ON DVD & Blu-Ray: June 17, 2014


Upon initially hearing there would be a movie based solely around the Lego brand and the toys and properties they owned I believed it would turn out to be nothing more than a cash grab, something to build the name (not that it needed it) or maybe expanding the brand might be a better way to approach it. Essentially, I expected this to turn out to be nothing more than one big commercial. There was little reason for it to be more than that, why waste such effort or creative juices on something that would no doubt deliver zero gratification in the end and only serve as something to decrease the credibility of Hollywood products? Not to mention the way in which children's entertainment disparages its audience much of the time allowing itself to get away with body function jokes and funny voices rather than actual, contextual humor. So, why would directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who took something like the beloved 1970's Judi Barrett book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and turned it into a witty, colorful piece of cinema and 21 Jump Street, a reboot of an 80's property that no one really put much faith in, and turned it into not only one of the best films of 2012 take on a purely commercial piece? Mainly because 21 Jump Street didn't have to be anything more than a re-make slapped together by a board of executives to satisfy humor-hungry teens who move from R-rated comedy to R-rated comedy without a care, but Lord and Miller made it something more, something notable. All of that is to say that the directors have done the same here; they transformed what could have been that one big commercial into something of a reminder, a love letter in ways to the spirit of childhood and how the imagination is just as precious as the adequacy we need to feel as adults. In short, The LEGO Movie is magical and reminds us of how simple it is to feel that little something extra. Full review here. B

Wes Anderson's latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is many things, but at its heart it feels like a quiet epic, a love letter to time gone by with a narrative spanning decades that chronicles the exceptionally unexceptional life of one young man who was influenced by another and would have his world forever changed because of him. It is as much about the world one creates around themselves and how it determines the outcome of ones life as it is about the actual plot of the story which, be not afraid, contains prison break-outs, gun fights, affairs with older women and a fair amount of lies and deception. Over the course of his career Anderson has created many an interesting worlds where his characters find their typically odd yet perfect little worlds rocked by some kind of event. Whether it be the Tennenbaums, Steve Zissou or even Mr. Fox each of these characters have a way of trying to retain the normality that has escaped them in the time of their lives that Anderson's films have chosen to document. With The Grand Budapest Hotel things are only slightly different in that the screenplay itself, for the first time in his career, was written solely by Anderson and this more intimate relationship with the material certainly makes for a strong showing by the director. While the style is still the same it feels this is the epitome of Anderson's imagination, that he is fully operating within the confines of his own imagination that has come to be inspired to create through the works of Stefan Zweig and his consistent themes of becoming lost in ones reality. Not only has Anderson seemed to inhabit the role of Zweig here, but he has also come to imprint that same mentality on his main character, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave, as one of our two storytellers overseeing the main narrative insinuates near the end of the film, may have come to live in a world that ceased to exist before he even entered it. It is this kind of thinking, these ideas beyond that of simply telling an entertaining story, but rather inspecting the mind of someone and how they look at their world and take on the challenges laid before them that makes Anderson's work so engaging and off-kilter. This film in particular beautifully demonstrates the thin line that sometimes exists between real life and imagination. Full review here. A

David Gordon Green is a director unafraid to explore the entire range of human emotion and while Hollywood sometimes requires that he segment these separate emotions into individual films Green has always been capable of dealing in the honesty of the human spirit. It would have been hard to find people who agreed with that assessment in 2011 when he released not one, but two critically panned straight-up comedies (Your Highness and The Sitter) one of which I understand the harsh reception, the other I think is sorely underrated. After taking a year or so off it seems Green re-evaluated what direction he was taking his career in and has since crafted two, lower-key character studies that have been able to access that full range of emotion he likes to explore rather than restricting him to the archetypes of slapstick, situational or conversation purely intended to make the audience laugh. While last years Prince Avalanche was a subdued little slice of life story that felt relaxed, improvised and more a quiet concentration on the point of it all, Joe is a character study as meticulously plotted and thought over as an extravagant poem meeting all the requirements of its goal scheme. Joe is not only about its title character but the place in the world in which he resides and the people around him that influence his decisions, those who he oversees and whose quality of life he determines and the community that is both fed up and inebriated with him. As played by Nicolas Cage this outdoor, rugged, man among men character becomes a kind of Christ-figure to these small town people looking to be saved from their depressing, trash-riddled lives. It is only in Cage's furrowed brow and hardened soul that we see how Joe wants to try and live, but that he can't bring himself to be what the standards of society expect of him and so he rebels and continues to rebel because that is the nature of his surroundings, no doubt of his upbringing. Joe can't help but to continue to think of himself as simultaneously better than those around him while never good enough to break free of this place he's found himself trapped in and I was riveted by him, moved by Cage's performances and intrigued by its interest in these peoples lives. I think it is safe to say Mr. Green is back to doing what he does best. Full review here. B

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