Ben-Hur Review: Sword and Sorrow


Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writers: Keith Clarke, John Ridley

Stars: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Nazanin Boniadi

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Release date: August 25th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2/5

Best part: The chariot race.

Worst part: The sluggish pace.

Hollywood has latched onto organised-religion crowds for greater box-office returns. Movies including God’s Not Dead, although strange to most, appeal to a large segment of the population. Tinseltown’s most talented are also getting on board, with Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings also aiming for that market. 2016’s Ben-Hur remake may single-handedly destroy this trend.

Actually, this is not the first ever Ben-Hur remake. The William Wyler-directed 1959 version is the quintessential version. The huge budget, Charlton Heston’s vigour, chariot race and epic scope helped it score 11 Academy Awards and become an instant classic. Surprisingly, there were multiple Ben-Hurs in the early 20th Century. This version never strays from convention. Here, Jewish nobleman Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and adoptive Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) grow up together in Jerusalem’s higher class. Messala, despite his affections for Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia), feels alienated by matriarch Naomi (Ayelet Zurer) and the family’s faith. After his enlistment and time in the Roman Army, he returns to warn Ben-Hur of oncoming threats. From there, the two butt heads and become fearsome foes.

The 1959 hit influenced Gladiator and sword-and-sandal epic in between. This Ben-Hur begs the question – Why now? No matter what the studio, cast, creatives etc. created, nothing would have eclipsed the 1959 version’s quality, exhaustive length, touching religious commentary and revolutionary tricks. Writers Keith Clarke and John Ridley (the latter behind 12 Years a Slave) deliver irritating and alienating dialogue. The first half relies on religious discussion between the characters, grinding the pace to a screeching halt. Non-religious folks will despise the movie’s feckless stance on faith and history. Sadly, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is not fit for the material. Lacking Ridley Scott’s deft touch, the schlock filmmaker appears bored by everything besides the action, special effects etc.

Ben-Hur follows the long line of laughable, anachronistic and feeble-minded modern historical/mythical epics. The movie never diverts from the standard revenge-drama narrative. It’s predictability is almost cowardly – the good guys are sweet and vanilla, the love interest – Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) – is whispy, the bad guys snivel and twist moustaches, Morgan Freeman plays the wise cracking mystical-magical black man etc. Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) pops up to deliver bumper-sticker lines. This version may be remembered for its South American-looking depiction of the famous carpenter. Bekmambetov, halfway through, appears to wake up. The slave-ship sequence, training montages and almighty chariot race are particularly inventive. The grand sound design and fun action beats reduce the tedium.

Ben-Hur, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is unnecessary, generic and borderline offensive. This useless remake squanders a fantastic cast, capable director and momentous resources. Attention Hollywood: Not everything should be remade!

Verdict: Pointless and unnecessary. 

Now You See Me 2 Review: Limp Trick


Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Ed Solomon

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Now You See Me 2 is one of at least 13 unwarranted sequels released in 2016. The 2013 original reached baffling commercial success thanks to…actually, I still have no idea. Now You See Me is a clichéd, preposterous action-heist-thriller with a nonsensical string of third-act twists. Sadly, the sequel is similar in almost every way. The Now You See Me franchise has quickly become more mediocre than almost any other. However, the coupling of an all-star cast and unique premise keeps audiences coming back for more.

The original (spoilers) concluded with a plucky troupe of magicians known as the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher) conquering the entertainment world, Magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) jailed for stealing millionaire banker Arthur Tressler(Michael Caine)’s funds, and FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) pulling the strings. The sequel, picking up one year later, sees fan-girl magician Lula (Lizzy Caplan) replacing Fisher’s character and joining returning Horsemen Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) Merritt McKinney (Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Franco) for the return. Rhodes, now watched by fellow FBI Agent Natalie (Sanaa Lathan), oversees the group on behalf of secret magician society The Eye.

In true sequel fashion, Now You See Me 2 delivers another uber-convoluted plot, more characters, and a larger scope. This time, in a shameless attempt to cash in on the rising Chinese audience, the journey leaps hastily from America to Macau. Ed Solomon’s clichéd screenplay sticks by a collection of heist and action clichés. Predictably, the drama all comes down to a macguffin, set up by a snivelling tech magnate (Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe)), needed to clear the protagonists’ names. The movie immediately rushes through its convoluted plot, muddying the waters with endless exposition about its multitude of plot-points and characters. It struggles to catch up with itself, stuffing an assortment of baffling twists and turns into an indulgent 129 minute run-time.

Like the original, Now You See Me 2 blandly combines illusion, performance and fantastical CGI wizardry. The movie’s set-pieces and gorgeous international locations put the budget to good use. In fact, many sequences feature interesting and thought-provoking concepts. However, director Jon M. Chu (G. I. Joe: Retaliation, Step Up 3D) bungles the execution. One action sequence, featuring Rhodes subduing several henchman with slight-of-hand tricks, becomes lost in quick cuts and shaky-cam. However, although ridiculous, the opening and closing set-pieces are blissfully entertaining. The assortment of sexy, young actors and Hollywood’s finest thespians somewhat elevates the material. Jay Chou is suitably charming as a snarky operator of Macau’s oldest magic shop.

Now You See Me 2, by adding more of everything, messily devolves into yet another silly and forgettable tentpole. Like many of this year’s blockbusters (so far), its biggest accomplishment is the ability to disappear without a trace.

Verdict: Yet another unnecessary 2016 sequel.

London Has Fallen Review: Trump’s America


Director: Babak Najafi

Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Chad St. John, Christian Gudegast

Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul

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Release date: March 17th, 2016

Distributors: Focus Features, Gramercy Features, Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

2/5

Review: London Has Fallen

Franchise Fix – The Dark Knight Trilogy


Well, as far as superhero-action movies go, we have come to this point in our epic saga. Unquestionably, this genre has reached its proverbial peak. Certain entries, defying extreme expectations, have taken it upon themselves to stand out. How are they different exactly? They, above all else, have soared, dipped, punched, and stretched to elevate themselves above the meandering competition. So, what separates a Captain America from a Ghost Rider? It all starts with the seed of an idea, before growing it into an all-encompassing entity.

Nowadays, forced to pay ridiculous ticket prices, the average film-goer determines each superhero flick’s chances of success. To succeed, you need to deliver an action flick people will go see more than once. However, the other side of the coin is one of torrential, Twitter-fuelled critical comments and poor box-office performances. Of course, top spot on the superhero franchise podium belongs to the Dark Knight trilogy. Despite varying in quality between efforts, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s trilogy series has sparked a wave of darker, meatier blockbusters. With that said, each instalment delivers significant highs and debilitating lows. Like the caped crusader, however, they all manage to pick themselves up.

3. The Dark Knight Rises

As the highly anticipated franchise capper, The Dark Knight Rises had a helluva lot to live up to. Resting on Nolan and co.’s previous successes, the final product had the potential to be the best of the series. However, with rumours, videos, and images threatening to spoil the movie’s intricate plot, it seemed destined to continue the trend of underwhelming third instalments in superhero franchises. Fittingly, after its mega-successful release, this instalment was met with polarising reactions from critics, fans, and common film-goers.

Some people, looking past minor quarrels, saw fit to compliment Nolan for completing his game-changing franchise. Sadly, however, many people felt the opposite. Criticising villain Bane’s vocal patterns, the leaps in logic, and egregious run-time, this instalment’s detractors nearly threw it into the Spider-Man 3/X-Men: The Last Stand/Blade: Trinity pit of doom. Thanks to Nolan’s seminal final Batman flick’s mixed response, The Dark Knight Rises comes off as the trilogy’s third best instalment.

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Bane vs. Batman vs. Gotham’s soul.

With that said, I said “third best” and not “worst” for a reason. With minor plot-holes and character faults getting in many people’s way, the movie delivers more-than-enough positives. Nolan, at the very least, should be admired for pulling off such a gargantuan trilogy capper. In fact, the movie, thanks to its emotional heft and stunning performances, is more dystopian drama than superhero extravaganza. With Bane’s spectacular introduction pitting man against machine, this instalment seemed destined to follow charismatic characters through a dire journey. Of course, despite Bane’s raw power and regal presence, you can’t go past Christian Bale’s scintillating turn as a dilapidated Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Providing his best Caped Crusader performance, Bale’s energy and purposeful mannerisms propel his extraordinary character arc here. With an 8-year hiatus, Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Alfred’s betrayal, and Bane’s might to deal with, Wayne’s raw determination pushes him ahead of this instalment’s other well-drawn heroes and villains.

2. Batman Begins

Before the era of reboots, reboots, and more reboots, one origin tale took it upon itself to change the system. Batman Begins, introducing the average cinema-goer to a sickeningly dark version of the Caped Crusader, did its job in delivering something fresh and original for its time. In an age of sugar-coated blockbusters, this reboot opened the doors to several superhero origin movies willing to embrace their characters’ first ventures into crime fighting and personal discoveries.

The narrative, as usual for superhero reboots, kicks off with a younger version of the titular figure. Refreshingly so, his friendship with family friend Rachel Dawes kicks off this transcendent and touching superhero-action flick. With a child’s innocence smashing into said child’s greatest fears, the opening delivers an appropriate leap off the blocks. From there, Batman Begins falls into a pit of despair and anger. With a thirty-something Wayne (Christian Bale) meeting wise nobleman Ras Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), the lead’s journey transforms him from a rebellious fighter into an intriguing symbol of hope.

Batman Begins – the Caped Crusader’s true origin story.

Tackling several  weighty issues, Batman Begins looks into its own soul and examines Batman’s undying aura. With an arresting story wrestling with a claustrophobic atmosphere, this uncompromising thriller aims higher than whiz-bang effects and generic genre twists. From the first Batman sequence onwards, Christopher Nolan presents this fan favourite DC character as a philosophically bruised anti-hero willing to destroy anyone in his way. Like its sepia-esque colour palette, the tone pushes us into each gloriously dour setting. Fusing his Memento/Insomnia darkness with the comic series’ free-flowing nature, Batman Begins threw Nolan into another realm of fame and possibility.

Despite all this, it’s the cast members involved which divert Batman Begins from the Summer tent-pole blur.  Rounded out by Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, the movie’s talented ensemble brought Oscar-calibre vibes to this intensifying superhero adventure. With movies like Man of Steel and The Incredible Hulk borrowing ideas and sequences from Nolan’s first Bat-flick, Batman Begins, 9 years on, still stands up to intense scrutiny.

1. The Dark Knight

I know, it’s a complete cliché to place The Dark Knight on top of any kind of ‘Best of…’ list. I’ll admit, my extreme infatuation with this feature might be clouding my judgement. However, I think I speak for a helluva lot of people when I proclaim this action-drama to be the best action movie of the past 10 years. Up there with the likes of There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, this superhero flick is an instant classic that future generations will discover and fall in love with the way we all did. The Dark Knight, Nolan’s magnum opus, is a triumph on every level.

Thanks to scintillating action sequences and pitch-perfect performances, this sequel proves itself worthy of repeat viewings and intense analysis. From the opening back heist sequence onwards, this superhero flick establishes itself as an unbeatable and transcendent. Despite soaring above and beyond the competition, the movie intrinsically examines the evils of good and the strengths of evil. As our characters stand on a knife’s edge, Gotham City’s newest resident seeks to turn everything inside out. Painting each character in shades of grey, The Dark Knight matches crime-thrillers like The Departed and Heat point for point.

Heath Ledger’s momentous portrayal of the Joker.

Of course, credit belongs to Nolan for elevating the genre from its cartoonish roots to a more mature and meaningful place. taking a real-world approach to the Cape Crusader, The Dark Knight  amicably discusses the consequences of vigilantism. Is Batman doing right by the citizens or his own sense of valour? The movie’s greatest moments belong to Batman’s fight against the Joker (Heath Ledger) and Harvey Dent/Two Face (Aaron Eckhart). With Gotham’s tug of war becoming increasingly violent, The Dark Knight lets loose on our society’s fragile world view. Wayne’s ego, now interlocking with his motivations, seeks to push him towards hanging up the cape and cowl. Establishing connections between Wayne, Alfred (Caine), and Lucius Fox (Freeman), the quieter moments cement this movie’s place in the annals of blockbuster cinema.

Despite delivering thorough questions and answers, The Dark Knight dons a core entertainment value at opportune moments. Blissfully so, the action sequences reach sky-high levels of fun. The Bat-pod chase through Gotham ends with pure gusto and awe-inspiring technical savvy. The truck flip alone is cause for celebration. By breaking up the light and dark moments, The Dark Knight proves its own worth as a momentous turning point for blockbuster filmmaking.

Ps. check out this video, it sums up everything awesome and immaculate about this series! Enjoy!

Lucy Review – Running on Empty


Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Choi Min-sik

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Release date: July 25th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 89 minutes


 

 

 

3/5

Best part: Johansson’s touching performance.

Worst part: The overblown final third.

French cinematic endeavours, to the common moviegoer, illicit significant emotional and psychological responses whenever they come to light. For most people, this movement sits on a certain pedestal. With that said, one writer/director/producer extraordinaire has spent the past decade turning these stereotypes inside out. With sci-fi extravaganza Lucy, Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional) aims to bolster his wavering reputation.

ScarJo training for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Relying on past successes to green-light future projects, Besson’s career now resembles a dying animal. Compared to his more substantial efforts, this cinema icon’s recent career turns are pitiful and tiresome. However, with Lucy, Besson is taking appropriate steps toward celluloid salvation. Tackling everything around him, this filmmaker is now embracing his darkest thoughts and pseudo-radical beliefs. Lucy, carrying a tried-and-true premise, tries to be more than the sum of its parts. The narrative takes hold as our lead character brightens up her first frame. As a struggling student, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is feeling the pinch of inner-city living. Pushed around by a sketchy boyfriend and overbearing responsibilities, she finds herself drifting off mid-conversation. However, with her will-power lower than her IQ, she becomes the unfortunate Guinea Pig of a bizarre and potentially- revolutionary drug trafficking scheme. Forcing Lucy into the drug-mule game, the local mob, headed-up by Kang (Choi Min-sik), push our lead’s resolve to breaking point. After a daring escape, Lucy forms a bond with determined French Policeman Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked). Fortunately, this information covers only a tiny part of Lucy‘s intricate and intensifying narrative. Exposed to a mind-bending new drug, Lucy is transformed into a gun-toting, super-powered badass with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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Morgan Freeman as ‘The Voice’.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of modern cinema’s most overused and undercooked concepts. Everyone knows we use only 10% of our brains, so why does this fact appeal to big-name filmmakers? Well, according to Besson, accessing a higher percentage of brain power will cause worlds to collapse. Admittedly, it’s difficult not to compliment Besson for thinking outside the box. Unlike similar psychological thriller Limitless, Lucy reaches for weightier ideas and motifs. With that said, Lucy is still one of this decade’s most perplexing and laughable action flicks (and that’s saying something). Mixing existential sci-fi drama and mindless action-thriller tropes, Besson’s screenplay comes off like the result of an extended Red Bull marathon. Fusing unique concepts together, the first-two thirds deliver solid emotional moments and fun set pieces. Explaining itself, Lucy‘s narrative discusses the universe’s most valuable puzzle (or so Besson would have you believe). With Lucy Forming an alliance with Professor Samuel Morton (Morgan Freeman), this gripping thriller becomes the year’s most intriguing woman-on-a-mission flick. Sadly, the first-two thirds are undone by a woeful climax and nonsensical resolution. Resembling this year’s sci-fi dud Transcendence, the final half-hour spoils everything that came before it. As is Besson’s tendency, the writer/director’s popcorn-chomping-action side takes over.

“Ignorance brings chaos, not knowledge.” (Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), Lucy).

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Amr Waked as France’s least idiotic cop.

With our heroes going up against Asian gangsters and French police, the climactic action sequence lends little depth or personality to the final product. Despite this, I should give credit where it’s due. Unlike his preceding effort The Family, Besson’s latest dares to explore otherworldly realms. Looking past its conventional premise, Lucy’s overbearing message responds to everything effecting our world. Explaining Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Besson uses stock footage to explain the smallest details. Overdosing on visual metaphors, Lucy comes off like a stoned philosophy major shoving his/her theories in our faces. Matching gripping sequences with dodgy CGI, Lucy is certainly a mixed bag. However, certain highlights save it from critical and commercial lashings. The action and torture sequences, though over-emphasised, deliver enjoyable moments whilst bolstering its tight pace. The Parisian car chase injects adrenaline into Lucy‘s veins. However, eclipsing the whiz-bang set pieces, Johansson elevates this sci-fi flick above similar fare. With just a handful of expressions, Johansson’s searing performance lends a solid core to her inconsistent character. Unfortunately, Freeman and Min-sik are stranded in thankless roles.

From the opening scene – depicting Earth’s first primate/human inhabitant – onward, its clear that Lucy is not for the strictly religious or simple minded. Despite the big-budget spectacle and A-list stars, Besson’s latest forces us to revel in his warped mindset. However, like with similarly surreal The Fifth Element, his ideas don’t gel like they should. Like our lead character, Lucy is an inconsistent yet alluring creation.

Verdict: Like Lucy herself – slick but insecure.

Transcendence Review – Slower than Dial-up


Director: Wally Pfister

Writer: Jack Paglen

Stars: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman

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Release date: April 24th, 2014

Distributors: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Summit Entertainment

Country:  USA

Running time: 119 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: The unique visuals. 

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

Sci-fi blockbuster Transcendence had the perfect ingredients to deliver a thrilling and enjoyable addition to this ever-lasting genre. With an intriguing first-time director, starry cast, and interesting ideas at the helm, this movie had enough potential to be something truly…transcendent (the word does indeed suit this situation). In fact, this computer-charged techno-thriller could’ve become the antivirus for the ever-growing trend of superhero/explosion-fuelled extravaganzas. However, as you can tell from my judgemental tone, the final product hurriedly short circuits.

Johnny Depp.

When judging this flick objectively, it’s difficult not to turn against this disappointing and bizarre creation. As yet another case of “interesting premise spoiled by poor execution”, Transcendence promises significantly more than it can possibly hope to deliver. Not only does it promise too much, but the very few answers it does deliver are bafflingly silly and superficial. Before I delve into this sci-fi actioner’s flaws, I’ll attempt to describe its patchy and cumbersome plot. Similarly to our unfortunate lead characters’ actions, unlocking its labyrinthine code could unleash dire consequences! We start off in the not-too-distant future as renowned researcher Max Waters (Paul Bettany) trudges through a post-apocalyptic Earth. The story then jumps back five years, and prolific researcher Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife/fellow scientist Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are close to developing the first machine to be driven by sentience and collective intelligence. Aiming to “unlock the most fundamental secrets of the universe”, Will and his team, supported by his mentor Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), are willing enough to present their PINN project to the world. Examining the First World’s reliance on technology, the limitlessness of Artificial Intelligence, Biocentrism, nanotechnology, the Singularity, and the analog/digital debate, Transcendence almost seems intent on questioning romantic-drama Her‘s viewpoints. Most importantly, Depp being everywhere at once is a terrifying prospect! Unfortunately, Depp’s miscasting jumpstarts Transcendence‘s horrifying descent.

Paul Bettany & Rebecca Hall.

Nowadays, sci-fi extravaganzas like Prometheus and Elysium are criticised for touching on valuable ideas without examining them. However, unlike Transcendence, those projects are salvaged by action sequences, intense moments, and powerful visuals. I’ll admit the movie’s set-up appears entertaining…on paper. Sadly, with Transcendence drifting away from paper in all respects, the narrative’s technological side overshadows anything resembling believability, entertainment value, intelligence, or empathy. A radical extremist group called Revolutionary Independence from Technology (RIFT), led by Bree (Kate Mara), ruins Will’s life and projects immediately after his Earth-shattering presentation. Within the first third, director Wally Pfister (Oscar-winning cinematographer for such Christopher Nolan features as the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception) uploads tension and promising characters into the narrative’s perplexing database. With Nolan as an executive producer, Pfister strives for Nolan’s all-encompassing vision and direct touch. The first third is fuelled with convincing moments and momentous concepts. However, after Will’s consciousness is uploaded into PINN’s systems, the narrative becomes as exciting and naturalistic as watching lines of code zoom across a screen (spoiler: it’s dull!). Telegraphing predicable and aimless events, the story’s all-important concepts are picked up and dropped faster than Will’s internet access. In addition, Transcendence jumps from one bizarre and illogical plot-point to another. Will, hacking into the world’s governmental and financial structures, carries out logistically and ethically questionable actions without consequence. Jumping two years into the future, twists, turns, and character motivations contradict one another. Worse still, the final third’s absurd revelations and climactic moments undermine everything laid out within the first-two thirds.

“We’re not gonna fight them. We’re gonna transcend them.” (Will Caster (Johnny Depp), Transcendence).

Morgan Freeman & Cillian Murphy.

Sadly, Pfister, despite being one of Hollywood’s most talented figures, has succumb to Hollywood’s worst virus: studio interference. However, despite the directorial failings, the blame rests with Jack Paglen’s incessant and simplistic screenplay. Despite being influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, Paglen’s work is nowhere near as insightful or purposeful as it thinks it is. At one point, FBI agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy), one of several underdeveloped characters, compares Will’s Deity-like existence to Y2K. This scene outlines the narrative’s most crippling flaw. Transcendence, aiming for the blockbuster and romantic-drama crowds, doesn’t draw the line between technobabble and valuable exposition. Its convoluted answers will confuse anyone lacking an intrinsic understanding of Computer Science. However, those studying this subject will laugh at the movie’s monumental factual errors and plot-holes. Its viewers can, at the very least, settle for its splendid visuals. Pfister, thanks to his immense background in cinematography, can bolster even the most unappealing of locations. With everything at his disposal, Pfister’s style makes decrepit warehouses, desert-set towns, and laboratories look immaculately picturesque. The action sequences, though nonsensical, do elevate this otherwise tiresome and dour sci-fi drama. Throwing in explosions, car chases, and shootouts, these more enlightening moments overshadow the meandering mid-section. Sadly, by this point, the narrative’s top-heavy structure has delivered a messy, nonsensical, and forgettable effort.

Powered by a top-notch cast, riveting director, and memorable subject matter, Transcendence could, and should, have been an instant classic. Ambitiously, it’s over-arching reach explores concepts many big-name directors and writers are afraid of. But why are they afraid? Is it a primal fear of what they don’t understand? Or are they waiting for someone else to grapple them? Either way, Transcendence is the perfect example of filmmakers, and characters, delving into all the wrong places. This potentially creative and impactful sci-fi yarn ends up being as laughable, frustrating, and nonsensical as Windows Vista.

Verdict: A nonsensical and monotonous misstep. 

The Lego Movie Review – Brick by Brick


Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writers: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman

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Release date: April 3rd, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 100 minutes


 

 

 

4/5

Best part: The wink-and-nudge humour.

Worst part: The slightly exasperating length.

One toy company, over past few years, has caused more societal shifts than every government put together. The Lego Group, creating miniature architects and production designers, has an affecting stranglehold on almost every household in the Western World. Venturing into big-budget filmmaking, Lego’s latest spectacle, The Lego Movie, is history’s first BLOCK-buster (you can all have that one!). Fortunately, this animated roller-coaster ride delivers hysterical jokes, fun action sequences, and a modest tone.

Chris Pratt as Emmet Brickowski.

Nowadays, with Lego’s video games (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings etc.) conquering the small screen, this franchise delivers hefty amounts of nostalgia. I grew up with these yellow, plastic men myself. I, normally one to turn my nose up at nostalgia-drenched blockbusters, fell head-over-heels for this enthusiastic thrill-ride. Here, The Lego Group steps back about one-or-two cubit meters. Allowing the cast and crew to show off their unique talents, the multi-billion dollar company is displaying its modest side. This could be seen as an ongoing moment of weakness. However, this is a surprising move for this expansive corporation to undertake. Interestingly enough, the movie comes off as a running commentary on capitalism, industry, and social progress. However, before delving into its thematic relevance, I’ll describe the plot before this review smashes into tiny pieces. The story focuses on kooky everyman Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt). Emmet, following orders printed in specialised instruction manuals, fits into his city’s way of life. Listening to pop tunes, buying overpriced coffee, and working at a local construction site, Emmet lacks significant qualities. One day, after running into alluring warrior Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet discovers the key to the universe’s survival.

Elizabeth Banks & Morgan Freeman.

Labelled “The Special” by the master builder’s leader Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and told to collect the fabled “Kragle” weapon, his journey kicks off in spectacular fashion. As you can tell, The Lego Movie‘s plot is lifted from influential action-adventure flicks. Slotting genre tropes and familiar sequences together, the plot rollickingly speeds along toward the explosive climax. In the first third, the Matrix-style narrative kicks into overdrive. Defined by an all-knowing prophecy, the movie is wholly aware of its conventional tropes. Shifting from one action trope to another, The Lego Movie taps into multiple generations’ senses of nostalgia. With Lego being a major part of our childhoods, the movie captures a child’s acute and inventive imagination. Exposing Lego’s lighter and heavier shades, writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miler (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street), by throwing these lego creations onto the big screen, accentuate their humorous and clever style. Here, the dynamic duo examines Lego’s pop-cultural impact. Commenting on its own existence, The Lego Movie humbly points out the each twist and turn’s absurdities. This modern animated classic takes its relentless nature and builds upon it. Lord and Miller’s senses of humour place rectangular blocks into affable and important places. Following an intrinsic instruction manual, the duo’s screenplay delivers several eclectic comedic jabs and one-liners. Admittedly, it’s shameful to criticise The Lego Movie for its silliness. Basing a big-budget extravaganza on a famous toy, Lord and Miller keep up the tempo throughout its extensive run-time.

“Whoa, are we inside my brain right now? It’s big. I must be smart.” (Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), The Lego Movie).

Will Ferrell & Liam Neeson.

Fortunately, Lord and Miller, saving this plot from falling apart, kickstart one action sequence after another. After zany characters like Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and Batman (Will Arnett) are introduced, certain set pieces fit together seamlessly. Developing a gigantic chase across multiple worlds, these set pieces mix humour, stellar animation, and stylish choreography. The Old West jet battle, featuring a steam train, police planes, and the Batmobile, is an early highlight. Beyond the pulsating action sequences, the animation style enthusiastically bolsters this questionable premise. Fusing CG animation, stop-motion effects, and detailed miniatures, Lord and Miller’s Lego universe is chock-a-block (zing!) with surprises and exhilarating moments. Venturing into “Middle Zealand”, the high seas, and corporate mogul Lord Business(Will Ferrell)’s lair, The Lego Movie trounces Pixar’s more recent efforts. In addition, the little yellow figures, stuck in these chaotic events, are the movie’s most engaging creations. Tapping into Lego’s extensive history, the cast list includes the 2002 NBA All-stars, Michelangelo, Abraham Lincoln, 80s-something spaceman (Charlie Day) and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie). Beyond this, the movie provides a meta-commentary on Warner Bros. properties. Along with characters from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and LOTR, the movie comes close to creating a Justice League spinoff. Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), and Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders) are welcome additions. Eclipsing these references, the lead voices cap-off this wondrous comedy. Pratt, Banks, Arnett, Freeman, and Neeson stretch their immense acting talents in these enlightening roles

By all means, The Lego Movie should’ve bombed spectacularly. At first, this overwhelming concept seemed like nothing more than a cheap gimmick. However, put in Lord and Miller’s careful hands, this animated gem, from its conquering landscapes to slick vehicles, has been built with precision, imagination, and care. Of course, credit also belongs to Pratt and co. for bringing these plastic heroes and villains to life. This may be cheesy, but this Lego creation reaches skyscraper-level heights.

Verdict: A humorous and enjoyable animated adventure.