The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie (2014) is an animated film from Warner Bros. Pictures, directed and co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. It follows the story of an ordinary construction worker Emmett (Chris Pratt) who is thrust with the responsibility of saving the various Lego worlds from evil President Business (Will Ferrell).

The film is a testament to the evolution of the Lego legacy and where it stands now. Historically, Lego started off as a simple building block for mostly boys. Over the years, Lego has had to adapt its attitude about the various sub-groups that wanted to use Legos, primarily girls, as well as imaginative minds who wanted to go beyond the instructions and build other types sets and structures. That was a major conflict between the consumers and the company over the years, and that very conflict is a huge component in the film, illustrated by the live-action scene with the father/Big Man Upstairs (Ferrell), who is resistant to change, and his son (Jaden Sand), who has endless ideas on how to use the grandiose Lego city his father has built in his basement. Similarly, the master builders also fight the good fight by building vehicles and structures without any rules, much to the chagrin of President Business and Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neesom). As evidenced by the increasing creativity with Legos, including Lego retail stores, Lego video games, and now The Lego Movie, the company has firmly planted its feet in the innovative camp, willing to break down the rigid walls it originally built up, and, with open arms, welcoming a broad yet enthusiastic consumer base.

The film boasts an ingenuity and sense of humor just as sharp and forward-thinking as the present day image of the Lego company. The film’s time is quite serious amidst cascading jokes. The movie starts off making fun of the fascist utopian idea, brandishing a wickedly catchy parody song “Everything is Awesome!!” and a step-by-step rule book for how to live a happy (yet identical) life. They poke fun at the Lego civilization as they mispronounce the various “artifacts” that humans use on a daily basis, like Krazy Glue (Kragle) and X-Acto knives (the sword of Exact 0). The film’s sense of humor is a celebration of the fun and accessible works that Lego has assumed. When the master builders see Legos with corresponding part numbers, those are actual parts to actual Legos. With the exception of very unique character parts, all the Legos seen in the film are actual Legos consumers can buy and use. Even flowing water, roaring fire, and laser beams are created with Legos, to demonstrate a universe created entirely by Lego pieces. It’s a Lego fanatic’s dream, yet an experience that everyone can appreciate.

Along with the fantastic visuals and the fresh humor, the casting and voice-acting is perfect. Pratt brings some of his Parks and Recreation character’s vapid delivery to the ordinary Emmett, but adds layers of depth as the character breaks through the mundane. Elizabeth Banks plays the mysterious and formidable Wyldstyle/Lucy, who helps guide Emmett to be all that he can be. Morgan Freeman appears for the first time in an animated film, as a wizened Vitruvius, the prophet who predicts the coming of “The Special”. Will Arnett’s portrayal of Batman received so much praise that a spin-off film for Lego Batman will come to theatres in 2017, one year before the sequel to The Lego Movie releases in 2018.

The Lego Movie is a perfect storm of innovation, talent, finesse, and heart. The film has two important messages, the first learned by Enmett: you are not special merely because someone said so, you are special because of you. The second lesson is learned by the father/The Big Man Upstairs: it’s far more important to bond and connect with your son than stifle the relationship with a pristine toy model. Though, that second lesson may backfire for the son as his father says that if he gets to play with the Legos, his little sister gets to play, too — leading to some characters that may come up in the sequel.

The Lego Movie swept the nation with a sharp sense of humor, star-studded cast, and impressive visuals. They’ve set the bar very high; hopefully they can match those standards with the sequels.

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything (2014) is a biopic/love story based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking. Directed by James Marsh, the film charts the life of Stephen Hawking from his life at the university, his diagnosis of ALS, and through his marriage with Jane.

Eddie Redmayne, who gives an extraordinary performance as Stephen Hawking, has established a pattern of bringing me to tears. He moved me to tears in Les Misérables (2012), specifically in his rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, and he brought me to tears time after time in The Theory of Everything. Before the movie begins, you already know it’s going to be a sad story: a brilliant mind cursed with a deteriorating body. To watch it unfold before us is truly humbling and debilitating, an experience made possibly only by Redmayne’s visceral and gripping performance. At the beginning, we fall for the young scientist, as he makes his awkward yet sweet advances toward Jane (Felicity Jones). Redmayne’s interpretation of Hawking is a man with an innate and effortless genius, blanketed in charisma and a big smile. While Redmayne has already established himself as an actor with a mastery of the emotional, this role shows his dexterous abilities as he demonstrates a careful and impressive nuance with physical acting. His scenes were not filmed chronologically, so he created and reviewed a chart of all of Hawking’s deteriorating motor skills at each scene throughout the film so that once the scenes were edited together, his performance would be as organic as possible. The amount of thought and attention to detail is evident, as Redmayne walks with bowed legs and crooked feet, as he pushes himself out of a chair with folded and useless fingers, as he speaks with lips that can’t function correctly — and he makes that all look natural. Stephen Hawking himself noted that as he watched Redmayne on screen, he thought at times that he was watching himself. His portrayal is absolutely poignant and masterful, and his performance itself contributed to about half of my cries in the film. With such a powerful and moving performance, in both the emotional and physical spectra, it’s his Oscar to lose.

For a film based off a memoir by Jane Wilde Hawking, it’s interesting that her depiction isn’t as positive as one would imagine. Towards the beginning she’s characterized as a lovely girl who has the mind to keep up with Hawking. Then she’s the impetus that drives Hawking to hold on to life as long as he can after his diagnosis. So far so good, but as the film progresses, she is depicted as a woman who is frustrated with the hand that life dealt her and a woman who flirts dangerously close to having an affair with another man — all while keeping Hawking an entirely likable character. The fault is not on Jones’ portrayal of Jane but falls on the writers. Her character could have been a force to rival Hawking’s, whose development would explore and explain much about their relationship. Hawking as a husband and father could have been developed further to show that it wasn’t all about rambunctious riding in his wheelchair and making jokes to his children when Jane tried to have an actual conversation about their relationship. Jane had a legitimate burden on her shoulders, regardless of how much she loved her husband, and that should have been explored more evenly.

While many posit this film as obvious Oscar bait without any merits, I must disagree. While there are folds in the story and priorities manipulated for the scope of the film, The Theory of Everything is moving and inspiring. The film is the story of a man who holds on to life as long as he can, for the sake of his contributions to science and the world, which in itself is captivating. But the more important point is the inspiration that a story like Hawking’s can give any of us: we can walk and run and take control of our lives. None of us will ever be a fraction of the genius that Hawking is, but we all have a contribution to the world. What we do with that power is up to us.

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 (2014) is an animated superhero film from Disney and Marvel, based on the Marvel superhero characters of the same name; the score was composed by Henry Jackman. It takes place in a fictional city called San Fransokyo, a conglomerate of American and Japanese architecture and culture. A prime example of the cultural blend is seen with the Golden Gate bridge, which harbors most of its present day design, with added pagoda tiers at the tops of the towers. The film blends the strengths of both companies: the heartfelt charisma of Disney and the exciting action of Marvel.

One of my biggest takes from the film is how great it is as a role model for kids. The cast is racially diverse (still a novel idea, unfortunately), and it shows kids how focusing on school and science is directly linked to success and badassery. Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a genius high school graduate at the age of 14. His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) is a university student in an innovative robotics program and finds himself worried about Hiro’s lack of intellectual pursuits. He takes him to his lab and introduces him to his colleagues: Go Go (Jamie Chung) who is designing a electromagnetic bike; Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) who is working with lasers; Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), a chemistry expert; and Fred (T. J. Miller), who is less scientist and more science enthusiast. Finally, Tadashi shows his brother the project he’s working on, a healthcare personal assistant called Baymax (Scott Adsit), a friendly robot with a huggable nature. After seeing all of these projects, Hiro is immediately enthusiastic about continuing his studies at San Fransokyo’s Institute of Technology — upon seeing that higher education can be seriously cool.

Not only are the students’ projects really cool, but the students themselves are incredibly diverse. Hiro is a biracial leading man, half-Japanese and half-Caucasian. Go Go, an unyielding and independent Asian woman, at one point, shouts for someone to “Woman up”. Wasabi is a caring and goodhearted African-American man who becomes the foundation of the group and the voice for the audience. The eclectic group that comes together gives the myriad of children watching this film to identify with and connect with one or more of the characters in a more meaningful way than the majority of other animated films. Throw in their incredible intelligence and problem solving, and you’ve got a recipe for inspired kids.

While the film is a bit predictable at times, the story has a huge heart that more than makes up for that. Baymax dares anyone not to fall for his charisma. He’s another classic example of a robot who interacts with an emotional human being. Baymax is programmed to care for his patient, Hiro, and goes to great lengths to provide him with the utmost care. The relationship between the two is palpable, as Baymax becomes more and more of an older brother figure for Hiro. He’s always there for him, whether he’s slumming through a phase of low-battery (which remarkably resembles a human’s drunken state) or learning a fist bump to revel in Hiro’s successes (balalala). He becomes such a great counselor for Hiro that we just want to jump through the screen and give him a big, marshmallowy hug.

And who didn’t think of Interstellar when Hiro and Baymax fly through into the portal? That animation was absolutely gorgeous, creating a fantastically thrilling universe with bright colors swirling around together.

Big Hero 6 honestly wasn’t on my radar when it came out. Better late than never! This film is a delightful adventure, working through grief and reimagining family. The film creates great role models for kids and provides plenty of laughs for everyone. San Fransokyo sounds like an incredible city, so please let there be a sequel so we can steal away to that place once again.