Tag Archives: Morgan Freeman

Cinema-Maniac: The LEGO Movie (2014) Review

This film is very difficult for me to write about. Disregard the rating for a moment and try to imagine having my same thoughts on the current state of American animation. It lacks diversity in what is visually possible mostly saturated with bright colors, filled cultural references, and limited scope that rarely goes into any mature territory. There are a couple exception to the rule like “Monster Univeristy” that say it’s okay to fail and “Up” on moving forward from the death of your significant other, but those deviation to broaden up the industry scope are far and very few in between. Now comes along “Frozen”, a film that reinforces imagination is no longer a thing and the same tire tricks are acceptable. You strongly feel the success of that film will have a negative impact as American animation studios will be less willing to take risks with complex material. What does of any this has to do with “The Lego Movie”? Well “The Lego Movie” pretty much defeated a saying that stuck with me during a writing class I had in college. Basically the saying goes like this. “Let go of yourself. Free your mindset. It’s okay to remove to copy and paste. I’ll do it my way, you do it your way. Don’t follow what’s left. Follow the right way”. Even though “The LEGO Movie” uses an established framework of colorful visuals, pop culture references, and limited scope it is the same film that is hilarious, intelligent, and a highly inventive deconstruction on cliches.

The LEGO Movie is about an ordinary Lego construction worker, thought to be the prophesied ‘Special’, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil tyrant from gluing the Lego universe into eternal stasis. Following a set of instructions “The LEGO Movie” has a framework that is not by the stretch of anyone’s imagination new. Starting with a prophecy-filled opening, an ordinary everyday person being the chosen one who rises to the occasion, the generic doomsday villain who wants to destroy the world, the action girlfriend with a jerky romantic false lead, the old mentor archetype who’s the only one with any faith in the hero, and the cliche list goes on. Yet they are meant to be overly familiar in order to lampoon every single one its tropes and cliches for it base of humor. Every familiar plot point feels fresh thanks to its self aware referential humor. Doing wonders for tired jokes (such as the “can’t get any worse”, situation immediately gets worse) that would have otherwise left viewers silent, but works due to timing and the setups for it to tell jokes. The characters are the pretty much the essential basic team assembly line; the leader (Emmet), the chick (Wyldstyle), the lancer (Batman), the big guy (Metal Beard), plucky comedy relief (Beeny), and you could figured out the remaining four on your own cinephiles. As basic as these characters sound on paper the exploration to its central theme goes a step above than what was expected. It acknowledges how painfully difficult it is to actually try to be normal, and the amount of work it takes to follow perceived societal instructions that limit one’s personality.

The animation is impressive combining a blend between CGI, claymation, and Lego. The figures all look sleek and polished, yet the movement still has the feel of actual Lego bricks. It’s a decision that feels both retro and refreshingly new. Such as the way that fire and explosions are created using tiny red, black and grey Lego bricks. Characters not connected to the floor are suspended using strings. Character motion is restricted, with facial expressions varying wildly. In short, the movie looks almost as if it were hand-animated by Lego enthusiasts themselves. This gives the film an agreeably home-made look that adds real warmth. Chris Pratt leads the pack as Emmett, delivering an energetic, and enthusiastic performance portraying the poor naivety of the Lego piece. Elizabeth Banks makes for a delightful Wyldstyle, brings charisma and good timing when playing off her costars. Morgan Freeman, almost spoofing his numerous wise mentor roles, is enjoyable as Vitruvius, and Will Ferrell makes for a delightfully over-the-top villain. Liam Neeson plays Good Cop Bad Cop, a police officer with a case of multiple personalities allowing him to play both sides of the traditional Good Cop Bad Cop routine from a unique angle. Neeson did a great job creating two unique voices that effectively embody the stereotype in an amusing way. Not to forget the delightful cameos made by Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Cobie Smulders, Dave Franco, Shaquille O’Neal, and Billy Dee Williams.

The LEGO Movie is awesome. Anyone who ever seen movies can easily spot every plot device ever used, but by presenting them with self referential humor anything old feels fresh and fun again. Taking a quote by Walt Disney, “You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyways”. Those words best apply to this film with a desire to become something great not just a product for a specific group. For that reason The LEGO Movie is made with the audience in mind with varied humor to keep audience laughing and contains a story that’s engaging tackling freedom versus control. I dare say it’s the best thing to happen to animation since the original Toy Story.


Thoughts on the final act:

I’m pretty sure none of my readers want to know my thoughts on the final act Izanagi. They know I’ve seen a lot of movies and spotting narrative devices is kinda my thing. Yes reiterating is also my thing I guess, but that’s beside the point. So when I got to the final act everything came full circle. That final act cemented it designated theme of freedom versus control like it should have. It deliver everything you exactly expected for two acts in terms of jokes, characters, and story elements. Then in the final act creativity shines through that took a bold risk in its usage archetypes, proving old jokes can still be funny, and having more meaning behind it story. If it had not taken the direction it did in the final act it would gone against its own principles both in themes and in the way the characters live. No Izanagi for the last time I gave you chart on why it didn’t work for that other film. Izanagi if you bring that movie up one more time I’ll call Raidou Kuzunoha to you put in your place. There’s other creations I can bring up to use as a gimmick whenever I’m talking to myself. Okay that’s good hear. Because without you Izanagi my delivery paragraphs like these would be straightforward which to be honest a semi creative deviation is good every now and then.

Cinema-Maniac: Unforgiven (1992) Review

Whenever the word “Western” pops up the first person that comes to my mind is Clint Eastwood. As an actor he’s center stage in several of my favorite Westerns and as a director understands the genre like no other director. Ever since his first directed western, Eastwood showed an interest in the duality of the hero, taking a special interest in the archetype of hero portrayed in the classic 1953 Western, “Shane”. Eastwood has explored this theme in many ways in the past: first as a true antihero (“High Plains Drifter”), then as a man becoming legend (“The Outlaw Josey Wales”) and later as a true mythic hero (“Pale Rider”); all this culminates in “Unforgiven” as the ultimate demythologization of the concept, and his final ode to the Western genre.

Unforgiven follows retired old west gunslinger William Munny reluctantly taking on one last job, with the help of his old partner and a young man. It’s a film about the manipulating influence of legends as much it is a dissection on the western genre position on violence. Built on a hollow facade of the western genre it removal of any heroes and villains slowly envelops the film. Broadening the depiction of the wild west eliminating the charming hero, the righteous sheriff, the violent outlaws, elaborate shootouts, climatic stands off, and the helpless everyday person caught in the middle in life in the old west. Becoming more thoughtful in showing every step of a character motivation by an outside force to an internal decision. Internalizing the classic Western theme in which violent men are “civilized” by schoolmarms, preachers and judges. It is in the use of violence as the main theme of the story that such varied views are made possible. Munny is escaping from his past’s violence while the Kid is eagerly awaiting the next chance to prove his masculinity by the use of violence. The duality between man and myth is explored not only via the relationship between the Kid and Munny, but also in the shape of a character who writes novels about the wild west, and sees the figure of the gunslinger as an idolized modern hero. Reality constantly collides with legend with many characters and their relationships exhaustively explored, resulting in a character driven revisionism of the western.

Clint Eastwood as a director reflects a passing era in its genre even in its visual style. The set design and cinematography provide viewers with visual cues they will be conversant with a genre whose conventions are deeply rooted in American cinema. The dusty, barren streets and ramshackle buildings are necessary to impart a sense of familiarity that the storyline takes pains to deconstruct. Our first views of Big Whiskey establish a set of expectations, reinforced by the way the town has been erected and the way the early scenes are shot, that are necessary for “Unforgiven” approach to have its full impact. Many of the film’s exteriors are widescreen compositions showing the vastness of the land. The daytime interiors, on the other hand, are always strongly backlit, the bright sun pouring in through windows so that the figures inside are dark and sometimes hard to see. Living indoors in a civilized style has made these people distinct.

As William Munny, Clint Eastwood is simply perfect in what at first sight looks like an extension of his earlier “Man with no name” persona. William Munny has a name, and a past he wants to escape from, and Eastwood captures the image of guilt and regret to the letter. But his voice lacks conviction, and we sense unfinished business in the air displaying the uncertainty of Eastwood to stick by his guns. Eastwood personifies the weariness of a man of violence who’s trying to fight against his nature. A lot of the conflict is internal, but we catch enough glimpses of it to know it’s going on. We also see the point at which the surrender of the new man to the old one occurs. In other words Eastwood has visually and through his portrayal created one of the most sophisticated westerns. Morgan Freeman plays the wise old friend role which he perfected. Gene Hackman does an excellent job bringing out the good and the bad in Little Bill, refusing to allow the character to become a one-dimensional antagonist. His standout scene is the one in which he instructs Beauchamp about the real Old West.

Unforgiven is another classic western by one of the master of genre himself Clint Eastwood. Deconstructing the western with shades of grey and thoughtful statement on its genre violence. Bolstered by strong performances from an great assemble cast create individuals that aren’t simply black and white. Showing far more depths in the characters in their delivery. It’s in the same vein as “Seven Samurai” tackling it’s respective genre with a depiction that challenges characters, it’s environments, morals, and realistically deconstruct many norms of it genre. It’s not just great filmmaking, but an essential work of art.