galaxy to rescue them.

On his way he encounters Rex Dangervest (also Chris Pratt in a dual role) whose super awesome spaceship is piloted by Raptors. Rex is super hardcore, which gives him not only “master builder” powers but “master destructor” powers. The two new “vest friends” plan to disrupt the wedding ceremony between Queen Whatevra Wa’Nabi (Taraji P. Henson) and Batman as it is the final sign of the Momageddon.

That plot doesn’t really do the film justice however, because there is so much more going on at every level. The film is infused with joyous songs. The infectious conformity anthem of “Everything Is Awesome” is one-upped by a song literally meant to brainwash our heroes by claiming that “this song’s going to get stuck inside your head.” And it really does.

In “Gotham City Guys,” Queen Whatevra seduces Batman in what is perhaps the funniest sequence in the film for comic fans as she plays on Batman’s insecurities and rivalry with a certain Kryptonian. This is also a good time to mention that Jason Momoa and Gal Gadot also both appear as their DCEU characters in some truly excellent cameos. But don’t worry– Green Lantern is still played by Jonah Hill from the first movie! (What, they were going to get Ryan Reynolds?)

Returning musical champs The Lonely Island also make an appearance singing a song about how cool the credits are– which definitely make you want to sit through the credits. And Queen Whatevra channels evil Disney anthems like “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” “Be Prepared,” and “Mother Knows Best” singing a song all about how she’s definitely definitely definitely not evil, she promises.

What really makes this film work are the multiple layers of meaning. And for this discussion I will have to delve into minor plot spoilers, but not ones which adults wouldn’t see coming from a mile away in a kids movie. Of course as adults we recognize that the “Sistar System” is actually ruled by the sister of the young boy we saw in the first film.

What is actually happening in the war between Bricksburg and her system is sibling rivalry played out large. An older brother feels that his little sister is breaking and stealing his toys (which he’s not wrong about by the way). And a little sister just wants to play Legos with her older brother. Taking in stride the meaning of the first film, we see the son becoming his own father: demanding the conformity to his type of play and excluding those who won’t play along.

And we also have the eponymous Mom of the Momageddon (Maya Rudolph) who is doing what moms everywhere do: if you can’t play nicely with each other, then I’m going to have to take away the source of the conflict (the offending toys). Again, these are minor spoilers, but they’re also pretty clear to adults who read between the lines of the early plot and who are aware of the conceit of the first film. Also, let’s take one moment here and point out how amazing Maya Rudolph is. She is the shining star at the center of this film’s universe, bathing everything in a warm glow at the perfect intersection of awesome, funny, and super serious. She’s the perfect mom.

There’s also deeper message here that emphasizes the original (covert) feminism of the first Lego Movie, even directly pointing out that Lucy was the one who did most of the heroic things but Emmett is still seen as the leader and the hero. But this film is implicitly making the case for opening up the toy box for everyone, and not just everyone in general, but specifically for young girls. It should also be noted that the central players of the Sistar galaxy are also voiced by women of color (Haddish, Beatriz) — another implicit demand for playing with everyone.

Gatekeeping is endemic in our fan culture, and nowhere is it more apparent than among self-professed fans who seem most intent on keeping women out of the fandom. The same mentality also infects the toy aisle of your local favorite big box store, which is still one of the most unnecessarily gender-segregated areas left in America.

The idea that Legos and building sets are only for girls, and therefore we have to create special gendered Legos for them is as silly as it is retrogressive. And yet, Lego has done just that, haven’t they?

The strongest message that we got at the end of the film is simply to play with one another, and allow different forms of play and imagination to work together. Spoiler alert: when the brother and sister stop fighting, they create a beautiful new Utopia for the Lego heroes from both universes to live in.

There’s another great moment near the climax of the third act where “Everything is Awesome” is turned on its head and Lucy starts singing how everything’s not awesome, but it can be if we all work together and put aside differences and misunderstandings. Essentially, it’s a message to not go Hard AF at each other, because all that brings is destruction and unhappiness.

There couldn’t be a better lesson for 2019, and this was made all the more poignant when I saw this film at a critics preview screening the same night as the State of the Union speech. Everything’s not awesome, but there’s a way forward if we can hope and dream of a better world and work to bridge misunderstandings in order to confront the real evils that exist out there.

Note that this isn’t some mealy-mouthed centrist plea for bipartisanship or something of that nature. This is more of a plea to an increasingly fractured left and center who can so easily fall into the traps of purity tests or even engaging in ridiculous activities like re-litigating the 2016 primary.

One of the biggest lessons of this Lego movie is the fight about who started the war between Bricksburg and the aliens. “You started it.” “No you started it.” It’s the oldest, childish argument in the world, and it’s time to move past things like that to help make our world a better place.

The film is also incredibly funny, with jokes coming a mile a minute. You will want to re-watch several times, and maybe see it out of the theater because you are laughing so hard you will miss the next joke. There are beautiful and hilarious Easter eggs and callbacks to the previous film, but nothing that presents a barrier to anyone who didn’t see it.

The character designs and animation also continues to be astounding. Freed of just following the instructions from the first film, so many of the designs are just built on anarchy and imagination which makes them incredibly fun and toyetic. I left the theater and immediately went online to look to see if I could buy a UniKitty battle cat. Luckily I can, along with numerous other sets that I would probably have to take a second mortgage out to be able to afford. There’s also an amazing “Battle Ready Batman and MetalBeard” set for those who might gawk at playing with “girls toys.” (Did you not get the memo?)

The film does bog down a little bit in its second act, but it more than makes up for it with an amazing ending. The spirit and morality and hopefulness of this film make it something that will make you happy and want to play with your toys and hug your kids.

Everything’s not awesome, but it can be if we’ll listen to The Lego Movie 2.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

Pacific-Rim-Uprising-posterThe original Pacific Rim felt so much like lightning in a bottle, and its lackluster sequel does nothing to dissuade us of that notion.

On one hand, how hard could it be to deliver on a simple winning formula? Giant robots fighting monsters? And while Pacific Rim: Uprising has plenty of that (and it is, at times, spectacular) it is weighed down by all of its exposition and human characters and some especially clunky performances.

In this sequel, John Boyega stars as Stacker Pentecost’s son Jake. Set ten years after the last film, and with no sign of kaiju invasion in a decade, Jake is far removed from the Jaeger program but is reluctantly recruited back in to help train a new team of pilots. However, they’re on the verge of being replaced by a new generation of remotely piloted Jaeger drones which don’t require drift-compatible two person pilot teams. What could go wrong with semi-autonomous giant robot drones in every major city? And this, of course, ends in the return of the kaiju and an apocalyptic showdown in Tokyo.

The original worked largely because screenwriter Travis Beacham and director Guillermo Del Toro were so in sync creatively. Despite the film being somewhat formulaic, it delivered a fun, exciting take on “robots fighting monsters” by having interesting human characters. For Uprising, writer and director Steven DeKnight, a veteran of Netflix’s Daredevil, the CW’s Smallville, and numerous Joss Whedon Buffyverse projects, just doesn’t seem to quite mesh with the material.

The script, while serviceable, telegraphs its giant robot punches miles away. If you had stopped the film after ten minutes and asked, “How is this going to end?” it’s easy to predict… and so then the film plays out in a paint-by-numbers fashion. And while the original gives us some great scenes outside the jaegers, including one of my favorite fight scenes of the movie (right), Uprising is a snoozefest when it isn’t being cringeworthily bad.

Chief culprit here is Charlie Day, who provided a lot of comic relief and exposition in the original (especially in his Odd Couple science buddy pairing with Burn Gorman) but who is just the absolute worst in this film. It doesn’t help that Scott Eastwood could be replaced by a cord of firewood and would be more interesting to watch. Also gone is any real character building for the supporting cast, who mostly end up unmemorable. Boyega is the only real standout star, but as much as he tries to carry this movie by himself, it’s just not possible, especially when he is saddled with this sometimes inexplicably bad script.

But the fight scenes? Those are pretty fun. Again, it doesn’t have anywhere near the charm and innovative feel of the first one. But, we were never really expecting it would, right? And when it sets us up for the inevitable sequel, we can only hope that someone is willing to lure Del Toro and Beacham back to work their magic.

If you’re a devoted fan of robots and kaiju, they already have your money. You bought your tickets ages ago and no mediocre review is going to keep you from seeing this. But for general audiences? Save your money for Ready Player One, or go see Black Panther again.

2 out of 5 stars

TV Review: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (S9/E2)

Its-Always-Sunny-in-Philadelphia“Gun Fever Too: Still Hot”

So here we go! The inaugural review of a television episode on Graphic Policy, and I can’t explain how pleased I am that it’s a review for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

For over eight seasons now It’s Always Sunny has offered viewers television without a hint of soul, emotion, or kindness. It’s truly a unique series, assuming that if it makes its characters horrible enough, everything is funny. Crack is funny. Hunting the homeless is funny. Finding a dumpster baby is funny. And the show is right. Thanks to the strength of the actors, It’s Always Sunny can find the humor in any situation. Every once in a while, though, the series tries to have a point, and this is one of those episodes. The Gang has something to say about gun control.

There are essentially two storylines and one runner in this episode, and it’s hard to qualify which is the A story and which is the B (it’s also hard to qualify Frank’s interviews as a runner, because they’re the impetus for the entire episode). But that’s just an interesting bit of television manipulation, structurally speaking, so I’ll breeze right past and discuss each storyline individually.

We’ll call the Mac and Charlie storyline the A story because I like it more. After seeing Frank give an interview on the television about getting mugged, they decide their streets and schools aren’t safe, so of course they go and offer their services to the local middle school (but not before putting on an amazing denim ensemble which makes them look like something out of a vaguely homoerotic 1980s action movie). They sit with the principle and offer their protective services, but of course the conversation soon devolves into bickering about which is more effective in protecting a school: a gun or a sword. (This also leads to my favorite line of the episode. Mac says, “Guns do not belong in schools. That’s why I brought a saber.”)

The pair then spends part of the rest of the episode standing outside of school grounds hassling students they deem suspicious (“We’ve got a sassmouth. Red flag!”) and debating which would win, sword or gun. The comedic timing between Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney is pitch perfect, and the subject matter absolutely ridiculous, but what really put it over the top for me was the location. They bicker and argue and Charlie fires his unloaded gun at Mac, the clicks of an empty chamber echoing, and then the camera pulls back to reveal kids playing on the playground and a school bus by the curb. It just blew me away, and reminded me once again of the show’s central conceit: there people are horrible and ignorant, but in the best way possible.

The B story is all about Dennis and De trying to buy a weapon to prove to Mac and Charlie how easy procuring a firearm really is. They want to get guns off of the street, you see. What I love most about this storyline is how quickly and easily Dennis and Dee change sides of the argument. They begin their story trying to make a point about society at large, about how anyone can walk off the street and buy a gun at Gunther’s Guns (which Frank was pimping on tv). But when they’re denied at the gun shop and then price gouged at a gun show, they have a change of heart. Not, of course, because they realize that guns are hard to get, but because they can’t get one. Regardless of the fact that Dennis is a person of interest in several felonies and Dee spent some time in an institution after setting her college roommate on fire, they feel insulted. It’s hard to give these characters fatal flaws because the characters are so ridiculous and awful, but if I had to assign them, Dennis and Dee’s fatal flaw would be narcissism. Their moral outrage loses out to their inherent sense of rightness and superiority, which in turn leads them down a path of anger and screaming and into the open arms of a shady gun dealer who steals $1500 from Dennis, and never delivers the AR-15 he promised.

Then at the end of the episode we come back to Frank, who tells them that he made up his story because he has a stake in Gunther’s Guns and was looking to scare folks into buying firearms so that he could make some quick cash. His runner acts as a lynchpin to the story, but that’s essentially the only place in the episode where the stories intersect, which is a little frustrating. It’s a similar topic, but the characters essentially go their separate ways after the cold open. It’s Always Sunny is at its best when all five characters are together and screaming over top of each other. After eight seasons, each actor knows exactly when to let another have a little bit more control. Each actor knows when to pull back and let another go off the rails. I’d have liked to see a little more of that. Each story was interesting and funny, but it’s always better when Charlie, Mac, Dennis, Dee, and Frank get into trouble together.

So at the end of the day, this episode is less about gun control (although they do try to make some valid points: “Government of today has no right telling us how to live our lives because the government 200 years ago already did.”) and more about how each character, and his/her neuroses, react to the idea of gun control, which is always a more fertile idea. This is an excellent episode of television, and probably one of the better episodes that It’s Always Sunny has ever done.

Stray Observations

-The fact that Frank eats a sandwich on live television during his interviews bookends the episode is amazing. As soon as I saw him casually pull out that sandwich for the first time I knew it was going to be a great episode.

-The end of Mac and Charlie’s story is that when they realize they can’t be on school grounds to defend it, they decide to arm the kids themselves. They organize the kids and give a speech about what they hope to do. At the end, Charlie just says “Let’s have a little fun.” Of course, we then get a title card that says “Five Minutes Later” and then a cut to Charlie and Mac running out of Paddy’s and barricading the door, scratches all over their faces. I almost wish that we didn’t have that title card, and we have Charlie saying “Let’s have a little fun” and then we smash cut to the pair of them barricading the door. Although that’s a little predictable, I love a good smash cut.

Writers: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney Director: Todd Biermann

Overall Score: 9