Quick Takes: The Lego Movie, Machete Kills, Only God Forgives

lego_movie_ver9The Lego Movie (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Cobie Smulders, Jadon Sand
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

So pretty much everyone loves this movie, but I just thought it was OK. I also found it ironic that the song Everything is Awesome became so popular among fans of the film, but yet it’s the butt of many jokes about the conformity of the mainstream Lego people in the movie. Whatever. The jokes largely fell flat for me, and while I enjoyed the premise and the imagination on display, it was all too loud and abrasive for my tastes. I did love the little Star Wars cameos and Batman’s hilarious song, though, and I wish the film had more of that kind of comedic brilliance.

machete-kills-new-poster-and-13-new-photos-1Machete Kills (2013)

Starring Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, William Sadler
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

This, on the other hand, was pure entertainment for me. Robert Rodriguez makes fun B-Movies, and I love him for it. Machete Kills feels like more of a James Bond spoof than a sequel to Machete, but as long as you like both Machete and Bond (like me), that isn’t an issue. Charlie Sheen is wonderful as the US President, and Mel Gibson definitely makes for a fun asshole villain. The film is somewhat spastic with its ultra-long list of characters, though, which doesn’t allow many of them to get much screen-time. I understand this allows for a long list of celebrities to fill the poster, but quality is usually better than quantity. But this is a B-exploitation flick, so more is better, right?

only_god_forgives_ver6Only God Forgives (2013)
onehalfstar

Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

There are times when I am a film masochist. Despite thinking Refn’s Drive was an overrated, boring mess of staring people, I felt compelled to watch Only God Forgives. I guess being set in Thailand was a big enough draw to pull me in, regardless of my misgivings. Anyway, this one probably has more staring than Drive. There’s even a whole scene where an entire room of people sit and stare, all while a man has his eyes cut out… Refn is clearly preoccupied with all things ocular. Even still, I think I liked this one a hair more than Drive because the exotic, urban Thai locations and the bold uses of color are pretty to look at. It’s also interesting to see what is basically a B-movie all dolled up in artsy clothes, but it’s not something that really works for me. At least in these clothes it doesn’t. For some reason, I still feel compelled to see more of Refn’s work. Like I said, sometimes I’m a film masochist.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Starring Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine, Alon Aboutboul, Ben Mendelsohn, Burn Gorman

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Expectations: High. I expect it to be the worst of the three, but I’m pumped.


[Editor’s note: I’m gonna try to stay spoiler-free, but if want to see it unspoiled you really should just get out there and see it! The comments below I can’t vouch for at this point, but I’m guessing they’ll be spoiler-filled.]

Having just watched all three of Nolan’s Batman films in the space of a few days, I can say one thing definitively: this is an excellent superhero trilogy. Each film has its share of flaws, and I’m of the mind that each subsequent film is worse than the last, but each one is made with supreme skill and care, delivering some of the best films based on comic books we are ever likely to see. It’s a stroke of genius not to adapt any specific Batman story from the comics, instead combining multiple storylines into one cohesive narrative that blends together into a cohesive trilogy. While The Dark Knight feels removed from Batman Begins, like another story about Batman as opposed to a direct sequel, The Dark Knight Rises is a direct sequel to both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and it’s an absolute joy to watch.

I’m going to forgo my traditional second paragraph plot synopsis because I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone. I went into the film only having seen the first trailer once, and even then I felt like I had seen too much. As it turns out I hadn’t, as the film is nearly three hours long and the trailer seemed to focus on the one scene that I really didn’t care for. It’s set in a football stadium, and while the scene itself is well constructed, I hate the CG FX employed to achieve the big “WOW!” moment. Nolan is, and hopefully always will be, focused on mostly practical FX, and this one moment sticks out among the rest of the realistic explosions and car chases. My fear from seeing this in the trailer was that Bane would bring the pain, not only to Batman and Gotham City in the form of massive destruction, but to me in the form of ugly, painfully obvious CG. Thankfully, everything else was splendidly done, and even this one moment isn’t horrible, but it does look a bit too ridiculous to blend in with the rest of what’s going on visually.

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The Dark Knight (2008)

Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Ron Dean, Chin Han, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Ritchie Coster, Anthony Michael Hall

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Expectations: High. Haven’t watched it since the theater.


[Editor’s note: I may spoil this movie, so if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it and you care, just watch it.]

Let’s just get this out of the way: Batman Begins is the better movie. I’m not trying to stir up controversy or anything, I’m just being realistic. Batman Begins sets up the world of Batman, sets up the character of Batman, sets up your attachment to this version of Batman. The Dark Knight plays off of that and builds on it, but the framework is already there. Also, The Dark Knight isn’t so much a Batman movie as it is a Gotham City movie, so with the focus shifted it allows for something completely different — and awesome — to occur, but I think it’s easy to be wowed by the machinations of The Dark Knight and forget how great that first Batman movie was. I know that’s what happened to me when I saw this in the theater, but watching them both at home in the space of a few days has allowed me to appraise them in a much more realistic way.

So as The Dark Knight is a movie about Gotham and its arc, it has a tendency to become detached from the things that made Batman Begins great. That character connection to Bruce Wayne/Batman is almost non-existent here, but it is replaced by the Joker’s wild brand of anarchy and the noble “White Knight” pursuits of Harvey Dent to finally clean up Gotham City once and for all. This makes The Dark Knight a harder movie to get inside of and feel connected to, but it doesn’t inherently make it a bad movie like it might in the hands of a different director. This is because Gotham and Batman are so closely tied together that in a way Gotham’s story is Batman’s story; Batman is an incorruptible symbol that will do anything necessary to help the city he lives in.

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Batman Begins (2005)

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Rade Serbedzija, Rutger Hauer, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Mark Boone Junior, Morgan Freeman, Larry Holden

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Expectations: High. This is the third time around with this one.


When I first saw Batman Begins in 2005, I thought it was pretty good. I was impressed by it for sure, and I thought that Christopher Nolan was definitely the right man for the job. I had become a fan of his with Memento, so I was excited to see him ascend to the big leagues of cinema. I re-watched Batman Begins in 2008, right before seeing The Dark Knight in the theater, and found it to be better than I remembered. Re-watching it now, a couple of weeks after the release of the third and final Nolan Batman film, I am absolutely floored by how great it is. Batman Begins is a brilliant piece of work, expertly taking the Batman franchise and elevating it far beyond anything that Burton or Schumacher could have ever dreamed of doing. Nolan did the impossible: he made a Batman film that walks the line between realism and comic book thrills, without ever crossing the line into the schmaltz that categorized every film in the 1989-1997 series.

Batman Begins is exactly what the title suggests, an origin film for Batman. Instead of wasting half the runtime on setting up a villain that will only be vanquished by the end of the film, Batman Begins focuses on what makes Bruce Wayne and Batman tick. Batman doesn’t appear until an hour into the movie, but the story is so thrilling and well told that it doesn’t matter. I know I said in my review of Batman that I loved how they ditched the origin and got straight to the Batman, and I do, but the character setup on display here is flawlessly pulled off. It succeeds in making Batman a psychotic, tortured man with toys, but one that we care deeply about. His arc over the course of the film never lets up, keeping Bruce/Batman always at the forefront of our thoughts. And to have three villains, all of them largely unknown to the public at large, and then to not provide any of them with origins proves definitively that the current superhero movie formula that everyone else uses is null and void. Seriously, have any other filmmakers seen this movie?

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Invictus (2009)

Starring Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Expectations: Low.


Another one I had been avoiding. I love Clint Eastwood, but I usually find his directorial efforts to be fairly slow and plodding. There are exceptions, but as a rule, his films are understated and meditative. This is fine, I’m just rarely in that kind of a mood so I tend to avoid his films unless I have a great interest in the subject matter. This was the case with Invictus, but I’m glad I dived in because this is a really good film.

Morgan Freeman is the definite star of the show, inhabiting the role of Nelson Mandela with ease. Freeman is recognizable as both himself and Mandela in the role, skillfully blending the two personas into a memorable screen performance that never feels like one. He gives a powerful speech early in the film on why the team name should remain the Springboks, proving why Freeman received an Oscar nomination for the role. Matt Damon is also great in his scenes, but he tends to fade into the background as a lot of his scenes are without dialogue on the Rugby field. When Damon is on-screen, his subtle performance feels natural and believable. The film is essentially broken into two halves with Freeman leading the charge in the first half of the film, and Damon taking over once the World Cup action begins.

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