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Saturday, 15 February 2014

Movie Review - The LEGO Movie


It goes without saying that we all love Lego - the classic toy bricks have allowed us to explore our creativity and inner child ever since they were conceived over 60 years ago. They have since become a powerhouse of entertainment; we have toys, playsets, video games and countless tie ins to other franchises. However, something has always been missing - and that something has finally arrived as The LEGO Movie, the very first theatrical film based on our favourite toy bricks.


Emett (Chris Pratt) is an ordinary Lego minifigure who, after an incident at work, accidentally finds the mythical Piece of Resistance - making him the chosen one of a prophecy which lists him as the hero to stop the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from gluing the Lego universe together. With the help of his new allies Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett) and Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Emett must complete the quest he was chosen for and prove that he can be the hero others believe him to be.

The LEGO Movie combines a very small amount of stop motion with some gorgeous computer animation, bringing this Lego universe to life in a convincing and hilarious manner. Fans of the age old bricks will love the nods and references to all the pieces and past franchises throughout the film, including Bionicle and Duplo, and these wonderful aesthetics are topped off with some superb vocal performances across the ensemble cast.


The story may look like a generic 'prophecy chooses underdog' tale at first glance, and it inevitably carries the cliches of such a storyline. But there is surprisingly a bit more depth to this narrative, and it culminates in a manner that's rather original and with a pleasing moral. The emotional side is handled carefully but the real meat of LEGO Movie is its beautifully timed and self referential comedy - there's a barrage of jokes hurled at the audience in every scene, be it quirky dialogue, cultural gags or slapstick. There's very few that don't work, and for the majority of the film you'll be in stitches.

Pacing is perhaps a bit of an issue here - the arrival of the climax feels a bit rushed and Emmett doesn't fully develop as a character over the course of the film, but seems to change on the spot during the final act. A surprising twist in the climax is initially awesome, but ultimately drags to the point of creating an awkward turn for the story which feels a little unusual, even if the ending resolves everything nicely. With that said, The LEGO Movie is good fun for all age groups; while definitely not up there with Disney hits, it's far from a generic animated comedy thanks to its original premise and hilarious vibe.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Movie Review - RoboCop


The original RoboCop is one of the most treasured films of the 1980s, and quite possibly of all time - its satire of American culture and relentless violence made it a compelling and equally humourous experience for adult audiences. When a film earns such classic status, remaking it for the modern crowd is never gonna end well - after a slew of delays, the new slicker, black RoboCop has arrived to lukewarm reception from fans and critics alike. If we take off our rose tinted glasses for just a few minutes, does it hold up on its own?


In 2028, Omnicorp and its CEO (Michael Keaton) is the king of innovative robotic technology - their fleet of drones and robots are distributed around the globe to perform law enforcing duties humans no longer need to risk their lives for. However, the American people oppose their technology - believing a robot cannot make a moral judgement when fighting crime. Omnicorp's subsequent efforts to combine the human conscience with robotic technology thrive when police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is brutally injured in the line of duty. Reborn as the cybernetic RoboCop, Murphy is forced to adjust to his new purpose and the impact it has on his life, begging the ultimate question: who is in control, man or machine?

It's tough to compare this remake to the original cult classic as their only similarity is the central concept of a cybernetic cop; outside of this, a number of thematic differences and plot threads make the two vastly different experiences. What's immediately noticeable to fans of the original is the lack of extreme violence - this RoboCop is nowhere near as gory or intense as its 1987 namesake, which is not a problem but will inevitably disappoint some fans. This remake's action stems mainly from the intense but bloodless firefights, which can be nauseating and a bit repetitive, but they still provide some thrilling set pieces.


RoboCop does a surprisingly nice job of conveying the emotional impact the events have on protagonist Alex Murphy and by extension his wife and son. There's some beautifully handled tender moments between these characters to pack a satisfying emotional punch into this storyline, making it a little more complex than it may initially seem. Unfortunately character development isn't as refined in some other parts of the film; initially the pacing is a complete disaster, exemplified by a cumbersome opening 10 minutes with Samuel L. Jackson's character and little to no development for Murphy before his transition to RoboCop. Things improve significantly as the film moves forward, but there's still problems.

There's a lot of key characters here; Raymond Sellars (Keaton), the CEO of Omnicorp, Dr. Dennet Norton (Gary Oldman) who pioneers the RoboCop technology, and Pat Novak (Jackson), the host of his own show and supporter of Omnicorp's robotic armada. This creates serious pacing issues at times and it can be difficult to keep pace with everything during the dramatic tension following Murphy's injuries. The filmmakers evidently do their best, but sometimes it's just too much for them to handle. RoboCop is much better than some people may initially think; it has dramatic depth, some freaky moments and generally fantastic performances. These positives are bogged down by some saddening issues with pacing and development, but there's still much to enjoy here.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Movie Review - Mr. Peabody & Sherman


Despite The Croods becoming a huge hit in early 2013, Dreamworks' previous effort Turbo became one of their least profitable films of recent memory, which was even more of a blow so soon after their 2012 bomb Rise of the Guardians. It's time yet again to see if they can get back on their feet; with their new animated film adaption of the 1960s cartoon Peabody's Improbable History.


Despite being the world's smartest dog, Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) faces a greater challenge with fatherhood, particularly when he risks losing his adopted son Sherman (Max Charles) after a fight with a school bully. Peabody's attempts to spark a friendship between Sherman and his bully Penny (Ariel Winter) lead her to discover their secret WABAC time machine, resulting in Penny being whisked away to Ancient Egypt. In their attempt to rescue her, Peabody and Sherman begin to face greater troubles as they inadvertently damage the space time continuum, leading to a literal race against time to restore a number of broken timelines and save the universe.

A zany time travel plot and gorgeous visuals make Peabody & Sherman a thoroughly appealing fare for children, but it boasts enough wit and charm to provide a similar appeal to adult audiences. Intertwined with the time travel antics is a satisfying father-son storyline, with some really strong moments beautifully performed by Burrel and Charles respectively. The relationship between Sherman and Penny is perhaps a little too unbalanced, and it's difficult to fully connect with it when Penny herself is an extremely unlikeable character.


The stronger focus on Peabody being a father instead of Sherman being his 'pet boy' isn't 100% faithful to the original cartoons, but to say it's inferior would be a lie without a doubt. When it comes to this side of the plot, everything is handled carefully and wonderfully - the balance of genuine emotion and comedy is relatively flawless. Sadly the slipup comes with the time travel aspect, which lacks focus and a solid pace. This is particularly evident in the film's climax, which is far too sudden, contrived and a little random to make for a satisfying ending to the previously established tension.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is heartwarming and aesthetically flawless. It's also built round a solid script with witty dialogue and some excellently timed jokes - it's a shame some parts of the story feel a little underwhelming. There's two main elements to this story; Peabody and Sherman's relationship and the journey through time. The former is handled excellently, but the latter could've been better.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Movie Reviews Revisited

I started doing movie reviews on my blog on February 21, 2011, starting with Disney's Tangled - since then I've posted 70 film reviews in the past 3 years, which is a long time frame for me to develop as a writer and critic of other works and so opinions can change. Vastly. Some of my more naive opinions cropped up in early reviews during 2011, so I feel it's time to establish my new thoughts in retrospect.

In this list I have selected a few of my 2011 film reviews which need serious rethinking, complete with new opinions and ratings!

RANGO


I reviewed Rango on April 2, 2011, praising its visuals, voice acting and...use of mature words? Well, it was only my second movie review ever written, so I was still developing my writing style. It's one of my few early reviews that's way too long and spends too much time nitpicking at silly points. Instead of a review, it feels like a casual expressing of my opinion due to the loose writing. But I'm going off on a tangent here; I gave the film a 9/10, but watching it again makes me realize it has some major problems - notably a slightly bland story. A good film, but not the masterpiece I made it out to be.

NEW RATING: 7/10


PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES


I love the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, so I was uber excited to see the fourth installment after initially thinking it was all over in 2007. I reviewed this film on May 29, 2011, giving it a 7/10. My praise was aimed at its acting and thrilling action sequences, but in hindsight this was not enough to justify such a good rating. Depp's portrayal of Jack Sparrow is more of the same, and the villain Blackbeard is poorly developed and cliché, despite a decent performance from Ian McShane. If Dead Men Tell No Tales is as lacklustre as this, then damn you Disney.

NEW RATING: 5/10


KUNG FU PANDA 2


This is easily the biggest offender of my old film reviews, published on June 25, 2011. Now don't get me wrong, I like this film - it's beautifully animated, has a great villain and a nice emotional message. But a 9/10 was far too generous - I sucked up to the content of the film, believing some sad moments made it the most compelling drama ever produced. When I look back at it, it has some notable issues - the villain Lord Shen is cool, but never feels like a true threat as he loses in every goddamn situation no matter how much the odds are in his favour. Our main hero Po is also rather annoying in this film, being stupid and comedic in every situation to the point where his charm is lost by the time the plot concludes. A good animated film, but definitely not as amazing as I originally claimed it to be.

NEW RATING: 7/10


CARS 2


Pixar are so awesome that it's difficult to criticize them, even if they make a mediocre film. Cars 2 for me was definitely their first crappy effort, with a lazy plot, annoying characters and a forced, stupid moral of friendship. I made similar points when I reviewed this film back on July 24, 2011, but I still concluded my review by calling it decent and awarding it a 6/10. That's not a great rating, especially for Pixar, but it was still too generous for this piece of trash. The excellent animation and fun set pieces are all it has to offer - outside of that, it does nothing but tarnish Pixar's stellar reputation.

NEW RATING: 3/10


COWBOYS & ALIENS


I'm sure I was on something when I saw this pile of shit - I called it a reasonably entertaining summer movie when I reviewed it on August 22, 2011, and gave it a 6/10. My god. My effing god. What was I thinking? Okay, expecting a really compelling movie is absurd when you see the title, but the script even manages to cock up its own silly premise with bland characters, some ridiculous plot contrivances and a story so stupid it clearly never developed beyond the first draft. There is no reason for anyone to see this film and I'm glad it was a box office bomb.

NEW RATING: 2/10

Thanks for reading!