The Lego Movie
I admit that I was sceptical going in to watch The Lego Movie whether it would be actually good, or a merchandising ploy to turn toys into a movie gone too far – like the 2012 critical flop Battleship. I tend to dislike animated films in general because I often find them simplistic in terms of themes, with changeable “characters” (toys, cars, sea life) made with an eye towards the merchandising rights.
Given that context, The Lego Movie was a pleasant surprise. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller use their tried technique of making smart contemporary pop culture references from their previous effort 21 Jump Street and tell it through charming, retro-style animation afforded by using Lego characters. I was very impressed by how smartly the casting was done to pick up actors who are big in Internet pop cultures: Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreations, Will Arnett from Arrested Development, Alison Brie from Community, Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Elizabeth Banks from The Hunger Games trilogy. If that top billing of voice actors with niche and rabid fan bases online doesn’t get you interested, there’s also Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, and Liam Neeson among top Hollywood actors – each, again, who are favourites of the Internet crowd.
This self-aware casting is what elevates the dialogue in The Lego Movie from just the jokes they are in the screenplay to in-joke pop culture references, adding another dimension to the film. I reckon that these will be jokes only the older viewers will be able to recognise and appreciate. The retro animation style captures the fascination kids have with Lego toys and is sure to make anyone who enjoyed playing with them in childhood reminisce.
It’s overall a very cheerful and uplifting film, but the scenes which show father-son bonding moved me to tears – of sadness – because of the troubled relationship that I have with my own family. Besides that, there are also undercurrents of commentary about capitalist culture and mental health issues; perhaps that was me projecting my own views on to the film, but much in the way of Lego pieces, the film’s plot gives you the canvas to interpret scenes in your own way.
Rating: 4 / 5
The Grand Budapest Hotel
As a self-confessed Wes Anderson fan, I had been looking forward to the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel for a long time. What I wasn’t expecting – when I caught it at the Odeon in Guildford on première weekend – was to find a completely packed theatre. Somehow, I never thought Guildford would be a place full of Wes Anderson fans!
Let me take a step back here. If you’ve never heard of Wes Anderson, he known for such films as The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou – and, my personal favourite – Moonrise Kingdom. His films are critically renowned for their unique visual style, deadpan dialogue, and ensemble casts (often) featuring Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe. What sets Anderson apart for me is his ability to dive into deep, emotional topics of life and representing them in a visually striking fashion.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, unlike many of his previous films, is loosely inspired by the real-life events of Stefan Zweig – a famous German writer. The story is set during World War II, with Ralph Fiennes leading the cast as M. Gustave, the manager of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Gustave is a womaniser who loves “pleasuring” his elderly women guests, and through that, ends up being bequeathed a famous painting. It’s a story of murder, prison break, and troubled families – far more bloody and gory than Anderson’s previous work, but perhaps fitting with the theme of the times during WWII.
The plot is decidedly less quirky and employs less of the tracking shots between different locations that Anderson is so famous for. Little-known actor Tony Revolori as the lobby boy Zero plays the foil and protegé to Fiennes’ character with aplomb. Fiennes himself is assuredly funny even in bleak situations; he slips so perfectly into the character of a British hotel manager.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a genuinely well-crafted film which I would recommend without hesitation to fans of indie cinema and / or Wes Anderson. I’m not sure whether the average punter would enjoy it though, because the film is not “accessible” in the same sense that, say, Moonrise Kingdom was.
Rating: 3.5 / 5