The LEGO Batman Movie: Movie Man Jackson

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Shamone!  In Gotham City, of course, resides Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (Will Arnett). As he’s done for the past 78 or so years, the Caped Crusader defends his city from all of its evil-doers, most notably The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Despite always “beating” Joker and the rest of Gotham’s criminal denizens, Batman has never fully eradicated, or lessened the city’s crime.

Perhaps it’s because he always works alone. When new police commissioner Barbara Gordon proposes a plan to reduce crime that involves Batman working with the community, he balks. But as The Joker crafts a plan to unleash all of Gotham’s worst at once (and command R-E-S-P-E-C-T) from Batman, The Dark Knight may have to learn how to work together with a team to save the day again.

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Deadpool for a PG-crowd? Not entirely, but The Lego Batman Movie does share some of the same self-referential tone that last year’s movie possessed, not taking itself too seriously and making light of comic book conventions, often to hilarious levels. Heck, it even features fourth-wall breaking beginning and end credit sequences. Overall, it’s a whimsical and all-ages pleasing type of watch.

Lego Batman not only captures all ages, but almost all fans who fall on every notch on the spectrum as it pertains to comic book enjoyment. Sure, the understanding of some jokes and visual shots here and there may lend themselves better to those who are immaculate in their Batman lore, but one doesn’t necessarily have to be a Batman fan to have a good time with this movie. The jokes fly fast, sometimes too fast to completely digest and take appreciation in, but that also means that little time goes by without someone laughing in the audience, lest yourself.

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From a story perspective, The LEGO Batman Movie comes off as the inverse of the movie that preceded it. If The LEGO Movie was ultimately about embracing individuality in a philosophical way, LEGO Batman Movie addresses the importance of teamwork and collaboration using Batman’s immense backstory to often amusing effect. Not a particularly fresh story, but few mainstream animation movies really are. The story gets the job done, but feels like it was written around jokes for a large portion of it. For the first and final acts, Batman’s full foray into Lego Land rarely bogs down, but a fairly significant portion in the middle of the movie does.

Still, the film is a visual treat to look at, even during slow periods. It actually is a notch under the impressiveness that was 2014’s LEGO Movie, if only because the color palette is a little darker (duh) and we’ve now seen it before. But consistency is important, and Chris McKay, animation co-director of the previous film, makes sure that the stop-motion continues to look fluid.

Stealing the show before as a side character, Will Arnett and Batman return as the feature character this go around, with an actual arc. Arnett gives stellar delivery at all times, never missing a beat. This is important, because the rest of the cast isn’t all consistent. Zach Galifianakis isn’t a bad Joker, and Ellie Kemper is memorable in a bit part. Ralph Fiennes is marvelous as Alfred. But some of the other important characters in Robin (Michael Cera) and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) are a little disappointing. Feels like a missed opportunity to have some notable star power powering the vocals of the other key characters.

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Why so serious? The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t. Mostly fast-paced, light, and committed to its source material, The LEGO Batman Movie may lack in substance, but not in style.

B-

Photo credits go to geektyrant.com, gameinformer.com, and moviepilot.com

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Keeping Up With The Joneses: Movie Man Jackson

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There’s no love stronger than the love between…neighbors? Suburban couple Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher) are pretty much the definition of basic. Both have solid, if boring, jobs/careers, and have made two children who are off to summer camp. Having the home to themselves for a couple of weeks seems the perfect opportunity to spice up the repetitive routine.

Their routine gets quite the jolt once new neighbors Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot) move into their suburbia cul-de-sac where everyone knows everyone. They’re a perfect couple, perfect conversationalists, perfect everything. Too much so, which raises Karen’s paranoia about what exactly they’re doing here. Acting on paranoia leaves Jeff and Karen in an awfully sticky situation, one in which Keeping Up with the Joneses is the only choice they have for their safety.

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The action-comedy (or comedy-action, depending on how you look at it) hybrid genre is one that, in my opinion, offers the best in pure entertainment when a film hits on all cylinders, combining gut-busting laughs with well-done action. When a film is merely average in both areas, you get Keeping Up with the Joneses.

Director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) and writer Michael LeSieur do a functional job with their responsibilities. Action-wise may be this movie’s strongest element, with a surprisingly entertaining car chase around the middle. One wishes there was more of that; the climax in particular is underwhelming. The story is fine enough, but the problem is, Keeping Up with the Joneses is a movie that really does outline exactly everything in its trailer, or even 30 second TV spot. 

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This means that the humor has to land pretty big to overcome this predictability, and unfortunately, the movie’s humor lands here and there but there’s not that one memorable laugh or laughs, at least for my money. That doesn’t mean that Keeping Up with the Joneses necessarily drags; it just means that there’s little beyond the surface level for jokes.

The quartet of Galifianakis, Fisher, Hamm, and Gadot are essentially the film. Mottola positions the couples as equals, certainly not aesthetically, but emotionally. Males and females are paired off together throughout in order to give more depth to the characters and it works, on one side. Hamm and Galifianakis end up building a relationship that is sort of heartwarming and very believable as it evolves. Generally, the best and most amusing moments in the film are the two sharing screentime absent from others. The same can’t be said for Fisher and Gadot. On their own, they are OK characters, but their relationship ends up feeling a little forced. Perhaps it is the chemistry, Zach and John have more of it together, whereas Gal and Fisher never seem to click as efficiently.

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Not Kardashian-level bad, but Keeping Up with the Joneses is fine, but ultimately disposable, action-comedy fare. There are other movies to keep up with before this one.

C

Photo credits go to yahoo.com and collider.com

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The Hangover Part III: Movie Man Jackson

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“Someone needs to burn this place to the ground.”

If The Hangover Part III is “The epic conclusion to the trilogy of mayhem and bad decisions,” it only makes sense for it to take place in “The Capital of Second Chances.” Not much has really changed with three-fourths of the Wolfpack members since their last adventure in grungy Thailand. Doug (Justin Bartha), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Stu (Ed Helms) are all fully adjusted to marriage life, effectively putting the bad choices, memories, and shocking happenings behind them.

The last fourth of the Wolfpack has undoubtedly lost it (did he ever have it?). Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has just killed a giraffe, and is increasingly irascible as a result of being off of his medication. After a argument with his father leads to his father’s death, everyone agrees that Alan needs to go into rehab, which Alan agrees to only if the gang drives him to the facility in Arizona. What is to be a smooth ride turns into another mess, as the three are kidnapped by characters connected to their past. They are set free, but to survive, they are going to have to reunite with another character from their past in Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who has just escaped prison and is the key to setting things straight.

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When the mid-credits scene might very well be the funniest thing in the entire film, which is supposed to be a comedy, said film has a huge problem. The Hangover Part III has that problem, to the point where the viewer may very well wonder whether it is even a comedy at all. In many ways, it runs the gamut of genres of everything but comedy. Whatever it is, even a drunken stupor will likely not be enough for a viewer to enjoy this one.

With the complaints many had about the second one being a carbon copy of the first, some credit has to be given to franchise writer (of part 2 & 3)/director Todd Phillips for trying to flip the script and offer something different than what came before. That said, it is very puzzling to have ‘hangover’ in your title and not use one in your movie. And if you don’t use one, you better be able to deliver the comedy. At the very least if this new direction is taken, rename it to The Hangover III: We’re Sober B***hes!, or something, anything to note that this is a different direction taken.

What ends up being really odd is how “straight” Part III is presented. It is possible that if one knew absolutely nothing about the trilogy and III served as the entry point, there would be a strong likelihood that this would be seen as a light action and thriller before a comedy. Decapitating a giraffe and breaking dogs’ necks after sedating them comes off as a lazy attempt at humor. There are lines that hit here and there at the beginning and the end to make a viewer remember that this is in fact a comedy, but the middle could be right at home in any generic crime thriller, with less polish to boot. Hearing John Goodman’s crime boss character essentially describe the plot of why the foursome are in the predicament they find themselves in sets the tone, in a bad way, for the majority of the rest of the movie.

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Every franchise cannot be The Fast and the Furious and reinvent itself a few films in, staving off the inevitable sickness known as franchise fatigue that sinks its teeth into just about every film series that has at least three installments. Not only does the writing and overall cinematography appear uninspired, so does the work of key stalwarts Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms. Whether they knew this was going to be underwhelming from the start of filming or just decided to mail it in regardless after the second, both give performances that are equivalent to that of a high-priced free-agent in sports (especially in the case of Cooper), understanding that they are contractually obligated to complete the string of their deal, but knowing they are bolting when it expires.

Maybe by choice, or sensing two of his four stars less than enthused to be there, Phillips decides to beef up the characters of Alan and Mr. Chow. The results are honestly pretty disastrous. In carefully measured doses, Galifianakis and Jeong’s over-the-top, off-kilter characters are the perfect contrast to the relatively even-keeled rest of the Wolfpack members. Since two however, both have become more abrasive and unlikable, effectively removing most of the pleasure that existed previously. It would be one thing if The Hangover Part III were more of a ensemble effort, but in reality this is a story revolving around Chow and Alan with everyone else pushed to the background. They’re the two best friends that anyone could have, but that doesn’t mean an entire script should be focused on the duo.

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Not as dark as two but not as funny as its predecessors, it is for the best that The Hangover Part III is the end. It is time to get sober. Don’t feel bad for turning your back on the Wolfpack.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to allposters.com, cinema.theiapolis.com, aceshowbiz.com, and screenrant.com.

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Movie Man Jackson

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“People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bull****.”

No, this isn’t a movie about the rapper  or the basketball player nicknamed as such. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is about Riggan Thomas, a once larger-than-life movie-star whose claim to fame was starring as “The Birdman,” a superhero character in a blockbuster film franchise. Now down on his luck and considered to be washed up by most in the business, Riggan seeks what everybody in showbiz or even everyday life desires: Relevance.

Riggan decides to undergo a reinvention by going to Broadway, where he will star, write, and direct a play titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. If successful, this has the potential for people to see Tom in a whole new light, one that doesn’t involve a bird suit. As he soon finds, the Broadway acting isn’t the issue, it is dealing with the many people he comes in contact with. From his estranged daughter Sam (Emma Stone), to his co-stars and producer (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough), everyone is seeking something. And no matter if he surprises people with this thespian work, he may always be The Birdman whether he likes it or not.

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It takes a delicate hand to to be able to say so many things in a film and still make a coherent and consistent piece. It isn’t easy to pull off, but in Birdman, it is something that director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu achieves, and not just at a fringe level. Inarritu manages to make something sharp, comical, meta, and inward-looking into, but not limited to, Hollywood, Broadway, dramaturgy, and individual desire. If originality is craved, Birdman delivers.

I am sure Broadway and stage performances can be very riveting, but at this point in my young life I have no desire to see any. As the movie began, I really was unsure of whether I would enjoy or not, and by this admission it was a little of a slow start for yours truly, even a small bit of bore. And yet, this dissipated quite quickly, because Innaritu drew me in with the gorgeous cinematography. By utilizing a continuous (or at least very skilled editing) shot throughout, the characters and their situations felt so organic. There are no true scenes really, everything runs together as one complete take. so smooth and effortless, like a good actor getting into and out of character with no hitch. Spontaneous is a perfect way to describe, just like the outstanding, drum-heavy score that appears ever so often here.

Making use of this tracking technique allows a stronger, introspective look into these character’s lives. All are masters of a sociological theory known as dramaturgy, essentially how people interact with others based upon time, place, and audience. Really talented people can blur, perhaps unknowingly, what occurs in the backstage setting with what is supposed to be seen in the frontstage. Inarritu’s technique embodies this, in the sense that there often is no clear distinction when the acting ends and the real life begins for these characters.

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As described earlier, nothing is left off the table here. It is just as much of a film about internal self worth as it is about the superhero genre or even love. The real treat though is the meta aspect that is present within this. Immediately, the parallels between the characters played by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton and their actual personas/career arcs in real life is abundantly clear.

Much like Riggan, Keaton once was a big star in the biz who hit peak popularity with portraying a well-known crimefighter, only to fall down a few rungs after his time in the Batmobile. Riggan’s co-star in Mike Shiner appears to be eerily similar to Edward Norton and all of his real life difficulties on set. Like Norton, Mike is extremely talented, immersing himself in his craft so much that he can be kind of a jerk in the process, fusing real life with whatever character he is portraying. For all of Birdman’s soaring surrealism, this real life allusion  grounds it in a necessary and needed way.

As time goes on, this may very well be regarded as Michael Keaton’s best role. Keaton is front and center here, playing the semi-broken, dejected, but “f**k you, I will do this and at a high level” type of guy. Every emotion seems to be covered here, and then some. Was it really just this year that Keaton was in Robocop and Need for Speed? Not to be overlooked is Norton, who is so douchey, gratingly perfect, and particular as his character, while still able to give him some soul and feeling.

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Honestly, everyone here comes together to deliver extremely memorable work, like Emma Stone and Amy Ryan as Riggan’s troubled daughter and former wife, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough as Mike and Riggan’s co-stars, and even Zach Galifianakis in a subdued and serious role as the producer just trying to keep it together. Everyone in this film is intriguing, which makes it disappointing that at a certain point in the runtime, many seemingly get pushed to the wayside with hardly any revisiting to their personal plights. Just some additional resolution would have been appreciated.

The journeys are still worth experiencing though, just like Birdman is. Wholly original, superbly acted, and impressively directed, it glides to pretty sizable heights. The only ignorance would be failing to check this out.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to miaminewtimes.com, amazonaws.com, movpins.com, contactmusic.com, and apnatimepass.com.

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