The Lego Batman Movie(3 / 5)
“All important movies start with a black screen…”
If there’s one thing you can say about The Lego Batman Movie, it’s that it’s very self-aware. Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very self-aware. It’s like Deadpool… if Deadpool was family friendly and made out of colorful 3D blocks designed to imitate a popular brand of building bricks.
Then again, given the total lack of self-awareness displayed by his most recent flesh-and-blood incarnation – or awareness of tone, plot, or anything really – perhaps it’s time Warner Bros. embraced how ridiculous the character of Batman essentially is. A billionaire orphan who has dedicated his life to eradicating crime from the streets of Gotham, Batman is enveloped obliviously in a bubble of his crime-fighting awesomeness.
He’s been single-handedly foiling The Joker (a gleefully hammy Zach Galfianakias) and his sprawling rogue’s gallery – Condiment King included- for more than seventy years, in many forms, from the utterly dour to the delightfully camp – remember the Batusi? All this in slow-mo and with some sick guitar shredding.
Still, for all the cheering citizens, and adoring orphans, and the long-suffering Alfred (an impeccably dry Ralph Fiennes), Batman/Bruce Wayne is still that lonely little boy. Arrested development, much? As such, who better for oblivious yet somehow endearing arrogance than Will Arnett, who also voiced the character as a supporting role in The Lego Movie – though we’re sure Batman would agree with that characterization.
Joining him are Michael Cera’s wide-eyed Dick Grayson, whom Batman inadvertently adopts at a gala ball for the ass-kicking new Commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). Unlike her sheepish dad, she’s got a plan of action, one which includes compassion and co-operation between law enforcement and certain night-stalking vigilantes; one that Batman, as you might expect, hates everything about.
Series fans and detractors alike, though, are guaranteed to be delighted: The Lego Batman Movie takes the best bits about every era of the character – Adam West-era Catwoman, Nolan-era Bane – while amusingly acknowledging some faults along the way (Killer Croc: “I did something!”). The Joker, meanwhile, is given a new spin as a decidedly needy against of chaos who just wants for Batman to acknowledge the special nature of their particular antagonism.
Our somewhat jerk-y hero’s journey is decidedly predictable, sure, and the few Lego-related meta touches don’t carry the same emotional weight they did in its predecessor, but the film gives Batman a chance to do something he could never do in any other form: to change. Also, the real-world effects – smoke and light, anything not made of plastic – look really, really cool. In short, that’s Larry Fong = O, inanimate blocks = 1.
Cue catchy pop tune that puts studio execs at ease and fade to white.
Toni Erdmann(3.5 / 5)
Germany, as a nation, is not renowned for its sense of humor – nor are the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.1
As such, Toni Erdmann, a three-hour German-language comedy from writer-director Maren Ade, seems like a strangely appropriate bedfellow. The film, a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, stars Austrian screen veteran Peter Simonischek as Winfried Conradi, a slightly shambolic divorcee with a penchant for odd and eccentric pranks.
Looking like a bulkier Billy Bob Thornton, right down to the baleful glare, he’s a man with a pair of comedy false teeth in his breast pocket, so he can slip them in at a moment’s notice, and a strained relationship with his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller). A career-minded business consultant, she views him, distractedly, at best as a distraction; at worst an embarrassment. She’s not humorless, per se; she just doesn’t get it.
Arriving awkwardly, passive-aggressively even, on an unannounced holiday to Bucharest, her city of residence, when Ines shuts him out Winfried then decides to take things a step further. Establishing himself in the guise of well-connected life coach Toni Erdmann, black-maned and buck-toothed, he integrates himself obtrusively into her professional life.
Winfried’s presence is cruel – for his daughter, who can neither cut him out nor call him out – and unusual, especially when surrounded by hatchet-faced business-people, but slowly, oh-so slowly, his presence begins to awaken something in her. Simonischek is remarkable as Winfried/Toni, a lonely divorcee who can relate to people only while alienating them. Hüller’s subtle unwinding, from a woman seemingly without appetite to one willing to bare all on a whim.
There are scenes that are genuinely touching – a grief-stricken Winfried in his garden with his dog; Ines in fitful tears on her balcony – or hilarious (the Kukeri at the nudist party), but Toni Erdmann is mostly just bemusing.
1 Apart from that time when they gave Argo the award for Best Picture. Oh, how we laugh – ha ha ha.
Gold(2.5 / 5)
If notorious Oscar campaigners the Weinsteins2 were looking to Gold as a serious awards candidate then, suffice to say, things haven’t quite panned out as they hoped.
Ostensibly inspired by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the film, directed by Syriana‘s Stephen Gaghan, is the ’80s-bound story of hard-drinking, chain-smoking, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey – paunchy, balding, and gregarious), a third-generation prospector whose seedy charm and mania for rare earth minerals has been offset by a run of bad luck.
Down to his last dime, and living with his supportive girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), he follows a reckless dream – literally, a dream – and heads off to the epic jungle-scape of Borneo in search of that one big score.
Feverishly rooting in the orange mud – again, literally feverishly – alongside controversial geologist Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez, sharp-suited and focused), Wells’ vision seems to pay off, but that’s just the start of both their troubles. Greed and obsession are powerful components to any drama, but Gold doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.
Is the film about one man’s outlandish quest à la Aguirre, Wrath of God or Fitzcarraldo (really any Hertzog film from that era)? Is it about Wolf of Wall Street-style corporate ruthlessness and excess (Corey Stoll appears as an oh-so-reasonable investment banker)? Or it is just about two mismatched buddies who get in over their heads on the scheme of the century? This is no War Dogs, though – McConaughey and Ramirez lack the chemistry of Teller & Hiller – and ironically for a film about mining, Gold‘s screenplay never digs much below the surface.
Wells claims that it’s all about the eponymous metal (as opposed to money), but the film hardly shows you the stuff; let alone finds any significance in it. Gaghan’s direction, meanwhile, is loose, drifting; content to pull you along at the bottom of the stream.
If McConaughey’s performance here seems a little like Christian Bale in American Hustle (it’s similarly De Niro-inflected), then the film cannot hope to recapture the same energy. The appearance of the phrase “Fool’s Gold” on a magazine cover, and the utterance – deliberate or otherwise – of “Magic, Mike” – reminds you how much better, or at least more entertaining, he’s been in other things. Naked handshakes and tiger stroking are no substitute.
If there is, indeed, to quote Gold back at itself, “No right or wrong, only hits and misses”, then, simply put, give this one a miss.
2 They helped secure Shakespeare in Love Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan.