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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Zookeeper **

On first glance at the poster, you’d be forgiven in thinking it was Night At The Museum: Part 3, only starring cuddly comedian Kevin James of Paul Blart: Mall Cop fame, instead of Ben Stiller. Well, you’ve got the animal business right – and the cute/irritating monkey (depending on your stance). James acting the monkey, with the monkey (or gorilla in this case) provides the funniest moments of Frank Coraci’s new family animal comedy, Zookeeper (co-penned by James), that peddles the same old tired format of ‘animals overcoming man’s personal and social problems’.

James is Griffin Keyes, a man who loves his job as a zookeeper but who loses a girlfriend (played by Leslie Bibb) over his lack of ambition to move up the corporate ladder. After a pep talk from his successful car salesman brother and another encounter with his ex, Keyes decides to leave the zoo for pastures new. However, the animals at the zoo are very fond of Keyes and decide to break their code of silence in order to help their lovable zookeeper find love – without opting to leave his current job for something more illustrious.

Zookeeper starts out with some promise, albeit tongue-in-cheek slapstick action, with James as Keyes trying to propose on a beach. The funny man has developed his own brand of ‘pity the big fool’ humour and nothing much changes here: It’s endearing and disarming, which is what makes any of his characters instantly good-natured underdogs that you can get behind. Plus we like to see the big dope get the good-looking gal, as he does here. Rosario Dawson as attractive colleague Kate is fun to watch, too, and gets better exposure as the film goes on. However, she merely makes up the human character ranks, rather than getting the chance to provide any memorable comic gems.

At one point at the start, private prayers were muttered along the lines of, “Oh please Lord, don’t make this a real-action/CG version of the original Madagascar, full of street-wise, wise-cracking, tedious animals who escape their confines”. We know the outcome of the story straightaway from Keyes’s first meet-cute, so there needs to be something else to go along for the ride for. Indeed, as the film goes on, and Coraci sensibly keeps the animals in the compound, Zookeeper ramps up the idiocy and the gags, including a eye-wateringly funny classic TGI Fridays eye-popping moment, some cheesy wedding dancing that sees James defy gravity, and a Candid Camera case of bad driving that’s left to unfold to provide one of the most hilarious scenes of the whole film.

The trouble is, it’s made-to-measure holiday fun, without anything unique to it and rather bland animals – apart from Nick Nolte’s Bernie the Gorilla. But if you’re a big James fan, it’s a feast of silliness to indulge on. At times, there are too many gags placed one after the other and adult references that made the adults snigger (or roll eyes upwards), but begin to bore the youngsters – and vice versa with dumb-down or blatantly obvious/crude humour.

If animals and comedians acting up are your bag, Zookeeper is a big, daft, soppy and beasty love tale that’s tame and inoffensive enough to kill time this summer holiday – the trouble is, the adult soul-mate searching part may tire the kids (and some adults), even with James and the film-makers’ good, clean intentions.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Unstoppable – 4*

Forget the troublesome Pelham of 2009: Action guru Tony Scott and his muse Denzel Washington are firmly on the right tracks with this year’s adrenaline-fuelled thriller, Unstoppable, that really hits the mark, despite triggering an initial groan of yet another potential train-wreck of a movie on the cards.

After suppressing giggles from hearing that there’s an ‘unstoppable coaster’ charging down the tracks, with images of a cork mat having come loose from it’s coffee cup base springing to mind, the ‘coaster’ in question is another name for an unmanned runaway train, complete with 39 cars full of hazardous material to add to the thrills and spills. It’s up to Washington as veteran train engineer Frank Barnes and Chris Pine as rookie conductor Will Colson – on his first day on the job – to save part of Pennsylvania from certain disaster.

Unstoppable is a tour de force all of its own, allowed to gather speed within a simple and highly effective, no-frills plot. It’s also a truly believable one, helped in part by the story being based on actual events. What’s more electrifying is Scott has turned a hunk of metal into a living, breathing demon, with a terrifying life force of its own, gathering momentum and fury as it approaches the end of the track.

Although Unstoppable is effectively all about the action, Scott still allows time and space for us to really get to know our two heroes, whilst they chase the mechanical brute. Barnes and Colson from different generations learn to compromise like a father and son, revealing their differences and personal issues then resolving them, whilst simultaneously building a rocky friendship that will last a lifetime. It’s a real testosterone-fuelled buddy movie that sees Washington perfectly cast (or rather, the part moulded to him) as the weary old-timer, stubborn in practice, but happy to share his knowledge and wisdom, in contrast with Pine as the impatient ‘youngster’ who thinks he knows best.

In fact Pine is surprisingly appealing as an all-action hero in this as it marks an exciting new tangent in his career that could have been dominated by Captain Kirk in Star Trek, especially after a shocking dabble in romcom with the dreadful Blind Dating last year. Pine has the looks, the bulk and the intelligence to go far in this type of role, so here’s hoping he does more. And like art imitating life, imitating art, he has the perfect partner to learn from in Washington who literally hands over the controls to him in this film, giving him and the character he plays most of the glory.

The action is on the money, with just the right amount of terror, tragedy and pace to keep things moving along nicely, like a ticking time bomb, but without too much pomp and circumstance that leads to overkill in some action films from the emergency services. Still, Scott just can’t resist putting in a couple of car chases and screeching-tyre moments for good measure.

Unstoppable also manages to just about stay away from the ‘final farewells’ clichés, and even thought you stop to think ‘why didn’t they do that before’, events are actually remarkably realistic, as any developing situation would warrant a change of tactics, if the former didn’t work. What is a bit unbelievable is Barnes’ superhero leaps over carriages as he tries a manual way of slowing the Beast down. But this is Washington who can do no wrong – Pelham aside, so we want to absorb the absurd and go with the flow.

Rosario Dawson is excellent, too, as troubled train controller Connie Hooper, the voice of reason over the radio, battling trying to stop this thing, whilst juggling the idiotic moves made by the corporate suits in the boardroom in this male-dominated world. Naturally, she throws caution to the wind and sticks two fingers up at management to get the job done; it’s a real brains-verses-brawn, war of minds, the type of thing played out in many corporations worldwide, where blue collar verses white collar, so it strikes home for any audience who will relate to either role situation.

Unlike The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable is money well spent, so buy your ticket for a rollercoaster ride with confidence, as this is a Scott film worth paying to see on the biggest screen possible for full effect.

4/5 stars

By L G-K