Quick Rec – Lego Movie

Not a full review here, but another quick recommendation :  The Lego Movie.  Yes, you can add us to the many, many others lauding this clever and funny family show.  Does it help that our kids are really into legos right now, that it’s their go-to creative time pursuit?  Absolutely.  But don’t dismiss our thumbs-up as simple consumer bias…

Writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller deserve the accolades for a fun story that gets to the heart of playing with legos – the following directions precisely mode vs. free-build creative mode.  Each has its merits, but to the surprise of no one, the movie favors the latter.  Creativity is the principal theme here – what it means to our kids, how we perceive and value it.  And Lord and Miller so effectively capture childhood perceptions of playing and imagining with broad strokes like the different themed lego-lands the characters visit as well as small details like various sound effects (child-produced) or the artifacts from our mundane world.

And, if all that seems a little uppity, well – the jokes are really, really funny.  There are a lot (and we mean a lot) of them, rapidly delivered, with numerous parenting and pop-culture references squarely aimed at the grown-ups.  Due to the vastness of the lego line, the movie drops in all sorts of famous people and character cameos, and the writers obviously had a ball with these scenes and jokes.

The Lego Movie is easily Top 3 for family movies we’ve seen in the last several years – probably our favorite since The Incredibles.  So we say, take your kids, grand-kids, or nieces/nephews to the cinema and enjoy.

By the Beard of Odin

We did not expect our favorite super-hero/action movie of 2013 to be Thor: The Dark Worldand yet there it is.  Iron Man 3 was not good, Man of Steel was problematic and should have been better…  We have not yet seen The Wolverine, but based on the reviews and chatter, we doubt it will eclipse the son of Odin.  Thor: TDW had the right blend of humor, action, and Asgardian mayhem, as well as an imminently watchable Loki and Thor dynamic and some Avengers 2 easter eggs.  If you’re into the superheroes, you should check it out.

And, of course, it hath spawned another excellent ‘How it Should Have Ended’, this time featuring the Villain Pub.

Movies: Hobbit – DoS

…written by Fan Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo Del Toro; directed by Peter Jackson; starring Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage.

Hobbit Day is big in Beemsville.  It’s family movie day.  Looking forward to the next chapter since last year, excited from the previews and the kids’ shared experience reading the book – anticipation?  Yes.  We’re big fans of the Peter Jackson versions of the Tolkien world, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is no exception.

The core cast from last year’s first chapter returns, along with similar strengths and weaknesses.  You get your next dose of Middle Earth-Jackson-style, which also means you get Jackson-style pacing and excess.  The decision to draw three separate films out of Tolkien’s book (and notes from other books) will again rouse complaints.  It makes for uneven bursts of cinematic storytelling and, well Peter Jackson’s penchant for excessive scenes.

What do we mean by excessive?  It’s a handful of action sequences and fight scenes that go on too long.  It’s another chase and escape by the dwarves that while fun, becomes a little ridiculous.  It’s the absolute mountain of treasure in the Lonely Mountain that beggars the description from the book and leaves you thinking about deflation and the Middle Earth economic system.  This adds up to a two-hour-and-forty minute movie that could have comfortably arrived at just over two hours.

Don’t get me wrong – we thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  It’s great entertainment and a level or two above the mean for big budget movies.  In fact the Peter Jackson excess serves to draw more light to the small scenes, the thoughtful scenes, that have made these movies so grand.  These include a scene at the end of the battle with the spiders, when Bilbo loses the ring for a split second;  a brief exchange in which Bilbo almost tells Gandalf about the ring and how he escaped from the goblin tunnels; the healing scene in which Tauriel rescues Kili.

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Iron Man 3 – CBG Complaints

We took in Iron Man 3 this weekend for family movie night.  Mostly, it was what you’d expect: a fun comics themed actioner aimed squarely at the mass markets.  The kids and wife enjoyed it.  I mostly enjoyed it.  And we understand and fully support Disney/Marvel’s approach here.  We’re glad to have shared-world Avengers movies with a sense of continuity, big budgets, and A-list talent.  However….

However, and not to go all Comic Book Guy here, because Iron Man was never a personal favorite or anything, but I do have to go CBG here.  Because just like Man of Steel, the writers/director sort of missed some key elements with Iron Man 3 and kind of blew it to the point of ludicrousity.

Which isn’t really a word, but you get our point.  Major spoilers below…

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Movies: Man of Steel

…written by David Goyer, directed by Zach Snyder, starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and Russell Crowe, based on the comic book by Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster.

Superman is serious business.  He’s the first and arguably the greatest comic book super hero.  Clark Kent has inspired countless spin-offs and clones, including the super hero action blockbuster sub-genre that currently rules in Hollywood.  That doesn’t mean he’s always fared well on the big screen.

Witness the latter Chris Reeves Superman movies (but please, don’t).  Even Superman and Superman II, which we love around here, don’t hold up all that well over time.  2006’s Superman Returns embraced Richard Donner’s same big-screen mythology and floundered.  Now the team of David Goyer and Zach Snyder, with input from Christopher Nolan, have rebooted with Man of Steel.  They are hoping for that same mature and riveting re-imagining of the the Kryptonian Mythos as Nolan provided with his Dark Knight trilogy.  Warner Brothers needs a foil to the Marvel juggernaut, and it’s Big Blue to the rescue.

But, like an ill-fated Lex Luthor plot, they come up a little short.

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Movies: Star Trek Into Darkness

…written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof; directed by J.J .Abrams; starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

How to take beloved pop-culture and sci-fi phenomenon from cold storage to the spotlight, by J.J. Abrams.  With so many reboots, reloads, relaunches, it’s easy to get cynical about these kinds of movies.  Just like it would be fairly easy to mash something up and deliver a financial success to the studio.  Fortunately for Trekkers and cineplex-goers, Abrams and company have continued along the brighter path with Star Trek Into Darkness.

 

Starting with a prologue that could have been a classic episode scenario, STID quickly re-acquaints us with the crew of the Enterprise.  Once again, we marvel at the effective casting.  Chris Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock continue their yin-and-yang dueling over the Prime Directive and the overall mission of Starfleet. The burgeoning not-quite-friendship of the two leads juxtaposed over a cliff-hanger action sequence with some excellent humor for good measure…  This is what STID thrives on, what makes the movie so much fun.

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The Falcon will fly again

Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Scottie in the new StarTreks) said of J.J. Abrams’ approach to the Star Wars reboot:

“He’ll bring the fun back. Lucas seemed to misread what made the first ones great, and concentrate on things that people didn’t really care about, or willfully ignore the things that people cared about. Whereas J.J. will embrace them all.”

We’re going to see the Millennium Falcon again. We’re going to see those characters again. All the things that we loved about the first three, we will see again.”

The part about the Falcon really hit me for some reason.  Maybe it’s because we’ve been watching all the movies in Beemsville, slowly rolling them out for the kids in episodic order.  Watching them get all excited about Star Wars, listening to my son wax philosophical about the finer points of Star Destroyer technology, or my daughter’s drawings fusing fairies with Jedi…  They are excited.  That’s what I remember when I saw the Falcon on the big screen or heard the hiss-hum of a lightsaber igniting.

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Some Summer Movies

With Iron Man 3 opening this weekend, we enter the Summer Movie zone.  Ah, the smell of popcorn and industrial-strength air conditioning…  Big budgets, big stars, big plot-holes…  Summer movies have crept forward from the traditional Memorial Day weekend starting point, because why, again?  Because if they open something big the first week of May, it will sell.

Even if we don’t make it to the cinema as much as we used to, we’re still big movie people in Beemsville.  And summer movies, with their explosions, effects, and fantastic settings always provide grist for the escapist mill, not to mention fuel for the snark fire.  So here are five movies we’re pretty excited about and will most likely see…

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Blame the Legos

Star Wars.  Yes, I’m a fan.  Not an obsessive, obnoxious fanboy.  Not someone who can’t see the flaws or critical failings of certain aspects of various media and, er, films…  But I am someone who’s read my share of tie-in novels, and comics, played the video games, reveled in the Robot Chicken and Family Guy episodes.  I’ve even tracked down and watched the Star Wars Holiday Special.  As an adult.  Sober.

And there’s this:

Han & LeiaThe photo you don’t see here (because I don’t put the kids’ photos on the blog) features the two of them along with us in their jedi gear to, you know, complete the theme.

Despite this, I haven’t pushed the movies or even the Clone Wars show on the kids.  In fact, I haven’t let them watch the movies all the way through yet because I wanted them to be old enough to appreciate it (and hopefully realize that Jar Jar ain’t cool).

Kids love Jar Jar, though.  Lucas wasn’t wrong about that.

I’m also torn on the whole question of sequencing.  Do you start with the original or do you go in Episodic order?  Seriously, this is an important decision.  See here for more wisdom on this.

Thanks to the Lego Star Wars video games,  the sequencing question is sort of moot now.  So too, any concerns about enthusiasm or pushing my own geek agenda on my kids…

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Movies: The Dark Knight Rises

…based on Bob Kane’s Batman, written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer, directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Tom Hardy.

The Dark Knight Rises, the third installment of the Nolan brothers’ take on the Batman Mythos, has been criticized and praised alike with heavy-handed gusto by media and culture critics.  You’ll hear how it’s violent, bleak, self-indulgent.  It’s epic, intricate, spectacularly visual.  Dark Knight Rises is guilty of all.  The film also carries considerable baggage: the crazy expectations that seem to accompany any Chris Nolan project, the legacy of the last film, the Dark Knight, which receives too much credit for a number of reasons, not to mention carrying the standard for the entire DC Comics/Warner Brothers line.  A crushing weight, Man-of-Steel worthy.

And Batman and the Nolans are up for it.  This is an awesome film.  Awesome in its most literal sense.  DKR pushes the boundaries of super-hero/anti-hero narrative.  It engages in multi-layered, multi-generational story telling.  It takes this version of Batman – a contemporary characterization that still retains the essential elements – breaks him down, examines his ethos, and brings him back from the brink.  Visuals, performances, character arcs – its’ all there.  The movie is a cut or two above…

And DKR does not achieve this in a vacuum.  Nolan and company employ a secret weapon (that’s not so secret to comic book fans):  years and years of great Batman stories from DC Comics, including Knightfall, which introduced the Bane character, but most importantly the great Frank Miller treatise, The Dark Knight Returns.

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