When “The LEGO Movie” was first announced, it was met with a fair amount of skepticism that it was going to be a cynical promotional tool to sell toys. And it may have been that in a way, but it was also smart, funny, and far better than it had the right to be. “The LEGO Batman Movie,” meanwhile, is absolutely a tool designed to promote the LEGO Dimensions platform system, working no less than seven of their licensed intellectual properties into the story. Fortunately, it manages to be a highly entertaining film despite the shameless sales pitch. The absence of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller in the writing and directing chairs is noticeable (they are executive producers only this time around), but this is a very fun, if a bit more predictable, ride.
Amy was so taken by the movie “Trolls” that she asked me if I would run her review of the film if she wrote one. I said sure, half thinking that she would start a review, but then never get around to finishing it (and as you can see, it took her a month to finish it. I figure the lesson about meeting your deadlines can wait until she’s 8.) So here it is, my 7-year-old daughter’s first movie review (with spelling and grammar cleaned up by dear old Dad), which she penned a full 18 years before I wrote my first one. The girl is driven.
J.K. Rowling dreamed up the entire Harry Potterverse, and there isn’t a person on the planet who understands these characters better than she does. She has probably written a back story for Mrs. Norris the cat. However, when it comes to the much-anticipated “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” she is making her screenwriting debut, and it is clear that she still has much to learn about writing a script versus writing a novel. What made the film adaptations of her Potter books so successful was that she packed her stories to the gills with details, and allowed an experienced screenwriter (usually Steve Kloves, who is an executive producer here) to pare them down, making them leaner and better. Rowling does not appear to have written a novel of “Fantastic Beasts” that she could then dissect like Kloves did her books. In retrospect, that feels like a mistake.
“The Bad News Bears” is at its best when, like all good major league pitchers, it isn’t afraid to get a little mean. Clemens, Pedro, Unit, Schilling, they’ve all got that ‘don’t mess with me’ vibe that makes them dangerous, even when they’re getting shelled. Likewise, when the movie lets its characters loose and unleashes their inner demons, it’s a lot of fun. The problem is that those moments are more fleeting than they should be.
I don’t know Kate Angelo, the writer of “The Back-Up Plan,” but after seeing the movie, it would appear that she’s never been pregnant, and doesn’t know anyone who has ever been pregnant. There isn’t a single note in this movie that rings true, resorting to cartoonish portrayals of the pregnant woman stereotype (they throw up, they get cravings, their hormones are out of whack) for cheap laughs. When they get really desperate, they cut to a shot of Jennifer Lopez’s dog.
A movie about Troll Dolls is almost comically cynical. Take a product line that has lost its luster, repackage it to the next generation, laugh all the way to the bank. It’s the textbook definition of a cold, calculated, brand-driven cash grab. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that is exactly what people said about “The LEGO Movie” before it came out. Then that movie turned out to be awesome, and the nation ate a fair amount of crow.
It’s been seven years since the world last saw a film based on author Dan Brown’s renowned symbologist Robert Langdon. The last installment, “Angels & Demons,” had a worldwide box office gross nearly $300 million less than its predecessor, “The Da Vinci Code.” That sounds bad, but to be fair, “Angels” still took in nearly half a billion dollars, so even if the idea of a Langdon film in 2016 seems unthinkable for a number of reasons (time, diminishing returns), money clearly did most of the talking when it came to green lighting the latest film, “Inferno.” And for a while, the movie distances itself from the first two films thanks to a breakneck opening pace, only to turn into the Dan Browniest Dan Brown adaptation to date halfway through, and grind to a screeching halt.
Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl on the Train” instantly drew comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” thanks to the use of multiple viewpoints, but let’s make something clear: as enjoyable as “Train” was to read, it doesn’t come close to plumbing the emotional depths that Flynn wrote into the truly psychotic Amy Dunne. At the same time, this works in the favor of the film version of “Girl on the Train.” Erin Cressida Wilson’s script puts a higher percentage of the source material into the film (the one thing book fanatics complain about the most), and the story’s main obstacle (recovering a lost memory) is a tried and true film device. Ask anyone who saw “Jason Bourne” earlier this year.
“Storks” is filled with sweet and funny moments, but it has two teensy weensy (read: massive) problems: a lot of the funny bits are stolen, and there is no story. Like, at all. It’s actually kind of impressive how far out of his way screenwriter Nicholas Stoller went to not come up with a coherent story, and then you remember that he’s written some funny movies that had a story (the two most recent Muppets films, for starters), and that’s when the feeling of being cheated sets in.
In the summer of 2011, I had a brief gig with a gigantic movie database, tagging films with certain key words. Under the ‘Plot’ category was my favorite tag: “Hide the Body!” It brings to mind movies like “Very Bad Things,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and “Shallow Grave,” films where someone dies under gruesome or mysterious circumstances, and the remaining characters keep the death a secret because it benefits them somehow. “The Light Between Oceans,” a period piece set off the western coast of Australia, is a Hide the Body movie. Gotta say, didn’t see that coming.
This aspect of the plot wreaks havoc on the rest of the story, too. Try as they might to make a tasteful art film about love and betrayal – and for a few stretches, they succeed – the thriller angle of the story disrupts the tone once it comes to the forefront. There is clearly a lot going on between the ears of the main characters – grief has many layers – but very little of it is translated on screen for the viewer.