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):

(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


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...