Thursday, May 29, 2014

Double review - Jack Ryan and The Lego Movie.

Well, things are going a bit slow as far as movie viewing goes, so I figured I would take the time to finish a couple reviews that I’ve been putting off for a while. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and The Lego Movie.

I first saw both films all the way back in February, but I held off on giving them actual reviews for other projects. Now that they’re both about to be released on Blu-Ray, I decided I would finally take the time to archive my thoughts on them. They’re both really entertaining, and I hope you’ll check them both out.

 Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit:
Kenneth Branagh is one of our finest theatrical talents, but to my knowledge, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him take on an espionage thriller in this vein before. I’d certainly like to see him do it again, as he shows he has considerable chops for it. The one knock against this movie that I have to give is the fact that the story is, truth be told, stock. While the characters are plenty of fun to watch, the actual script feels reminiscent of other, better spy thrillers; Some Bourne here, some Bond there, and several other notes taken from superior predecessors.  However, that is easily forgivable, as the film delivers on exactly what it wants to be, and that’s slick, fast-paced popcorn thrills.

The action, for the most part, is more restrained than many of its competitors. While not without its fair share of fist fights and car chases, for a majority of the time, stealth and espionage takes the prime focus. This is especially useful in generating suspense, none the least of which is elicited from a nail-biting office infiltration. The cast is very solid all around, as Chris Pine continues to prove himself a capable and charismatic action lead, Kevin Costner is reliably wise and stoic, and Keira Knightley manages to take a stock and cliched character, and give it much needed gravity, charm, and realism. Kenneth Branagh also plays his usual, scenery-chewing self, feeling like a villain straight out of a Connery Bond film, and he relishes every moment on screen. If you can get past its narrative flaws, I imagine you’ll have a good time with it.

***1/2 / *****

The Lego Movie:
EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! At least, everything in this movie is. After last year’s uncharacteristically dull year in animation, with this one movie, we are already leaps and bounds ahead of it in quality. You’re looking at the very first movie of 2014 that I have already seen TWICE in theaters. While initially, deceptively looking rehashed of so many clichés of numerous, previous animated features, the script for this movie is actually very smart in subverting and satirizing these usual tropes and archetypes. I can’t explain why without giving crucial (and hilarious) reveals away, but the film’s third act puts all of these tropes into a fascinating perspective and leads into one of the film’s most touching realizations.

However, even without the touching ending, I still would have given this film a pass for the simple fact that it is straight. up. Hysterical! This is among the funniest animated features I have ever seen. The film has so much irresistible energy, and while this level of hyperactivity would have failed in lesser hands (just see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 for an example of how NOT to do it), with all the great investment in character and world building, it’s just a delight. For me, comedy is all about details, and while the smaller stuff may not even register or matter for most viewers, those elements are still crucial in helping audiences buy into the illusion of this world. Everything is here, from one-liners, to sight gags, editing gags, surprise character appearances, satire, even down to music (which includes the film’s tongue-in-cheek anthem “Everything is Awesome”, which is already a thousand times more interesting than most mainstream electronica). There are so many jokes present in this film, and shockingly, there’s not a single one that misses the mark. The film’s cast is no less perfect in this regard, including but not limited to Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, and Liam Neeson. One standout gag involves an astronaut voiced by Charlie Day, and without giving it away, the payoff to this joke’s glorious build up had me in tears from laughing so hard.

If I have to criticize the film in any way, it’s that, on a repeat viewing, a couple of the surprise jokes don’t feel quite as humorous as they once were. They’re still very good jokes, but given that we know what’s coming, their response feels a bit muted. However, that’s a minor complaint to a GREAT film that not only deserves, but demands your attention. It doesn’t hurt that the film, from head to toe, is GORGEOUS! If ever an animated feature justified an Oscar nomination for Best Production Design, this is it.

****1/2 / *****

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