Title: The LEGO Movie
Release Date: 7 February 2014
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Production Co: Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures
Country: United States
Genre: Animation | Adventure | Comedy
You’re reading this correctly. I’m reviewing a current film that’s in theatrical release right now. My son and I went to see it yesterday.
The LEGO universe is an Orwellian dystopia, albeit a cheerful one as minifigures go about their days exulting in consumer excess and carefully following written instructions. Emmett is an ordinary construction man who through a series of misadventures is believed to be the “Special” who will save the world from the evil President Business. He joins a group of Master Builders – people who can build things using their imagination out of pieces they find around them rather than following the instructions – and heads off on a series of comical adventures. What The Pirates of Caribbean was able to do for movies based on theme park rides, The Lego Movie does with movies based on toys (of course, it also owes a debt to the Toy Story franchise). The movie works on several levels: a meta-commentary on LEGO toys and their collectors, a satire of consumer culture, a slapstick comedy, a post-modernist agglomeration of popular culture references, and a family adventure film. It really pieces together a lot of things (see what I did there) to make a movie more complex than it looks on that surface. Oh and that surface is some really excellent animation of what a world of LEGO bricks would like. If I have any criticisms of this movie is that the relentless pacing of the movie doesn’t ever let it breath. The only time it slows down is during the live action segments with The Man Upstairs, and I’ll contradict myself here because that part drags on a bit. I’ll also sound like a cranky old codger when I say this, but I missed a lot of dialogue because it was drowned out by the music and sound effects. That being said, these things are not likely to bother most audiences and I think this is an enjoyable film and an instant classic.
Some stray thoughts:
- Benny the 80s-something space guy is my favorite because I had that set when I was a kid, right on down to the broken chin strap on the helmet. I built some cool spaceships for him back in the day
- Every time I see Will Arnett, I’m convinced someone else is doing his voice. Now I know that it’s a Batman minifig.
- Shaquille O’Neill, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams could voice their own characters, but Harrison Ford could not? Mark Hamill basically does voice acting for a living now, so maybe they should have found a place for him instead.
- I want a bunk couch.
- I expect “commence micromanagement” to become a catchphrase in offices across the nation.
- Everything is AWESOME!!!
Seriously can’t get this out of my head. For a song so deliberately bad, it’s actually pretty good.
Release Date: 18 September 2012
Director: Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg
Production Co: Break Thru Films and Major League Baseball Productions
Country: United States
Genre: Documentary | Sports | Baseball
The knuckleball is baseball’s most enigmatic pitch. Despite its name, it is thrown with the finger tips and unlike any other pitch it prevents the ball from rotating. This makes the ball move in unpredictable ways that it make the knuckleball difficult to hit. Yet that unpredictably has a way of coming back to haunt the pitcher, so there are few pitchers who risk using it. This documentary follows the 2011 season of the only two knuckleball pitchers in Major League Baseball at that time: Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox (now retired) and R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets (now with the Toronto Blue Jays). These are also two of my all-time favorite pitchers. The documentary does a good job of explaining the mechanics of the knuckleball and how knuckleball pitchers are treated as an oddity in the baseball community. It also has some excellent archival footage of the lives and careers of Wakefield and Dickey. If there’s one thing that could improve the movie is to not have so many talking heads and clips of baseball commentators repeating the same basic facts about the knuckleball and perhaps delve into the science and history of the pitch a bit more.
Author: Ellen Ruppel Shell, Lorna Raver (narrator)
Title: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
Publication Info: Tantor Media (2009)
Cheap is an intriguing expose on the modern American desire for bargains fed by discount stores and discount ideology in more areas of commerce than one would realize. Ruppel Shell offers a fascinating history of discount stores from the late 19th-century to present. Interestingly, many of the originators went under by the 1980s to be absorbed by the more ruthless corporations of today. The hidden costs of inexpensive purchases are then detailed from environmental destruction, human rights violations of the employees who manufacture, distribute, and sell the products, the dangers of poor quality goods to the consumer, the erosion of the middle class, and the fact that a lot of this cheap stuff isn’t even worth what we pay for it. Ruppel Shell makes the interesting point that we now live in a world where there are high-end goods and discount goods, but no reliable in-between. IKEA, Wal-Mart, and outlet malls are singled out as some actors in the discount culture, but the closing “hope-for-the-future” chapter also details companies like Wegmans and Costco that are thriving despite adopting strategies that go against the grain of discount culture. While the essence of this book is not likely to be surprising to most readers, it is still eye-opening in its details.
Recommended books:Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan,
Author: Robert Kirkman
Title: The Walking Dead: March To War (vol. 19)
Publication Info:Image Comics (2013)
As noted in my review for volume 18, The Walking Dead series too often forces the drama by having the survivors in violent conflict with one another and all too often with a sadistic bully who is using the zombie apocalypse as an excuse to make a personal fiefdom. I think there are more possible stories to be told of survival and adapting to the new world, but here we have a whole volume with preparation for war, with the upcoming two volumes dedicated to the war itself. Sigh. I guess in a way, The Walking Dead shows the post-apocalyptic world is a lot like our own after all.
Author: Robert Kirkman
Title: The Walking Dead: What Comes After (v0l 18)
Publication Info: Image Comics (2013)
I’m not sure why I keep reading this series. There’s the curiosity of what will happen next, of course, but I feel like I’m rereading what’s already happened. Negan and the Saviors have some nuances, but in the end it’s the story of The Governor and Woodbury all over again. In the post-apocalyptic world ultra-violent bullies will take control and there will be more to fear from the living than the dead, and blah, blah, blah. Perhaps it’s the influence of reading Rebecaa Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell, but I’d like to see more of how communities come together after a disaster. The Walking Dead - both the comics and the tv show – is at it’s best when it’s showing how people adapt to life in the post-apocalyptic world, the little things they do to adapt. But all too often I find that the writers force the drama by constantly having all the survivors want to kill one another. At least Ezekiel and his tiger are making things interesting.
I recently signed up with Rdio, a music streaming social network that provides access to a boatload of music for a monthly fee. I’ve enjoyed being able to listen to a lot of new discoveries and digging up old favorites. For example, I listened to Prince and the Revolution’s “Around the World in a Day” for the first time in at least 25 years. That was a new album around the time we moved to a new house in 1985, and while all my other tapes were packed in a box, that one had just arrived in the mail so I ended up listening to it over and over. It’s surprising how many of the songs seemed completely unfamiliar despite that.
On that same nostalgia vibe, I also payed tribute to one of my favorite New York area radio stations of my youth, which was known as 92.7 WDRE-FM when I listened to it, but was also known as WLIR. This was the “left of the dial” radio station that played Post-Punk, New Wave, Modern Rock, Alternative Music, whatever moniker you wanted to slap on it (oddly, the term “alternative” became most popular around the time that R.E.M and Nirvana lead the music into the mainstream in the early 90s).
One of the features of WDRE was a contest for the best new song of the week called the “Shriek of the Week.” Apparently, during the WLIR days there was the rhymeless “Screamer of the Week” that did the same thing. There is a list of all the Screamers & Shrieks from 1980 to 1996 here: http://www.advancedspecialties.net/wlir.htm
I made a Rdio playlist of the Screamer/Shriek of the week covering my junior high and high school days from 1985-1991. Rdio had many, but not all, the songs from the list and sadly it seemed to be the quirky one hit wonders that didn’t make it to the playlist. Still it’s a good playlist that gives one the sense of those exciting days of the 80s and early 90s, if one can excuse a little too much exuberance for artists such as The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Erasure, U2 and Morrisey who seemed to have entire albums elected as Shrieks over the course of several weeks.
If you are on Rdio and have the time and energy to populate the rest of the list, have at it. I may go back and fill in the earlier days of the 1980s. I feel it may be too sad to go forward in the 1990s and watch the musical erosion, especially when you get to the third week of June 1994 when alternative music officially jumped the shark.
Oh, and apparently WLIR lives on as an internet station with some of the original DJs.