And now for something only moderately different. I’ve spent the last few days catching up on a few films. As I haven’t had the time to give them full reviews, these are instead going to be done at a compressed length.
The Lego Movie 2: Second Part
The Lego Movie ended with the city being invaded by aliens from the Planet Duplo, which is based off the larger blocks of Lego that are aimed at younger kids. Did the filmmakers already have in mind to make this film? Either way, they follow through on it. The Lego Movie 2: Second Part takes place after years of fighting the Duplo aliens. Emmett (Chris Pratt) sees his friends (Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and others) get kidnapped by the aliens and sets out to get them back. Tiffany Haddish is the main new addition to the cast.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller return to write the script, with Mike Mitchell directing. It was always going to be a Herculean task for them to equal its fresh, funny and inventive predecessor. Without dwelling on whether it really hits that level, rest assured, Second Part is a delightful film for all the family. Like its predecessor and other great animated films, it has the ability to appeal to both children and adults. For children, its action-packed, fast-moving and colourful, with slapstick comedy. And this time round, there’s some musical scenes.
For adults, there are pop culture references and a satire on how we assume that ‘dark, gritty, moody’ is what we have to be to be mature. The unsubtle visuals conceal that there’s a surprising amount of depth gone into this, including a sympathetic character that is led to villainous things. As with before, the story is paralleled by scenes of a family playing with Lego in the real world, which serve to give it a bit of extra depth.
Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots reigned from the age of 0 until 24. Most of that was spent in France while regents ruled Scotland. The new Mary, Queen of Scots film (starring Saoirse Ronan) is mostly covering the six years she spent trying to rule, with the misfortune of being a Catholic queen in a nation that had just turned Protestant. After that she spent 18 years imprisoned in England by Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie). If you don’t know what happens next, the opening scene will tell you.
Josie Rourke debuts as a film director; until now she has been an acclaimed theatre director. Beau Willimon wrote the script; given his background in House of Cards, it’s not hard to see why he was chosen. You could not have asked for a better cast, with Ronan and Robbie in the most important roles. Some of the best moments are when they play off each other, in scenes where they are in different countries and the camera cuts between them as they respond to each other. There’s also some great on-location shots and folk music that forgoes bagpipes in favour of the folk instruments more likely played around the time.
How much you enjoy it depends on whether you’re expecting a history lesson or entertainment, and I always prefer the latter. As a political thriller, it’s short of tension as to whether she’ll hold on in the turbulent situation. As a history lesson, it works better, though it is making wild and probably fanciful speculation about the characters’ sex lives. Some historical inaccuracies are actually good ideas; the real Mary may not have met Queen Elizabeth, but it does make for a great scene.
A tamer version of Saw, Escape Room is about six people who enter a challenge in which they have to solve puzzles to escape from a series of rooms. Those things exist in real life, though probably aren’t as dangerous as what we see here. The group are played by Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis and Nik Dodani. Adam Robitel is the director, while Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik write the script.
I was really impressed with the set designs of the rooms. And some of the challenge scenes work well on their own. The is genuine tension. It’s at its best when you can somewhat follow what the characters are trying to work out, so you can say “I should have realised that!” instead of it being something that you couldn’t have possibly known. The combined plot of these scenes becomes quite predictable, because it’s obvious that characters are going to start being killed off one by one.
The performances, like the film as a whole, are a mixed bag. Russell is great as the most fleshed-out character, though some of the others are very one-note or inconsistent. For the most part, there’s more good than bad — until the ending. It starts off being unremarkable but at least getting things resolved… and then veers off into something messy. It feels as though the studio butted in and insisted that there had to be a set-up for a sequel.
M. Night Shyamalan directs a sequel to his films Unbreakable and Split. Unbreakable introduced Mr Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), a disabled man with a lethal obsession with comic books, and David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a security guard who discovered he had superpowers. Split introduced Kevin “The Horde” (James McAvoy), a kidnapper with 24 personalities and superpowers, and had a twist that linked the two films. Glass begins with a kidnapping but is mostly set at a psychiatric hospital, where a psychologist (Sarah Paulson) is trying to convince them that superheroes are not real.
If you haven’t seen the previous two, prepare to be bewildered. Shyamalan has been building a completely original approach to superhero stories, which remains welcome at a time when the movie market is saturated with them. In his writing, he brings originality and is not afraid to make decisions that may alienate viewers wanting it to end a certain way. However, he often falters at writing dialogue, and some of the plot devices (and ways characters react to things) are very strange. The ending explains only part of the weirdness.
To the visual side he brings his signature touches (characters talking to the camera, Philadelphia) and downplays action in favour of creating a psychological atmosphere with the characters. James McAvoy is the standout actor, showcasing some astonishing versatility. The portrayal of his character’s mental illness is sensationalist, and it can be unintentionally funny if you’re not gripped by the rest of the film. I found that Glass is too overstuffed with ideas to have something that could make me put up with the bizarre, flimsy plot details.