MOVIE BUFF-ET: Lego Batman delivers the hero we deserve

Warner Bros.

“The Lego Batman Movie” may be one huge commercial for the plastic building blocks that are the bane of all barefooted parents, but it is one highly entertaining commercial.

No doubt the film will thrill the young ones with its bombastic action and colorful animated designs, but it will also keep parents laughing with its clever hijinks, hilarious sight gags, and a buckshot load of jokes that mostly hit their mark.

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The film, directed by Chris McKay with a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith and Chris McKenna, is a spinoff of the surprisingly good and highly successful “The Lego Movie,“ which featured the voice talents of Will Arnett as Batman in a supporting role. This time Batman takes center stage along with his regular supporting cast and more of his arch-villains than most could name.

The movie is basically an “Airplane”-type spoof on the Caped Crusader and super-hero films in general. It’s just as clever, funny and silly, but not nearly as crass and profane. The film is rated PG, but is tamer than much of the material that plays on the Cartoon Network.

Arnett’s gruff, gravely approach to the Batman’s voice is perfectly in tune with the character and just right for the tone of the movie. His phrasings and line readings sell the jokes, making Batman egotistical yet still lovable and acerbically funny.

Ralph Fiennes voices Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler, with arch sarcasm in spots and tenderness in a few heartfelt moments.

Michael Cera’s wide-eyed Dick Grayson/Robin came off as a bit too buoyant and annoying, but that was likely the intent. Rosario Dawson as the voice Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, and Zach Galifianakis hits the major notes as the Joker, who becomes offended when Batman won’t admit how much their rivalry means to him.

To strike back at Gotham City’s egotistical guardian, the Joker hatches a plan to enlist the wickedest and most destructive villains in cinematic history to lay waste to Gotham City, including the likes of King Kong, the Kraken, Bruce the Shark from “Jaws,” Voldemort, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Gremlins and others.

Until this point Batman has spurned all help from his friends and family, working alone. However against such odds can the Dark Knight learn to accept his loved one’s support or will he continue to push them away?

You can probably guess, but with this film the journey is far more rewarding than the destination.

The film is steeped in Batman lore, and it lovingly skewers it in a hilarious manner. The film has jokes for those with the faintest knowledge of the character, but I think the more you love Batman, the more you will likely love the movie.

Created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger for DC Comics, Batman has proven to be about as durable of a creation out there, weathering the good and bad times in the comic books and on the big screen. With Warner Bros. struggling at the moment to put together the right team to make another live-action film of the character, this film shows that the character can still soar as high as ever, given the right creative approach.

(PG) 1 hr. 45 min.
Grade: A

The Comedian

Sony Pictures Classics

Robert De Niro has made more than his share of great movies. If he never makes another, he’ll still be regarded as one of the greats. However, his choices of roles of late have left some wondering if he’s still capable of delivering in the way he once did.

No need to wonder. Just see “The Comedian,” and you’ll know that he can. The film, directed by Taylor Hackford, won’t go down as one of De Niro’s best, but his performance is strong and is a return to the type of part his fans are accustomed to seeing him perform.

De Niro plays a struggling stand-up comedian Jackie Burke, who remains talented but has seen his best days pass him by. Part of his problem stems from his success in a situation comedy. His fans remember him for playing a cop on TV, and everyone who meets him wants him to deliver his catch phrase “Ar-leaaan,” which he just detests.

Provoked into a fight while performing, Burke is sentenced to a relatively short stay in prison, plus 100 hours of community service. While working off his hours in a soup kitchen, Burke meets a younger woman named Harmony, played by Leslie Mann. A relationship develops, but complications occur when Harmony introduces Jackie to her father (Harvey Keitel). They are about the same age.

The film’s done poorly at the box office and is only showing on two screens in the area with one showing on each, around 10 p.m. each night. The film’s fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes is below 25 percent, but the Hollywood Film Awards honored De Niro as its best comedic performer.

Critics have written the movie off as a waste of a great cast. No doubt the struggles the movie had in production with Martin Scorsese, Sean Penn, and Mike Newell dropping out as director before Hackford took over is a factor. Kristen Wiig and Jenifer Aniston also left the film before Mann was tabbed for the female lead.

However, people are going to stumble across this movie when it hits the streaming services and cable and wonder why they’ve never heard of it or why they didn’t pay attention to it.

Oliver Stapleton’s cinematography makes New York alluring, and the Florida locations also shine under his lens.

Supporting roles by Danny DeVito, Charles Grodin, Edie Falco all hit, and Cloris Leachman has her best film role in a couple of decades as an elderly comedienne, being roasted at the Fryer’s Club.

The movie isn’t necessarily one to rush out to see, but give it a chance at home once it makes it to other platforms. If you are a fan of De Niro, you’ll be glad you did.

(R) 2 hrs.
Grade: B

Classic Corner

The Barefoot Contessa

Ava Gardner was one of the classic beauties of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and this is never more evident than in 1954’s “The Barefoot Contessa.”

In the film written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Gardner portrays a smart but petulant dancer Maria Vargas plucked from a show in Madrid by tycoon film producer Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens) to star in his film.

Edwards leaves Vargas in the hands of screenwriter Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) and publicist Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O’Brien) to develop her talent, and shortly thereafter the beautiful woman becomes a star.

The successful and gorgeous Vargas is courted by many suitors, but she seeks a relationship like the one Dawes enjoys with his wife Jerry (Elizabeth Sellers), and she believes she has found it in the chivalrous arms of Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini. The Count proposes, but he’s hiding a secret.

Gardner is excellent in the role of a beautiful woman who seeks true love but tends to fall in with the wrong lovers. She knows how to use her sexuality to get what she thinks she wants, but always ends up being treated like a possession.

Bogart is characteristically Bogart in the supporting role of her world-weary friend and father figure. However, reports say the two did not get along that well. Evidently Gardner enjoyed the nightlife while on location in Rome, and Bogart reporting that back to his friend and Gardner’s husband Frank Sinatra did not sit too well with the starlet.

Any off-screen tension doesn’t show up in the movie. O’Brien won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, while Mankiewicz was nominated by the Academy for Best Original Screen Play.