Everything is Batman

Three years ago, The Lego Movie came out and pretty much surprised everyone. Unfortunately this time around, the surprisingly good factor wasn't something that could really happen with The Lego Batman Movie, since Batman ended up stealing all the scenes in The Lego Movie. Basically it was hard for anyone not to have expectations. Because of this, I didn't think there was any way for The Lego Batman Movie to live up to the movie it spun off from.

The Lego Batman Movie chronicles the adventures of Bruce Wayne, and his altar ego Batman as he constantly saves Gotham City from crime. His world is turned upside down when Commissioner Jim Gordon retires and appoints his daughter Barbara, who has a much different view on Batman being the sole person the city relies on to solve their problems, to take his place. Batman prefers to work alone and doesn't want to have any attachment of any kind, or to allow anyone into his life. But when Joker unleashes a terrible chaos onto the city (featuring almost every villain you can think of,) Batman must reconsider the value of being a part of a bigger team.

The Batman Movie is an incredibly funny and enjoyable film. Any Batman fan will totally enjoy this movie because there are homages galore to all of his past movies. However, as fun of a protagonist that Lego Batman is (and yes there's a reason he was one of the highlights in The Lego Movie,) we perhaps get too big of a dose of him here. He was a great supporting character, but having him as the lead wasn't quite as fun as having the more humble everyman Emmet from The Lego Movie. Still, Arnett is absolutely hilarious in this role, and it's fun to see him interacting with his Bat family. Michael Cera's Robin was a fun addition too and brings a good dynamic between the two, but I found myself a little underwhelmed by Rosario Dawson's Barbara Gordon. Still, there's more than enough hilarious cameos to rival the first movie...and it's just really fun to think that the Lego Movie universe is one where almost any single crossover is possible (aside from Marvel....and yes the "Iron Man Sucks!" joke was one of my favorites.) The action that results because of these combinations is seriously fun and it certainly makes me excited for any future Lego installments. So while everything is most definitely awesome, it doesn't quite surprise you the way the first one did. But it's still solidly fun and enjoyable in its own right to be sure. EMILY RATING: 8.5/10

Sundance Review: Crown Heights

Crown Heights is all about the real life story of a man who was wrongfully convicted for murder in the 1980's. His best friend knows that he is innocent, and spends a few decades of his life trying to prove it. The filmmakers behind Crown Heights wisely decided to capitalize off of the success of Serial and Making a Murderer in deciding to tell this story, that it's no surprise a movie about wrongful imprisonment won the Audience Award at Sundance. Seeing one more injustice in the world is something that resonated with audiences, and the efforts one man made to make it right are definitely inspiring.

The story was told a little differently than I expected, with a lot less focus on his original trial, and a lot more about his many years in prison. The second half of the film shifts the focus even further, as the best friend working on his case almost becomes the new main character. At first it was a little odd to me to have the trial over so quickly and not knowing where the film would go, but towards the end as the film concludes its story, I appreciated that decision. It allows the climax of the film to be a lot more impactful, and a lot more interesting.

Crown Heights is a solid film. It features great performances and a simple, but fascinating story. The two men's plight, one in prison, and the other in his own mental prison until he frees his friend are definitely stories worth telling. Another thing I was intrigued by was that our protagonist was in fact a criminal, just not a murderer, which took the film to other interesting ethical dilemmas. Crown Heights will definitely make an impact on those who view it, but probably isn't one of the strongest winners to come out of Sundance in recent years. EMILY RATING: 8/10


Sundance Review: Rememory

Rememory takes place in a distant future where an invention has been made that can extract pure, unfiltered memories. Unfortunately, the creator of the invention dies under mysterious circumstances before it is released to the public, so a man named Sam Bloom (Peter Dinklage) who has a vested interest in the machine, takes it upon himself to solve the puzzle. After befriending the inventor's widow and "borrowing" the prototype machine, he looks through the recorded memories for clues to figure out what really happened, as well as to solve some of his own inner demons.

Rememory is such a great concept that it's a little disappointing that the filmmakers took it in the easiest route that they could: a simple whodunnit. That doesn't mean it's not an interesting or good film, it's just that it doesn't live up to the potential of its premise. There are so many more fascinating places that this film could have gone with exploring the power of memory. The film definitely touches on some interesting ideas, and in particular, the revelations in the latter half of the film are good. I just couldn't help but wish I could see more movies set in this world, with much different genre focuses.

Still, for what the film actually is, I do feel that it was well made and entertaining enough. It's just not something that's going to stay with me for a long time like it could have. Peter Dinklage certainly gives it his all, and of course, it was nice to see Anton Yelchin again in one of his final roles even if it wasn't the most fleshed out part. EMILY RATING: 7.5/10


Sundance Review: A Ghost Story

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a young couple whose love story seemingly ends abruptly when he dies in A Ghost Story. Affleck's character, who is simply listed as C in the credits, discovers his existence still continues after death, but unfortunately, it consists of witnessing life silently under a sheet. Restricted to the confines of his house, he's forced to watch his former lover grieve extensively. If there's one thing to know about this movie upfront, it's that all scenes (and shots really) are incredibly drawn out and the film really revels in its simplicity and taking its time.  In an early scene in the film, we witness the couple cuddling and it seems so earnest and sincere, and the length of it makes the audience feel uncomfortable--like we're intruding on their intimacy. It's the type of film that asks a lot of its audience because most of the scenes give you plenty of time to think. Also, when discussing Affleck's performance, it's hard to know what to say where his face isn't visible for  90% of the movie. Nor does he talk either. The film is practically a silent film as there is maybe only 10 minutes of dialogue total all throughout.

A Ghost Story is absolutely not a film for everyone.  In fact, I'd definitely say that there is a very small audience for this film. It definitely knows it's an artsy movie and embraces that to a degree that is definitely alienating to a mainstream audience. But Ghost Story definitely doesn't care. However, even indie-loving audiences might find the constant long drawn out scenes to be pretty tedious to sit through. I can certainly understand audiences finding A Ghost Story to be a frustrating film experience, but at the same time, I can't help but admire its boldness and uniqueness. When it comes down to it, even if it wasn't the easiest film to sit through, its true originality is much preferred to some of the more uninspired offerings from Hollywood as of late. EMILY RATING: 8.5/10

Sundance Review: Brigsby Bear

Brigsby Bear is the bizarre tale of a man (Kyle Mooney) who was kidnapped as a baby, and raised by his captors in a bomb shelter. He learned about the world and proper morality through watching his favorite television show, "Brigsby Bear." His life is turned upside down when he's rescued by the cops and discovers that he is the only person in the world who has ever seen or heard of Brigsby, as it was a show that was lovingly produced just for him by his captors. Struggling to cope in life in the real world (or as he sees it, a Brigsbyless existence,) he seeks for closure by creating a film to conclude Brigsby's adventures.

Brigsby Bear could have been taken in a lot of different directions. It would be easy to make the film a full-fledged comedy and err on the crass and outrageous side. Fortunately, the filmmakers kept it more honest and warm, while still managing to be pretty funny. I think this decision was the right one, as the combination of humor and drama is able to leave a more lasting impact on the viewer. The film has a capable cast and everyone seems to be having a great time. Nostalgia for 80's tv series abounds whenever we get glimpses of the protagonist's beloved show and you can just sense the care that was put into every aspect of this movie.

The movie definitely has the familiar feel of a quirky, clueless but lovable fish out of water type, akin to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Elf and Enchanted, but luckily, it manages not to feel tired. Some of that comes in combining that indie with another indie: the making a movie indie (as previously seen in Son of Rambow and Me & Earl & The Dying Girl.) Brigsby Bear accomplishes the rare feat of making a far fetched story feel grounded. It manages to be light hearted and serious all at once, but most importantly to note, it's a fun film. EMILY RATING: 8/10


Sundance Review: The Discovery

Imagine a world where scientific proof of the afterlife has been discovered. Such a world is where the film The Discovery takes place. Human life has considerably altered since the discovery, as many people's views on suicide have evolved. Pure curiosity has enticed people to take their lives, not to end them...but to see how they continue on another plane of existence. Jason Segel plays Will, the son of the acclaimed scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) who changed the world with his findings. Will has always been skeptical on whether or not his father's evidence should be accepted as fact, and when he meets Rooney Mara's Isla, his beliefs are put even further to the test.

Several films that came to the festival this year had really cool premises, but The Discovery might have explored theirs the very best. The world director Charlie McDowell creates is a fascinatingly bizarre one, yet somehow seems simultaneously seems like a plausible one. He masters the tone of the film in keeping it mysterious enough that the audience isn't sure whether to doubt along with Will or to believe like everyone else. He poses a lot of questions in the film and the joy comes in waiting for the answers.

Jason Segel and Rooney Mara make a strange pair, and occasionally it's hard to buy. Fortunately, though, both actors were dedicated enough to make it work, and their efforts were not in vain. But The Discovery isn't so much about the characters as it is about the journeys they take. I'd heard some mixed reception to the film before I saw it about how they didn't care for the ending, but when I saw it I felt that it only made everything stronger. The Discovery is an interesting film that takes a concept and explores several different facets of it and does it well. Thankfully for those clamoring at the bit to see this film, it will debut in March on Netflix...so you won't have to wait all year to see it. EMILY RATING: 8.5/10


Sundance Review: Band Aid

Hearing the premise of Band Aid it's easy to imagine the film being a broad comedy. The film centers around a married couple who always find themselves at each other's throats. They are helpless to know how to resolve these fights, until one day when one of them decides to use their arguments as inspiration for songwriting. And so, the two of them, along with their kooky drumming neighbor, form a band and use it in getting their anger out at each other. With the people involved (Fred Armisen, Adam Pally and Zoe Lister-Jones,) I definitely expected it to be hilarious, but I found myself caught off guard by its realness in its more serious moments. The sweetness that underlies in some of the more dramatic instances in the film make it more rewarding and memorable than if it had just been a straight comedy.

Band Aid is a very well rounded little film. It's light and funny when it needs to be, but it definitely can pull a dramatic punch. In some of the fights near the end, I was very stunned to see how real these fights were portrayed and how cutting their remarks were to each other. It certainly shows the power of words and how much they can destroy. Band Aid also makes a commentary of the differences between men and women with how they deal with conflict, stress, and grief. I found it all strangely comforting.

I also, of course, must mention the musical aspects of the film. Lister-Jones amazingly was able to pen up lyrics and melodies that managed to be catchy, creative, and funny all at once. The songs are certainly one of the highlights of the film, and seeing how they come up with these songs. You definitely wish there were more of them. I'll definitely be looking for the soundtrack when it comes out. EMILY RATING: 8/10


Sundance Review: Thoroughbred

The simplest way to summarize the plot of Thoroughbred is to say it's a film where two teenage girls strike up an unlikely friendship, then later plot to kill one of the girl's stepdad. The film stars teams up two former Sundance darlings Anya Taylor-Joy (star of The Witch) and Olivia Cooke (star of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,) and it also happens to be the very last performance of the late Anton Yelchin. Already excited by its cast, I soon saw that Thoroughbred was getting a lot of positive reviews and some modest hype. Many people labeled it a "twisty thriller" and I was surprised to find myself in disagreement to the type of film I thought Thoroughbred was, namely, a more straightforward dark comedy.

Thoroughbred feels like it starts in the middle of a story, which is cool because the characters feel lived in. Cooke's character, Amanda, doesn't have many friends because of her past, as well as the fact that she puts people off because of her inability to feel feelings. She claims she's never experienced fear, sadness or joy and her frankness is a welcome change of pace in the eyes of Taylor-Joy's very polite Lily. The two are almost polar opposites as Amanda always says what she thinks, while Lily is much more the type to want to appear that she's calm and collected. After Lily lets slip her negative feelings towards her stepdad, Amanda nonchalantly suggests to Lily that she try to murder him, and before too long the idea has taken hold in her mind. Amidst the planning, Anton Yelchin's lovable drug dealing character Tim gets shoehorned into the action. Yelchin isn't in the film nearly enough and I have to wonder if he died before all his scenes were shot. He feels set up to have a bigger role in the film, and then he pretty much disappears, and I have to say the film suffers because of it. Luckily though the two leads are terrific and carry the film.

I'll be honest, from what I read prior to seeing the film, I was expecting a little more than what I got from Thoroughbred. That's not to say the film wasn't good or well-made, I just was expecting a very different film. What I got was one that was more simple, but very fun, and one that I wished had a lot more Anton Yelchin in it. EMILY RATING: 8/10.


Sundance Review: Manifesto

Manifesto isn't so much a film as it is a piece of art. And come to find out, that's exactly what it was to begin with. Manifesto wasn't conceived as a feature length film, but rather thirteen separate mini films that artist Julian Rosefeldt created as an art exhibit. The films all featured Cate Blanchett playing different fictional people all reciting various real life manifestos on art that were given throughout history. But it's the settings and situations these people are put in that makes the words they're saying pop and whether the speech fits the situation that it truly makes an impact. Each of these videos were places as separate installations, all unified in theme playing at the same time. Somewhere along the way, someone must have felt that Cate's performance should be seen by a bigger audience and so the footage was re-edited into a feature film.

Knowing Manifesto's history is crucial in being able to appreciate the film on any level besides admiring Cate's versatile performances. It would be easy for most people who saw the film to come away being awed by Cate, but not appreciating the film for its own merits....namely because the film doesn't really act like a normal film. For one thing, there is no storyline in Manifesto, rather we as an audience merely witness several different situations. Also it should be said that while Cate plays every part amazingly, not all of the situations or manifestos recited in the film are created equally. Nor is Cate really playing well-developed characters, but rather character types. Some scenes work better than others, but when Manifesto works it's wonderful.

Manifesto succeeds if you view it more as an art piece than a film. I found much of its experiment to be incredibly fascinating and mostly pretty well done. It was especially interesting to see how these words transformed when recited by these character types and said in their various situations. From drunken rants, to funeral speeches and dinner table prayers, it was truly impressive to see how each manifesto fit. However, if you go into Manifesto expecting to find an incredible narrative where Cate Blanchett morphs into thirteen different characters, you will very much be disappointed. EMILY RATING: 8/10 as a film and 8.5/10 as an art piece.


Sundance Review: To The Bone

In To The Bone, Lily Collins plays Ellen, a girl struggling to overcome her anorexia. Apart from her half-sister, her family seems helpless to try to understand her or see her as anything more than a problem to be solved. Ellen has a lot of unresolved issues with her broken family, which makes her feel like her anorexia is the one thing she has control over. Her mother left her father and became a lesbian, marrying her best friend. Her father is too busy to ever bother seeing her but did have the time to remarry a woman she has no connection with. Her stepmom, whom she can't stand, is left with the task of watching Ellen and her only solace is her half-sister. Fed up with Ellen's inability to change, her step-mother seeks the help of a renowned new doctor (Keanu Reeves) to enroll Ellen in a different kind of therapy in hopes of curing her anorexia once and for all.

Some of the structure of To The Bone feels somewhat familiar, while other parts feel fresh.  The movie follows Ellen as she struggles to feel at home with the new system she's entered, yet is able to bond with some of the people around her...which feels like something I've seen before in many an indie film. However, I don't feel like I do see many films that tackle anorexia so I appreciated having a window to look through and learn more about the mindset of someone who struggles with that. What makes the movie work though is the wit of the script combined with Lily Collins wonderful performance. She gives her all to the role, including dangerously transforming her body for it. The family aspect of the film I enjoyed, but for some reason I never really felt much of a connection to the other girls (and guy) that were also in the program with Ellen. One storyline includes a romance that the film kinda hinges on, and I just couldn't buy it. While not everything in this film works for me, Collins' performance makes the film worthwhile.

To The Bone is a nice dramedy, but didn't exactly break new ground for me. If some of the supporting parts had had either a different person cast or more depth to them, I probably would have liked the film more as a whole, because I would have bought how much these relationships affected her. Still, there's plenty here that's worthwhile to see from Collins' performance to the insights of anorexia as well as the extreme harm of unresolved family stress. EMILY RATING: 8/10