by Steve Habrat
Almost any movie buff can tell you that January and February are far from the most exciting movie months of the year. Outside of a few Oscar nominees finally receiving the wide release treatment, audiences are stuck with—and astonishingly flock to—clichéd comedies, cable-channel action movies, vapid romantic comedies, and stiff horror movies that should have remained in their coffins. It’s extremely difficult to find a diamond in the rough, but every so often, one shimmering winner shines brightly through the piles of garbage. This year’s diamond in the rough is The Lego Movie, a rainbow explosion of sugary visuals and Adult Swim humor tailored for those far too young to know what Adult Swim is. Refreshingly weird, fast paced, and quick witted, The Lego Movie is an animated jewel that almost demands to be seen twice just so audience members young and old can appreciate the clever script from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. It’s also a hallucinogenic tribute to soaring superheroes, pop culture icons, and cinematic classics that audiences have all come to know and adore over the years. Did I mention that it boasts an A-list cast enthusiastically lending their voices to these little plastic wonders, and that it also sends a wonderful message to children about the power of imagination?
The Lego Movie introduces us to everyman Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), a happy-go-lucky construction worker who always follows his instruction manual for conforming to the world around him. Despite Emmet’s best attempts to fit in with the rest of the citizens of his Lego world, the bouncy little guy always seems like the odd man out. One evening, while leaving work, Emmet spots a mysterious girl called Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) snooping around the construction site. As Emmet goes to approach Wyldstyle, he slips down a hole in the ground, and comes face to face with a glowing red brick called the Piece of Resistance. Entranced by it’s beauty, Emmet attempts to touch the Piece of Resistance, but when he does, he passes out and wakes up in the clutches of Bad Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson), who is the muscle for Lord Business (voiced by Will Farrell), the sinister president of the Lego world. While being interrogated by Bad Cop, Emmet learns that the Piece of Resistance has attached itself to his back, and that Lord Business possesses a weapon called the Kragle, which is capable of freezing the entire Lego universe. Emmet is soon rescued by Wyldstyle, who takes him to meet the Master Builders—a group of heroes capable of building anything they can dream of. Among the Master Builders are a wizard called Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), the pirate Iron Beard (voiced by Nick Offerman), the overly positive Princess Uni-Kitty (voiced by Alison Brie), and ‘80s spaceman Benny (voiced by Charlie Day). It is with the Master Builders that Emmett learns that he is the “Special,” the one who can save every man, woman, and creature from Lord Business’ evil plot.
The Lego Movie’s hyperactive style and rapid-fire jokes will mostly certainly turn off viewers who aren’t open to this sort of thing. But for those willing to open their imagination to what Lord and Miller have thrown up on the screen, the rewards will stretch far beyond the film’s runtime. It’s almost a given that children will be powerless against its 200-mile-per-hour pacing and the barrage of characters both old and new zipping across the screen, but the filmmakers don’t forget about the parents or those (possibly inebriated) audience members looking for a hearty dose of artistic vision. Adult DC Comics fans are sure to have just as much fun as the kids as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern flash across the screen and cleverly poke fun at themselves, while Star Wars fans will certainly have a chuckle at one joke that flickers with Family Guy’s sense of humor. For those who spend their evenings in a marijuana cloud watching Adult Swim, the film’s bloodshot psychedelics and self-aware jabs will have them doubled over in their seats as trippy graphics and sly pop culture references leap out in 3D and call upon the spirit of Seth Green’s dementedly anarchic Robot Chicken. This strange brew may sound like an acquired taste, but rest assured when I tell you that there is a brilliant last act twist that helps this dizzying concoction of caffeinated inspiration go down smoothly.
When it comes to discussing the The Lego Movie’s wide array of characters, there is a long line of A-list actors lending their vocal chords to these little marvels. Chris Pratt brings his man-child charms to Emmet, our everyman hero who proudly stands behind his idea for a double decker couch. Will Arnett lends his gruff voice to Batman, growling the expected “I’m Batman” line with an extra sprinkling of cheese. He’s easily the most fun character of the bunch, mostly because he’s so overly confident even when he’s botching his batarang throws. Elizabeth Banks makes Wyldstyle an instant plastic sweetheart with a rough and tough side. Little girls in the audience are sure to adore her as she flips, spins, punches, and kicks her way through an army of robotic bad guys. Charlie Day screeches his way through the role of Benny, the ‘80s space man who desperately wants to build the crew a retro rocket ship. Alison Brie’s coo and unpredictable mood swings make Princess Uni-Kitty downright hilarious, as she is in constant turmoil with her excessive positivity. Morgan Freeman offers his trademark vocal talents to Vitruvius, a wise but slightly spaced-out wizard with eyesight complications. Will Farrell brings his maniacal cackle to Lord Business, snarling playful threats to our heroes and his endless supply of henchmen. Liam Neeson rounds out the main cast as Bad Cop, the hushed muscle of Lord Business who will suddenly unleash his peppy side.
While The Lego Movie’s razor-sharp sense of humor makes it an instant winner, the real refresher here is the amazing animation that offers a nice change of pace from the computerized creations from Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks. Though the characters and the world around them are brought to life with CGI magic, the film never truly looks like it was brought to life with a computer program. It looks like we are watching a stop motion miracle—a toy store Lego display that has suddenly leapt to crude life and started interacting with us. The filmmakers don’t forget to smartly call attention to the Lego figurine’s flexibility limits, most memorably with Emmet’s hysterical jumping jacks that he starts his day out with. The constant swirl of colors, characters, and action is all brought home with a thumping title track called “Everything is AWESOME!!” from Tegan and Sara, an indie rock duo who provide a electronic dance track that is sure to be an instant favorite in your family. Overall, with so many animated features struggling to win the hearts of both adults and children, The Lego Movie stands tall as a shining example of how to appeal to all ages. It dares to get a little weird, a little wild, and a little satirical, but it does it with plenty of heart and intelligence, sending an enduring message about the power and importance of imagination.
by Steve Habrat
I have seen quite a few comic book movie bombs in my day but I can honestly say that director Jimmy Hayward’s 2010 monstrosity Jonah Hex has got to be one of the worst I have sat through. Based on the DC Comics gunslinger created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga, Jonah Hex is rank with studio interference, cropped down to a blink-and-you’ll-practically-miss-it runtime of just barely over eighty minutes. It really is a shame that this film has been butchered as bad as it has because the talented Josh Brolin pours everything he has into the growling bounty hunter who can speak to the dead. I bet Brolin even gagged when he added this to his resume. Severely incoherent, massively brainless, and loud to the point of making your ears bleed, Jonah Hex is such a mess that I have to say I can’t believe the studio even bothered tossing it into cinemas in the first place. I honestly have to say I hope someone lost their job over this because I would have locked this film away, crossing my fingers that no one would ever stumbled upon it and unleash it on the world. It is THAT bad.
Jonah Hex begins by flashing back to the Civil War, with our hero (Played by Brolin) serving on the Confederate side of the conflict. Hex is ordered by his commanding officer, Quentin Turnbull (Played by John Malkovich), to burn down a Union hospital. Hex refuses to carry the order out and retaliates by gunning down his friend and Turnbull’s son Jeb (Played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Turnbull tracks down Hex just after the war ends and proceeds to burn Hex’s family alive and make him watch. He then horribly disfigures Hex’s face and leaves him for dead. After several days, a group of American Indians stumble upon Hex and nurse him back to health. As Hex regains his strength, he realizes that he possesses the power to reanimate and speak to the dead by touching them. Hex is anxious to get back on his feet and find Turnbull but he learns that Turnbull died in a fire shortly after he massacred Hex’s family. To deal with his pain, Hex turns to bounty hunting but is soon approached by Lieutenant Grass (Played by Will Arnett) with news that Turnbull is alive and well. It appears that he has robbed a Union train of a weapon component for a doomsday device that can wipe entire towns off the map. Grass recruits Hex to set out and stop Turnbull before he can locate all the pieces of the weapon that he needs.
Judging by all the star power in Jonah Hex, I have the sneaking suspicion that the original script had much more to it than what we actually see on the screen. There is no way any A-list actor like Brolin would agree to be in something this god-awful. Brolin really takes his role seriously, growling through gritted teeth as he rides around rotting western towns, laying waste to anyone who dares piss him off. It is a shame that his back-story is brushed over with an animated flashback that fails to really add anything to his character. We are just supposed to accept that he is mad and he won’t be getting glad until he stands over Turnbull’s corpse. Hex finds an ally in Lilah (Played by Megan Fox), a beautiful prostitute who practically drools all over her cleavage when Hex knocks on her door. Fox is only in Jonah Hex to serve as some obvious eye candy for the male audience that this is aimed at. Her character adds nothing to the poor excuse of a story that is strung throughout the film. Brolin seems to just be humoring her when she is in his eyesight—even he seems perplexed why she is in front of the camera.
Then we have Mr. Malkovich’s Turnbull, a vile baddie who has a really evil plan that lacks a motive (Those are the worst, aren’t they?). Lt. Grass and President Grant (Played by Aidan Quinn) fret and stew over Turnbull’s horrific doomsday cannon and where he will strike with this weapon of mass destruction. Turnbull spits that he will wipe the United States off the map but he never explains why. Why is he so gung-ho on leveling all of these cities? Don’t expect an answer to that question. Just tremble in your boots as he sips absinthe and makes threats at wealthy aristocrat Adleman Lusk (Played by Wes Bentley), another character that adds absolutely nothing to what is going on. Turnbull leaves the gruesome enforcement to his giggling Irish right-hand man Burke (Played by Michael Fassbender), who I suspect is sometimes chuckling at what he has been asked to do by the director. Fassbender’s character is sort of interesting but he is always shoved behind Turnbull, who looks like he raided the wardrobe closet of Pirates of the Caribbean. While you are trying to get over the fact that Fassbender even attended this party, you’ll also be reeling from the fact that funnyman Will Arnett has shown up and is trying to be taken seriously as Lt. Grass. Both Arnett and Fassbender are probably hoping that you forget they were ever in this picture.
The action of Jonah Hex is earsplitting, muddled, and forgettable as it is set to pounding heavy metal music from the band Mastodon. The film features poor special effects and every action sequence is clipped too short to really be fulfilling. The finale is an absurd fistfight in the clanking steam punk engine room of Turnbull’s floating warship. He unleashes cannonball like delay-action bombs on Washington D.C. but there is never the threat that he will detonate them. You know Hex will throw a tomahawk into his plot at just the last second. Refusing to let us get to know any of the characters in the film, Jonah Hex is a hollow summer blockbuster with no feeling or direction. It is a free-for-all of noise and missed opportunities, with little care put into the development of Hex’s character. Even worse, the film seems like it was made in a mad rush just to get it on the big screen as quickly as possible and so DC had something to release against Marvel’s Iron Man 2. Overall, if Jonah Hex rides again, let’s hope it is given to filmmakers who actually respect his character and have an interest in his origin. Avoid this film at all cost.
Jonah Hex is available on Blu-ray and DVD.