Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary (2014)
This new feature-length documentary from directors Daniel Junge (Academy Award Winner, Documentary Short 2013) and Kief Davidson (Academy Award Nominee, Documentary Short 2014) is a bright, clever, and interesting look at the history and fan community surrounding LEGOs. These are two of the most talented directors working today, and this film is a winning example of their expertise. One disclaimer before further review: I know both of these directors personally, and I have worked with them in the past. Still, what follows is an objective review and a short interview.
Right away, you can understand the conundrum faced by the filmmakers: how to make an interesting film about LEGOs? One solution: the film is narrated by a mini-animated LEGO figure voiced by Jason Bateman. The device shines and keeps the film fresh as it works through multiple layers of the company/toy/following that is unparalleled in the world of toys. From living room floor to enormous conventions to New York art studios, the use and application of LEGOs seems limitless. How to show this phenomenon?
In an interview with co-director Daniel Junge, he explains their conundrum:
How did you hit upon the narration device?
“The narration was critical to guide us through the disparate worlds we had filmed and were presenting. It helps not only for context but to hopefully tie together the themes of the film. Since we knew we needed narration and wanted to keep it lively, we thought we would animate the narrator in the form of a mini figure.”
What was/were your biggest challenge(s)?
“This is probably the most difficult film I’ve ever made. It’s just such a huge environment, filled with stories and ideas and creations. Every door we opened led to another door, and so the biggest challenge was to know when to say when, and then to tie that all together in post-production into a cohesive storyline was also a big challenge. Furthermore, the responsibility of representing such a beloved phenomenon was an added pressure for us.”
Junge also noted that the film was such a monumental task that just finishing the film in time for its Tribeca Film Festival premiere was a major victory. Overall, the film is fun, informative, and creative in its own right. It is a far cry from the serious and dense films Junge and Davidson have previously made. Whether you are a LEGO fan or not, the film is certainly worth a view.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Burt’s Buzz, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and/or The Parking Lot Movie. Now playing at the Sie Film Center.
Ex Machina (2015)
This film from first-time director Alex Garland is interesting, provocative, and sometimes disturbing. Garland is a writer-producer with films 28 Days Later and Sunshine to his credit, so he is well steeped in science fiction. In his directorial debut, he has fashioned a taut thriller that keeps us guessing as it twists and turns through what we think is a simple plot. It is no such thing.
The story: a techie code writer (Domhnall Gleeson) for an Internet company wins a lottery to meet the reclusive billionaire owner (Oscar Isaac) of the company. The billionaire employs the young programmer to help him test his latest invention: a fully functional artificial intelligence, realized as a beautiful young woman. And of course, all is not what it seems.
Oscar Isaac steals the show as the brilliant, drunken inventor; he eats up the screen and gives depth to the character. Isaac is equal parts intellectual and despicable in the role, imbuing the character with the right mix of brains and wretchedness. Alicia Vikander is soft and ethereal in the role of the A.I., injecting humanity into the machine. The cinematography shifts from cold (indoors) to brilliant (outdoors) and helps solidify themes. Overall, the acting is very good, the pacing is perfect, and the direction is solid.
While I recommend this film, I do so with caveats: there is a disturbing objectification of women, and perhaps that is one of the themes here. The ending might invert some of that feeling, but it is there nonetheless. That may be one of the best reasons to see it—for that wonderful discussion that begins once the film ends. Begin discussion.
You will like this film if you enjoyed A.I.; I, Robot; and/or Blade Runner. Available on VOD.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at email@example.com.