Hey guys...sorry I haven't kept up with my reviews as of late. It's been like a month since I saw The LEGO Movie and Labor Day, so I apologize for my tardiness. I'm having less and less time to write reviews as I start finishing up my last undergrad year, but luckily March looks like a crap month for movies (except for Noah, which I really hope turns out great). Anyway, thanks for reading - I actually do appreciate it!
Dir. Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Much like Frozen, The LEGO Movie is yet another film added to the pantheon of 'movies I want people to shut the fuck up about.' Seriously - seemingly everyone is talking about this nostalgic animated feature like it's the second coming of Christ. Don't get me wrong, I actually really liked The LEGO Movie, but it just never reached the heights of some of Pixar's best works. This is a loud, overbearing adventure that throws just about everything at you to get your attention. That being said, the animation in this film is absolutely incredible; EVERYTHING in the film is "made" out of LEGO, from water, to fire, even the explosions. Although it was created on a computer, it's practically photo-realistic and the physics of it make the film feel like you actually are playing with LEGOs (though sometimes the movie got so detailed it was hard to see what was happening). The characters range from charming (Chris Pratt's Emmet) to downright annoying (Alison Brie's "Unikitty"), and while much of the humor seemed to land with general audiences - some touting it as 'genius' - I personally thought some of the jokes felt forced and more juvenile than I was expecting. I won't go into spoilers (I'm sure most of you have already seen this anyway), but I didn't care for the ending and wish it was handled a little less heavy-handedly. The mixed message of the film didn't sit well with me either (that being an "anti-corporate" film based entirely on the LEGO brand). Overall though, there are some gags that worked for me (Will Arnett's take on Batman was pretty great), the animation was top-notch, and although this movie gave me a headache, I have to recognize its craftsmanship.
Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Supposedly the last film from master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises is somewhat of a biopic on Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aircraft designer during WWII. As you would expect from a Studio Ghibli film, the animation is gorgeous, and unlike many of the western animated features we're used to (ie Frozen and The LEGO Movie), this has a very calming effect that doesn't blast a billion pixels at your head in 3D, like looking at a watercolor painting. This is a very rich, contemplative film about the unfortunate paths one must take to achieve their dreams. Jiro (voiced by Joseph Gordon Levitt in the American version), wants nothing more than to be a master airplane engineer, constantly perfecting his drawings and concepts (not unlike Miyazaki himself), but at the cost of building them for the use of bombing. This may be Miyazaki's most "realistic" film (that I've seen), but he still manages to make everything super-detailed and brings us into this world of airplanes and 1930's Japan in a way you've never seen before. Not much is brought up about the ethics of what the characters do in this film however, to my frustration, and some scenes in the middle are quite sluggish, but if you're able to look past that, The Wind Rises is a beautifully-crafted, very personal swan song from one of the greatest animators of all time.
Dir. Jason Reitman
While I thought Reitman's last picture, the fantastic and underrated Young Adult, was one of the best of that year, Labor Day was, you could say, a labor to watch (I apologize for that pun). The melodramatic plot is told from the perspective of Henry Wheeler (played by Gattlin Griffith and narrated by Tobey Maguire) who lives with his depressed mom (Kate Winslet). While shopping, an escaped prisoner, Frank (Josh Brolin), forces them to provide shelter. Then one thing leads to another and Frank turns into the husband and father that was missing from their lives, making things complicated as the cops start their hunt.
Though Winslet and Brolin make for an exciting pair, the film never really takes off. The main kid is an absolute bore to watch (he took lessons from the Kristen Stewart school of acting), and some of the dialogue was cringe-inducing, especially all the unnecessary allusions to incest that pop up over and over. This is disappointing coming from Reitman, who usually handles human relationships really well in his films. I would just stay away from this one. (Fun Fact: exactly one shot in this film, when there's a flashback on a teacup ride, was shot in my hometown of Salem, NH).