THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and some Action

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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+

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

YEAR ONE (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Content throughout, brief Strong Language and Comic Violence

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Directed by: Harold Ramis

Written by: Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg

Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Vinnie Jones, Hank Azaria, Juno Temple, Olivia Wilde & June Diane Raphael

Harold Ramis proved himself to be a strong force in cinematic comedy with CADDYSHACK, VACATION and GROUNDHOG DAY. His final stint as a writer and director came in 2009’s YEAR ONE. The film was being promoted as a potential big summer blockbuster, but fell short of studio box office estimates and audience’s/critics’ expectations alike. YEAR ONE is far from Ramis’s best work, but there is entertainment to be found here. This film suffers from a jumbled narrative, cheap gross-out gags, and dusty jokes, but does contain solid moments and some clever writing.

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Zed is an overconfident hunter. Oh is a shy gatherer. Both are outcasts in their tribe, but Zed aims to change this by eating the forbidden fruit of knowledge. This scheme backfires as Zed and Oh are banished from their small community and take off on history’s first road trip. Along their way, they run into a variety of colorful Biblical figures (Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, the city of Sodom). They quickly discover that they might have a further purpose to serve when the cavemen and cavewomen of their community are captured as slaves. Along the way, Zed tries to find himself as a hero and Oh has an internal debate about the existence of God.

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YEAR ONE isn’t up to the same level as Ramis’s other comedies. This is evident by an overreliance on gross-out gags. The film’s tone becomes entirely too juvenile in scenes of Jack Black eating poop, Michael Cera sleeping with a flatulent roommate, and an upside-down Cera urinating on himself. These cheap moments of crude humor stick out further when you consider how smartly written other parts of the screenplay are. Even though their dialogue quickly devolves into penis humor, the introduction of Abraham (a scenery-chewing Hank Azaria) and Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse playing McLovin in Biblical times) is entertaining and borderline blasphemous. My personal favorite moments involve the wicked, guilt-ridden Cain (David Cross delivering the best performance in the film). Vinnie Jones also receives a few good scenes as the hulking Sargon, who mainly serves as an intimidating straight-man to the absurdity surrounding him.

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YEAR ONE’s biggest pitfall comes in Jack Black’s Zed and Michael Cera’s Oh being the least interesting characters in the entire movie. Every performer surrounding them manages to be far more entertaining than these two boring protagonists. Black is doing his typical loud idiot shtick and Cera is playing his usual awkward persona, the would-be hook is that they’re doing these routines in various Biblical costumes. On a positive note, Oliver Platt steals every scene he’s in as the overly flamboyant High Priest. Platt, David Cross, Vinnie Jones, and borderline sacrilegious humor are the film’s highlights. It’s a pity that the rest of the writing and performances aren’t nearly on the same level of hilarity.

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YEAR ONE’s flaws don’t simply stay with its overreliance on potty humor and bland protagonists, but also extends to a rather jumbled narrative. The film is essentially a Monty Python wannabe as it goes from skit-like segment to skit-like segment, but some of these (especially during the first third) don’t have any punch line to be found. When Oh is being attacked by a snake in the forbidden garden, we never see how it turns out. Less than ten minutes later, the same exact situation occurs again with a cougar and there’s still no punch line. A couple of haphazard lines of dialogue could have patched these plot gaps up, but the three screenwriters didn’t even bother to put that much effort into the script.

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While YEAR ONE has its moments (sacrifices being watched as sports-like entertainment, an intense” chase between two slow-moving carts, Cain being a constant asshole), it also relies far too much on poop, fart, and sex gags. It’s not that crude humor can’t be funny, but there doesn’t seem to be much effort being put into these jokes (save for a Eunuch character). YEAR ONE isn’t technically “good” due to a messy script, lame-brained jokes that fall flat, and two boring leads, but I enjoy it on a “guilty pleasure” level. If you’re looking for something that is light-hearted, dumb as a rock, and will kill 97 minutes of your life, then I’d recommend YEAR ONE on those merits. Otherwise, the film is a missed opportunity.

Grade: C+

THIS IS THE END (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Crude and Sexual Content throughout, brief Graphic Nudity, Pervasive Language, Drug Use and some Violence

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Directed by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Written by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Paul Rudd, Channing Tatum, Martin Starr, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari & Jason Segel

For the nearly a decade, some of the best comedies have starred a recurring group of faces. THIS IS THE END gathers all of these actors, who have seen gone on to have sprawling careers, together for a satirical apocalyptic comedy in which they play exaggerated versions of themselves. Chock full of references to these actors’ past films, but never resorting to pop culture gags that would have made the film age horribly, THIS IS THE END is a hilarious star-studded comedy that revels in the R-rated material. The humor is full of bad taste and the crass sensibilities make it a delightfully irreverent time. This is a comedy unlike anything else done within the genre and (if it were even attempted another time) it’s unlikely that lightning could strike twice with the success of this formula.

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Jay Baruchel has flown into Los Angeles to reunite with Seth Rogen. Rogen knows that Jay is uncomfortable in the setting of LA and convinces him to go to a house-warming party at James Franco’s newly constructed home. The party is packed full of stars, sex, and drugs. It also happens to be the night that literally all hell breaks loose. Beams of light shoot down from the sky, riots begin, sinkholes form, and monsters roam the outside world. In order to stay alive, the six remaining surviving actors (Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride) barricade themselves in Franco’s pad, but soon find that the horror outside is nothing compared to tolerating each other in close quarters.

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Script-wise, THIS IS THE END feels like it isn’t so much a story, but is an elaborate feature-length skit. The characters are all stereotypes of how one might joke about how all celebrities act when they’re off the screen. The opening party sequence is where plenty of other familiar faces pop up. The funniest of which is most certainly Michael Cera, who plays himself in a way that skewers any preconceived notions of being a wimpy awkward nerd. Cera is only on-screen for a limited amount of time (much like a majority of faces in the first act), but he had me laughing the hardest. The chemistry between our six leads feels convincing enough to make things entertaining. Out of the leads, Danny McBride was my favorite and also leads to one of the best cameos I’ve ever seen.

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The fast and loose style of the plot leaves a lot of room for imaginative scenarios playing out. Some scenes are better than others. One scene involving Jonah Hill felt forced and wasn’t funny in the slightest. When things began to lose my interest, someone or something else captured it again. At nearly two hours, the film feels a little stretched, but it doesn’t detract from the fun being had. The effects are fantastic too. This is a comedy (of all things) that manages to nail the scope of spectacle better than a ton of other movies that were released in the summer movie season 2013. My biggest problem came in the final moments of the film. This is where some of the jokes in the entire film appear (e.g. the aforementioned cameo or the return of a certain character). How things actually concluded felt a little tired though. It was as if directors/writers Rogen & Goldberg were so busy going all-out on the humor overload they had worn themselves out when bringing everything to a close.

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THIS IS THE END isn’t going to be for everybody. It’s essentially one big long in-joke. The script is a loose narrative (to say the least) that allows for the cast members to go crazy in their exaggerated roles of themselves. It’s loaded with a lot of bad taste humor, foul language, over-the-top gore, and amazing effects. Despite the problems I had with the ending and some of the worn-out jokes, everything else is so well executed and hysterical that this warrants a recommendation. It might not be for those who haven’t seen any of the other films these actors have starred in. For fans of their previous work, THIS IS THE END is a blast!

Grade: B

YOUTH IN REVOLT (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

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

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Directed by: Miguel Arteta

Written by: Gustin Nash

(based on the novel YOUTH IN REVOLT by C.D. Payne)

Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, M. Emmet Walsh, Jonathan Bradford Wright, Erik Knudson, Fred Willard & Rooney Mara

YOUTH IN REVOLT is a lesser known movie featuring Michael Cera as an awkward teenager. Granted Cera has made this kind of role work in other films, namely SUPERBAD or SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (his best film yet). The only real difference with YOUTH IN REVOLT is that it’s based on a novel and features a ton of big names in the cast. Ironically, this is also a very flat, stale, and uninteresting piece of work.

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Nick Twisp (Cera) is living a stressful existence. He’s a cultured, intelligent young man and also a virgin. It seems like all the jerks around him have girlfriends. His mother is a piece of white trash dating a pathological liar and his father is a neglectful creep dating a 25-year-old hottie. As Nick states, it’s aggravating how many people around him are getting action. It isn’t until he moves to a trailer park for a week that he runs across Sheeni Saunders, who takes an immediate interest in him. The two of them fall fast in love, but when the struggles of life makes things difficult to stay together, Nick finds that he must become a rebel (in the form of an alter-ego named Francois Dillinger) to win her heart.

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There is a lot of ground this story covers in the ever-present difficulties that get in the way of Nick and Sheeni’s romance. Seeing as the film is a mere 90 minutes long (counting credits), things move at a super rushed pace. It’s annoying how fast the film goes and it left barely any time for anything to develop enough for me to care as a viewer. There were moments of stylized storytelling that I appreciated. From the credits sequence to a few montages, the film incorporates animation of differing styles. This element actually worked quite well and somewhat set it apart from being just another teenage comedy in that respect.

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Most of the flaws come with the characters. Michael Cera’s voiceover at the beginning the film made me feel like this might turn out to be an underrated gem. The introduction of each character is funny enough and there was plenty of potential to be realized for most of them. However, not much is done with any of these colorful people. Big name actors are wasted as popping up in two or three scenes and then forgotten without any further notice. Steve Buscemi takes on the role of Nick’s neglectful father and just doesn’t get to do much with it. Another potentially fun character, Ray Liotta as a cop, is wasted. He could have been one of the best characters in the film and winds up in about 5 minutes of screen time.

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You may notice that I’m neglecting to mention the two leads. That’s because neither of them give anything spectacular. Portia Doubleday just comes off as a bland love interest and the viewer isn’t given much reason to care about her, thanks to most of their romance being shown in a few forgettable scenes and a brief montage. Michael Cera plays the socially inept teenager. We’ve seen him play it before and he plays it again here. There isn’t any charm to the character of Nick Twisp and it makes for a pretty empty experience altogether.

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YOUTH IN REVOLT relies on jokes that almost always fall flat, a plot that we’ve seen many times before, and a big name cast that aren’t given much to do. As a romance, it’s hollow. It doesn’t work as a coming-of-age tale either. As a comedy, I didn’t laugh more than five times. There is a certain style to the film that sets it apart from being terrible, but it’s not good or even middle-of-the-road either. It’s just disappointing, bland, and should remain forgotten. Don’t waste your time on this one.

Grade: C-

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