Two movie reviews

Everyone knows that February movies are terrible. Studios load all their Oscar-worthy films into November and December, and all their big budget popcorn flicks into the May-August summer movie season. But post-New Year movies tend to be things like Monuments Men, an issue movie intended to generate Oscar buzz, but which just wasn’t good enough to make the cut, or movies primarily intended for foreign distribution, like the new 300 movie, or Pompeii.  February is for flotsom, or on occasion, jetsom.  Which is why it was so nice to see two really pretty fun movies released last month. I had a busy February, as it happens, and only just got to see them, but they’re both really pretty good, and I recommend them with great pleasure.

First was The Lego Movie.  If you had told me six months ago that I would spend my hard-earned cash to see something called The Lego Movie, and not only that, enjoy it, I would have laughed in your face. Or that Tegan and Sara would write the catchiest pop song of the year, especially for that movie?  No way.  Well, take that, six-months-ago-me!  What a tool that guy was!  In fact, The Lego Movie is awesome. Of course, everything is awesome, as the movie’s one song reminds us over and over and over.  But so is the movie.

Basically, there are two ways of playing with Legos.  One way is to follow the instructions carefully, and build the stuff that’s on the cover of the box.  The second way is to ignore the cover of the box, and build whatever awesome thing your imagination can come up with, limited only by the Legos at hand.  That Legos insight somehow becomes a premise, and eventually a story, and eventually an animated movie.  Lord Business (or President Business; the titles are interchangeable) voiced by (and eventually played by) Will Ferrell, wants conformity.  He wants everyone to obey the rules.  And so, in his world, there’s one song that everyone builds stuff to: the aforementioned “Everything is Awesome.”  There’s one TV show that everyone watches, a sitcom called “Where are my pants?”  It features one character, and one joke; dude can’t find his pants.  And everything is about to be locked in, set in stone.  Glued firmly in place.

Opposing Business, is a fierce female ninja warrior, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), her boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett), a prophet figure (Morgan Freeman, natch), and a perfectly (and I mean perfectly) ordinary Lego figure named Emmet.  Also a team of Master Builders, which is to say people with the ability to use Legos to build anything.  Master Builders include Gandalf, Abraham Lincoln, a Pirate, Han Solo–oh, there are a ton of them.

All I can say is, the movie comes down on the side of childish imagination, that it’s the most pleasurable pop culture pastiche, that it moves at a giddy pace and that every second of it was a pure delight.  It’s the funnest, awesomest, most wildly inventive movie I’ve seen in awhile. Let me add that the strongest bad word any character ever uses in the movie is ‘heck’ or ‘darn,’ and that that ends up making perfect character sense by the movie’s end.

Second movie is nowhere near as fun, but it was plenty exciting: Liam Neeson in Non-Stop.  It’s a terrific action movie, and one which I really seriously doubt will be shown on the airplane next time you fly.  That’s assuming that you ever fly ever again after seeing it.  I know I won’t.

Neeson has reinvented himself as an action movie star now, in his 60s, and somehow it works.  He’s a big guy, his face looks like it’s seen better days, and he makes a kind of exhausted physicality work for him; first in the two Taken movies, and now in this.  In Non-Stop, he plays Bill Marks, a federal air marshal, who hates flying, and yet has a job in which he basically does nothing but fly.  On a New York to London flight, he gets a text message. Someone on the plane is going to kill a passenger every twenty minutes unless Marks can get his bosses–the federal government–to wire transfer 150 million dollars.

He figures he can trust two people on the plane.  One is Julianne Moore, who was sitting next to him when he got the text message–he figures therefore she can’t be the person who sent it.  The other is Lady Mary Crawley.  Oops, sorry, Michele Dockery, playing a flight attendant.  And, one by one, people on the plane die.  Second to go is the plane’s captain.  Which means the co-pilot is both a suspect, and the only guy who can fly the plane.

One of the things I liked about the movie is that Bill Marks is a very flawed hero.  He’s an alcoholic; he’s about to lose his job.  He sneaks into the lavatory, tapes over the smoke detector, and has a smoke.  And as the emergency progresses, he handles it badly at first, bumbling about, essentially running all the plays in  the bad guy’s playbook.  And the passengers become increasingly convinced that Marks is the bad guy, that he’s hijacked the plane.  And–the power of smart phones!– so does the rest of the world media.

Including me.  I’ll be honest, half-way through the film, I wasn’t sure who the good guy really was.  Could it be that Liam Neeson’s character is, in fact, the bad guy, that we’re seeing the film from his p.o.v., but, a la Roger Ackroyd, he’s also the killer? Very nice misdirection from the director, Jaume Collet-Serra, the Spanish director who also directed Neeson in Unknown, another pretty good thriller.

I won’t spoil the ending, except to say that when we do learn the whys and wherefores of the actual plot, the movie suddenly gets a whole lot dumber.  That the ending, though unquestionably exciting, doesn’t make a lick of sense.  And also, if you’re an iffy flyer like me, this film may well convince you never to fly again.  Funny how that didn’t happen after Snakes on a Plane. But in the case of Non-Stop, a more plausible scenario made for a very exciting action movie.  It won’t increase your understanding of life or the universe or anything.  But it’ll pass a couple of hours agreeably enough.

So, you see, there are good movies released every month. Including February.  And The Legos Movie is weird and fun and bizarre and really really awesome.  And Non-Stop is a darn good thriller, not remotely paint-by-numbers.  They’re both worth your time, I think.




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