Archive for July, 2014

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller: Hollywood’s Best Directors Right Now

July 2, 2014

And Also Kind of a ‘The Lego Movie’ and ‘22 Jump Street’ Review

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The writing/directing/producing duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller helmed two feature films this year, both of which should have been mediocre-at-best, formulaic popcorn flicks. The first, what was expected to be a mindless 90-minute advertisement for toy building blocks; the second, a sequel to a parody reboot of an 80’s police procedural. Instead, they delivered the two funniest movies of the year—one of which may go down as one of the best animated movies of the decade.

I should have written a review of “The Lego Movie” months ago when I first saw it. So forgive me for repeating what virtually everyone else has already said, but it’s absolutely fantastic. Along with most everyone, I was skeptical and nervous about a film adaptation of my favorite childhood toy. It reminded me immediately of a story I heard back during the 90’s Beanie Babies craze. There were rumors that someone was trying to develop a movie featuring the toys, but that the Ty company declined, worried that any storyline might suggest that there was a “right way” and a “wrong way” to play with their toys. Clearly The Lego Group didn’t have the same concerns, and has been producing unwatchable TV series and direct-to-DVD movies for more than a decade. So naturally, expectations for “The Lego Movie” were pretty low.

Enter Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Their screenplay didn’t just exceed the expectations, it confronted all the negative assumptions people had about a Lego movie head-on. The film’s message was obvious: there is no “right” way to play with Legos, so embrace your creativity. Not exactly profound, but groundbreaking in the world of movies based on toys. Additionally, Lord and Miller created a fun, enjoyable story, and not than one that was designed to promote a new product line. I assume that the film inspired more purchases of buckets of plain bricks than it did of movie tie-ins.

But Lord and Miller didn’t just stop there. They actually found a way to capture the feeling of playing with real Legos in their film. The toys are literally plastic bricks, the figures have limited movement, and the pieces seemingly connect in only a few ways. The film first makes audiences feel every physical limitation of this plastic world, then the absolute joy of discovering an out-of-the box way to put the pieces together. When I saw the character with the steering wheel on the croissant, I realized that these filmmakers truly know what Lego is all about. All of this on top of making a genuinely funny film that kids and adults can deeply appreciate. And also the best on-screen portrayal of Batman ever.

Four short months later, Lord and Miller’s second film of the year is released. “22 Jump Street” is hilarious, genius, and surprisingly heartfelt. The movie doesn’t just build on the same parody of the old show, but instead mocks sequels in general. At times the movie makes its meta-ness blatantly obvious, but the script still contains so many subtle references and in-jokes that big movie nerds like myself will have to see it twice to catch it all.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s absolutely perfect comic timing and a solid supporting cast go a long way to make this one of the best comedies of the year, as well. But I think most of the credit belongs to the directors who keep the film’s tone (relatively) grounded and on-track. This summer’s duds “Neighbors” and “A Million Ways to Die in the West” prove that talented casts can’t make up for lazy screenwriting and directing. I’m not saying that all raucous R-rated  comedies need to be “Citizen Kane,” but “22 Jump Street” is so much funnier because audiences can connect with characters who have consistent personalities. Audiences don’t get bored when every scene, no matter how silly, helps drive the plot, no matter how silly, forward.

But here’s the real reason I wanted to write an article praising Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and yes it’s fairly corny: they threw in the word “and” in their credits in a very unusual place.

Reading the end credits, audience see a card that says, “A film by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller,” followed by the word “and,” then the rest of the credits scroll. This one word changes the typical film credits dramatically, showing that the directors acknowledge that this film wasn’t made by them alone. I have no idea if this is the first time this has been done in a film’s credits, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it, and I think these guys deserve major props for doing that.

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