The Lego Movie

It’s not tough to imagine the pitch meeting where The Lego Movie was conceived. The toys have been a familiar fixture of toy chests since the ’40s, and given that every other remotely recognizable playroom property is getting adapted for the big screen these days, it was only a matter of time before someone grabbed a fistful of plastic bricks. Lucky for us, those people turned out to be Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

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Lego Movie (Screengrab)

The Lego Movie is probably the most fun I’ve had at the movies since seeing Pacific Rim last summer. Writer/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have taken a film that could have been a shameless, lifeless tie-in and infused it with so much life that it’s bursting at the seams with jokes, movie references, colorful set pieces, hilarious dialogue, and even characters from other universes.

Hit the jump for my full video review. Read More »

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Paul Thomas Anderson and Jonny Greenwood are working together again. I can’t quite think of Greenwood’s music as fun — the Radiohead guitarist and occasional film composer creates sounds that are deeply affecting and even cacophonously emotional, but not “fun,” exactly.

Anderson is also not exactly a poster child for levity. Yet his new film film Inherent Vice is based on a Thomas Pynchon novel that is among the author’s most wacky and energetic books. It is certainly one of Pynchon’s easiest reads, with some madcap criminal activities and a set of weirdo SoCal characters. It’s a fun book, if one stretches the definition of “fun” into realms of the strange.

Anderson’s facility with character and dialogue makes him seem like a great choice to tackle the material, and some of the story’s tone should please fans who have always wanted another Boogie Nights from Anderson. Now the director has recruited Greenwood to provide the score. Read More »

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In the end credits of That Awkward Moment, we’re treated to a blooper reel. The footage is typically goofy stuff — stars flubbing lines, knocking over props, cracking dirty jokes, and generally getting silly — but it’s a pleasure to watch because the actors are so damn fun. Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan come across as warm and funny people, and the rapport between them is inviting. I can only imagine that the set must have been a blast.

The film itself, however, is not. Although the premise should, in theory, provide plenty of opportunities for sparks to fly and for the cast’s magnetic personalities to shine through, as they do in the blooper reel, writer/director Tom Gormican seems more interested in shoving the characters along predictable plotlines. The result is a tedious romantic comedy that can’t sell the romance, the comedy, or even the bromance.

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There’s an implied threat in the title of the film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Those words together suggest menace and victimization. An image forms, not of a woman out for an enjoyable stroll, but of one who might not make it home.

A reversal of that threat is the core of this vampire film written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. Luminescent black and white photography buttresses a very spare approach to story. Into the tale are woven supernatural tropes, and elements of westerns and ’50s rebel movies. Shot in California but set in Iran, with dialogue in Farsi, the film’s images and characters are a collision of Iranian and American cultures, specifically with respect to social politics of sex and gender. This is an inversion of classic horror, because it is not about victimization of the person described in the title, but rather that person’s retaliation against forces that seek to dominate and subjugate.

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Ping Pong Summer

“The year is 1985. Rad Miracle is a shy, 13-year-old white kid obsessed with two things: Ping-Pong and hip-hop.” That’s the first sentence of the Sundance description of Ping Pong Summer, a new film by writer/director Michael Tully. The instant I read that, I had to see the film. It just so happened that the screening was my final film of the festival. I couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate send-off. The film blends sports and coming of age traditions, wrapped in Eighties nostalgia, resulting in a sweet, funny film that just feels right. Read More »

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Maybe this is the Twilight Zone, where mundane beginnings lead to extraordinary situations. In The One I Love, a married couple played by Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass are having problems. Nothing outlandish, just garden-variety issues such as resentment, boredom, and an erosion of respect. So: off to couples therapy. Their analyst advocates a retreat which, he promises, has worked wonders for many others.

What happens next is… well, something people associated with the film have tried to keep quiet. Frankly, that’s a bit absurd, as the material in question is the premise of the film, not a spoiler. Trailers will eventually give some of it up. But I’ll play along, because doing so is a fun exercise.

To be circumspect: This isn’t a romantic comedy, nor a weepy drama. Unusual, clever, and bitterly funny, The One I Love seeks to expose the impulses that can stall a relationship, or foster growth. While the idea’s deepest potential is not exploited, Duplass and Moss — very nearly the only actors in the movie — perform with nicely-pitched intensity and utter command of their craft. If this had premiered earlier in the Sundance schedule it might have become the must-see film of the fest; the late debut doesn’t change the fact that it is among this year’s early standouts.  Read More »

Calvary

The opening scene of John Michael McDonagh‘s Calvary is a frightening juxtaposition that perfectly sets the tone for what’s to come. Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is taking confession from a mysterious man who admits to being molested by a priest as a child. Not this specific priest, though, another one, and to get revenge he tells Father James he’s going to kill him for no good reason. In an instant, McDonagh has sucked the audience in.

Much like McDonagh and Gleeson’s previous film The Guard, Calvary is wholly original. It blends elements of mystery, a detective story and comedy with lots of philosophical ruminations. As Father James spends what might be his final week alive dealing with the townspeople, one of which is his would-be murderer, he tries to solve the riddle by delving into their problems (alcoholism, depression, adultery, etc) through his Catholic beliefs. The result is an ambitious, slow-burn drama with dynamite performances from top to bottom that just misses the mark because it’s trying to do too much. Read More »

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