Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Lego Movie – 2014

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It’s hard not to feel encroached upon by the endless parade of branding and merchandise surrounding animated films. With Shrek turning out to be the multi-sequelled hydra it set out to mock and the announcement of a Frozen 2 and a Toy Story 4, a film whose name itself is a product would seem to be another manifestation of the problem. But this, thankfully, is not yet the fate of The Lego Movie even nearly a year after its release. But then again this is coming from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who brought us Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel of equal quality so there was little to fear.

There’s something about Lego that has been begging to be made into a film for years. I personally have never come across someone with even the vaguest passing interest in cinema that never made a Lego stop motion. Not all of them matched up to the masterful creations that blow up youtube, but then most of them were made with cameraphones. The Lego Movie didn’t opt for stop motion, although technically speaking it could have been done, if you had more Lego than is possibly imaginable and several lifetimes to go with it. Instead this Lego is CGI, but still for the most part obeying the laws of movement within the Lego universe – ie: the bricks don’t change size. Ever. Everything is built entirely to scale in the computers out of Lego pieces that genuinely exist in the physical world. This makes the whole film seem more tactile, in places the Lego even has fingerprints and scuff-marks as if you’d brought your own plastic bricks to life. When the film does slip in a few moments of stop motion and even live action sequences they are so well matched to the CGI Lego world that it doesn’t even feel like a break. What’s even better is that the real world is slowly woven into the story and the fabric of the animation throughout the film so that when Emmett (our adorable everyman voiced by Chris Pratt) finally makes it into Live-Action-Land it doesn’t feel like a gimmick tacked onto the end of the movie just to show some cool Lego structures that actually got built.

Yet while you’re watching this film you don’t really take notice of the painstaking attention to detail and the incredible technological feat and scale of imagination that went into this film. You are most likely too busy laughing. The jokes come thick and fast and are so dead-pan that many of them can be missed on the first viewing. It’s an ebullient, joyful humour that’s never laughing too much at anyone in particular. There’s a genuine heart to the film that doesn’t fall into cynicism, not even towards Lego Batman, the most reproachable minifigure you’ll ever see. The characters fall somewhere between stereotype and archetype as well as mixing in some well-known faces from popular culture so the experience is more like hanging out with an old group of friends than watching a brand new set of characters. It’s comforting and relaxing without being predictable.

What’s more is that this film belongs to the perpetually diminishing number of films that can genuinely be called “family films” in that every member of a family can enjoy them. It’s a kids’ film, yes. But some of those jokes will be flying over their heads and I doubt they’ll be appreciating the ironic deconstruction of mass-produced uniformity that lingers over the film as an ever-present fate worse than death. At its core it wants to say something about being creative and allowing your imagination to run free. This is, as the film aptly shows, most often something adults need to be told more than kids. The child, every child is the hero here and it appeals to nostalgia and hope for the future at the same time. It’s hard not to be uplifted by this film, even if in a few places the plot almost meanders off and the message feels a little as if it’s being delivered with a hammer it’s well-meaning, it’s fun and it captures some childish joy that everyone wants to hold on to.

  • Entertainment: 5/5
  • Artistic:            3/5
  • Intellectual:      3/5

Birdman – 2014

2015-01-11-birdman_movie_stillAfter my total loss of faith in the Academy before during and after the 86th Academy Awards I decided to re-engage with the Oscars for this year’s 87th awards. While I didn’t manage to see all the nominated films and didn’t grace anyone with my terribly inaccurate predictions I was much happier this year to see some of the films I had genuinely loved (Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel) being nominated and was excited for the ceremony. While obviously I didn’t agree with every decision announced on Oscar night it was refreshing and the awards seemed globally well-deserved. Unfortunately due to a blip in my timetable I hadn’t seen Birdman before the ceremony but was quickly determined to rectify that.

Birdman certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s a two hour non-stop rollercoaster film. Thankfully the vogue of 3.5 hour long Oscar-nominated pictures seems to have died down. The visual onslaught of Birdman being any longer would totally ruin the film. As it is the cinematic choreography makes the ride all the more exciting, althought you can’t help but wonder why Iñárritu’s preferred central point for following a character is about a foot and a half below their head at all times. Birdman does occasionally feel like a day in the life of someone shockingly short who never looks up.

Thanks to this one-take effect the film has a frenetic, relentless pace that almost feels as if it’s all happening in real-time as it scans through the dark corridors of the theatre. It’s not just Michael Keaton playing a parody of himself. Every character in the film is either an actor or acting all the same. Particular credit needs to be given to the performances of Emma Stone and Edward Norton, both of whom light up the screen when they appear. The boundaries between life and performance have never been more blurred as Norton’s Mike Shiner talks about the importance of truth while manipulating his way into a love affair with lines straight out of some cheesy script. At times characters look coyly back into the camera as we follow them through the theatre, leading us through the hall of mirrors as if we’d stepped into Baz Lurman’s Moulin Rouge. Emma Stone’s ex-rehab daughter character serves as an emblem for a generation who learnt to have online personas before they even had their own personalities, perhaps a bigger con than any that the thespians are trying to pull.

Birdman brings no judgement on its characters, despite them all being broken and borderline insane. Yet Birdman is life put up to be judged by us. It’s like an expression of how these mildly self-obsessed actors would describe their lives if they had the chance, complete with every odd circumstance and exaggeration. The irony of their lives is so beautifully rendered by Iñárritu that in watching you almost feel like you could step back and watch your own life like this. See the beauty and irony in your lowest moments like the joyous fairy lights illuminating the depressed Riggan (Keaton) as he brown-bags some spirit and listens to a drunk recite Macbeth. Clearly this absurdity in life is not a new theme, Shakespeare’s words render it admirably, Raymond Carver’s words heard through the adaptation Riggan writes tell us of it, but Iñárritu brings it into our milieu and shows us a whole range of people just trying to make some sense out of it. It’s telling that the camera only stops at the point when Riggan ultimately sees through these illusions and glamours of the stage and screen in perhaps the only action that has no mise en scene, no pretence behind it. In the end Riggan puts an end to the endless series of images that follow on and on ad nauseam and we’re only left with his daughter’s reaction, one of comprehension and admiration that the curtain can one day fall.

  • Entertainment: 4/5
  • Artistic:             4/5
  • Intellectual:      5/5