The Lego Batman Movie Review

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Spoilers may follow

When I saw Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, I was glad to see a recent Batman movie that wasn’t afraid to embrace the silliness of a man going out to fight crime in a bat costume or poke a little fun at the darker iterations of the character. Well, The Lego Batman Movie is another such movie, only more so.

The Batman here (Will Arnett) may be a vicious, violent loner, but he also plays rock music when battling his foes, and watches Jerry Maguire in his spare time. He may prefer to work alone, but then he accidentally adopts a young orphan Richard Grayson (Michael Cera) who idolises both Batman and Bruce Wayne, and the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) wants Batman to work closer with the Gotham PD. As much as Batman hates it, teamwork is necessary to defeat the evil plans of the Joker (Zach Galifianakis).

Okay, so the story of a grumpy buzzkill learning the importance of friends isn’t exactly breaking new ground when it comes to animated features (nor even Lego Batman; the Lego Batman 2 game had a similar lesson for Batman to learn). It even comes off a bit like a reverse Despicable Me, given at one point Batman uses his newly-adopted ward to seize a ray gun for him. And let’s face it, given the amount of characters and vehicles that appear in this movie, they might as well have slapped a “Now available at all good toy stores” sticker onto every one of them.

However, none of that matters. It’s a big fat toy ad, but it’s a fun big fat toy ad.

There’s a true love of Batman and his world on display here – pretty much all the live-action Batman movies get Lego recreations in a montage, Joker’s previous plans are said to include two boats and a parade float, and Billy Dee Williams finally gets to play Harvey Dent as Two-Face here (though he sadly doesn’t appear much). The world and characters may be made of Lego, but the film is very visually impressive and has some nice character designs; my favourite design is that of the Joker, with his skull-patterned tie and waistcoat and razor-sharp teeth. Robin could have easily been annoying, but he manages to be funny and likeable, and this film probably has one of the best versions of Alfred and Batgirl in Batman media.

Kids will love the humour and action setpieces, especially the Joker’s big plan, which I won’t spoil here. I’ll just say it perfectly captures what a child thinks when playing with his toys. There’s also a lot of adults to like here too, from the nods to previous Batman adaptations to the enjoyable voice acting. It’s the perfect film for little and big kids alike.

Split Review

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May contain spoilers

Movies which have as its “monster” someone criminally insane is far from a new idea. It was in fact utilised by one of the first horror movies, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and it has been a hallmark of Batman stories for decades. Such a thing has even been a source of controversy, given that studies show mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.

Now we have Split, where James McAvoy plays Kevin, an antagonist with several personalities. Sometimes he calls himself “Hedwig” and has the mentality of a little boy. Sometimes he’s a woman named Patricia. And then there’s the most fierce and dangerous personality of them all, known simply as “The Beast”.  Kevin has kidnapped three girls specifically to sate The Beast’s hunger.

The film is worth seeing for McAvoy alone, and it is rather impressive how he can make each personality distinct and make every one of them seem unnerving. Though he is reminiscent of Red Dragon’s Francis Dolarhyde – he has an alternate personality that’s a monster and has a background involving domestic abuse – he still feels like his own character. At one point, he, in his Hedwig persona, kisses one of the kidnapped girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and then says ‘You might get pregnant’; a quote that’s humorous and sinister at the same time. Casey is the most prominent of the three girls, the final girl if you will, and Taylor-Joy, a newcomer who has nonetheless done good performances in The Witch and Morgan, creates another good performance here.

The movie is also appropriately tense and eerie, making you genuinely worry about the girls and their fate. The opening titles have a sort of Hitchcock feel to them and chases down a rusty corridor which involve hiding in a locker reminded me of the game Outlast. The film knows how to keep you watching through its entire runtime and its ending…well, let’s just say I didn’t see it coming.

Split is not only frightening but fun to watch, especially McAvoy and the characters he plays.

La La Land Review

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Spoilers may follow

Like a popular character for authors to write about is a fellow author, a popular subject for movies to focus on is movies themselves. The Artist took a look at the progression from silent movies to “talkies”, and it can even be argued that Inception is an allegory for making a movie. Likewise, La La Land pays homage to the big Hollywood musicals of yesteryear, reflected by its title cards and sequences like tap numbers and the two actors floating around in an observatory. The juxtaposition between these and more modern elements like cellphones and Youtube create a nostalgic feel that makes La La Land an enjoyable watch.

In Los Angeles, Mia (Emma Stone) works at a coffee shop but aspires to be an actress, though she keeps failing auditions. Then she meets jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), and they bond over their aspirations. Soon, Sebastian runs into an old friend of his, Keith (John Legend), who asks Sebastian to join his band, and soon Sebastian and Mia seem to be drifting apart after Sebastian thinks Mia only liked him when he was beneath her.

The movie opens with a traffic jam which then erupts into a big musical number about the sunshine. It’s a silly moment, but it made me smile, and it sets up what this movie has to offer. Musical and dance numbers, with true joy and energy emanating from them. It uses the techniques and styles of the old musicals, yet the story is still modern. The sequences are staged well, though I did think one at the end went on for a little too long. Still, even that one works well, comparing and contrasting Hollywood fantasies with more realistic happenings.

Stone and Gosling are both fine in their performances and do a good job playing off of each other. They are likeable characters and you do want to see them get together and fulfil their dreams. Sadly, they can’t have both, but Stone and Gosling’s performances are why the story is so successfully bittersweet.

La La Land is an enjoyable, entertaining film, and I can see why so many people have been raving about it.

The Bye Bye Man Review

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The most notable thing about The Bye Bye Man is that it apparently hasn’t seen a horror cliché it doesn’t like. Case in point, the story begins when three students, Elliot (Douglas Smith), his friend John (Lucien Laviscount) and Elliot’s girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas), move into a spooky old house; the classic Goosebumps story opening. There they learn about the titular Bye Bye Man, whose name has an effect not unlike Bloody Mary or Candyman (he even seems to borrow a bit from the Weeping Angels). Saying his name and thinking about him lets him invade your head, causing hallucinations and murderous impulses, and the only way to stop his influence from spreading is to kill those who know about him, including yourself.

Then you look at the Bye Bye Man, see that he wouldn’t look out of place on a CiTV programme, and wonder why the characters in the film are so terrified of him. Some of the clichés The Bye Bye Man utilises are ones with potential; “not knowing what’s real or what’s not” has always been an interesting hook for a story, which is probably why The Matrix was so popular back in the day. This film, however, doesn’t really do anything interesting with what it has.

That does not mean that the film isn’t entertaining though. You’ll be disappointed if you go in looking for chills and thrills, but if you want a dumb horror film to practice your Mystery Science Theatre-esque commentary with, then this will be a good choice when it comes out on DVD. It’s something to watch with friends at a party when you’re all drunk off your asses.

A Monster Calls Review

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Strange that right after reviewing a “boy meets monster” movie, I review another, even if A Monster Calls is, well, a bit more sophisticated than Monster Trucks. If Creech was a monstrous representation of your favourite childhood dog, than Liam Neeson’s monster is a monstrous representation of your least favourite childhood teacher. He may seem frightening and confusing, but that’s only because the world is frightening and confusing, and he wants you to understand it.

The world is certainly confusing and frightening for young Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), whose mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones) is suffering from a terminal illness, who is bullied frequently at school and who fears living with his uptight grandmother (Sigourney Weaver).  One night at 12:07, he gets a visit from a tree-like monster, who says he will tell Conor three stories, each containing a lesson, and then Conor must tell him a fourth.

The first two stories the monster tells are animated, and they are a reason why A Monster Calls is worth seeing on the big screen. The animation there is beautifully dark and fantastic, slightly reminiscent of Mirrormask in a sense, and moments where the Monster turns into the stories’ scenery is very cleverly done. The Monster himself is visually well-realised; though he looks like the evil twin of Treebeard, there is still indications of warmth and wisdom in his appearance.

His interactions with Conor are also well-done, with a true sense of honesty. Neeson was the perfect choice to voice this beast, for though he is destructive, he comes off just as regal and mighty as Aslan. The movie also does a fine job of portraying the confusion and anger Conor is going through, through the performance of MacDougall, Weaver and others. You can tell where the story is going, but at the same time, there were directions the film could have gone in that I was glad they didn’t take.

A Monster Calls is a well-made and touching film, and one worth seeing at the cinema too.

Monster Trucks Review

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All kids like their puppies and kittens (indeed, one of the trailers before the film being reviewed was for a movie about a baby jealous of how cute puppies are), but the pets kids are most interested in are the ones they can’t have. Kids want to keep unicorns, gryphons, aliens and monsters in home, despite (or maybe even because of) the fact they don’t exist. So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to discover that Monster Trucks was inspired by the four-year-old son of former Paramount president Adam Goodman. Thus it is no surprise that the film is a rather childish one.

Teenaged Tripp (Lucas Till) makes an unlikely friend in a squid-like monster pulled up onto the earth by an oil drilling company, who he affectionately names “Creech”. He also hides the creature inside a monster truck, hence the title, and along with his biology partner Meredith (Jane Levy), tries to reunite Creech with his parents and help it find its home.

Monster Trucks breaks no new ground in the “kid finds weird creature who becomes his pet/friend” genre. Kid has problems involving his family, meets monster, protects monster from evil corporate types, has teary goodbye with monster but gets the girl. The plot is as formulaic as they come, and every point could even be easily predicated by members of its target audience.

The leads aren’t that interesting, but if kids come to this movie, it’s to see the monster, who fares better. Creech has a nice little design, blending both cute and creepy, and it blends into the world well. It might remind one of a pet dog – playful and energetic yet with a sense of intelligence – or even a bit of Universal’s Frankenstein, even including a couple of “fire bad” moments. In some scenes, it is downright adorable despite its slimy exterior. It, however, is not worth going out of your way to see the movie for.

Children may find enjoyment in this movie, but are likely to forget it almost as quickly as their parents will. Some moments are cute and fun, but there’s little really interesting.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

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The best fantasy stories take place in a world, or an alternate version of our world, that the reader or viewer will want to visit time and time again, to learn more about. Middle-Earth was populated by a host of memorable characters and had a detailed history, and people read about Wonderland to see which crazy adventure Alice would end up on next. The Harry Potter books and movies take place on Earth, but their secret “wizarding world” has been an interesting one. Reading or watching the Harry Potter series, one gets the sense there are more stories that can be told in this universe, and now we have Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a story set in the same world as Harry Potter, but without Harry Potter.

A British wizard named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) studies and takes care of magical creatures, giving some of them asylum in a magical room he keeps in his suitcase. While on a trip to New York City, Newt gets his suitcase mixed up with that of a No-maj(the American term for “Muggle”), an aspiring baker called Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Newt, along with Jacob, Magical Congress worker Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) have to recapture these magical creatures before they cause havoc, and deal with a threat that may expose the wizarding world.

If a movie is going to have “Fantastic Beasts” in its title, then it better deliver fantastic beasts, and the bestiary that we are introduced to here does boast some nice-looking designs and cute personalities. The magical animals Newt is hunting for do look like they belong in the world of the film, and there’s a good mixture of the familiar fantasy tropes (Newt went to America to return a hippogriff to its natural habitat) and newer creatures (one of the more prominent creatures is a mole/platypus who carries shiny things in its pouch).

People may say that the Harry Potter series gets darker and darker as it goes on, but Fantastic Beasts is a lot of fun to watch, with its aforementioned beasties and its sense of humour. Though it is set in the same world as Harry Potter, it never really feels like a rehash. Redmayne is enjoyable in his role as the main character, and Fogler’s character is amusing and even a little sympathetic.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is very entertaining, and a welcome return to the Wizarding World