Friday, February 24, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy


RATING: A

Some people might still be wondering--in a good way--how this movie ever happened. None of us knew who these guys were before this movie, right? Probably not even many of the Marvel nerds did. Well, it happened because Marvel Studios didn't have the rights to some of its more famous characters (they still hadn't acquired Spider-Man back yet), and they were running out of guys we'd actually heard of. All of that, and I guess we needed a more strictly outer space setting for a storyline that sheds more light on the Infinity Stones--the main plot device driving the Marvel Cinematic Universe right now.

So they reached deep into the bottom of the barrel and came up with these guys. The Guardians consists of human Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), green alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana), this buff alien character named Drax (Dave Bautista)... and then an actual tree alien (Vin Diesel) and a raccoon (Bradley Cooper). Yup. These characters--who are either criminals or assassins or just misfits--have to come together to stop the insane Kree named Ronan from obtaining something called the "Orb"--which has the power to wipe out entire planets.

If you think it sounds weird, well, that's because it kind of is. This takes place in deep space mostly around a bunch of oddly-named planets, filled with quite a bit of technobabble or odd sci-fi speak that sometimes makes little sense. And when you get to the point where the raccoon is perched on the tree character with a machine gun and both of them are doing "war yells" as the raccoon opens fire, you can't help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it. And yet, it's still incredibly enjoyable.

As weird as this movie is at times, it's still incredibly fun. There's a bucket-load of humor, most of it verbal; much of it revolving around either Star-Lord's or Rocket's (the raccoon's) wisecracks, or the fact that Drax takes all "figures of speech/expressions" literally, or the fact that Groot--the tree character--only communicates by saying "I am Groot," with hilarious results. The action's pretty fun too, for the most part. And the cast is excellent; in addition to the main five characters, it's rounded out by Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro. The slightly more unknown Michael Rooker is also amusing too in his role.

Of course, there are a few things here and there that are just a little too out there. And also, parts of the climactic confrontation don't entirely make sense at times; but most of the audience generally won't care because they've enjoyed the movie too much already up to that point. It's a movie that, at the outset, really doesn't look like it should work that well. And yet it does, almost to perfection; so much so that it's made the formerly unknown Guardians of the Galaxy a household name now. And with good reason. If you've been nervous about watching this movie, give it a shot anyway. You might be surprised.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie


RATING: B

It only took three years, but we're finally getting the next movie in the "LEGO Movie" series... followed by another one in about 7 months. It wasn't really a surprise that we were getting a LEGO Batman movie, since he was one of the more popular things about the original movie. So, of course, expectations were high.

This LEGO Batman Movie, much like its predecessor, had a marketing campaign that actually hid most of the second half of the movie for once. But it doesn't tell you everything about the first half, either; leaving me in a slight pinch with what I can and can't say. The general plot circles around Batman (Will Arnett) trying to save Gotham City from the Joker and various other villains, while also being forced by Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to stop being a loner, which starts with working with a very young Robin. (I know Robin is generally younger than Batman, but he's actually a literal kid still in this one.)

Although it doesn't have the same kind of odd yet creative twist that the first LEGO Movie did, in some ways the two movies are actually pretty similar when you think about it, for better or for worse. The good news is the hilarity, which is once again off the rails. There are so many background jokes being fired at you at a near constant rate once again. One of this movie's frequent kind of jokes is making fun of previous Batman movies and occasionally the DC Universe in general. And the depiction of Gotham City throughout as almost an apocalyptic wasteland is a nice exaggeration. And elsewhere, I must compliment the studios for being able to make action sequences with nothing but LEGO animation actually enjoyable.

The issue once again, though, is that at times the movie gets a little preachy. And somewhat cheesy, even. The usage of it here is arguably worse, since it's *not* used in a creative manner like its predecessor, and it feels even more out of place in this movie than it did in the last one. It's such a dramatic switch in tone from the rest of the movie, which is so comedic and is practically a parody, and it just doesn't feel right at all. Also, I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable with the "hero-villain" dynamic--a hero *needs* a super villain, and vice versa--as it gets taken to somewhat awkward levels here. It's probably the only thing in this movie that's supposed to be funny but just isn't.

Even when flaws like that make me almost cringe occasionally, it's basically impossible to straight up dislike this movie or its predecessor, because they are just so funny. So while some people may end up coming away more pleased with the product as a whole than others, it's worth watching regardless for the humor. I do hope that in future LEGO movies they'll work out some of the kinks, but in the end, I can't be too horribly critical when I'm laughing as much as I am.

Friday, February 10, 2017

John Wick


RATING: C+

Sometimes there are multiple ways to look at a movie; that could be said of this movie. While on one hand it's a typical "They killed my _____, now I will kill them all" revenge story, it could also be a look at what happens when a man loses everything and snaps; or even just an exercise in senseless killing.

Those other ideas may seem a little thin, but they're there. The story's pretty simple; it's about a retired hitman and recent widower who has his house broken into and dog killed by three thugs (hey, it was in the trailer), thus setting off a revenge killing spree--that for some people will be totally justified because the dog died--in which, in seemingly typical revenge movie fashion--the main character must kill the culprits, and everyone directly connected to them, and anyone else who just happens to get in his way.

That's basically it. There's not much of a plot elsewhere. It's just Keanu Reeves not looking his 50 years as he blows everyone's head off with the skills of "gun-fu," and uses admittedly awesome hand-to-hand combat skills when necessary as well. There's a massive underworld criminal operation going on, but it's not nearly as fleshed out as it could be, leaving us guessing at how some of the things work. In fact, there actually is a bit of backstory that's left out at times, it feels like.

The other problem is that even though the main culprits are eventually killed and given their comeuppance, there's still 25 minutes of movie left. So we still have one more fight scene coming up, obviously. At that point, though, a lot of people really aren't going to care. I certainly didn't; I enjoyed the final shootout and fight for its action, but I didn't care about the stakes at all. In other words, even though this movie is only 101 minutes, it's still somehow too long. Or something.

Despite a pretty thin plotline, it's still not a total mess. The action scenes are, for the most part, pretty undeniably fun, even though the killing eventually gets a little old. There's a pretty decent cast, which includes Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, and the Allstate "mayhem" guy (yes, seriously). Keanu Reeves actually manages to put out some pretty good moments of acting as well. And there's some pretty humorous dialogue regarding how much of a super-assassin John Wick is. The direction's fairly stylish as well.

I don't entirely know what I was expecting from this film, but I was sort of hoping for something resembling an actual plot besides the typical revenge story. It would've also helped if the generally fun atmosphere that reared its head at times during the first two-thirds hadn't more or less disappeared during the final act. It's not a bad action movie, but I guess I just don't see how an almost plot-less movie combined with often senseless killing makes for greatness.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The LEGO Movie


RATING: B+

I remember when this movie was first being announced and when its first trailer came out. The general reaction was, "Oh no, not another movie based upon children's toys that will inevitably turn out horrible." I can't say I was super-excited for it either, even though I'm more sympathetic to such movies than most. But then it actually came out, and the world was stunned when they realized that almost all the critics loved it, and that the audience themselves loved it too. How did this even happen?

I still ask myself that question regarding this movie sometimes. It's a movie that for the first two-thirds or so, is pretty cookie-cutter plot wise. There's a prophecy of a guy who's gonna save everyone from the evil overlord. And, much like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix (which this movie actually copies a bit more than I think it intended), the guy who turns out to be "the Special," is a stunningly average guy who often has a pretty blank expression on his face. And he'll have to train to have the ability to save everyone, it seems. So how exactly does this manage to work?

Well, it's the attitude they take towards the whole thing. This film almost never takes itself too seriously. It actually pokes fun at various clich├ęs, even while still using them anyway. And it's such a light-hearted movie, too; the comedy is almost nonstop. There are so many visual gags as well as spoken ones throughout, you probably won't catch them all in the first viewing. Whether it's the various Big Brother references early on, all the pop-culture cameos or references to other movies, or other random stuff, the film repeatedly hits you with hilarity that will have almost literally every age group laughing at *something* constantly.

The cast of characters is pretty amazing. You have original characters like the main protagonists Emmett and Wyldstyle (who work quite decently), the amusing Metal Beard pirate, the surprisingly charming Princess Unikitty, the random spaceship dude, Morgan Freeman's wizard character and the hilariously over-the-top Liam Neeson Bad Cop/Good Cop. Even the literal drones are funny. But you also have non-original characters (ranging from background to supporting) including  Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Michelangelo (the Ninja Turtle *and* the real one), the Millennium Falcon, and... Shaquille O'Neal.

And I haven't even given full credit to the voice cast (only mentioned a few of them), which includes Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett--who does a perfect Christian Bale impression for Batman--Liam Neeson, Channing Tatum, and Cobie Smulders, among others. In other words, one of the more star-studded casts in recent memory.

It's difficult to offer enough praise for the comedy in this movie. What, then, could possibly be wrong with it? Well, one thing that's somewhat annoying at times is that everything in this movie is LEGO. That includes things like bullets and laser beams. This makes the action sequences sometimes difficult to follow because there is *so much* happening on the screen. It's not a massive problem at all, but it is an annoyance at times.

And then there's the final act, where things suddenly go nuts and crazy twists happen that give us a slightly bizarre resolution. It's been called many things, including heartfelt and touching. I can see where some people might get that. I also see it, however, as cheesy and preachy. More importantly, it's so insanely different in tone the rest of the movie. It amps up the seriousness while dialing back the comedy a bit--which is mostly what made the movie so fun in the first place. And then there's just the insane abruptness of the ending as well. Things are "resolved"... and then literally about two minutes later, credits are rolling.

Does this ruin the movie? No. It's pretty doggone difficult to take away from the rapid-fire laughs we get during the first 75 or so minutes. And it's not like it's horrible or anything, either. It's just... out of place. But even with a final act that's a bit clunky, this is still a movie that is way better than anyone expected it to be... and better than it had any right to be. And rather importantly, we're all actually excited for future sequels and spin-offs revolving around these plastic toys. This clearly means they did something right.