Tag Archives: B

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

Producer: Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Director: Chris McKay
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington
Stars: Will Arnett, Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Jenny Slate, Channing Tatum, Billy Dee Williams, Mariah Carey, Hector Elizondo, Eddie Izzard, Conan O'Brien, Doug Benson, Zoe Kravitz, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Jonah Hill and Adam Devine
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

B

After his scene-stealing supporting turn in 2014’s surprise smash “The Lego Movie,” it was a virtual certainty that the caped crusader would be chosen for a star turn in what is sure to become an inevitable flood of features based on the little interlocking plastic blocks. The job of fashioning a vehicle for him fell to no fewer than five writers and director Chris McKay, who had been animation director and editor on the 2014 picture and assumes the top job this time around.

For the most part, they—along with the talented voice cast headed by Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes and Rosario Dawson, and a large technical crew—have pulled it off nicely. The plot has the supremely arrogant Bruce Wayne/Batman (the gravelly-voiced Arnett) having to come to terms with the lone wolf life he’s embraced as a result—it becomes clear—of losing his parents as a child. To that end he’ll have to learn to become part of a team—butler Alfred (Fiennes), new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Dawson) and Dick Grayson (Cera), the orphan he accidentally adopts—that he finally accepts as his new family. He’ll also need to acknowledge his “special relationship” with his arch-nemesis, the Joker (Galifianakis).

If the moral that it takes a village to save Gotham sounds a mite heavy, rest assured it’s treated not as some deep psychological analysis but as freewheeling, action-filled farce. Part of that comes from Grayson’s uneasy adoption of the role of Robin under the prodding of Batman by Alfred, and the butler’s joining the superhero squad as well (along with Gordon). Even more follows from the Joker’s entrance into the Phantom Zone to extract a bevy of the infamous villains there—among them King Kong, Godzilla, Sauron, the Wicked Witch of the West and Dr. Who’s Daleks)—to destroy Gotham. In the face of such an onslaught, Batman will finally—though reluctantly–learn that he can’t do it all on his own.

Of course, there’s a larger stable of DC heroes on tap, but they assume cameo status here. One sequence involves a visit to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, for example, but it only serves to italicize surly Batman’s isolation from his Justice League compatriots. And Joker’s enlistment of otherworldly villains into his army will have a divisive impact on his old terrestrial cohorts, some of whom are admittedly not top-tier (Condiment King, with his catsup and mustard weapons, anyone?).

To concentrate exclusively on the major narrative threads of “The Lego Batman Movie,” however, fails to note one of the movie’s major strengths: its non-stop, machine-gun style delivery of visual gags and pop-cultural quips that might not be understood by the small fry at whom any Lego movie is by its nature directed, but will certainly delight the adults who brought them to the theatre. The central message about narcissism may be taken at different levels by the varying age segments of the audience—tykes will read it simply as a lesson about loneliness, while their elders might understand it as contemporary political commentary—but ultimately it just comes down to the idea that’s ubiquitous in children’s films today: the need for family. In this case, the notion is just presented more cleverly than the norm.

The voice work is exemplary across the board, with Arnett’s misanthropic growl taking pride of place but Cera’s gee-whiz Robin and Fiennes’ po-faced Alfred not far behind. Galifianakis’ whiny Joker and Dawson’s no-nonsense Gordon complement them nicely, and they’re joined by a seemingly endless stream of guest stars, including Channing Tatum as Superman, Billy Dee Williams as Two Face and Conan O’Brien as Riddler. As good as their vocal contributions are, however, they’d count for little if not for the visual pyrotechnics of the wizards at Warners Animation and Animal Logic, who create eye-popping widescreen vistas of movement and color that editors David Burrows, Matt Villa and John Venzon keep moving at a frantic clip. The movie does go on a bit long, though, which proves that one can have too much even of a very good thing.

After the sad disappointment of “The Master,” the first Lego short that was shown along with “Storks” (which probably explains why you didn’t see it), “The Lego Batman Movie” demonstrates that the conceit has potential, if imaginatively handled. Fast, funny, and visually spectacular, it’s every bit as good as the original “Lego Movie.” Whether future installments will manage the trick is another question.

A footnote for the historical record: one of the executive producers is Steven Mnuchin, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury. If he’s confirmed, that will probably ensure a sequel, though presumably he’ll have to divest himself of any profit participation.

SING

Producer: Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy
Director: Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet
Writer: Garth Jennings
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Nick Kroll, Beck Bennett, Jay Pharaoh, Nick Offerman, Leslie Jones, Rhea Perlman, Laraine Newman, Adam Buxton, Brad Morris and Bill Farmer
Studio: Universal Pictures

B

The old “let’s put on a show” plot gets the animated treatment in “Sing,” Garth Jennings’ amiable, fast-moving jukebox musical with a playlist adults will enjoy and enough cheerily colorful critter shenanigans to keep the kids happy.

Matthew McConaughey voices Buster Moon, a high-energy koala who’s had the theatre in his blood ever since he was a tyke. He invests his inheritance in a music hall where he serves as an enthusiastic MC, but all his productions have been bombs, and as his long-time secretary, sweetly doddering iguana Mrs. Crawly (Jennings himself), impresses upon him, his creditors—especially banker Judith (Rhea Perlman), a llama—are about to pounce. His big idea to save the place is to stage an amateur singing contest with a thousand dollars—his last cash—going to the winner. Unfortunately, in printing up the advertisements Crawly announces the prize at a hundred times that. No wonder the applicants stretch around the block and beyond.

The plot runs along two tracks. One involves Buster trying to keep one step ahead of his creditors and trying desperately to raise money—an effort that leads him to a legendary star, imperious Nana Noodleman (voiced by Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Saunders), who just happens to be the grandmother of his layabout sheep buddy Eddie (John C. Reilly).

That material is amusing enough, since McConaughey brings spark to his would-be impresario and Reilly is, as usual, delightfully laid-back. (The two have an irresistible moment when they partner up at a particularly low point in a car-washing business.) But the real center of the movie rests with the group of contestants chosen by Buster from the multitude of applicants after a chain of goofy auditions (a cheekily droll montage)—each with as much of an obstacle to overcome as Moon. One is mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane), an arrogant Frank Sinatra-type crooner being pursued by a bunch of gamblers out for revenge. Another is Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a porcupine whose punk boyfriend (Beck Bennett) dumps her when she takes a more popular bent and writes her own material. Then there’s Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a homebody pig with a workaholic husband (Nick Offerman) and twenty-five high-spirited kids whom Buster teams up with hog Gunther (Nick Kroll), a garrulous, ostentatious dancer, and Johnny (Taron Egerton), a Cockney gorilla with a smooth voice but a mobster father, Big Daddy (Peter Serafinowicz), who wants his son to be in his gang. Finally there’s Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with a great voice but a seemingly insurmountable case of stage fright, who becomes a stagehand instead.

Despite the difficulties, Buster manages to mount his show, but in the effort to make it spectacular he sets the stage for a disaster that threatens everything, even his theater. Of course though he seems to be down and out, his dream will rise from the ashes in a toe-tapping finale in which each of his would-be stars will have his or her moment to shine.

“Sing” isn’t the most imaginative animated film released this year—it doesn’t even have the level of wit found in Illumination Entertainment’s “The Secret Life of Pets”—but its very familiarity is rather comforting, and it should have appeal across the age spectrum (although, given the abundance of established pop tunes on the soundtrack—though many admittedly appear only in brief snatches—it might actually work better for adults than kids). Certainly most older viewers will be impressed, if not necessarily surprised, at how well folks like Witherspoon, Johansson and Egerton handle the vocal requirements. (Hudson, Kelly and MacFarlane are, of course, better-known quantities in that respect.) Jennings’ British background, incidentally, definitely shows up in the characterization of Big Daddy’s gang, which—accents at all—suggests a spoof of English gangster movies associated with people like Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham.

All told, “Sing” may not hit the highest note among recent animated movies, but it’s an agreeably modern twist on an old formula.