The Lego Movie and Vampire Academy

This week, I saw two films.  Neither of them is an important, challenging drama with earth shattering things to say; however, both provide lots of entertainment in their own ways.
 
The Lego Movie
 
Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is a sweet-natured construction worker who only wants to follow the rules, as ordered by President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), and become popular with his co-workers.  He’s just about to leave the worksite one day when he sees a young woman who he later finds out is named Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks).  She shouldn’t be there, which violates the rules, and Emmet is about to call the police when he gets a good look at Wyldstyle’s face and is immediately smitten.  While following her, Emmet falls down into a hole at the construction site.  At the bottom, he sees a strange red brick that seems to be calling to him.  He walks up and touches it and is struck by strange energy and sees odd images before being knocked unconscious.  When he wakes up, he’s handcuffed in a police interrogation room being questioned by Bad Cop/Good Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson).  He’s being asked about the Piece of Resistance.  Emmet says he has no idea what the cop is talking about when Bad Cop/Good Cop points out the Piece of Resistance is stuck to his back.  President Business orders Bad Cop/Good Cop to melt down Emmet and bring him the piece.  Just before he’s about to be melted, Emmet is freed by Wyldstyle and brought to the Old West to meet a blind prophet named Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman).  Vitruvius explains to Emmet that he is “The Special” who is prophesied to lead the Master Builders in revolt against President Business, also known as Lord Business, who plans on using a super weapon called the Kragle to destroy the world.  The Piece of Resistance will stop the Kragle.  Expecting Emmet to be able to use random pieces found around him to create items to help in their plan, Vitruvius and Wyldstyle are surprised to find Emmet unable to build anything other than a two-tier couch.  Wyldstyle is disappointed and thinks all is lost but Vitruvius believes Emmet just needs to open his mind and let the ideas flow with the rest of the Master Builders, like Batman (voice of Will Arnett), Spaceman Benny (voice of Charlie Day), Metal Beard (voice of Nick Offerman), Superman (voice of Channing Tatum) and Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal).
 
I wasn’t really sure what to expect prior to “The Lego Movie” and went in with low expectations.  I was completely wrong.  This is a supremely entertaining movie that is visually imaginative, contains a story that rarely slows down and a script that is very funny and emotionally satisfying.  It consistently hits all the right notes.
 
While the film looks like stop-motion animation it is in fact computer generated imagery.  I think the retro look of the character movement benefits the type of toy that’s featured in the film.  The low tech nature of Legos doesn’t lend itself to a slick animation style.  The somewhat jerky movements give the film an almost homemade quality.  The underdog nature of Emmet and the Master Builders, and the silliness of Lord Business, is amplified.  There are also sharp delineations between each of the Lego lands visited in the movie, making Emmet, Bad Cop/Good Cop and Vitruvius stick out when they visit different worlds.  The most odd of the Lego lands is Cloud Cuckoo Palace where anything and everything is possible with odd combinations of Legos making for bizarre looking creations.  In this Lego land, nobody looks out of place because everybody looks out of place.
 
The bright colors and slapstick humor will appeal easily to children but parents shouldn’t worry about being bored as the film has plenty of laughs and pop culture references to keep you entertained as well.  Batman is a prime source of humor for adults as he takes all the gravitas of Christian Bale’s portrayal of the Dark Knight and twists that around in a kind of self-mockery.  Vitruvius is also a good for laughs as he carries what looks like a half-eaten lollypop on a stick as a walking staff and delivers lines in a way that sound serious then adds an extra word or two to make them silly.  Emmet is funny in his cluelessness and Lord Business is funny in his pompousness.  Each character that gets any screen time at all is given a chance to shine and none of these opportunities are wasted as the script by co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller is so jammed with humor it may require more than one viewing to catch it all.
 
This funny script also has a good story, not just about the Lego characters but also the people who play with them.  There’s a reveal late in the film that puts everything into perspective.  I won’t ruin it but the whole story of the film isn’t about what you think it is.  Fortunately, this twist doesn’t ruin what’s come before and actually gives the movie far more heart and emotion than you might expect.  It’s the kind of twist that pays off for both children and adults and could be used to start some conversations that both sides can learn from.
 
“The Lego Movie” is rated PG for rude humor and mild action.  There are a few references to butts and that’s about it.  There are some action scenes where robots are thrown around and at least one is shown impaled on a spike.  There are some weapons fired like laser pistols and Vitruvius is shown being blinded by Lord Business and later being decapitated.  While all this sounds very disturbing, seeing it is far less so.
 
“The Lego Movie” is a 95 minute commercial for a 60 year old toy.  Play sets have been produced to match the lands shown in the film and special mini figures of the movie characters have been released.  I’m not so naïve to think entertainment is the only reason for this film to be made; however, the writers and artists who created the film have made something rather spectacular that should please the young and the young at heart.  I know I enjoyed it a great deal.
 
“The Lego Movie” gets five guitars that snap together to make a spaceship.
 
Vampire Academy
 
Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir (Zoey Deutch and Lucy Fry) are teenaged girls on the run from the stuffy boarding school they escaped from nearly a year earlier.  These are not your average teenagers:  Lissa is a vampire princess and Rose is her protector in training.  She is a Moroi, a race of mortal vampires with royal blood who lives peacefully among humans.  The Moroi can be in sunlight but they don’t like it and they possess magical powers over air, water, fire and earth.  Rose is a dhampir, a half human/half vampire who acts as a guardian for the Moroi.  The royal vampires need protection from a race of immortal vampires called strigoi.  They are the enemy of the Moroi and are constantly looking for a weakness to attack them.  While immortal, the strigoi can be killed by sunlight as well as a silver stake in the heart.  Rose and Lissa are psychically bonded after a car accident killed Lissa’s parents and brother.  She and Rose were severely injured but afterwards, a one-way bond from Lissa to Rose developed.  The pair ran away from the Vladimir Academy because of a severe threat to Lissa that Rose knew of but couldn’t identify.  Other dhampir from the school, led by Dimitri Belikov (Danila Kozlovsky), found the two in hiding and brought them back.  At the gates of the school, the convoy is attacked by strigoi and Rose freezes when she’s confronted.  Dimitri saves the girls and gets them inside safely.  Headmistress Ellen Kirova (Olga Kurylenko) is furious with the pair but agrees to readmit them after Victor Dashkov (Gabriel Byrne), a Miroi and relative of Lissa’s, speaks on their behalf.  Their absence has led to a loss of social standing in the school for young Moroi and dhampir.  Lissa’s boyfriend is dating someone else and Rose is behind on her training.  There is also an evil stalking the grounds of Vladimir Academy that could spell disaster for Lissa, Rose and anyone around them.
 
Based on the first of a series of six young-adult novels, “Vampire Academy” is the latest effort trying to tap into the revenue stream of book-to-movie adaptations like “The Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter” and “Twilight.”  The formula for making the transition from page to screen has proved elusive as “Percy Jackson,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Host” and “City of Bones:  The Mortal Instruments” has shown.  While I found “Vampire Academy” to be an entertaining film, I’m afraid there’s yet another body to put on the funeral pyre of failed franchises.
 
The interplay and chemistry between Rose and Lissa is the strongest aspect of “Vampire Academy.”  Zoey Deutch and Lucy Fry and very likable young actresses who are opposites that attracted me to their characters.  The script (and apparently the books) gives Rose a snark and smart aleck attitude that comes from a deep sense of love and commitment to Lissa.  Rose is a strong and independent woman who discovers she may not be as ready to face the threat of the strigoi as she thought and must accept the fact that she has much to learn.  Lissa is of royal heritage and could be the next queen of the Moroi.  That carries with it a great deal of pressure and, as many young people do, she doesn’t handle it as well as she could.  This pressure leads to decisions that not only give us a good look at Lissa’s true self but it also provides a pathway for the story to continue and grow.  These actresses and their characters could turn into a great team.
 
Sadly, they may never get the chance as the script is so stuffed with detail and backstory that the plot tends to get overlooked at times.  While knowing about the three factions and their roles in relation to one another is necessary, it also occupies a great deal of the film.  My guess is the filmmakers and studio wanted to keep the running time well under two hours so they decided to give us all the rules of the game and then truncated the action.  It’s a movie that requires you to pay very close attention.  One missed character introduction or minor fact could wind up getting you completely lost.  This is the kind of film that cannot be shortchanged in either background or story; however, story has gotten the short end of the stick.  This leads to a script that has the writing quality of a middling TV sitcom or police procedural drama.  We get the high points but the details are lost in the shuffle.  I was able to keep up most of the time but with the number of characters and some similar looking secondary players I sometimes found myself wondering who people were even though I’d seen them earlier.
 
“Vampire Academy” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, bloody images and violence.  The sexual content is brief and never shows anything other than women in lingerie and one shirtless man.  Since these are vampires, there is some blood.  It isn’t nearly as gory as it could be.  There are a couple of scenes showing injured or dead animals.  There are a couple of large fight scenes and some instances of one-on-one violence.  The big group scenes sometimes involve spikes being shoved into the hearts of bad vampires.  Foul language is very limited.
 
“Vampire Academy” opened on over 2600 screens around the U.S. and, on its opening weekend, made just over $4-million.  That’s considered a serious flop.  As an example of how bad it is, Disney’s “Frozen” in its 12th week of release made almost $7-million on close to the same number of screens.  The probability of continued “Vampire Academy” films is almost zero.  It will depend on how it does overseas and when it’s released on DVD and streaming.  It may be the kind of film that finds its legs after it has left theatres; however I doubt it.  The series of books simply don’t have the kind of audience of “The Hunger Games” or “Twilight.”  That translates into a smaller audience for films based on the series.  I suppose I should just be happy that the one film likely to be made was one I enjoyed.  It is far from perfect but I’ve had worse times in the movies.
 
“Vampire Academy” gets four guitars out of five.
 
There’s a combination of romance and robotics heading to theatres this week.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.
 
About Last Night—A modern reimagining of the classic romantic comedy, this contemporary version closely follows new love for two couples as they journey from the bar to the bedroom and are eventually put to the test in the real world.
 
Endless Love— Following their high-school graduation, Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde), a sheltered but privileged teen, becomes enthralled with David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer), a working-class youth with a troubled past. Though Jade and David fall quickly in love, Jade's father (Bruce Greenwood) strongly disapproves of the match, while David's father (Robert Patrick) advises caution. However, their parents' disapproval only makes the lovestruck teens more determined to pursue their intense affair.
 
Robocop—The year is 2028 and multinational conglomerate OmniCorp is at the center of robot technology. Overseas, their drones have been used by the military for years – and it’s meant billions for OmniCorp’s bottom line. Now OmniCorp wants to bring their controversial technology to the home front, and they see a golden opportunity to do it. When Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) – a loving husband, father and good cop doing his best to stem the tide of crime and corruption in Detroit – is critically injured in the line of duty, OmniCorp sees their chance to build a part-man, part-robot police officer.
 
Winter’s Tale—One night in early 20th-century New York, master thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) breaks into a Central Park mansion -- and quickly has his heart stolen by its occupant, Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). Unfortunately, their love is star-crossed; she is dying from consumption, and he is marked for death by his demonic former mentor, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). Peter battles the forces of time and darkness to save Beverly, even as Pearly does everything in his power to defeat Peter.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Questions or comments should be sent to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.