THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and some Action

legobatman-poster

Directed by: Chris McKay

Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern & John Whittington

Voices of: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Mariah Carey, Jenny Slate, Susan Bennett, Billy Dee Williams, Hector Elizondo, Conan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Doug Benson, Zoe Kravitz, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam DeVine, Eddie Izzard & Seth Green

The first of three new LEGO movies, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is a spin-off for the popular DC superhero from 2014’s surprisingly awesome THE LEGO MOVIE. Will Arnett has returned to reprise the vocal work for Lego Batman/Bruce Wayne and this film is set entirely within the Lego DC Universe. Filled to the brim with comic book references and call-backs to other movies, LEGO BATMAN never takes itself seriously at all and yet still manages to throw in a touching message about family and friends. Though not as great as its LEGO predecessor, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is the best DC Comics movie to hit nationwide theatrical release in years. This is a delight for parents, teenagers, and Batman fans who enjoy a good laugh.

legobatman-1

In Lego Gotham City, orphan-turned-superhero Batman (Will Arnett) enjoys wearing black, playing loud music and fighting crime. He’s always saving the day, but has never let anybody else into his life…other than faithful butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). After Batman foils the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) yet again and hurts the evil clown’s feelings, the villain hatches an ingenious scheme for revenge. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) has stepped into her dad’s shoes as chief of police and has enacted a new “it takes a village, not a Batman” approach to fighting crime. Also, Batman has taken young boywonder Robin under his reluctant parental wing. The real challenge Batman has to face though…is overcoming his fears about family.

legobatman-2

Will Arnett’s Batman was easily one of the funniest parts of THE LEGO MOVIE and he brings everything that fans loved about that character into a feature-length running time. Though this film has a handful of slow moments that drag, Arnett’s comedic timing and purposely brooding voice frequently rescue the story from being “too much of a good thing.” The rest of the voice cast is stellar as well, with Michael Cera delivering some of the biggest laughs as lively, no-pants-wearing Robin. Tons of Batman’s rogue gallery make appearances too, including a lot of C-grade baddies that provide giggles from their mere cameos. My two favorite side villains were Catwoman (who’s constantly saying “mew mew”) and Bane (who’s adopted the strange, but awesome-sounding voice from 2012’s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES). Zach Galifianakis also shines in the most sensitive portrayal of the Joker that you’ve ever seen, making for an evil supervillain that throws tantrums like a depressed ex-girlfriend.

legobatman-3

It should come as no surprise that THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is chock-full of movie, TV and comic book references. There are so many jokes within the first five minutes that it seems impossible to catch them all in one viewing. From signs that cheering citizens are holding to bits of dialogue that directly tie into certain films to full-blown footage used from every big-screen Batman in history, there are tons of laughs and in-cannon material here to satisfy diehard Batman fans. The film also throws tons of references towards DC comics in general, featuring cameos from Justice League members and familiar places from Superman’s stories. Even still, the references don’t stop there because there are unexpected non-cannon characters that have a big part to play in the proceedings. I won’t go into detail, but I was grinning ear to ear for a majority of the action-packed climax.

legobatman-4

LEGO BATMAN MOVIE’s message isn’t exactly original, but seems perfectly suited to the nature of Batman’s character and how we’ve seen this character explored in past versions of the material. The film’s lively visuals explode off the screen, looking like stop-motion even though they are actually the result of highly-detailed computer animation. As clever, entertaining and downright fun as LEGO BATMAN is, the plot encounters a few dull stretches. These mainly come in the second act, where we need to see certain things develop. In writing my summary of this film’s story, it struck me that LEGO BATMAN juggles four different subplots and tries to bring them together as a cohesive whole. The script does a solid job of this for the most part, but occasionally meanders as it brings these storylines together. Still, the pay-off, countless references, sheer entertainment value, and never-ending sense of humor are all well-worth the price of admission.

legobatman-5

If you’re a fan of 2014’s THE LEGO MOVIE or any incarnation of Batman, then THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is a must-see! I imagine that DC Comics fans will have a field day with the sheer amount of references, tie-ins, and clever writing; all while kids are having a blast watching Lego Batman run around on the screen. I saw LEGO BATMAN in a sold-out movie theater that was filled with families and an apparent birthday party going on the front two rows. At no point, during any minute of the running time, did a child begin crying or a bratty kid act out in any way. That’s almost unheard of, at least for me. Everybody was glued to the screen and that’s a major feat for any family film. Though the pacing isn’t perfect, but THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is a ton of fun! Sometimes, that’s all you need!

Grade: B+

WAR DOGS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, Drug Use and some Sexual References

WarDogs poster

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Written by: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips & Jason Smilovic

(based on the book ARMS AND THE DUDES by Guy Lawson)

Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, J.B. Blanc, Kevin Pollak, Bradley Cooper & Barry Livingston

After directing eight sex comedies and a few documentaries, director Todd Phillips takes a hard left turn into true-crime/political territory with WAR DOGS. This film is based on the true story of Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, though details have been changed and exaggerated to make a more interesting movie. The film’s strongest elements are its story, the chemistry between Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, and a manic energy that keeps things interesting. However, this movie occasionally suffers from trying too hard to replicate the style of a Martin Scorsese crime flick and never fully becoming as great as it could have been.

WarDogs 1

David Packouz (Miles Teller) is going nowhere in life. His job as a massage therapist barely pays the bills and attempts to start up his own business have drastically failed. Low on cash and with a child on the way, David reunites with former friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who makes bank as an international arms dealer. David is intoxicated by Efraim’s lavish lifestyle and soon becomes his business partner. However, things get complicated when the two young dudes find themselves in over their heads with dangerous people and the U.S. government. What follows is lots of cash, cocaine, bullets, and illegal activities that forced the U.S. Army to reexamine its contracting procedures.

WarDogs 2

The premise of WAR DOGS sounds like a lot to take in. After all, what if you know next to nothing about defense contracts? Well, have no fear because the script (written by three people, including Phillips) gently takes the viewer by the hand and lays out details in an easy-to-understand manner. We are also shown how illegal dealings and shady business practices can easily be made behind the curtains. WAR DOGS doesn’t tackle all of this as light-hearted comedic fodder (as the trailers suggest), because the film may cause audience members to think long and hard about what they’ve seen afterwards.

WarDogs 3

As you might imagine, David and Efraim aren’t good people. The film knows this and makes that clear. We’re watching scumbags get away with doing scumbag things, until it all comes crashing down on their heads. Miles Teller is somewhat sympathetic as David, because he has a family to provide for and seems like the more level-headed nice guy of the two. Jonah Hill is an out-and-out asshole as Efraim. This coke-snorting, back-stabbing, morally bankrupt stain of a human being represents everything that’s wrong with this world….and he also has an obnoxious laugh. Efraim is someone who will take advantage of anything and anyone to make a few extra bucks and Hill plays him to perfection.

WarDogs 4

As for the supporting cast, there are only three big recurring faces. Ana de Armas (one of the most beautiful women alive) puts in a solid performance as David’s innocent wife. Her relationship is deeply affected by her husband’s newfound career, though she doesn’t exactly get a ton of screen time to show that. The focus is more on the international arms dealing and crimes, whereas David’s personal life is just a subplot. Bradley Cooper plays a threatening guy who works from shadowy places. Cooper is fantastic in the part, but doesn’t receive more than five brief scenes. For those five moments, he completely steals the show. Kevin Pollak is a welcome presence as a local businessman with ties to Efraim and David.

WarDogs 5

WAR DOGS has a very interesting story and Todd Phillips attempts to execute it with grandiose style, though this doesn’t come off entirely successful. Phillips tries too hard to replicate a Scorsese-crime flick. For example, the movie uses voiceover narration from Miles Teller which isn’t exactly uncommon…but also accompanies this with frequent freeze frames to character’s faces. It’s obvious that Phillips was trying to do GOODFELLAS and CASINO, but with international arms dealing. It sounds great in theory, but the style is unnecessarily forced. The film also has title cards with quotes of dialogue that seem more distracting and pretentious as opposed to cool and artsy.

WarDogs 6

WAR DOGS is hindered by its wannabe Scorsese style and never becomes as great as it should be. The performances are solid across the board. Some scenes are humorous, while other plot developments are shocking (especially if you don’t know the true story). The pacing moves quickly and never gives the viewer time to get bored. I was interested and entertained throughout. Even if the film never reaches its full potential, one fantastic scene perfectly sums up this entire movie. As the greedy millionaire arms dealers frantically drive away from gunfire, a brave band of underpaid soldiers rush into eliminate the threat. As David and Efraim gleefully dance in the truck, a passing soldier angrily glares and flips them off. That about says it all, right there.

Grade: B

SAUSAGE PARTY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Crude Sexual Content, Pervasive Language, and Drug Use

SausageParty poster

Directed by: Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon

Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter & Ariel Shaffir

Voices of: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, Conrad Vernon & Scott Underwood

At the tail-end of an underwhelming summer movie season and in a year that’s been filled with depressing events, SAUSAGE PART comes as a hilarious breath of fresh air. Besides being the first R-rated computer-animated feature, SAUSAGE PARTY is probably the filthiest comedy I’ve ever seen. While driving home from the movie theater, I was trying to think of a movie or TV show that reached the same level of this film’s raunchy extremes…and I honestly didn’t have a single title come to mind. SOUTH PARK, TEAM AMERICA and DRAWN TOGETHER all seem slightly tame by comparison. This animated comedy for adults is surprisingly smart, while also serving as a pitch-perfect spoof of Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks.

SausageParty 1

Shopwell’s is a supermarket populated by all brands of foods, who worship shoppers as “gods” and eagerly await to be chosen for “the great beyond.” Frank (Seth Rogen) is a sausage who desperately wants to be with his hot dog bun girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig). Luckily, they’ve been thrown into the same shopping cart and their dreams are finally coming true. When an unexpected spill occurs, Frank and Brenda are left stranded in the store…outside of their packages. Along with a Muslim lavash (David Krumholtz), a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton), and a lesbian taco shell (Salma Hayek), Frank and Brenda make the perilous journey back to their aisle…as a villainous Douche stalks them. To complicate matters, Frank discovers the horrible truth about the humans.

SausageParty 2

I walked into SAUSAGE PARTY expecting an absurd amount of profanity (it’s definitely there, but never to a distracting degree), food carnage (there’s plenty of that) and stoner jokes (which only filled two major scenes). This comedy goes to the extreme and delivers on different types of humor, all while giving a huge middle finger to easily offended viewers. Like some of the best comedic material out there (ala SOUTH PARK), nothing is off limits. Religion, race, sexual orientation, graphic violence, tons of swearing and (to a much more innocent degree) plenty of puns are utilized throughout the running time. Expect to be shocked and grossed out, but also prepare to laugh a lot!

SausageParty 3

SAUSAGE PARTY’s script goes into unexpectedly clever, very dark places. What was especially shocking is the film’s mostly well-executed message about community. Though the not-so-subtle social commentary isn’t quite up to the level of the intelligence in something like SOUTH PARK, it’s refreshing to see a filthy R-rated comedy use its filth to aid the plot as opposed to mere shock value. Be assured though, there’s plenty of hilariously perverse material packed into the short running time. Food carnage only makes up a mere portion of the smorgasbord of laughs that can’t be unseen.

949846 - SAUSAGE PARTY

Besides delivering in its story and jokes, SAUSAGE PARTY is also very well-made. The animation is colorful and vibrant, which makes every swear word, sexual innuendo, disgusting sex act and bit of graphic violence that much funnier to watch. SAUSAGE PARTY nailed the look of an innocent children’s film and then took a hard turn into adult-only territory. A talented cast of big names enliven the anthropomorphic food and hungry humans. Even smaller characters manage to make memorable impressions on the viewer.

SausageParty 5

Seth Rogen’s Frank is a headstrong hero looking for the truth behind his existence. Kristen Wiig’s Brenda is a bun trying to hold on to her optimistic beliefs and serves as an enjoyable enough love-interest, though a couple of her jokes fall flat. Michael Cera’s deformed sausage Barry serves as a side character in his own highly entertaining subplot. Salma Hayek, Edward Norton, David Krumholtz, Craig Robinson, and Bill Hader all make the most out of purposely laughable stereotypes. Nick Kroll is a big highlight as Douche with a typical douchey attitude (excessively saying “bro”). Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and plenty of other notable comedic performers also lend their voices to the film in smaller parts.

SausageParty 6

SAUSAGE PARTY feels like someone watched a bunch of Pixar movies, watched Wienerschnitzel’s old Delicious One commercials, smoked a ton of pot and then decided to make a children’s film geared towards adults. It’s a hilarious time that serves as one of the biggest highlights in a rather lackluster summer movie season and a fantastically entertaining distraction from depressing real-life events. The writing is also far smarter than you might expect, especially for a movie that revolves around a sausage running away from hungry humans. This is easily Seth Rogen’s funniest movie since KNOCKED UP and probably the filthiest comedy I’ve ever seen. If this sounds like something you’d like, I highly recommend SAUSAGE PARTY…just leave the kids at home.

Grade: A

HAIL, CAESAR! (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Suggestive Content and Smoking

HailC poster

Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Christopher Lambert & Clancy Brown

The Coen brothers make unique movies. You can automatically tell if you’re watching a Coen brothers film from the offbeat dialogue, awkward humor, or quirky characters. Something about their filmmaking and screenwriting is instantly recognizable. HAIL, CAESAR! is their latest film and its an oddball comedy that satirizes Hollywood’s Golden Age in hilariously weird fashion. Featuring a cast full of A-listers who seem to be having the time of their life on set and using a screenplay that’s impossible to predict, HAIL, CAESAR! is the kind of film that reminds me why I love movies to begin with and the sheer beauty (and questionable studio politics) within the industry itself.

HailC 1

Eddie Mannix is a Hollywood fixer for the illustrious Capitol Pictures. The studio’s biggest film of the year is HAIL, CAESAR! (think BEN-HUR), a biblical epic featuring the biggest movie star: Baird Whitlock. However, something strange has occurred on the set. Whitlock has gone missing and a ransom note reveals that this is a kidnapping set to the tune of a $100,000 ransom. Mannix tries to track down Whitlock, while other cinema-related shenanigans break out in the studio. DeeAnna Moran (based on Esther Williams) is pregnant with a child out-of-wedlock, while marble-mouthed Hobie Doyle (think John Wayne crossed with Kirby Grant) has been called as a last-minute replacement in a classical drama. Mannix rushes to find complex solutions to all of these dilemmas in the space of a single stress-filled day.

HailC 2

HAIL, CAESAR! is both a love letter to classical Hollywood cinema and a merciless riff on it. It makes for a film that’s hugely entertaining, captivating, and hilarious to watch from start to finish, even if you’re not necessarily familiar with the old-fashioned material that the Coens are lampooning. The entire audience in my theater was cracking up throughout the entire film at the oddball humor, goofy twists, and utter silliness of the story. The film is very light-hearted, but also carries profound writing in Mannix having his own personal arc/revelation develop during the course of the story.

HailC 3

The visuals are shot in vibrant colors that illuminate off the screen and the film’s sets are elaborate. It’s hard to believe that the Coen brothers were able to recreate the 50’s in such detail on a meager budget of 22 million (which is nothing compared to most big films today). This is the kind of movie that I want to pause scene to scene in order to notice the smaller touches placed throughout each frame (movie posters at the studio, household appliances, etc.). HAIL, CAESAR! is a gorgeous film to look at and you can never fully predict where its story will head next. I kept wishing that Mannix’s various jobs and the amusing studio problems would go on long past the end credits.

HailC 4

Performances from the cast are top-notch. Their colorful characters were inspired by Hollywood icons of the past and could easily serve as main protagonists in their own individual films. Josh Brolin landed the leading role as Eddie Mannix (based on the real-life “fixer” of the same name) and plays the part to perfection. Mannix is not without his flaws (he has a tendency of slapping certain problems away), but he’s a fascinating character to watch. I particularly enjoyed his personal story arc (which I won’t spoil here) that evolves over the varying degrees of chaos he endures in a single day’s time.

HailC 5

George Clooney is hilarious as the overacting Baird Whitlock and receives some of the funniest moments of the entire film, but Alden Ehrenreich steals every scene he’s in as Hobie Doyle. His interplay with Ralph Fiennes’s frustrated director is utterly hysterical to behold. Channing Tatum also gets an equally hilarious moment to shine in a musical number (which had me laughing to the point of tears). Also worth mentioning is Tilda Swinton as twin gossip columnists (inspired by Hedda Hopper).

HailC 6

HAIL, CAESAR! pays tribute to and simultaneously nails studio politics in a nutshell. This includes the Coen brothers shining amusing lights on: religious leaders critiquing potentially offensive content in films, disastrous last-minute studio casting decisions, intense production difficulties, multiple behind-the-scenes antics (that aren’t entirely unbelievable), early tabloid journalism, and certain controversies of the time. The films within this film are spot-on parodies of specific genres (musicals, biblical epics, dialogue-heavy dramas, and westerns). Though I do wish that certain subplots had received more screen time (we get a couple of plot points explained away via exposition dialogue), HAIL, CAESAR! is a unique and completely hilarious cinematic experience. This is the first great film of 2016!

Grade: A

TRUE STORY (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and some Disturbing Material

TrueStory poster

Directed by: Rupert Goold

Written by: David Kajganich

(based on a memoir by Michael Finkel)

Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Connor Kikot, Gretchen Mol & John Sharian

Jonah Hill and James Franco star in a movie that isn’t a comedy? I know. I was skeptical too, but that skepticism quickly washed away when TRUE STORY revealed what a heavy, depressing true crime drama it truly was. This is the most uncomfortable movie that I’ve seen in a while and though it has its fair share of problems, there are too many good qualities that I can’t not recommend it (that was a double-negative and those come into play during certain lines of the dialogue in this film). Before walking into the movie theater, I had never heard of Mike Finkel and vaguely knew of Christian Longo. Having now seen this film, I don’t think I’m going to forget either of these people any time soon.

TrueStory 1

Mike Finkel, a reporter for the New York Times, recently falsified a big article about slavery in Africa and has found himself out of a job as a result. Christian Longo killed his entire family and wound up on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list as a result. It’s almost as if fate comes knocking when Finkel hears that Longo was arrested in Mexico using Finkel’s identity. Intrigued as to why an alleged murderer would be pretending to be a small time journalist, Finkel goes to meet Longo and the two begin to correspond. Finkel is granted exclusive rights to tell Longo’s side of the story…if he teaches Longo how to write. As Longo’s trial draws nearer, Finkel finds himself in morally questionable waters. By the conclusion of the trial, both men will be changed…and not necessarily for the better.

TrueStory 2

I will address my problems with TRUE STORY before going into why I wound up liking this film. The movie takes a while to get going. The pacing in the first half drags noticeably and I could easily understand somebody finding the whole movie boring as a result of this. It certainly doesn’t help that we get too many shots of people looking pensively off into the distance for no reason other than to make the film seem more dramatic. Jonah Hill is slightly miscast as Finkel. He has his moments (especially near the end), but Hill occasionally doesn’t come off as natural as he probably wanted to be. It feels like he’s forcing himself to be in serious role, but wasn’t necessarily prepared for it. Of course, this might have also been hindered by the fact that Finkel seems like scum-sucking douchebag who wants a quick shot at fame again. The tone of the film is uncomfortable and that’s very appropriate given the icky subject matter. This is all treated with respect as the movie never explicitly shows Longo’s crimes, but rather alludes to them in disturbingly subtle scenes.

TrueStory 3

With all these complaints, you are probably wondering why I consider TRUE STORY to be a good film. Well, there are a number of big reasons. Jonah Hill seems slightly miscast as Finkel, but James Franco is an absolutely perfect fit as Longo. He inhabits his role of this manipulative monster with skill and precision. We can see the exact moments where he gets inside Finkel’s head and proceeds to play with everyone around him. Felicity Jones is mostly underused as Finkel’s wife, who’s reasonably concerned about her husband’s new story, but has a couple of stand-out scenes. While the first half of the film drags and might be far too slow for some, the second half picks up fantastically. The final minutes of this movie are incredibly powerful and have a lot of commentary about what stories society chooses to focus on. Specific scenes from the final third of this film have been replaying themselves in my mind over and over again since I left the theater.

TrueStory 4

TRUE STORY is far from great due to poor pacing in the first half, Finkel being an unlikable lead and Jonah Hill being miscast. However, it more than makes up for those flaws in Franco’s performance, an icky feeling of unease that’s present throughout the entire film and a fantastic second half. Near the conclusion, Longo tells Finkel that he’ll forever be remembered as “that guy who talked to that guy who murdered his family.” This movie does nothing to dissuade from Longo’s point. In fact, it proves that comment true without a doubt! TRUE STORY is a dark, compelling drama (with some flaws) that leaves the viewer with a lot to mentally chew on long after the end credits have rolled. This one comes recommended to true-crime buffs.

Grade: B

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑