Friday, February 10, 2017

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at a multiplex near you (sheesh, it's at 22 theaters in my area):

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE
(Dir. Chris McKay, 2017)


Will Arnett’s Batman stole 2014’s funniest film, THE LEGO MOVIE, fair and square, so here’s his highly anticipated spin-off, and I’m happy to report that it’s just as funny.

Maybe even funnier, as it insanely packs its one hour, 44 minute running time with as many gags as the filmmakers can stuff into it. And amazingly, just about every one of them land hilariously.

While THE LEGO MOVIE writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are on board only as executive producers, the screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers Jared Stern, and John Whittington (all animation comedy veterans) retains their ultra meta sensibility which kicks in from the get go with Arnett’s gravelly voice-over: “All important movies start with a black screen.”

After Arnett’s supremely self-absorbed, cocky, and forever brooding Dark Knight talks us through the studio logos, and opening titles, rivaling DEADPOOL’s laugh-every-few-seconds opening sequence, the film gives us Zach Galifianakis as the Joker hijacking a plane full of explosives. The plane’s pilot, for McGuffin Airlines, mind you, isn’t appropriately scared and reminds the Joker of the many times his evil plans were thwarted by Batman including “that time with the parade and the Prince music.”

This alludes to the movie’s best and most successful idea: to riff on the entire history of Batman. Arnett’s Batman back story calls upon every incarnation of the classic character from last year’s BATMAN V. SUPERMAN back through Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy, the Joel Schumacher and Tim Burton versions from ’89 to ‘97, the silly ‘60s TV show (yep, there’s clips of Adam West doing the Batusi), and even the old black and white ‘40s serials. There’s even a can of Bat Shark Repellent from BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)!

Batman does indeed thwart the Joker’s latest attempt to destroy Gotham City, who it’s amusing to hear speak in Galifianakis’ Southern accent, but, worse, he hurts his long-time foe’s feelings by telling him that he doesn’t consider him his greatest enemy and that they aren’t “a thing.” This relationship talk satire makes for another great running joke (Batman: “I like to fight around”).

So The Joker devises a new plan involving getting banished into the Phantom Zone so that he can unleash an army of seemingly every D.C. comics villain ever, and many recognizable evil entities such as Gremlins, King Kong, Jaws, and the Daleks (Joker: “British robots – ask your geek friends!”) and take over Gotham City.

Meanwhile, Batman is feeling pretty down and lonely (“One is the Loniest Number” is on the soundtrack) in his big empty Wayne Manor mansion which is on an isolated island, and it doesn’t help that the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) wants him to do away with his lone vigilante standing and team up with the police.

Smitten with Barbara, who history tells us will become Batgirl, Arnett’s Bruce Wayne unknowingly agrees to adopt orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who, of course, will become Robin. Arnett and Cera together makes for a nifty Arrested Development reunion, and they play off each other wonderfully, especially when it comes to how much Batman hates Robin
s short shorts.

Reluctantly, because he’s a loner who doesn’t want to get close to anybody due to how he lost his parents (something every Batman movie has to touch on), our tiny plastic Dark Knight teams up with Barbara, Robin, and his trusty Butler Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) to save the day.

That involves a trip to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude (cue: John Williams’ score from SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE) where Batman finds out that all the Justice League crew including Channing Tatum as the Man of Steel, Jonah Hill as Green Lantern, and Adam DeVine as The Flash, are having a party that he wasn’t invited to.

The plot is fairly routine, but that’s sort of the point as the whole enterprise is a spirited take down of tropes that are in every superhero movie, and D.C.’s own troubled attempt to form an interlocking cinematic universe aping Marvel’s business model.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE’s digs at the failings of MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and SUICIDE SQUAD (Jenny Slate contributes a mean Harley Quinn here) are a boon to the film’s smart self awareness.

Even as a comic variation on the character, Arnett’s alternative fact Batman is up there with Michael Keaton and Christian Bale’s interpretations. He’s certainly preferable to Ben Affleck’s take, which is really getting off to a really shaky start (his solo Batman movie seems to be stuck in development hell, with him stepping down as director if you haven’t heard).

A complete success as a wide-ranging parody of the entire Batman movie mythos, and as one of the funniest films in recent memory, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is one to take both your kids and your parents to.


For with its intoxicating visuals, and non stop, over-the-top joke assault, it’s the perfect escapism from how surreal the world feels right now. It’s got a great message too, about how we can all overcome evil by clicking together. Something like that, anyway, I was laughing too much throughout to really care about any moral.

More later...

Friday, February 03, 2017

De Niro Is THE COMEDIAN, Not To Be Mistaken For THE KING OF COMEDY

Now playing at a number of multiplexes near me:

THE COMEDIAN (Dir. Taylor Hackford, 2016)


This guy sure ain’t Rupert Pupkin! I’m talking about the comedian/talk show host wannabe that Robert De Niro played in the 1983 Martin Scorsese film KING OF COMEDY, one of my all-time favorite films.

Pupkin only dreamed of being a star, but Jackie Burke, the protagonist of Taylor Hackford’s new film THE COMEDIAN, is a veteran comic who was once the star of a hit sitcom with a catch phrase and all.

Jamie also differs from Rupert in that he’s a crude insult comic in the tradition of Don Rickles or, maybe more appropriately, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

But this film is less like KING OF COMEDY, and more like MR. SATURDAY NIGHT, Billy Crystal’s 1992 film about an aging has been comic. Incidentally Crystal, who was De Niro’s co-star in those ANALYSE THIS/THAT movies, has a cameo as himself here.

We first meet De Niro’s Jackie as he takes the stage in a sparsely populated New York comedy club to the theme song from his famous TV show. The audience wants Jackie to do his character Eddie from that fictional program, but he doesn’t comply, and goes into his crass act that offends more people than it entertains. Things go askew when Jackie attacks a heckler who is filming the show, and gets charged with assault.

Predictably during his day in court, Jackie sabotages his lenient sentence (community service, anger management classes) with more of his trashy shtick, and gets thrown in jail.

After being released and picked up at prison by his manager (Edie Falco), Jackie meets a 40something aged woman named Harmony (Leslie Mann) at the soup kitchen where he’s doing community service. Harmony’s father, a fan of Jackie’s, is played by Harvey Keitel, whose seventh film this is with De Niro.

We follow Jackie around as he tries to make a comeback by pitching a TV show to a hipster network exec, attends his niece’s lesbian wedding, goes out to dinner with Harmony and her father, and performs at a Friar’s Club Roast, all the while spouting out gross gag after gross gag.

All of these clich├ęd setpieces would be more palatable if Jackie was, you know, funny, but barely any of his jokes land. I don’t know if it’s De Niro’s delivery or his timing, or if it’s that the material is weak, but I didn’t laugh once during the entire film.

It also appears that they crammed in as many cameos as possible in an attempt to distract from how unimaginative the narrative is. There’s famous comics such as Jimmy Walker, Rhett Butler, Hannibal Buress, and Gilbert Gottfried on the club sidelines, and appearances by such names as Danny Devito (as Jackie’s brother), Charles Grodin, and Cloris Leachman all popping up to spar a little with De Niro.

Perhaps the real difference between THE COMEDIAN and KING OF COMEDY is that KING OF COMEDY had a point to it – about delusion and the modern cult of celebrity.

Hackford’s film drops a lot of references to hip “now” things like YouTube, Instagram, Google News, and going viral, but the screenplay, written by Art Linson, Jeff Ross, Richard LaGravenese, and Lewis Friedman, doesn’t have any insight into what the stand-up biz of today is like for an aging curmudgeon stuck in his ways. In these overly politically correct times, this movie is missed opportunity city.

Jackie is just a caricature that schleps from one gig to another, saying unfunny inappropriate things, with no character development arc – he learns nothing, and neither do we. Jackie’s attempts to date Mann's Harmony all fail to charm as well as there’s very little chemistry between De Niro and Mann. And to cap it all off is an incredibly cringe-worthy ending right out of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.


De Niro, and his co-stars are wasted in this overlong (2 hours), non humorous, and vacuous vehicle that has nothing to say about its subject. It’s depressing to think that younger audiences will know De Niro more from his recent run of lame comedies than from his classic work in the ‘70s, and ‘80s. So if I can encourage at least one young person (or anybody, really) to skip this and watch KING OF COMEDY instead, maybe my time watching this forgettable, unfunny film won’t be wasted after all.

More later...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Movies Of 2016 (With Spillover)


I usually try to post my Top 10 before the Oscar nominations, but January has been crazy y’all! With everything going on – the daily ridiculousness of the newly installed Trump administration, having to get one of our cats legs amputated because of cancer, and editing my long in the works book project – it’s been hard to sit down and finalize exactly just what are my favorite films of 2016.

It hasn’t helped that I found the last year to be a pretty weak one for film, with an abundance of bad sequels, a run of epic fails (THE BFG, ALLIED, RULES DONT APPLY) and many movies that were just meh, so picking out the gems was more difficult than in previous years. So here goes my picks, in descending order, with a little bit of annotation, and some links back to my reviews (click on select titles):


10. GREEN ROOM (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)



Sadly, this largely overlooked indie about a punk band who find themselves trapped in the backstage green room of a hardcore club in the woods of Oregon, was one of the last performances of Anton Yelchin, who died in a freak automobile accident in the summer of 2016. Yelchin, as the fraught leader of the punk group, excels in this grimy, gritty, and extremely chilling thriller as do Imogen Poots and a sinister Patrick Stewart.

9. 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (Dir. Mike Mills)


I think Annette Bening should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination for this over Meryl Streep for FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Streep’s performance in FFJ, but Bening put in an exemplary portrayal as Dorothea, the put upon matriarch of Mills’ cinematic loveletter to the women who raised him. Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, and newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann round out the rest of the fine ensemble. 20TH CENTURY WOMEN somehow simultaneously captures how it felt to be a mixed-up kid in the ‘70s and how it felt to be a mixed-up mother living during the same era. Glad that Mills’ superb screenplay got the Academy’s attention.

8. O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA (Dir. Ezra Edelman) It’s amazing how riveting every minute of this 5-part documentary miniseries is, considering that it’s 10 hours long (467 minutes). But the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson from famous football running back to infamous alleged murderer as seen through the filters of race and fame in the American system never slows down or falters in its engrossing pace. Edleman’s opus, created for ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series, is a masterpiece that not only deserves its nomination for the Best Documentary Oscar, it deserves to win it.

7. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Dir. Kenneth Lonergan) 


This is an achingly sad story about an apartment complex maintenance man (Casy Affleck) who, while still reeling from a tragic incident that killed his two daughters, and destroyed his marriage to his devastated wife (Michelle Williams), is asked to take care of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) after his brother (the boy’s father played by Kyle Chandler) dies. This is a stirring experience, and an oddly funny one at times, that’s hard to shake long after it ends, and that’s largely due to how real these people feel.

6. FENCES (Dir. Denzel Washington)


Denzel Washington’s third turn in the director’s chair is a filmed play, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t play as a great film. Based on the Pulitzer Prize, and Tony Award winning 1983 play by August Wilson, the film concerns Troy Maxton, a working class Pittsburgh garbageman played by Washington, and his family's struggle through the late 50s to mid 60s. Along with the nominations the film got for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis), and Best Adapted Screenplay (August Wilson), Washington deservedly earned a nom for Best Actor as his energy makes many of his monologues more memorable than dozens (maybe hundreds) of other actors’ pontifications this last year. Davis holds her own against Washington, and really should’ve gotten a Best Actress instead of Supporting nomination, but at least she was recognized. 

5. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (Dir. Tom Ford)


I can never unsee the imagery of this twisted yet impeccably stylish psychological thriller which revolves around the sordid contents of a novel that Jake Gyllenhaal sends to his ex-wife (Amy Adams), and, I bet I can never unthink it either. It’ll really be hard for sure to choose between rooting for Michael Shannon in this over Jeff Bridges (in #4 on this list) for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for their portrayals of two vastly different Texas lawmen.

4. HELL OR HIGH WATER (Dir. David Mackenzie)


This is a modern day western heist thriller that runs with the theme of robbing-the-banks-because-they’re-robbing-us. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play the robbers; Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham play the cops on their trail. It’s also starring a wide West Texas landscape sparsely decorated with billboards advertising debt relief, rundown ranches, and yellow fields stretching to the horizon. If its not a deserving Best Picture nominee, itll do till the next deserving nominee gets here.

3. PATERSON (Dir. Jim Jarmusch)


I haven’t posted a review of this film because it never came to my area, and that’s a shame because more people should see this lovely film starring Adam Driver as a bus driving poet named Paterson, who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. It’s the week in the life of our protagonist who fills a secret notebook full of his poems as he goes about his daily routine of driving his bus route, eating dinner with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and having a beer at his neighborhood bar. It doesn’t sound like much happens, sure, but by the end I was cherishing every bit of the minutia that made up Paterson’s poetic existence.

2. LA LA LAND (Dir. Damien Chazzelle) Although this has been highly acclaimed by critics (it stands at a 93% on the Rotten Tomatometer), there has been a considerable amount of backlash against this modern musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as starcrossed lovers/Hollywood hopefuls. While I loved it, I can see the points of people who say it mansplains jazz, its leads aren’t the greatest singers, and that, despite the appearance of John Legend, it’s a pretty white movie. Still, I thought it soared far above most of last year’s releases with its wonderfully bouncy soundtrack (Gosling and Stone aren’t that bad as vocalists), sharp screenplay, and its colorfully inventive cinematography. As it’s nominated for 14 categories, it’ll take home a bunch of Oscars for sure come February 26th.

1. MOONLIGHT (Dir. Barry Jenkins) 



Right now, it looks like the Best Picture race is going to be a duel between MOONLIGHT and LA LA LAND, both of which are my two favorite films of the year. MOONLIGHT takes the #1 spot because it made more of an emotional dent on me with its realism over the pure fantasy of my #2 choice. Jenkins’ film, which tells the Miami -set story of a young African American male named Chiron who is played by three different actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) representing different ages of the character as he struggles with his homosexual identity. It’s fearless in its harrowing honesty, but I bet it will be more remembered for its simple beauty. This definitely deserved every Oscar nom it got.

Spillover (click on the bold faced titles for my reviews):

HAIL, CAESAR! (Dirs. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)

SILENCE (Dir. Martin Scorsese) 
Yeah, I gave this a really mixed review but I think Matthew Zoller Seitz was right when he wrote: “This is not the sort of film you ‘like’ or ‘don't like.’ It's a film that you experience and then live with.” I'm definitely still living with it.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (Dir. Richard Linklater)


GIMME DANGER (Dir. Jim Jarmusch)

WEINER (Dir. 
Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg) 

HACKSAW RIDGE (Dir. Mel Gibson) 

A MAN CALLED OVE (Dir. 
Hannes Holm)

POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING (Dir. Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone)


ARRIVAL (Dir. Denis Villeneuve) This is another film I give a mixed review, but, what can I say? Its growing on me.

HIDDEN FIGURES (Dir. Theodore Melfi)

HUNT FOR THE WILDER PEOPLE (Dir. Taika Waititi)

LIFE, ANIMATED (Dir. Roger Ross Williams)

THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS (Dir. Ron Howard)

More later...