The LEGO® Movie 2 review

THE LEGO MOVIE 2

Director : Mike Mitchell
Cast : Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Richard Ayoade, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Jadon Sand, Brooklyn Prince, Noel Fielding
Genre : Animation/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 h 47 mins
Opens : 7 February 2019
Rating : PG

It’s been five years since The LEGO® Movie was released, defying expectations by being a movie made to sell toys that was about so much more than just selling toys. In the meantime, the spin-offs The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago Movie have graced the big screens, but The LEGO Movie 2 has plenty to live up to.

The LEGO Movie ended with Bricksburg being invaded by aliens from the Systar System. Five years later, Bricksburg has become ravaged by repeated alien invasions, and is now the wasteland Apocalypseburg. Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is still his cheery self, while the other denizens of Apocalypseburg, including Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie) and Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) have become hardened road warriors.

The latest invasion is led by General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), who captures Lucy, Batman, Unikitty, Metalbeard and Benny the 1980-something Space Guy (Charlie Day). Mayhem takes them back to the shape-shifting alien queen of the Systar System, Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish). Emmet travels to outer space to save his friends, and along the way meets Rex Dangervest (also Pratt), a super-cool spacefaring explorer and crime-fighter who is everything Emmet has ever wanted to be. Lucy suspects that Watevra harbours malice, thinking she has brainwashed the others, but there’s more to this conflict than first appears.

The LEGO Movie was a beautifully-made animated film that explored surprisingly sophisticated ideas, benefitting from the gleeful but good-hearted anarchy that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller bring to their projects. The duo remains onboard as screenwriters for the sequel but pass the director’s chair on to Mike Mitchell. The LEGO Movie 2 is an excellent continuation of the first movie’s plot, delivering a different message from the first film but one that’s also clever and slyly subversive.

The first film ended with the revelation that there was a human world beyond the LEGO world and that the film’s story sprung from the imagination of a young boy named Finn (Jadon Sand). Finn’s sister Bianca (Brooklyn Prince) wants to play with him, with her contribution to Finn’s story represented as an alien invasion. This metatextual knowledge informs the audiences’ interpretation of the story, which comments on gendered toys. Toys are generally marketed to boys one way and to girls another way, and there’s a perception that boys and girls play with toys in different ways.

The LEGO Movie 2 also deals with growing up, taking advantage of the five-year gap between films. The desire to be perceived as tough, cool and well, grown-up is reflected in Emmet’s awe at his newfound ally Rex. Emmet’s cheerful optimism is often taken as naivete; he wishes that he could be tougher and cooler because he thinks that’s what Lucy wants of him. The movie comments on masculinity in an astute way – there are some parallels between Emmet and Hiccup, the protagonist of the How to Train Your Dragon Movies, in that both are not traditionally badass heroes. The LEGO Movie 2 addresses why it’s important that Emmet retains the essence of who he is.

Just like in the first film, there’s the sense of imagination running amok without the movie feeling like a mess. There’s a straightforward narrative trajectory and a twist or two towards the end, but there’s a joke every other minute and the film constantly feels alive. The innumerable pop culture references feel organic rather than mechanically slotted in. The animation by Animal Logic is just as dynamic and eye-catching as in the previous LEGO movies. The photo-realistic CGI animation creates the illusion of stop-motion animation and makes each LEGO brick and element feel tactile.

The returning cast is a joy to hear. From Alison Brie’s mix of innocence and rage as Unikitty to Charlie Day’s unbridled, single-minded enthusiasm as Benny, these are eminently loveable characters. Pratt shines in a dual role, with Rex Dangervest riffing on other Pratt roles including Star-Lord from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Owen Grady from the Jurassic World movies and Joshua Faraday from the Magnificent Seven remake (with a possible nod towards Cowboy Ninja Viking, still in development).

Lucy’s character is shaded in a little more, with the indication that her cool, rebellious exterior is an affectation. Will Arnett’s portrayal of Batman as a self-obsessed loner continues to be amusing, with Batman’s own complex figuring heavily into the plot of this film.

Tiffany Haddish is a hot commodity in the movie business after the success of Girls Trip, lending plenty of personality to Watevra, a mercurial force of nature. Stephanie Beatriz voicing a LEGO character is especially rich because she got her signature eyebrow scar from tripping on a LEGO brick at age 10.

The LEGO Movie 2 hits the sweet spot of being a family film that isn’t condescending to kids and isn’t pandering to adults. There’s something for everybody, and it doesn’t feel forced. There’s surprising poignancy to the message at its heart, but it’s also consistently funny and lively. Because it’s a sequel, it doesn’t have the explosive freshness of the first film, but it’s a satisfying and intelligent follow-up that has plenty to offer.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Founder

THE FOUNDER 

Director : John Lee Hancock
Cast : Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, B.J. Novak, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 116 mins
Opens : 9 February 2016
Rating : PG13

the-founder-posterIt might not be about Colonel Sanders’ zombie-fighting exploits or the palace intrigue that led to the Burger King usurping the throne, but The Founder is a fascinating fast food-related movie all the same. And better yet – it’s based on a true story.

It is 1954 and Ray Kroc (Keaton) is a travelling salesman, struggling to make a living hawking milkshake machines. His life on the road means he gets to spend little time with his wife Ethel (Dern). Ray gets a surprisingly large order for the machines, from a restaurant in San Bernardino, California called ‘McDonald’s’. Ray meets the restaurant’s owners, brothers Maurice “Mac” (Lynch) and Richard “Dick” McDonald (Offerman). Ray is struck by the ingenuity of this new ‘fast food’ concept, which results in burgers going from grill to counter in 30 seconds. Ray convinces the brothers to franchise, even though their earlier attempt to do so was unsuccessful. Ray overcomes various setbacks in expanding the McDonalds brand, referring to himself as “the founder” of the restaurant chain, as the McDonald brothers realise just what a snake Ray really is.

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Director John Lee Hancock, known for The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks, has crafted an absorbing, wickedly clever biopic. The Founder has been described as akin to The Social Network, which detailed the behind-the-scenes machinations leading up to the creation of Facebook. The Founder can be viewed as an ode to entrepreneurial spirit, while also being a cautionary tale for anyone about to enter any business arrangement. It’s by turns rousing, fascinating and utterly terrifying. The Founder is a stark reminder that this is a world which rewards ambition, shrewdness and a lack of scruples over decency or goodwill – but the film does so with a smile on its face. A degree of cynicism is to be expected from a movie about a weaselly salesman who hijacks a homegrown business from two brothers, yet The Founder never becomes obnoxiously bleak or caustic in its outlook.

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Keaton has repeatedly proven to be adept at playing slime-balls from whom the audience can’t look away. Robert D. Siegel’s screenplay frames Ray as the underdog in its opening act. Ray is lugging about unwieldy milkshake makers, not unlike Will Smith hauling bone density scanners in The Pursuit of Happyness, getting doors slammed in his face. Then, once Ray meets the McDonald brothers and the light bulb goes off in his head, he becomes a villain protagonist. He’s doing the legwork, making impassioned speeches at Masonic lodges and synagogues alike to appeal to potential franchisees, but he also has no qualms taking credit for the ideas of others. Compulsively watchable even as his actions becoming increasingly devious, Keaton is a McMagnet as Ray.

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Any time the McDonald brothers are onscreen, one can’t help but feel a tinge of pity for them, having a general idea of how the story ends. The Founder does not portray Dick and Mac merely as hapless fools duped into signing away their baby, and while this movie is primarily The Ray Kroc Story, it does give the McDonald brothers their due. Lynch is affable as the older Mac, while Offerman’s Dick is more guarded and wary. The procedure through which Ray wrested control of McDonald’s from the restaurant’s namesakes is fraught with technicalities and while the nitty-gritties might cause some audience members to tune out, we were riveted throughout. To get an idea of how far away McDonald’s today is from Dick and Mac’s original vision, the brothers baulked at putting the Coca-Cola logo on their menus because it would be too commercial a move.

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At first, we view Ray’s neglect of his wife as a necessary sacrifice, and an exigency of the life of a travelling salesman. Then, Ray continues to ignore Ethel’s own wishes and even deceives her. While Dern doesn’t get a lot to do, the pain she projects is heart-rending, making us despise Ray even more. Ray meets Joan (Cardellini), the wife of wealthy restaurateur Rollie Smith (Wilson), and is immediately drawn to her. The film’s depiction of the relationship between Ray and Joan is nuanced rather than tawdry. And yes, this is yet another emasculated character for Wilson to add to his résumé.

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Many reviewers have drawn parallels between Ray Kroc and the current President of the United States of America, Donald Trump. Both are charming wheeler-dealers who screwed over a great many people in their respective paths to success, but at least as depicted in The Founder, Ray is more interesting than Trump. The Founder rides on Keaton’s ability to enthusiastically essay smarminess, and there’s something beguiling about these dirty machinations unfolding against the backdrop of “simpler times”. The corporate intrigue behind McDonald’s might not be the most exciting topic on which to base a biopic, but The Founder emerges as an absorbing and unexpectedly timely work.

Summary: Michael Keaton’s portrayal of self-proclaimed McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc brims with his signature charisma, keeping this insightful biopic entertaining even when it gets mired in business jargon.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

Sing

For F*** Magazine

SING 

Director : Garth Jennings
Cast : Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Beck Bennett, Leslie Jones, Jay Pharaoh
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 50min
Opens : 8 December 2016
Rating : PG

sing-posterIllumination Entertainment aims to unite all creatures great and small through the power of song in this animated musical comedy. Buster Moon (McConaughey) the koala is running out of options. After a string of flops, the showbiz entrepreneur’s theatre will soon be foreclosed upon. Moon and his business partner Eddie (Reilly) the sheep mount a singing competition to save the theatre. The contestants include harried housewife Rosita (Witherspoon) the pig, the flamboyant pig Gunter (Kroll) who is paired with Rosita, an arrogant jazz crooning mouse named Mike (MacFarlane), punk-rocker porcupine Ash (Johansson), stage fright-afflicted elephant Meena (Kelly), and Johnny (Egerton), a mountain gorilla who goes against the wishes of his criminal father Marcus (Serafinowicz) by pursuing his passion for singing. As Moon seeks the financial assistance of wealthy diva Nana Noodleman (Saunders), Eddie’s grandmother, this motley crew of animal performers must sing to save the theatre.

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“Hey, let’s put on a show!” is a stock trope as old as Hollywood itself. To save an orphanage/theatre/hospital/school from being demolished, an unlikely group must draw on their talents and mount a fund-raising production. Babes in Arms, starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, codified this formula. Sing adds funny anthropomorphic animals and top 40 hits to the mix, but the results feel rote. Illumination Entertainment is quickly gaining on the big boys like Pixar and Dreamworks, what with the Minions taking over the world and all. Sing is the studio’s second film this year, following The Secret Life of Pets. Sing is probably Illumination’s most Dreamworks-like film yet, with its celebrity voice cast and surfeit of pop tracks. For a studio trying to set itself apart from the competition, perhaps that’s not the wisest move.

Sing suffers immensely for being released in the same year as Disney’s Zootopia. The design of Zootopia was thoroughly thought through, and each frame was bursting with clever, amusing details to notice. In Sing, anthropomorphic animals are plonked into a non-descript coastal city. While some might appreciate an animated film that isn’t hyperkinetic, Sing lacks dynamism and forward momentum. There’s a nicely staged set piece in the middle and the film’s climax is enjoyable, but Sing lacks the energetic visuals and propulsive pacing of Zootopia or The Secret Life of Pets. For a film with lots of dancing in it, it feels oddly static in parts.

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As a tribute to old-fashioned movie musicals, Sing seems half-hearted at best, and the selection of songs isn’t especially inspired. There are shades of A Chorus Line and The Producers, but there’s no thematic cohesion to the musical numbers, and Sing often feels like an animated variety show with a bit of plot tacked on. If you roll your eyes whenever a cheery pop ditty shows up in a Dreamworks movie, prepare to cringe through a good amount of Sing. This reviewer did appreciate that Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure makes an appearance, when it seems more likely that the filmmakers would’ve gone with the Under Pressure rip-off Ice Ice Baby.

To accommodate the large cast of characters, most of the arcs are simplistic. McConaughey delivers an amiable, earnest performance, but seems miscast. There’s the dissonance of a Texan drawl coming out of a koala’s mouth – perhaps Hugh Jackman would’ve been a better fit, especially since Jackman has more of a slick, old-school showman vibe than McConaughey does. It might be difficult for kids to care about a character who can’t pay the electric bill to keep his theatre operational – there’s a difference between mature themes and adult worries.

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Rosita is the overtaxed stay-at-home mom who struggles to care for her 25 children and jumps at the chance to break out of her routine and embrace her inner diva. It’s a predictable arc and Witherspoon’s performance isn’t distinctive. MacFarlane’s character is smug and self-important, with a penchant for big band jazz – we can’t argue with that casting. Johansson’s Ash is spurned by her boyfriend and is out to prove that she can make it as a solo act – shooting quills into the audience while rocking out is pretty punk. Director Jennings’ cameo as Miss Crawley, a senile green iguana with a glass eye who works as Moon’s assistant, might not be a patch on Brad Bird as Edna Mode in The Incredibles but it has its moments.

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The big revelation here is Taron Egerton of Kingsman: The Secret Service fame, who shows off some impressive pipes. We’ve often seen the archetype of a kid who marches to the beat of his own drummer, much to the chagrin of his parents – Johnny the Gorilla is not unlike Lenny from A Shark’s Tale, who wanted out of the mob headed by his father. The Cockney street tough accent sounds right coming out of a gorilla.

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If you were moved by Tori Kelly’s rendition of Hallelujah during the In Memoriam segment at this year’s Emmys, you’ll get to hear her sing it again here – never mind that the song is overused. Since Kelly is the one professional singer in the principal cast, it’s a shame that Meena sings as little as she does. Jennifer Hudson, as the younger version of Nana Noodleman, gets to open the film with a soaring rendition of Golden Slumbers, and then is absent from the rest of the film.

Sing isn’t just clichéd, it’s a gathering of lots of clichés in one place. If singing and dancing cartoon animals are all you’re looking for, then Sing has you covered – but then again, the history of animation is filled with singing and dancing animals. Sing has several entertaining sequences and a talented voice cast, but is too generic for its own good.

Summary: You know how this song goes: Sing’s “let’s put on a show plot” doesn’t offer any surprises, and will inevitably be compared to stronger animated films from this year.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong