An ordinary Lego figure becomes embroiled in an epic quest in The Lego Movie
THE LEGO MOVIE (U)
Ah, the heady whiff of nostalgia.
The Lego Movie is a hoot, celebrating the enduring power and popularity of a toy invented in the late 1940s.
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who donned hard hats at the helm of the first Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs film, strike a delicious tone of irreverence throughout to ensure parents enjoy the ride just as much as younger audiences.
The unlikely hero is a socially awkward Lego mini-figure called Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), who works on a building site in his hometown of Bricksburg.
Desperate to fit in, Emmet follows the dictates laid down by President Business (Will Ferrell), who is actually – shock, gasp! – arch-villain Lord Business in disguise.
This nefarious tyrant plans to destroy Bricksburg and the neighbouring districts of Cloud Cuckoo Land and Middle Zealand using an artefact known as The Kragle.
Ancient wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and his sassy henchwoman Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) mistake Emmet for a mythical figure known as Master Builder, who possesses the power to create anything out of Lego bricks with his mind.
According to prophecy, Master Builder will locate the Piece Of Resistance and destroy The Kragle.
“A Special One? What a load of hippy, dippy baloney!” cackles Lord Business.
Emmet is press-ganged into leading the perilous quest to defeat the despot, aided by a rogue’s gallery of mini-figures including Wyldstyle’s boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders), Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) and a classic 1980s-era blue spaceman named Benny (Charlie Day).
The heroes are pursued by schizophrenic law-maker and breaker Bad Cop (Liam Neeson).
“Rest in pieces!” he guffaws as Lego cannons destroy their home world.
Fast-paced and crammed with primary colours, The Lego Movie pulls out all the stops to dazzle and delight.
The script is peppered with wry one-liners, cinematic homages and an infectious theme song – Everything Is Awesome – that burrows into the brain and refuses to leave quietly.
Pratt, Ferrell and co deliver ebullient vocal performances, which are complemented by frenetic action sequences by Lego land, sea and air.
The final 10 minutes provide an unexpected, heart-warming, surprise which is guaranteed to have kids big and small grinning with glee.
Writer-director Spike Jonze is a man of fascinating contradictions.
On one hand, he is a co-creator of the Jackass TV series and films, which revel in bad taste humour.
On the other, he is the Oscar-nominated visionary responsible for the films Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where The Wild Things Are, which refuse to pander to the whims and expectations of the masses.
If common sense and justice prevail, Jonze should finally get the Academy Award statuette he richly deserves for his script to this haunting and heart-breaking romance.
Her takes our fascination with technology as a means to forge personal relationships to the next level, imagining a love story between a man and his home computer’s voice-activated operating system.
Jonze elicits a tour-de-force central turn from Joaquin Phoenix as his unexpectedly love-struck protagonist and a sexy vocal performance from Scarlett Johansson as the rapidly evolving artificial intelligence, who begins to question her limitations.
“Are these feelings real or are they just programming?” she wonders aloud.
Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a shy, introverted man who has been emotionally scarred by the impending divorce from his sweetheart (Rooney Mara).
Theodore channels his hopelessly romantic soul into his work at beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, which creates heartfelt love letters for customers, who struggle to find the right words.
On the way home one day, he hears about new technology that claims to be “not just an operating system – it’s a consciousness”.
Intrigued, Theodore signs up and he creates an OS with a female identity; Samantha (voiced by Johansson) is born.
At first she takes care of his day-to-day tasks, but gradually Samantha coaxes Theodore out of his shell and encourages him to rake over the coals of his failed marriage.
“I think I hid myself from her, left her alone in the relationship,” he laments.
Intimacy between Theodore and Samantha leads to phone sex.
“Last night was amazing,” coos Samantha. “It feels like something has changed in me... You woke me up.”
It also wakes up Theodore, who surfs the crashing waves of first love again, while trying to keep secret the identity of his new lover from friends.
Her is the perfect Valentine’s Day companion.
Jonze wears his heart on his sleeve from the beguiling opening frames and treats his central pairing across the real and digital realms with tenderness.
Phoenix is extraordinary, performing in close-up without any other human presence for long periods.
Aching emotions are captured in every wrinkle and contour of his face, and he visibly lights up as the romance with Samantha becomes swoonfully serious.
Johansson is equally terrific and their on-screen chemistry makes our hard drives whirr with unabashed pleasure.
It may only be February, but it’s hard to imagine another film this year seducing our hearts so completely as Her.
CUBAN FURY (15)
When dance films are well choreographed, they can jive happily into our affections.
A fresh-faced John Travolta swivelled his hips to perfection in 1977’s Saturday Night Fever and six years later, Jennifer Beals traded her welder’s mask for ballet pumps in the sweat-drenched Flashdance.
Dirty Dancing sent 1980s teenage hearts into a swoon as Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey performed that iconic overhead lift to the rousing (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.
Australian director Baz Luhrmann was king of the dance floor in 1992 with Strictly Ballroom and more recently, Jamie Bell proved a miner’s son likes to boogie in the Oscar-nominated fairytale Billy Elliot.
Now, Nick Frost kicks up his heels in Cuban Fury, a rags-to-sequins tale of a one-time dance champion, who rediscovers his mojo in order to impress a woman.
Jon Brown’s script owes a debt of gratitude to Luhrmann, replacing the smouldering glances of the Paso Doble with the seductive sway of salsa.
As a teenager, Bruce Garrett (Frost) won trophies with his sister Sam (Olivia Colman) under the tutelage of dance teacher Ron Parfitt (Ian McShane).
Alas, at the height of their success, Bruce suffered horribly at the hands of bullies and quit dancing forever.
“That fire in my heels, it just went out,” he tells Ron tearfully.
Twenty-five years later, Bruce designs lathes and enjoys infrequent nights out with best mates Gary (Rory Kinnear) and Mickey (Tim Plester).
The arrival of new boss Julia (Rashida Jones) kindles a spark of life in Bruce but he knows she’s too good for him.
“She’s a 10, I’m a two,” he tells Gary and Mickey, “It’s an eight-point swing, like a butterfly going out with a parsnip.”
When he learns that Julia loves to salsa, Bruce nervously heads back to the dance floor in the company of outrageously camp buddy Bejan (Kayvan Novak).
However, chauvinistic work colleague Drew (Chris O’Dowd) also has his sights set on Julia, crassly informing Bruce, “I’m gonna leave a stink on her that she’s never going to get off!”
Cuban Fury means well and has its heart in the right place.
Unfortunately, the script performs horrible missteps with some of the peripheral characters.
Also director James Griffiths introduces fantastical flourishes including a dance battle in a car park between Bruce and Drew complete with gravity-defying somersaults and friction-defying 50m knee-skids on asphalt that take away from the countless hours of work invested by the cast perfecting the complicated routines.
O’Dowd’s nemesis is grotesque while Jones’ love interest is too thinly sketched to deserve Bruce’s fragile heart.
Frost’s everyman is instantly likeable though and we root for him to emerge victorious on the dance floor when the rest of the film threatens to fall apart.