The LEGO Ninjago Movie Review

It was obvious from the get-go that The LEGO Ninjago Movie would be the least inspired installment of the continuing LEGO Movie franchise. Based loosely off a children’s cartoon series (which in turn was based off a preexisting toyline), The LEGO Ninjago Movie tells the story of Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco), who lives in a metropolitan city constantly threatened by the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Lloyd happens to be the most despised individual in the entire city, mostly because of his relation to Lord Garmadon.

Luckily, Garmadon never comes close to ruling over anything, because the LEGO city is protected by a secretive ninja force led by Master Wu (Jackie Chan). And, unbeknownst to just about everyone, Lloyd happens to be one of those very ninjas. He, along with the rest of his ninja friends, is about to embark on a dangerous quest to stop Lord Garmadon for good.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie features many bizarre creative choices that I found to be quite delightful. The tone and the genre of the film, for example, are ever-changing and seem to be a blend of many ideas.

This film should’ve come with a hyperactivity warning, as there are very few breathers for the audience. Not only are the scene transitions quick, but entire plot points fly by at a rapid pace. What felt like five minutes of watching LEGO Ninjago turned out to be an hours’ worth of the film.

Sadly, most of the characters didn’t have any depth or personality to them. Other than the lead antagonist Garmadon and Master Wu, none really stood out as being interesting. I noticed multiple talented voice actors behind the little brick figures, but I guess the script didn’t call for utilizing their full potential.

Probably the best aspect of the film was the clever humor poking fun at popular action/adventure genre tropes. In one scene, they mock the overuse of the popular sound effect dubbed the Wilhelm Scream (heard in Star Wars as well as Indiana Jones). In another hilarious scene, they comment on how the wise character in action/adventure movies always withhold incredibly important knowledge until they’re in the process of dying. Very funny.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie had plenty of comedic, fun-filled moments, yet unfortunately lacked the charm of its LEGO predecessors. There are a plethora of scenes attempting to teach kids very simple and valuable messages. But where these scenes came off as cute in LEGO Batman and The LEGO Movie, here they’re just sappy. Those looking for a fast-paced children’s comedy won’t need to search any further. However, if you were expecting anything more than that, you may find yourself disappointed.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

The House (2017) Review

If you’ve ever wondered how a film could perfectly squander the acting talents of two A-list movie stars, then look no further than The House.

The House stars Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as Scott and Kate, two parents trying to send their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) to college. With very little money to do so, Scott and Kate reluctantly decide to open up an illegal casino in the basement of their good friend Frank’s (Jason Mantzoukas) house. As they quickly become absorbed into the Vegas-esque lifestyle, Scott and Kate soon realize the bit off way more than they can chew, with angry councilmen, dim-witted cops, and even gangsters hot on their trail.

The most unfortunate aspect of The House isn’t its poorly paced plot or the abundance of shoddy scenes that go nowhere. No, the worst part of this entire picture happened to be the shockingly lousy performances of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, who were given too much free rein in their acting. It was as if they were both put in front of a camera and told to “be funny”. This decision to use improvisation resulted in horrible comedic timing, with many awkward pauses that constantly broke up the dialogue.

The one saving grace of The House that rescues it from being a complete failure in comedy, is the arrival of Jeremy Renner’s character. Renner played a mob boss whose behavior matched the nonsensical tone of the film much better than anyone else. The few scenes Renner was involved with are downright over-the-top and ridiculous, which actually got some laughs from the audience. Even though his presence in the film was short-lived, his character was infinitely more entertaining than Ferrell or Poehler.

The House could’ve been a much more successful comedy, had it only embraced the absurd nature of the premise (and stuck to a more focused plot). The moments where Will Ferrell is chopping off fingers and Jeremy Renner is getting set on fire are hilarious, but make up only a small sliver of the film. Most of the time the audience is subjected to embarrassingly stale humor from actors that deserve a better vessel to showcase their talents.

With overwhelmingly bad direction, crummy plot pacing, and lots of wasted potential, The House is a film that audiences will be quick to forget.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Review

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” That is the opening line to one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen. From the moment I first watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was instantly in love with its dark humor and outlandish visuals.

Upon release, critics didn’t quite like Fear and Loathing, and it wasn’t that successful at the box office either. More recently however, the film has attained cult status, with a steadily growing fan base.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on the book by the same name, and stars Johnny Depp as the revered Hunter S. Thompson (who goes under the pseudonym of Raoul Duke). Raoul, along with his Samoan attorney Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), are on a trip to Las Vegas to journalistically cover the Mint 400 race. Armed with a suitcase full of higher powered drugs, the entire trip instead becomes one big hallucinogenic drug filled experience.

As far as staying true to the novel, I think Fear and Loathing is among the best adaptations I’ve seen. In fact, a lot of the dialogue in the film is actually taken straight from the book. It’s obvious that a lot of work was put in to give the viewer the same iconic imagery and peculiar sense of humor as the book. One of my favorite scenes in the film (and book) is when Duke first arrives to the hotel, and starts hallucinating that all the guests are actually giant lizards. This scene is full of lifelike puppets and vibrant colors reflecting off Duke’s face, giving the viewer the feeling they too are on a bad drug trip. Overall a brilliant use of freaky images and great lighting technique.

Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson is beyond hilarious and entertaining. I would go so far as to say it is one of his greatest roles to date. All the mannerisms and quirks of Hunter S. Thompson are fantastically mimicked by Depp, giving viewers a very memorable performance. The way he walks around bow legged and mumbles with a cigarette in his mouth cracks me up every time I see it.

The consensus I’ve heard critics is that Fear and Loathing had very little, if anything at all, to say. I would have to strongly disagree with this sentiment. I think Fear and Loathing had a lot of insightful commentary, particularly about the counterculture movement of the 60’s and the growing levels of American consumerism. There is one scene in particular where Duke monologues about the 1960’s, perfectly summing up the counterculture movement better than I’ve ever heard before. He sites how his peace-loving generation seemed like it was winning the cultural fight without ever hurting another person. Yet, somehow everything changed. The hippies lost all the momentum. This “Wave Speech”, as it is most commonly known, is worth watching the film for all on its own.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains one of my favorite films of all time, and for very good reason. The dark sense of humor, commentary on 1960’s counterculture, and peculiar imagery all work to make this a one of a kind film. Plus, the film gave us some of the best Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro performances to date.  I really think Fear and Loathing is a masterpiece of cinema, plain and simple. Hopefully it will continue to get the admiration and recognition it rightfully deserves.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

 

Good Burger Review

Over time, Good Burger seems to have grown a strange cult following of fans who grew up with the flick. This goofball film is often treated like the Citizen Kane of the fast-food industry. Hell, when Netflix attempted to remove Good Burger from their streaming service, they were met with severe backlash. Am I missing something? I mean, is it really anything more than a cheap Nickelodeon movie?

The almighty Good Burger stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, who previously appeared in their own Nickelodeon show together called Kenan & Kel. Kenan plays Dexter Reed, a high school student who hits his teacher’s car at the beginning of summer break, forcing him to get a job in fast-food. He takes a job working at Good Burger, a restaurant slowly going out of business due to its new competitor Mondo Burger. Here, Dexter meets a dimwitted cashier named Ed (played by Kel), who seems to live, breathe, and sleep fast-food. What follows is a very random series of events that I feel appropriate to only label as ‘hi-jinks’.

The writing of Good Burger is just so shockingly bizarre that I’m not really sure what to make of it. I’m mostly speaking about the films sense of humor, since every other word uttered by Kel Mitchell in the film is a ridiculously lazy pun. At times, I laughed at Good Burger’s weird jokes, however on most occasions I was trying to understand why anyone else would laugh at Good Burger. Some puns in this flick are clever, and others are just written so peculiarly that they got confused chuckles out of me.

Unfortunately, most of Kel’s puns come from him taking every statement someone makes literal, which gets very annoying very fast. In one scene of Good Burger, a customer orders a burger with nothing on it. Kel then gives the customer just given two buns with no meat. That was the joke. He got just two buns, get it! It’s just so downright stupid I’m not sure why I’m even wasting my time discussing why it’s not funny.

One thing Good Burger does surprisingly get right, is that it acts as a perfect snapshot of the time period it came out of. It reminds me of all the original Nickelodeon and Disney films that were released in the nineties. Good Burger also just has this inherent nineties feel to all of its cheesiness. These features both date the film, and give it a sense of timelessness.

The plot and characters of Good Burger are entertaining enough that kids will easily have a fun time watching it. The protagonists actually have some okay development throughout the story, and the plot does have exciting moments. This is probably the reason most people love Good Burger, because they saw it much more objectively as a child. When parents see the talking hamburgers with eyes, a strange ex-Black Panther played by Sinbad (seriously movie?), and a surprising amount of race and sexual humor for a kid movie, they will probably just be confused.

When all is said and done, I guess I can’t really hate Good Burger. I can respect why so many people love it, as Good Burger gives fans a nostalgic and sentimental feeling they  value greatly. However, the writing is unfortunately absurd and atrocious, and the humor is beyond cringeworthy. Yet, I somehow found a subtle hint of charm to the madness onscreen.

If you’ve never seen Good Burger before, then maybe that’s for the best. If you do plan on viewing it at some point, going in with low comedic expectations is highly recommended.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Airplane!: Reel Quick Reviews

“I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley”, one of the many great lines in the hilarious cult comedy Airplane!. Even after almost forty years since its release, few parodies have lived up to it.

Airplane! is basically a spoof disaster movie on a plane. When the diverse passengers of a 747 take ill due to some bad fish, it is up to a no nonsense doctor and a former air force pilot to land the plane safely.

The cast of Airplane! (including such people as Leslie Nielsen, Robert Hays, and Julie Hagerty) are delightfully talented and funny. They all somehow manage to play such straight faced characters among the many humorous puns and visual gags.

Airplane! is surprisingly energetic when it comes to firing off jokes rapidly. Ever few seconds or so there is another one-off joke involving word play that almost always gets a laugh. There is also some of the best racial and perverse humor I’ve seen executed in a film. One of my favorite scenes in Airplane! involves two black men who speak in jive, very funny.

Airplane! brings us back to an era when parody movies were not frowned upon as a lesser form of entertainment. Unfortunately the days of Airplane! and Mel Brooks style parody are long gone. Airplane! is one of the best parodies of the eighties, and I’m sure it will continue to be adored by fans for years to come.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut Review

South Park has stood the test of time and remains an edgy, hilarious adult cartoon. It has also been one of my favorite shows for some time now. The film counterpart to the show, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, just feels like an extended length episode. Which for previous South Park fans, is great!

South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut stars everyone’s favorite foul mouthed children on a journey to save their favorite Canadian television stars Terrence and Philip. After the parents of South Park blame Terrence and Philip for corrupting the American youth, the U.S. government kidnaps and plans to execute them. It is now up to the children of South Park to save Terrence and Philip and to prevent World war 3.

South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut plays out entirely like a musical, with many original songs sung throughout. I find this choice to be strange, but then again, the show is beyond strange so it makes sense. After only one viewing I’ve had many of the songs (like “Blame Canada” and “It’s Easy M’kay”) stuck in my head as I go about my day. All the songs were catchy, and they felt very well written for what they were. I get the feeling the songs were written around the script instead of the script around the songs, which is definitely a good choice on the filmmakers part. The soundtrack is definitely one of the best and most enjoyable aspects of South Park : Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, worth the viewing all on its own.

Something South Park always seems well prepared for is to deliver a simple and important message in a ridiculously overblown way. The message here involves how American parents are always ready to blame or censor somebody else for their child’s problems, when they should really be blaming themselves (and or the child). I think this is a good theme for a film that you don’t see very often. It works well with the style of South Park and their anti-censorship convictions.

I guess the one problem with the South Park movie is its humor, which some might deem as insulting and distasteful. This is a legitimate concern, as its viewership is severely decreased by having offensive humor so frequently scattered throughout your film. However since South Park knows its target audience and plays to it, you can’t really blame or discredit them. Therefore I consider this problem only a slight nitpick.

So while its overly offensive and gross style of humor is plenty to turn away many heads, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut has enough charm and laughs to satisfy its audience. All the original songs are clever and catchy, and the film hones in on an ever important message not often told. So if you can look past the naughty jokes, I think you will be able to get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

 

Hotel Transylvania 2 Review

Over the years Adam Sandler has acquired a stigma as a horrible writer, actor, and director. This often times feels very warranted, as his films seem to get progressively worse (like Pixels and Jack and Jill). However when we stigmatize him as a horrible filmmaker we blind ourselves to when Sandler actually creates something worthwhile and meaningful. Cue the Hotel Transylvania movies.

Hotel Transylvania 2 is an animated film starring Selena Gomez and Adam Sandler (it is also written by Sandler as well). It takes place shortly after the events of the first film, with Dracula’s daughter Mavis (a vampire played by Gomez) marrying her fiance Jonathan (who is a human played by Andy Samberg). Mavis later tells Dracula that she is pregnant, and eventually gives birth to her child Dennis (Asher Blinkoff). Dracula hopes that by Dennis’s fifth birthday he will grow his fangs and become a vampire like him. To help aid this process, Dracula sends Mavis and Jonathan on a vacation to California while he and his usual goofy friends try to bring the fangs out of Dennis. A simple plot with a lot of fun.

Hotel Transylvania 2 has a somewhat similar moral messages as in the first installment. It’s a ‘don’t be judgmental’ and ‘accept people for who they are’ kind of mentality. Even though they are kind of recycled from the first one, these are pretty good messages for children and the film uses them well.

I usually am not a fan of the Adam Sandler corral of actors. Kevin James is one of my least favorite actors and David Spade really gets on my nerves. Nonetheless both these guys are in the film and they really work. In fact, all the cast for Hotel Transylvania 2 fits like a glove. Steve Buscemi plays a werewolf who has over one hundred children (or were-pups?). He slouches over when he walks and wears this hilarious business casual suit. His character just looks like a dad who has given up on life, which is similar to how he acts. I thought Buscemi’s character was hysterical because he really got me laughing.

Another hilarious character worth mentioning is Blobby. Blobby is a green gelatinous blob monster. He cannot speak, he can only grunt while vibrating his body. I think that Blobby is the perfect example of why this films humor works. Our cast puts Blobby through lots of comedic physical comedy, constantly causing him serious pain. This only gets funnier as the film goes on and they call back to it frequently throughout.

The imagery in this film is phenomenal as well. Fans of the Universal monster films are sure to like this one, because they have all the great monsters. Dracula’s hotel/castle is awesome looking and I love that the film allows us to see the goings-on of the hotel (like the zombie bellhops).

The climax to the film was to my surprise very fast pace. I knew it was going to be good, just not this good. They throw in a couple of intense moments as well as some heartfelt scenes too. It was definitely more than I was expecting and was a whole lot of fun.

I absolutely love both Hotel Transylvania films. Everything about them just works so well! The imagery, humor, characters, design, it’s all there. I would recommend these to just about anyone who’d be willing to see them! The characters and story are enough to entertain children, and the humor is witty enough to entertain adults. I hope that in the future Adam Sandler will stick to making family comedies like this, because Hotel Transylvania is a great film nobody should miss.

-Zachary Flint