The LEGO Ninjago Movie Review

Even after decades of toy-based movies, it still seemed impossible that the 2014 animated film The LEGO Movie could ever work. A movie that uses the minifigs that cause kids delight and parents frustration when they fall underfoot? Ridiculous. And yet, The LEGO Movie was a surprisingly, gleefully anarchic story that managed to rise above its corporate origins. A few months ago, that film’s creative and financial success spawned, naturally, a spin-off: The LEGO Batman Movie, which was just as satisfying as its predecessor despite presenting the umpteenth version of the Caped Crusader. Now, because success begets more stabs at success, we have The LEGO Ninjago Movie. This one doesn’t derive inspiration from any of the characters from the world where everything is awesome, but retains the same tone and spirit, to the point of being a bit too familiar.

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mother! early reviews

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Darren Aronofsky’s mother!)

Darren Aronofsky’s talents extend beyond his gripping filmmaking, inspiring intense debate among those who watch the finished product. His latest film, mother!, is starting to inspire the loudest debate of all: those who have seen the film (whether or not they’ve walked out before it ended) are fiercely divided among those who love it and those who helped give it a CinemaScore of F this past weekend. Technically, a lot happens in mother!, but there’s not exactly a plot or character arcs on display (neither of which, of course, are necessary). The film does bear similarities to many of Aronofsky’s previous films, from Black Swan to Noah, but it’s still very singular. What else could you call a movie where a massive group of people devour a newborn baby?

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. To attempt to answer the question at the core of mother! — to wit, what the hell is this about? — it’s worth exploring the multiple allegories that present themselves throughout.

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x atencio dead

X Atencio, the beloved Disney animator and Imagineer whose credits include everything from Pinocchio to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, has passed away at the age of 98. Atencio leaves behind a legacy marked by two of the most iconic theme-park attractions ever created, as well as decades of innovation in feature and short animation.

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close encounters of the third kind 2

Before I became a father, one of the most common things that would annoy me when talking to other people who were also parents was some version of the following: “Well, you can’t really understand it unless you have kids.” I would roll my eyes behind their backs. I’d tell myself that having kids can make a major impact on your life, but you can still question a parent’s choices or wonder if you’d do things differently without having kids yourself. I am still not a huge fan of this phrase – we can all empathize with someone else, even if we don’t walk in their shoes. But it’s a phrase I kept thinking about when I sat down to watch the 4K restoration of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind this past weekend, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary.

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new kermit voice

(Welcome to The Disney Discourse, a recurring feature where Josh Spiegel discusses the latest in Disney news. He goes deep on everything from the animated classics to the theme parks to live-action franchises. In this edition: why does Disney not know what to do with the Muppets?)

Earlier this week, a much-ballyhooed change to one of the most enduring characters in modern popular culture was unveiled, but you’d be forgiven for not noticing.

In their newest entry of the weekly series entitled “Muppet Thought of the Week,” the Muppets’ YouTube channel displayed a brand new Kermit the Frog. Kermit, of course, still looks the same, but if you watch the video and think he sounds a bit different – you’re right! The character, created and performed by Muppet honcho Jim Henson until his untimely passing in 1990, had been voiced and performed by Steve Whitmire for over 25 years. As of now, another longtime Muppet performer, Matt Vogel, portrays Kermit.

Earlier in the summer, this unexpected and abrupt passing of the torch was detailed at length online because of the mysterious nature of why Whitmire had been fired from the Jim Henson Company after performing as Kermit in multiple films, TV shows, and specials. (/Film wrote about some of these details last month, if you want further context.) It’s unfortunate, at best, to see the seeming in-fighting between Whitmire and the Jim Henson Company become so public. However, the unveiling of the new Kermit raises another, larger frustration. It would be easy to criticize Vogel’s performance as Kermit in that new video — he predictably doesn’t sound like the Kermit portrayed by either Henson or Whitmire, so it will at least take some getting used to — but it’s kind of hard to muster up a lot of commentary about a video that is literally less than 30 seconds long. This, in effect, speaks to the real problem: the Walt Disney Company has owned the Muppets for nearly 15 years, and this is how they decide to introduce a new Kermit the Frog? This is how they handle the Muppets?

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the lion king

(Welcome to The Disney Discourse, a recurring feature where Josh Spiegel discusses the latest in Disney news. He goes deep on everything from the animated classics to the theme parks to live-action franchises. In this edition: why Disney movies shouldn’t be afraid of death.)

Few moments in American cinema stick with people from their youth through adulthood as much as the death of Bambi’s mother midway through the 1942 Disney animated classic Bambi. (Her death was the focal point of one of the truly great entries in Gary Larson’s dearly departed The Far Side comic strip.) This murder, caused by an offscreen hunter, is handled as carefully and artfully as possible. We don’t see anything, not even a hint of the gruesome aftermath, just the echoing sound of shotgun shells. Then, the young Bambi is gruffly told by his largely absent father, the Great Prince of the Forest, that “Your mother can’t be with you anymore” as snow falls over the young deer’s furry face. This is a standout sequence in Disney animation not just because it’s emotional or beautifully rendered. It depicts something that almost never actually happens in the Disney canon: death.

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joker

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: why the very concept of a Joker origin movie is a terrible, no good, very bad idea.)

Some questions are better left unanswered. This basic notion is anathema in modern Hollywood, where every character must have an origin story and every origin story must be given the full franchise treatment. Thus, earlier in the week, Warner Bros. announced that it was working on an origin movie for The Joker, the infamous supervillain who has plagued Batman and Gotham City throughout decades of films, TV shows, and comic books. Much of the early reaction was focused on the baffling combination of people involved in this potential film: right now, Todd Phillips of The Hangover is slated to direct and co-write the film with Scott Silver (8 Mile), and Martin Scorsese — Martin Scorsese — will produce it.

Let’s get this out of the way: that trio working on this project is inexplicably odd to the point of feeling like the product of a fever dream. (If there is no other lesson here: you should have seen Silence when it opened in December, instead of neglecting it.) But the problem with this Joker origin story idea isn’t that it’s going to be directed by someone who’s made his name largely on obnoxious, bro-heavy comedies, or that Martin Scorsese is attached (which is just kind of heartbreaking). In fact, it has nothing to do with the men involved, and everything with what they’re involved in. There shouldn’t be a Joker origin story, of any kind, ever.

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How Logan Lucky and Ocean's Eleven Compare

“They’re calling it Ocean’s 7-11,” a character says near the end of the goofy and wonderfully charming new film Logan Lucky, marking a welcome return for filmmaker Steven Soderbergh to the big screen. The winking in-joke, nodding to the 2000s-era trilogy that Soderbergh directed with a slew of massive movie stars making up the eponymous crew, might seem like it’s gilding the lily just a bit. But the reference works, both because it helps cement the fact that the filmmaker has a good sense of humor about his own work, and because it genuinely fits the story preceding the quip. On the surface, Logan Lucky has more than a few elements in common with the Ocean’s trilogy, but just underneath, this film represents an inversion of those slicker heist movies.

This post contains minor spoilers for Logan Lucky.

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ocean's twelve defense 1

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: Ocean’s Twelve is a brilliant chapter in what may be the best trilogy mainstream Hollywood has ever produced.)

If sequels are hard to pull off, then trilogies are the hardest of all. Hollywood is overstuffed with franchises, but few of those series are straight-up trilogies, and even fewer of those are good from start to finish. Even the existing trilogies that might be enjoyable have built-in caveats. Like most people, I love the original Star Wars trilogy, but it’s not a closed-off trilogy, telling three stories as opposed to being three stories in a larger, more massive series of films. The original trilogy is great, but it’s not, in its own way, standalone. Even great mainstream trilogies like the Toy Story films aren’t going to be trilogies for much longer, as the fourth Toy Story is on the way in 2019.

This week, as we prepare for the release of Logan Lucky, a new heist film from iconoclastic director Steven Soderbergh, it’s time to acknowledge perhaps the best mainstream trilogy of all: the Ocean’s trilogy.

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Cool Posts From Around the Web:

your favorite disney movies

It all started with a tweet. Last week, after seeing a couple of other such tweets catch fire amidst the madness of real-world news, I posed a question to the denizens of Twitter. “What are your five favorite Disney animated films?” I thought it would be fun to tally up some of the responses, and see what film takes the day in an unscientific survey. Maybe I could even pit the top few vote-getters in an actual Twitter poll. Would The Lion King be the big favorite? Maybe the first Disney feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, would take the day. Alternatively, a dark-horse contender could surprise everyone and reach the top.

I don’t exactly know what I was expecting, either in terms of the amount of responses and the answers themselves. What I received was massive. I’ve gotten literally thousands of responses. As I write this essay, I am still getting responses, more than a week later. The answers flew in virtually from a wide and varied group of people: fellow film critics, like Keith Phipps of Uproxx and Monica Castillo of The New York Times; other journalists, such as Jamelle Bouie of Slate; actors like Zoe Kazan; and many other folks from around the globe. I was initially taken aback at how varied the responses were: there was a clear victor, but if you cast your net wide enough, you’ll find fans of every Disney animated film, not just a small cluster of favorites. The conclusion I reached from the responses, at least in part, is one that’s unavoidable in all of current popular culture: nostalgia reigns over all.

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