Monday Movies: The Lego Movie and The Monuments Men

Lego builds the groundwork for sly family entertainment; all-star cast can't save Clooney's stereotype-laden snooze

Hollywood builds a franchise

In the old days, Hollywood created toys as an after-market tie-in to popular children’s movies. Lately, though, that trend has reversed itself as toys as diverse as Care Bears and Transformers have become icons of the silver screen. The latest to join these exalted ranks is Lego, those once-humble Danish building blocks that are now Hollywood’s newest superstars.

The Lego Movie has a formulaic plot, but one expressed with clever visual ideas and an imaginative playfulness. The story unfolds inside an elaborate Lego world where everything is run by the seemingly kindly President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell). But he’s really a tyrant who hates any kind of spontaneity, and in order to ensure perpetual harmony he plans to glue the entire universe together. Luckily there’s a prophecy that a heroic mini-figure will arise as the people’s champion. Enter Emmet, an ordinary mini-figure who is mistaken for this saviour. But with the help of a rag-tag squad of rebels, the bumbling Emmet finds unexpected inner resources as he leads the charge to defeat the forces of darkness.

Although a bit less original than, say, Wreck-It Ralph, this is witty, briskly paced, and sly entertainment. With guest appearances by Green Lantern, Han Solo and Batman (voiced by Will Arnett, but channeling the growl of Christian Bale’s dark knight), there is a pop culture playfulness that helps flesh out the skimpy plot. And a live-action movie-within-an-animated-movie adds some genuine poignancy amidst all the silliness. This Lego has been well built to appeal to kids of all ages.

Rating: ★ ★ ★

(The Lego Movie continues at SilverCity, Landmark Uni 4, & the Westshore)

Not monumental cinema

Well intentioned but not well executed, The Monuments Men is a heartfelt tribute to a small squad of art and architecture experts who volunteered to go to Europe while the Second World War was still raging in order to protect centuries worth of priceless art. Mostly they were tasked with tracking down the many tens of thousands of paintings and statues that had been looted by the Nazis from museums and private collections. Destined ultimately for the massive Fuhrer Museum that Hitler planned to build in triumphalist Berlin, these treasures had been secretly stashed in several locations as the Americans and the Russians closed in on Germany’s weakening war machine.

The script is like a cross between a detective story and a remake of The Dirty Dozen with aging art nerds in place of criminals in need of redemption. It is directed by George Clooney in an old-fashioned and sometimes corny manner that relies on genial laughs and a few tear-jerking moments to win over the audience. This is the sort of movie where one of the recruits (Hugh Bonneville, commonly seen striding proudly through Downton Abbey) gets his physical examination while both he and the doctor are vigorously puffing on cigarettes. The characters are nothing more than a motley crew of stereotypes – just not the stereotypes one usually sees in war movies. And notwithstanding their wisecracking and pranks, we are to understand that these are Good Men And Brave.

The story is undeniably fascinating, and the premium cast includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett. Unfortunately, by the time you’ve heard the second or third speech about how important this mission is to “save all that is best about humanity,” it’s clear this is a paint-by-numbers pastiche of war films superficially tweaked with a fresh angle. Given that Clooney has directed such fine films as Syriana and Good Night, And Good Luck, this feels like a make-work project.

Rating: ★ ★ 1/2

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