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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Roundup of New Releases for 14 march 2014

This was a pretty big week so while I have already covered two of this week's major releases, there are still a few more to go.

I, Frankenstein. If you though the Underworld movies are the best ever representation of vampires and/ or werewolves then this is for you. This witless, unexciting, derivative, nonsensical garbage is about as bad a retelling of Mary Shelly's classic tale as you could hope to find. Well, semi-retelling anyway. It does start in those way-back days with the creation of the monster by Victor Frankenstein and the monster's ultimate rejection by his maker and the rest of the human world after he takes a human life but most of the film takes place in the present where the Monster (soon christened Adam before finally taking his creator's name) gets caught up in a war between the heaven-sent Gargoyles and the decidedly more hellish demons and while he tries to gain a better understanding of his origins, the demon boss tries to use Victor Frankenstein's ability to create life to create an army of soulless, reanimated bodies in which the fallen demon hordes can take residence.

It has a lot of plot but it's characters are extremely dull, its exposition-heavy dialogue seriously clunky and its action scenes uninspired. It also has a surprisingly underwhelming performances from the great Bill Nighy, who is clearly just there for the paycheck and the same is clearly true of the usually solid Aaron Eckhart whose phoned-in performance makes for the worst Frankenstein's monster in cinema history. Where, oh where, is Mel Brooks when you need him? (1/10)

August: Osage County. Despite the razor-sharp dialogue of Tracy Letts' (Bug, Killer Joe) script and impressive, if obviously awards-courting performances, August: Osage County is this past's award season's major dud. This story of a highly dysfunctional family that gather together for the first time in years after the suicide of one of its members, careens between high farce and grimy, character-driven drama and never, ever manages to find a balance between the two extremes.

 Its story is obviously nothing new as dysfunctional family gatherings are a mainstay of sitcoms, literary novels and both comedic and dramatic films but August: Osage County's greatest sins have nothing to do with originality and everything to do with how badly it compares to better versions of the same story. Tonally, it's all over the place as it's too broad and too silly to take seriously as a drama but too means-spirited and too unsympathetic to enjoy as a comedy. Worst of all, the characters are hateful, so utterly unsymapthetic that spending two hours in their company is a real chore. When there are so many great stories about dysfunctional families around, I have no idea why anyone would waste their time on this. (4/10)

The Lego Movie. This really should have been terrible. Not only does making an entire movie about this beloved children's toy reek of product placement on a level that would make The Internship look thoroughly anti-corporate by comparison, but the toys in question don't even have the narrative-readiness of something like Transformers, as they are - by their very nature - supposed to be molded and reconfigured entirely by the imaginations of the children that play with them. Honestly, what's next? Playdough: The Movie? And yet, not only is The Lego Movie not terrible, it is the best American, mainstream animated movie to come along since at least ParaNorman.

Written and directed by the same team who made the deliriously insane Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie ups the ante on every level imaginable. It does admittedly dip ever so slightly in the middle, but in a genre that all too often kowtows towards tired formula and the same stock characters and jokes, it's a genuine wonder to come across something this wildly inventive, this mercilessly creative. While the background of seemingly every shot is filled to the brim with sight gags and an attention to the tiniest of details, we are bombarded with enough memorable characters and killer jokes to fill a dozen run-of-the-mill animated flicks, voiced by a note-perfect voice-cast led by the impossibly likeable and funny Chris Pratt.  

Add to all this an engaging plot, incredible CG animation that perfectly mimics stop-motion at its best, exciting and visually inventive set pieces and a final act that comes very close to matching the pathos and heart of the Toy Story films and you have a near-perfect masterpiece that sets the bar impossibly high for the rest of this year's animated fair. And if that's not enough, we also have Will Arnett threatening to take away the title of Best On-Screen Batman from the previously peerless Kevin Conroy - whose voice work on Batman: The Animated Series and its many televisual and cinematic spin-offs has been the definitive take on the character for many a Bat-fan for two decades now - as his hilariously, insufferably arrogant Batman all but steals the entire movie.

And no, you won't be able to get that bloody Everything Is Awesome song out of your head for... yeah, I'm still waiting. (9/10)