Movie reviews: 'LEGO Batman' a feel-good flick about friendship
Published Friday, February 10, 2017 6:30AM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 10, 2017 10:21AM EST
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE: 3 STARS
“The LEGO Batman Movie” movie begins with a pretty good joke. Over a darkened screen Batman's raspy voice (Will Arnett) intones, “All important movies begin with black.” Unfortunately as the film goes on it becomes clear that it wasn’t just a gag, that director Chris McKay is trying to make an important, capital I, movie.
The movie kicks off with a wild opening sequence as The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) tries to destroy Gotham City. He brings along some super villains you have heard of, like Two Face and Harley Quinn, and some you haven't like Gentleman Ghost and Condiment King. Mayhem ensues until Batman shows up. The resulting showdown sets up a familiar theme: without the bad, the good doesn’t exist.
"I'm fine with you fighting other people,” says The Joker, “but when people ask who your favourite villain is… You say Joker."
The Caped Crusader refuses to acknowledge any bond with his nemesis. “Batman doesn't do ships… as in the relationships.”
Later, police commissioner James Gordon retires, putting his daughter Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) in charge. As the new commissioner she brings in a new crime clan called It Takes a Village… Not Batman. "Despite all the work he's done for us Gotham is still the most crime-ridden city on earth,” she says.
As Batman’s importance to Gotham lessens, The Joker changes the dynamics of their relationship by surrendering, thereby rendering Batman completely useless. "I'm off the menu, you won't get to fight any of this anymore!”
But what does Batman do with the city no longer needs a vigilante crime fighter? Alfred Pennyworth, the superhero's loyal butler and legal guardian suggests, “It’s time to face your greatest fear… Being part of a family again,” but will the man who says, “I don't feel anything emotionally except rage,” be able to embrace a home life?
“The LEGO Batman Movie” is not content to simply be what it is, a silly movie about superheroes made of toy bricks. Instead it stretches to be a feel-good movie about the importance of relationships and friendships, even between friend and foe. What should have been a straight-up parody becomes something else. It does poke gentle fun at Marvel and DC's habit of squishing far too many characters in their movies and The Joker’s "unnecessarily complicated bombs," but the main "you mean nothing to me, no one does" storyline could have been lifted from any of Christopher Nolan’s dissections of Batman’s psyche. It's more tortured Batman this time but with 100 per cent more jokes then anything Zack Snyder could ever imagine.
There are jokes and even a song or two—although nothing as catchy as “Everything Is AWESOME!!!” by Tegan and Sara—but this is more about relationship feels than it is about belly laughs. Sure, it’s funny when Batman sings, “I’ll turn Two Face into black and blue face,” but the rest doesn’t feel irreverent enough. This is a new world, a LEGO universe where anything is possible so why is Batman still clinging to the anger generated by his parent’s death? Arnett has fun with the voice, giving the character an almost Trumpian level of self-regard, which raises a giggle or two but overall this doesn’t feel like a parody of Batman as much as it does a fuzzy carbon copy.
“The LEGO Batman Movie” zips along at a tremendous pace with in-your-face animation and some jokes but the overwhelming amount of CGI muffles some of the charm of the original, creating a less organic, homemade feel. The first contained loads of CGI as well but disguised it better. The result is a hybrid, an animated action movie that both parodies and pays tribute to the comics and comic movies that inspired it.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2: 3 ½ STARS
In John Wick, the character not the incredibly violent movies that bear his name, Keanu Reeves has found the pure essence of, for lack of a better word, Keanuness. Reeves has never been the most expressive actor, his appeal is physical and metaphysical. He can run, jump, shoot and punch with the best of them—that’s the physical part—but at the crux of his performances is a certain otherworldliness that makes him seem slightly detached from it all. He found the right balance in “the Matrix” and again in “John Wick: Chapter 2.”
The Wick movies are set an alternative world of assassins where hit men and women are paid in special coins, stay in exclusive hotels—with killer views no doubt—and speak in a strangely formal way. They see themselves as professionals with a civilized code of conduct… except that there is nothing civilized about the work they do. In the first film Wick was an assassin so tough he didn’t bother to take off his gore-soaked shirt when beginning his bloody quest for vengeance.
The new film picks up shortly after the events of the first. Wick wants a simpler life, away from the violence that has been his business. His retirement plan is disrupted when a former colleague, Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio), asks a favour. Actually, it’s more than a favour, it’s a marker, a promise to repay a debt, and Santino takes it very seriously. Santino’s request is an insidious one; kill my sister so I can take her place on the crime High Table.
“I'm not that guy anymore,” says John. “You are always that guy,” sneers Santino.
Rebuffed, Santino blows up John’s house. To put an end to the impending war Wick agrees to the job. His home a smoldering pile of ash, Wick re-enters his old world. A visit to the gun sommelier—“Can you suggest something big and bold for the end of the night?” he asks.—to a tailor who makes suits lined with tactical fabric and he is ready to square his debt.
(MILD SPOILER) Wick’s plan to return to a quiet life after the job is thwarted by a single phone call. “What kind of man would I be if I didn't avenge my sister’s murder?” asks Santino. Cue a showdown with bad people with a seemingly endless amount of henchmen for John Wick to kill.
“John Wicks” created a wild world for its characters to inhabit that is unlike anything that came before. The second visit is almost as engaging. Much humour is found between the gunfights as these ruthless killers behave in a courtly way when not trying to bash one another’s brains out. It’s funny, but know this: it is also very violent. Wick is a sentimental guy—this whole journey began when someone did something terrible to his beloved dog—but that doesn’t stop him from offing upwards of 140 people in the two hour running time. Much of the violence is goofy but tinged with hardcore Old Testament wrath.
As the man so mysterious he doesn't even give his new dog a name, Reeves is in his element. It’s pure Keanu, a physical performance with very little dialogue. Think of him as a silent movie action star, an actor who transcends dialogue with sheer charisma. Like him or not, the guy understands how to be on camera, especially when he’s in motion, causing carnage.
Populating Wick’s world are a host of colourful characters brought to vivid life by Laurence Fishburne as the underworld boss of lower Manhattan, Ian McShane as Winston, the man who enforces the rules in the assassin’s twisted world, Common as a gin-sipping security boss and Ruby Rose as a deadly and deaf killer.
As a sequel “John Wick: Chapter 2” hits all the right notes. It’s a tad too long but fans of the original will be reminded of why they fell in love with John Wick in the first place.
FIFTY SHADES DARKER: 1 STAR
The last time we saw Anastasia "Ana" Steele (Dakota Johnson) she was done with the whips, chains and all the other trappings of her relationship with slap and tickle devotee Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Her romantic expectations spoiled, it looked like that was the end of the story. But this weekend, just in advance of Valentine's Day, the two are back together, this time playing (mostly) by her rules.
Depending on your point of view “Fifty Shades of Grey” either made you want to gag or want to wear a gag. It’s a softcore look at hardcore BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) that spanked the competition on its opening weekend in 2015. Question is, will audiences still care about Grey’s proclivities and Ana’s misgivings or is it time to use our collective safeword?
The nighttime soap opera-esque “Fifty Shades Darker” begins shortly after Ana walks out on Christian but this isn’t “Titanic” where class issues and an iceberg keep the lovers apart or “Brokeback Mountain” where out-dated social mores conspired against the characters. This is “Fifty Shades Darker” and there is no story unless Ana and Christian are in the same frame. So boom, they’re back together. They “meet creepy” at a photo exhibit where Ana’s friend has displayed bigger-than-life portraits of her. Christian buys them all and convinces her to have dinner. "I'll have dinner with you,” she says, “but only because I'm hungry."
Over expensive entrees and wine they discuss moving forward. “I want you back,” he says. “I'd like to renegotiate the terms. What happened last time won't happen again.” That means no collars or flogging. Ana says she wants a “vanilla relationship,” and he agrees but before you can say “ballgag” she's asking for various kinky acts to be performed upon her naughty bits.
Soon he asks her to move into his ultra-modern bachelor pad. She breathily says yes but unfortunately other women—his sexual mentor Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger) and Leila Williams (Bella Heathcote), a former submissive—cast a shadow over their relationship. “Do you think you’re the first woman who has tried to save him?” asks Elena.
There’s more, but who really cares about these two? Johnson and Dornan share so little chemistry they couldn't smoulder if you lit their underwear on fire. To be fair they are cut adrift in a sea of kinky sex, mommy porn, dime store psychology and bad dialogue most of which only serves to move the film along from one spanking montage to the next. Stymied by plotting that makes most Harlequins seem like Dostoyevsky, the actors frequently shed their clothes, most likely in an attempt to distract from the truly awful things that happen when they are clothed.
Johnson is still a charming presence and Dornan slightly less wooden than last time out, but Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart couldn’t bring exchanges like this to life: “Why didn't you tell me that?” she asks after a big revelation. “I did but you were asleep at the time.” “A big part of a relationship is that both parties have to be conscious.”
“Fifty Shades Darker” is a cold shower of a movie. “It's all wrong,” Ana says at one point. “All of this is wrong.” Truer words have never been spoken.
PATERSON: 4 STARS
The new Jim Jarmusch movie is a week in the life of Paterson, the man and the place.
Adam Driver is Paterson, a poetry writing New Jersey bus driver from Paterson, New Jersey. He lives with Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a dreamer who wants to open a cupcake shop and make them rich or, maybe, become a country singer and their dog Marvin.
For Paterson, every day is pretty much the same as the lone before it. He wakes up early and eats Cheerios before packing a lunch into a metal lunch box and heading to work. A William Carlos Williams—the famous New Jersey poet—fan, he pens carefully worded free verse poems in an ever present notebook. The only things that change in Paterson’s life are the ever-shifting faces of his passengers and Laura’s career choices. When she isn’t painting black-and-white geometric designs on every surface of their small home she is dreaming about whatever it is that may come next for her. When his notebook is damaged Paterson musty rediscover the possibilities of the blank page.
“Paterson” is a wonderfully leisurely movie. It’s not in a hurry to get where it is going, instead luxuriating in the mundane aspects of Paterson’s life punctuated by on-screen depictions of his poetry. What could have been insufferable turns into a beautifully rendered portrait of people who find beauty and art in everyday life.
There are small conflicts sprinkled throughout, a bus breaks down and lovers quarrel, but “Paterson” isn’t about that. It’s about gentle, loving performances from Driver and Farahani and the beauty of overheard conversations and the day today of regular life.