Tag Archives: B-

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE

Producer: Dan Lin, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Chris McKay, Maryann Garger and Roy Lee
Director: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan
Writer: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern and John Whittington
Stars: Jackie Chan, Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Olivia Munn, Michael Strahan, Robin Roberts and Kaan Guldur
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

B-

This newest feature spinoff from the Lego universe, a much simplified version of a long-running animated TV series, is essentially a spoof of a “Power Rangers” season, with a father-son estrangement added as a plot element. “The Lego Ninjago Movie” isn’t as consistently amusing as either “The Lego Movie” or “The Lego Batman Movie,” but it has its moments.

The script, credited to no fewer than nine scribes, is bookended by live-action segments, vaguely reminiscent of the opening and closing of “The Forbidden Kingdom,” in which a cute young boy (Kaan Guldur) wanders into a Chinese curio shop run by an elderly fellow (Jackie Chan) who—seeing the kid’s loneliness—takes his well-worn Lego figure and spins a tale of heroism about it for him. Segue to the Lego city of Ninjago, a happy place overall but for the fact that it’s constantly being attacked by the arrogant warlord Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux) from his floating offshore volcano (which he also employs to dispatch generals who displease him—some of whom will show up later at an awkward time).

Ninjago is defended by a group of color-coded teen ninjas in their huge mechs. Their leader is Green (Dave Franco), and his five companions are Red (Michael Pena) Black (Fred Armisen), Gray (Abbi Jacobson), Blue (Kumail Nanjiani) and White (Zach Woods), the last actually an android. Except for Green, each has an elemental power attached to his or her color—fire, earth, water, lightning and ice, respectively, and together they are mentored by elderly Master Wu (Chan), Garmadon’s understandably estranged brother.

The Ninjago public adores the ninjas, but unknown to them, Green is actually Lloyd, the son of Garmadon who is therefore treated as a pariah by everyone but Wu, his five ninja colleagues and his mother (Olivia Munn). Garmadon, meanwhile, has ignored the kid for sixteen years, leading Lloyd to be understandably perturbed too.

When Garmadon attacks again in an impenetrable super-suit, Lloyd breaks the rules by purloining Wu’s “Ultimate Weapon” to use against him. It turns out to be a simple laser-pointer that, unfortunately, invites an even greater threat to the city—a giant (live action) cat called Meowthra, which predictably attacks anything toward which the laser is pointed. Matters get worse when Lloyd loses the device to Garmadon, who takes over the city. The only hope is for Wu and the ninjas to proceed deep into a dangerous forest to seek the “Ultimate Ultimate Weapon,” which turns out, of course, to lie within them. Garmadon eventually joins them, and along the way bonds with Lloyd. But are his evil ambitions truly quelled by the experience?

The essential problem with the movie is that, to be perfectly frank, the heroic figures are generally bland and uninteresting. Chan’s Wu has a few good moments (as when he toots “It’s a Hard-Knock Life,” from “Annie,” to Lloyd on his flute), but Franco’s Lloyd is a colorless fellow, and none of the other ninjas are characterized except in the most sketchy fashion, nor do the actors add much beyond the obvious.

The compensation is Theroux’s villain, a supremely arrogant but singularly inept guy who gets almost all the good lines and bits of business (like his demonstration of the benefits of having four arms). There’s a strong Darth Vader vibe to his outfit, which only accentuates the “Star Wars”-ish father-son plot. Apart from that, though, Garmadon is reminiscent of the obliviously goofy self-confidence that marked Lego’s Batman, which is almost as enjoyable now as it was then. The Meowthra episodes are also fun, though it’s obviously adults rather than kids who will be able to recognize the reference to old Japanese sci-fi movies like “Mothra.”

It also helps that “The Ninjago Movie” boasts colorful computer-generated animation, though the battle sequences (even in 2D format) are visually rather messy (in 3D, they will probably be even more muddled).

In sum, this is a genial but undercooked Lego product, one that tries hard to apply the recipe of the brand from previous films—smart dialogue and witty visuals—to an inferior story, and only sporadically succeeds. But even Pixar nods, so there is hope that the Lego folks can recapture the full magic in future efforts.

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM

Producer: Stephen Woolley, Elizabeth Karlsen and Joanna Laurie
Director: Juan Carlos Medina
Writer: Jane Goldman
Stars: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Daniel Mays, Sam Reid, Maria Valverde, Henry Goodman, Paul Ritter, Morgan Watkins, Peter Sullivan, Eddie Marsan, Graham Hughes, Amelia Crouch and Henry Goodman
Studio: RLJ Entertainment

B-

There should always be room on your viewing calendar for some gruesomely enjoyable period pulp, and “The Limehouse Golem” will fill the bill. It’s a flamboyant piece of Grand Guignol based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd, and like many of his works it mixes together historical figures (Karl Marx, novelist George Gissing and music hall comic Dan Leno are all on hand) with fictional characters, this time in a Victorian-era serial-killer melodrama redolent of the Jack the Ripper spree, but with a touch of Agatha Christie added to the mix.

The convoluted plot mixes together a variety of threads, most tinged in blood-red. One involves a series of brutal murders in the Limehouse district of fog-shrouded London, with messages left behind by the killer who identifies himself with the clay creature of Jewish legend. (One of the victims, moreover, was a Talmudic scholar.) It’s a hot potato of a case, creating such public outcry that it’s passed along to John Kildare (Bill Nighy), a Scotland Yard inspector whose career has been blighted by rumors of homosexuality and so is disposable.

Paired with Constable Flood (Daniel Mays), an ingratiating fellow eager to help him, Kildare narrows down the suspects to a list that includes Marx (Henry Goodman), Gissing (Morgan Watkins) and Leno (Douglas Booth), as well as playwright John Cree (Sam Reid). Unfortunately Cree has just been found dead in his bed, and his wife Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke) is accused of poisoning him and put on trial for murder. Kildare’s questioning of her reveals, through a succession of flashbacks, a background that makes her as much an outsider as he is.

Elizabeth, it seems, was an abused child who found escape in the music hall run by “Uncle” (Eddie Marsan) and featuring as its lead performer Leno, along with Victor, a lascivious little person (Graham Hughes) and acrobatic dancer Aveline (Maria Valverde). Elizabeth was taken on as a general gofer, but eventually took to the stage and became popular as “Little Lizzie.” She also caught the eye of Cree, who at the time was involved with Aveline, and when they became an item—and married—the dancer became envious and vindictive, especially after Elizabeth took her on as a housemaid. She was instrumental in accusing her rival of Cree’s murder, and is happy to testify about the troubled Cree household and Elizabeth’s habit of preparing John’s bedtime libation.

As he listens to her story, Kildare becomes protective of Lizzie, and works to uncover the identity of the killer to help buttress her claim of innocence. He and Flood plow through the evidence; he even tries to envision how Cree, Marx, Gissing or Leno might have committed the crimes (cue a few nightmarish recreations). As the trial draws toward a close, the detective’s search for the truth becomes more and more desperate.

“The Limehouse Golem” is the modern equivalent of a penny dreadful, but those ghoulish nineteenth-century pamphlets get a bad rap; they entertained a great many readers, and if you give this movie a chance, you might find yourself enjoying it despite your better judgment. Jane Goldman’s adaptation is crammed to the brim with incident, including a couple of final twists that are doozies, and director Juan Carlos Medina obviously had a good time plowing his way energetically through the complicated scenario, aided by Grant Montgomery’s florid production design and Claire Anderson’s colorful costumes as well as the imaginative cinematography by Simon Dennis and editing by Justin Krish; the team handily camouflages the fact that the budget was probably a tight one. John Soderqvist’s score adds to the flavorful quality.

The cast is clearly having a good time as well. Nighy is more restrained than usual, but his natural quirkiness keeps peeking through the underplaying, while Cooke, Booth, Reid, Valverde, Goodman, Hughes and Marsan all sink their teeth greedily into the succulently overripe material.

As its title indicates, “The Limehouse Golem” makes no pretense to being high art (as some other novels by Ackroyd do). It contents itself with being the movie equivalent of a carnival sideshow, complete with some really freakish exhibits. And on that very basic level, it works.

The film, incidentally, is dedicated to the late Alan Rickman, who was scheduled to play Kildare before he fell ill. It would have been a juicy swan song for him, but Nighy fills in expertly, and Rickman’s last turn in “Eye in the Sky” will serve as a fitting farewell for a fine actor.