Movie Reviews Archives for 2019-02

Movie Review How to Train Your Dragon 3 The Hidden World

How to Train Your Dragon 3 is perhaps the best of the three How to Train Your Dragon movies. None of the How to Train Your Dragon movies have been bad but the first two, for me have only been passably entertaining. How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World rounds the series into something with a good deal more depth. Indeed, depth is what the first two movies lacked as they put forward perfunctory stories about learning to believe in yourself. 


How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World is the first of the franchise to carry the confidence of a movie where characters have tamed and ride dragons into battle. The hero's journey has finally stopped being a slightly bland, mostly amusing coming of age story and has become the story of a fully fledged character finally becoming who he should be. Again, there is nothing wrong with the first two, but I prefer seeing a new story with these characters as opposed to familiar tropes dressed up with dragons. 


How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World opens with our heroes, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon pal, Toothless, now in the role of dragon defenders. When dragons are kidnapped to be killed or made to serve the forces of evil, Hiccup, Toothless and their friends from the Viking village of Berk, swoop in with fiery swords and free the peaceful dragons and take them home to safety. 


Unfortunately, Berk has become quite overcrowded since our last visit. The place is teeming with dragons and the sheer volume of dragons on hand has not gone unnoticed. A group of bad guys now know where Berk is and they want to steal the dragons in order to create a dragon army. The baddies can’t do it on their own however, so they seek the help of the legendary dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly (F Murray Abraham). In exchange for capturing the dragons of Berk, Grimmel asks only that he be able to kill Toothless. Grimmel has made his reputation on killing Night Furies.


But how will he ever get close to Berk with all of those Vikings and Dragons? Grimmel has a plan. He’s captured a Light Fury, a white, female counterpart to Toothless and also seemingly the last of her kind. Grimmel will use the Light Fury to lead Toothless into a trap. His plan is solid as Toothless falls in love at first sight with the Light Fury and in a delightful scene, attempts to romance her on the beach with a mating dance. The wordless pantomime of the dragons in this scene is genuine, sweet and funny. 


Director Dean Deblois in his third time as a director, he directed the previous How to Train Your Dragon and Lilo and Stitch prior this movie, continues to demonstrate his light and deft touch. Deblois is smart about not letting his stories get cluttered with too many bits of business. He may have a lot of colorful characters and voice actors to make use of but he’s very economical about it and never allows a bit to overstay its welcome or bog down the central story. 


The voice cast of How to Train Your Dragon remains top notch with Jay Baruchel as a sturdy lead voice, America Ferrera as the charming romantic idea, Cate Blanchett as the voice of gravitas and seriousness and Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz Plasse and Kristen Wiig providing solid comic relief. Add to this group, the sonorous tones of Academy Award winner F Murray Abraham as Grimmel and you have an exceptionally talented and charismatic group of voices. 


How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World is exceptionally well animated with some legitimately breathtaking sights that really stand out in IMAX 3D. The visuals are equalled brilliantly by the Scottish inflected music score by John Powell to create more vital and mature palette for what is the last of this film trilogy. Much credit to Dean Deblois and Dreamworks in recognizing that there is no need to beat this premise into the ground. This is the final film in a trilogy and they allow it to go out on a note of satisfying and moving finality.

Movie Review Fighting With My Famly

As a longtime fan of the WWE I have known Saraya Knight from her earliest days in wrestling’s big leagues. I saw her win the very first NXT Women’s Championship. I watched live when she debuted on Monday Night Raw and won what was then called the WWE Divas Championship. I was also there when injuries and scandal nearly ended her career. Finally, I was there when she broke her neck and was forced to retire at the far too young age of 25. 


Saraya ‘Paige’ Knight has lived multitudes in her 26 years beginning her wrestling career at age 12 in Norwich, England, working for her mother and father’s very own promotion, WAW. As the story goes in real life and in the new movie on Paige’s life, Fighting with My Family, she never wanted to wrestle as a kid, that was her brother Zak’s thing. Once in the ring however, things changed and she fell in love with the business and began regularly wrestling against her mother, a successful wrestler in England for many years. 


Florence Pugh portrays Paige in Fighting with My Family. We watch as she wrestles against her parents all the while she and her brother Zac (Jack Lowdon) dream of getting a call from the WWE. That call comes when Paige is a mere 18 years old. Paige and Zac are invited to a WWE tryout while the WWE is in London in 2012. A trainer played by Vince Vaughn as an amalgam of many of WWE’s trainers over the years, named in the movie as Hutch Morgan, decides that only Paige has what it takes to go on to WWE’s Developmental system. 


This drives a wedge between Paige and Zac who had always been very close until this happened. Nevertheless, Paige accepts the chance to join the WWE and move away from her family to Florida where the fish out of water portion of the movie begins. Paige is not the prototypical WWE Diva. She’s up against models and athletes who didn’t grow up in the industry but were brought into it, the movie implies briefly, because of their looks. 


Part of Paige’s journey, surprisingly, is coming to respect the leggy blondes who are initially her antagonists. This is a welcome inversion of the classic trope. Our outsider hero has a journey here that is not as straightforward and heroic as it would initially seem. Fighting with My Family was directed by actor-comedian and writer Stephen Merchant, a rather brilliant comic mind who does well tapping both his comic and dramatic skills in Fighting with My Family. 


Fighting with My Family is not a serious movie by any stretch but it is grounded in a way that allows for the broad humor of wrestling to stand out against the mundane regular world. The juxtaposition between the broad and strange world of professional wrestling and the regular world outside of wrestling plays well for the most part, aside from characters played by the director himself and Julia Davis who play stock characters, whitebred outsiders who look down on the low culture of wrestling.


There is plenty to enjoy about FIghting with My Family including the wonderful supporting performances of Nick Frost and Lena Headey as Paige’s parents. These are wonderful actors playing wonderful characters. Frost and Headey appear to bring lifetimes to these two characters that we never see and yet they feel real  and lived in. Their chemistry is remarkable, they are all in on the romance, the wrestling and the family. 


Florence Pugh is solid as Paige, though she lacks her swagger and lithe physique. As written, Paige is not the character we know from the WWE. Pugh plays the behind the scenes Paige as a shrinking violet, a homesick and cowed young woman, completely opposite of the wild child, charismatic, divas champion we would come to know and cheer for. There is a stock quality to the story of Paige learning to find herself, find her voice and her confidence. I don’t doubt that the real Paige went on that journey, but this is unquestionably the sanitized, safe for work take on that journey. 


Wrestling fans will undoubtedly recognize how compressed the timeline of Paige’s career is. In real life, Paige wrestled in America before her WWE debut in a company called Shimmer. She also was an overachiever in WWE Developmental where she won over the company brass enough to be picked to win the very first NXT Women’s Championship, months before her post-Wrestlemania 30 Monday Night Raw debut which is the culmination of Fighting with My Family. 


The film fails to mention that Paige was the NXT Women’s Champion when she she debuted on Monday Night Raw and many of the fans in attendance that night were fully aware of who she was when she went to the ring that night against Diva’s Champion A.J Lee, portrayed in the movie by current WWE superstar, Zelina Vega. The makers of Fighting with My Family would have you believe that she was some unknown wrestler getting a shot out of the blue. Then again, the movie would have you believe that Vince McMahon doesn’t exist and pull every string in the company or that a wrestler would make it to Monday Night Raw without seeing Vince first. 


An interesting thing about Paige is that her life after the events of this movie is way more interesting than her rise to fame. From the place where Fighting with My Family ends to today, Paige has gone through career threatening injuries, a sex tape scandal, a reportedly abusive relationship with a fellow wrestler, drug suspensions and eventually, a career ending injury to her neck that led to her having to find a whole new place in the wrestling world. 


That, however, is not a movie that Paige or the WWE would want to make. That’s a complex journey that has fewer of the warm fuzzy moments that Fighting with My Family is built around. That’s a gritty movie with much more humanity and frailty than the mythic, sweet and funny journey of self discovery that is Fighting with My Family. You can’t slap a PG 13 on that movie and mass market it to an audience of young wrestling fans. 


That said, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with not making that movie and instead making Fighting with My Family. Indeed, Fighting with My Family is a perfectly acceptable, if somewhat bland comedy and biopic. The supporting cast is wonderfully colorful and the world of WWE, though it is completely whitewashed, has a fun, mythic quality to it that, as a wrestling fan, I find entertaining. It’s the WWE of Vince McMahon’s fantasy world. 


By the way, for those wondering about Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s role in Fighting with My Family, much of what you see in the movie really happened. It was The Rock who informed Paige that she was going to be debuting on Monday Night Raw, a scene of wonderful comedy in the movie. There are some fudges in the timeline of Paige’s life in WWE and Developmental but that scene really happened in a form similar to how it plays in the movie.

Movie Review Alita Battle Angel

Alita Battle Angel has been the dream of director-producer James Cameron for a number of years. While he’d placed the project on the backburner to focus on his Avatar franchise, Cameron never stopped loving Yukito Kishiro’s unique comic universe. Though he eventually walked away from directing Alita Battle Angel, Cameron can be credited for keeping the idea alive as a film property and that life is now realized with director Robert Rodriguez bringing Alita to the big screen. 


Alita Battle Angel is a part CGI part live action adventure starring unknown newcomer Rosa Salazar as the titular Alita. Alita is a cyborg warrior who was found mostly dead and forgotten in a junkyard by Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). Dr Ido put Alita back together inside the cyborg body that he’d once intended to give to his daughter. In this body, Alita is essentially, in many ways just a teenage girl but because of her cyborg heart, she has a quickness and fighting acumen that rivals any man. 


Slowly, Alita begins to regain her memory. After a particularly dramatic and violent moment in which she realizes she has serious violent tendencies, Alita remembers that she was once an a warrior and now she wants to put that side of herself to good use as a bounty hunter. This is something Dr Ido strongly opposes but he cannot stop here. At the same time, Alita has also begun entering a romantic relations with a flesh and blood human named Hugo (Keean Johnson). 


Both Hugo and Dr Ido have secrets that they are keeping from Alita, secrets that will be revealed and shape the early plot of Alita Battle Angel. It’s these secrets that tie in the other supporting players in this adventure including Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) a fellow doctor who takes a keen interest in Alita and the dangerous Vector (Mahershala Ali) who acts as the eyes and ears and event the occasional avatar of the film’s true big bad, named Nova. I won’t spoil the cameo of the big name actor who plays Nova as the film spoils it in remarkable fashion. 


Not spoil in the sense of revealing something too soon. Rather, the way this big name cameo is revealed is akin to something spoiled and rotting. This cameo reeks to high heaven. It’s an absolute laugh out loud stinker of the lowest calibur. The cameo comes along in an already faltering third act of Alita and provides a yawp of unintended laughter before becoming a highly problematic plot point as the film comes to a close. 


I won’t spoil the ending as even my negative review of Alita Battle Angel likely won’t prevent many from seeing it. Plus, I actually don’t hate Alita Battle Angel, not completely. The first two acts of Alita Battle Angel were unexpectedly emotional and compelling. Rosa Salazar is a young actor to watch. What she lacks in experience and chops she makes up for with confidence and energy. Some may find her enthusiasm cloying but I found it winning, for 2 out of three acts of the movie. 


I even admired the attempts at romance in Alita Battle Angel. Yes, there are odd questions that the main character raises as a cyborg teenage girl, many of those questions being deeply unsettling or creepy but nevertheless. That said, Salazar sparks well with fellow newcomer Keean Johnson and I liked the plot complications that Hugo brings to this story. In pro wrestling terminology, Hugo is what we call a tweener, a character somewhere between good and evil and teetering one way or the other. 


There is perhaps almost too much Oscar gold in Alita Battle Angel. The pedigree is darn near distracting with three Oscar winners, four if you count Christoph Waltz twice, one Oscar nominee, an unrecognizable Jackie Earle Haley, and a cameo from an Oscar nominee. Robert Rodriguez has stacked the cast with Academy faves in order to balance out his romantic leads, both newcomers who benefit from the Awards savvy supporting players. 


Even that amount of talent however, can’t save Alita from a third act that flies laughably off the rails. As Alita is fighting her way toward the biggest of the big bads in Alita Battle Angel, she makes choices that make little sense. She suddenly buys into a plot point regarding a warrior code that was not well established before in the plot. This is done for the purpose of plot convenience in the most obvious fashion. 


Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali are then stranded in a classically James Bond moment where the fate of one of their characters is so achingly obvious that you can’t help but roll your eyes at the doozy of a cliche. At the very least, that plot has an unexpected and stunning visual payoff but that doesn’t change the nature of the embarrassing obviousness of that scene. And then the film ends without a complete resolution. 


Alita Battle Angel clips along for two thirds of the movie with a tremendous plot building strong complications with genuine stakes. Then, out of the blue, one of the main characters nearly dies, Alita nearly allows them to die and then, and then… well. I would need to go into serious spoiler territory to disentangle the nonsense that leads to this wholly unsatisfying end. I will only say that this abysmal third act ruined for me what was an otherwise enthralling and thrilling action adventure sci-fi romp. 


I was genuinely bummed when the movie began to falter. I could feel my heart sinking as the music of the final scene began to swell and it dawned on me that the film and these terrific characters would not have the chance to redeem themselves with a final battle sequence. Instead, I was left dispirited by a truly lame and misguided sequel tease. Ugh! Alita Battle Angel is two thirds of a really ripping adventure and one third of a bad Wachowski movie. 


( Sidebar: The Wachowski’s were the makers of The Matrix whose careers have been marked by remarkable ups like The Matrix and stunning failures such as The Matrix sequels and Jupiter Ascending. The final act of Alita sadly compares well to the worst of the output by visionary filmmakers quite similar to Wachowski’s in clout, status and popularity, Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron.) 


(Sidebar Sidebar: Yes, I know if I have to explain the funny-sad comparison it’s less funny but so be it, this parenthesized tangent is entertaining me even more than my insulting comparison.) 


(Sidebar-Sidebar-Sidebar: Then again, is a reference to the Wachowski's really so obscure that people need these sidebars? Perhaps not, but there is a lack of universality as to whether the majority of readers find a comparison to what I see as the worst of the Wachowski's, all that insulting.) 


(Si--- Okay, even I have tired of this.)

Movie Review Isn't it Romantic

Isn’t it Romantic is a complete delight. This gimmicky, in a good way, romantic comedy stars Rebel Wilson who demonstrates the kind of star power and charisma we’d been expecting of Wilson after her numerous, scene stealing supporting turns in the Pitch Perfect movies and in trifles such as How to Be Single or her breakout cameo in Bridesmaids. Rebel Wilson has been expected to be a thing for some time now and now appears to be that time. 


Isn’t it Romantic stars Rebel Wilson as Natalie, a New York architect with strong self esteem issues. As a child, Natalie loved the bubbly romantic comedy of Julia Roberts but as an adult, in the real world, she has soured on the saccharine, synthetic cliches of the genre, many of which she rants about in a lengthy but funny gag that deconstructs nearly every trope in the genre. This is one of many inspired and hilarious gags in Isn’t it Romantic. 


The plot kicks in when Natalie is mugged in the subway and suffers a head injury. When she wakes up, suddenly, everything is perfect. Her doctor is a hunky, Grey’s Anatomy type who immediately flirts with her. The streets outside the hospital are lined with flowers and friendly, helpful and welcoming faces. And, notably, New York City doesn’t smell like an open sewer where people urinate in the streets. 


Then Natalie, quite literally, is run into by Blake, the handsome and jerky client at her architecture firm. When they first met, he insulted her and made her get his coffee. Now, out of the blue, he has a sexy Australian accent and appears to be completely enamored of Natalie. He gives her a ride home in his limo but because this is a romantic comedy universe, the 30 minute takes mere seconds. 


From here, Isn’t it Romantic sets in motion a plot with a ton of very obvious jokes about the tropes of romantic comedy. These are tropes that we, in the audience, have been poking fun at for years and you wouldn’t be wrong if you mocked the obviousness of these jokes. And yet, thanks to some crisp editing and direction, and especially Rebel Wilson’s exceptional timing and charisma, these jokes land, each with a big laugh. 


Rebel Wilson was made to play the role as the one sane, angry, snarky, voice of reason in this outre romantic comedy universe. Sure, she is poking some familiar, well worn, holes in the romantic comedy plot, but she does so with gusto and timing. Wilson is a movie star with the kind of genuine likability and relatability that you really cannot teach to actors. Wilson has a natural and genuine sense of humor that speaks to the audience and doesn’t stand above them. 


Wilson is not afraid to be the subject of the joke but she’s also not here to be humiliated and laughed at either. One of the criticisms leveled at Wilson has been that she uses weight as a punchline so often that it becomes her own kind of cliche. I’ve never felt that way about Wilson myself. I felt that her performance as Fat Amy had an empowering quality, stealing back the notion that she is to be ridiculed for her weight, not merely by making fun of herself but aggressively, confrontationally, putting your bias against her awkwardly to the fore. 


Her aggressiveness is part of her charm in  the Pitch Perfect movies and I really enjoyed how that energy is used here. Natalie is initially mousy and shy and then, in the romantic comedy universe she comes into her own out of frustration more than anything. She sees the falsehoods all around her and like being trapped in The Matrix, her mind rebels against all of the fatuousness and untruth. Almost by accident this experiment works on her and she begins a great arc about being more confident and assertive. 


On top of Rebel Wilson’s outstanding performance, we get stellar work from her supporting cast. Adam Devine plays Natalie’s best friend Josh who is part Ducky from Pretty in Pink and part nerdy, male best friend in every romantic comedy ever. Devine brings a great deal of charm to this character and his chemistry with Rebel Wilson is top notch, as it was when they co-starred in the Pitch Perfect movies. 


Brandon Scott Jones is a veteran of the improv comedy scene and he brings some of that anarchic, improv energy to his character in Isn’t it Romantic. Jones plays Donny, Natalie’s stock, gay best friend who appears to only live to give her advice and support. Jones throws himself into this broad caricature with comic verve and never fails to get a big laugh. He doesn’t steal scenes per se, but he’s the perfect addition to the scenes he’s in. 


Betty Gilpin and Priyanka Chopra round out this superior supporting cast as Natalie’s assistant turned romantic comedy rival, Whitney and Josh’s romantic comedy universe, perfect, supermodel girlfriend, Isabella. I will leave you to discover the fun of these characters when you see Isn’t it Romantic. Chopra has the bigger, broader laughs but keep an eye on Betty Gilpin, she provides just the right foil for Rebel Wilson as both friend and foe. 


I haven’t even mentioned director Todd Strauss-Schulson and his exceptional work yet. Strauss-Schulson was the acclaimed director of the indie darling, The Final Girl, a film that toyed with the tropes of horror movies. Here he takes similarly satiric aim at the romantic comedy genre and once again nails it. Isn’t it Romantic has a great pace, strong visual style delineating between the real world and the romantic comedy world, and the movie has barely an ounce of any scene it doesn’t need or lingers on to long. 


It’s not a flawless piece of direction, it relies incredibly heavily on the appear, chops and charm of Rebel Wilson, but Strauss-Schulson makes smart choices. He, along with screenwriters Erin Cardillo and Dana Fox, keep the movie clipping along, getting big laughs and moving on. There is barely an ounce of fat on this screenplay, scenes begin, get to the big laugh and get out and on to the next joke. It’s efficient and funny which goes along way toward overcoming the obviousness of many of these jokes. 


In case it isn’t clear, I completely adore Isn’t it Romantic. I am a major Rebel Wilson fan after this movie and I can’t wait to see this one again. It’s not the greatest comedy of all time, I feel like I might be overhyping it just a tad, but the film is outstanding in and of itself. The execution of this gimmicky premise is damn near flawless and in the hands of star Rebel Wilson, even the most obvious jokes still get a big laugh. 

Movie Review Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit is the latest attempt to prop up the old guy action star genre. The film is an exercise in silly violence and black humor that is rarely exciting and rarely humorous. Director Hans Petter Moland had more success perhaps the first time he made this exact same movie in Sweden under the title In Order of Disappearance. That film was also an exercise in the old guy action movie genre with Stellan Skarsgard leading the way and doing about as much as Neeson does here. 


Cold Pursuit stars Liam Neeson as Nels Coxman a, snow plow driver in the Colorado rockies whose job is to keep open one road between a small skiing town and the outside world. Nels is popular in his small town where he has recently been named citizen of the year. Things however take an unfortunate turn when Nels’ son is killed by drug dealers. That’s what he believes happened, cops tell him that his son overdosed.


Being Liam Neeson and thus better than a police detective, Nels sets out to find the drug dealers and begins killing his way up the drug chain of command from the low level dealers who did the killing all the way up to the Denver based kingpin, nicknamed Viking (Tom Bateman). Viking is a cold-hearted killer who, though he employs flunkies for most of his dirty work, isn’t afraid to do some of his own killing. 


While Nels is searching for Viking, Viking is unwittingly searching for him while accidentally blaming a rival gang of Native American drug dealers for the murders that Nels is committing. This only serves to amp up the danger and the bloodshed while Nels flies under the radar for a while creating chaos and unwittingly fomenting the showdown between Viking and his hated rivals in the drug trade. 


Cold Pursuit is efficiently crafted and has a stark and striking setting. Director Hans Petter Moland has a leg up on this material as he did make this movie before. Moland is no stranger to the cold climate as his earlier movie was set in the barren, snowy outlands of Sweden. Moland knows that red blood against white snow is a strong visual as is steamy breath against moonlit darkness. These motifs aren’t exactly new but they are more effective than the silly story of Cold Pursuit. 


Liam Neeson appears as tired of his action movie persona as we are. His Nels may be a tough guy but his age is showing in the bone weary exhaustion in his face and manner. Neeson has spoken of retiring his action movie character but with the terrible, The Commuter, having made more than $100 million dollars at the worldwide box office it appears that only Neeson and film critics, like me, are actually tired of movies like Cold Pursuit. 


Just how tired is Liam Neeson? He disappears from the movie as if he needed a nap before resuming the plot. Partway through the second act, Nels goes offscreen while we follow the bad guys and their machinations against each other while they are unaware of Nels and his one man war against them. Tom Bateman, a British stage actor, is not a bad actor but since we don’t know who he is, he isn’t particularly compelling. 

A role like Viking needed a character actor, perhaps a younger Christopher Walken type. A Walken like actor could have transformed this character with his innate weirdness and oddball tangents. Bateman is playing the role with a good deal of energy and gusto but he’s far too serious. He’s approaching the material with a straight up bad guy performance and there is nothing special about it. The bad guy role is as perfunctory as the plot which literally ticks off a list of kill after kill with names on the screen that get crossed out as the movie goes on. 


I’m aware that Cold Pursuit was intended to have some black humor to it but none of the humor lands all that well. One example of the film’s approach to dark humor happens when Nels goes to identify his son’s body. As Nels waits awkwardly to make the identification we watch while a morgue table rises slowly from the floor to eye level. The table takes forever to rise and we are supposed to, I assume, find it hilariously awkward as the body of Nels’ son rises into the frame. 


Did you know that the brilliant Laura Dern is in Cold Pursuit? Of all of the sins of this perfunctory, forgettable, predictable action movie, casting Laura Dern only to treat her like some unknown day player is perhaps the film’s greatest sin. Why bother paying to have someone of Laura Dern’s stature when you have absolutely no interest in using her talent. Dern plays Neeson’s wife and after their son is killed her role is reduced to sulky resentment toward her husband before she just disappears. 

Movie Review The Lego Movie 2: The Second One

Has the magic of the Lego movies already worn out? The last Lego movie, Lego Ninjago, was a strong indication of the limits of the franchise. That film was so remarkably dull for non-fans of Ninjago, like myself, that I walked out halfway through the movie. I hadn’t laughed one time during the first 45 minutes of the movie and I had the distinct impression that what I was missing was something that perhaps only Ninjago fans would understand. Then again, I didn’t hear many of them laughing either as I took my early exit. 


I assumed however, that Lego Ninjago was just a case of a too insular, fandom servicing, cult piece that I was not meant to understand. The Lego Movie 2 however, is supposed to be welcoming. The first film roared out of the gates with a wide appeal story about an everyman, named Emmett (Chris Pratt), learning to become a hero in world with actual heroes including Batman (Will Arnett) and Wildstyle aka Lucy (Elizabeth Banks). 


The broad pop culture burlesque of The Lego Movie proved to be an unexpected delight that Lego then capitalized upon with the equally unexpected and ingenious, Lego Batman. That film took the gags of The Lego Movie and turned the absurdity up to 11 and, in the process, exposed the all too seriousness of the DC Movie Universe by creating arguably the best characterization of The Caped Crusader not played by Christian Bale. 


Much of the success of those two films however, is owed to creators who would not be taking part in either Lego Ninjago or The Lego Movie 2: The Second One. Phil Lord and writing and directing partner Christopher Miller may have writing credits on The Lego Movie 2 but the film is distinctly lacking in their anarchic genius. Instead we get Mike Mitchell whose middle of the road vision has given us Trolls and Shrek Forever After, a pair of mostly forgettable efforts with just enough easy to process laughs to be passable. 


The Lego Movie 2: The Second One (and what an inspired title that is) picks up the story of Emmett and his pals, Lucy and Batman, just after the action of the first Lego Movie. Finn (Jadon Sand) is informed by his dad (WIll Ferrell) that his little sister will also be allowed to play with the legos in the basement and the two will have to get along or neither will have legos to play with. Five years later, with brother and sister at odds, our heroic lego characters are no longer city dwellers in a place where ‘Everything is Awesome.’ Instead, the lego world is a dystopian wasteland at odds with the aliens of the Sistar System. 


One day, the alien General Mayhem attacks and kidnaps Emmett’s pals and he must go on a journey through the dreaded ‘Stair-Gate’ and into the Sistar System to rescue them. Aiding Emmett on his journey is a newcomer who calls himself Rex Dangervest (Chris Pratt, again). Rex is introduced more than once by an announcer who puts over his Barbie-esque ability to master many, sometimes mundane, activities. 


The voice cast of The Lego Movie 2 is as spectacular as the original with Pratt, Banks and Arnett terrific in their memorable roles from the original and backed up by equally brilliant newcomers, Tiffany Haddish, Richard Ayoade and a cameo that I won’t spoil as it is the best runner in the entire movie. Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Will Ferrell also reprise roles from the original Lego Movie but these are little more than cameos. 


I can’t sit here and tell you I didn’t enjoy The Lego Movie 2: The Second One, because I did laugh plenty during the movie. I am however, a little letdown. The spirit is definitely lacking in this sequel. The premise is not nearly as consistently funny and inventive as the original. There is an over-reliance on pop references that feels lazy here even as it felt fresh and funny in the original. The lacking of Lord and Miller’s anarchic spirit is definitely felt here. 


The Lego Movie 2: The Second One feels worn out, a little tired. The look is less exciting, the humorous Mad Max inspired animated dystopia has promise but is abandoned quickly for the excess of a space setting that is less inspired. Tiffany Haddish’s character, a Queen who can shapeshift into almost any character design, is not fully taken advantage of and becomes little more than a plot device by the end. 


There are still enough laughs in The Lego Movie 2: The Second One but much like that lazy subtitle, the tiredness of The Lego franchise is showing. Instead of Lego Ninjago being a one off flop in this budding animated franchise, it now appears to have been a warning that this once flavorful franchise has already run out of juice. The uninspired title The Second One proves to be as much of a warning. They put no effort into giving the film a title and only slightly more effort into making something reminiscent of the first one. 

Movie Review The Prodigy

The Prodigy is the latest in a long line of uninspired horror movies with an okay premise that falters in overly familiar execution. It is not merely that The Prodigy is predictable this horror movie from cult horror director Nicholas McCarthy (At the Devil’s Door) is insultingly predictable. The Prodigy is directed as if the film was made specifically for audiences so bereft of common sense that they need every last detail spelled out for them. 


The Prodigy stars Taylor Schilling of the Netflix hit Orange is the New Black as Sarah. As we meet her, Sarah is pregnant and on her way to giving birth to her first child. Crosscut with Sarah’s trip to the birthing center is the escape of Margaret (Brittany Allen) from the lair of a serial killer named Edward Scarka. Edward is known for cutting off women’s hands before murdering them and hiding their bodies. 


Scarka isn’t aware that his latest victim has escaped until he happens to see police approaching his door. At that moment, Edward’s strips nude walks out of his cabin in the woods to confront the cops and essentially commits suicide by cop. This happens just as Sarah welcomes her son Miles into the world and by some crazy movie magic, the soul of the serial killer leaps into the body of baby Miles without anyone noticing. 


At an early age, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) demonstrates traits well beyond his years, but it is not until he turns 8 years old that his parents notice that he is not the loving young boy he once was. The serial killer has begun to come forward in Miles subconscious leading to him trying to kill his babysitter and eventually turning his evil eye to his extended family. Colm Feore then pops up as a doctor whose existence is predicated on delivering exposition for those in the audience who may nod off for part of The Prodigy and need a character to spell out and reiterate the plot. 


The imagery in The Prodigy is as insultingly simple minded as the script. Early on director McCarthy uses the image of Edward’s face split by makeup or mirrors to underline his dual nature. In case you need cliffs notes in the middle of the movie, Miles has one blue eye and one brown eye as further film school underlining of the kid’s dueling personalities, killer and kid. Perhaps this won’t be perceptible to those that don’t see many movies but if you see movies regularly it may be hard to stifle your groaning and simultaneous eye roll. 


I am struggling to find positive things to say here. I know people complain when I am just negative but there really isn’t much good to say about The Prodigy. It’s clean looking, it has solid if unspectacular cinematography. That’s something. When director McCarthy isn’t overdoing images of duality, he does cut a professional looking scene throughout The Prodigy. I have no qualms about praising The Prodigy for its crisp visuals. That however, is, sadly, not remotely enough for me to recommend the movie. 


Taylor Schilling is perhaps the other element of The Prodigy that is passable. Schilling is good at looking haunted and terrified. I guess it is fair to say that she doesn’t let the script insult her character’s intelligence. Sure, she makes mistakes but nothing a good rewrite of a couple of scenes could not have fixed. Had the film perhaps relied more on her abilities and less on telling instead of showing, she might have elevated the material. 


The Prodigy is not the kind of abomination that makes me hate going to the movies, does that me saying something nice? The Prodigy is more harmlessly forgettable than it is offensive. Again, I can’t tell if I am being condescending or kind here.