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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: Life of the Party

Life of the party posterMelissa McCarthy is one of the funniest people working today. But even a cast full of some of the best comedic talent assembled for any film in 2018 can’t save this movie from wearing a little thin on its premise.

McCarthy is Deanna, who, upon dropping her daughter off for her senior year of college, is hit with an ultimatum from her husband (Matt Walsh) for a divorce. He has fallen for the local realtor with her face on all the bus benches (Julie Bowen) and they’re already in the process of selling the house. With nowhere else to go, Deanna decides to re-enroll in college to finish the last year of her archaeology degree, and not enough wackiness ensues.

Maya Rudolph tries to steal the movie as McCarthy’s best friend, as do Stephen Root, Gillian Jacobs, and Heidi Gardner. But the film’s premise ultimately wears thin — it’s a middle aged mom going back to college!! — and it relies more on uncomfortable, cringe-worthy humor of a mom embarrassing herself in front of her daughter.

What is refreshing, however, is that this is exactly the same type of movie we would’ve seen in decades past with male leads — Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield in the 80’s, Billy Madison with Adam Sandler in the 90’s, 21 Jump Street with Channing Tatutm and Jonah Hill — but this presents a female-centric story with a really sweet heart.  Unfortunately, it also falls into some of the same traps and tropes of these older films, too — if the girl just lets down her hair and stops wearing glasses and frumpy sweaters, then suddenly she’s attractive? Ugh.

In fact, it’s the character-driven, more dramatic moments of growth that really work in this movie, such as Deanna hooking up with a much younger college guy who absolutely worships her. McCarthy shows off her dramatic chops a little, which should be no surprise to anyone who knows her from Gilmore Girls or saw her opposite Bill Murray in St. Vincent. There’s also an ongoing storyline about dealing with the campus mean girls and eventually winning them over that is nice. But the film threatens to lose a lot of that goodwill when, during the third act, the girls get high and then crash and ruin a wedding.

It also feels like the film might be holding back a little bit. Obviously going for a PG-13 rating, they never really get dangerous with their comedy.  With McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone getting writing credits (Falcone also directed and shows up in a brief, but perfect, cameo), it’s fairly obvious they wanted to work with a giant group of actors famed for their improv skills.  If there are R-rated outtakes from this movie, I want to see them.

Because otherwise the film is just sort of bland. While not a failure by any means, it just doesn’t go for the comedy jugular the way some other of McCarthy’s previous comedies have. But, at least it’s not as bad as Tammy, which remains the unequivocal nadir of McCarthy/Falcone’s collaborations.

This film gets a genteleman’s C — nay, make that a gentlewoman’s C. It passes, just barely, but it feels like it just sort of showed up despite amazing talent, it could’ve achieved great things if it had applied itself a bit more.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: The Emoji Movie

emoji_movie_posterJust how bad is it? It’s really, really, really bad.

💩 💩 💩 💩 💩 out of 5 🌟

But were we really expecting anything less from this? The very idea of it sounded terrible from the outset. No one in 1975 decided to make a kids film about the pet rock. There’s no 90’s-tastic The Slap Bracelet Movie or Pogs! The Movie! (We do have Space Jam, but that’s not all that terrible.) The biggest problem is that huge amount of legitimate talent they must have had kompromat Russian dossiers on in order to blackmail them to make this.

TJ Miller is a “Meh” emoji 😒 living inside high school freshman Alex’s phone, where every app is its own city. And on his first day on the job he messes up the face he’s supposed to pull– and emoji aren’t supposed to be able to have more than one emotion. So he goes on a quest with Hi5 ✋ (James Corden) to find a hacker (Anna Faris) who can upload them onto the cloud where he can fix his code. Sound dumb? It is. And so much worse.

Literally the only moment of joy in this entire film is when they wander through YouTube and are momentarily mesmerized by a cat video.

There. You’ve now experienced 100% of what is good and entertaining in The Emoji Movie.

Mentioning YouTube, this film is chock-full of internet product placement. Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, Crackle — they all make cameos. And the worst is a sequence in the Just Dance app introducing The Emoji Dance, which is one of the most cringeworthy moments in a movie chock full of them.

SmilerAnd then there’s the film’s purported antagonist– Maya Rudolph as a smiley emoji whose presence is nails on a chalkboard  in a movie that is a swimming pool full of glass shards, razorblades, and lemon juice.

When a movie like The Lego Movie works, it’s partially because its villain Lord Business delivers a greater meaning about the dangers of conformity. But Smiler is just an awful generic discount store brand version.  So while a positive message about being yourself and it being ok to have other emotions might have been intended, it’s so lost in an incredibly uninspired and dumb script.

It’s a shame because Rudolph is incredibly talented. So are Miller, Faris, Corden and the rest of the cast. To a person — up to and especially including Sir Patrick Stewart who has a brief cameo as the poo emoji — the entire cast are talented people who deserve better material. Indeed, the first trailer and the cast led me to believe this might not be awful. But it wastes their talents like gold-plating a toilet does. Just because it’s covered in gold doesn’t make what’s in the bowl stink any less. This movie is a gold-plated commode filled with a mountain of filth like you’d find on one of those episodes of Hoarders.

For another perspective, this is how my 11 year old daughter — the target demographic for this “film” — responded: halfway through, she got up to leave the theater to text her friends how bad it was:

texts emoji movie

1- Imminently proud that my daughter knows NOT to text in the theater.

2- Even more proud that she can recognize how terrible this abomination is.

It’s sometimes the case where a critic sees a movie and it doesn’t resonate, because, well, it just wasn’t made for them. I get that. This is not one of those cases. This is a case of where the movie doesn’t understand itself.

One needn’t be 13 to understand the appeal of emoji. But the people who made this movie obviously don’t. And they also don’t understand how smartphones and apps work, either.

giphy

It’s also not clear any of them know or regularly interact with any teen or tween of any sort. As much of a creative wasteland as Hollywood movie studios can be, this is the absolute most uninspired and creative nadir of not only the year, but perhaps the decade.

This was made by the same out of touch corporate groupthink that gave us Poochie, the Edsel, and New Coke.

So, yes. The Emoji Movie is truly that bad. And, unfortunately, according to box office figures and how it beat the vastly superior Atomic Blondethis is a sign of why in America we can’t have nice things.

ZERO stars out of 5

Big Hero 6 Disney XD Series Gets it Voice Cast

Disney XD’s upcoming animated series Big Hero 6, based on Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Academy Award-winning feature film inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, will reunite much of the original cast for its 2017 debut. Reprising their roles are: Maya Rudolph as Aunt Cass; Jamie Chung as no-nonsense, speed genius Go Go; Scott Adsit as huggable robot Baymax; Alan Tudyk as tech guru Alistair Krei; Ryan Potter as tech genius Hiro; Genesis Rodriguez as quirky scientist Honey Lemon; David Shaughnessy as the butler Heathcliff; and Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee as Fred’s dad.

Also joining the main voice cast are Khary Payton as control freak Wasabi and Brooks Wheelan as fanboy Fred.

The film, from Walt Disney Animation Studios, was inspired by the Marvel comic created by Man of Action.

The series picks up immediately following the events of the feature film and continues the adventures and friendship of 14-year-old tech genius Hiro and his compassionate, cutting-edge robot Baymax. Along with their friends Wasabi, Honey Lemon, Go Go and Fred, they form the legendary superhero team Big Hero 6 and embark on high-tech adventures as they protect their city from an array of scientifically enhanced villains. In his normal day-to-day life, Hiro faces daunting academic challenges and social trials as the new prodigy at San Fransokyo Institute of Technology.

Additional guest cast includes: Jenifer Lewis as strict Professor Granville; Andrew Scott as villain Obake; comedian Andy Richter as Globby; Diedrich Bader as Bluff Dunder; Susan Sullivan as Fred’s mother; Sean Giambrone as Richardson Mole; John Ross Bowie as Mel; and Haley Tju as classmate Karmi.

Emmy Award winners Mark McCorkle, Bob Schooley and Nick Filippi, the team behind the global hit Disney Channel series “Kim Possible,” serve as executive producers. Filippi also serves as supervising director. Big Hero 6 is a production of Disney Television Animation.

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