Tag Archives: morgan freeman

Film Review: The Lego Movie

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is just an average construction worker with no standout qualities. However, when he meets the mysterious Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), he learns of a plot by the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) to unleash a terrible weapon upon the Lego world and freeze them in place forever. He may be ordinary but Emmet could be the only one who can stop Lord Business.

There have been numerous straight-to-DVD Lego films, but by some unearthly miracle this is the first time the Danish foot-cripplers have made it to the big screen. And it was well worth the wait.

Anyone who has ever been a child will have come across Lego at some point, and The Lego Movie brilliantly taps into the toy’s nostalgia which ensure it does what every good kids need to do – appeal to adults as well.

Kids will go nuts for the bright colours and whizz-bangery of the action, whilst adults will beam from ear to ear as they reminisce about building castles, mazes, pirate ships or whatever else popped into their heads. Most of the types of Lego are present and correct, from the Wild West to Medieval sets, and will cause memories to come gleefully flooding back.

There are also plenty of pop culture references and nods to other, more adult-oriented films. For instance, much of the film’s story and characters owe a debt to, believe it or not, The Matrix.

A big barrel of the film’s fun comes from the sheer number of different characters that turn up in the film, even just for the odd line. There have been several Lego video games based on films, and there are characters present from most of them, including Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Batman, the latter of which is particularly brilliant. Voiced by Will Arnett, Batman plays a surprisingly big role and his riffing on the character and its lore is bound to raise a few smirks with Bat fans.

As you’d expect with a film like this, the attention to detail is just staggering. Literally everything is made out of Lego – water, smoke, explosions, the lot; it’s all made from different Lego bricks (not Legos; never, ever Legos) and studs, and it only goes to enhance the film’s appeal. It’s part stop-motion and part CGI and simply a joy to look at throughout.

In terms of story, there’s not a massive amount here that hasn’t been done before. You’ll recognise story elements from numerous action and adventure films (and The Matrix, as mentioned earlier) but that actually adds to some of its charm, and the way it’s presented really sets it apart.

There’s an interesting final act that melds the Lego and the real world that is ridiculously clever, even if it does end up turning into into somewhat of an advert for Lego. It also gets a little schmaltzy and saccharine at times, hammering home the ‘you can do anything with your imagination’ mantra, although it never becomes too problematic.

There’s really not much to dislike about The Lego Movie. It’s got a sharp script, charming visuals and will have children and adults alike grinning like fools long after they leave the cinema.

Everything is indeed awesome.

Pros

  • Amazing visuals and attention to detail
  • Laugh-out-loud funny
  • Tonnes of fun characters and references

Cons

  • A little too schmaltzy
  • Threatens to become an advert for Lego

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Now You See Me

A group of four magicians known as The Four Horsemen (Isla Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco) are enlisted by a mysterious fifth party to undertake a serious of impressive, and illegal, illusions that begin attracting the attention of the authorities, and in particular FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo).

Now You See Me starts off on the right foot. We’re treated to a bit of close-up magic that actually involves the audience, immediately inviting us to buy into what’s on screen. Even up until about half way in, we’re still in a world of mystery and illusion. However, it all suddenly starts to fall away. Gone are any trace of nuance or intricacy and in comes a paint-by-numbers action film complete with car chases, fight scenes and a ridiculously unnecessary romance.

Most of the cast do reasonably well with what they’re given, but none are particularly stand out. Woody Harrelson probably provides the most personality of the four leads, with Dave Franco and Isla Fisher being really rather nondescript. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are also fleetingly entertaining but never do more than hover around the periphery.

Jesse Eisenberg’s character comments at one point that with magic “the more you look, the less you see”, and the same could be said of Now You See Me. Look too closely and the whole thing starts to unravel – some rather sizeable plot holes and laughable exposition prevents you from ever fully engaging with the film. However, there is some fun to be had. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige this most definitely isn’t, but take it at face value and the various twists, turns and red herrings should provide just enough to provide some popcorn entertainment.

3 pigeons3/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Oblivion

oblivion

The year is 2077 and Earth has been attacked by aliens known as Scavs who have blown up the Moon. In retaliation, world leaders decided to release nuclear weapons, defeating the Scavs but effectively destroying much of the planet. Humans have since left for a giant space station known as the Tet and the Saturn moon of Titan, although Technicians remain to oversee mining of the Earth’s remaining resources. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one such Technician, living with his communications officer and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). However, when Jack is captured by the Scavs, everything he thought he knew is turned upside down.

The scale of Oblivion is vast, and despite an apocalyptic setting, much of the film doesn’t feel beyond the realms of possibility. The scenes based on Earth, which is most of the film, feel real enough to buy into the story, creating a setting that feels alien but at the same time familiar. This is helped by the film’s unbelievable visual effects. There are few individual instances that stand out but the whole minimalist aesthetic is just impeccably realised.

Oblivion is most certainly not short of ambition, but ambition isn’t enough; it needs to be backed up with substance, which is perhaps it’s biggest failing. A handful of scenes have no importance whatsoever (see scene in the swimming pool for an example) and the motivations of the characters are seemingly non-existent. The film’s set pieces, big reveals and final climax feel just a little hollow and don’t hit home as perhaps they should.

The characters and their relationships are also paper-thin, particularly Olga Kurylenko’s Julia, a survivor from a crashed spaceship somehow linked to Jack’s past. Andrea Riseborough does an admirable job with what she’s given, whilst Cruise, well, he just plays Tom Cruise. Morgan Freeman’s role here is also entertaining enough but his very limited screen time gives little room to work in. It could be argued that there’s a narrative reason these characters and relationships don’t feel fully developed, but it only really succeeds at keeping you at arm’s length rather than pulling you in.

Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) has stated that Oblivion pays homage to the science fiction films of the 1970s, but it’s evident that inspiration has come from films spanning more than just the one decade. You don’t have to look too closely to see nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Planet of the Apes, Alien, Star Wars, and various others. Some are so blatantly referenced that it’s difficult to know where to draw the line between homage and a simple dearth of originality. However, that’s not to say Oblivion doesn’t have at least some identity of its own. Its setting feels unique enough to work well, even if some of the aspects within it do not.

Oblivion feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity; there was the potential here to create something dark and mysterious rather than something that feels slightly ‘Disneyfied’. However, it’s a little unfair to judge it on what it could have been rather than what it is, which is a solid sci-fi film that doesn’t have anything that truly spoils it, but equally nothing that truly makes it stand out. It could easily have been a great, memorable sci-fi adventure. Conversely, it could just as easily have been just a generic vehicle for Cruise. As it stands, Oblivion sits somewhere in between.

3 pigeons

3/5 pigeons

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What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen… Unforgiven?

Unforgiven In the latest ‘What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen…?’ post, where I finally get round to watching films people are incredulous I haven’t already seen, I am going to be taking a look at the 1993 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Unforgiven. Spoilers, naturally.

Plot: In the little town of Big Whiskey, the local prostitutes are just trying to earn a living doing what they do. However, one of the girls rubs a customer up the wrong way (not like that) and ends up getting herself cut up and left with severe facial disfigurements. When lawman Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) fails to take the appropriate action over the offence, the other prostitutes decide to take matters into their own hands and offer a bounty on the offenders’ heads. This attracts the attention of cowboy  The Schofield Kid who approaches retired badass William Munny (Clint Eastwood) to help him with the hit. Munny begrudgingly accepts and enlists his former partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to help.

Unforgiven was the first western Clint Eastwood had made in seven years, since 1985’s Pale Rider, and would mark the last one he would make (to this point). Immediately this draws parallels with Unforgiven’s plot. Eastwood hadn’t retired from making westerns but had left the film until he felt he was old enough to play the character of William Munny. In the same way Munny shows that he still has what it takes, Eastwood also proves that he can still gunsling with the best of them. Is this a bit of self-glorification on Eastwood’s part? Possibly, but it really doesn’t matter. There is also a more gentle side of Munny, as suggested at in the film’s brief prologue text, which allows this to be a more rounded performance from Eastwood and one that would earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Whilst Eastwood is the cold hard killer with a softer side, Morgan Freeman’s Ned Logan shows absolutely no sign of ever being capable of taking someone out and is a rather odd character. He’s the other side of Munny, the one who can’t go through with the bounty and has fully changed his ways, but Freeman just doesn’t give the impression he could ever have been a killer and is not wholly believable. What is also little unsettling is the scene in which Logan is whipped by Little Bill. The symbolism of this scene is fairly obvious (whether intended or not) and coupled with the almost KKK-style display of the body illuminated by torches, it seems a little jarring.

Moral compass

Logan & MunnyA major theme running right through the heart of Unforgiven is that of morality. We are constantly being challenged to question the morality of pretty much all the characters. Who is wrong and who is right? Are any of them wrong or right or are the lines blurred? The prostitutes feel rightly aggrieved at the lack of justice but is it right for them to offer up a bounty on the offenders’ heads, especially when the victim seems happy enough to accept their apologies. Similarly, is Munny justified in taking on the hit? He wants to right a wrong (as well as earn some money) but killing someone who technically has already been sentenced, could well be seen as a morally wrong act. Logan decides not to go through with the job but was technically conspiring to murder and supplied a murder weapon. He seems to be doing the right thing but still has plenty of blood on his hands.

Little Bill is a prime example of the moral ambiguity present in the film. He stands for law and order and is trying to protect his town from violence. He’s building himself a nice little house. He seems like the epitome of all that is good. Yet for some reason he’s just as hateable as likable. He doesn’t dish out adequate punishment for the man who cut up the girl, yet kills Logan. For someone who apparently stands against violence, he’s quick to dish it out. He’s just a flawed individual, just like everybody else in the film. Maybe there is no wrong or right and the moral compass is one that never settles no matter which way it’s pointed.

Don’t believe everything you hear

As well as morality, Unforgiven also brings up the themes of lying and the way reputations can be built on little more than hearsay. Munny is apparently a hardened killer of women and children yet we know that he was married, has children and seemed to have changed his ways. Did he really kill women and children or are those merely tales spun that have been accepted as fact. Furthermore, the girl who is attacked apparently, according to The Schofield Kid, had her eyes but out and her breasts cut off. We know this not to be true yet that’s the story that has been told. An entire character, English Bob (Richard Harris), is based around the idea that the truth has been contorted and manipulated for one’s own ends, and The Schofield Kid is another who has lied to make people believe a certain version of events. Pretty much everyone in the film twists the truth at some juncture to serve their own purposes.

Unforgiven

So who are the ‘unforgiven’? Well, again, it’s pretty much everyone. Despite doing the right thing, Logan is unforgiven for his past crimes, as is Munny (although he pretty much gets away with his aside from losing his friend). The girl’s attackers are unforgiven despite offering to give her their best horse as recompense. Little Bill is unforgiven for not properly sentencing the attackers, whilst The Schofield Kid will never forgive himself for his crime. Every single character in the film has a rich story to tell which makes it one of the deepest westerns you could hope to see.

The cinematography is beautiful throughout, particularly the plains and landscapes. The snow-covered scenery is perhaps the most eye-catching (even if it does make the timeline of events rather confusing, suggesting more time has passed than it really has) and is especially remarkable considering it was not at all scripted and was a merely a freak snowstorm.

If this really is Eastwood’s last ever western, then what a high note to go out on. It might be a little bit of fan service and an ego trip for him but there’s also a lot to it than that. Cowboys have always been about bringing justice to the Wild West but Unforgiven, in a similar way to John Ford’s The Searchers, makes it difficult to always distinguish between right and wrong.

Chris

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Film review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

With great power comes great responsibility.

Yes, yes, that’s a whole different suit o’ spandex, but it could so easily apply to the pressures surrounding Christopher Nolan approaching The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan rebooted a Batman franchise that was in dire need of an overhaul and did so to an effect that no-one could have expected. Batman Begins brought us Batman’s origin story and perfectly mixed action and sentiment, whilst The Dark Knight introduced Heath Ledger’s Joker, creating one of the most memorable comic book film villains ever. Many have hailed TDK has the greatest superhero film of all time, so just how do you follow that?

It wasn’t too long before we were introduced to Bane, the beefcake who was to take over villainous duties from The Joker, duking it out with Bats amongst literally hundreds of extras, showing that Nolan clearly wanted to show people that he was thinking big. We also got told that a certain Miss Selina Kyle would make an appearance and then the trailers arrived featuring some huge explosive set pieces. It seemed as if Nolan was right on track to concluding the series in spectacular fashion.

We pick the story up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight with Gotham in a time of peace following the work done by the late Harvey Dent and Batman seemingly gone forever. Bruce Wayne is doing a Howard Hughes and has become a recluse in Wayne Manor. However, following the emergence of the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), who is plotting something terrible for Gotham, Wayne decides to suit up once more to put a stop to his evil plotting.

BaneAll the major players are back for more; Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), etc, but we also get the introduction of a few new faces. Of course there is Anna Hathaway’s Selina Kyle (not Catwoman, technically), but we also get Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, a young cop in the mould of Jim Gordon, and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, a businesswoman desperate to get a nuclear energy programme up and running with Mr Wayne. These new characters add plenty more depth to the story, having various different influences on the final outcome. Of all the new additions, it’s Selina Kyle that is the most significant. Many believe Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman to be pretty definitive but Hathaway is superb as the feline femme fatale, managing to successfully capture the good gal/bad gal dynamic that is so essential to the character.

Then we come to Bane. The previous villains in the trilogy were all very much human characters in the comics, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for Nolan to drag them into his real world imagining. However, Bane is a little different. Although still human, he is traditionally of superhuman size with stupendously large muscles. Enter Tom Hardy. Hardy’s physique has become rather renowned after turns in Bronson and Warrior, so it’s no surprise to see him chosen to join the Inception reunion. Much had been made about Bane’s voice in TDKR but the problem was negligible; the evident post-production dubbing has ironed out much of the issue, with only a couple of instances that may leave you trying to work out what was said.

Bane is a fine addition to this Batman’s Rogues Gallery, along with Ra’s Al Ghul, Scarecrow and Joker, and most certainly makes up for the abominable portrayal of the character in Batman & Robin. However, much of his actions build up to something that doesn’t really take a near 3 hour film to tell, and there is a feeling with the main plot of a little style over substance. It looks fantastic throughout and the set pieces are certainly impressive, but they feel a little shallow at times and we rarely feel the true peril that Gotham is supposedly in; Bane’s motives remain unclear for much of the film, which does leave a certain sense story being sacrificed for plot. The film, and particularly its climax, also descends into cliché at times which detracts a little from a franchise that has laid a foundation of doing things differently.

The action is nicely punctuated with more touching moments to give a change of pace and give the film a more of a Batman Begins feel; Bruce and Alfred’s emotional showdown is a highlight of the trilogy, and even Bane isn’t completely immune to a tug on the heartstrings. Alfred is the trilogy’s emotional core and once again he provides the perfect grounding for Bruce’s daredevil lifestyle. Over the three films, his story is arguably the most poignant of all. There are some plot threads however that feel underdeveloped that do nothing but add unnecessary confusion to an already packed plot.

It was always going to be difficult for Nolan to top TDK but he has done tremendously well to create a film that offers action in swathes but also a level of sensitivity that was missing from the previous film. TDKR is more character focused, harking back to Begins, which offsets the action set pieces perfectly. It might lack the originality of Begins and the depth of TDK, but TDKR is a fitting sign-off to a trilogy that has reinvented comic book adaptations and has shown that Christopher Nolan can handle both the power and responsibility bestowed upon him.

Words: Chris Thomson

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