Tag: phil lord

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Here is a superhero animated picture in which the action sequences are less interesting than the world and characters it creates. In the middle of it, I was so dazzled by both its visual and writing creativity that it made me wish more animated films, especially those targeted toward young children, worked hard to deliver high quality entertainment, not just another poop or fart joke, another tired pop culture reference or in-jokes. Those involved in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” could have relied on name recognition to rake in profit, and so it is all the more impressive that they actually offer the audience a special experience.

Right from its opening moments, the film is filled with personality, from the music playing in the background, the many colors and cultures of people going about their daily activities, to the attractive and thrilling style of animation employed that tells a story of several Spider-Man (-Men? -People?) and multiverses. Blink or tune out for a second or two and risk missing a reference to previous Spider-Man iterations. Its crackling energy is breathless. We feel the need to catch up to it.

The plot is told through the eyes of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a teenager from Brooklyn, New York who is about to start a new chapter in a private school he is not excited to attend. (He passed a test to gain entrance.) But he trudges on anyway because his parents (Luna Lauren Velez, Brian Tyree Henry) expect him to take the opportunity and make something of himself. A great admirer of Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), protector of New York City, it is to Miles’ great surprise that their paths cross one night which involves the masked hero attempting to prevent a team super villains from opening up portals to other dimensions. Needless to say, the endeavor leads in failure—with both tragic and hilarious results.

Credit to screenwriters Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman for making the correct choice to write Miles as an active character. It would have been easier—and boring—to paint him as a passive, wide-eyed observer who just so happens to stumble upon wonderful discoveries and adventure. Although the central protagonist faces a group of Spider-Man eventually, his lack of experience and youth are told from the perspective of potential rather than a hindrance. When he fails, we can laugh at his lack of physical prowess and knowledge of being a superhero, but there is not one moment when we feel annoyed by him or think that he is a waste of space, especially when standing next to his more impressive counterparts.

The results of dimensions colliding is interesting, but I felt it could have been played with further. For instance, there is Spider-Man Noir and he comes from a universe of black-and-white, constant rain, mobsters, and subterfuge. It might have been funnier if elements of this world had been fused into Miles’ Brooklyn neighborhood. The melding of vastly different style of animation could have been spellbinding. Another version of Spider-Man came from the future. I wished the people in Miles’ universe had had a chance to interact with and react to the bizarre happenings of late.

Despite all the noise, incredible technologies, and rambunctious confrontations, the heart of the story is tethered to the teenager who wishes to find purpose. The adventure is a metaphor for the trials and tribulations many young people go through before they come to realize that what they have to offer, big or small, is good enough. A life-affirming film, it offers a message to its target audience: It is good to be alive and make a difference.

22 Jump Street


22 Jump Street (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Given that I felt lukewarm toward Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s “21 Jump Street,” the idea of yet another sequel—born from only a slightly above average reboot no less—did not exactly excite me. That is, until I saw the trailer for “22 Jump Street,” also directed by Lord and Miller, which showcases a level of self-awareness, an attitude that reflects my sentiment: “Another sequel? Is this really necessary?” I thought then that it just might work. Necessary it is not, but it does work.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) has botched up yet another operation. Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) has a solution: assigning the not-so-dynamic duo on a very similar case that they have managed to solve in the past, only this time they are going undercover as college students instead of high school students. A girl was found dead. It is believed that her passing was due to a drug called WHYPHY—similar to Ritalin during its early phases but has pernicious effects later on. Schmidt and Jenko must find the dealer which will then allow them to capture the supplier.

Although the picture is not riotously funny in every single scene, its constant willingness to go out of its way to look silly or stupid is so infectious, one cannot help but crack a smile through the attempts. However, when the most effective punchlines do come around eventually, they tickle the gut as a feather does to the foot.

A weakness I found in its predecessor is the unconvincing arc between Jenko and Schmidt. That is, how their rivalry evolved into a strong friendship. Here, since they start off having a strong bond already, the screenplay gets more of a chance to play around with that friendship. The “bro-mance” between the lead characters, though overplayed during the second half, are very funny.

Hill has a way of making Schmidt come across so needy and clingy at times that we relate to Jenko wanting to get to know other people who are more like himself: into football, working out, binge-drinking (Wyatt Russell). Tatum plays an oaf of a character but we love Jenko anyway because the jokes directed at or coming from him are good-natured and full of energy. He, too, is good-natured when it comes down to it and so it is impossible not to like him.

Thus, like classic partnerships, Schmidt and Jenko are opposites. We all know what they say about opposites and so the writers—Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman—must find fresh ways to make the idea amusing. Since Hill and Tatum’s styles of comedy are different—though not exactly opposites—the comedic situations tend to work more than a handful of times. I enjoyed that the actors seem game for anything—even making fun of their physiques as well as their past roles in other movies that are considered to be “unsuccessful.” (I enjoyed Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down.”)

It could have benefited from a stronger investigation or more sleuthing. The protagonists are supposed to be undercover cops after all. This shortcoming is also found in the first picture. The filmmakers wish to make the same movie and poke fun of it through a heightened sense of self-awareness—which is fine. But the approach proves to be a double-edged sword in that it is likely to have similar deficiencies unless the writers actively try to work around it. I suppose they are able to do this—at least to a degree—because such a limitation is less severe here.

“22 Jump Street” offers a good time including a little bit of sweetness. It targets many things—from the ritualistic stupidity of undergraduate life and all it has to offer to very close male friendships—but the material never results to being mean-spirited about any of them. Since we are experiencing a period of very cynical and pessimistic filmmaking, that specific quality is, in my eyes, an achievement worthy of praise.

The Lego Movie


The Lego Movie (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Packed with impressive visuals and a witty script that consistently amuses, “The Lego Movie,” based on the screenplay and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, is an animated film that many claim is equal to this decade’s “Toy Story.” Though it is an entertaining work on its own, compared to John Lasseter’s film, Lord and Miller’s work functions on a lower level.

Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) has a proclivity for categorization. Seeing different types of legos from different generations, themes, universes interacting just won’t do. So, he concocts a scheme: by using a device called the “Kragle” (short for Krazy Glue), not even the rebels collectively known as Master Builders—talented lego characters with the ability to assemble a pile of legos into weapons, mode of transport, or whatever they wish to create—will be able to redo or remove what he and his followers have constructed. However, it has been prophesied that eventually someone called the “Special” will rise and put an end to Lord Business’ evil plan. This chosen one turns out to be a very ordinary construction worker named Emmet (Chris Pratt).

The images exude a confident vivacity that is rare in movies—animated or otherwise. Because each lego character has a specific way of moving in one space, from one point to another, and expressing himself or herself, there is rarely a dull moment. We are given time to appreciate the details and we wonder how the filmmakers managed to make every leading and supporting character stand out. In other words, what is shown on screen is not just pretty pictures. It is refreshing when we feel like some thought and effort are actually put into the project instead of relying on vapid cuteness to appeal to the crowd. Yes, I’m looking at you, “Despicable Me 2.”

But the movie is not a completely immersive experience. Many of the jokes that are very funny when uttered or shown once or twice end up being repeated so much that they lose their impact. It tests the patience. More importantly, the romantic subplot between Emmet and Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) is forced and unnecessary. Why is it that so many animated movies these days feel like they must have some sort of romance? I don’t mind—as long as they work. But, really, we should ask ourselves: Do young children really care about the idea of romantic love being reciprocated? If the subplot were targeted for adults, it should have been written smarter, with a little more sweetness, maybe a bit more seduction. I did not care whether Wyldstyle and Emmet would end up together.

As a result, instead of building a steady upward momentum, the film is significantly less interesting when the two lovebirds interact. Why not simply focus on the mission? When I was a kid playing with LEGO bricks and toys, it was all about explosions, surprising twists, time running out, and rescuing captured comrades (or resurrecting them if they happened to have been killed in action). Even with my female action figures, they were not used as crushes or love interests for my male action figures. Why? Because saving the word—in this film, several universes—is more important than holding hands.

“The Lego Movie” really shines in the final quarter. The screenplay takes the characters’ universe and adds another dimension. I was surprised because at times I found myself quite moved with the parallels and differences drawn between one world and another. It was then I knew: the film is dedicated to children around the world of past, present, and future who use their toys as a conduit to their imagination.

21 Jump Street


21 Jump Street (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

After graduating from a police academy, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), current best buds but former high school nerd and jock, respectively, thought their career would be as exciting as a fast-paced action movie. A bucket of cold water to the face, their first assignment turned out to be patrolling a public park, tedious and unchallenging until a possible drug bust that could give them a promotion. When the duo finally apprehended one of the drug-dealing bikers, Jenko had forgotten to read the perp’s Miranda rights. Due to their incompetence and immaturity, as a form of punishment, Schmidt and Jenko were assigned by their captain to infiltrate drug dealers in a high school and find their supplier. “21 Jump Street,” based on the screenplay by Michael Bacall, made me laugh, although not consistently, so there was no denying that the comedy was there. However, when the jokes were not the centerpiece and the film focused on the investigation involving the drug that killed one of the students (Johnny Simmons), there was a dearth of ingenuity in Schmidt and Jenko’s procedures. It seemed as though they only happened to stumble upon pieces of information which may or may not relate to their assignment. I got the sense that the writer, never the characters, was the one putting the pieces together. This was disappointing because we were eventually supposed to believe that Jenko and Schmidt were ready for real police work. I was far from convinced. If I was watching a comedy show, I would be ecstatic to be entertained by them. They were sarcastic in just the right moments but it was obvious that they were good-natured guys. But if I was a person who actually needed help or was a victim of a crime, I would be very worried that the job, delivering justice and the like, wouldn’t be performed expediently. Furthermore, Jenko and Schmidt’s relationship did not have an interesting arc. I liked that the writing was cursory in glancing through their sort-of rivalry when they were in high school. It wasn’t necessary that we got to see how much of an outcast Schmidt was nor did we have to see Jenko being the cool hunk. What I expected, however, was getting a real sense of the ugly details of their past once they returned to high school. I waited for good reasons why Schmidt and Jenko acted the way they did once they were, in a way, transported to their past. Instead, it relied too much on Schmidt wanting so desperately to be cool, pretty much becoming a lapdog of Eric (Dave Franco), the kid they were supposed to watch in suspicion that he was directly related to the source of the drug in question, and Jenko hanging out with the nerdy Chemistry guys. What the film lacked was not only a genuine connection between its protagonists but how that connection was challenged and transformed so that they could become better friends and, perhaps more importantly, reliable partners out in the field when things got really tough. The chase scenes in “21 Jump Street,” directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were enjoyable, at their best when they poked fun of other action flicks. While Hill and Tatum seemed game to banter and get into all sorts of physical humor, without the relatable pieces to support the punchlines, the picture was only mildly and inconsistently entertaining.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on the children’s book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, was a visual treat for the whole family. A scientist named Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) had many inventions that led to disasters and over time lost the respect of his community. But when he accidentally sent a machine that had the ability make food from water to the sky, it began raining all sorts of delectable food. At first the citizens of the island enjoyed the strange weather patterns, covered by a colorful reporter (Anna Faris), but the food started to get bigger as time went on, it turned into a disaster flick with food as weapons of destruction. There were times when I thought the picture was trying too hard with the jokes. The slapstick irked me especially when the target of the joke was a smart (sometimes too smart) and awkward lead character. I wish the directors had toned down the physical comedy and really played more with the double meanings of certain words, phrases and puns. A lot of kids (even younger kids) out there do understand play on words which is not common knowledge. I also thought that the movie had a chance to really bring up and tackle social issues such as world hunger and obesity. There were some images thrown in here and there but such moments were too brief. With those criticisms aside, I really did enjoy this animated film because it was creative and imaginative. The surreal images it offered such as giant rolling doughnuts threatening to squash people like bugs, pasta tornados, and palace made entirely out of jello were definitely a sight to behold. It made me think about how magical the film would have been if it was live-action. The movie’s energy level was manic, everything was colorful and there were some really good jokes on the background. I also appreciated the fact that it had a plethora of film references from other disaster movies to strange sci-fi mysteries to dramatic space adventures. Even though the movie had so many random elements, I thought it worked because there was madness happening on screen. Lastly, I thought this was the kind of film that would have benefited with a longer running time. It tried to be so many things, including a bit about father-son relationships, but none of them were fully realized. “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was a smogasbord of colorful delights and energy that never seems to run out when it really could have used more heart.