‘The Lego Movie 2’ is Built With Fewer Complex Pieces But is Awesome All the Same

No one, absolutely no one, could have ever suspected that The Lego Movie would be as good as it was. Boasting a stop-motion inspired, completely-made-out-of-bricks animation style, countless different franchises and IPs, and a loud, catchy pop song in “Everything is Awesome,” it was evident that it would look and sound the part at the very least. In a Hollywood landscape where it seemed that just about every movie was a reboot, a sequel, or an adaptation of some obscure toy, imagine how audiences and critics alike were caught off guard when The Lego Movie itself directly knew all of our anxieties and used them to its advantage. Stealthily, we got a movie that used one of the biggest toy brands and some of the biggest franchises to create a narrative about the beauty of individuality and creative self-expression, a heartwarming tale about a father and son reconnecting, and the dangers of conformity under a capitalist society (no, seriously).

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In short, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the directors of the first film (and most recently Into the Spider-Verse), know what the hell they’re doing. There have been a few Lego spin-offs in the meantime since 2014, but here we finally are with a sequel to the original The Lego Movie. This time around, Lord and Miller have producing credits, with director Mike Mitchell (Trolls) taking the reigns. But, rest assured, their under-99-layers-of-irony-but-still-as-genuine-as-can-be essence is still everywhere. The result is a sequel that is a lot less subtle about its meta-narratives and has fewer moving parts in its plot structure, but still understands everything that made the original great while excelling at being just as emotionally satisfying.

Continue reading “‘The Lego Movie 2’ is Built With Fewer Complex Pieces But is Awesome All the Same”

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How the Unlikely Claustrophobia of ‘Phantom Thread’ and ‘The Favourite’ Moves the Needle on Prestige Period Dramas

In the midst of the scandals and snubs that have dominated the conversations surrounding Best Picture nominees of recent years, Phantom Thread and The Favourite are two contenders that have drawn the most specific comparisons. Given that they’re both British period pieces at their cores, and are helmed by prominent directors — Paul Thomas Anderson and Yorgos Lanthimos, respectively — these films seem just as primed for predictable Academy recognition as star-studded melodramas or Sam Rockwell playing racist characters a little too well.

But even as The Favourite and Phantom Thread have received well-deserved buzz and tick many of the boxes that often lead awards cycle domination, the general consensus remains: there’s something offbeat and singular about how these stories unfold. In spite of their lavish settings, the films seize upon social codes of the time to exacerbate conflicts between their characters, until the resulting atmospheres become increasingly confined and oppressive. This intentional, rather ironic claustrophobia helps the films to plumb deeper themes that arise from certain historical circumstances, moving the needle on what a “period piece” can explore.

By the time that Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) first encounters his lover and muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps) near the beginning of Phantom Thread, viewers have already been thoroughly exposed to the painstakingly choreographed rituals that dictate the designer’s opulent life. The film marks Paul Thomas Anderson’s first departure from the restless Americana of his seven earlier features, as he and the notoriously method-oriented Day-Lewis delved into the refined world of 1950s London couture houses.

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Much more reliant on tradition than Paris — the other European dressmaking capital of the time — London fashion was predicated on the occasions of the city’s upper class. Scenes of royals and women of high society ascending the spiral staircase of the “House of Woodcock” to meet with Reynolds as Jonny Greenwood’s score swells carry an air of choreographed theatrics because they are meant to — these carefully manicured businesses are beautiful, but so steeped in privilege and British customs that they can easily turn suffocating if one steps out of line.

Continue reading “How the Unlikely Claustrophobia of ‘Phantom Thread’ and ‘The Favourite’ Moves the Needle on Prestige Period Dramas”

Isabelle Huppert Characters Ranked By How Disappointed They’d Be in Me

Isabelle Huppert can do anything. And she frequently does. In the past 40+ years she’s acted in over a hundred films in all genres from musical to quirky comedies to WWII era dramas. She’s committed to challenging herself in bold, new ways, continually delivering fierce, complex, and unforgettable performances in roles most actors would be nervous to approach. But perhaps her greatest skill is her withering judgmental stare.

Continue reading “Isabelle Huppert Characters Ranked By How Disappointed They’d Be in Me”

‘Braid’ Is a Psychedelic Punch to Your Eyeballs

Last year, Panos Cosmatos’ acid-trip-from-hell Mandy seized the horror world by storm. Fans demanded more theater screenings across the country, Cheddar Goblin became a horror icon, and Nicolas Cage solidified his batshit-crazy persona. It is a film that is the definition of style over substance, and yet it gained a cult following. Mitzi Peirone’s Braid deserves this same treatment. From its unhinged protagonists to jarring visuals, it showcases the talent and creativity of women directors, whose work is just like, if not better, than their male counterparts.

At its core, Braid is a film about female friendship and its strange forms. It begins with Petula (Imogen Waterhouse) and Tilda (Sarah Hays), two friends-turned-drug-dealers who are desperate for cash. Their solution is to head to the dilapidated mansion of their friend, Daphne (Madeline Brewer), who lives in a fantasy world and plays a game of House with three simple rules: Everybody plays, No outsiders, and No one leaves. Petula and Tilda believe that if they can play her game long enough, they’ll find a safe full of cash and all of their problems will disappear. But, Daphne has other plans. Her game descends into madness, a Lewis-Carroll-esque rabbit hole of bright colors, strange horrors, and plenty of cups of tea.

Continue reading “‘Braid’ Is a Psychedelic Punch to Your Eyeballs”

Diving into Nostalgia with ‘Late Afternoon’

Everything that we are, how we define ourselves, and how well we understand ourselves, are determined by what we remember. Our memories constitute the role we assign to ourselves and to the people around us. For example: I am your friend, and you are mine. I know this for a fact because I have met you once before, and several times after that. I remember we bonded on a shared cab ride home one afternoon, and I remember trusting you enough for me to tell my deepest secrets to you, knowing you wouldn’t tell another soul. Regardless of its significance, our memories are not eternal. Time will play its part and slowly take away pieces of us, little by little. This theme is visualized in the animated short film, Late Afternoon, which is nominated for an Academy Award this year. 

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The short film, written and directed by Louise Bagnall, presents a depiction of an eventual version of all of us, in the form of an elderly woman named Emily. In the present, Emily is sitting comfortably in a chair, having tea, and sorting out her belongings with the aid of her caretaker. Throughout the film, we follow her escape reality as she reminisces on the long life she has lived far before that afternoon tea. Bits of events unfold through her temporary episodes of remembrance.

Emily’s first episode began with her dipping biscuit in her tea; it broke immediately— indicating the drink was boiling hot — and while she silently watches it sink to the bottom of the cup, she was diverted away from her chair. We now see a young girl “swimming” through an empty space and eventually enter a white sandy beach on a windy day. It’s Emily, in a much younger exterior. She runs around the beach for a while. She writes her name in the sand, plays cat-and-mouse with the waves, spots for boats, and fishes for gold by the shore. At the same moment when she was extracting a gold coin out of the water, she returns to her chair, having pulled out the chunk of biscuit in the tea. Then, her caretaker checks on her and finds the tea has gone cold. The thing about nostalgia is that it has the ability to blur someone’s awareness of time and space, therefore losing their sense of reality.

Late Afternoon captures a wonderful way of conceptualizing someone’s experience of escaping consciousness, by imagining them flowing through a realm similar to a space between dimensions. The style of animation is presented in a manner of continuous flow, almost as if symbolizing how time keeps on moving, and does not wait for anyone. Emily is almost never shown to escape her nostalgic episodes voluntarily, instead she is always being pulled away from the memories and forced back into reality. She is constantly thrown into moments in time, but restricted of the possibilities of slowing down, speeding up, or pausing.

If we look at how Emily remembers her life, it says a lot about how the memories that stay with us the most are not always the big events; instead the small, day-to-day moments can remain as well. It is profound how in a limited amount of time, this film is able to explore vivid themes of love and loss. Emily’s memories that are shown to us are related to either one of those two, or sometimes both. We know that — in a way — love and loss contradict each other, but at the same time they can be complementary and seen in a cyclical nature: after love comes loss, but after loss also comes love.

Late Afternoon shows that when time and our bodies are not reliable to turn to, or return to, we can count on the things around us — just like Emily’s belongings — to serve as a reminder of who we are.

VIDEO: Quiet Dramas We Love Vol. 1

January is a quiet month, so how about we use this time to highlight some lesser known, quiet dramas that we love? This is Vol. 1, as this is a great concept to revisit with some feedback when I return to it. Enjoy the relaxing, personal video set to Nicholas Britell’s amazing score from If Beale Street Could Talk!

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