Cast: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Isabella Kai Rice, Cheryl Ladd, Whitney Cummings, Simon Kassianides, Robert Wisdom
Thankfully, it isn’t.
Rating: 4/10 – rescued from a lower rating thanks to Rosario Dawson’s committed performance, Unforgettable is an unfortunate choice of title for a movie that offers nothing new, or compelling, in its tale of a bonkers ex-wife (Heigl) who tries to frame her ex-husband’s new girlfriend (Dawson) for murder; with a script best described as dramatically inert, characters who might as well be cardboard cutouts for all the depth they have, and stolid, workmanlike direction from first-timer Di Novi (better known as a producer), this is a tepid thriller that telegraphs every single plot development from a mile away, and abandons any notion of credibility right from the very start.
Cast: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Hector Elizondo, Jenny Slate, Channing Tatum, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O’Brien, Doug Benson, Billy Dee Williams, Zoë Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Riki Lindhome, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Jonah Hill, Adam Devine, Mariah Carey
A black screen. And then… “Black. All important movies start with a black screen. And music. Edgy, scary music that would make a parent or studio executive nervous. And logos. Really long and dramatic logos. Warner Bros. Why not Warner Brothers? I dunno. DC. The house that Batman built. Yeah, what Superman? Come at me bro. I’m your kryptonite. Hmm, not sure what RatPac does but that logo is macho. I dig it. Okay, get yourself ready for some… reading. If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change. Hoooo. [attributed to Michael Jackson] No, I said that. Batman is very wise. I also have huge pecs and a nine pack. Yeah, I’ve got an extra ab. Now lets start the movie.” …and that’s just the first couple of minutes.
After the success of The LEGO Movie (2014), it was inevitable that a spin-off movie featuring the Caped Crusader would eventually hit our screens. Above all the other superheroes in that movie, it was Batman (Arnett), and his wonderfully egotistical repartee that grabbed the audience’s attention (“Bruce Wayne? Uh… who’s that? Sounds like a cool guy”). Now, he’s back, and this time he faces his biggest challenge. No, not the Joker (Galifianakis), or Catwoman (Kravitz), or Scarecrow (Mantzoukas), but… accepting he’s part of a family.
After foiling another of the Joker’s dastardly plans to destroy Gotham, and flatly denying the Joker’s assertion that he is Batman’s greatest enemy, the (brick)Bat heads back to the Batcave and a lonely evening at Wayne Manor (now on Wayne Island). The next night, at a gala to celebrate the retirement of Commissioner Gordon (Elizondo), his successor, his daughter Barbara (Dawson), announces that she intends to restructure Gotham’s police force to function without Batman’s help. The Joker turns up unexpectedly with all the other Gotham villains, and surrenders. Batman is immediately suspicious that the Joker is up to something, and aware that his arch-rival Superman (Tatum) banished General Zod to the Phantom Zone, decides this is what should happen to the Joker.
Before he can acquire Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector (PZP from now on), Batman is reminded by his butler, Alfred (Fiennes), that while he was at the gala, he inadvertently adopted an orphan (“My name is Richard Grayson. The other kids call me Dick.” “Well, children can be cruel.”). Batman allows “Dick” to help him and his young ward takes on the superhero identity, Robin. Together they steal the PZP from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, and visit Arkham Asylum where they use it on the Joker. The new Commissioner reacts badly to this, and she has both Batman and Robin locked up. But Harley Quinn (Slate), the one villain who didn’t surrender, steals the PZP and uses it to free the Joker. In turn he uses it to free all the villains trapped in the Phantom Zone, a group that includes Lord Voldemort (Izzard), the Daleks, and the Eye of Sauron (Clement) (but strangely, not General Zod).
With Gotham once again facing terrible ruin and destruction, Commissioner Gordon (or Babs as Batman calls her) realises she needs Batman and Robin’s help, and the three of them team up with Alfred to take on all the super-villains now loose in Gotham. Attacked on all sides, the quartet manage to see off the Eye of Sauron (and an embarrassed Kraken) before making it to Wayne Island and a showdown with the Joker. But Batman can’t risk losing the three people who now mean the most to him, and so he tricks them, and faces the Joker alone. But his plan quickly backfires on him, and the Caped Crusader finds himself in the Phantom Zone, while his new “family” do their utmost to try and save him…
The LEGO Batman Movie, like its predecessor, crams an awful lot into its running time, but although the plot thickens at a fast pace, and the jokes come even thicker and faster (a second viewing is practically unavoidable if you want to “get” all the in-jokes and references to previous Batman movies and comics), but thanks to a script by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington that defies the idea that “too many cooks spoil the broth”, the storyline is easy to follow, and the main subplot involving Batman not going it alone is stressed over and over (in fact, a little too much). It also provides one of the best Batman/Joker story arcs seen for quite some time, as the Joker’s need to be hated by Batman casts their adversarial relationship in the light of an unrequited bromance.
But while the script adds layers that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in a semi-sequel animated movie, it certainly doesn’t skimp on the comedy, and like The LEGO Movie, it’s a riot of visual gags, verbal one-liners, and sit-com moments that all gel together into a splendidly anarchic whole. It also takes as many opportunities as it can to poke fun at previous Batman movies – at one point, Alfred chides Batman’s behaviour as something he’s seen “in 2016 and 2012 and 2008 and 2005 and 1997 and 1995 and 1992 and 1989 and that weird one in 1966 (cue LEGO versions of Batman’s previous big screen outings; well, except for that weird one) – while taking a few sideswipes at other superhero movies. If anything, there’s a greater success rate here than in 2014, and the writing team should be congratulated for making this feel as fresh and as appealing as its forerunner.
Of course, the cast have a lot to do with it as well, with Arnett now in a position to lay claim to the title of Best Batman Voice Artist Ever. Whether he’s being arrogantly charming, obtuse, horrified by Robin’s liking for disco music, or struggling to say the word “sorry”, Arnett’s performance is immensely entertaining, and it’s clear the actor is having a blast. This is reflected in the performances of the rest of the cast, with Galifianakis, Cera, Fiennes, and Slate all on top form, while Dawson is unfortunately stuck with being the straight (wo)man to Arnett’s comic embellishments. The movie looks wonderful as well, with the LEGO sets combining beautifully with the CGI elements, and there’s a level of inspired visual invention that you can only get from an animated movie. If there’s one criticism to be made in this respect, it’s that some of the super-villains – the Daleks, the Gremlins, and the Kraken in particular – don’t look as good as most of the others do. But when a movie is otherwise as visually and comedically ingenious as this is, then what’s a few dodgy character designs between super-villains?
Rating: 8/10 – in amongst all the vivid action and the crunching noise, The LEGO Batman Movie is a good-natured, entertaining… movie that doesn’t waste a frame or the chance to put a smile on its audience’s faces; better by far than its live action brethren, it does more with the character in one outing than ever before, and does so in a way that’s still respectful of the source material, even though said material is being pulled around and twisted out of shape in the pursuit of gags, gags, and more gags.
Cast: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, JB Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Romany Malco, Cedric the Entertainer, Anders Holm, Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones, Sherri Shepherd, Jay Pharaoh, Ben Vereen, Kevin Hart, Luis Guzmán, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, DMX, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe
Andre Allen (Rock) is a stand-up comedian whose move into movies has brought him international fame thanks to the Hammy trilogy where he plays a cop in a bear costume. Wanting to put the Hammy movies behind him and focus on more serious projects – his latest movie, Uprize, is about the slave revolt that began in Haiti in 1791 – Andre is also a recovering alcoholic and about to get married to reality TV star Erica Long (Union).With only a couple of days to go before the wedding, Andre agrees to an interview with the New York Times’ Chelsea Brown (Dawson).
The interview gets off to a poor start when Chelsea asks him a banal question that prompts him to challenge her to ask the questions she really wants to ask. She wants to know when he stopped being funny and why, and about his alcoholism. He tells her about the time he hit bottom, in 2003 on a trip to Houston, where a night of sex and drugs with a couple of prostitutes (and the unexpected involvement of his tour promoter) led to accusations of rape and his being arrested. He also credits Erica with helping him achieve sobriety and stay that way.
As the interview continues, Andre introduces Chelsea to some of his friends. He’s relaxed with them, and they all joke that he’s never been funny and still isn’t. At a press conference for Uprize, Andre is chagrined to hear calls for another Hammy the Bear movie. He and Chelsea stop off at a hotel so she can meet up with her boyfriend, Brad (Holm), whose birthday it is. Unfortunately, she discovers that Brad has been hiding the fact that he’s gay (despite some very obvious clues in their sex life). Upset and angry at being so easily duped, she’s less than happy when Andre expresses his disbelief at how naïve she’s been. They argue, but the argument leads to their kissing and ending up in a club bathroom about to have sex. They manage to stop themselves; Andre asks to borrow Chelsea’s phone to make a call. While he does he discovers that she is actually James Nielson. He confronts her. Chelsea admits to the deception but tries to explain that she does like him and that she regrets not having told him sooner. Andre refuses to accept her explanation and leaves her behind in the club. From there he goes to a convenience store where he gives in to temptation and starts drinking again…
A romantic comedy that weaves in some interesting dramatic elements, Top Five is an astute, cleverly constructed movie that shows Rock firing on all cylinders and mixing gross-out comedy with intelligent observations on fame and media exposure, as well as trenchant examinations of modern day relationships and their ups and downs. It’s a confident movie, unafraid to take a few risks, and Rock proves he has a gift for exposing some of the more absurd aspects of his profession, in particular the fame that can be gained from a movie trilogy based around the exploits of a cop in a bear costume (“It’s Hammy time!”).
He’s also more than adroit at creating a romance between Andre and Chelsea that anchors the movie and proves far more affecting than expected. Partly this is due to his script, which for the most part tries hard to avoid becoming standard romantic fare (though it follows an established formula), and the obvious chemistry he has with Dawson. As they travel the streets of New York, challenging each other, debating, laughing, supporting each other, the warmth and growing affection they feel for each other is so charmingly done that you find yourself rooting for them. As it becomes clear that their existing relationships are less than satisfactory, their slow pull towards each other becomes as rewarding for the viewer as it is for them. Dawson is always an appealing presence on screen, and here she proves a great foil for Rock’s often acerbic approach to his own material.
Of course, this being a Chris Rock movie, the focus is as much on the comedy as the romance, and here he succeeds in providing a slew of laugh-out-loud moments, from Cedric the Entertainer’s unexpected “party trick” to Andre and Chelsea’s discussion on the requirements for becoming the next President, to Chelsea’s punishment of Brad’s anal fixation, to Andre’s bodyguard Silk (Smoove) and his penchant for the larger lady (his encounter with Sidibe is brief but wonderful), to Andre’s adding “stank” to a radio promo – Rock maintains a high hit rate throughout. He also infuses several dramatic moments with a level of humour that adds poignancy and pathos to the material, and gives the likes of Union and Shepherd a chance to shine in scenes that hold a lot more weight than is immediately apparent.
While Rock scores highly with his script, and employs a cast who all make the most of their roles (and are clearly having a great deal of fun in the process), he’s not quite as successful in creating a visual palette that elevates or enlivens the material, and certain scenes have a perfunctory feel about them as a result (DoP Manuel Alberto Clara worked on Lars von Trier’s Nymph()maniac Vol. I & Vol. II and there are many similarities in style between those movies and this one). That said, there are some occasional moments – Andre’s impromptu appearance at a comedy club, the scene where Andre trashes the convenience store – where the visual approach works in the movie’s favour.
All in all though, Top Five is a movie that provides much to enjoy and admire, and serves as a reminder that when he puts his mind to it, Rock is one of the more gifted comedians working in movies today (it’s also amazing to think that he’s only recently turned 50; he definitely doesn’t look it). Let’s hope this is just the first of many more similar projects to come.
Rating: 8/10 – a disarmingly enjoyable romantic comedy, Top Five benefits greatly from its charming central romance and Rock’s willingness to offset the comedy with telling moments of drama; a winning return to form after the less than successful I Think I Love My Wife (2007), this has something for everyone and rarely disappoints.
Cast: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Marg Helgenberger, Oliver Platt, Virginia Madsen
An origin story for everyone’s favourite Amazon, Wonder Woman starts before Diana (Russell) is even born. Ares, the god of War (Molina) is waging war against the Amazons; with each act of violence he grows stronger. However he is defeated and sentenced to be bound by magical bonds and imprisoned on the hidden island where the Amazons live, led by Hippolyta (Madsen), and having no contact with the outside world.
Diana (whose mother and father we discover are Hippolyta and Ares), grows up to be a talented warrior with a longing to do more than be a princess. She gets her chance when fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Fillion) is shot down over the island and crash lands there. Despite some initial mistrust it is decided he should be returned to his own land and an Amazon should ensure he gets there. Cue a tournament to decide who accompanies him. (Guess who wins?) While all this is going on however, Ares escapes his prison and the world is threatened once again by his insatiable lust for power. But first he must rid himself of the magical bonds…
The animated DC Universe has become an impressive place to visit over the last ten years, with its Batman movies being particularly well-made. Here, the origin of Wonder Woman – largely adapted from 1987’s Gods and Mortals comics storyline – is given a thoroughly entertaining and robust presentation with strong voice casting (Molina steals the show as Ares), a fight-heavy storyline that keeps things inventive and involving, and which isn’t afraid to kill off some of its characters along the way (there’s even a couple of beheadings). Alongside Diana’s adapting to “outside” ways, there’s a meeting with Hades (Platt), concise examinations of sisterhood and family, and a terrible choice made by one of the supporting characters. Wonder Woman is almost wholly sure-footed from start to finish. The only stumble it makes is with the character of Trevor. He’s so casually sexist it grates against the otherwise laudable feminism displayed elsewhere; what Diana would see in him is hard to fathom.
Montgomery is an old hand at directing DC Universe movies now, but this was only her second outing after Superman/Doomsday (2007). She handles the material with confidence, marshalling the visual elements with flair and eliciting strong performances from the cast. The script, by Michael Jelenic, is spare, with often succinct dialogue (apart from Trevor’s), and a generous respect for the source material. And of course, the animation, while not as accomplished as some of the more recent DC Universe movies, is still polished and pleasing to the eye with rich primary colours and deceptively detailed backgrounds.
Rating: 7/10 – a small triumph for Warner Bros. with Russell filling Wonder Woman’s boots with aplomb, and a visual style that never fails to hold the attention.
Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.