Everything Is Awesome! The Lego Movie Is Still Great!


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Have you ever rewatched a film that you remembered as being pretty great just to then be totally shocked to discover that it really wasn’t even that good?

It’s happened to me more times than I care to count.  Often times, it seems like the films that have the most immediate impact on us are the same films that, in a matter of weeks, we often end up forgetting.  My personal theory is that these films are so designed to make an immediate impact that there’s often little room for the subtext that would be necessary for a movie to actually linger in the mind.  These are the type of films that we remember enjoying but it’s often a struggle for us to explain why we thought it was great.  (“Oh my God,” we say, “it was such a great movie!” and then we leave it at that.)  When we do get around to watching the film for a second time, we’re often left slightly disappointed.  Now that we know what’s coming, the film no longer has as much of an impact.

It happens all the time and I hate it.  That is why, often times, I find myself dreading the second viewing.  Will the film still work the second time or will it turn out that the film only truly works when viewed with virgin eyes?

That’s one reason why I was feeling a bit of trepidation about rewatching The Lego Movie when it showed up on HBO this month.  After all, I loved the Lego Movie when it was originally released earlier this year.  As soon as I got home from seeing it at the Alamo Drafthouse, I jumped on twitter and tweeted out, “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!”  For the past few months, I’ve been telling everyone that the Lego Movie was great.

But was it really?

Of course, everyone knows what The Lego Movie was about.  President Business (Will Ferrell) is seen by the residents of the Lego Universe as being a benevolent ruler but actually, he’s an insecure control freak who enforces strict conformity and who is planning to use a mysterious weapon known as the Kragle to rob everyone of free will and imagination.  A group of rebels — known as the Master Builders and led by Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) — hope to stop him.  According to Vitruvius, a chosen one will defeat President Business and, to everyone’s surprise, the Chosen One turns out to be a cheerfully ordinary construction worker named Emmett (Chris Pratt).

There were so many things that I remembered loving about the Lego Movie.

I loved the voice work done by the film’s talented cast.  Along with the perfectly selected Ferrell, Freeman, and Pratt, the cast also includes: Will Arnett as a hilariously pretentious Lego Batman, Elizabeth Banks as the rebellious Wyldstyle, Liam Neeson as Bad Cop, the always brilliant Nick Offerman as a pirate called Metal Beard, Charlie Day as a “space guy,” and Alison Brie as my favorite character, Unikitty (a unicorn/kitty hybrid, and who wouldn’t want to own one of those?).  And, of course, there were also cameos from Channing Tatum as Superman and Jonah Hill as a hilariously obsequious Green Lantern.  I remembered that all of these actors had done great work, bringing very vivid life to their characters.

And I remembered that all of the actors were aided by a script that was full of funny lines and clever bits of satire.  I remembered loving the enthusiastic way that Charlie Day talked about making a spaceship.  I loved Will Arnett’s pretentious hipster posturing.  I loved the way that Chris Pratt could deliver a line like, “I understand what you’re saying but could you repeat it again because I wasn’t listening?”  I loved Liam Neeson switching back and forth from being the ruthless Bad Cop and the painfully nice Good Cop.  And most of all, I loved Morgan Freeman.  Freeman, of course, is known for having the most God-like voice in the movies and, in this movie, he delivers even the most over-the-top dialogue with a calm and soothing authority.

And I loved the song Everything Is Awesome, an earworm if there ever was one!

And finally, I remembered that — as funny as The Lego Movie was — it also made me cry.  The theme of being yourself and going your own way is a common one but the Lego Movie expressed it with such sincerity that it was impossible for me not to be moved as if I was hearing it for the very first time.

So, as I lay down to rewatch the Lego Movie, I asked myself if the movie would live up to my memories.

Well, guess what?

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!

The Lego Movie is just as good on subsequent viewings than on the first!  So, if you somehow haven’t watched it, then watch it now.  And if you have watched it, watch it again!

Back to School #73: 21 Jump Street (dir by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)


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Though the TV series that its based is a bit before my time, the 2012 comedy 21 Jump Street is a personal favorite of mine.  The film tells the story of how nerdy Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular but none-too-intelligent jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) first met in high school, went to the police academy together, both turned out to really bad cops together, and then returned to high school together.

Why did they return to high school?  Because they’re both working undercover now!  As part of a recently revived program from the 80s (and that would apparently be the original television series), young cops are being sent undercover into high school.  As all the other cops involved with the program appear to be super cops, Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) has every reason to believe that Schmidt and Jenko will be able to discover who is responsible for dealing a dangerous new synthetic drug known as HFS.

One of the things that makes 21 Jump Street work is that, at no point, does the film pretend that either Channing Tatum or Jonah Hill could still pass for a high school student.  One of the film’s best moments comes when a drug dealing environmentalist/student named Eric Molson (Dave Franco, brother of my beloved James) tells Jenko that he suspects that Jenko may be a cop.  “Why?” Jenko asks.  “You’re taste in music. The fact that you look like a fucking forty-year old man,” Eric replies.

Not surprisingly, Jenko and Schmidt prove themselves to be fairly clueless about how high school has changed.  One thing that I’ve always found interesting about high school films is that often times, regardless of when a particularly film might be set, it still feels like it’s taking place ten to twenty years in the past.  That’s largely because most high school films are made by directors who are trying to relive their youth and, as a result, they end up making a film about a high school in 2014 where all of the students look and act as if they’re living in the 90s.  The truth of the matter is that things change pretty quickly.

That’s one reason why I haven’t set foot back in my high school since I graduated.  As much fun as I did have in high school and even though I’ve been told that I can still pass for high school age (and I still constantly get asked for ID), the fact of the matter is that it’s no longer 2004.

When Jenko and Schmidt return to high school, they do so expecting to have to return to their previous teenager personas.  That’s good news for Jenko and not so good news for Schmidt.  However, once they arrive (and after their class schedules accidentally get switched), they discover that high school has changed.  Jocks like Jenko no longer rule the school and Schmidt is now one of the popular kids…

Before I saw 21 Jump Street, I knew that Jonah Hill was funny.  But the film’s big surprise was that Channing Tatum is just as funny.  Throughout the film, Tatum shows a willingness to poke fun at his own image and proves that he can deliver an absurd one-liner as masterfully as just about anyone else working today.  There’s a lot of reasons why 21 Jump Street is a funny film.  It’s full of funny lines and the movie features a lot of very sharp satire of both the action and the teen genres.  But the true pleasure of the film comes from the comedic chemistry between Tatum and Hill.

It’s just a lot of fun to watch.

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Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “22 Jump Street”


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I know, I know, go on and say it — I’m getting to the party pretty late with this one and anyone who wants to see 22 Jump Street has probably already done so.  Fair enough. But, see, that’s the reason I’m getting to it so late — I had absolutely no interest in catching this flick three  years from now on a boring Saturday afternoon in the middle of winter, much less paying to watch it on the big screen, but last weekend my brother wanted to go see a movie, this was playing at the local discount house up the street (the historic Riverview on 38th Street in south Minneapolis), and so we went. Better late than never, right?

Actually, um, no. I admit I wasn’t expecting much from this flick, but even by the admittedly dire standards of the Hollywood “bromance comedy,” this is atrocious, unfunny, subpar stuff with absolutely nothing going for it.

Let me qualify that statement, though, for the sake of fairness — it has nothing going for it unless you’re into movies loaded down with self-referential “in-jokes” that make fun of the production itself on a “meta” level, or movies with tired-ass “say no to drugs” messages, or movies that make incompetent cops look like harmless nincompoops rather than walking, breathing weapons of potential mass destruction (ask the folks in Ferguson if inept, bungling, cover-your-ass policework is a laughing matter), or movies loaded with lowest-common-denominator racial and sexual “humor” designed to already divide a fractured society along cultural fault lines under the thin veneer of “uniting us in shared laughter.” If you enjoy any — or all — of that bullshit, then I’m sure you’ll find 22 Jump Street a rollicking good time, even if half (or more) of the jokes fall completely flat even under the risible set of circumstances I just outlined.

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Anyway, here’s the deal, plot-wise : Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are back as undercover 21st-century Keystone Kops Schmidt and Jenko,  respectively, Ice Cube is back as their boss in another role poking fun at his formerly-bad-ass-image, and this time his two charges are headed off to college to bust up a new “designer drug” ring rather than doing it in high school again like, I take it, they did in the first film (which I haven’t seen). Stupid shit happens, Jenko ends up on the football team, Schmidt ends up fucking Ice Cube’s daughter (played by Amber Stevens), and just when you think this steaming pile of racist, misogynist dogshit is over, they tack on about another half-hour to send the gang down to spring break in Mexico, and set this film’s place in history as the only spring break movie ever without so much as one naked female breast on display.

That’s about it as far as restraint goes, though,  in this little opus from co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who, I take it, helmed 2012’s 21 Jump Street as well). Subtle is just not a word in these guys’ vocabulary. Shit, even at the end they keep piling it on as the credits roll, showing us one purportedly “funny” undercover scenario after another for our two “heroes,” wearing out the gag’s welcome to a degree that anyone with two functioning brain cells would consider cruel.

And then it hit me — the “two-functioning-brain-cells” crowd isn’t who flicks like this are made for. Nor is that the “target audience” for anything coming out of Hollywood’s blockbuster comedy machine these days. Dear God, there’s an entire generation of comedy “stars” who would be flipping burgers or digging ditches for a living if the public at large had any taste. Roll call : Johan Hill, Channing Tatum, Seth Rogen, Seann William Scott, Andy Samberg, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, James Franco, Danny McBride, Owen Wilson, Zack Galifianikis, Melissa McCarthy, Steve Carrell, David Spade,  and the worst offenders of all, the wretchedly untalented Vince Vaughn and Adam Sandler.

Whew! I’m exhausted just from pouring out that list, and I’m sure it’s not even a comprehensive one. Point is : none of these people are funny, they never have been, and they never will be.

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Look, I have no desire to sound like a curmudgeon (whoops, too late!), but we’ve got to face facts here : the state of the Hollywood comedy is no laughing matter. We’re in deep trouble. This shit is stupid, these supposed “A-listers” can’t carry a film, and the “demographic” they’re pitching this crap to is, plain and simple, the idiot crowd. If a truly inventive and talented comic performer like Bill Murray, or Richard Pryor, or Gene Wilder,  or the late, great Robin Williams came along today, Hollywood wouldn’t have  the first idea how to utilize their talents. “Come back to us with some fat jokes or fart jokes and we’ll see if we can’t find you some work. Oh, and do you know how to make fun of Mexicans? That’s always good for a laugh.”

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Honestly, news coverage of wars or humanitarian disasters is funnier than tripe like 22 Jump Street. Just because a film is openly aware of its own absurdity doesn’t make it instantly less absurd in and of itself — in fact, quite the reverse, because it gives lazy filmmakers a crutch — “let’s admit we’re stupid so we can spend the whole rest of the movie making fun of how stupid we are.” The most talented folks in the comedy game have always understood how to point out and lampoon all of life’s admitted absurdities without insulting the intelligence of their audience. This new crop today? They think you’re such a lame-brained asshole that they can spend two hours calling you a lame-brained asshole to your face and you won’t even get upset because, hey, they’re saying that they’re lame-brained assholes, too!

If you want to keep playing along with this ruse, that’s your business, but I’m through with it. This is the last mainstream Hollywood comedy I see — even at discount prices — until they get their shit together.

Arleigh’s Top 9 Films of 2014 (Front End)


We’re now past the halfway point for the film season of 2014. The year has seen it’s share of hits, bombs and surprises. Many look at the box-office numbers some that these films generate as a sign of their success. Others look at how the critics-at-large have graded these films as a way to determine whether they’ve been successful.

I know some people would list nothing but independent arthouse films as their best. They look at genre and big-budget films as not being worthy of being the best of the year, so far. It’s that sort of thinking that limits one’s appreciation of film, in general.

Does having a 150 million dollar budget mean that a film cannot be one of the best of the year. Past history will suggest that’s not the case. Yet, there are cinephiles out there who will dismiss such films because they consider it as being too Hollywood. The same goes for people who look down upon genre films like horror, scifi, westerns and many others that do not fit their slice-of-life drama study. They’re not existential enough for some.

I’ve come to look at all the films I’ve been fortunate enough to see through the first six months of 2014 and picked 9 of the best (I picked a random odd number since Lisa Marie already does the even numbers thing) no matter their genre, type of film and budget. I’ve picked a couple of scifi films, a documentary, an action-packed blockbuster sequel, a wonderfully made 3-D animated film (itself a sequel), a neo-noir Western, a brutal crime-thriller, an indie horror-thriller and one of the best comedies of the last couple years.

In no special order….

noah-banner222Noah (dir. by Darren Aronofsky)

capawsmovarthc-cvr-a91f8Captain America: The Winter Soldier (dir. by Anthony and Joe Russo)

cold_in_july_ver2_xlgCold in July (dir. by Jim Mickle)

HTTYD2How To Train Your Dragon 2 (dir. by Dean DuBois)

JodorowskysDuneJodorowsky’s Dune (dir. by Frank Pavich)

the-raid-2-berandal01The Raid 2: Berandal (dir. by Gareth Evans)

Snowpiercer (dir. by Bong Joon-ho)

GrandPianoGrand Piano (dir. by Eugenio Mira)

22JumpStreet22 Jump Street (dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

My honorable mentions: All Cheerleaders Die, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Joe, Edge of Tomorrow, Lego: The Movie, Blue Ruin, Locke, Under the Skin, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Sacrament