Wylie Writes’ Ten Best Movies of 2013

March 2, 2014 1 comment

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By: Addison Wylie

Now that we’ve recognized the bad movies that were slingshot at audiences last year, it’s time to move on and engulf ourselves in the cream of the crop.

2013 introduced a wide variety of great films to audiences.  I feel like I say that every year, but as I scour my selected picks, the only thing these movies share are the odd genre they’re grouped in.

Take documentaries, for example.  Audiences were shown terrific autobiographies that opened their subjects like books.  André Gregory: Before and After Dinner was one that caught my interest.  Gregory is a writer, an actor, a director, an all around theatrical wiz, yet he presents himself as such a humble human being who could easily sweep the average movie goer off their feet.  Director Cindy Kleine doesn’t have to stretch to find a comfortable groove for this pleasant doc.

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Nicky’s Family wasn’t necessarily a straightforward autobiography like André Gregory: Before and After Dinner, but it told a revolutionary story involving Nicholas Winton.  Winton, who rescued Jewish children before WWII, is shown in high regard with Matej Mináč’s film.  Nicky’s Family may look like something you’d find on PBS on a Sunday afternoon, but the doc’s importance could impact a sold-out stadium.

Rounding out the list of sensational documentaries was Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel, a film that snuck onto our radars when the year was winding down.  The message about the importance of safety during extreme sports follows alongside snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s inspirational story.  Walker’s doc is incredible, and you’ll never want to take your eyes off of it.

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There were a few independent films that caught my attention and impressed me with their storytelling.  The Oxbow Cure, for instance, is a film that moves deliberately slow.  However, Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas were able to chill me to the bone with their frigid settings and drawn out creeping.

Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil was a fantastic feature film debut, providing superb performances from actors who could rationalize their drastic arcs quite well.  Sean Garrity’s Blood Pressure was a worthy-enough thriller with an anchoring turn from Michelle Giroux.  The film has its flaws, but I enjoyed myself all the way through this low budget drama.

And, Tower.  I desperately wanted Tower and actor Derek Bogart to receive more recognition for their contributions to Toronto’s indie scene.  It was an uncomfortable, often amusing and unhinged jarring character study from filmmaker Kazik Radwanski.  I’ve seen a lot of fine performances from lots of actors in 2013, but Bogart’s portrayal of a disconnected wanderer stuck with me all year round.

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Of course, I had some mainstream picks.  I thought The Wolf of Wall Street was great fun.  It was a lengthly film, but it showed audiences that Martin Scorsese is still a gutsy filmmaker willing to tackle any genre at any given time.  August: Osage County was another strong contender.  It’s ensemble cast knocked the film out of the park, and frequently had me in stitches.

Blue is the Warmest ColourThe Spectacular Now, and The Way, Way Back were three coming-of-age films that were unforgettable.  All three featured moving performances from everyone involved, the creative minds behind the flicks were fearless, and nothing was sugarcoated.  Movie goers could sense the filmmakers treating the characters with earnest gratitude, which helped sustain the staying power of each flick.

But, enough lollygaging. Let’s take a look at what fleshed out the top spots of 2013.

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Underrated Movies:

Everyday is Like Sunday
It’s A Disaster!
Nicky’s Family
Texas Chainsaw 3D
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Honourable Mentions:

#15. Tatsumi
#14. Charles Bradley: Soul of America
#13. To The Wonder
#12. Nebraska
#11. Short Term 12

Wylie Writes’ Ten Best Movies of 2013

#10. Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers acts as a statement about the impatient youth of today, and about the need for constant change amongst a modern younger generation.

It’s also a stylistic blast and an interesting conversation starter.  Filmmaker Harmony Korine reassures his fans that he isn’t leaving, and he brilliantly introduces younger audiences to a new way to look at movies.

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#9. Her

Spike Jonze’s poignant work is a personal film about an impersonal society. 

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#8. Downloaded

Downloaded is a fantastic documentary on the brink of a remarkable level involving the rise and the inevitable fall of the file trading peer-to-peer service Napster.

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#7. 12 Years a Slave

An absolutely brutal, but rewarding watch that’s extremely well acted by its vast ensemble.

Filmmaker Steve McQueen shows an anthropological side to the relationship between an owner and his slave, as well as a fascinating, stomach churning outlook on how easy it was for people to consider other people “possessions”.

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#6. We Are What We Are

Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are shows a hauntingly humanistic portrayal of something that’s downright unfathomable: cannibalism.  The film is an excellent slow burn with a jaw-dropping payoff.

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#5. A Hijacking

Unfortunately overshadowed, A Hijacking is a riveting docudrama that I hope gets the respect and attention it deserves despite ingredients that some may be seasick about.

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#4. Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club is an all around exceptional piece of work with flawless lead performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. 

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#3. Mud

Like the film’s stoic bluegrass backdrop, Mud resonates quietly.  It’s an outstanding movie with phenomenal acting and careful direction.

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#2. Before Midnight

Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is brilliantly observant with its authentic portrayal of two people who love – and will always love – each other.  The screenplay is simply one of the best.

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#1. The Place Beyond the Pines

A complete 180° for filmmaker Derek Cianfrance.  This sweeping drama about redemption, fatherhood, and “doing the right thing” is absorbing and never drops the ball.  A true classic in the making.

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‘Ten Best Movies of 2013’ Artwork by: Sonya Padovani

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014: Saving Face

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By: Addison Wylie

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival has made me exhale an astonished “wow” twice now.  That’s a compliment I haven’t admitted to in a while.  It’s absolutely true in the case of Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s harrowing doc Saving Face.

The mighty film, which deservedly won 2012’s ‘Best Documentary Short’ Oscar, shows audiences how disturbingly frequent and heartbreakingly affective acid crimes are.  Every year, numerous Pakistani women are dosed with different forms of acidic attacks.  The victims are left wondering what they did to deserve such torture and public humiliation.

Impressively, Junge and Obaid-Chinoy interview the alleged attackers – most of which are the husbands.  They give emotionless stories claiming they had nothing to do with the burns, and that they’ve been wrongfully accused.  The shiftiness in their testimonials as well as their unsupported proof doesn’t hold water – it’s blatant to see that.  The filmmaking duo don’t have an agenda to make all Pakistani men look like monsters.  They simply ask questions and let their cameras roll.  What they capture are sit downs with these apathetic, terrible contributors to lifelong injury.

The act of acid crimes gets lots of attention from those who want to bring justice.  A Londoner plastic surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, flies to Pakistan to survey the pandemic and offer his assistance to reconstruct facial features.  We see in every instance that he’s on screen how he tries to maintain his composure while his feelings of sadness and frustration seep out.

For a film that clocks in at under an hour (Saving Face is 52 minutes), the filmmakers pack a lot of development into the film.  Junge and Obaid-Chinoy select individual subjects and open their lives up to us.  The women, who embrace the filmmakers’ affection, show us what their living conditions are, take movie goers to the original spot where they were attacked, and explain personal barrenness.  Saving Face gives audiences a very intimate and utmost honest view behind the veils and burqas without anything feeling too intrusive.

Because these victims are worried that a similar attack will happen in the near future, audiences are also shown other resources where these women can seek protection.  We get an unbarred look at ASF – the Acid Survivors Foundation – and the kind saints who seek a change regarding the consequences the initiators face post-crime.

Saving Face is a powerful, well made and competently justified piece of work.  The doc may seem quick, but nothing is ever cut too short.  It has an impact in both its emotional connection and its respectful representation that beefier films would be jealous of.  Just “wow”.

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Catch Saving Face at Toronto’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Sunday, March 2 at 3:30 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Solo Speaks: A One-On-One with Annie Clark

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By: Addison Wylie

After being featured at Toronto After Dark, the indie Canadian thriller named Solo is making a more public appearance with a theatrical run at Toronto’s Carlton Cinema.

Carlton Cinema is a very appropriate venue seeing as the theatre and the film both share a level of independence.  Carlton Cinema is a quaint theatre that feels as if you step into another world of movie watching, and Solo’s lead is left in her own world to try surviving camp initiation.

Solo serves as a debut for writer/director Isaac Cravit, marking the flick as his first feature length film.  The spooky movie is also actress Annie Clark’s first foray into theatrical films.  It’s a big move for Clark who is often on screen by herself and having to support the eeriness Cravit has materialized.

I wasn’t too hot on Solo as a whole.  It started off strong, and progressively meandered its way into a final product that lacks punch or chills.  However, Clark does a commendable job at holding her own.  She turns in a promising performance that makes the audience eager to see what else she’ll do with her budding career.

Wylie Writes correspondant Sky Wylie sat down one-on-one with Clark to talk shop about Solo.  The two also discuss Clark’s departure from Degrassi: The Next Generation, how a real life camp experience inspired her hopes of becoming an actress, and whether she sees a future for Isaac Cravit directing tense fare.

Listen to the free-form interview here:

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Solo is now playing at Toronto’s Carlton Cinema. Click here for showtimes!

Read my review here!

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Solo: @SoloTheMovie
Annie Clark:
@AnnieJClark
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

Wylie Writes’ Ten Worst Movies of 2013

March 1, 2014 1 comment

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By: Addison Wylie

As the Oscars approach this Sunday, the time is finally here to reflect on 2013 through a pair of lists – my picks of the best and the worst.  Let’s get the duds out of the way to make way for the flicks that’ll be remembered for years to come.

2013 introduced me to a new type of “bad”.  It was a sub-version spawning off of the type of hatefulness I only save for my bottom three choices.  These films treated its audience like imbeciles and expected us to lap up what they were serving and laugh our faces off – no questions asked.  Instead, they were either smug or flat-out negative.  You can expect to see those soiled diapers at the end of this role call.

Even though I have a main “bottom ten”, I made sure I included some dishonourable mentions in order to cover those who thought they were saved by the odd late entry.  However, there were plenty of stinkers that fell off that additional listing as well.  So, let’s talk about them.

I appreciate filmmakers wanting to be brave with how to tell their film’s story, but some approaches left me befuddled.  In The Wagner Files, someone thought it was a good idea to portray composer Richard Wagner’s life through a broody soap opera with CSI inspired cutaways.  With Thursday Till Sunday, the idea of realistically showing a crumbling family through a mundane road trip backfired immensely because, well, it made the film a bore as well.

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Mainstream films took weird chances too, thinking the audience would applaud their efforts to connect to movie goers.  “Audiences loved Wedding Crashers and adore the Internet, so let’s make a movie called The Internship and have Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson work at Google.  Hilarity is bound to ensue, right?”

This logic also applied to smart aleck genre bending films.  Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters flopped because it wanted to have its cake and eat it too by offering audiences a parody of what movie goers would expect and balancing it out with Resident Evil inspired action sequences.

Funny or Die’s iSteve, an attempt to make a satirical biopic about Steve Jobs, was amusing for the first few minutes, but soon ran out of steam as each joke was pounded into submission.

Children weren’t safe either.  Disney’s haphazard cash-in on the Cars franchise Planes was a wreck without a single sign of creativity in sight.  From Up on Poppy Hill had the visual zest of a vibrant family film, but managed to lull it’s audience into a nap with miscast dubbing and laboured storytelling.

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I won’t lie.  I kind of wished my list would have a Lindsay Lohan triple play.  It would just make matters a bit more interesting with an added novelty.  Unfortunately, I saw worse things than Paul Schrader’s confused drama The Canyons.  Lohan does, however, make two appearances on my bottom ten.

So, without further wait, let’s take a look at the worst of the worst.  Just remember filmmakers, this was a year where James Nguyen made a sequel to his unintentional cult hit Birdemic: Shock and Terror.  Notice how I haven’t mentioned Birdemic 2: The Resurrection until now?  Nguyen made a better movie than all of you.  Think about that for a moment.

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Overrated Movies:

The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Conjuring
Fast & Furious 6
Frozen
When Jews Were Funny

Dishonourable Mentions:

#15. Pain & Gain
#14. The Great Chameleon
#13. Jack the Giant Slayer
#12. The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology
#11. InRealLife

Wylie Writes’ Ten Worst Movies of 2013

#10. G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Trying to piece together the film after watching it is a mission in itself.  Trying to follow it as it unfolds on screen is damn near frustrating.

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#9. Adriatico My Love

Nikola Curcin’s romance is unjustifiably cruddy and a cross between a travelogue and a family vacation home video circa 1992.

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#8. Peeples

Peeples is an atom bomb of a comedy and one of the worst Tyler Perry productions movie goers have seen yet.

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#7. Scary Movie 5

Scary Movie 5 is not a funny movie.  I have a hard time justifying this rush job as “a movie”.

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#6. The Frankenstein Theory

Getting a deservedly short theatrical run, The Frankenstein Theory is an uninspired and stupefyingly obvious play-by-play of 1999′s The Blair Witch Project.

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#5. Fondi ’91

I feel embarrassed for Fondi ’91 and for all who were involved with its ill-fated production.  This is a prime example of a movie that needed more rehearsals and more pre-production planning before heading into its slapdash shooting.

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#4. After Earth

Hollow and wooden, with very little to latch on to.  I can’t comprehend After Earth and I’ll never understand it.

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#3. Grown Ups 2

Grown Ups 2 has a neanderthal brian.  It’s another one of these movies where it eventually turns into the cinematic equivalent of Sandler looking at himself in the mirror and winking.

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#2. Identity Thief

Identity Thief is a recipe for disaster – and the movie has no idea.  Who thought it would be a good idea to generate laughs from an irksome, hoarding, annoying, selfish sociopath?

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#1. InAPPropriate Comedy 

Infomercial spokesperson Vince Offer has somehow managed to weasel his racist tirade into cinemas for the world to endure.  Or, for those masochists who boldly seek ways to stress out their patience.  It’s a movie that makes you angry at everyone involved.  It’s not bold or audacious-  just terribly crass and stupid.

If Movie 43 is the worst movie you’ve seen all year, then you’re not ready for InAPPropriate Comedy.  And, I say that because I care about you.

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‘Ten Worst Movies of 2013 ‘ Artwork by: Sonya Padovani

Solo

March 1, 2014 1 comment

By: Addison Wyliesoloposter

Solo starts out on an “A” game, but ends up finishing with a generous “C” grade.

Isaac Cravit’s independent thriller is a straight-up campfire story – and, the filmmaker knows it.  Gillian (played by former Degrassi: The Next Generation co-star Annie Clark) needs to prove herself to be a capable camp counsellor in order to obtain a summer job.  The newbie needs to pull a “solo”, a two-night experience on a secluded island that will test her survival skills.

Cravit, directing and writing his first feature film, is having a lot of fun playing with the conventions of a campfire horror.  The filmmaker even has fellow councillors telling Gillian rumours of haunted activity that took place on the island before she embarks on her trip.

These moments don’t feel like Cravit is pushing too hard for the audience to recognize what the film is trying to be and he sticks his landing well with these scenes of eerie dialogue.

When Gillian arrives at the island and is forced to investigate mysteries in the woods at night, Cravit nails the creepiness.  As the camera slowly moves around a freaked out Clark, we can’t help but get sweaty palms as we feel ourselves growing more anxious.  What’s better is that there aren’t too many of these moments, making these quiet pressure cookers enunciate strongly when they happen.

Cravit is also having a ball throwing red herrings at his audience, including possible antagonists that may have more to do with the island’s history than we realize.

Solo reveals more, including what’s overlooking Gillian.  The routes the film travels on is all a matter of subjectivity.  I watched Solo with my wife, who enjoyed where Cravit took his scary movie.  I, on the other hand, thought these decisions made the film less effectively stimulating and increasingly mundane.

Without spoiling the main course, Cravit’s screenplay makes the right choice to make delirium the main evil in Solo.  The problem is – for me, at least – he chooses the wrong type of crazy.  Solo would’ve been better off as something more psychological than being so literal.

Solo is typical enough to get by.  Some gory effects towards the end are appreciated and certainly help matters tonal wise.  But, part of the joy of watching these smaller scale horrors/thrillers is finding steady specialties that make movie goers gush to others about the film – resulting in consecutive views.  I just didn’t get that with Solo.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014: In the Shadow of the Sun

February 27, 2014 Leave a comment

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By: Addison Wylie

I find myself in a predicament trying to review Harry Freeland’s documentary In the Shadow of the Sun.  Prior to the film, I was oblivious to the subject matter and found myself perplexed by the harsh reality that stalks Tanzanian albinos.

In the Shadow of the Sun is a perfectly fine documentary, but I keep feeling as if I’m rating Freeman’s doc on the content represented rather than the film the material resides in.  That isn’t the fault of Freeland’s wholehearted filmmaking, however.  The subject is just that powerful.

After a rumour circulates claiming that albinos are a rare form of future fortune and wealth, impoverished individuals or those simply seeking a good luck charm set out to retrieve parts of albinos to keep – resulting in nasty slaughters and diminishing hope for those born differently.  Besides the grisly tragedies, Tanzanian albinos are viewed as useless people who should be shunned.

You can see how it’d be easy to get sucked into this distressing situation, and shift focus away from the film itself.  Fortunately, audiences will still be able to appreciate In the Shadow of the Sun’s picturesque cinematography and the valuable minimalist filmmaking.

It’s important to note that Freeland doesn’t shy away from any details.  That description of the doc’s rawness shouldn’t entice you, but instead warn those who are faint of heart.  Movie goers will see the lengths others will go through to obtain a piece of “luck”.  Although, the uncensored look is helpful, these images are some of the most graphic content I’ve ever seen and will undoubtably make audiences queasy during their sympathizing.

The film’s core centres around Josephat Torner, an outspoken albino who wants to bring awareness to the effect this terrible rumour is having on his life and those around him.  He bravely takes to the road and speaks to multiple groups about the issue.  He gets them involved by asking questions and hearing them out before stating his opinion on the matter.  Smartly, Freeman steps back and lets his camera roll on Torner and the crowds during these passionate talks.

The doc is a little too long as it reaches the homestretch, and – understandably – becomes a bit of a broken record as Freeman tries to figure out how to make the main message take forms that offer variety to his project.

Otherwise, In the Shadow of the Sun is clear, concise, and a mannerly marvel.  Much like Josephat, Harry Freeman has made an meritable documentary successfully enlightening audiences around the world of these unfair circumstances.

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Catch In the Shadow of the Sun at Toronto’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Friday, February 28 at 6:30 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

The Lego Movie

February 25, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieTheLegoMovieposter

In any other situation, The Lego Movie would’ve been used as a promotional tool to shill out a new line of toys to wide-eyed youth while parents have premonitions of their wallet getting lighter by the second.  Luckily, filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – who were responsible for the surrealist Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs adaptation and the hilarious 21 Jump Street reboot – to shut down that possibility completely.

If you attend a screening of The Lego Movie, you’ll be treated to vigorous animation, roaring jokes stemming from an astute sense of humour, and unexpected sentimental messages that don’t feel prying.

Lego has always been adamant on following instructions to assemble a mass product, and the filmmakers (along with Dan and Kevin Hageman) latch onto this concept to build their movie.

Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is one of many who abides by a ritualistic lifestyle.  Everyone eats the same things, they drink the same expensive coffee, and everyone listens to the same upbeat tune that promises everyone that “everything is awesome”.

The Lego Movie is obviously simulating a society that’s been overtaken by materialism and consumerism that seems robotic but is ordinary and enjoyable to everyone – including Emmet.  It’s a projection that is not only plastic on the outside, but litters the inner workings of every action in this happy community.  President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) holds the power over the city, and knows perfectly well how everything is – pardon the pun – another brick in the wall.  And with this knowledge, he has bigger plans for ultimate destruction which will cause everything to never exceed being anything more than “normal”.

With that synopsis, there’s a slight worry that the film’s messages will hector us throughout The Lego Movie.  Fortunately for us, Lord and Miller are wise storytellers who have a fantastic sense of how to speak to audiences without making matters too conspicuous.  These pokes at shallowness go in for the kill in a humorous way, but stay away from being too flippant.

There was a moment where I held my breath.  Emmet soon meets a group of individuals who are living “off the grid” that tell our unlikely hero that rules are not always a necessity.  These moments made me scared that Lord and Miller were sprinkling anti-establishment ideas in the subtext during these vivid visuals and hearty laughs.  It’s a silly claim to get worked up about, but I can’t help myself when this film is targeted towards a young audience who soaks nearly everything up.

Without spoiling anything from the film, The Lego Movie does fix itself.  It doesn’t have a hidden agenda like some animated films shamefully tout (I’m looking at you, Lorax), and lets kids know that both their imaginations are appreciated while following guidelines.

Enough with the seriousness, however.  This is a movie called The Lego Movie after all! If we look past the morality groundwork, movie goers receive a spry outing that both kids and adults can equally lavishly watch.

The story that features many Lego characters – old and new – always finds itself moving in a helpful direction, allowing any type of high-speed pursuit or quippy riffs to take the wheel for an appropriate amount of time.

The film itself has a super imagination.  Franchise characters play pivotal roles in the film’s narrative and our heroes are always thinking about creative ways to get themselves out of a pickle.  The Lego Movie is not trying to sell us any crummy puns or play sets.  It’s here to educate viewers that playfulness and ingenuity is acceptable.  Most of all, Lord and Miller want to entertain audiences.  And, that they do.

By the final act, you’re satisfied with what the film has set out to do.  However, some last minute punches are pulled.  I try not to use the word “brilliant” too often for fear that the highly acclaimed word will lose impact.  But, when a film goes the extra mile to provide a new risky layer to its structure and manages to pull it off, then it deserves the praise.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller finish the film on an assortment of wowing inspiration, and manage to make their film much more than that film with “Lego” in its title or “just another kids movie”.

For me, The Lego Movie hits those same revolutionary tones the first Toy Story did in 1995.  To not say this ingenious film is brilliant would be robbing the movie out of the esteem it deserves.  Go.  See.  This.  Movie.  Now.