Tonight I had the good fortune of having procured some free tickets to a special pre-screening of the upcoming Aaron Paul movie “Need for Speed.” As the title would suggest the movie is an adaptation of the long running video games franchise about street racing. First let me say this: “Need for a speed” is probably as good a movie is one could possibly get from an adaption of a video game where people race cars through populated areas. It actually has a story. It’s an incredibly cliched story but it’s there, it exists. There was also a surprising amount of comic relief which I personally found a bit jarring and downright bizarre and borderline stupid at times, however the audience the I saw it with seemed to enjoy so I’ll chalk it up to a matter of taste. That’s the “bad.” Those are the things that left me a bit a cold at certain points during the movie, and while they may seem like some pretty fundamental problems, I can’t honestly say that I didn’t like this movie. I’m not sure if it’s a good movie yet, as my brain is still gestating, but I can say that there was quite a bit to this movie that I really liked. The acting is fantastic. Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper and Michael Keaton are all great. Aaron Paul makes for a charismatic enough lead with a great intensity that Breaking Bad fans will recognize. Imogen Poots makes a fun, likable female lead (on top of being a well written character). As usual Michael Keaton was fantastic as usual (seriously man, you’re still the best Batman, you deserve so much better than what you’ve gotten). Who really impressed me was Dominic Cooper. He brings subtlety and a surprising depth to an otherwise two dimensional villain. I won’t spoil the exact circumstances under which it occurs, but there is a point early on in the movie where he cements himself as the despicable antagonist of the movie. What really struck me was a small moment where you can visibly see the thought process going on in the characters head as he makes the decision (perhaps reluctantly) that puts him in this role, which just made for a compelling performance for an otherwise standard villain without being hammy. The cinematography during the racing scens is thrilling and does a good job of not becoming repetitive. I especially enjoyed the use of long takes throughout, making the movie very evocative of the 70′s muscle car movies it was trying to emulate (there’s also no CG used in huge stunt work is both impressive and refreshing). I’m trying to keep this review relatively spoiler free because the movie isn’t due for another month so I’ll just leave it at this: whatever enjoyment is lost by the clichéd story and dopey humor will be regained by the movie’s great performances/character, dynamic camera work and a very well written third act that you’ll just have to watch.
As the usual the first month of the year proved to be dumping ground for bad movies that various studios were contractually obligated to release, thus making The Lego Movie the first good movie of the year as far as I’m concerned. But allow me to stress that not only was The Lego Movie a good movie in comparison to it’s recent predecessors, it’s is a GREAT movie by in every way measurable by film criticism. Never have I seen a movie that so perfectly captures the limitless imagination of the child mindset, for that is what The Lego Movie is: a film about imagination. The writers/ directors Phil lord and Chris Miller (of whom I was already a huge fan) have cemented themselves filmmakers to be watched in the years come. The animation (which merges computer generated imagery with stop motion) is vibrant, colorful and captivating. Every frame of this movie is simply pulsating with energy and creativity. The story is a witty and charming riff on the tired “chosen one” narrative and explores themes of individuality, imagination, teamwork and self-confidence. These themes may sound like Saturday morning cartoon fare but they are execute with such sincerity and sweetness that they make this movie a must see for any child who has ever felt small or unimportant. The rapid fire humor hits the ground running making The Lego Movie infinitely rewatchable (I foresee myself finding more and more jokes that I missed in later viewings). And then there’s the voice cast which is simply fantastic. Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnet, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day and Will Farrel all deliver fantastically charming and fun vocal performances that imbue their already colorful characters with distinctive, vibrant personalities. Too often these days studios fall back on needless celebrity casting for animated films without any thought paid to how well those celebrities would play their characters, making the brilliant casting here all the more refreshing. Go see this movie, take your friends, take your family. Just see it. Give these people your money, because Hollywood sorely needs a wake up call in regards to how it approaches child-targeted films. Less shit like the Nut Job, Planes and Turbo and more labors of love like The Lego Movie. Then everything will truly be awesome.