The Lego Batman Movie ****

For those worried the Batman might lose his clipped, gravel-toned, conceited edge after the success of The Lego Movie (2014), fear not: Will Arnett gives his little black-clad Lego character an even bigger presence once again in an equally funny but far darker film, The Lego Batman Movie.

Bruce Wayne – aka Batman – must deal not only with Gotham City’s criminals and arch enemy The Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), but also a new police commissioner (Barbara Gordon, voiced by Rosario Dawson) with different ideas to his own crime-busting and an orphan child he ‘forgets’ he’s adopted (voiced by Michael Cera). Is Batman going soft in his old age, and will he and his long-suffering butler and ‘surrogate dad’ Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) finally get the family unit they crave?

While Batman revels in his notoriety on screen, DC and Marvel aficionados are thrilled by the blatant mockery of the Batman-related characters from over the years, accumulating in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight versions (for example, Bane). While the first half hour of the film is sheer glee for the adults, the kids are equally thrilled by the whirling colour, jarring movement and crackers pace as they see the Lego come alive. It’s a win-win for family entertainment this half term.

However, be warned: there are some very dark moments and characters in peril that might upset younger viewers. That said everything else is fairly tame, as expected with Lego, so there is no guts and gore, but little bricks flying all over the place. Kids will always love the explosions and mayhem, as adults marvel at the evolving creativity in front of them. A lot of the best lines are in the trailer, such as why does the flying Batmobile only have one seat? Answer: last time Batman checked he only had one butt. However, there are plenty more scattered around the film to enjoy, so you are either continually smirking or laughing throughout. That’s not to say there are not flatter moments where the same jokes are over-peddled, having seen their sell-by date, but the momentum is so erratic, you are propelled onto the next scenario to truly care.

Also, from a family perspective, there are morals aplenty to subconsciously be embedded in your little one’s psyche. This film is all about the importance not only of family and not being able to do it all on your own, but also (eventually) mutual respect – so important in today’s political environment. However, you don’t feel like you’re being bombarded with condescending messages like in some Disney flicks to the point of nausea. Little orphan Dick – who becomes ‘pantless’ Robin – is so adorably chirpy and excitable that you can’t help but be swept up in his gratitude as Batman gives him a chance in life. Of course, there are lots of delicious moments to savour as Batman tries to adapt to fatherhood while Alfred tries to control his ward’s inner child – cue wrong PC password moment that will have you rolling your eyes in recognition and in stitches.

The Lego Batman Movie is a Lego rollercoaster of a ride with highs and lows, and perhaps too many characters than it can handle on one screen and use to full comedic potential. Nevertheless, it is a marvel of an animation with a good pounding heart – plus you’ll all be quoting Batman in Arnett’s gruff tones for days to come.

4/5 stars

By @Filmgazer

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Sausage Party ***

Sausage-Party

Emphasis on the word ‘sausage’ usually sparks juvenile sniggers from most grown-ups. Seth Rogen capitalizes on this in his raunchy new adult animation Sausage Party – the mere name triggering winks and nudges. This is a Pixar p*** take laced with Rogen’s preferred brand of stoner humour. Those not avid fans of the latter can still catch some laughs, but might tired long before the riotous finale of filthy food porn commences.

Rogen is Frank, a hotdog who is desperate to get inside Brenda the bun (voiced by Kristen Wiig) when they finally leave the supermarket and go home with one of the ‘gods’ (us humans). They need to be picked off the shelf and taken outside to ‘the great beyond’. But disaster strikes when one female god goes shopping, leading Frank and Brenda on a journey back to the shelf while trying to avoid enraged Douche (Nick Kroll).

However, Frank soon learns the disturbing truth about what the ‘great beyond’ really spells for grocery products, backed up by his deformed sausage pal Barry (Michael Cera) who survives a close shave. Now Frank needs to convince the rest of the food population about their fate, before it’s too late.

Sausage Party is created by Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill, collaborating with Apatow disciples Paul Rudd, James Franco, Bill Hader, Danny McBride and the like, so you know the kind of film you’re in for, long before you ‘Get your fill’ (quoting the tagline). It’s pure filth, like consuming the dirtiest, calorific dish, awash with cheap ‘laughs’ at stereotypes along the way – Salma Hayek is horny Mexican taco Teresa, for example.

While it offers some crazy insights into the USA’s religious, racial and socio-political obsessions, Sausage Factory also prefers shock tactics to cultivating really clever puns consistently throughout that would have seriously sent up these American neurosises and Pixar’s cute character, coming-of-age adventures, where their world is oblivious to us. There are some seriously laugh-out-loud moments – just wait until the end crescendo, but F word-ing it in every sentence begins to wear thin, bordering on nauseating – and this is coming from a critic who is no stranger to a foul-mouthed rant.

It’s also hard to tell if Sausage Party wants to be taken seriously for its plethora of brilliant observations, as it just as quickly shies away when one of them becomes vaguely interesting, for fear of losing its infantile edge. That said the kitchen scene is a delightful Pixar-bashing episode, and a much needed highlight to break up the otherwise ‘samey’ plot of Frank et al trying to return to the shelf. Douche gets pumped ready for action but loses his spunk at the end; perhaps too much of a main plot distraction or an excuse for Rogen and gang to explore some anal humour? There was certainly a lot of fun had writing/ making this buddy movie, it appears.

Sausage Party goes off with a saucy sizzle and an outrageous bang but wilts at times along the way. If it wasn’t for the grand gang-bang finale boost, it would be a meaty disappointment left undercooked in places.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Project X ****

Imagine throwing the party you’ve always dreamed of in a venue primed for purpose – pesky neighbours and law enforcement aside. Imagine all the coolest people attending and dancing to some kick-ass tunes. It’s the stuff of decadent dreams that this out-of-control juggernaut feeds off, tapping into a real deep-rooted deviance from our days of youthful carefree living. After all, someone else can pay later; it’s all about tonight and now. And for The Hangover fans – director Todd Phillips produces this time – there is an even greater sense of the party boys being plunged into the virtual unknown that’s vibrant to watch. It’s also a stark lesson in the perils of social media – phone hacking aside.

Three ‘invisible’ High School seniors, Thomas, Costa and JB – acting unknowns Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown respectably – get Thomas’s family home to themselves for a weekend while his parents are away. They plan to celebrate Thomas’s 17th birthday in style with a ‘few’ people over. Trouble is no one knows (or cares) that they really exist – expect perhaps Thomas’s female childhood friend, Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). Cocksure Costa decides to spread the word around the school, all caught on first-person camera by mysterious operator Dax (played by Dax Flame who we hear rather than see for most of he film). However, what starts out as a few people turns into an absolute riot as things spiral out of control and word of the party spreads, the likes of which the quiet, family suburb of Pasadena has never seen before.

If you enter into this film’s environment shirking all grown-up inhibitions and mundane responsibilities at the door you’ll get the most out of it. Curiously, as a result, there is a nagging sense of conscience that develops as things escalate. Birthday boy Thomas is our prompter of this throughout the film and our link with some form of order, before he’s sucked into the chaos that grows. Project X does start out like any other high school ‘loser’ flick where we’re expected to rally behind the misfits – however misogynistic and revolting they may appear, purely because everyone likes an underdog to triumph and gain popularity.

Like a YouTube video that can be watched only once for full, fresh effect, Project X is a collective experience, and is not trying to be another American Pie or Superbad, contrary to critics: There are no clever gags from the latter or slapstick, coming-of-age set-pieces. This film attempts to deliver a feasible self-documenting style favoured by a lot of cult films at the moment – like Chronicle, adding plausible scenarios to the mix like a rampant party virus. Thankfully, there is no migraine inducing 88-minutes worth of shaky hand-held footage either for those still reeling from their Cloverfield experience.

It’s abundantly clear to see debut feature director Nima Nourizadeh’s pedigree in pop videos and commercials from its style, with some scenes of nubile young ladies jigging up and down in slow-mo like on some continuous MTV rap-video playlist – and bad boy Eminen plays out the end credits. Nourizadeh actually mixes and matches a variety of filmic styles to portray different emotions within a first-person view. As for plot, it attempts at mini subplots and does suffer from the unavoidable genre clichés. There is also a gnawing sense of what’s happened to the rest of the neighbourhood; have they all gone deaf when the law fails to curb the revellers’ enthusiasm after an earlier warning? The film also has its token nutty oddballs, like a security measure.

That said Mann, Cooper and Brown are excellent as newcomers in different ways: Cooper is blessed with great comic delivery sure to get him noticed by the extended Apatow gang for future projects. Mann is reminiscent of some vulnerable, gangly, guilt-ridden Michael Cera or Jesse Eisenberg, but devoid of clever retorts in this and simply tasked with ‘playing your average naïve kid’ in an escalating situation.

As for the music, any clubber will be downloading the soundtrack as soon as it becomes available, as true to his music video roots, Nourizadeh makes sure the visuals match the tracks, and the beat like some war cry for a ‘forgotten generation’ carries on pulsing like a life force, growing in size and fearlessness. This dramatically energises events more, and is a big part of the film’s impact.

Overall Project X is one guilty pleasure, mindless escapism that offers some mixed – and some unexpected – messages at the end that make for alarming but intriguing post-viewing debate. Naturally, some will question the responsibility of the filmmakers themselves. Not sure if the ‘what happens next’ histories are necessary, as well as the soggy ‘after-party’ souvenir. But you’ll be glad you got the invite and had the time of your life – without suffering the hangover from hell – watching a film that will divide opinion.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Art Of Getting By **

If coming-of-age, indie-styled films of late will have us believe, every white, privileged school kid is a volatile mass of unresolved angst and superior intellect, waiting to explode on an uncaring, uncompromising world around them. Debut feature writer-director Gavin Wiesen has joined the ‘cool kids’ gang of film-makers, championing the secretly chic and misunderstood nerds with his new drama, The Art Of Getting By, starring a grown-up (and seriously malnourished-looking) Freddie Highmore of The Spiderwick Chronicles and Finding Neverland fame.

As George Zinavoy, Highmore is a lonely and fatalistic NYC teen who’s (somehow) managed to make it all the way to his senior year without ever having done a real day of work. He finally befriends another being on the school rooftop called Sally (Emma Roberts), a popular but complicated girl who recognises in him a kindred spirit.

This highly sensitive and (over) emotionally complex take on ‘kidulthood’ uncertainties mixes darker moments with tender ones, and reveals Highmore’s blossoming talent into manhood and adult roles. The unfortunate thing for both actor and Wiesen is this side of the adolescent movie market has been well and truly staked by the likes of Michael Cera, Anton Yelchin and Jesse Eisenberg, and is full to bursting with their troubled personas on screen. That’s not to say Highmore cannot join their acclaimed ranks as he performs his best with what he has to play with here, but the inexperienced and rather pretentious and predictable script from Wiesen doesn’t help matters.

Giving us musical prompts, such as cranking up the tinkling ‘upbeat’ soundtrack to signify George’s decision to join the real world, is not a satisfactory explanation as to why this over-analytical teen, who almost could be deemed as having a case of Asperger’s syndrome, has decided to join the rank and file of everyday ‘normality’. If it’s just to get the girl (Sally) – turning this into a romantic offering, it seems the intellectual George is selling himself short for no apparent reason. Yes, love makes you do the craziest of things, and through Sally, George finally gets his entry into carefree adolescent existence. But if we are to believe that his character is more than your average teen, the transformation is executed in an incoherent manner, undermining what’s special about ‘Teflon slacker’ George and his outlook.

Communication is the key – if you are talking the same language. Even though Roberts as Sally sees her kindred spirit in George, being someone locked into performing as she is expected to in life, it still feels a little farfetched that this hip chick would have oddball George round to party on Manhattan’s rooftops with her ultra cool friends, let alone grow to fancy him. Again, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and spotting his artistic talent might be cause enough to get Sally hooked – and she does make it back from the airport departure gate in record time to see his final art piece, like something from an episode of Friends. Admittedly, Roberts plays the part of ‘awkward teen in a vixen’s body’ rather well to rival Highmore’s rather unsettling appearance, but hardly gives a defining performance in her career to date. It’s as though Wiesen has restrained some of Sally’s true character traits and feelings in this to focus on the turbulent universe that centres on George, which is a shame for both character arcs.

Wiesen almost attempts to boldly address teen depression at the start of The Art Of Getting By, which could have been a more intriguing premise. He then changes tempo to a film focused on young puppy love and making the right life choices that it feels so uneven at times without a stronger, passionate vein of, say, unfrequented longing, that it goes to confuse both characters and audience in the process, all disguised in quirky, prattle-heavy tension. The good thing is Highmore and Roberts will not necessarily be affected by their turns in this, even though the latter has had her acting wings clipped by her seemingly undeveloped role here, pointing to more exciting talent from them to come.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – 4*

The hip-ometer just reached overdrive with another geek fest of ingenious film-making that Kick-Ass set the bar for back in March of this year. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World plays out the height of quirky Canadian coolness, and like Kick-Ass, doesn’t require being au fait with the books behind it by Bryan O’Malley, but will appease fans of them, nevertheless. With a film-maker like Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) in the driving seat, you know you’re in for a uniquely staged and satirically funny offering on speed that will hook in every video-gaming youth (and wannabe youth) within a mile radius because this is kind of what life would be like, if it was all a game, replicated on screen.

Ironically, the strong gaming element is also Scott Pilgrim’s (Michael Cera) weakness because Scott’s need to defeat girl-of-his-dreams Ramona Flowers’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven evil exes gets a little gamey-samey with all those Japanese-Manga-style, mid-air punches, so by the time we discover that Scott’s technicoloured-haired crush has dabbled in bisexuality, with the arrival of one of her crazy exes, Kim Pine (Alison Pill), who can be defeated by ‘touching her behind the knee’, we are rapidly losing interest in finding out what’s next in store for our anti-hero. Indeed there are occasions where the explanation from the book is desperately needed and things don’t quite translate clearly onto screen, and this is one of them with Pine’s knee defeat. In the book, Scott gets jiggy with Flowers, hence this is a reference to erogenous zones, which you can kind of read between the lines with in the film.

That said you are engaged in such visual wonderment and some seriously mind-blowingly awesome scenes that are just too cool for school that you almost forgive the gaming references whizzing over your head. The height of visual stupor comes with the exhilarating arrival of first ex, the Bhangra, hip-gyrating Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) who storms onto screen, just as Scott is trying his hardest to impress Flowers with some rock god moves. It is indulgent pop culture at its best and most vivid, backed by a seriously funky set of tracks throughout. Forget Seattle Grunge – so 1980s, meet Toronto Grunge of the Noughties.

Part of the reason for keeping you grounded in the story is the fine casting. The story itself is not that developed or taxing, really, almost superficial, compared to the effects, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Cera plays his usual bumbling, confused and almost naïve self, stuck in the body of a man-child, somehow attracting the attention of all females around him (the ultimate geek’s fantasy relived), but it is Kieran Culkin who steals the show in every scene with Cera as cutting gay best friend Wallace. One particularly hilarious moment is when Scott needs to escape from a girl who comes knocking and dives through a window, whilst Wallace does what all best friends do and tries to bat her off. Culkin times his deliverance to perfection and should definitely take up similar roles in the future because he is a tonic in this. The infatuated girl in question is Knives Chau, an almost prepubescent teen who epitomizes Manga chic, played by impressive newcomer Canadian Ellen Wong. Wong ignites each scene with Cera with such bubbly energy needed to boost the story further. There is also a great appearance from all-American screen star Chris Evans who seems to relish poking fun at the kind of characters he usually plays, as kung fu screen hero and Flower ex, Lucas Lee. But it is Jason Schwartzman as Scott’s nemesis Gideon Gordon Graves who gets the most points for dazzle power, basically because his is the film’s biggest standoff – and those not weary from all the frenetic, whizzing colour and graphic novel adaptations might well be by this stage.

One word to describe Scott Pilgrim: Energizing. It’s like being on a Manga rollercoaster ride, but it doesn’t skimp on visual representation, with each scene meticulously crafted by Wright and co – like a graphic novel page. If gaming isn’t your thing, it would be a shame to pass on this film because its production values will be referred to from henceforth in other cool factor flicks to come, much like The Matrix is in this. But be prepared for its gaming adoration and relentless and deranged pace that, thankfully, still makes time for character endearment.

4/5 stars

By L G-K