Archive for The Lego Movie

Game Ova

Posted in FILM, Interactive with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2018 by dcairns

The easter-egg/treasure hunt plot of READY PLAYER ONE is very INDIANA JONES, while the quasi-dystopian world is pure MINORITY REPORT, but the movie references numerous other Spielberg productions as it attempts to visualise the postmodern concept of the pop-cultural universe as a virtual place where every fictional character and artifact exists alongside each other.

Maybe WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? was the first movie to attempt this kind of mash-up, but it contented itself with folding Disney & Warners cartoons together, with a few strays like Betty Boop, deliberately excluding later cartoons that would have diluted what stylistic consistency it had. Then THE LEGO MOVIE threw everything into the mix but achieved a surprising consistency by making it all Lego.

Complaints about Spielberg’s new movie warping the character of Brad Bird’s warping of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man (a delightful warping, but definitely a warping) and some of the other icons recycled in his big messy new flick seem quite misguided — according to the movie, these are merely avatars, not the real things. As someone who, as a kid, would make Action Man fight Cindy and Stretch Armstrong and a fluffy rabbit and Cassius Clay, I could appreciate the way the filmmakers are having fun cramming together things that just don’t belong together. It’s a bit like if, one second after the camera flashed on the Sergeant Pepper’s album cover, a massive fight broke out.

And it really doesn’t matter if you don’t get all the references, or any of them. The treasure hunt plot is one of the dullest conceptions available to the storyteller (follow the clues, win the reward), though slightly less obnoxious than Rescue The Princess, but writers Zak Penn & Ernest Cline throw in some neat complications to make things less boringly single-track. It’s diverting, sugary popcorn.

If the cultural (mis)appropriation doesn’t matter and the question of “Will the kids know who Buckaroo Banzai is?” doesn’t matter, and they really, really don’t and aren’t you ashamed of yourselves for caring, movie pundits?, then what does matter? Well, the hero is very bland and made more so by being flanked by a couple of cool, contrasting girls. And then Mark Rylance makes a caricature aspie genius figure become dimensional and wholly believable and that sort of lessens everyone else, especially poor Simon Pegg who can’t compete. Pegg can do many things but he’s not in Rylance’s league. He’s not even in his sport.

And of course there’s the whole issue of MEANING. Our hero joins an underground resistance movement but ends up as an all-powerful CEO, not only levelling up but lawyering up, and the film isn’t interesting in exploring or questioning or making fun of the contradictions. Those parts of the film’s world-building concerned with what makes the bad guys bad are so sketchily rendered as to wholly lack weight, and the Evil Corporation meme, which has always been a somewhat translucent veil when used by Hollywood movies produced by huge corporations, has never seemed so wispy and full of holes. This movie can’t even BEGIN to invest in the idea of authentic capitalist evil, so it all comes down to one nasty suit, well played by Ben Mendelsohn… but has he been cast just because he looks a bit like Miguel Ferrer in ROBOCOP?

A few people have suggested that this kind of fantasy, requiring a little satirical edge, might better suit a creator like Joe Dante, and I would recommend to you the flawed (by executive interference) LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION and the majestic GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH for films which really earn one’s respect by straining to bursting point to fulfill the contradictory requirements of selling toys and mocking the whole business of movie/merchandise synergy.

Still, RP1 is fun. If you surrender to it, the action is exciting, the extended Kubrick homage is a blast, Rylance is magnificent (say, can PTA discover him, please? Now that D-Day Lewis has apparently had his day?) and though it has a worryingly protracted wrap-up like in the bad old days immediately following SCHINDLER’S  LIST (or like Penn’s script for X-MEN II), it doesn’t completely outstay its welcome.

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Not Films

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2015 by dcairns

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I picked up two novels by William Trevor and one by Robert Holdstock from a bin outside a charity shop. I didn’t realize Trevor was the author of Felicia’s Journey, filmed by Atom Egoyan, swiftly forgotten by the world. But I liked the cut of his gibberish. Still haven’t read them, though. They are The Boarding House and The Love Department.

The Holdstock was Mythago Wood, and I just read that — terrific stuff. I’m onto the sequel, Lavondyss. These are technically fantasy novels, but Holdstock’s take on myth is an inventive and intelligent one, imagining mythical characters as being products/inhabitants of the Jungian collective unconscious, and simultaneously quite real and corporeal. He creates his own, quite convincing proto-myths, speculations about the kind of stories our Bronze Age ancestors told each other around the fire, stories which would later mutate into more familiar forms. The protagonists are normal people who get sucked into this semi-real world of mythic characters, like Alice into Wonderland but with scarier consequences. Literally fantastic.

I followed this with The Glister, a novel by the Scottish poet John Burnside, which my collaborator Paul Duane recommended. It’s set in a post-industrial wasteland rather like the Zone in Tarkovsky’s STALKER, but more realistically toxic and depressive. There’s also a serial killer and a teenage protagonist, but these “commercial” elements do not resolve in the expected ways. It reminded me oddly of Iain Banks’ Complicity, in the way it refuses to deal with its killer the way genre fiction is supposed to. Complicity infuriated me, but The Glister is quite something — the language and the philosophy are as striking as the pungent, carcinogenic atmosphere of the piece.

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The Knick, directed (and shot, and cut) by Steven Soderbergh, created and written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, is back for a second series. As good as ever, making it still the best thing I’ve seen from this gifted, quirky, sometimes erratic filmmaker. Clive Owen performing nose-jobs for heroin, the second black character with a detached retina in a Soderbergh show (see OUT OF SIGHT), a very nasty nun, and the use of the line “I brought you some hard-boiled eggs and nuts,” which is sure to delight all fans of Stan & Ollie and COUNTY HOSPITAL. In-jokes aren’t always to be applauded, but since I didn’t spot a single one in the first ten hours of this show, I’m quite willing to allow a burst of exuberance of this kind.

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We did watch an actual movie — CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, picked up from the library since we enjoyed the same team’s THE LEGO MOVIE (dirs. Phil Lord & Chris Miller). By chance, it takes place in exactly the same kind of hopeless, post-industrial seaside town as The Glister. Really good jokes: “I wanted to run away, but you can’t run away from your own feet,” says the hero after a mishap with spray-on shoes. It’s part of the New Breed, inaugurated by the first TOY STORY — when it goes emotional, it doesn’t feel the need to stop being funny. I wasn’t over-enamoured of the character design at first, but James Caan’s gruff dad character is masterful. The shape of the head puts me in mind of the Freudenstein Monster in Fulci’s THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, or of Isabelle Adjani’s weird child/lover in POSSESSION, but the moustache and monobrow raise it to a whole new level. Oddly, when he’s surprised and his eyebrow rises to reveal actual ocular equipment, dad just looks wrong.

The Sunday Intertitle Is Awesome

Posted in FILM with tags , on October 11, 2015 by dcairns

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We’d been told THE LEGO MOVIE was awesome, and it kind of is. Plus, it has intertitles! Each delivered in a scene-specific style. Since part of the movie’s message is a celebration of unfettered creativity, where things that don’t necessarily belong together can be made to fit (hence, a movie containing Batman, Dumbledore, C-3PO and Unikitty, whatever Unikitty is), it makes sense for each intertitle to use a different style, although mainly unified by a Lego theme. It’s actually a little disappointing that the newsflash style one doesn’t have any overt Lego in it. I love how the retro silent movie one is being projected on a Lego wall.

A couple of days after watching it, I recall that there were a great many jokes, too many to take in on one viewing, and the fast pace and sharply delineated candy-coloured surfaces made for an eyeball-searing, pixilated/pixelated parade of fast and furious action. Hero Chris Pratt’s journey across an interdimensional portal looks like he’s been catapulted through the heart of a kaleidoscope, and that could stand as metaphor for the whole movie’s effect upon the viewer.

Where he winds up after his trip is fascinating, and for a while you’re really unsure where the movie is taking itself/you, an exciting feeling in a big commercial product/film. What the narrative settles for is ultimately very conventional, but it matters that it gets there by a surprising route and with a great deal of wit and charm.

It’s still a film about a toy, designed to sell a toy, and therefore evil, right? But it’s aware of the contradictions between its cat poster philosophy and hard-nosed business plan, and makes a warm-hearted joke out of this.

I’m not sure if the below qualifies as an intertitle. “First rule of the sea:”

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