It’s double feature time again, because I don’t have enough to say about either of these films to fill a regular review. Today I’ll be reviewing American Made and The LEGO Ninjago Movie, in that order, so here we go!
One thing you should know before watching American Made: It is not a normal film. I mean, it’s still film. It’s got a beginning, a middle, an end, but it’s also what we call a biopic, which is just biographical picture shortened. Most biopics tell the story of a person over many years of their life, and don’t have the same structure as the average film. Typically biopics are long, meandering, and often require many montages to get to the point they’re trying to make. I caution most people from watching biopics because of this. And since they’re based on real people’s stories, there isn’t much action or otherwise thrilling circumstances, or in American Made’s case, comedy.
American Made is the story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), commercial airline pilot, who gets strong armed into working for the CIA to fly over Central America and take pictures of Communist forces in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s very reminiscent of last year’s War Dogs and 2013’s Wolf of Wall Street, except it has more in common with the former rather than the latter. It’s a very interesting story, but it lacks that insanity that Wolf of Wall Street had, despite having almost as outlandish of a plot. Cruise does a great job though, carrying the film almost single handedly, but it would have been nice to have more time with Domhnall Gleeson’s character Schafer.
Structure was what really knocked this film down for me. This movie seemed to start like 3 or 4 times, each time that Barry was basically forced into doing what other people wanted. And there were at least 7 montages interspersed throughout. It felt a lot longer than its actual runtime of 115 minutes. And when it came time for Barry to learn something from all his adventures, it didn’t happen, or at least not in the way it seemed like he should. He gets pushed around by nearly everyone important in the film, and only maybe once seems to make a legitimate decision for himself. I was hoping for him to actually put his foot down towards the end but it never seemed to happen. Though there is a line said to him, about knowing the risks he was taking and making decisions, that stuck with me. He did have the choice to say no from the very beginning, but realistically he didn’t, since the CIA had dirt on him from the start. Ultimately, American Made is a pretty interesting 2 hours of focused history that’s got a good lead actor. MOVING ON!!
I do hope most of you have seen The LEGO Movie. For one: It’s awesome, and two: I’m probably gonna refer to it and LEGO Batman film a bunch in this. They aren’t required viewing, but they will give context. LEGO Ninjago is based off of a LEGO brand of toys about ninjas with elemental powers and mechs. It’s basically Power Rangers. The film follows a group of teens who prevent a bad guy from taking over their city, except the leader of the teens is the son of the bad guy.
Ninjago, much like the previous LEGO movies, is about family, specifically the father/son dynamic. It plays out interestingly enough, it’s even pretty good at it, but the comedy is almost entirely geared towards kids. I found myself getting quite bored throughout the movie, however the kids a couple rows back were eating it up. I liked it a lot more than The Nut Job 2, and at least this I would show to my kids and feel good about it. The more interesting thing to talk about, for me, is the formula that Warner Bros. Animation is now using to churn these films out.
They’ve codified their films, and it’s becoming a little obvious now. Ninjago, Batman, and even Storks to a certain extent, are all using fourth wall-breaking humor, snappy editing, family centric messages, and even making original songs. Everything they’ve made since the original LEGO film feels safe, even the stakes of the stories. I never felt like anything bad was going to happen because everything and everyone is in on the joke, that these are toys and farts are funny. At least the first film had emotional punches towards the end, where it became about something bigger than toys. Ninjago tried, but the father/son main story had little to do with the random little kid and Jackie Chan, who we see only at the beginning and end of the film. I would still show this to my kids though, but it doesn’t have much emotional punch, so for me it’s a