Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Non-Stop

F*** Magazine

NON-STOP

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Anson Mount, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Linus Roache, Omar Metwally, Lupita Nyong’o, Jason Butler Harner
Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller
Run Time: 106 mins
Opens: 27 February 2014
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Violence)

Perhaps there should be a subgenre of action/thrillers called “Badass on a Plane”. In Non-Stop, Liam Neeson joins the ranks of Wesley Snipes, Kurt Russell, Harrison Ford, Samuel L. Jackson and Jodie Foster as a man on a mission stuck in one of those scary metal tubes 40 000 feet in the air. Neeson plays U.S. Federal Air Marshal Bill Marks, who boards a non-stop flight from New York to London on duty. He receives a series of ominous text messages from an unknown sender aboard the plane, threatening to kill one passenger every 20 minutes until a sum of $150 million is paid. With the help of Jen (Moore), the woman in the next seat and Nancy (Dockery), the head flight attendant, Bill must apprehend the perpetrator. Anyone could be a suspect, including fellow air marshal Jack Hammond (Mount), schoolteacher Tom Bowen (McNairy) and NYPD cop Austin Reilly (Stoll).



Non-Stop reteams Neeson with Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed him in Unknown. Non-Stop continues Neeson’s second wind as a tough action hero, though it is a suspense thriller rather than a straight-up action flick. In Unknown, Collet-Serra created a stylish atmosphere and a genuinely intriguing mystery that crumbled more than a little by the time it reached its conclusion, and Non-Stop is similar in those regards. While Non-Stop’s twist ending isn’t as crazy as the one in Unknown, audiences will still find themselves trying to thread together the narrative loopholes afterwards.


Collet-Serra is great at setting moods. Here we have a whodunit on a commercial airliner and Non-Stop plays on many of the fears a good number of travellers face every time they board a plane. There are several clever visual touches, like a moment in which Bill is surrounded by floating graphical representations of the text messages he is receiving, almost like they are closing in on him. There are also some cool camera moves: in one scene, the camera sweeps laterally down the aisle of the plane, then zooms outwards, crosses the exterior of the fuselage, and zooms back in to the rear of the cabin. The screenplay by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle is taut if far from watertight, effectively ratcheting up the tension.


Liam Neeson plays the same gruff, grizzled do-gooder archetype he’s been playing a lot in his later career, meaning he doesn’t get to show off his range but he is what the fans what to see him as – a badass. The Bill Marks character isn’t given a lot of depth, and is established upfront as a troubled alcoholic and smoker prone to violent outbursts. There are times in the film when the characterisation of Bill crosses over from “flawed” to “possibly at least a little incompetent” and he does get critically outsmarted by the mystery villain. But should one choose to say “here’s a tough guy on an airplane and I don’t really need to know more about him”, Non-Stop can be enjoyed. Neeson is unflinchingly serious, and don’t call him Shirley.


Non-Stop also reunites Neeson with his Chloe co-star Julianne Moore, who is a friendly, helpful and comforting presence that we as an audience are still supposed to question. It’s not the best use of her talent ever but we’re not complaining. Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery is believable as an attentive, cool-headed flight attendant but it is a pity that Lupita Nyong’o, the breakout star of 12 Years a Slave, gets very little to do here. We have a veritable fish market of red herrings and the actors playing the passengers are generally decent, House of Cards’ Corey Stoll particularly arresting.



A theme that unexpectedly crops up in Non-Stop is that of the role that mass media plays in unfolding crises and an instance in which sensationalist news coverage is satirised is pretty interesting. Unfortunately, the film falls back on clichés and stereotypes, bending over backwards to be politically correct in its portrayal of Islamic character Dr. Fahim Nasir (Metwally). There’s also the obligatory “motive rant” speech, in which the culprit lays out the rationale behind the evil plot which makes less sense the more one thinks about it. On the whole, Non-Stop is a fairly entertaining and thrilling diversion and even though the pay-off is not altogether satisfying, Non-Stop is sufficiently absorbing in the moment and this reviewer did get invested in the mystery. It’s one of those “don’t think too hard about how it all fits together” movies, but it emerges above average thanks to the stylish direction and its dependable leading man.

Summary: The title isn’t the only thing silly about Non-Stop, but there’s an adequate “grip the armrests” quotient and is unlikely to wholly disappoint Liam Neeson fans even though it doesn’t quite soar.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


Re:solve (决义案)

For F*** Magazine

Re:solve (决义案)

Director: Randy Ang
Cast:  Chris Lee Chih Cheng, Yuan Shuai, Mico Chang, Pamelyn Chee, Jimmy Wong, Sunny Pang, Zheng Ge Ping, Zhu Houren
Genre: Action, Thriller, Crime
Run Time: 100 mins
Opens: 27 February 2014
Rating: PG (Some Violence)

We’ve all heard the adage “actions speak louder than words” and fisticuffs and shootouts are indeed a universal language among film-goers. Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong did a good deal for the visibility of Thai films around the world, as did The Raid: Redemption for Indonesian cinema, not to mention the scores of Hong Kong martial arts movies over the decades. Touted as “Singapore’s first action crime thriller”, director Randy Ang’s Re:solve hopes to pave the way for made-in-Singapore action movies to become a thing. These are baby steps though, and it shows.

Special Tactics Unit member Cheng Shaoqiang (Lee) is part of a raid that goes awry, resulting in the death of team leader Wu Tianle (Pang) and the dissolution of the unit. Shaoqiang’s girlfriend Wu Qizhen (Chang), who’s also Tianle’s sister, is understandably upset and the relationship falls apart. Seven years later, Shaoqiang, now an inspector with the Serious Crimes Unit, finds his past coming back to haunt him, as he investigates a series of attacks on financial firm BWB Capital. Qizhen and Wang Zheng-ming (Wong), Shaoqiang’s former teammate, now work at BWB Capital and the three reunite under less-than-ideal circumstances. As Shaoqiang and his new partner Yan Yongchen (Yuan) work to crack the case, all signs point to Tianle – the mentor and comrade who seemingly died in the line of duty – being the mastermind.


It is about time a made-in-Singapore crime thriller feature film saw the light of day, so the mere existence of Re:solve should be encouraging, but it also demonstrates how far the local movie industry has to go. It’s worth noting that the production values are solid and the look and feel of the picture is a marked improvement on that of amateurish home-grown TV “action dramas”. The action sequences here are decently choreographed, though they are few and far between.

But the film’s tone is constantly overwrought and melodramatic, emphasised by a maudlin score filled with swelling strings and lilting piano melodies. The film slips into unintentionally funny territory on a number of occasions, falling back on trite plot devices like Mission: Impossible-style “latex perfection” mask disguises. It’s also a pretty dull affair, sagging in the middle when it enters paint-by-numbers procedural mode.


The acting is just passable, Taiwanese actor Lee making for a handsome but bland lead. Chang is very much the same; at least her part is a little more than a bog-standard “girlfriend”. Zhu Houren hams it up, gesticulating wildly and wringing his hands in all of his scenes. Yuan Shuai’s turn as the sidekick borders on being whiny. Pamelyn Chee has poise to spare as the businesswoman who might know more than she’s letting on. Wong is pretty stiff and it turns out that he isn’t a professional actor and is in fact a Forex trader who executive-produced the film, so the fact that he plays an important secondary character does carry a slight “vanity project” aftertaste. TV veterans Richard Low and Xiang Yun show up and there’s also a cameo from Roger Koh, owner/CEO of the fried rice restaurant Chen Fu Ji and one of the movie’s financiers. Thankfully, the name-dropping of his restaurant, while silly, stops short of the cringe-worthy product placement that infests so many Singaporean films.

In the context of Singapore’s film landscape, Re:solve might seem like something of an achievement. Unfortunately, the reality is that this also-rans crime flick can barely compete with any of the dime-a-dozen cop movies that come out of Hong Kong. It’s a “points for effort” situation in that it’s clear what Ang was striving for, and the film does possess a degree of polish, the climactic infiltration of a hijacked cruise liner making for a decent denouement. Following that, however, the film ends with a “sothisiswhatreallyhappened” reveal, the logic-straining twist ending coming off as not quite preposterous but still really rushed, especially given Re:solve’s flabby midsection – not an ideal resolution.

Summary: Less of a milestone and more of a stepping stone, those hoping for a decent Singaporean action thriller will be at least a little disappointed by the frustratingly mediocre Re:solve.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

All Is Lost

For F*** Magazine

ALL IS LOST

Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast:  Robert Redford
Genre: Drama, Adventure
Run Time: 106 mins
Opens: 20 February 2014
Rating: PG13 (Brief Coarse Language)

At some risk of reprisal, allow us to say this: move aside Chuck Norris, Robert Redford is here to claim the title of all-American badass aged over-70. All Is Lost isn’t a documentary about obsessive fans of the J. J. Abrams television series with the not-quite-so-satisfying ending – it’s a tale of man against the elements, and the elements are out of luck because that man is the Sundance Kid himself.

Our Man (Redford, and otherwise unnamed) is on the sailboat Virginia Jean, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. All is calm and leisurely, until the first of his problems: an errant shipping container strikes his boat, creating a hole in the side of it. He goes to work patching up the breached hull and crafting a makeshift handle for the bilge pump to get rid of the water that has leaked into the boat. He also discovers his navigational and communication equipment has been damaged. Things get worse for Our Man, as they must, and he finds himself caught in the midst of a violent storm, his boat taking on more damage and his supplies running low as he fights for survival and hopes to get rescued.



All Is Lost is the second feature film from writer-director J.C. Chandor, who goes from depicting the Wall Street bailout in Margin Call (nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar) to showcasing Robert Redford bailing water out of a leaky boat. All is Lost has garnered attention for its unconventional, experimental aspects: it truly is a one man show, with Redford the only actor who appears on screen. The film is also largely dialogue-free, Alex Ebert’s Golden Globe-winning score doing most of the talking. It almost brings to mind the first 20 minutes of, WALL-E, except with less wonderment and whimsy.

Director of photography Frank G. Demarco and underwater cinematographer Peter Zuccarini deliver a visually beautiful film, the harsh churning of the ocean contrasted with serene visions of schools of fish beneath a life raft as seen from below. The film has a tendency to come across like one of those survival skills TV shows like Bear Grylls’ Worst Case Scenario. A problem comes up, Our Man tries to fix it. Another problem comes up, Our Man tries to fix it. Most of the time, Our Man improves the situation but sometimes, he makes ill-advised decisions from the fatigue.


Sailing enthusiasts have ripped into the movie the same way most astronauts probably scoffed at Gravity, pointing out myriad factual inaccuracies which probably won’t bother you unless you’re an expert at this stuff. Apparently, Our Man would have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), a locator device that is standard equipment for open-water sailing.

But then again, practically every movie about anything can be picked apart by the cognoscenti and the main draw here is Robert Redford’s much-praised performance. We can safely say that he’s the best actor in the film…apart from maybe that one shark. Every actor longs to hold court as the lone figure on screen for a whole movie but not every actor can. Redford proves himself more than capable as the wizened, weary mariner, the old man and the sea, the Pi without a Richard Parker for company. The nuances in his facial expressions, masterfully conveying frustration, anger, desperation, joy, exhaustion, resignation and most of all an underlying, unexplained sadness are engaging. He also gets more battered than a double serving of fish and chips, and you’ve got to feel something seeing the living legend take quite the beating from Mother Nature. Redford ensures we want to see Our Man succeed and make it out of the ordeal in one piece.


All Is Lost certainly deserves credit for being markedly different than most things in the cinema but there’s a risk in that. The film has a running time of 106 minutes which, compared to the likes of the Lord of the Rings films and the recent Wolf of Wall Street isn’t all that long but boy, this sure is a drag. We reckon this might have worked better as a forty minute-long short film instead of a feature and that it might well have had a chance at the best live action short Oscar were that the case. All Is Lost isn’t particularly entertaining, nor is it solemnly impactful in a Schindler’s List kind of way, it sort of floats in limbo. However, it’s worth a watch to see Redford still bringing it at 77. Who needs all those Expendables, right?

SUMMARY: “I’ll never let go, Bob!”

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Play Imaginative Super Alloy New 52 Superman action figure review


PLAY IMAGINATIVE NEW 52 SUPER ALLOY SUPERMAN


Singaporean toy company Play Imaginative threw their hat into the sixth scale ring with the release of the Super Alloy Batman figure in 2012, designed by Jim Lee and not quite New 52. Play Imaginative has continued the Super Alloy range, inspired by Japanese die-cast metal “Chogokin” toys. Iron Man seemed a natural fit and they’ve produced multiple Iron Man “marks” across three scales. DC fans (such as myself) can rejoice in the fact that Play Imaginative is also representin’ for the House of El.

Today, we’re looking at the Super Alloy New 52 Superman. The DC collection from Play Imaginative thus far consists of Batman,  Superman and Green Lantern, with Cyborg and the Flash coming soon (prototypes of which were on display at Comic-Con in 2013). The established style of the figures is a combination of multiple points of articulation with more than 80% of the figure made from die-cast metal, resulting in a pretty heavy product. Superman’s New 52 look has him donning something closer to light, flexible armour instead of the usual skin-tight spandex, and the Play Imaginative design captures that well, the shiny “S” crest being particularly eye-catching.





The packaging is elegant and simple, with a reflective S crest affixed to a matte, textured box. Lifting the lid, you’ll see a cardboard backdrop of the Metropolis skyline folded into three parts. The backdrop looks okay but the art isn’t quite detailed enough, this Metropolis having a bit of a “colouring book” feel to it. Beneath that, you’ll see the two capes (more on that later) and a tray housing the figure along with the alternate hands and heads, plus a few more extras. Beneath that tray are the components of two display bases, one made to look like a chunk of the Fortress of Solitude and another more traditional base with an attachable segmented stand. 



Superman’s design is squarely that of the New 52, and it’s not a look that’s universally beloved so those who were wishing for a sixth scale classic Supes made mostly from die-cast metal will be disappointed – but then again, how is that even going to work? Play Imaginative has done a good job of not making this Superman look too clunky or bulky and the shiny, glossy red and blue look great. We’re given three interchangeable heads: the default one, a light-up heat vision head with “energy blast” effects around his eyes and an angry one with teeth bared. The portraits of this version of Superman are well-sculpted but do look very Asian, being inspired by Jim Lee’s New 52 art. I thought there was something of a resemblance to Korean actor Lee Byung-Hun (Storm Shadow in the G.I. Joe movies), so that’s another aspect in which New 52 Supes clearly deviates from the classic iteration. The range of motion is adequate but he can’t look all the way up for flying poses. The light-up effect is really neat, but if you look closely you can see red light creeping through from under his hair. 

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For lack of a segue, Superman’s crotch. Upon seeing photos of the figure, it kinda looked like Superman was wearing a diaper – and ironically enough, this would probably have been less noticeable if it was the classic red briefs. The material covering the figure’s crotch is made of a thin, flexible plastic so as not to get in the way of leg articulation too much but I stopped being bothered by how it looked after a while. This is a very well-articulated figure: ball neck, ball shoulders, double elbows and knees, ball-jointed wrists and ankles, an ab joint and waist swivel, all that good stuff. It looks like there’s a bicep cut, but you can’t actually turn it. It took me a while to pose him right so he wouldn’t tip over and smash his face into the floor because he is pretty top heavy, so do watch out for that.

There’s a whole bunch of cool accessories and Superman isn’t even a gadget-oriented character, so props to Play Imaginative for coming up with stuff to include with him. There are four additional pairs of interchangeable hands, so Supes can punch, have fingers straight out in a flying pose, point at something or go all animalistic with a claw-like grasp. Two capes are included, one of them wired up so it can be posed and the other to just hang off Supes’ shoulders and be blown up by the fan in the base (more on that later). The capes are kind of finicky to attach to the figure and the clips are prone to coming apart. The non-wired cape feels like it might fray easily and is made of very thin cloth material; the “S” crest printed on the back is also visible from the back, kind of bleeding through, but it’s not noticeable since it is facing his back.



 
There’s a remote control to active the light-up heat vision head, as well as a mini screwdriver to open the battery compartments with. The exclusive edition comes with three Kryptonian control crystals: red, blue and green. I guess it’s like “press 1 for Marlon Brando, press 2 for Russell Crowe and press 3 for Terrence Stamp.” Yes, General Zod played the disembodied voice of Jor-El in Smallville.

                      

There are two display bases, and the main attraction (besides the figure itself) is the Fortress of Solitude base, which lights up and also has a fan installed in it to blow Superman’s cape up. Some assembly is required and the way the crystals are configured makes it kinda tricky to figure out. Also, it does certainly look much more like plastic than it does crystal or ice. While very neat, the “wind machine” effect isn’t as impressive as it sounds, the cape’s movement in the wind closer to “flutter” than “billow”, really. I think that can be chalked up to it not being a long, majestic cape. That said, it is a very clever display option. The knob to activate the lights and fans is cleverly hidden on the base and looks like part of the crystal structure. There are multiple settings so you can have the fan or lights switched on by themselves or together.

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A more traditional
A more traditional figure stand is also included, with a segmented clamp support. Since he’s comprised of so much metal though, this Superman is too heavy to “float” off the stand in any way and the clamp is merely there for support. I managed to have him stay in something of a “taking off” pose.

Play Imaginative has delivered a figure that can compete with the big leagues and the die cast metal construction certainly helps it stand out among the sixth scale crowd. With good accessories, including two extra heads and those four pairs of hands, there are multiple display options and it’s topped off with that really nifty Fortress of Solitude base. There are still some minor kinks (the more I look at the non-wired cape, the cheaper it appears) and the main thing standing in the way of this being a definitive Superman figure is probably the New 52 aesthetic. Then again, this look has its fans and if you number among them, Super Alloy Supes is worth picking up and is probably display centrepiece material.

Jedd Jong

10/2/14


     





Philomena

For F*** Magazine

PHILOMENA

Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Barbara Jefford, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Michelle Fairley, Anna Maxwell Martin
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 94 mins
Opens: 13 February 2014
Rating: NC-16 (Some Sexual References)

At the 71st Golden Globe Awards, in the midst of the expected movie stars, Hollywood big-wigs, filmmakers and entertainers was an 80-year-old Irish woman completely foreign to the world of the Tinseltown glitterati. Philomena Lee was brought on stage by star/co-writer Steve Coogan as Coogan introduced the film that tells her remarkable story, based on Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee.

Coogan plays Sixsmith, a journalist who’s been fired from his government communications job and is contemplating the none-too-exciting prospects ahead of him: writing a book on Russian history. At a party, he meets Jane (Martin) who tells him about a secret her mother Philomena (Dench) has been harbouring for 50 years. As a teenager, an unmarried Philomena became pregnant and was forced by the Magdelene Sisters to relinquish parental rights to her son Anthony, who was put up for adoption and taken from her. Martin is initially dismissive of this “human interest story”, but as he gets to know Philomena and agrees to seek out Anthony’s whereabouts, he gets increasingly invested in her plight. Using his contacts as a journalist, Martin traces Anthony to the States; he and Philomena embarking on a quest in search of her lost child.



The Daily Mail has called Philomena “a film that’s left grown men sobbing” and this reviewer can attest to that. The film has attracted a degree of controversy for its depiction of the Roman Catholic Church’s practise of forced adoptions at the time but at its core, it is a heart-rending, sincere portrayal of a mother’s love and of the unbearable anguish any mother would feel from being separated from her child. The more jaded might worry that this would result in the film turning into a schmaltzy gloop, but the superbly-written Oscar-nominated screenplay by Jeff Pope and Coogan tempers this with a judicious sprinkling of sardonic wit, keeping the film’s tone consistent throughout.

There certainly are embellishments and some artistic license is taken with the material – for example, Martin confronts a nun who, in real life, died long before Martin knew about Philomena. However, director Stephen Frears (of The Queen fame) ensures the film stops a safe distance of being emotionally manipulative, allowing the drama of any given moment to flow naturally. Flashbacks are given appropriate period detail, a good portion of the film is set in Washington, D.C. and all of it is gorgeously lensed by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, lending geographical and historical scope to Philomena and Martin’s mission. Alexandre Desplat’s soundtrack, playful at times and weighty at others, is excellent even if the main theme bears more than a few similarities to Desplat’s work on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.



Dame Judi Dench more than earns her seventh Oscar nomination, playing the title character as endearingly gauche but also expertly conveying the deep yearning for a reunion with her long-lost son. She also admirably battled deteriorating eyesight and memory while working on the film. Today, Dench may be best-known as James Bond’s no-nonsense boss M, but in Philomena she exudes warmth and geniality, sometimes naïve but always well-meaning. Much of both the humour and drama in the film is derived from the collision (it’s more of a bump, really) of the forgiving, pious Philomena and the world-weary Martin who has long since forsaken his Catholic faith. There is an “aw shucks” quality to seeing how delighted Philomena is at the hotel breakfast buffet or the enthusiasm with which she regards a silly comedy flick available as an in-room movie. But Dench, skilled performer that she is, ensures the audience never forgets the pain that Philomena was so cruelly subjected to in her youth, and Sophie Kennedy Clark’s portrayal of the young Philomena in the flashbacks is also commendable.



Steve Coogan, well-known in the U.K. for his character Alan Partridge and for the celebrity impressions in his stand-up comedy routines, is the co-writer, co-star and co-producer on Philomena – with many other actors, this could easily become a blatant vanity project, but it’s definitely not the case here. The deadpan cynicism that Coogan provides as Martin Sixsmith serves as an effective counterpoint to Philomena’s sweet, idealistic worldview and given how much Philomena had to endure, she has the right to be mad at the world more than Martin does. The relationship between Philomena and Martin unfolds believably, starting out as very much a journalist-subject deal but developing to the point where Martin’s righteous indignation at the situation eventually outstrips Philomena’s, who was never really angry to begin with.



Through the point of view of a likeable protagonist, Philomena looks at the injustice of the Magdelene asylums and the lingering, painful impact it has had on the “fallen women” whose children were sold to the highest bidder; its comments on faith and prejudice well thought-out, the film never coming across as hateful, hysterical, angry or vitriolic. It also touches on themes of belonging and identity – there’s a clever scene built around the motif of a Celtic harp. Philomena is moving, entertaining, thought-provoking and funny in equal measures. We’re sure that Philomena Lee is honoured to see her story given such sublime treatment.

Summary: Boasting wonderful lead performances and a screenplay which expertly handles a moving true story, the search for the lost child of Philomena is a quest everyone should embark on.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Lego Movie

For F*** Magazine

THE LEGO MOVIE 

Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Cast: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Cobie Smulders, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman
Genre: Action, Animation, Comedy
Run Time: 100 mins
Opens: 6 February 2014
Rating: G

“A movie made to sell toys” is practically always a pejorative description. The Michael Bay-directed Transformers films, the two live-action G.I. Joe movies, Battleship, Batman and Robin…not exactly well-regarded cinematic touchstones. Along comes The Lego Movie, unabashedly, joyously based on the iconic Danish construction toys. Those interlocking bricks have come a long way, the Lego brand boasting sets based on licensed properties, video games, books and magazines, theme parks around the world, apparel and other lifestyle products and now, a theatrically-released major motion picture.


Emmet (Pratt) is your regular everyman – every-mini-figure, rather – who goes about a routine, carefree existence as a construction worker in his hometown of Bricksburg. After accidentally coming across the relic known as “The Piece of Resistance”, Emmet is flung into an adventure alongside the tough, plucky Wyldstyle (Banks), with whom he is immediately smitten. The blind seer and head Master Builder Vitruvius (Freeman) tells him of a prophecy Emmet apparently will fulfil, but he appears so ordinary that nobody buys it for a second. Lord Business (Ferrell), obsessed with order and perfection, plans to unleash a superweapon called the “kragle” upon the Lego-verse and sends his split personality-addled enforcer Bad Cop/Good Cop (Neeson) after Emmet. On their journey, Emmet and Wyldstyle meet the likes of cyborg-pirate Metalbeard (Offerman), the cheery Unikitty (Brie), Benny the 1980-something Spaceman (Day) and Batman himself (Arnett), all of whom must unite to defeat Lord Business.



From 1998 to 2002, Lego’s slogan was “Just Imagine…” and as far as that is concerned, this film walks the talk. Every frame is bursting with invention, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller marrying humour, wit, heart and dazzling technical artistry to bring those colourful bricks to vivid life. It’s hard to wow us moviegoers, we who stifle yawns upon seeing whole cities levelled for the umpteenth time and yet, The Lego Movie possesses a magic in its look with a real “how did they do that?!” quality to it. Digital visual effects house Animal Logic has produced animation that authentically captures that slightly jerky stop-motion feel, a mind-boggling attention to detail evident in everything from the plastic texture of the Lego pieces and how the older ones are slightly stained to the exact place in which Benny’s helmet is cracked to how everything from an ebbing and flowing ocean to bullet hits is comprised of Lego parts.



Yes, this is a “kids’ movie”, but AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) will not feel left out. The cognoscenti will be able to catch rewarding Easter eggs and will realise that this is a film made by people who flat-out love Lego and fully grasp its appeal. There are plenty of opportunities to geek out, from Gandalf and Dumbledore sharing the screen (albeit in mini-figure form) to the DC Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman making their big-screen debut a whole two years before Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman. As a bonus, Wonder Woman is voiced by Cobie Smulders, who was apparently Joss Whedon’s pick to play the Amazon princess when he was developing his ill-fated Wonder Woman TV series. The use of irreverent cameos from popular characters here very much recalls what Wreck-It Ralph did with videogame icons and also brings to mind the comedy series Robot Chicken, numerous episodes of which were directed by Chris McKay, co-animation director and co-editor on The Lego Movie.



The “chosen one” plot is one that’s as old as storytelling itself, but Lord and Miller are fully aware of that and have their respective tongues firmly planted in their respective cheeks, while never coming across as smug and condescending. This is in stark contrast to the dull recycling children’s movies like Planes are prone to. There are also some surprisingly thought-provoking themes at play here: Emmet lives in a world run by a totalitarian “benevolent dictator” who has a robot army at his beck and call and controls everything in Bricksburg, right down to the kind of music people listen to. Without giving away too much, the film ends with a (quite literal) deus ex machina, but it is a poignant, brilliant, very meta take on that trope. Of course, there is a level of hypocrisy in the villain being named “Lord Business”, when Lego is a sizeable corporate empire that even has a bricks-in-the-boardroom business consultancy service called Lego Serious Play.




Pulling our heads out of curmudgeon land, it’s worth noting that even an animated film as visually arresting as this one can be downed by a bad voice cast. Crisis averted! Chris Pratt is pitch-perfect as an easy-going nice guy and Elizabeth Banks does sound cool and plucky, but it’s the supporting cast that steals the show. Will Ferrell’s President Business is an interesting display of controlled shouty bluster, never hamming it up to an annoying degree. Yes, Morgan Freeman plays another “magical Negro”, but Vitruvius is a reasonably clever deconstruction (heh) of that character type and his delivery is effortlessly funny. Liam Neeson has kinda-dual roles as the gruff Bad Cop and his meek alter-ego Good Cop, sounding pretty much like regular Liam Neeson as the former but affecting a high-pitched Irish lilt as the latter, the likes of which we have never heard from Qui-Gon/Aslan/Ra’s al Ghul/Zeus before, the results downright hilarious. Will Arnett’s Batman, less angsty, comically self-absorbed, still growly-voiced and altogether very funny, is good too.



When The Lego Movie was announced in 2008, this reviewer was eagerly anticipating the result but also wondering “how in the world are they going to pull this off?” All of those concerns are firmly allayed here, Phil Lord and Chris Miller delivering a picture that endlessly delights, amuses and enchants. It’s a spectacle-filled visual smorgasbord that the tykes will love and is also packed with morsels for geeky older audience members, all while thoughtfully commenting on conformity, creativity and the importance of play. This, Michael Bay, is how you do a toy movie.



Summary: The film’s theme song is a ditty called “Everything is Awesome”, and that’s as apt a description of this superb animated flick as possible.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Intelligence


RTL CBS Entertainment Channel held a press screening of the Intelligence pilot episode earlier tonight, and I was able to attend. The CBS television show's first episode was watched by 16.49 million viewers on its first airing in the U.S. and is the highest-rated debut of the 2013-2014 television season. Here's a quick, informal review of the pilot. 


Scruffy heartthrob Josh Holloway, best known as Sawyer from Lost, stars as Agent Gabriel Vaughn, an operative of Cyber Command. He has been implanted with a supercomputer and is able to draw on satellites, the internet, security cameras and recording devices, making a wealth of knowledge instantly accessible. His boss, Cyber Command director Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger) hires ex-Secret Service agent Riley Neal (Meghan Ory) to protect Vaughn, something neither are initially keen on. Rogue Chinese agents, led by Jin Cong (Will Yun Lee) plan to implant a similar chip into an operative of their own, kidnapping scientist  Shenendoah Cassidy (John Billingsley) and forcing him to do their bidding. Meanwhile, Vaughn is intent on getting to the bottom of the mysterious disappearance of his wife Amelia (Zuleikha Robinson), a CIA agent who was apparently turned and was complicit in the Mumbai bombings. 



Creator Michael Seitzman's intention was to build a TV show around a "modern Six-Million-Dollar Man", and the premise is reminiscent of the action-comedy series Chuck (sans laughs) and even more than that, Jake 2.0. The show has something of a 90s techno-thriller vibe, marrying a pared down cyberpunk sensibility with post-Bourne espionage thrills. It's relatively solid but it really isn't nothing we haven't seen before. The characters are very much stock archetypes, the protagonist being a highly decorated patriot who's skilled, sexy and reckless. He has a dark and troubled past (TM), seeking to unravel a personal mystery. He's paired with the beautiful newcomer who wants nothing to do with him - we're told that she single-handedly fought off four assailants while on the protective detail of Sasha and Malia Obama. And of course there's the no-nonsense boss lady running the show. It is pretty rote.


Vaughn's ace up his sleeve is an ability called "rendering", a process which pulls data from every available source and allows Vaughn to reconstruct a virtual crime scene, frozen in time and fully annotated, in his mind, his own imagination filling in some of the blanks. It is presented slickly and is sufficiently futuristic. We are also shown that this technology has its limits, keeping Vaughn from turning into a hyper-connected superhero. In addition to that, we have the expected fisticuffs and gunplay and some of the fights are decently choreographed.


Holloway is handsome and charming, by no means a great actor but a dependable choice to carry an action-oriented television series. A good deal of the dialogue is quite cliché: for example, upon meeting Riley Neal, Director Strand tells her to "take a walk with me" as they stroll through Cyber Command headquarters, allowing Strand to deliver some exposition. Vaughn and Neal bicker and will supposedly warm up to each other over the course of the show. He's still pretty attached to his presumed-dead wife, but you can bet there'll be a "will they or won't they" possible romance between Vaughn and Neal. It's also pretty hard to take an agency named "Cyber Command" very seriously. Points for an unexpected and plausible reveal midway through the episode, though.


Overall, it's high-tech and fairly entertaining, but nothing cutting edge. There is every chance that it could eventually develop a rich mythology and use its premise in creative ways, but honestly, it's pretty unlikely as what I've seen so far is kinda run of the mill.