Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The LEGO Movie [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

There's a reason that I waited up until February of 2014 to actually watch my first movie of the 2014 season. Sure a movie like "Lone Survivor" is doing well and I have an abnormal fascination with the "Paranormal Activity" series. But, those are movies that you can really wait on. The may be good, they may be bad, but they weren't something I was REALLY looking forward to. "The LEGO Movie" on the other hand is truly the first release of the year that I had any hype for. From the first teaser trailer I saw, I was hooked. Then the voice acting cast was revealed and eventually the trailers. I was on board completely and it even had the feel of "Wreck-It Ralph." While not quite on that level, "The LEGO Movie" is one that is perfect for kids, where as the adults will get mileage out of this as well.

"The LEGO Movie" follows the story of Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) and ordinary construction worker living a completely normal life. Years earlier, the [now] tyrant of Brickville, the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) defeated Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) to obtain a super-weapon called the "Kragle." Vitruvius warns Lord Business of  a prophecy where the "Special " will find the Piece of Resistance capable of stopping said Kragle. One day after work, Emmet comes across a woman, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who is looking for something at the construction site. Emmet falls down a hole and lands in front of the Piece of Resistance and upon touching it is shown visions and passes out. He wakes up in custody and begins to be interrogated by Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson), a henchman of Lord Business, and finds out the Piece of Resistance is attached to his back. As Emmet learns of Lord Business' plan to destroy the world, Wyldstyle busts in and rescues him to take him to Vitruvius. Vitruvius explains that he and Wyldstyle are Master Builders, able to build anything that they need without instructions and with great speed. He also explains that in Lord Business' rise to power he captured a great many Master Builders. Emmet must become The Special, aka everything he thinks he's not, to stop Lord Business. With the help of Batman (Will Arnett), an anime unicorn kitten, Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie), a 1980-something Space guy, Benny (Charlie Day) and a pirate set out for revenge, Metal-Beard (Nick Offerman), they just may be able to save the world.

Ever since "The LEGO Movie" hit theaters this past Friday all I've heard is a steady stream of overwhelming positivity towards the film. The few negative thoughts center around the idea that this is just a giant commercial for LEGOs or that it suffers because of a lacking plot or story-line. I mostly don't agree with these sentiments, because for me this is a movie in the same vein as one I mentioned before, "Wreck-It Ralph." A movie totally based and made around video games. Just like "The LEGO Movie" is based in a world made of LEGOs. I did want to buy or play video games after "Wreck-It Ralph." The point of the film wasn't to sell video games though. "The LEGO Movie" is gonna want to make kids go play with what the just saw, sure. But, I highly doubt that anyone truly thinks this is a "100-minute commercial" for LEGOs. Especially when such a great a main point of the film, is to breakout of that norm and learn to harness creativity. Sure things get a bit convoluted when they are forced to use the instructions at one point to move onward, but in the overall scheme of things, "The LEGO Movie" wants you to breakout of that shell. I like that message in this film and in this day and age. Also the story is pretty okay to me. Sure it doesn't break any new ground, but it's one that really does work in a movie like this. A character who is ordinary, finds out that if he can go against the grain, he can be great. You don't have to be the strongest or the smartest to make an impact in everything going on. I liked the writing by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the same team that brought us "21 Jump Street" in 2012, and look to wow us again with it's sequel later this year. "The LEGO Movie" is a pretty well written story and has that great blend of both humor for adults and for kids alike. 

The animation in this is also pretty great. An almost flawless blend of CGI and stop motion using the LEGOs we all know about. The worlds are not only vibrant, but familiar if you've grown up at any point with LEGOs around your house. Beyond that they're brought to life you used to in your imagination as a kid. I loved being able to see what I did as a kid come to life, so nostalgia was a big part of this film for me. I touched on this a bit in the previous paragraph, but the humor is a great point in this film. Some jokes fall flat, but there's never a moment were a joke couldn't be put into a situation. Almost like "Family Guy" in the style of which the jokes were used, despite you know the movie having a semblance of a plot. Kids will love the humor and the adults will get more than just a few laughs throughout the viewing as well. Finally, we'll get to the character and voice acting, cause I thought they were all pretty good too. Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman the rest of truly delivered performances fitting for each character. The voice cameos were fun as well as I want to give this a re-watch just to catch them all. While I love the voices, the characters were hit and miss. Emmet was great throughout, but I thought suffered from the fact he was very one dimensional, same could be said of a lot of these characters though. I liked Vitruvius as sort of the guide and teacher of the group, while Wyldstyle (she's a DJ right?) brought that over the top action into the mix. The supporting roles by Batman, Uni-Kitty, Benny and Metal Beard were fine as well as they all brought a distinct character into this diverse band of LEGOs saving the world. Lord Business was a good villain throughout and really captures the misinformed and crazed power hungry side of a bad guy well. While his main henchman, Bad Cop/Good Cop was a nice one. One that was not only was menacing, but that had some back story as well. All of this mentioned above is combined with a stellar soundtrack led by the song "Everything Is Awesome." Which you will know by the end of this film.

"The LEGO Movie" is one of those movies that's hard to hate. You could find faults in it all day, but I'd rather be the guy that lets my inner child take over when watching an animated film like this. This move looks great, the voice acting is done well and there's a bunch of humor (and emotion), all wrapped nicely in a fun little story. There's a major moment near the end that really did vault this from "only an okay" movie, to a great one in my eyes. Don't worry, I won't spoil it for you here. Even if you never played with LEGOs growing up and don't plan to start your collection now, "The LEGO Movie" is hard to pass up, as it's easily the best of 2014 so far.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nebraska [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

I'd been waiting a long time to see this "Nebraska." All I've been hearing is that Alexander Payne has made quite the film and that Bruce Dern absolutely slayed it. Last night I actually got to see this, and needless to say, this movie exceed all my expectations. You hear about a road-trip film, in black and white, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, and you think, and least I did, why? I'm glad I didn't judge this upon face value, as Alexander Payne has brought out fantastic performances and given has us a true gem from last year in film.

"Nebraska" follows the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), as he is determined to travel from his home in Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim $1,000,000 he is told he won. He is picked up by an officer as he's walking along the highway, and is subsequently picked up by his son David (Will Forte). Upon showing David the papers, it is clear that he has received a mail scam letter, in an effort to get him to buy magazines. David takes Woody home where they're greeted by his wife, Kate (June Squibb). She is annoyed with the fact that Woody won't shut up about the money. Woody tries to start walking again while David is at work. When he gets to their house, his brother, Ross (Bob Odenkirk), already there talking to their dad. Ross tells David it might be time to put him in a home, also that he's been promoted to anchor on the local news. Later that day, David is visited by his ex-girlfriend,who does not want to move back in with him. While this is happening, Kate calls to tell him, that Woody has left again. This is the last straw so to speak, and despite Kate's disapproval, the two decide to take the trip to Nebraska. Along the way they meet up with family and friends. Finally, in the town where Woody grew up, memories of his past resurface, as everyone is abuzz about the return of  their former longtime neighbor.

I don't think there was a moment in this movie from start to finish where I wasn't thoroughly engrossed by this film. Maybe the scene with David and his ex-girlfriend was kinda wonky for me. Other than that, it's hard to name a moment where you're bored, not chuckling or getting hit right in the feel box. The writing, by Bob Nelson, is spot on the whole movie. You're laughing at the antics of the older folks in a given scene or the dynamic between Kate and her husband and sons. Then you're just soaking in the directness of Woody's character and the father/son dynamic that is very prevalent and done very well from beginning to end. Everything said and done feels organic and in a movie that has drama and seriousness in spades, there's a great charm and heir of humor layered throughout. This also comes into play with the direction form Alexander Payne. He shoots in a way where you're always involved in a given room or situation, but still focused on the main character of the film. I liked the shooting in black and white as well. As I was preparing for this I was doing research on the film it and reading thoughts on this and one stood out to me. The person was from the Midwest, Iowa I believe, and they said that the "black and white was a great touch, as in the Midwest there's not a ton of color and life. So seeing it in black and white brings out the people more than the surroundings." I'm paraphrasing with they said, but I definitely agree. I grew up in the far west side of Ft. Worth, Texas and went to high school and college about 10-20 miles to the west of there in Aledo and Weatherford. Once you start traveling out there, if you're not immediately in Aledo, or the booming part of Weatherford, there's a whole lot of nothing. Not including color in a movie where there's hardly any to begin with is a great call. The movie still looks great, but this is one where color really is unneeded.

Enough about my humble upbringing, as the acting is this is pretty fantastic all around. Even the smaller roles of townsfolk and family that Woody knew earlier in his life, are integral parts of this film. You meet all aspects of Woody's younger years along this road-trip down memory lane. We see old workplaces, an old flame and even an enemy he didn't know he even had. Then when you get to Woody's family itself, Bob Odenkirk as Ross really stands out. Though not a huge part in the movie, he's almost the leader of the two brothers. He tells it like it is and always takes the lead in a particular situation. Odenkirk is great as you can pair him well with anyone, and Payne does this well. You also notice, especially in the second half of the film, June Squibb as Kate, Woody's wife. Seemingly crabby and annoying, as the movie wears on the love and devotion to Woody really does shine through. She is also a great source of humor as Kate is the type of character that says what's on her mind. Whether loving, humorous or even outlandish, Jane Squibb is a breath of fresh air in a given scene. Moving on with the Grant family, we get to the other son, in David. David is played well by Will Forte and this may be his best performance to date. Will Forte plays the "on the verge of disaster" character well. Dealing with his aging parents, the breakup with his girlfriend and the success of his brother, obviously it all weighs heavy on him. In the movie he states that the trip was almost a way to get away from it all and spend time with is father. Forte doesn't play the character as if he's a sad sack, quite on the contrary. You see his emotion, you see he's struggling and Forte shines in the more humorous scenes in the film. Finally, we get to the anchor of the film, the head of the Grant family in Woody, played perfectly by Bruce Dern. At first glance, with everything going on, you'd think that Woody is a man slowly slipping with age. Once the movie starts wearing on, you can tell that this is not the case. Woody is a man that's been through so much in his long life, he really doesn't have to say a lot. When he does it's direct and poignant. Bruce Dern plays this perfectly because it's wholeheartedly genuine. It doesn't come of as Dern mocking the elderly, but more embracing the fact that this character has been through a lot. Any scene involving Dern and Forte is funny and emotional. Once you start adding in the rest of the family members, there's so much good that comes out from everyone involved in this film.

"Nebraska" is a film that I think will take anyone viewing it by surprise. The concept is very simple, yet it's a story you get enthralled by. Alexander Panye's direction, combined with Bob Nelson's writing, resulted in a well rounded movie. Let's not stop there as the overall look and the acting, especially by Will Forte and Bruce Dern, are amazing. "Nebraska" is a film that will stick with you long after you watch it. It is one that masterfully combines emotion and humor. I don't think anyone that watches "Nebraska" will be in any way disappointed.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

Saying "The Wolf of Wall Street" isn't a roller coaster, would be like saying that the sun isn't hot or penguins don't waddle. This film is a joyride, a cinematic explosion of comedy, drama and storytelling. The narrative of Leonardo DiCaprio never winning an Oscar may be over. Martin Scorsese proves that he most certainly still has it. While outta nowhere Jonah Hill has become more than just a comedic actor. Based on a true story, "The Wolf of Wall Street" isn't just a film about making money, it's a film that takes making money to an absolute extreme.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is based off of the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). In 1987, Belfort is working as a stockbroker at a firm on Wall Street. His boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) tells him to develop a life based around sex and cocaine to succeed. Not long after, the firm fails on a Black Monday. Belfort is forced to find a join in a boiler room selling penny stocks, as advised by his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti). Basically what he was already doing, but for a significantly less amount of money. His aggressive nature, combined with the commissions on the stock, soon net him a small fortune. One day at a diner, Belfort meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a salesmen who lives in the same complex has him, who compliments him on his car and then asks to work with him. They bring in Donnie's accountant parents and some of Jordan's friends, drug dealers, and Stratton Oakmont is born. Despite the official sounding name, the company is a pump and dumb scam. It's fraud which is essentially talking up the price of a stock to sell, despite it being worth very little. Jordan Belfort is dubbed "The Wolf of Wall Street" by an article in Forbes as and soon after, every young financier begins to hop aboard. The men soon begin to live a lavish lifestyle filled with sex, drugs and an addiction Quaaludes. Due to the nature of his moneymaking, FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) begins to investigate them. Also, Belfort begins to have an affair with a woman he met at one of his parties, Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie), which leads to his divorce. This leads to Belfort marrying Naomi and having a child, all while the FBI is really ramping up the investigation into what is really happening at Stratton Oakmont.

I'll start with what everyone is thinking, yes the three hour run-time. Sure, three hours sounds long until you actually start watching this film. Like every other long movie that is well made, you get into the story quickly. The adaptation from the the book is done well. Not saying that I've ever read the book, or even plan to, but what came across the screen, both story and character-wise, was good. The characters are endearing, and somewhat relatable, so you really do feel for Belfort when he loses his first big gig. Even when things aren't going great, or you feel like everyone is turning into a money grubbing drug addict, you're sucked in with the humor this movie is loaded with. There's a ten or so minute scene in this film that was without a doubt one of the funniest comedic scenes of 2013. On the flip side the drama in this film is great too. The dynamic between Belfort and his crew causes tension in so many areas, it's easy to play it all out on the screen. Plus, the overall drama of the FBI investigating, is always lingering around and makes for great conflict. You don't just see the money flowing either, at times you're taught what is going on. Most of the time you're right in the thick of them making, hiding, spending and wasting money on everything under the sun. This movie is three hours, and sure there are a few draggy points in the film, but the runtime isn't a reason to knock this film or not watch it.

The acting may be the best area this film as to offer. The whole crew, even the ones with smaller roles are exceptional.  Leonardo DiCaprio has always been an actor I've liked. This role continues in a tradition of great ones for him and has even got him nominated for Best Actor. Which is well-deserved as he plays Jordan Belfort to a tee. The charisma, the smarts, the mannerisms, Leo takes this man and turns him into an on-screen character that's awesome to watch. Leo might be finally getting a Oscar for his work, and in this one, it would more than well deserved. Then we go over to his main supporting man, Jonah Hill. In the past couple of years, Jonah's widened his range from just being a comedic actor. He earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in "Moneyball" and has secured another one for his role in this. Donnie Azoff is Belforts right hand guy. Always there though the good and bad. While Hill always seems to bring it in the humorous scenes, he's still more than great in the drama aspect of everything as well. Let's not leave out names here though as the rest of the supporting cast is great. In a limited role, Matthew McConaughey sets the tone for the film and Belfort's whole life ahead. I can't say enough about his acting this past year. Margot Robbie as Belfort's second wife is another good role. From the start you know she's with him solely for his money, but she gives Belfort's character some emotions. Most of which you don't get to see a lot of when he's out getting obliterated. Belfort's crew is led by Jon Bernthal, of "The Walking Dead Fame", who does a great job being a role player in this film. Another good role player was Kyle Chandler as FBI Agent Patrick Denham. Sure it was a pretty standard character, but an important one once the plot of this film gets rolling. None of this would've been possible without the writing from Terrance Winter and the direction of Martin Scorsese. Winter made a great adaptation of the book, while Scorsese brought it to life beautifully on screen. This was a great one-two punch, showing that Scorsese does in fact still have chops.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is still not for the faint of heart. As I already mentioned, this film is three hours. Add in the fact that it's full of nudity, gratuitous sex, a plethora of drug use and even uses the F-bomb 569 times. That is actually a record for amount of times used in a film. Nonetheless this is a film with a great story and great acting, led by DiCaprio and Hill. Plus you have Scorsese directing, so what's not to be excited about? "The Wolf of Wall Street" is one of the best, and raunchiest, black comedies you'll ever see.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

12 Years A Slave [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

"12 Years a Slave" is one of those movies that really makes you think. It really makes you get into the mind of characters and what is going on in their surroundings. You feel for Chiwetel Ejiofor's role, but beyond that, you get into the minds of the people around him. That's what makes Steve McQueen's historical drama so good. "12 Years a Slave" is a film that doesn't pull many punches, but also hits you right in the guy with powerful emotion. This is a movie about slavery, but it's also one of hope, survival and morality.

"12 Years a Slave" follows the story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A free negro who works a skill carpenter and fiddle player. He lives with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1841. One day two men (Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam) offer Solomon a two week job as a musician. After a night out, Solomon wakes up in chains and is about to be sold into slavery. Solomon is shipped down to New Orleans and renamed "Platt", the identity of a runaway slave. He is severely beaten and eventually sold by slave-trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti) to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Solomon stays on the good side of Ford, who is pretty decent to his slaves, and is rewarded with a violin after making a cost effective way to move logs downstream. A racist carpenter named John Tibeats (Paul Dano), resents Solomon and begins to verbally harass him. Blood boils between the two when Tibeats attacks Solomon, who defends himself. This leads to Solomon attempting to be lynched by Tibeats and his crew. They are driven away by the plantations foreman, but left to suffer all day until Ford arrives home and cuts him down. Ford informs he regrettably must sell Solomon to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) to protect his life. Upon arriving, Solomon meets another slave, a young female named Patsy (Lupita Nyong'o). Solomon must quickly learn to deal with his new slave master, his wife (Sarah Paulson) and the fact the he is a free man, made to suffer for seemingly no reason at all.

This film doesn't tread new ground. Let me clarify, at thing point, we all know slavery was an awful and deplorable action to force a race of people to do. That doesn't mean we can't, yes even in 2014, learn from our past mistakes. That is one of the strengths of "12 Years a Slave", as Steve McQueen (director) and John Ridley (writer) had a great one-two punch. Yes, all the things going on are awful. You get wrongfully sold into slavery. Don't give up. You get beaten down. Don't give up. Things never go your way. Don't give up. "Keep persevering" is a great message to deliver, in a movie where there is a ton of powerful emotion from the surroundings alone. Speaking of, the writing and adaptation is done well. This is a long movie, clocking in at well over two hours, but it never feels long. You are enthralled by the story of Solomon Northup, the people he meets and is forced to deal with and the situations he is thrust into. It never feels long and this is both a testament to writing, but also the way you portray a character from a book or novel. The cinematography is also great. Not just the set design, or back drops or sweeping shots on the New Orleans countryside, which are all great. But, also the situations the actors and characters are put in. The strikes feel real, the emotion between characters vividly come to life and the hardships are plain as day. "12 Years a Slave" doesn't just hit you with emotion, you get to see emotion being poured out of everyone.

Leading me right from emotion into the acting, as everyone was grand, beginning with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup. He is the true lead of this film and embodies Solomon so well. I tend to say this a lot with the films that I review. What I mean by this, is that a given actor or actress portrays a character so well, you don't think of them as an actor anymore, but the character they're playing on the screen. Chiwetel Ejiofor, in the first film I've ever seen him in, has left myself, and probably millions of others, with a great impression of him as an actor. You can tell that this was a role tailor-made for him and he fully ran with it. The supporting cast all around is great as well. Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford is great, as it shows that there was compassion in those times. It wasn't just racist men abusing slaves, but men who were really conflicted about all of the things that go on. The counterbalance to this was Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps. You see what the mind of the truly warped looks like. You see him hand out beatings, he lies to his wife, is adulterous and has general hatred towards those around him. You see a stark contrast between the well intentioned and the depraved. Let's talk about Lupita Nyong'o as Patsy. She is the innocence of the film. A very young and almost introverted woman, forced into slavery and is abused by her owner. She is the one person that really got a reaction out of me as the movie went on, as she has some nasty stuff happen to her. Finally, the biggest conscience enters the fold. An almost Jesus-like Brad Pitt, playing a Canadian carpenter, meets Solomon. His is fully opposed to everything that goes on. He has formed his own opinion on everything and isn't afraid to tell even slave owners his feelings. When you put all of this fantastic acting together with great directing and writing, you have a complete film that's hard to really find faults in.

"12 Years a Slave" is a film that will hit you on every level. The acting is great and you will notice it no long after you being watching. Then the emotion really begins to pour on as this greatly written film begins to gel. Finally, you start to notice a completeness, and you can thank Steve McQueen for directing job he's done. Chiwetel Ejiofor has really put him name into the hat to win Bast Actor and "12 Years a Slave" is really poised win Best Picture. This powerful film is truly deserving on all levels and you shouldn't hesitate to give this movie a look.