There are few things that I love more than a dumb comedy that’s actually rather smart. Whenever Seth Rogen has been in charge of a movie along with his co-writer, co-producer, and occasionally co-director Evan Goldberg, the duo tend to deliver just that. They specialize in the filthiest of mainstream comedies (Superbad, This Is The End, etc.) that tend to also carry an unexpected emotional depth, or sneaky satire, or meta-movie commentary beneath all the sex, drugs, farts, and swears. Their latest flick Sausage Party starts out as a hilarious pisstake on anthropomorphized CGI family comedies that was made filthy for fun. As the movie wears on and all the cheap laughs pile up, it gradually grows into something far more ambitious, clever, and in its own dumb way kind of profound. That’s a tricky balancing act to pull off and while Rogen and Goldberg don’t quite nail their silly/smart satirical intent quite as perfectly as Trey Parker or Matt Stone, they at least deliver the funniest Hollywood film of the summer that’s also deceptively the smartest.
After emails leaked online as part of a Sony hack last year, Sony revealed that an upcoming Jump Street and Men in Black crossover movie is in the works. The crossover is titled MIB 23.
The fact that the 21 Jump Street movie worked was a miracle. To attempt to do it again is insane and yet the sequel works entirely because the folks behind 22 Jump Street understand that fact better than anyone. This is a meta comedy piss-take on the idea of Hollywood sequels. It’s a movie that knows bigger isn’t better, that repeating tropes never leads to improvement, and that the entire project has no reason to exist other than to copy past success. So, it does all those things just to prove the point. The concept is pretty brilliant and in the hands of meta movie maestros Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who directed 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie), it’s a pretty damn hilarious loogie in Hollywood’s face that is a welcome source of parody in the midst of a sequel-heavy summer movie season. The film isn’t quite as tightly conceived or constructed as its predecessor, most likely because the team of writers, led by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall, didn’t have as much time to craft this sublime silliness. And yet they get away with it all because messy, over long, and unfinished scripts are just one more aspect of sequels that everyone behind 22 Jump Street gleefully mocks.
The movie opens with a hilarious “Previously On” montage to both set up the TV origins of the franchise one last time and remind audiences of how 21 Jump Street also stomped all over high school comedy tropes. From there, the sequel’s satirical target becomes the original movie and itself. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum open things up with a slapstick car chase on a bigger scale than anything from the first movie and then crack jokes about how it was stupid, expensive, and represents idiotic Hollywood sequel thinking. After that, the ever-angry Ice Cube gives them their new assignment: college. From there, the movie has too much fun pointing out how the leads are too old to pass off as college kids and plays off of their troubled bromance as Tatum finds a new jock bestie and Hill becomes a self-loathing emo freshman. Other college clichés are trotted out, but it’s really all just an excuse for Tatum and Hill to play off their oil n’ water on-screen personas and for Lord and Miller to endlessly mock the conventions of sequels while also delivering them effectively.
From the seemingly stupid title to the brilliant closing montage, 22 Jump Street constantly threatens to be far too self-conscious for its own good. The filmmakers are mocking themselves for making the movie and poking fun at audiences for even wanting to see it. That all sounds too glib and navel gazing to ever work as pop entertainment, but once again Lord and Miller prove to be masters of making movie ideas that shouldn’t work feel like movies that have to exist. Almost all of the sequel jokes they use are brilliant, yet also so obvious that it’s kind of amazing it took this long for comedy filmmakers to exploit them. At the center are of course Hill and Tatum, an ideal mismatched buddy comedy duo in terms of their physical attributes and acting styles. The one major quality they share is a gleeful willingness to mock themselves and they do so mercilessly. Supporting players like Ice Cube, Nick Offerman, Peter Stormare, and Jillian Bell all come out swinging for the fences with big laughs, but this is the Hill and Tatum show and once again their unlikely pairing delivers comedy gold (it also certainly doesn’t hurt that the duo clearly like each other in real life and that always translates on screen).
22 Jump Street delivers all of the action that buddy comedy undiscerning audiences could possibly want from the movie, but works for audiences who would never buy a ticket otherwise because of Miller and Lord’s unique style of self-mocking filmmaking. These guys are so good at what they do that they probably could deliver a straight forward goofball cop comedy with ease if they wanted, but the way they’ve turned this franchise into a big winking prank at Hollywood’s expense makes the series special in a way that it never had any right to be on paper. It all builds towards an amazing end credits montage that imagines an entire franchise of 21 Jump Street sequels with eerily cheesy accuracy. The montage is so damn funny that it has to be the end of the series simply because the joke is such a perfect note to exit on. Could this team actually make a 23 Jump Street worth seeing? Probably, but they can’t. This movie is a mic drop that everyone involved has to stand behind. They made a comedy sequel where even the warts and mistakes qualify as homage and parody, whether intentional or not. Attempting to do that again would be a mistake. It’s time to walk away and celebrate the success. There was no reason to expect the 21 Jump Street franchise to be anything other than an expensive mistake. Instead, it’s somehow one of the most creative comedy franchises to be spat out of the Hollywood machine in recent years. Now it’s time for everyone to walk away and think up their next surprise.
Generally speaking, Dreamworks’ thriving animation department has always been the poor relation to Pixar. The Shrek series became a parody of itself almost instantly and the Despicable Me movies are little more than empty minion calories. But then there’s How To Train Your Dragon, a gorgeous bit of animation with a snarky comedy streak, and a deeply moving core that turned out so well it was almost a shock that the Dreamworks logo played before it. Of course, the company swiftly put a sequel into production and while that theoretically should have turned into an empty cashgrab that spoiled the good will earned by the original film, the sequel turned out shockingly well. Sure, it’s a step down in quality from the last brilliant bit of blockbuster animation, but it’s still a very sweet, funny, and thrilling movie that should please kids and secretly please their parents even more.
The last movie concluded with peace between the humans and dragons in this fantasy land. After Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) trained the wonderful dragon Toothless (which quite frankly ranks amongst the very best kids movie animals), all of his friends and family started riding their own dragons and it seemed as though there would be a happily ever after. Of course, the existence of a sequel guaranteed that it couldn’t possibly continue and so a new villain emerges, the dreadlocked Drago (Djimon Hounsou), an impossibly evil beast of a man who trained his own army of dragons to wipe out the rest of humanity. The good news is that Hiccup quickly discovers Drago’s plot. The even better news is that he also discovers his long lost mother (Cate Blanchett) who has been living amongst dragons and has an army of her own. So Hiccup is able to reunite his mother and father (Gerard Butler) along with a massive line up of dragon all-stars to take out Drago. All seems well until Drago unleashes his secret weapon, an absolutely massive alpha dragon who can control all other flying serpents in his presence. Whoo-boy, this is going to get messy.
As a narrative engine, it’s pretty standard sequel stuff. A new threat has emerged that seems to erase all the good of the last movie requiring everyone to band together for one more round of personal growth. Nothing hugely original about that, but it gets the job done. As with the last movie, the most impressive aspect of the production is the animation. The world created here is so vivid, colourful, and lived-in that you’ll wish you could pick up a game controller and explore it for hours. The action scenes are visceral and endlessly exciting, filled with moments actually designed to take advantage of 3D (far to rare , you know, 3D movies these days). It’s one of the rare CGI family fantasies that works as an action movie, filled with sequences that more than earn the price of admission and in at least one scene can even be described as genuinely shocking. The dragons are wonderfully designed and animated, each feeling like a fully unique character in behaviour and movement. In particular, Toothless stands as one of the most emotive and captivating animal characters ever created in CGI. Without any dialogue or anthropomorphized behavior, that little guy charms the pants off of audiences with a collection of ticks, movements, and expressions without a lick of anthropomorphized behaviour (he’s like a collection of your favourite memories of all your pets with a little fire-breathing hair-raising slipped in for good measure).
To be honest the dragons in the film are so strong that they upstage the humans at every turn. Djimon Hounsou snarls his way through a one-note villain role that makes little impact, while the supporting comedy players like Craig Ferguson and Jonah Hill who helped make the last movie so memorable barely even register here. The only human plot given enough screen time to generate much connection is the relationship between Hiccup, his estranged mother, and his father. Admittedly, it’s a strong emotional core to the movie and aided immeasurably by Blanchett’s performance, but still this time the movie is all about the dragons. Fortunately, that’s not really a problem. The laughs might have dipped down in this sequel, but the heart, action, excitement, and dragon-loving good times pick up the slack. The movie might not resonant as well or be as quotable a movie as How To Train Your Dragon 1, but it is still a more than a worthy follow up designed to get butts in seats, thrill them, move them, and send them home happy. You know, like blockbusters are supposed to do.
If nothing else, The Lego Movie Videogame deserves a spot in history for having one of the worst titles in the history of gaming. As a game itself, it’s a perfectly acceptable bit of fluff and far better than most licensed tie-in titles. The big problem is simply one of legacy. Not only does the game pale in comparison to the excellent movie that just hit screens, but also the Lego City Undercover and Lego Marvel Superheroes games. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid all of those contemporary Lego classics, then I’m sure this game will be an absolute blast. The trouble is that roughly 99.7% of gamers who are likely to pick this puppy off shelves will know and love at least one of those titles (a very detailed and professional study was conducted to get that number, so you can trust it). As fun as The Lego Movie Videogame can be in fits and spurts, it is ultimately just standing on the shoulders of other brilliant Lego creations and never quite manages to break out on its own. Ah well, at least you can finally play as the 80s Lego astronaut, broken chinstrap and all. So that’s a minor dream come true.
The story for the Lego Movie Videogame is the exact story of The Lego Movie, pulling scenes straight out of the flick to set up a series of Lego challenges that fans of the previous games will know all too well. The main character is Emmet, a lowly Lego construction worker who lives a life dictated by an instruction book. One day he meets a beautiful gal (well, by Lego figure standards anyways) named Wyldstyle and discovers he might be a chosen Lego figure who will rid the world of the instruction book tyranny created by the evil Lord Business and return the Lego-land to a genre-mashup world founded in creative building. The plot plays out entirely in scenes from the movie and pretty well the whole thing makes it into the game at some point. That makes this a fairly fun tie in game for fans anxious to own a copy of the flick while it’s still in theaters. But it also robs the game of any sense of surprise for those who have seen the movie. You’ll be going through those exact same motions here, only this time with levels instead of action scenes.
Play style is exactly the same as the last few Lego titles. The city of Brickburg operates as a sandbox hub while all of the other worlds like Western Land and Coo-Coo-Land are used as levels. As a result, the biggest map in the game is a deliberately generic city while the creative climates are limited to small level maps. A bit of a bummer, but there you go. Emmet is the main character and chances are that you won’t play as him much. In keeping with the theme of the movie, Emmet can’t build or fight very well and given that those are the main skills that define gameplay, the protagonist is absolutely useless and will only be the star during cut scenes. Beyond Emmet, there are dozens of characters from Wyldstyle to Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Abraham Lincoln. That is a Lego game tradition, of course. The only problem is that in The Lego Movie Videogame, having access to Superman and Batman will only remind players of the far superior pre-existing Lego games that they could and should be playing instead of this one.
The entire project feels rushed to meet a release date, with the Lego games’ trademark humor essentially absent outside of the scenes from the movie. Now, it would be unfair to call it a disaster. The one major advantage Traveller’s Tales had in creating this title was a rock solid template. These designers have been building and expanding on the possibilities of Lego-themed action sequences since the ancient days of Lego Star Wars. So there are a number of wonderful adaptation of movie action scenes into levels (particularly the chase sequences), and the building dynamic is as fun as ever. The graphics are solid, and you certainly can’t describe the game as boring given that the cut scenes are hilarious and the levels are well designed (with the exception of a few really tedious platforming sequences). Yet, there’s absolutely nothing new or fresh here at all, and that’s a pretty major flaw.
For the first time in quite a while, Traveller’s haven’t reinvented the Lego game wheel. Instead, they’ve simply repeated their own formula based around designs, characters, and plotlines from The Lego Movie. If you could play this game in a vacuum, it would probably be a heck of a lot of fun. The trouble is that any real Lego fan will have just finished Lego Marvel Superheroes and fallen in love with The Lego Movie before picking this disc up. If that’s the case, you can’t help but be at least mildly disappointed. Granted, an average Lego game is still better than most games. However, given that this title offered the Traveller’s team a chance to combine franchises, genres, and techniques from all their previous work for the first time, it’s a big ol’ missed opportunity. Yep, the licensed game curse strikes again. Let’s hope someone finally gets it right one of these days.
When you sit down and really think about it, Lego shouldn’t be popular anymore. The Danish building blocks were groundbreaking playthings in 1949, but in days when toddlers are picking up iPads, they should be passé. Yet, Lego’s probably more popular than ever. There are a number of reasons why: nostalgia, simplicity, cross-marketing in videogames/playsets, and most importantly the fact that those little plastic cubes that you constantly step on at the worst possible moment open up a child’s imagination through building like few other toys. As Lego continues its age-bridging, cross-cultural assault through videogames and Star Wars/Batman/Marvel/everything themed playsets, it was inevitable that someday a Lego movie would exist. It’s just too easy to sell to family audiences, amateur stop-motion Lego movies have been made for decades now, and Lego’s multiplatform franchise is made for merchandising.
Here’s the thing though: how do you make a feature-length movie about little plastic blocks. Break it down to that level and it’s an idea that shouldn’t work. Thankfully, Warner Brothers assigned the task to the two-heading filmmaking team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who specialize in ideas that shouldn’t work. They’ve already made a cult TV show about a high school populated with clones of historical figures (Clone High), a CGI hit with one of the worst titles of all time (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs), and a feature film version of an 80s TV show few people liked in the first place (21 Jump Street). None of those projects should have worked but in the hands of Lord/Miller, they were brilliant. The Lego Movie is the closest thing the duo have had to a sensible starting point and unsurprisingly it’s not only the best thing they’ve ever done, but also the best animated film to come out of Hollywood since Pixar started phoning it in with sequels.
The plot can be cynically broken down to a cross between Toy Story and The Matrix. It’s all about Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), a Lego construction worker who has posters for “A Popular Band On His Wall,” spends his days constructing buildings based on instruction books, and constantly sings the theme song of Legoland: “Everything Is Awesome.” Then one day he spots a beautiful (well, by Lego figure standards) gal named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and inadvertently ends up fulfilling an ancient prophecy made by a Morgan Freeman-voiced Lego figure to become “The Special.” Emmet has been chosen to be the Lego drone who will take down the evil President Business’ (Will Ferrell) plot to confine Legoland to the confines of banal conformity. Emmet must bridge the gap between all the segregated Lego worlds (including a Western land and Lego Gotham City) and bring back the open building-block creation of the age of master builders. It’s all much sillier and easier to follow than it sounds, eventually building towards a big twist that most viewers will see coming, but still offers a touching ode to the imaginative power of Lego nonetheless.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the Lego movie is that it is even more blatantly a commercial for the toy at the center than Transformers or Battleship and yet is an infinitely more moving and creative film than any of the toy movies that proceeded it. A big part of that is just the joy of Lego itself, a brain-building toy that has inspired generations of children to create to the point that many adults now have a full time job creating Lego pop culture replicas for the legendary toy company. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller fully understand Lego’s appeal and create a film about that subject without ever losing track of the fact that their film must first and foremost be a comedic adventure. The CGI animation brilliantly creates a low-fi feel of a stop motion Lego fan film, filled with jerky motions, blocky designs, and creative faux-stop motion effects like creating flames out of crudely animated Lego fire pieces. It’s a gorgeous movie to behold, filled with visual invention and Lord/Miller’s patented pop culture humor. With Lego tie-ins to everything from Batman to Star Wars now part of the legacy, Lord/Miller let loose their reverential and referential humor onto a world that has those qualities built into it. No one else should have made this movie and no one could have done it better.
As per usual in these blockbuster animated films the voice cast is stacked with stars like Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Charlie Day, Will Arnett, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Morgan Freeman, and Will Forte. However, unlike many of these projects, Lord/Miller actually give each famous voice a character suited to their talents and not a single cameo passes by without a major laugh. Thankfully, Lord/Miller never take the easy route to cynically mock their subject matter either, filling the screen with a love for all things Lego including a character who is one of the 80s Lego astronauts that every child of a certain generation owned and even the chin strap is broken in the perfect place. This is a big Hollywood blockbuster made by people who care about the subject matter and know just how to treat it. It’s big, adventurous, hilarious, touching, and makes you want to race out of the theater to buy as many Lego playsets as you can fit in your arms. Balancing all those elements is nearly impossible, but Lord/Miller did it with such ease that they should have a massive hit on their hands and might finally be recognized as two of the most brilliant comedic minds of their generation. Warner already has a Lego Movie sequel in the works, but hopefully Lord and Miller find another project to work on instead. It’s hard to imagine a better Lego movie being made than this, and I’m anxious to see what the next seemingly ridiculous idea that they want to turn into a brilliant comedy is instead.
You might have been too busy playing games and anticipating new consoles to notice, but 2013 was actually one of the best years for movies in recent memory. Oh sure, there were plenty of a giant hunks of crap shoved into screens simply to fill a release date (like… say… After Earth…*shudder*). But hey, that’s just how Hollywood works. The good news was that most weeks were filled with exciting and unexpected releases of brilliant movies well worth removing yourself from the comfort groove of your couch to experience. With the credits finally about to roll on 2013, the time has come to look back and judge the finest films that flickered before our eyes last year. So, since we like our movies to be genre-centric around these parts (allowing for the most possible blood-letting, monster-mashing, alien-smashing, and good old fashioned explosions), it only seemed right focus on the top ten genre movies of 2013. There were some damn good choices too. So good that some flicks I really enjoyed like Byzantium, Pain & Gain, The Hobbit 2: Still Hobbitin’, Elysium, and Captain Phillips just couldn’t make the cut. When five genre movies that good can’t crack the top ten, you know the year has been almost unfairly strong. Hope y’all enjoyed the last year of movies as much as I did. And if you missed out, here’s your first Netflix cue for 2013.
10) Furious 6
Ok… so maybe this is stretching the definition of a “good movie” a bit, but the sixth chapter of the Fast And Furious franchise was possibly the most purely entertaining blockbuster released last summer. Furious 6 (I insist upon using the onscreen title because a) its director Justin Lin’s preferred choice and b) it’s awesome) continued the journey into self-parody begun in Fast Five and raised the scale to ludicrous levels. Thanks to what Lin accomplished over the last three films in the series, we’re no longer asked to take things even remotely seriously, the action sequences have expanded to surreal heights, and The Rock is now a permanent fixture (Thank God!). As a result, this series is a $200 million dollar exercise in automotive and macho slapstick with action scenes that feel like they were designed by a kid playing with Hot Wheels. And thanks to the wonders of Blu-ray special features, it can be confirmed that Lin and his stunt coordinators did in fact play their action sequences for the film with toy cars… God bless them for that. The mixture of so-bad-it’s-good laughs, genuine comedy, and incredible physical action scenes is pitch perfect in Furious 6 and well worth the time of any cheese-loving action fan. Sadly, the glorious bad taste of this car crash franchise is now genuinely uncomfortable after Paul Walker’s untimely death, so you’ll have to ignore that as best you can. Otherwise, this is a good as brainless fun got last year and the next sequel will add Jason Statham to the mix, so it should only get better from here.
9) Iron Man 3
When Marvel Studios bumped director Jon Favreau from their marquee franchise for the threequel, it could have been a disaster. After all, this guy not only set the tone for the series, but for the franchise as a whole. Thankfully, if someone had to step in and take over the series, writer/director Shane Black was the perfect choice. Here’s the guy who not only created the contemporary action/comedy with Lethal Weapon, but also helped kick off Robert Downey Jr.’s comeback with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black fit Iron Man 3 like a glove, perfectly nailing the sarcastic heroism tone, providing Downey with all the mugging dialogue he needed, filling the flick with his patented gear-shift action, toying with comic book movie conventions (most notably in his hilarious treatment of The Mandarin), and finally giving the Iron Man series a worthy action climax that was missing in the previous two films. Iron Man 3 was hands down the finest superhero blockbuster in a year filled with them and that’s was important because aside from headlining the next two Avengers films, it looks like it might be Robert Downey Jr.’s last feature length run as Iron Man. It would be a shame if the series ended here for him, but on the plus side, at least he went out with an epic Iron Man suit fireworks show. That seems like a good exit for Tony Stark, doesn’t it?
8) The Last Stand
Yep, that’s right. I rated the barely seen Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick higher than the most successful blockbuster of 2013. Why? Because it’s just that good. As a proud member of what seems to be the depressingly small crowd of people who want Arnie to make a comeback, The Last Stand was a damn near perfect movie. It gave Arnie a chance to do everything he does well (mainly involving ass-kickery and one-linery), surrounded him with a surprisingly strong cast of characters (including Johnny Knoxville and Louis Guzman), and boasted a tone just silly enough to contain the former governator. Credit it all to ingenious Korean director Jee-Woon Kim (The Good The Bad & The Weird, I Saw The Devil) who essentially created a live action cartoon. That he was able to transfer so much of his signature directorial style into his Hollywood debut is incredible. That he managed to do so and frame it within a pitch-perfect old man Schwarzenegger movie is miraculous. If you’re a fan of either the director or the star you owe it to yourself to watch The Last Stand at least 5 times. It’s easily the finest faux 80s action movie since Rambo and The Expendables kicked off the retro action star trend. Not to be missed by anyone with a pulse, if only because this baby is sure to get that pulse a pumpin’.
7) This Is The End
From the foul-mouthed Hollywood satire opening to the blood and semen drenched apocalyptic finale, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg delivered one hell of a directorial debut. It’s probably the funniest thing the longtime writing/producing duo have ever dreamed up, and that’s really saying something given that they’ve been responsible for some of the funniest damn movies of the last decade. Perhaps what was most surprising about This Is The End was how dark and violent the filmmakers were willing to go once their Biblical apocalypse was alive and kicking. Sure, this was still a movie defined primarily by filthy improv and bros being bros, but for a Hollywood comedy to climax with Danny McBride eating James Franco’s face is downright subversive. If there was a movie that offered more laughs than This Is The End in 2013 then I didn’t see it. If you enjoy laughter and didn’t see it, then you my friend have missed out. Do yourself a favor and rectify that egregious error immediately!
6) You’re Next
It took two looooooooong years for Adam Wingard’s home invasion horror flick to finally get a North American release and thankfully the film was more than worth the wait. The whip smart script from Simon Barrett cackled with dark comedy that never slipped into lazy parody or homage and delivered that rare gift of a worthy story and characters to match the set pieces. Wingard’s direction expertly mixed tones, and delivered genuine shocks without losing sight of the characterization or class commentary. You’re Next already feels like it will be one of the best American horror movies of the decade so how it possibly could have wasted on a shelf while the Paranormal Activity series racked up four sequels remains a frustrating mystery. Regardless, it’s finally here and, God-willing, the wait for Wingard’s next won’t be nearly as long (hopefully Barbra Re-Animator Crampton’s career comeback will begin here as well). If you’re a horror fan and missed You’re Next in theaters, I daresay that you might not actually be a horror fan.
5) The World’s End
The second all-star apocalypse comedy of last summer might not have been the funniest flick of the two, but it was the best. There’s a reason for that. While Rogen and Goldberg are developing into interesting filmmakers, the Simon Pegg/Edgar Writer co-writer/director/star combo emerged from the womb as masters with their 2004 debut Shaun Of The Dead. Nine years later, they wrapped up their Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy with possibly their smartest and most mature effort to date. Simultaneously a darkly comedic rumination on aging and alcoholism as well as a brilliant sci-fi horror lark that feels like the first real Body Snatchers flick of the 21
century, The World’s End is almost too overstuffed with ideas and influences. Yet as-per-usual, Pegg and Wright have no problem mixing tones as well as they mix together a Brit-pop soundtrack. It’s sarcastic yet sincere, personal yet driven by spectacle, hilarious yet dark, and most importantly mind-meltingly entertaining from the first frenetic frame until the last. It’s a shame that this will be the last time Pegg and Wright collaborate for a while because by the time the credits rolled on The World’s End, it honestly felt like they were only just starting to tap into their incredible potential as storytellers. Ah well. It’s not like they’re going to stop working separately.
4) Pacific Rim
It might have underperformed in the North American box office, but Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim still managed to bring giant monster mashing movie mayhem back with style. Filmed with Del Toro’s impeccable eye for design and composition, the film was a bright, shiny, neon, techno marvel that delivered popcorn-munching pleasure on a scale few blockbusters could muster last summer. It’s gorgeous to look at, surprisingly funny and sincere, and most importantly it kicks almost too much ass. This is simple entertainment done right and one of those rare Hollywood blockbusters that actually deserves a sequel. It’s pure popcorn bliss and, God willing, Godzilla will be successful enough next summer that the two WB franchises could face off in a Pacific Rim VS. Godzilla battle royale that all the good geeks of the world deserve. Here’s hoping!
Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece Old Boy may have been spoiled by a horrible remake this year, but at least the Korean genius also got to deliver a masterful English language debut to make up for it. Released to disappointingly little hubbub last spring, Park’s Stoker is a perverse feature-length Hitchcock homage that actually didn’t do a disservice to the master of suspense. It’s a coming-of-age tale of psychosis with Mia Wasikowska delivering a heartbreakingly creepy protagonist, Nichole Kidman playing the finest evil mother in years, and Park providing his special brand of filmmaking that is at once eye-tinglingly beautiful and stomach-turningly disturbing. It’s certainly not a movie for everyone, but if you enjoy Park and every other flick on this list, then be sure to check it out. You just might be pleasantly surprised and feel a little delightfully dirty afterwards. Hopefully this will only be the start of Park’s career in America. Hollywood needs more filmmakers like him and based on Stoker, the man clearly had no problem getting his distinct filmmaking voice across the culture gap.
Not all science fiction has to be about action and invasion. Case in point would be Her, a delicate, goofy, slightly creepy, and deeply touching sci-fi yarn from the one and only Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where The Wild Things Are). Writing solo for the first time, Jonze delivered a classic boy-meets-computer love story. Of course, it’s all more complicated than that, but the most important thing to know is that Jonze has rather brilliantly tapped into very contemporary themes about love and connection in the digital age to create a movie of the moment. It’s a film that everyone who uses a glowing screen to distract themselves from the physical world needs to experience and the only movie on this list that could leave you a blubbering mess (in the best possible sense of course). Her slid into theaters just before the end of the year for the purpose of awards-bait. So, you’re likely going to hear a lot about it in the coming weeks and I urge you to believe the hype and turn off your phone long enough to check it out.
Finally, for me there was only one movie that could possibly top this list. I giddily rattled on about this movie endlessly in my review and on the podcast, so I’ll spare you all too much discussion of it today. I’ll keep it to this: no film had such a visceral, even physical effect of me this year quite like Gravity. Sure, some of the dialogue was a bit cheesy, but the simplicity of the narrative and themes has its own fable-like beauty when combined with the awe-inspiring spectacle. Above all else, with Gravity Alfonso Cuaron proved that it’s still possible to dabble in personal storytelling and experimental filmmaking while making a film on the largest scale that Hollywood allows. This was a big, blazing blockbuster that still felt like the work of a single distinct artist. That ain’t easy to pull off and as blockbusters continue to take over Hollywood production schedules, it’s reassuring to know that such a thing is possible. Plus with a massive non-Harry Potter hit under his belt, it’s no longer going to be a struggle for Cuaron to get his next film produced. Considering the fact that it took him seven years to get this sucker on the screen, that’s very good news indeed.
For those who have lamented the loss the Martin Scorsese they loved as he danced with movie stars and popular genres to Oscar glory in flicks like The Aviator, Hugo, and even The Departed, it’s time to breathe a deep sigh of relief. Wolf Of Wall Street might boast the scale, gloss, and Leonardo DiCaprio casting of his late career Hollywood darling phase, but the content, style, rush, and remorse of the project are vintage Scorsese. If this was the movie he was building towards over the last decade, it just might have been worth the wait. Based on the autobiography of real-life Wall Street robber, drug addict, prick, and fantasist Jordan Belfort, The Wolf Of Wall Street sees Scorsese give white-collar crime the Goodfellas treatment. The voiceover, flowing camera, machine gun editing, wall-to-wall rock soundtrack, dark comedy, and guilty, illicit pleasures of Scorsese’s 90s masterpiece are all here. This time it’s just used to tell the tale of a Wall Street criminal instead of a mobbed up hood. Given that the last 20 years have been filled with Goodfellas-style takes on everything from the Brazilian slums to the 70s porn industry, it’s entirely appropriate that the style eventually got slapped on financial crime. That Scorsese would be the one to do it is oddly appropriate given that the global economy has been crippled by the same sort of dirty dealings the filmmaker depicts here. At this point, these well-dressed scumbags are possibly even more dangerous than old timey gangsters.
DiCaprio stars as Jordan Belfort in a film that gleefully takes his ego, cocaine, and selective memory flavored writing as fact. He’s a man who came to Wall Street with noble intentions that were quickly dashed on the first day when a smooth operator (perfectly played by Matthew McConaughey) tells him over lunch that the name of the game is making money, and the tools of the trade are hookers and blow. After the 1987 market crash derails Leo’s career, he stumbles into a middle class stock scam that sells penny stocks for massive profits. He quickly befriends a cousin-banging, crack-smoking, buck-toothed business partner who could only be played by Jonah Hill. Together they find a team of former high school friends with no business experience beyond drug dealing and form their own scam-centric financial institution. Then as fast as Scorsese can cut together a montage (which is very fast indeed), the company skyrockets to the top of the Wall Street heap. Suddenly these morons and petty financial thieves are playing with millions of dollars and the parties/hookers start flowing like Ancient Rome on Quaaludes. Leo tries to settle down with an ex-model (Margot Robbie in a star-making turn), but his real passions in life are his addictions: drugs, sex-for-cash, and above all money. The man is riding high in a way depressed English teachers and bored students might call hubris and there’s only one way for the story to end. The FBI starts taking a special interest in Leo n’ co.’s corrupt practices and… well… you’ve seen Goodfellas.
Above all else, the most pleasant surprise of the film is just how damn funny it plays. Scorsese has dabbled in dark comedy before but never to the extent of Wolf Of Wall Street. Anyone who questions why the filmmaking genius would cast Apatow-alum Jonah Hill in his flick should figure it out almost immediately. Scorsese has turned the story into perverse comedy, with every one of Belfort’s fantastical tales of dwarf-tossing, gold-fish eating, and coke-fueled excess turned into exquisite laughter (in particular, there’s a Quaalude slapstick sequence between DiCaprio and Hill that tops any of the exquisite silliness in Anchorman 2). Some might claim that the film glorifies those despicable actions like the accusations tossed at Goodfellas back in the day, and those critics are right, but miss the point. There is joy and pleasure in this seductive lifestyle that makes it so appealing. That’s why people want in despite their morals. By depicting that, Scorsese is simply being honest. By making us laugh at the material, he mocks it. Then as the steel trap closes in the concluding hour, the consequences make it clear that the fun wasn’t worth it. And yes, I said concluding hour. This is Scorsese’s longest film to date at 3 hours, but it’s paced so perfectly that it feels shorter than most two-hour Hollywood movies. Sure you’ll feel the weight of the running time in hour three, but that’s almost the point. Watching the film feels like partying on amphetamines all night long, sleeping for 15 minutes and waking up with a painful hangover to deal with the consequences.
The performances are as excellent as they tend to be in a Scorsese movie. Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire writer Terence Winter’s script is crammed with rich characters and brilliant sequences for them to play and Scorsese gives everyone a chance to show off their skills. Hill is as funny as ever while crafting more complex and damaged character than usual. DiCaprio mixes slapstick, dramatic speeches, and self-destructive drama with ease. Margot Robbie creates Scorsese’s most dynamic woman since Sharon Stone in Casino. And then everyone else from star cameos like McConaughey or Spike Jonze to unknowns in tiny roles create vivid characters within seconds of screentime. The Wolf Of Wall Street is a cocaine rush of entertainment with a bitter after taste of harsh realism (including a climactic moment of domestic abuse that almost matches the harsh family values of Raging Bull… almost). In short, it’s Scorsese at his best. The 71-year-old auteur finally found a big sweeping Hollywood epic that perfectly suits all his considerable talents and delivered a movie with the vitality that filmmakers less than half his age can’t muster. If only by virtue of fact that Scorsese’s style had such a profound influence on the last 30 years of filmmaking that it’s almost the norm now, the film lacks the shock and awe value of his early classics and is in no danger of cracking into even a top five list of his finest work. However, it’s also the first flick he’s delivered since the 90s even worthy of entering the discussion and one that calls to mind those classics while still feeling like a movie of the moment. In short, the film is a masterpiece and probably the first white collar crime epic. It’s hard to imagine that Martin Scorsese has another film this strong left in him, so consider it a swan song and one hell of a Christmas gift from one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived.
Seth Rogen may have made his share of conventional and even crap comedies, but whenever he and his hetro-lifepartner/co-writer Evan Goldberg crank out a script, they usually bring their particular brand of dick joke comedy to variety of genres.
The past comes back to haunt us all at some point in our lives. Weather we did the best we could or the worst, someone more than likely got hurt and they will come seeking retribution or to celebrate your passing. Even a lifetime spent making good on sins may have a Jonah Hex hiding in it. This is the case for a reclusive desert miner that has just struck it big. If the claim-jumpers do not kill him then someone closer may. The old miner is Jonah’s father and it is ’bout time for Jonah to set up and watch him die.
We get a good back story on the relationship of Jonah and his father. The dysfunctional family origin from the distorted view of a desperate drunkard. Hex sits quietly, watching and waiting, saying very little while his father succumbs to his wounds. There is no genuine repentance from the old man, only wasted breath and solidified grudges. The only sufficient vindication for Hex comes with the chill. In the end Jonah accepts his father’s failings and gives him a proper burial, and a drink of whisky.
Most people are a product of their family environment. How closely Jonah reflects his father may not be what he wishes to face, but the similarities are there for us to see. We cannot help but wonder, and I am sure Hex does too, if his life and death will be so mundane. Will there be someone there to watch and bury him?
For more reviews, visit my website DangerousLee.com
When you make a deal with the devil, you can be certain the devil knows something you do not. In this case the devil is Jonah Hex, and the hapless souls are a foolish mob of town folk, looking to place blame on a stranger. Come calling, if you don’t give the devil his due, you will get your deserved. For Hex, that due is $500 bounty that the dishonorable do not wish to pay for the service rendered. As usual, Jonah keeps his cool and shoots his way out of a potentially worse situation.
Though an entertaining story and nicely done illustrations, I found the artwork at times almost impossible to follow. It was muddled together at points, and the characters looked far too similar. In some frames I mistook Hex, and had to strain hard to distinguish him from the town folk. This downfall made a good story very difficult to read.
For more reviews, visit my website DangerousLee.com
Jonah Hex is the modern interpretation of Shane. A callous, relentless gunslinger bent on serving lead justice; at the same time searching for redemption and being capable of forgiveness. This issue defines the aspects of Jonah’s unhinged persona patently. More of a man-vs-nature issue, Hex finds himself desperately lost in a blinding snowstorm. His savior is a metaphor for an angelic, Joey character. There to save him from more than just the cold and starving winter, and act as the contrasting parallel. They both learn a straitened lesson about each other, and the tale culminates in the classic western practice.
The artwork in the Jonah Hex series is agreeable. It is produced in colour, but could lend itself well to monochromatic tones or black and white. Some of the onomatopoeia is a bit comical for my taste; I feel the illustrations speak loudly enough. Hex’s volatile attitude is portrayed well enough through body language that less dialogue could evoke a stronger response from the reader.
For more reviews, visit my website DangerousLee.com