‘Game Night’ is a guilt-free hilarious time at the movies

Bateman, McAdams work well here


Certain films are made with the intention to win awards. For example, when Steven Spielberg picks up a camera and walks into a room, the intention is to walk out of it with an Oscar. This is the goal of many films.

Game Night is thankfully not one of those movies.

Co-directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who misfired with the lukewarm Vacation), this is a guilt-free and hilarious time at the movies. It will take your mind off real life and won’t ask you to think too much. It’s fun, something that Hollywood forgets about when they make movies.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams look like the perfect couple on the surface. Two ultimate competitors who fell in love at trivia night, Max and Annie were soulmates. They have a great house in the suburbs, even if it comes with the weird, widowed police officer neighbor, Gary (Jesse Plemons). Their friends, including the dopey yet lovable Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and the high school sweethearts Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury), come over for the weekly game night.

However, Max’s rivalry with his brother, the rich and charismatic Brooks (Kyle Chandler) hasn’t lost any steam from their childhood, which Brooks doesn’t hesitate to revisit with embarrassing stories and painful reminders. When Brooks rides into town and wants to host a “different” kind of game night, Max and Annie see this as an opportunity to finally take down the big brother.

They have no idea what’s in store for them, but let’s just say the audience benefits from the chaos.

I laughed a lot during this movie. It’s a good time. This is an easy going cinematic experience that doesn’t demand you to think too hard nor does it make you look at your watch constantly. Daley and Goldstein’s film, working from a script by Mark Perez, keeps moving, is never boring, and stays away from heavy themes that would have dampened the effect of the main ingredient, which is comedy.

So often with comedies, they tend to get melodramatic or mix in so many subplots that you forget what the main idea was. With Game Night, there is one goal: following a group of ordinary people around who find out something about themselves that only a little of suspense can unearth.

Is Brooks hiding a few secrets? Sure. Will those secrets get his brother and friends into trouble? You bet. Will the sight of a guy trying to scrub blood of a dog only to make it worse make you laugh out loud? Bingo.

“Laugh out loud” is thrown around these days, but I did it a few times during this movie. Seeing a grown man bite down on a squeaky pet toy as a bullet is extracted from his arm is one of them. Morris perfecting a Denzel Washington impersonation is endless fun. McAdams dancing around a bar with a loaded gun in her hand is just hot goodness. Every time Ryan calls his date British, when she is actually an Irish woman, you laugh as she scolds him. Let’s just say an Edward Norton joke goes a long way.

The cast was perfectly assembled. I like when Bateman stretches out in darker roles like Netflix’s Ozark and Disconnect, but this comedy zone is his sweet spot. He has an effortless, cynically based humor that borders on acerbic that never gets old. You could have plucked out Max from Bateman’s role in Horrible Bosses (which Goldstein co-wrote), added some seasoning, and arrived at the same character-but the actor makes it work.

McAdams adds a little spunk to her heroine in a part that most actresses would have played straight. The usually stoic Chandler cuts loose playing an imperfect man, and it’s a refreshing site. Plemons gives enough uncomfortable willpower to make you feel for Gary while keeping an eye on him.

Keep an eye out for a surprise casting choice that made me do a double take.

Game Night doesn’t wish to reinvent the movie wheel or gun for Best Picture. It just wants to make you laugh and forget about reality for a couple hours. You’ll get up from your seat as the credits roll, and laugh again at that one part. This movie should make even the coldest cynic giggle. The filmmakers and cast did a good job here.

When a comedy is done right, it can be as satisfying as a hardcore Oscar worthy drama.

“The Gift” shows a different shade of Jason Bateman

The Gift’s greatest virtue is the same thing that keeps it from being a great film. The signature mystery at the center of the film keeps you off balance for the majority of the running time, but when it’s finally revealed, it’s a bit of a letdown. That doesn’t mean the movie is a complete misfire.

Writer/director/star Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut casts him the creepy Gordo, a man who shows up in the lives of a couple, Simon(Jason Bateman) and Robyn(Rebecca Hall), and sets off firecrackers when his past connection with Simon produces a few awkward encounters. To Simon, an ambitious businessman who doesn’t have a problem stepping on people for success, Gordo is a bug that can’t be squashed fast enough. To his wife, of course, the outsider is a fragile man who needs a friend. The juice is what happened between Gordo and Simon way back then that made this connection reappear? That drives the film and while the navigation here isn’t bad, the end result is questionable. Continue reading ““The Gift” shows a different shade of Jason Bateman”

12 Things About the LEGO Documentary

Here is a documentary for people who love LEGO toys and its infinite universe.

After The Lego Movie became the cool crossover kids/adults flick a couple years ago, all everybody could talk about was legos and how inventive and cool they were. The thing is, the toys have been a global phenomenon for years now and the documentary, A LEGO Brickumentary, tells the story of how they came to be and their infinite reach. While the documentary, directed by Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson with voice work from Jason Bateman, is cool and provides an introspective look into this world, it becomes a labored bore around the 45 minute mark. So if you don’t want to spend the seven dollars on Itunes or the money in theaters, here are 12 things I learned from this feature.

1. The toy originated in Denmark in 1916 and comes from the Danish phrase “lay well”. Started by a carpenter named Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen who built a wood shop to build toys. The Legos first came together in 1947 via a plastic molding machine. The Danish endeavor become a global phenomenon.

2. The key idea was a Lego system of play, which came from Kjeld’s son and was centered around “stud power”, the pieces that hold the blocks together. This system soon grew into mini figurines with the common goal, “How do I make this work?”

3. Theme sets such as play sets like pirate ships and space ships catapulted the company. Licensed themes like Star Wars and Harry Potter really launched the company even further.

4. The company, still in Denmark, produces 100,000 pieces a minute.

5. Designers can’t believe this is their job. “It’s like being a child the rest of my life.” They say the structures and ideas all start with a story, like a kid using his imagination to build.

6. Jamie Berard is one of the industry’s best designers. “How long can this last?” is something he utters to himself every day. He found his calling when he joined a group of hardcore builders he found in a store and got spotted by the creator himself. He got an internship at LEGO and has been one of its most respected builders ever since. He isn’t even 40 years old yet.

7. The directors of The LEGO Movie used a large model for their live action scenes with Will Ferrell and his son towards the end of the movie. The model took three months to assemble and a group of people called “master builders” did this. If the phrase sounds familiar, it comes from the constant theme in the movie, as Chris Pratt’s everyman Lego character is destined to be…wait for it..a master builder.

8. It’s therapeutic for people like NBA star Dwight Howard, musician Ed Sheeran and the South Park creators. Ellen DeGeneres once surprised Howard with a life sized Lego figurine of himself. When he is on the road playing, Howards’ assistants have several sets waiting for him when he arrives. For Trey Parker, putting together Lego toys is great because it’s all about following instructions and he doesn’t have to create.

9. You think Comic Con is cool and super popular? LEGO can play in that world too. Events such as Brickcon. Brickworld. Brickfair draw from hundreds of thousands from all around the world every year.

10. Delegation is a tool in this business. There are several groups for kid, teens and adults. Lego parts work like stocks. Supply and demand. Certain pieces cost cents and others dollars. Six bricks gives 915 million different options but the Lego system is an infinite universe. You don’t need a dictionary to play. Only a system and a language according to its builders.

11. Derby races and baseball stadiums are the new sensation. Large skyscrapers are fossils and amateur builds.
A rendering of Stephen Hawking went viral recently. Like the pieces themselves it’s a burgeoning world.

12. In 1999, the company’s stock and sales went down. When they got too easy to build, the desire lessened. The company got better by listening to the community and getting more interactive. Lego robots from an MIT professor put the company at a crosswords. They could have sued the company for rights but instead went with it. For once they were open to ideas outside of their building. LEGO architecture came from outside LEGO and according to one builder, created an energy instead of being a problem.

All of this from a humble carpenter in Denmark. The constant theme of LEGO is pushing the boundaries. Nothing is impossible. If you want people to know more about space, builders create models after objects you’d find in space. Everything in this world is built from something else. That’s the LEGO company. So many things can be built from a single toy.

Is this documentary a theater worthy adventure? No. Save it for home. LEGO fanatics will find it wonderful and casual observers may revel in the fact that a building as tall as them can be built in mere hours by a kid a quarter of their age. Some may find it boring, but everybody should digest the findings above. If you do partake on this adventure, you will build a newfound respect for this toy company.