Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Lego Movie - 2014

"The Lego Movie" - 2014
Dir. by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller - 1 hr. 40 min.

Official Main Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

First off, I'm still mad that my girlfriend went to see this without me, and that I had to wait until it was on TV to finally see it.  Unaccompanied men over thirty years old can't really go see "children's movies" in a theatre without an escort, lest you get peppered with stares and dirty looks that make baseless criminal accusations.  I LIKE CARTOONS, OKAY?  You worry about your children, and I'll worry about the quality of the animation, and hopefully our two worlds will never meet.  Secondly, the idea of a full movie made out of Legos is something that appeals to me very much, ever since Lego put out a kit that included software and a stop-motion camera so that you could make your own home Lego movies with a minimum of fuss.  Granted, this movie is far more visually sophisticated than anything anyone could have made with their set, but it's just very polished version of the things floating around my head.

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a generic, forgettable construction worker, who strives to be likable and to be part of a team (there's a whole song about this).  When he goes missing because he's found the Piece of Resistance, and ushered into an underground society of master builders by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet discovers that he's forgettable (via testimony from his co-workers), not a master builder, and generally not good at much.  But he still has to lead the fight against President Business (Will Ferrell), who wants to use the kragle to freeze everyone in place forever.

First, off, the Lego stuff is completely awesome.  For anyone who ever blew afternoon after afternoon building spaceships and cars and weird-ass buildings waiting for their parents to get home from work, delving into a completely Lego world is going to stir up some pleasant memories.  Secondly, the animation is pleasantly blocky and clunky; the whole point of Legos is to build something and let your imagination fill in the rest.  So we get weird lazer blasts that look like chunks of pipe cleaners, and weird dances, and when things blow up, they break down into Lego blocks.  It's all perfect.

Beyond all of that, "The Lego Movie" is peppy, fun, well-paced, and fun for everyone.  One of my all-time favorite video games is "Micro Machines," which takes the basic car-race game and makes it awesome by changing the scale of the course.  "The Lego Movie" has a similar appeal; it's very easy to get lost into the world of these toys, and the barely-detailed faces of the characters make the voice-work resonate more.  And there are tons of characters!  Everyone from Shaquille O'Neal (who was part of a NBA All-Stars Lego set at some point) to Han Solo to the whole pantheon of DC superheroes (which officially makes "The Lego Movie" the greatest Green Lantern movie of all-time), which leads me to Batman (voiced by Will Arnett).  I would watch a nearly endless stream of films that featured this version of Batman; he's like an overgrown emo tween.  And this is also the only funny version of Batman since Adam West that actually works!

So yeah, I totally enjoyed "The Lego Movie."  Maybe not as much as if I'd gotten to see it in a theatre, with a crowd, so that I could have joined in in all the "Everything Is Awesome" jokes for the last few months, but I still enjoyed it.  I generally don't enjoy it when animated films bounce back and forth between animated scenes and live-action ones, and I did think that was a bit of a detriment to "The Lego Movie."  Blah blah father/son bonding blah blah blah.  Whatevs.  I wanted another fifteen minutes in the Lego world, Will Ferrell can puppy dog eye his son some other time.  That's what deleted scenes (or even an inevitable extended version of the film) are for.  But the rest of the movie was pretty awesome.

3.5 / 5 - TV (HD)

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Interview - 2014

"The Interview" - 2014
Dir. by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen - 1 hr. 52 min.

Red Band Trailer #1

by Clayton Hollifield

Some day, there will be a fascinating book written about all of the nonsense surrounding the release of "The Interview."  Which is weird, because this film is both pretty much another in a line of dumb comedies (I say that with complete affection) that have either/both of James Franco and Seth Rogen, and it's also pretty funny.  It's also not really worth all of the ado; as funny as it is, the international incident and the yes/no/maybe release of the film into theatres (and other outlets) is less proof of this being a biting satire (although it is, at times) that left a nation furious and vengeful than proof that some people don't have a sense of humor.

Dave Skylark (James Franco) is an entertainment reporter, and he's good enough at it to get Eminem to admit to being gay in an interview.  He's sort of dumb, really aggressive, and really sure of himself (which is a great mix for comedy), while his producer, Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen), is the brains of the operation.  But Aaron tires of doing fluff, especially after a conversation with someone who doesn't consider him a colleague, even though they do the exact same job, just on different shows.  Aaron wants to turn towards more serious news, and when Dave finds out that Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a big fan of his show, they decide to try and land the biggest interview of their careers.  Surprisingly, they're successful, and head off to Pyongyang to conduct The Interview.

I found myself surprised at how much I enjoyed the film.  There was part of me that believed that Sony probably wouldn't have dicked around with the release of a film that they thought had merit, and that lowered my expectations a bit.  As it turned out, it wasn't just another re-hash of Franco and Rogen arguing with one another, as funny as that usually is.  Perhaps it was the absence of the usual gang that populates their films (it's not that they don't hang around funny people, but after a handful of movies, you know the tone and the range of all of those guys, and there are next to no surprises left to be had), maybe it was the two of them being dolts in what was a more adult-oriented scenario (meaning that they're idiots with real people jobs, not in a XXX sense) than they usually live in on screen.  Whatever the case, whatever you think the range for a Franco/Rogen movie is going to be, "The Interview" resides in an upper percentile.

Also, James Franco killed it here.  He's done a range of films and characters, but the aggressive kind of character that he plays here was a riot.  Rogen did what Rogen does (and that's fine), but Franco had a lot of the best lines (including straight-up asking Kim Jong-un whether or not he has a butthole), and I was laughing pretty much every time he was on screen.  Beyond that, there were a lot of unfamiliar faces doing funny work; Randall Park's Kim was not a one-dimensional character, which it easily could have been, and Sook (Diana Bang) was a pleasant surprise, as well.

I'm not going belabor things here: this is a funny movie.  It probably wasn't worth all the fuss made about it, but if you decide to watch it for reasons other than patriotism (meaning, if you're a fan of these guys, and you want to see a movie with Franco and Rogen in it), I find it unlikely that you'd be disappointed.  "The Interview" is no worse than "Pineapple Express," and definitely better than "This is the End," so that's got to be a victory.  Even more so if you dig dumb comedies like I do.  The fact that it popped up on Netflix like a month after release is just butter on my popcorn; I was going to see "The Interview" eventually anyways.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus - 2013

"Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus" - 2013
Dir. by Sebastian Silva - 1 hr. 38 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I didn't wholly know what to expect out of "Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus."  I hoped for something a little surreal, hoped for something a little funny.  What I got was a lot better than either of those things.  This film is a throwback to indie films (in the best way); small cast, subtle, meaningful, improvised at least partially, no explosions, likely no budget either.  I found myself drawn in to the story, and reacting strongly to the characters, and fully enjoying the ride.

Jamie (Michael Cera) is an American vacationing in Chile.  At least I think so - I'm not clear why he's there exactly other than to do a bunch of drugs, and for a time I was convinced that Cera was supposed to be playing an a-hole version of himself in a fictional story.  Anyhoo, while he's high at a party, he ends up inviting an Earth Mother type with the improbable name of Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann) along on his and his friends' road trip, which is to culminate with a day of tripping on the beach from a tea made from the San Pedro cactus, which just grows in Chile.  He almost immediately regrets the choice the next morning, and tries to convince his guide (of sorts), Champa (Juan Andres Silva) to ditch her, since her aggressive New Ageyness is getting on his nerves, but fails.  And so, the trip must continue.

"Crystal Fairy" has a distinct sense of unease throughout the entire film.  The story itself is pretty straightforward; a bunch of near-strangers head out on a road trip to engage in some psychoactive leisure.  The execution of the story is fascinating, however.  Part of it is the constant chatter in a foreign tongue and the half-accurate translations being passed back and forth between the characters.  They kind of all understand what's happening, except when they don't, like in the scene in a park when Jamie and the three brothers meet up with Crystal Fairy, and she's being accosted by a pack of locals in a park for some unexplained reason that remains unexplained.  The story is full of things that should happen, and then we're not quite sure if they're actually going to happen or not.  Things that should be easy aren't, and then random occurrences that nobody can adequately explain happen to complicate matters.  And then the things that are supposed to happen end up happening.  It's bewildering, but accurately replicates the feeling of travelling in a foreign country.  I felt off-balance the entire length of the movie, but I intend that as a compliment.

With such a small cast (it's largely five people for the bulk of the film, everyone else is pretty much incidental), the weight is on the cast to deliver performances that can carry a viewer's attention for an hour and a half.  All five members of the cast deliver.  Michael Cera is probably the only person that most people have heard of, and you might be led to believe that this story is entirely his, but that wouldn't be accurate.  The tone of story is low-key and shambolic, the brothers all kind of going with the flow and muttering between themselves, and Crystal Fairy doing what you'd expect a woman going by the name Crystal Fairy to do (which is in itself a pretty remarkable performance), but Cera's nervousness and one-track mind make him come off like the asshole.  His character is almost always annoyed with Crystal Fairy and her behavior, but Jamie's overreactions paint him as the bad guy.  I found the dynamic really fascinating; by lowering the amount of energy that the other actors expend, Cera doing Cera's thing is re-contextualized into something arrogant and really annoying, almost unbearably so at times.

So what starts off as a story of an American abroad wanting to do some serious hallucinogenics ends up something completely different.  Gaby Hoffmann's performance is dead-on and convincing, even though her character is complicated and contradictory.  She spends most of the film building up a certain facade (going so far as unexpected casual nudity, that earns her the nickname "Crystal Hairy") only for the story to occasionally poke holes in it.  By the time the film shifts into the third act, it's clear that the story is more about her than it is about Jamie (even though Cera's on the poster by himself).  I don't even know how to explain what a great performance Hoffmann gives, because you can't really say that the character was well-written, because the film is largely improvisational.  The character is memorable and distinct, but you could say that about the entire film.

"Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus" was so much better than I was hoping for.  I grew up on indie films in the '90s, where you could have movies with low-key (or even non-existent) plots based around character development and a pervasive sense of oddness.  This was a welcome antidote to big movies, slick movies, under-written movies.  This film requires that you pay attention to it, and to the ebbing and flowing relationships between the characters (even the brothers aren't all on the same page all the time), and rewards that attention with unexpected quirks and moments that are engrossing and span quite a range of emotion.  If that sounds like your kind of thing, get thee to Netflix and press play.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Ladies Man - 2000

"The Ladies Man" - 2000
Dir. by Reginald Hudlin - 1 hr. 24 min.

Original Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Some movies aren't meant to be waxed eloquently about.  That's not to say that compliments aren't in order, but sometimes it's enough to just say that I liked something, I've watched it a number of times, and it serves as the comedic equivalent of comfort food.  "The Ladies Man" is like that.

Obligatory plot summary: Leon Phelps (Tim Meadows) is a radio DJ, who likes to love up women.  Some of which aren't single.  And because Leon has a one-track mind with no filter (and because this was about a decade before podcasting), he loses his job.  And there's a bunch of jilted husbands after Leon, led by Lance DeLune (Will Ferrell), who spends a good amount of time wearing a wrestling singlet.

Here are some of the things that I liked about "The Ladies Man."  Tim Meadows is funny.  Especially when offering to buy strange women in bars fish sandwiches.  Pina Colada butt lotion.  A houseboat called "The Skanktary."  Will Ferrell as an amateur wrestling enthusiast.  Did I mention Tim Meadows is really funny?  Especially when he gets to do an R-rated comedy.  Those chairs that look like a giant hand that you sit in.  Julianne Moore as a horny clown.  Yeah, you read that right.  And maybe most of all, Leon's poem:

"What Is Love?" by Leon Phelps

I dunno, man, I just like "The Ladies Man."  I've been troubled for years as to whether the title is punctuated correctly (I feel like "ladies" should be a possessive, and thus the title should read "The Ladies' Man"), but I have never been plagued by a lack of laughter when watching this film.  I know this is a pretty light review here, but at the same time, why flog a dead horse?  I like this movie, it's funny, and if you enjoyed Leon's poem, you might feel the same way.  Are more words necessary to get that across?

3 / 5 - TV

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy Gilmore - 1996

"Happy Gilmore" - 1996
Dir. by Dennis Dugan - 1 hr. 32 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I'm not much for New Year's Eve celebrations; instead of "Happy New Year," I watched "Happy Gilmore."  It's not really that different to watch familiar rituals to celebrate a milestone, I just prefer to watch Bob Barker drop Adam Sandler to watching a disco ball drop.  I think "Happy Gilmore" is one of those films that every guy over a certain age has seen, probably more than once.  It's like mashed potatoes and meatloaf; comedic comfort food that's actually aged reasonably well.

Happy Gilmore (Adam Sandler) is a wannabe hockey player who routinely gets cut at the open tryouts every year, mostly because he can't skate.  Hockey is the one thing on his mind, and pretty much the only thing that keep Happy from acting like a homicidal maniac (pretty much, because he admits that he took off his skate and tried to stab a guy with the blade once).  As it turns out, his Grandma (Frances Bay) has fallen behind on her taxes, and is going to lose her house unless a considerable sum of money is raised, and in the meantime, she has to stay in nursing home run by fu-manchu'd taskmaster, Hal (Ben Stiller).  It turns out that Happy has a tremendous ability to drive a golf ball, and he ends up on the pro tour after winning a pro/am tournament, where he butts heads with Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald).

There are a lot of reasons to dismiss "Happy Gilmore" and it's star, Adam Sandler, and many people were happy to do so when it came out.  I will grant that Sandler yells a lot, and generally provokes a 100% love or 100% hate reaction from people.  The film is visually very straight-forward (which is a nice way of saying that it's rudimentary).  There's little nuance to anything.  But, when you've got a fist-fight with Bob Barker, that doesn't matter much.  There's a ton of funny moments, some endlessly quoted.

And funny trumps everything, especially in a comedy.  If you watched some of Bill Murray's earliest films (like "Meatballs," in particular), you're not getting a finished product.  This is a rough-around-the-edges product, a bunch of funny ideas jammed together under the umbrella of a classic "save the house" plot.  This isn't really an "actor" movie, nor do any of the other characters exist for plot purposes beyond Shooter McGavin (who is a fantastically sleazy asshat of a man) and the girl, Virginia (Julie Bowen), who exists to be the girl in the movie.

You may hate Adam Sandler and his films and his goofy face and annoying voice, but this is the real deal.  It's not smoothed out, the film doesn't really strive for any kind of pacing or cleverness, it's just Sandler doing what he does.  There are plenty of people who hate that.  And others who have come to hate that.  But there's also a ton of people who love it, and would stop flipping channels the second they came across "Happy Gilmore."  Only you know where you fall on that continuum, but I like re-watching "Happy" every so often.

3 / 5 - Streaming