The Lego Batman Movie, And Why It Outclasses Despicable Me

Pandering doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but neither does it have to be stupid.

After siting through a commercial for Despicable Me 3, and then immediately following it with The Lego Batman Movie, I got to thinking. What’s the difference between these two family movies? Why do I find one infinitely more tolerable?

I’d ask why I find the other one utterly obnoxious and loathsome as well, but I’ve already kind of answered that question before.

The Lego Batman Movie has many of the same kinds of jokes (butts, low-hanging fruit jokes, etc), but in addition to poking fun at the angsty dark knight, it also satirizes the film industry as a whole while having its own complete, engaging story. It also has many jokes that adults can appreciate on multiple levels, such as poking fun at the 60’s Batman show and other lovingly nerdy references.

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Based on the trailer, and my experience from watching the other movies, Despicable Me 3 appears to be mostly silly slapstick. While the dialogue might sound more mature than The Lego Batman Movie, the very presences of the minions makes me picture Illumination Entertainment dangling shiny keys over the audience and making silly noises.

Sadly, this seems to work for most people.

We have a supervillain who is pretty much Vector/Victor from the first movie. He wears silly clothes, dances in a ridiculously outdated way, and generally acts “too cool for school,” except now we should be making fun of him for that, rather than being charmed by it. Gru still sucks at being a bad guy, and now sucks at being a good guy too, and not even working off the genuine charm of Kristen Wiig can help him. I sort of laughed at him beginning to sing after accidentally mooning an office birthday party, but that was about it.

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The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie speak to my inner child far more than the bright colors, quirky shapes, and loud noises of Illumination Entertainment films, and not just because of my personal ire. I didn’t own legos as a child and didn’t play with them much when I did get my hands on them, but the dialogue and story progression of these movies harkens back to play sessions with any kind of toy. Barbies, action figures, horses, dollies, or what-have-you, most kids made up stories like this, sometimes even more elaborately. It’s a pleasant, nostalgic reminder of the unfettered creativity of childhood while still having adult structure and thought applied to it, and the slapstick jokes (as overdone today as the pie-in-the-face of yore) are mingled with actual intelligence, humor, and wit.

Hell, my boyfriend and I laughed at the opening credits. The only other movie that got us to do that (that we can remember) was Deadpool.

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You may be skeptical watching the trailers, and perhaps rightly so; I certainly wasn’t sure the first few times, even after hearing how well the first film was received by critics and general audiences. But I definitely believe that these movies deserve more praise and affection than those made by, if you’ll pardon my bluntness, marketing whores and rip-off artists with barely half of that remarkable talent. That’s just instant gratification, in my opinion, and until I see some vast improvement, I shall continue to scorn and ignore Illumination Entertainment and its kindred.

You’d think a movie about legos would seem like the more blatant marketing exercise, but not so, somehow. It’s very fun and genuinely funny. Even the jokes that weren’t my typical cup of tea didn’t get so much as an eye-roll from me.

The Lego Movies may look iffy, especially to older folks, but if you take the risk, you may just find yourself well-rewarded. If nothing else, it’s cute, and you, your kids, and your grandkids will enjoy it together.

 

8/10

*Any images used in this post do not belong to me, but are being used for the purposes of review and satire.

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Pop Music Icons Summed Up in 10 Words or Less

Who has time for long-winded, ego-stroking think pieces anymore? Certainly not my generation. According to every article I’ve seen in the past ten years, millennials have the attention spans of lab mice, which is why we flock to short, punchy bursts of instant gratification like Vine and Twitter.

Well, allow me to continue that supposed trend today. I’m basically going to take tweets (succinct opinions) and publish them wholesale here. Let’s mock us some pop stars just in time for the Grammys, the most pretentious, inbreeding, self-aggrandizing excuse for an award show to ever grace cable television!

Let the mocking begin!

 

Carrie Underwood.

Queen of Modern Country. Breaks up the sausagefest.

 

Justin Bieber

Bearable since his bitter little balls dropped.

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Lady Gaga

Madonna-wannabe. Wish she’d just sing.

 

Beyonce 

Gifted. Gorgeous. Must have God-awful taste in men.

 

Ed Sheeran 

Wordy ginger brit with major feels.

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Taylor Swift

Whether mad, sad, or glad, that chick be boy-crazy.

 

Rihanna

That one friend who never takes a vacation.

 

Silentó

NOT A REAL ARTIST. SORRY NOT SORRY.

 

Meghan Trainor

GLEE’s Amy Winehouse. Insufferable. Arrogant. “Hollywood fat” at best.

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Drake

Asleep at the mic. Stream of consciousness.  No new friends.

 

Adam Levine.

Thinks he can pull off Justin Timberlake.”Maroon 5 who?”

 

Bruno Mars

Retro-fitting the 21st Century, and I’m okay with that.

 

The Chainsmokers

Hoping you’ll forget this one sometime soon:

 

Lukas Graham.

‘Nough said…no really. You’d think it’s just one guy.

 

Katy Perry.

Like Miley Cyrus but with autotune and no Disney shackles.

 

One Direction.

Not as bad as they were, in nearly every way.

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Nick Jonas. 

Discount Justin Timberlake. Still better than Adam Levine.

 

Sia.

Iggy Azalea’s phony accent with actual pipes to back it.

 

Justin Timberlake. 

Remember NSYNC? He pretends not to. Lonely Island represent!

 

The Weekend.

Half of Justin’s range while singing through their noses.

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DJ Snake.

Usually more fun away from the mic.

 

Adele. 

Gorgeous voice. Still not convinced she’d move on.

 

John Legend.

Doesn’t sound like he belongs to this decade.

 

Jessie Jay.

Discount Katy Perry.

 

twenty one pilots.

Good points. Depressing music. Seem like they need Linkin Park.

 

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Ariana Grande.

Still can’t get over “bwake fwee.” Sorry. Nice voice though.

 

Selena Gomez.

Boring music. Like Ariana, she looks 13.

 

Demi Lovato.

More boring. Still can’t escape the mighty shadow of Disney.

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Lil Wayne.

Weird looking. Jerk to women. Still gets women….?

 

Chris Brown.

Scumbag. Decent voice. Awful. Has awful fans.

 

Mariah Carey.

Amazing pipes. Pissy diva attitude.

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Skrillex.

The sound keys make in the dish washer.

 

P!nk.

My favorite artist. Needs a new live show routine though.

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*Please note: this is not meant to be a serious stab at anyone other than Chris Brown. 

 

 

The Worst Romantic Movie I Have Ever Seen

Happy Early Valentines Day! And say what you want about Hollywood schlock, at least there is usually chemistry involved.

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For a movie that claims to be about true, real love, Old Fashioned has not an ounce of love to be found. A woman named Amber moves into town to get away from an abusive past relationship, only to take up residence above an old antique shop called Old Fashioned. The owner and landlord, Clay, is a former frat boy-turned born again Christian, and he insists that he can’t be in the same room with any woman who is not his wife. So whenever he comes up to fix things, he makes Amber wait outside. Sounds charming, right?

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Amber is for some reason charmed by his convictions, and proceeds to purposefully break things around her apartment just to get him to visit. Sounds healthy, right?

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At one point, she drills holes into her refrigerator. Any other landlord would throw her out on the street for this, but okay.

When they finally go on a “date,” Clay’s church gives them this wonderfully intrusive book questionnaire, and Clay insists on asking questions such as, “How many children do you want?” On the first date. 

And just so you know, other questions range from, “What are your pet peeves?” to, “What percentage of your annual income is appropriate to spend on a pet?” And, “Do you believe in the death penalty?” No, I am not kidding. Dates are apparently a bunch of malarkey that Clay is just too real for, because who wants to come to any of these questions naturally over the course of dating for months? That’s obvious crazy talk.

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But hey, at least it’s not that sinful Fifty Shades of Grey, right?

Clay has a friend who is a shock radio deejay, and this gent constantly says mean and horrible things about women. But later, Clay interrupts his other friend’s bachelor party – which he was invited to, for some reason – and self-righteously reprimands his friends and the stripper they hired for degrading women…

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You know, Clay, some people would argue that what you’re doing is just as bad; trying to be a knight in shining armor and treating women less like complex human beings and more like sacred mannequins that you can’t even bring yourself to touch, lest you sully them. You cost the stripper a paycheck and tips that night, which she might have really needed, and you didn’t even stop to consider that she might be perfectly happy and fulfilled in this line of work. You saw something you judged to be “wrong” and tried to correct it without any real compassion or critical thought.

But ignoring all of that, you didn’t think to stand up to your deejay friend and straighten him out at any point before this. How is this a step too far, assuming that the other guy’s fiancé is aware and is comfortable with it?

My point here is that high-and-mighty is a suit that looks poor on most people, but especially if you can argue that they are just as flawed as the folks they are criticizing. Just food for thought.

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Clay constantly asserts that dating is stupid and superficial, but he seems to be conflating dating with one-night stands. There is quite a difference between those two things, but I guess Clay knows better than me because he “used to be” a part of that culture. It’s kind of unclear whether or not that means that he’d prefer arranged marriages instead, but even if I believed that he was ever really that wild and crazy, Clay’s pendulum has now swung so far in the opposite direction that I’m not convinced that his new way is all that healthy either.

Meanwhile, Amber seems nice enough. She’s described as “quirky,” but it’s in a really forced and awkward way that comes across more like hardcore Christians trying to make a relatable 20-something with no prior knowledge. But of course, anyone looks better standing next to Clay, the future axe murderer.

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I have no idea what Amber sees in Clay physically, mentally, emotionally, or what-have-you; it’s like watching Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker all over again, but without the occasional welcomed reprieve of epic space battles and CG aliens. Even before the hilariously offensive dating guidebook is introduced, Clay already comes across as controlling and arrogant, but afterwards, not only does he have to control almost every aspect of the relationship, but he can’t even be bothered to kiss or compliment her. I’m not saying she should force him to, but at the same time, nothing else about this relationship makes sense to me.

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In my mind, “love” is wanting to be with someone; to be happy with them, and make them happy. Even if he didn’t want to do things for Amber’s benefit, does Clay feel nothing when he’s around her? Does he never feel compelled to say, “You’re so beautiful,” or even just something like, “I love you laugh/smile/jokes/etc.”?

Sex doesn’t even need to enter into it. One or both of them could be asexual, or just really, really wholesome, and still you could convince me of why they enjoy each other’s company!

Instead, they are together because the writers say so, plain and simple. They want these two to be together, and so they are. Huzzah…

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What is even funnier is that Amber makes some new friends in town, and all throughout the movie, they are mocking Clay and telling her she could do so much better than him. I can’t disagree, especially when one of his good friends is such a misogynistic buttmunch, and he won’t stand up to this guy except when he wants to. It’s like the movie is lambasting itself; like it knows exactly what the problem is, but refuses to fix it.

I can’t defend this thing on any level. It’s unintentionally funny at times, but it’s also kind of psychotic and disturbing too. When Hollywood gives you film after film of crazy, unhealthy romcoms, at least there are different flavors to them. At least there is usually some passion, or half-way decent writing. People can choose to wonder how much of that relationship is implied to be a) normal, and b) what you should strive for.

With Christian film companies like Pure Flix, you know exactly what they are telling you at all times. It basically translates out to, “Shame shame shame! Gawd gawd gawd!” “You should be ashamed, disgusted, and afraid of where society is going, and where you’re going. Here’s a hint: it rhymes with ‘knell.’”

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It’s so much more condescending and obnoxious. As someone who still identifies as religious, I even dare to call it ‘preachy.’ 

 

*1/10 

The images in this article do not belong to me, but are being used to critique.

 

 

 

Fellowship of the Ring: Book vs Movie

Recently, I reread The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for fun. That got me thinking about the movies, as anyone who has seen both versions can’t help but compare the two as they go through. I can’t definitively say who did the story better, although I do think J.R.R. Tolkien put more love, thought, and effort into it, as he is the creator. Sometimes a new person in a different decade can expand on an author’s original ideas, in ways that he or she never thought to explore.

Both he and Peter Jackson should be commended, however, for their contributions to books, films, fantasy, and franchise overall, and I thought I’d examine some key differences between the versions today. Even the extended edition can’t cover everything, and Jackson had to somehow make the movies his own while still being relatively faithful to Tolkien’s original story.

So here we go!

 

What You Lose By Only Watching the Movie

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  • Realistic time-passage. The book may be a lot slower, but events tend to happen at a more natural pace, especially given how disorganized each party was before the Council of Elrond. Lots of time is spent resting, talking, and walking,

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Yeah, yeah, I know, but this load of walking offers many more details and, for some, more subtle and nuanced character development.

  • More interaction with Middle Earth as a whole. People that we see in passing (such as the wood elves in the extended version and the men/hobbits of Bree) are engaged in conversation, and a lot of history about them is expanded on in great detail.
  • Songs, poems, and lore. Another element that adds realism to a fictional world is storytelling. Bilbo in particular is a gifted lyricist and writer, and he shares many tales that lend culture, history, and ideology to the diverse cultures and races the characters encounter. It really shows Tolkien’s detail and passion for the world he created, and even those who might find parts of it boring must at least admit that his skill and intelligence is admirable.

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  • Sam’s cleverness, and his great fascination with elves.
  • More details that inform Frodo’s character. His parents died in a boating accident when he was twelve, and after almost a decade living in Buckland before being adopted by his cousin, Biblo. Bilbo leaves when Frodo turns 33, adulthood in hobbit years, and Frodo begins his journey with the One Ring at nearly 50 years old. He is very close with Merry and Pippin, who are younger relatives of his, and he has a good sense of humor and fairly quick wit.

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In addition, Frodo impresses many of the elves he meets by demonstrating what Bilbo taught him of their language. He is smart and practical, for the most part, and despite being afraid and feeling out of his element, Frodo also demonstrates great bravery and loyalty to his friends. Elijah Wood’s Frodo gets less time to shine, unfortunately, and in many moments where Book Frodo would have attempted to fight, he just drops his sword or falls over, leaving others to do most of the work. Both Frodo characters are endearing, curious, and brave, but Book Frodo has more time devoted to him, for better or worse, and the medium allows us to see some of his thoughts occasionally. It’s unfortunate, but no movie would have been capable of doing him perfect justice.

  •   Aragorn’s sword is re-forged immediately. There is very little build up to this, unlike in any of the movies.
    • Various scenes and characters from the book. Tom Bombadil, Glorfindel, the Barrow Downs, time in the Prancing Pony. As you might expect, to add drama, suspense, mystery, and urgency, Jackson switches around the placement of some scenes and completely omits others. Some other moments that are told in passing in the book get more direct screen time in the movie, which, while interesting and definitely an effective use of the visual medium, sometimes lose exposition and the thought process of the teller. Some motivations change, depending on the needs of the plot, but that can also subtlely or drastically change a character.

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    • Answers to various questions. What has Thorin’s company been up to since The Hobbit? Who are all of the people at the Council of Elrond, and why are they important? Why did Balin go to Moria in the first place? And what’s up with those damn eagles? Anything you wanted to know and more is revealed in the book, and while the tone of The Hobbit was sillier and less weighty, it bridges the gap between the two stories fairly nicely. Certainly better than The Hobbit movies, anyway.
    • Aragorn’s more diplomatic, “kingly” side. In this book, he’s still just a Dúnedain ranger, not a true king yet, but you see snippets of what he will be like. He is scraggly, but wise and well-spoken with the people he believes deserve his respect. When he takes charge of the Fellowhsip, and the elves of Lothlórien insist on blindfolding Gimli, Aragorn tells them that everyone will go blindfolded, even Legolas. He respects their law as much as he can while honoring his companion at the same time, even if Legolas is indignant about it.

Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn is a little too gruff and scraggly, in my opinion, but he’s a fine enough choice.

  • More of Gollum’s skillful and creepy tracking of the Fellowship.

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  • Some good, old-fashioned elf-dwarf cattiness. Especially once they reach Lothlórien. Good lord…it’s kind of hilarious though. The elves really need to check their privilege.
  • The sense of accomplishment you get when you reach the end.

 

What You Lose By Only Reading the Book

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  • Urgency. The pace slows to a crawl at times, and characters rest for waaaaay longer than you think they should, given the threat. At one point, Frodo becomes suspicious of being followed by a creepy rider dressed in black, but thinks it’s totally necessary to sit down and chat with the older farmer he knew from childhood and have dinner with his wife. At best, it can come across as silly, but at worst, it absolutely kills the tension.

Peter Jackson occasionally adds closure and genuine pay-off by shifting scenes around, even those from other books in the series.

  • Natural dialogue. Similarly to the urgency issue, characters in the book are needlessly polite and wait very nicely for people to finish, whether they are having a disagreement, an exchange of thinly-veiled insults, or simply have new information that contradicts the current speaker. Hardly anyone politely interjects, when you would think that time is of the essence. Some characters actually bring this up during the council meeting, which is hilarious, but also suggests that Tolkien knew he was spinning his wheels and continued anyway, maybe because he couldn’t think of how else to get that exposition in. This is a killer for some readers, making parts that should be interesting needlessly tedious. As much as I love this book, I am perfectly willing to admit that.
  • Orc scenes/dialogue. Other than some vague “shouts” from their enemies, the orcs in the book don’t get any lines. We also don’t get much description of how Saruman is prepping for war, and nothing so far about how Uruks differ much from regular old orcs.

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  • Great music. Howard Shore’s score is absolutely amazing. It’s perfectly atmospheric to the scenes, and he used actual Sindarin (Elvish) for some of the songs. When this film came out, I thought I could not possibly love Enya any more than I already did, but I was prove wrong. And I’m okay with that.
  • Great landscapes. How much tourism has been driven to New Zealand from this movie alone? If but I had Kim Kardashian’s vast riches for a hideously expensive royal wedding, I’d go to where they shot Rivendell and pay them to set up whatever else they needed to make it complete, then invite the cast to dress up in costume and show up in the crowd.

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Yes, I’m a dork. What else is new?

  • Great casting. Elijah Wood. Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, who actually met J.R.R. Tolkien, in addition to being a general badass in life and acting alike. The costuming is impeccable, although Sauron the Dark Lord is a bit over-the-top. He matches his lair, though, so that’s good. There’s no mistake that he’s wholly, irredeemably evil.

The only one who looks a little out of place is Hugo Weaving as Elrond, but unbeknownst to strict film-viewers, he is actually only half-elf, so his harder features can be forgiven. What might not be forgiven in light of this is his harshness towards Aragorn for trying to court his daughter.

Also, I love that John Rhys-Davies is taller than pretty much anyone else in the cast, but he’s a dwarf, so he ends up looking shorter than everyone.

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  • Great effects. I truly believe that a healthy mix of practical effects and CGI is the way to go in movies. This is less relevant in this film, but part of what makes Gollum so convincing and lifelike is that Andy Serkis is really there, interacting with the people talking to him. In most strictly CG fare, the characters typically never meet each other’s eyes, if they’re even looking in the right general direction to begin with. It doesn’t fool me, it’s not very immersive, and it only looks so impressive standing next to things that clearly don’t mix, with different structures and textures.

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  • Arwen getting some development and screen time. Because otherwise, this story is one big sausage fest. Which isn’t really a problem for me, but the addition of a capable, badass female character gets no complaints from me. And her romance with a main character is actually in the book, if only more subtly hinted. She wasn’t created from thin air and then forced into a stupid love triangle for no reason.
  • Boromir gets less to say, but he’s much more likeable. At the risk of “spoiling” The two Towers, it’s as though Jackson sucked out some of Faramir’s likability and gave it to Boromir…while completely missing the point of Faramir’s original character. But that’s another story!

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Boromir really gets to bond with Merry and Pippin, making his sacrifice at the end all the more redeeming and endearing. The little morons went and wasted it immediately, but still.

Boromir is presented in the movie as arrogant and naïve, but misguided. The One Ring still seduces him, and it’s very similar to the book, but we get more scenes showing that he cares about his people and just wants to defend them as best he can. It’s more implied in the book, but as a result, the most personality you get out of him is just that arrogance and naiveté, less clearly motivated. Sometimes subtle isn’t always better, and I get the sense that the first son of Denethor was not terribly popular with Tolkien himself.

    • The adorableness that is Pippin. large

He’s less young in this version and more of just a thoughtless idiot, but he’s still cute. He and Merry actually have personalities that aren’t confusing and interchangeable, even if they do come off a little less braze at times.

 

    • Frodo doing the chicken dance.

 

  • The Ring Wraiths are much scarier. It’s hard to imagine the imposing, hissing foes from the movie just walking up to the Old Gaffer and even remotely casually asking him where Frodo is. But that is how most people recount speaking to the black riders, even if they seem a bit shaken or their dogs were sent off scurrying. I like the movie wraiths better because they ask questions or swing their swords. They seem sinister and imposing without seeming undignified, whether it’s by their demeanor or their encounters with people on the road.
  • Fight choreography. Before Gimli’s height or Legolas’s archery became a running joke, they were just straight-up badasses. Fights can be flowing and energetic, almost like a dance. It’s not as gritty or chaotic as it might be in real life, but there’s certainly an art to it. In the book, you get very little description of strikes.
  • Showing, not telling. This is pretty standard for film, but acting has to clarify thoughts in place of narration. This allows for some brilliant, even powerful subtlety, like Gandalf’s hilarious posturing when trying to open the Doors of Durin in Moria, or Frodo’s silent exchange with Merry and Pippin before he leaves in the end. Not everything needs to be spoken aloud, and that is one place where realism comes into play in movies.

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One thing missing from the book and movie is moral ambiguity on the part of the villains. There are good guys and there are bad guys, and otherwise, there may be a few characters who are misguided or harmless and confusing. Tom Bombadil in particular reminds me of someone you might find in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But the antagonists are all ugly and rotten to the core. They vary by race or level of depravity, but there appears to be no possible redemption for any of them, which doesn’t ring true in the real world. It’s a comforting idea – that evil exists, but good will prevail in the end – but it’s not the most challenging of concepts.

That said, Fellowship of the Ring is still an amazingly creative, in-depth story, and the film is the best mainstream adaptation we could have hoped for, despite its flaws. If you like it (or especially love it), you should definitely try to read the books at least once. My parents let me see the first movie (I was about ten when it came out), but then they made me read each book before I could see the film version.

The 2005 Producers: Mel Brooks Doesn’t “Get” His Own Movie

Don’t get me wrong; I love Mel Brooks. I grew up watching the man’s movies. But something I have found over years of watching and re-watching is that Brooks is best when he’s reined in.

Look at it this way: what are Mel Brook’s best known classics? The story for Blazing Saddles is credited to Andrew Bergman, and in addition to Mel Brooks, he, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Al Uger worked on the screenplay. Young Frankenstein was helped along by the late, great Gene Wilder. Multiple talented people worked on these films with Brooks, and you can see that in the prevalence of the jokes that everyone remembers.

While I can’t be the most definitive here, I argue that it’s pretty easy to pick up on Brook’s style of comedy when he’s alone or unhindered.

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Jewish people, genitalia, bodily functions, gay people being stereotypically campy.  He tends to swing for the obvious jokes, the “cheap seats,” if you will, and across the country, 12-year-old boys titter with delight.

Haha…I said “titter.”

Which is not to say that these jokes can’t be humorous. Sometimes the funniest jokes are the over-the-top, silly, crazy, and crude ones when they’re used well. Mel Brooks just tends to use more of them than necessary, and when the gags aren’t that funny to begin with, this puts any given film only a few steps above Seltzer and Friedberg fare.

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Which it shouldn’t, because clearly Brooks has more talent than that. One such example that is amazing – and more importantly Brooks’s own – is The Producers. 

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The 1968 film The Producers is a masterpiece of black comedy, in my opinion. It is the story of one has-been producer, played by Zero Mostel, who shamelessly uses everyone in his life to get ahead, whether they be old ladies looking for a fling with a younger man, or a naive, neurotic accountant, played by Gene Wilder, who simply doesn’t know any better. When the accountant stumbles upon the realization that a flop could produce more money than a hit, this man hatches a scheme to purposefully continue his recent bad Broadway luck and make off with his investors’ money, this time with a show that is guaranteed to fail.

Everything about Mostel’s character, Max Bialystock, is terrible, and the things he does are only really funny because they highlight what a selfish, manipulative louse he is…well, that and the fact that his unwitting partner in crime, Leo Bloom, is so tightly-wound that he overreacts to every little thing. Max is a scumbag, but he’s a very charismatic scumbag, and while he does get punished in the end, along with Leo, it’s amusing to see that he still hasn’t really learned his lesson. Likely, he’s going to keep on failing with “get rich quick” schemes, and dragging anyone else that he can down with him.

A lot of comedy – dark, mean-spirited, or otherwise – is based on one of two things: misery and a subversion of expectation. We, the audience, like to see people punished when they deserve it, but we also like to see general pain and frustration because it relieves some of ours. Why else do people watch shows where someone they’ve never even met does a stupid stunt and is clearly injured?

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Maybe we tell ourselves that this person is stupid, and therefore deserves to be punished for thinking this would work. Whatever the justification, it’s probably a bit screwed up, but people still find it funny and cathartic.

Just by virtue of being a woman, I probably should be offended by the scene where Max Bialystock hires Ulla, a woman who can barely speak English, to be his office “secretary.” He refers to her as “a toy,” and tells her that dance and gyrating to music is what “work” is, just so that he can watch.

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But when I find myself amused at that scene, I’m not laughing at the objectification of some poor, underprivileged woman; I’m laughing at the new depth of the main character’s depravity and douchebaggery that I just witnessed. I mean, what a creep!  This just makes me want him to fail even more!

Dark humor is hard to explain to people, especially if it’s not their cup of tea, but the basic gist is this: sometimes laughing at the horrible things in life is what gets you through them.

Now, what about the musical and the remake of The Producers?

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OH MY GOD, MEL BROOKS! IT’S LIKE YOU DIDN’T EVEN WATCH YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE!

Aside from the delightful addition of Will Ferrell as Franz, the playwright who allows Max and Leo access to his Springtime for Hitler, nearly everything about the choices in both of these adaptations goes against the spirit of the original! Max and Leo are real friends? Wrong! Leo always hated his job and dreamed of following in Max’s footsteps? Wrong! Ulla comes to them both willingly, knowingly, and starts singing about the virtues of sexing yourself up to get ahead? Wrong! (But dark and screwed up. I will give it that.) Ulla then comes between these two good friends like Yoko Ono supposedly did with the Beatles?

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This was not a brotherly road trip movie about two underdog guys working their way up to success, Mel Brooks! Where did you even get that from the original movie?

Nathan Lane is okay, but while he’s got some sliminess, he doesn’t pull off the same kind of character as Zero Mostel, and it’s clear now that he wasn’t meant to. Matthew Broderick is at his absolute worst “acting wise”; he clearly can’t transition naturally from being on a stage to being in front of a camera several feet away. Nothing he says or does makes any sense, even in the conversations he’s a part of. It’s less like he has some sort of condition (or is just bad under any kind of pressure) and more like he’s just a weirdo with delayed reaction time and a random blankie.

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Seriously, watch the scene from the original back-to-back with the remake. Gene Wilder sells it. Matthew Broderick does not.

The remake’s solution to everything appears to be: add more gay jokes. Gay jokes! Get your gay jokes, here! How about them gay jokes?! The original movie had a few, sure, and they were only so funny there too, but it wasn’t an onslaught. The 2005 movie takes out the classic audition of LSD, who becomes hippy Hitler, and just gives the gay director the role because he acted stereotypically gay. I can understand that most people have never seen a real hippy from way back in the day, but even as a whippersnapper, I still found it hilarious.

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As I said, Will Ferrell is good. He’s derivative of the original character while still making the role his own, and that’s cool. I personally think he was born to play people like this.

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The bigger budget of the remake also allows for more to be going on in the musical within a musical, so that’s pretty good too.

But the original movie had great, punchy timing. The newer movie has awkward, slow timing, only to be relieved by scenes with Franz or the opening night of Springtime for Hitler itself. A last-minute conflict is thrown in when Leo flees the successful musical with Ulla on his arm, leaving Max to rot in jail. But don’t worry…he comes back…

Whoop dee do…

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Then, pow! Happy ending! Friendship wins the day, and the two go on to produce hit after hit in the musical scene!

Give me a %$#&ing break.

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Mel Brooks is a nice guy, and he’s made several good, funny movies, but I have no idea what he was thinking with this one. He had a decent film but apparently wasn’t satisfied with it, so he turned around and sucked all of the point, charm, and humor out of it. Would his other fans be okay with it if he did the same thing to Young Frankenstein? Or Space Balls?

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Okay, I hope I didn’t give him any ideas with that one. I hope he’s telling a good joke and is in on it. But you know what I mean.

It’s annoying when someone makes a crappy remake of a movie you like, but it somehow feels even worse when the original maker, who should have plenty of creative control, makes choices that visibly, palpably detract from his initial vision. Maybe if he’d called it a “re-imagining”, I’d be more forgiving of its existence, but still. It doesn’t hold a candle to the 1968 version, and no, this is not nostalgia blindness. I didn’t even see the original until I was 20, and that was only after seeing the remake and not understanding why it was supposed to be so funny.

Bottom line: I think the remake is Scheme. Feel free to disagree, but that’s just how I feel.

 

*3/10

The pictures in this article do not belong to me. 

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Dreadfully Delightful

Be warned: These spoilers will wreck your evening, your home life, and your day. Every single spoiler is nothing but dismay, so look away!

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After my pre-show thoughts post, I spent the better part of my weekend binging this show, thinking about it, and enjoying the hell out of it. My favorite episode, by far, is The Reptile Room parts one and two, as they have hands-down the most likable guardian, the most joy that the Baudelaires experience so far, and the most clever and amusing hijinks and sleuthing of all of Season One.

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I was surprised by how much Count Olaf’s henchmen add to every scene. It is funny how stupid and incompetent they are while still managing to avoid police custody, and their genuine awe and frank admiration when the children (or anyone else) outsmart them is charming. Neil Patrick Harris’s Olaf has grown on me immensely; while I still don’t find him the most intimidating, I have come to find him extremely charismatic. He has become likable and unlikable at the same time.

That is quite an accomplishment. I still believe that Jim Carrey brought a much more genuinely sinister presence to the role, but Harris does very well, and tends to be a bit more balanced. It’s very funny when he frequently forgets his own ruses, barely recovering before any nearby adults grow wise to his schemes.

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On a side note, something about Stephano reminds me of Dana Carvey’s turtle guy. Olaf is perhaps the best worst actor out there.

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As for the other actors, new Violet reminded me a lot of movie Violet, except for her accent and Hot Topic fashion sense. She also seems a bit smarter than movie Violet, because she has a few lines where she tries to lie or otherwise disguise her true feelings, and she does so pretty well. There is still plenty of “let’s tell the villain exactly what we plan to do to stop him” moments going on, but I get the sense that carries over from the book. It’s less obnoxious in the tv show, so I appreciate that.

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I think I like movie Klaus better than new Klaus, if only because Liam Aiken reminds me more of a real boy at Klaus’s age, regardless of voracious reading habits, but new Klaus is perfectly fine. New Sunny and movie Sunny both have as much personality as a baby with subtitles can, and I like both very much. I like to imagine Tara Strong coming into the studio just to record a few odd gurgles and coos for new Sunny and that makes me chuckle. I wonder how well she gets paid for that.

I’m not crazy about the obviously fake effects, but I admit that they lend to the overall tone of the series quite well. They are forced, much like some of the indifference, stupidity, and unwitting cruelty of many of the adult characters. It contains some realism, but is biased and over embellished, much like a child’s world view. Violet’s inventions, as well as the other effects that stand out like sore thumbs, show how the Baudelaires rise up and face their challenges, putting themselves on as equal footing as possible with the walking-caricature adults who try to determine their fate without them. It’s interesting, to say the least, so I can only complain so much.

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One thing that I can complain about, based on what little I know of the books, is the decision to include Jacquelyn, Mr. Poe’s secretary and recurring Volunteer Fire Department member. While I like her a lot, I think she detracts from both the tone of the series and the children’s accomplishments by her mere existence. The characters from the 2004 movie had no such possible bail-out (and apparently neither did the book Baudelaires), and even though she appeared more sparingly towards the end of Season One, Jacquelyn takes away from some of the tension.

The reveal of “the parents” not being the Baudelaire children’s parents was a nice touch, if a little extra cruel. For a non-book reader, it was not altogether unexpected, but still something of a kick in the guts moment. They have been mostly on their own up until now, and you know now that they definitely still are, if not more so, no matter how many shadowy V.F.D. people claim to be looking after them. It helps to counteract what Jacquelyn unwittingly takes away.

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Also, hi Robin Scherbatsky! If you don’t want me to see Barney Stinson playing Count Olaf, maybe don’t bring in buddies from How I Met Your Mother, huh, Neil?

The music is great. It’s manic and energetic, but also off-putting and depressing at times. Sometimes, it delves into both areas at once.

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Patrick Warburton has grown on me quite a bit, much like Harris, although I still can’t fully un-hear Kronk or Joe from Family Guy. The sets are nice and somewhat reminiscent of the movie, which is a plus for me.

There is more time for jokes and dialogue, but every once in a while, this can make a scene go on a little too long. For example, watch the scene where Klaus figures out Olaf’s plan involving The Marvelous Marriage. 

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Book fans will definitely find more loyalty here than they did with the 2004 film, but as usual with adaptation, there are still many liberties as well. Hopefully, the new elements will keep it from being stale or too predictable for them. For the rest of us, the show tells us to expect to be made miserable, and then proceeds to raise and lower our hopes on and off again throughout eight episodes. It’s very much like a rollercoaster, but despite the grim topics and disturbing bits here and there, it’s a family friendly romp that anyone can enjoy.

I’m definitely excited for a second season. I’ve enjoyed it a lot so far, and I’d like to see where this goes from here.

In the meantime, I suppose I should start reading the books. 🙂

 

*None of the images used in this post belong to me. 

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Thoughts about the Movie and the Show

A Series of Unfortunate Events is opening on Netflix today, and as such, I figured I’d take a quick look back at the other screen adaptation, the 2004 movie.

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The series was written by Daniel Handler (pen name Lemony Snicket, and the film focuses on the first three books, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window. I have not read any of the books, so I’m not qualified to judge this as an adaptation, but as a stand-alone film, I found it very enjoyable. It felt very much like a Grimm’s fairytale set in modern day, and the opening scene with the overly cutesy-cutesy, Rankin-Bass-style film being cut off by Jude Law, the narrator, was both jarring and very funny. As an outsider to the series viewing this for the first time, I thought it set the stage and tone very well.

Jim Carrey’s Count Olaf, like most of Jim Carrey’s characters, spends a lot of time mugging and playing to the camera, but at worst, I only find it slightly distracting. It really depends on the movie he’s in. I got the sense that Olaf was an eccentric egotist, as well as a greedy, dangerous psychopath, so it didn’t particularly bother me in this movie. I found Olaf genuinely creepy, aided by the fact that none of the other adults seem to take the children seriously. It plays well into two childhood fears of mine: that of scary strangers, and the idea that the only person I can rely on is myself. I would hate to think I lived in a world where my guardians couldn’t protect me, and even worse, weren’t aware of my need.

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The view of the adults is both mean-spirited and child-like; they are all so focused on their own plans and worries that they tune the Baudelaire children out. They rationalize the orphans as either too struck by tragedy to be thinking clearly, or just generally too young to know what they’re talking about. There are bad adults, and then there are well-intentioned, but bumbling or selfish adults, and the ineptitude of the latter puts the children arguably into more danger than the former.

But the point of the film seems to be highlighting the intelligence and resourcefulness of the Baudelaires, as well as showing that even in a world so full of unfortunate events, there is still plenty of goodness to be found and defended. It is, ultimately, an empowering story for kids, and I like that about it. Ironically, it doesn’t feel like unpleasantness just for unpleasantness’s sake, unlike Boxtrolls.

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The cinematography is all delightfully dark, morbid, and whimsical. It’s almost Tim Burton-eqsue, which is very fun to watch. It is credited to a man named Emmanuel Lubezki, who did work on the shooting of Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, so there you go. The music is fitting, if not the most memorable score in history. One of the songs reminded me a lot of something Enya had once released, but that is by no means a complaint.

My only gripe with the story was the fact that, for such smart children, the Baudelaires do have an awfully obnoxious habit of letting Count Olaf know what they plan to do. Instead of just going to Mr. Poe, the police, or anyone else in secret, they must constantly announce that they’re going to do so in front of the one person who can successfully stop them. It’s very frustrating, and unlike the situation with the hapless adults, it doesn’t feel like the film intends this one.

Otherwise, it’s a solid movie that I love breaking out from time to time. I wish they had done more at the time, as I really liked the child actors, but hey, there’s a tv show coming out right now. I’m hoping it will be even better than what came before.

My only immediate concern is that while Jim Carrey as an actor is usually a weirdo (and that may even be his general appeal), Neil Patrick Harris is usually too lovable, in person or in character. He was in a Muppets movie, for Pete’s sake, so to me, at worst, he’s Barney Stinson. That isn’t exactly the most intimidating monster television has ever created.

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Still, I’ll be curious to see what he does with the role. He’s a good actor, but I personally have a little trouble divorcing him from his characters. I’d also be interested to hear about the show’s book accuracy from any readers out there.

 

*None of the images used in this post belong to me.

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