The LEGO Movie (2014)
Everything is awesome. Yes, I fully realize that The LEGO Movie is very much making fun of the whole “epic summer blockbuster” genre, but it does so with such a fantastic sense of self-awareness that it is itself a stellar summer blockbuster… except it was released in February.
Given the very commercial basis of The LEGO Movie, it would have been very easy to turn this into a giant LEGO commercial. That is true to a certain extent, but the level of awesomeness makes it easy to appreciate this movie for its own geeky brilliance. The plot surrounds the central character of Emmet, an everyday minifig that completely blends in with everyone else. He’s about as mainstream as it gets, carefully following the exact instructions set out to him for how to be happy in this LEGO-fied world.
Of course, things aren’t always as they seem. There is some very heavy influence from iconic films like The Matrix, Lord of the Rings and even The Terminator, but that’s a big part of the fun for adults coming to watch this. This is not unlike what we saw in the first Shrek movies, offering colorful characters for the kid and witty references for the bigger kids. The dialog is clever, the action is fast-paced, and you can’t help but to have a big goofy grin on your face the entire time. Yes, we see cameos from licensed characters, but The LEGO Movie can stand on its own two plastic feet, right up until the climax and thoughtful conclusion.
LEGO founder Ole Kirk Christiansen taught us that “only the best is good enough.” I’m not sure if this was the very best, per se, but it is a heck of a lot of fun. If you’ve ever seen the fan-made LEGO stop motion movies and parodies on YouTube, then The LEGO Movie is what happens when one of those clips gets blown up with a Hollywood blockbuster-level budget. And it’s awesome.
As campy as the original Paul Verhoeven movie may have been, it was perfectly suited for its time. It gave us a vision of the near-future when we could have robot-human hybrids keeping the increasingly corrupt streets safe. I had very low expectations when I first heard about this remake and my suspicions have largely been confirmed.
It’s a remake that isn’t necessary and doesn’t have the same ambitious inventiveness of the original. It feels flat and lifeless by comparison, right down to the “let’s give him a black suit so he looks more tactical” idea. Even Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson can’t save this train wreck that should have never happened in the first place.
American Hustle (2013)
The reason why trailers for American Hustle don’t reveal much in terms of the actual story is that telling you almost anything would ruin the surprise. It’s a movie that is inherently about deception and scheming, even the scheme isn’t as intricately complex as what we tried to figure out in something like Ocean’s Eleven. What I will say is that this movie has a great sense of style about it, even if we don’t get pulled into the tale as much as could have been. The cast, including Louis C.K. in a more serious role, did do a commendable job, but it’s not the kind of film I’d nominate for Best Picture.
Dear Mr. Watterson (2013)
Growing up, I’d say that I most enjoyed three comic strips: Garfield, The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes. I even thought about becoming a cartoonist myself because of those strips. That’s why I had such high hopes for Dear Mr. Watterson, as I thought it would grant me deeper access to the inspiration and creative process of Bill Watterson. Unfortunately, this movie is less of a “behind the scenes” documentary and more of a love letter to the man behind Calvin and Hobbes. While this may be a charming tribute and fans of the strip may get a kick out of it, Dear Mr. Watterson ultimately adds little to my understanding or enjoyment of Calvin’s antics with his stuffed tiger.