The Lego Movie: movie review

The Lego Movie

A Hollywood Lego movie sounds, in theory, like an unforgivably terrible idea. And yet Hollywood’s The Lego Movie is far from unforgivably terrible. The film industry is shamelessly gross at spinning brands into movies, but here’s at least one instance where that method has paid off.

Part of The Lego Movie’s charm is surprise that it is actually good. No one expected this to be good when it was first announced, right? We all pictured Hollywood hacks being like, “Hey, it’s Lego. Kids already like it. Let’s tack on some shit-baked story about loser characters and go get drunk.”

The Lego MovieInstead, writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller* have had a good think about what makes playing with Lego (or “Legos”, as some awful Americans would have it) so popular. You can do anything with plastic Danish bricks that are excruciating to tread on, and that anarchic, limitless fun is the foundation of their movie.

(*Who, it turns out, are also responsible for Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, two movies also a lot better than anyone expected.)

The world of The Lego Movie brims with imagination. Opening scenes set in a massive city of Lego bricks have the kind of toy-rich detail that would have set my hair on fire if I’d watched this as a 10-year-old. (Happy to report that none of the actual 10-year-olds at the screening I attended spontaneously combusted.) The rest of the film jumps from world to world – Wild West, space, some sort of cuckoo fantasy land – and each is as glorious as the one before it.

The look of the whole thing is just terrific – the CGI has a stop-motion animation quirk reminiscent of those many charming Lego YouTube videos, or that old TV series no one but me seems to remember:

The plot itself is predictable and pretty stupid: something about a minifig everyman named Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt) who stumbles across the “Piece of Resistance”, a Lego brick that will save everyone from an evil plot masterminded by the conformity-loving, unsubtly named villain “Lord Business” (Will Ferrell).

(The irony of a massive global business demonising a businessman is not touched upon.)

Elizabeth Banks stars as Wyldstyle, the intentionally-ridiculously-named Strong Female Character and requisite love interest. (Chastely innocent love interest, FYI. This is a children’s movie.) Lego Batman (Will Arnett) also features heavily, as do plenty of wildly cheesy jokes that kids seemed to get a big kick out of.

What’s interesting about the plot is how meta it is – the climax almost plays like a kiddie version of a Charlie Kaufman film. Yes, there’s the predictable “good triumphs over evil” finish, but the film concludes with a genuine, heartfelt, layered reflection of what makes Lego so great in the first place. Without giving the ending away, it’s actually crazy. It’s even crazier that it works as well as it does.


The Bling Ring: Movie review

The Bling Ring posterYou’d write off The Bling Ring off as far-fetched B.S. if it wasn’t based on a true story. It’s a faithful adaptation – kind of worryingly faithful – of The Suspect Wore Louboutins, Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair feature that inspired it. The events the film depicts did happen, in actual real life: A team of high-school-age young women (and one young man) really did break in to Hollywood stars’ houses and steal millions of dollars worth of stuff. Paris Hilton really is dumb enough to leave her house keys under her doormat. And there really are people who do crazy things to copy celebrity lifestyles. You don’t even need to go to L.A. to find them.

Like the celebrity obsession it’s focused on, Bling Ring is scandalously enjoyable even though you know you should probably pretend you’re above it. It’s too tawdry, too proudly vapid not to like. When smiling sociopath ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) convinces her friend Marc (Israel Broussard) to break in to celebrities’ houses, it really does seem like a fun, comically easy thing to do – and not even all that criminal. We already feel entitled to know everything about famous people’s lives. The burglar bunch just takes that to the next logical step: They feel entitled to enter celebrities’ houses, lounge around on their furniture, pinch their things.

Which makes these characters – Rebecca and Marc are joined on their stealing spree by friends Nicki (Emma Watson), Nicki’s adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and beachy idiot Chloe (Clair Julien) – assholes. They’re unquestionably assholes. Stealing is an asshole move. But their too-privileged victims, especially Hilton, have such vast quantities of stuff they can’t possibly miss all of it*. No wonder the bling ring doesn’t seem to think they’re doing anything immoral. Ultimately, you wonder if they are.

(*Hilton apparently didn’t notice anything had been stolen until hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewellery was taken from her. She allowed Coppola to shoot in her house and appears briefly in the movie, so apparently she’s not so dumb she doesn’t get the joke.)

Director Sophia Coppola seems ambivalent about it too. Bling Ring only has a plastic-picnic-knife-edge of satire. Coppola isn’t celebrating these thefts, but she’s not savagely condemning them, either. She’s detached from her characters*, occasionally sympathetic to them – a scene at the end has Marc marched into prison, wearing bright orange overalls and surrounded by hard-looking criminals, and it feels unfair. Yet it’s spliced with Rebecca excitedly asking police whether stealing from Lindsay Lohan has made LiLo notice her, and Nicki twisting her arrest and trial into some positive, The Secret-style affirmation of her actions. Assholes.

(*Bling Ring has that arm’s length, dreamy style of many of Coppola’s previous films. It’s best put to use in the wide-shot, single-take, beautiful and haunting scene where Rebecca and Marc break into Audrina Patridge’s house.)

The Bling Ring Emma Watson

Caveat: I think Watson is smart and talented and sooooo pretty, so I’m biased. But she steals (no pun intended, I swear) this movie. Her imitation of a sharply vacuous SoCal teen is perfect – whether it’s what actual SoCal teens are like is irrelevant, because Watson sounds how everyone outside that world believes they’re like. Her character is beautiful but graceless, and all the more repulsively compelling once you discover the privileged, zero-self-awareness things Nicki says are mostly direct quotes from the real-life socialite she’s based on.

(Interestingly, that real-life socialite, Alexis Neiers, was the subject of an E! reality show which wound up documenting her trial. It’s probably a good thing Bling Ring omitted that: The meta-ness of putting a character inside that reality TV, manufactured fame bubble of The Hills would have twisted the film back around on itself too far.)

I won’t be shocked if The Bling Ring inspires a rash of copycat thefts from viewers who see the glamour but miss the point. Hopefully Hollywood celebrities have learned to lock their damn doors now.


Do movie characters exist in a world without movie stars?

Ocean's 12

Julia Roberts playing a woman who looks like Julia Roberts, next to George Clooney playing a man who doesn't look like George Clooney

So you’re watching Hollywood Movie, starring, say, Male Lead Played By Well-Known Actor (for simplicity’s sake, let’s say Steve Carell) and Female Lead Played By Well-Known Actress (say, Amy Adams), and Actress’s character comments on her crush on Tom Cruise, to which Actor’s character responds that Angelina Jolie is way more bangable.

What’s really going on here?

Obviously Hollywood Movie is fictional, but scenes like this happen in films all the time, where recognisable actors refer, in character, to their real-life Hollywood peers. What are we to make of these moments?

One assumption is that Hollywood Movie is, in fact, set in an alternate reality where the actors Steve Carell and Amy Adams don’t exist (or at least, where they’re not Hollywood stars); however, a couple of regular, ordinary, non-famous characters who happen to look exactly like our reality’s Steve Carell and Amy Adams do exist.

Alternatively, we can assume that Hollywood Movie is set in our reality, and is about a couple of regular, ordinary, non-famous people who happen to look exactly like the film stars Steve Carell and Amy Adams. The problem with this assumption, though, is that you then have to wonder why none of Hollywood Movie’s other characters (played, presumably, by yet more well-known actors and actresses) ever notice Male Lead and Female Lead look awfully like Steve Carell and Amy Adams. Or why Male Lead and Female Lead never notice every significant person in their lives also looks like a Hollywood actor((Steal this idea: a comedy about a town whose residents do realise they all look like Hollywood actors, and open some sort of impersonation theme park! Charlie Kaufman, are you available to write this thing?)).

The only film I can think of that explicitly addresses this conundrum is Ocean’s Twelve, which has Julia Roberts playing Tess, a woman who looks exactly like Julia Roberts and impersonates her to gain advantage. Yet this just raises more questions – why doesn’t anyone remark on Danny Ocean’s resemblance to George Clooney? Or on Rusty’s resemblance to Brad Pitt, or on Linus’s resemblance to Matt Damon, et cetera?

It seems Ocean’s Twelve is a clumsy mishmash of both of our earlier assumptions: it’s set in an alternate reality where Clooney et all don’t exist, but in which Roberts does exist.