The LEGO Movie 2: The Second One

Posted on February 7, 2019 at 5:04 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy/cartoon-style peril and violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 8, 2019
Date Released to DVD: May 7, 2019

Copyright Warner Brothers 2019
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second One” is a great big box of happiness in part because of its non-stop cheeky humor but also in part because it deals subtly but frankly with three of the most annoyingly painful and near-universal human experiences: fighting with siblings, adolescent moodiness, and stepping on LEGOs in bare feet.

The first movie ended with a surprisingly meaningful and warm-hearted pivot from animation into live action as it turned out the entire story had been grounded in a conflict between a boy who wanted to play and a dad who wanted his LEGO world to be pristine and orderly. The kicker at the end was that the touching reconciliation between father and son was followed by the arrival of the preschool sister with her toddler-sized Duplos, who had her own destructive powers.

There’s a bit more live action in this sequel, and we see more clearly the relationship between what is going on in the lives of the real-life family and the imaginary play of the two children, now five years older but no more interesting in joining forces.

Once again, Emmet (Chris Pratt) thinks everything is awesome, barely noticing that the bustling metropolis of Bricksburg has turned into a post-apocalyptic wasteland known as Apocalypseburg (“a heckish place to live”). Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), formerly known as Wyldstyle, tries to teach Emmet how to brood properly. “Look out into the distance and say whatever grim thoughts you have in a deep voice.” As we saw at the end of the last film, the Duplos arrive from the Systar System. When they take Lucy, Emmet follows to rescue her.

Adults will catch onto the names of some of the perils our dauntless hero faces along the way, like Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (a perfectly cast Tiffany Haddish), Systar, the dreaded ArMAMAgetin, and that notorious hiding place for LEGO figures, Undah de Dryah. That is, if they are not trying to get the film’s guaranteed new hit song, “The Catchy Song” (“This song’s gonna get stuck inside your head..”), or laughing too hard at the avalanche of pop culture meta-references, especially a song that takes on every iteration of Batman from Adam West to Christian Bale and a new character who not only bears a strong resemblance to Emmet but to his portrayer, Chris Pratt, as well.

It’s fast, fresh, fun, and funny, with a skillful mix of silliness and action and some random call-outs to celebrities from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who’s having quite a moment on screen these days) and Bruce Willis, back where he should be, crawling through heating ducts. But it has something interesting to say about how we decide when to change and when not to, and about its female characters. And watching it just might ease the pain not just of the universal experiences mentioned above, but of that other heartbreak — having your children grow out of childhood.

Parents should know that this film includes fantasy/cartoon-style peril and slapstick humor and some potty humor and schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Why did Lucy want Emmet to change? What do you do when everything’s not awesome?

If you like this, try: The first LEGO movie, “Trolls” and the “Toy Story” films

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Saban’s Power Rangers

Posted on March 23, 2017 at 5:28 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi peril and violence, some disturbing images, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 24, 2017
Date Released to DVD: June 26, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B0727PMH49

power rangersWhy why why why why make the popular series for children into a PG-13 movie? Why emphasize that decision in the very first scene with a crude joke about bovine body parts? Why drag the origin story on for an hour so we don’t get to the good stuff about the powers of the Power Rangers until the movie is half over?

These were among the questions I pondered between glances at my watch as I slogged through “Saban’s Power Rangers,” a big-budget theatrical version of the television series created by Haim Saban (originally “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”), based on the Japanese Super Sentai show about teen superheroes (and using some of its footage).

Our soon-to-be heroes meet in “Breakfast Club”-style detention. There is the handsome quarterback (Dacre Montgomery as Jason), the cheerleader kicked off the squad (Naomi Scott as Kimberly), the self-described crazy loner who cares tenderly for his sick mother (Ludi Lin as Zack), the nerdy guy on the autism spectrum (RJ Cyler as Billy), and the sullen new girl (Becky G. as Trini).

The blah-blah: an ancient civilization perished fighting Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a rogue former Power Ranger who wants to destroy everything. Tens of thousands of years later, our merry band of misfits all happen upon the same power-granting “coins” of different colors (but apparently all the same powers) and learn that their job is to continue the fight, as Rita returns. Their challenge, as she gains her powers from chomping on jewelry and pulling the fillings out of the teeth of homeless people (she feeds on gold), is to learn to use their powers and work as a team (with the only white male Power Ranger as the leader), figuring out how to morph (manifest their primary color-coordinated armor/uniforms) and learning about Rita and her army of rock creatures. They also have access to some very cool Morphin Power Rangers weapon vehicles, but we don’t get enough time to really enjoy them.

Rita’s challenge is to find a last missing infinity stone, I mean crystal, hiding (I am not making this up) in a Krispy Kreme store. I’m not sure if I was the marketing department of Krispy Kreme that I would chose this form of product placement, but, to be fair, they do say the name a lot and a character does stop mid-chaotic fight for the future of the universe to eat a donut. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles already have pizza on lockdown.

This uncomfortable mixture of teen angst (Sexting! Disappointing parents!) and cartoonish violence only comes alive when Banks is on screen, clearly having way too much fun swanning around as the embodiment of evil. Bryan Cranston is wasted as an Oz-like talking head and Bill Hader does not have enough to do as a cute little android sensei. The teens are bland and forgettable. The final action sequence departs from the series’ tradition of covering the actors’ faces with the costume (making it easy for them to switch out performers who left or asked for too much money). We see their faces, but it is still hard to remember which one is who.

Long-time fans will get a kick out of glimpsing some of the original stars, hearing a bit of the show’s theme song, and a couple of inside references. But that doesn’t make up for a Power Rangers film that is sadly lacking in any narrative or emotional energy.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi peril and violence with characters injured and killed, explosions, guns, a character impaled, some disturbing images, brief strong language, teen drinking, and crude sexual humor.

Family discussion: Why was it difficult for the Power Rangers to learn how to morph? Why were the Power Rangers all kids who had gotten into trouble?

If you like this, try: the television series and the “Transformers” movies

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Pitch Perfect 2

Posted on May 14, 2015 at 5:48 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 15, 2015
Date Released to DVD: September 21, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B00NYC3SG4
Copyright 2015 Universal
Copyright 2015 Universal

“Pitch Perfect 2” is — bear with me — the musical comedy variation on the “Furious 7” recipe for success.  The sequel jettisons any pretense of seriousness of purpose, structural logic, or psychological authenticity, joyfully tosses off any pretense of taking itself, its heartwarmingly diverse characters, or its storyline seriously.  And both, unexpectedly but utterly deservedly, will make you teary-eyed.  Substitute exquisitely harmonized snippets of popular songs for cars flying out of planes, and it’s basically the same movie.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  “Pitch Perfect 2” is even more fun than the first.

Beca (Anna Kendrick) was just starting college in the first film, about her reluctant agreement to join the all-girl acapella group called The Barden Bellas, led by Aubrey (Anna Camp) and her loyal lieutenant Chloe (Brittany Snow).  Now Aubrey has graduated but Chloe is still there, deliberately flunking so she will not have to leave the now-three-time national champion Bellas.  Beca is a senior, hoping she can take on a dream internship with a musical producer (Keegan-Michael Key, the “angry Obama”) without disrupting the group.

But the group has been disrupted.  The Bellas performed at the President’s birthday celebration (footage of the Obamas is inserted to make it look like they were really there), with Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) coming in like a wrecking ball on a trapeze.  It was a triumph until it became a disaster when Fat Amy’s skin-tight jumpsuit split open and she wasn’t wearing underwear.

The Bellas are banned from collegiate competition, and are not even allowed to conduct auditions. Too bad for those hoping for a reprise of one of the first film’s most entertaining scenes, but there is simply no time. We hardly get a chance to hear Barden’s male acapella group, the Treblemakers, either. This is all about the Bellas fighting their way back with the only option left to them — an international competition, up against the world champions, Germany’s Das Sound Machine, a group so terrifyingly huge and technically perfect it is a kind of acapella Triumph of the Will.

But we’re not here for the plot; we’re here for the music, and there is a ton of it, all so good and so varied that it is frustrating to get it in such short snippets. Songs made popular by the Andrews Sisters, Hansen, Taylor Swift, En Vogue, Mika, Montell Jordan, and Carrie Underwood zip by, most hilariously in a sing-off that tops the original’s. Categories include “Songs About Butts” (one character points out that’s pretty much everything on the radio) and “I Dated John Mayer.” Hilariously, one of the competing acapella groups is the Green Bay Packers. And Snoop Dogg shows up to sing a Christmas song.

There is one new addition to the Bellas, though, “True Grit’s” Hailee Steinfeld as Emily, an eager but shy freshman whose mom (Katey Sagal) was a Bella, so she’s a legacy. She also writes songs.

Will the Bellas get their mojo back? Will Beca impress her boss? Will Aubrey show up for a pep talk? Will there be some delicious silliness along the way? Will Emily’s new songs be game-changers when the long-standing tradition is covers only? How about some romance (a bit) and some comedy (a lot)?  But what’s the deal with the false eyelashes on everyone?  Did Elizabeth Banks bring on her Effie Trinket makeup team?  Fat Amy’s no/yes from Fat Amy when Bumper (Adam Devine of “Modern Family”) says he wants to have sex with her is ooky and just plain off.

But first time director Banks, who co-produced the first film and the sequel, and returns, this time as both commentator on acapella competitions and as head of the organization, manages a very large cast and an even larger set list.  She keeps the tone light and breezy, balancing the outrageous (hate mail from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor?) with the touching.  A call-back to the first film’s breakout hit “Cups,” is simply lovely.  If some elements of what we can barely dignify by terming a storyline are pat and predictable, the song choices are not. From the very first moment, with an a capella rendition of the Universal” logo music, we are in mash-up heaven. It is worth the price of admission to hear “MmmBop” acapella, and then, icing on the cake and cherry on the sundae, we get some Kris Kross “Jump” action as well. Acca-heaven.

Parents should know that this film includes some crude sexual and bodily function humor, some strong language, and comic violence (no one hurt). There is a joke that seems to imply that a woman’s “no” to an invitation to have sex is not to be taken seriously, but it later turns out that this is part of a consensual relationship.

Family discussion: What makes you special?  What makes your friends and family special? How do you find your voice to express who you are?

If you like this, try: the first “Pitch Perfect” and the television show “The Sing-Off”

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