Screentime: The Lego Movie – Building Something That Lasts

(YouTube//Warner Bros Pictures)

A Foregone Conclusion

For my final Screentime column, I wanted to talk about a movie that meant something to me personally. I considered picking something from my own childhood, maybe the first movie I saw in a cinema (Aladdin), or some obscurity that we just happened to own on VHS (1997’s MouseTrap, for example). But this column isn’t about looking back, about my own nostalgia. It’s about what kids movies mean to me now. How I interpret them today, as a 30-year old in 2018. As a father. So instead, I want to talk about The Lego Movie.

The Lego Movie was always going to have a special place in my heart: It was created with me in mind. I’ve always been a huge Lego nerd, and a lot of my happiest memories as a child center around that Danish construction toy. The directors, Phil Lord & Chris Miller, know their audience and pepper the film with references to Lego ephemera old and new, general and specific. For me, the film mines nostalgia in way that’s so precise as to feel personal. Many of the Lego sets that I grew up with are featured, and seeing details like the tiny break in Benny’s helmet feel like I’m hearing the fragment of the theme song from a long-forgotten, but much-beloved show from my childhood.

For my daughter, the thrill comes not only in seeing the toy she loves to play with come to life, but also in seeing the mashup of culture that Lego’s exhaustive brand relationships allows. Seeing Batman for the first time elicited a laugh from her, and every time he appeared on screen thereafter she would confidently inform me that “That’s Batman” or “Batman’s being silly.”

(YouTube//Movieclips Coming Soon)

Beyond Reference

This combination of general pop culture nostalgia and specific Lego fandom was enough to get me to buy a ticket way back in the halcyon days of 2014. Lord & Miller would have known this. Lego, backed by generations of devoted fans, was a pretty safe topic for a movie. That’s why so many of these branded tie-ins are so bad. The product is already so popular there’s no need to make the movie good. You sell tickets just based on the thing’s existence. A lesser creative team would have taken this route. Play up the nostalgia, throw in as many simple gags, memes, and winking references as you can and call it a day.

That approach may get butts in seats, it may pay the bills, but it doesn’t get people coming back. It doesn’t make for a cultural experience that affects people, that elicits emotions, that lasts.

The reason movie studios can so easily leverage those cultural touchstones, the reason that we will buy a ticket for The Lego Movie simply because its The Lego Movie, is that these references are shorthand for something deeper, something more personal and more meaningful. Lord & Miller understood this, and understood why it was important. A Lego brick, or the Batman logo, or the Thundercats theme; these things are like snapshots, reminding us of memories and feelings we used to have. But their thin evocations pale in comparison with what we’re searching for, which is to feel those feelings again.

It is obvious that Lord & Miller are, themselves, huge fans of Lego. They understand this longing. They understand that these trappings of memory are not enough. The simple fact that we all know and remember the shape & colors of a Lego minifig isn’t enough. What truly binds us to these commonalities is the actions they evoke. The sight of a Lego brick brings to mind the action of building with it, the feel of it in your hands. So rather than simply show you the object of nostalgia, The Lego Movie places the act of building, the act that binds Lego fans across the world together, centrally not only in its narrative (more on that later) but into the way the film itself is constructed. Watching The Lego Movie is the nearest you can come to actually playing with Lego without, you know, actually playing with Lego.

This raises the movie beyond an act of mere reference. It is not just paying lip service to the things we love, but actively evoking them.

(YouTube//Warner Brothers Pictures)

Building Something That Lasts

Most creators would be happy with this achievement, with turning a corporate exercise into an act of love, with transforming cynical reference, alchemy like, into passionate evocation. But Lord & Miller know that even this isn’t enough. Playing on familiar brands & ideas was enough to summon an audience, elevating that reference into something deeper was enough to turn that audience into a fanbase. But in order to turn those fans into devotees, people who watch the film not once, but 183 times, people who do deep dives into the film’s mythology, you need something more.

The films that last are the films inspire people, films that change the way people think, the way they feel. Films that say something.

Because while quick jokes or nostalgic brands or memes may make us smile, the media that stops us in our tracks, the media that we tell others about, the media that we return to again and again and again, are the films or TV shows or websites that present us with an idea we’d never considered before, an idea that scares us, an idea that changes how we look at the world, even just a little bit.

So Lord & Miller took the audience they built with their attention to detail, with their love of Lego, and they told us some things. They told us not only that “Chosen One” type stories (Harry Potter, The Matrix, Star Wars) are ridiculous and undramatic, but also the exact ways in which they are toxic. They told us that individualism is doomed to failure, but we still need to embrace each other’s unique perspectives and talents. They told us that Lego and life is about ever-changing creation and innovation, not unbending rules and inflexible ideas. And they told us that we were playing with Lego wrong.

Think about that last one. They took a movie designed to appeal to 30-something nerds. The kind of guys who spent hundreds of dollars on a Lego Millenium Falcon to display in their home. They took a movie created with those specific guys in mind. And they used that movie to tell their audience they were wrong.

And their audience loved them for it.

Because what Lord & Miller understand is this: If you love something, be it Lego, or Paw Patrol, or your kids, you think about it a lot. You are passionate about it. And that passion means you cannot be neutral about it. You have strongly held opinions and beliefs, and you want to fight for those beliefs. And when you see someone else fighting, arguing passionately that Lego is to be built with, not to be displayed, you know that that person loves Lego too, just like you.

(YouTube//ThFerAnima)

The Dad Upstairs

Of course, the Lego movie is about one more thing. One thing I didn’t mention earlier. It’s about being a parent. About playing with your kids and listening to them and embracing what makes them special and unique. Its about treating your kids with love and respect, like the little people they are, not the annoyance they can be.

Because Lego, like Kung Fu Panda and Spirit: Riding Free and Tangled and Frozen and Elf and The Muppets and How To Train Your Dragon and Moana and Trolls and The Wiggles and Winnie The Pooh and Paw Patrol and The Lego Movie, is for kids. That’s what makes it so important. That’s why its worth fighting for, and about. Because as a parent you want to build something that lasts. You want to instill your kid with passion and strength and love and hope. And media is one of the most powerful tools we can use to do that. Which makes it one of the most important things in the world.

(YouTube//Warner Brothers Pictures)

‘Fast & Furious’ Franchise Coming to an End after Final Two Movies

Fast & Furious Ending
(Universal Pictures)

Family is forever. But the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise is not, as reports came out that we only have a few ‘Fast’ movies left. The franchise, which has become a global phenomenon and has raked in more than $5 billion at the box office, is wrapping up for good after two more films.

The upcoming ‘Fast’ movie, which is now set to be released in 2021, where Dom is a dad, brings the crew to a whole new realm; outer space. At least according to most rumors, ‘F9’ will be the first in the franchise to truly go out of this world. But we only have a few more movies to enjoy what’s become a legendary franchise, one that made Vin Diesel and Paul Walker stars.

Director Justin Lin, who is helming the upcoming ‘F9’, will also direct the final two films for the franchise, which will finish up at 11 total movies (not counting spin-offs, we see you ‘Shaw and Hobbs’) spanning over two-plus decades. That is a LOT of years for anyone who lives their life a quarter-mile at a time.

At least for its star, the end has always been in sight, as Diesel said earlier this year he’s already been planning the next movie and his hopes that the ‘Fast’ universe could live in with other characters in the driver’s seat.

“The universe is so robust and so rich with talent and rich with story that, on one level, it’s totally feasible to have spinoffs, and I think that’s something that is inevitable,” Diesel said. “For the fans, should ‘Fast 10’ parts one and two be the conclusion, it would be nice for this world to continue for generations to come.”

Given he recently released a song, maybe Vin is quitting his day job?

This Baby Boxing Gender Reveal Makes Us Wish We Could K-O the Whole Trend

Baby boxing gender reveal
(TikTok/bigrudie)

As humans, we have a tendency to – how do I put this lightly – ruin good things beyond repair. Not big things necessarily, but things like classic movies and TV shows frequently fall victim to our tendency to mess with things we love. A recent addition to the list of Things We Have Ruined is something that was never actually great, but we managed to turn gender reveal parties from hacky or relatively neutral to colorful atrocities. Heck, even the woman who decided to make gender reveal parties a “thing” has openly expressed regret about the monster she created.

Listen. I’m all for embracing your inner weirdo, but do it without burning down thousands of acres of forest like that expectant couple in LA who spent so much time reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting that they forgot to think about what to expect when you set off a pyrotechnic device in a forest full of dead grass (which is an increasingly necessary sequel).

To clarify, just because your gender reveal party isn’t dangerous doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Every day there seems to be a new example of this, parents using their unborn children as a means to achieve internet fame. One thing the vast majority of them have in common is that when they do go viral, it’s not exactly for the intended reason.

A Twitter user named TrishXCIII_ recently shared an alarming gender reveal that was posted on TikTok, a gender reveal I wouldn’t wish upon the spawn of my worst enemy. Here’s the gist: two giant inflatable babies beat the crap out of each other until the giant inflatable girl baby is knocked to the ground. John Cena’s entrance theme “The Time is Now” plays in the background. Actually, that’s pretty much it.

The video was originally shared by TikTok user @bigrudie, and across all platforms, it has accumulated millions of views and thousands of comments. The Twitter community came to the consensus of, “what?” as users were baffled by both the premise itself and the fact that people would go to such lengths for something most deemed wildly unnecessary.

Extremely questionable taste, but great execution. And hey, at least they didn’t burn down any forests.

After His Son Is Bullied for Dancing, Dad Starts a Nonprofit To Support Him

Dad starts nonprofit after son is bullied for dancing
(Youtube/DanceOn Chicago)

There’s a reason that so many coming-of-age movies feature bullies as the antagonists. For most kids, the closest they’ll get to a real-life supervillain is a mean kid with nothing better to do. There are a lot of ways to deal with bullies. There’s the revenge route, which is generally the one we see in movies. Though exciting in theory, bullying a bully just turns you into a different kind of bully (and we do not need any more of those). You can turn to friends for support, or you can turn your experience into something amazing.

Greg Long’s son Jimmy loved to dance. Not only did Jimmy love dancing, but he was talented. His talent and passion for dancing landed him in a school performance, showcasing his skills to his classmates. However, what should have been a celebration of hard-work turned into something sinister. Some of the students in the audience decided to hurl insults and slurs at the young dancer, emboldened by the fact that their seats were shrouded in darkness.

On the ride home, Long listened to his son and his friends discuss the unexpectedly taxing day. He recalled to TODAY, “I got to listen to how 8- or 9- or 12-year-olds process that kind of bigotry. Instead of getting angry, I decided to make a T-shirt for them. And I came up with, ‘Hey, we’re just going to dance on. We’re just going to move past this.’”

“Dance On” started as a T-shirt design, a bold statement about doing what you love even in the face of bullies. But this supportive dad wasn’t done. The idea behind the T-shirt stayed with Long, as he was certain other kids faced the same thing his son and his friends had.

Greg Long is the type of dad we all admire – the type of dad who isn’t content strictly being there for his own kids. Long wanted to support other kids like his son, showing all boys who loved dancing that it was more than ok. That they should be proud of doing what they love rather than afraid of being judged. Long started a nonprofit called Dance On, an organization that promotes acceptance.

The Dance On website explains, “Here at Dance On, we are driven by a single goal; to do our part in making the world a better place for all. We work to keep boys dancing, even in the face of adversity. Our hope is to raise awareness around acceptance, anti-bullying, and allowing all people to follow their passions… to #danceon!”

The organization has sold thousands of T-Shirts, given away scholarships to deserving dancers, and Jimmy has even spoken publicly on his anti-bullying stance (with his supportive dad right behind him, of course).

“I lost it,” Greg said of a 2018 speech given by Jimmy. “I admittedly had tears coming down my face, because the strength that it takes for somebody like that to stand in front of 20,000 people and say, ‘I’ve been bullied and I’m not going to let it stop me from what I like to do’ — it was a proud moment.”

“It’s been nice to be a part of this as opposed to just being a dad who claps very loudly in the back of the auditorium,” he said.

For as long as Jimmy is dancing, Greg will be clapping loudly. In the front row, and beyond.

Michael Jordan Opens a Second Health Clinic for People Without Health Insurance

Jordan 2nd Health Clinic
(YouTube/Novant Health)

The times, they are unprecedented. But we’ve also seen certain people rise to meet the moment, and give what they can to make their corner of the world a little bit better place. Michael Jordan is one of those people, who donated millions of dollars to help open a health clinic in the city of his basketball team in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Now, Jordan, the philanthropist, has helped open a second clinic developed to serve underprivileged communities in the Charlotte area. The clinics are for the uninsured and underinsured people in the area, to provide access to physical, dental, and behavioral health services. Obviously, when our world is enduring an unprecedented health crisis, uniquely affecting those populations, there’s never been a time when this is more needed.

Novant Health opened the second clinic Monday, one year after the first was opened. Jordan told the Charlotte Observer that it gave his family “great pride to know that we are making a difference in Charlotte.”

The Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic is going to be life-changing for the people it helps. During the COVID crisis, the first clinic has been a huge resource to the community, providing accessible COVID screening, treatment, and testing. The first clinic has helped thousands of patients who may not have been able to get care elsewhere, and many of them have called it “life-saving.”

“To see how it’s evolved is so gratifying, it makes me want to do more so we can keep answering the bell,” Jordan said in a dedication interview. “We are put on this earth in some ways to make a difference in whatever way we can.”

There’s no questioning that his latest efforts are making real, tangible changes to people that need it more than most. And for that, Jordan proves once again why he’s one of the GOATs of the sports world.

Teacher Saves the Life of Her Student’s Grandma During Remote Learning Session

Teacher saves student's grandma
(YouTube/WOOD TV8)

The era of remote learning has come with its fair share of challenges. If getting kids to sit and focus on a screen for a day’s worth of lessons isn’t enough, lack of resources and technical problems throw a whole new mess of complications in the mix. As with most of life’s challenges, there is a silver lining. Sometimes remote learning comes with unexpected surprises – special guests, exciting activities, and in the case of one Muskegon Heights elementary school teacher, the ability to save a life.

While teaching her first-graders remotely on September 22, Julia Koch noticed one of her students having technical difficulties. Since students need their devices throughout the school day, it’s important that they charge them regularly. One student, however, explained that her device wouldn’t charge.

Rather than talking a first grader through tech support, Koch asked to speak to the student’s grandma, Cynthia Phillips. Interacting with students’ guardians happens nearly every day, especially when kids are learning from home – but unlike most teacher-guardian interactions, this one was life-saving.

As soon as Phillips started to speak, alarm bells went off in the perceptive teacher’s head.

“When she started speaking, I could tell that there was something wrong. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, but there was something wrong,” Koch told WREG.

Though Koch didn’t know exactly what to tell administrators, she contacted them immediately. She knew the woman needed help, and she knew the administration could quickly locate the students’ home address.

“I need someone at that residence ASAP, please,” a school staffer said to the 911 operator.

Koch’s instincts told her something was very wrong, and she was absolutely right. Phillips was having a stroke. Thanks to this teacher’s quick response, Phillips was rushed to the hospital where she remained for several days. Though recovery is a long and arduous process, the life-saving intervention came quickly enough to mitigate the damage.

As soon as she was well enough to do so, Phillips expressed her immense gratitude to Koch and the school’s staff. “Thank you for saving my life,” Phillips said. “If it wasn’t for them getting me the help, I needed I would’ve just not been here.”

Deepfake Tech Inserts Arnold and Sly into Step Brothers

Arnold and Sly in Step Brothers
(YouTube/brianmonarch)

Deep Fake technology is pretty insane.

It grants creators the ability to make it look like almost anyone is doing almost anything, in a very convincing fashion. It’s a potentially very dangerous tool, especially in today’s divisive times, and it’s possible to foresee a future in which video footage is manipulated in such a way as to provoke the public or even cause global conflict that can irrevocably impact the world in terrifying ways.

Thankfully we mostly use it to make funny clips.

In the past, deep fake has given us Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. as Marty McFly and Doc Brown, and it has transformed Al Pacino into Ace Ventura. It has put Jim Carrey in The Shining and transformed Jennifer Lawrence into Steve Buscemi for some reason.

Now, the technology has been put to perhaps its greatest use yet: replacing Step Brothers’ stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly with two of the biggest action heroes of the 80s, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

If you told me they had actually fully remade Step Brothers with these two, I would have already purchased a ticket. The idea of those two muscle-bound quip machines facing off and teaming up in that absurd movie sounds even more ridiculously entertaining than the movie already is (and that’s saying something).

That remake, of course, will never happen. But until then, we have this glorious footage. Enjoy!

Best Bros Affleck and Damon Reunite to Roast Each Other (and Raise Money for Charity)

Affleck and Damon Roast
(YouTube/Omaze)

Some 20 years ago (starts weeping), the world was introduced to and quickly became captivated by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. The pair of Boston-based (actually Cambridge, but whatever) friends skyrocketed to fame by virtue of writing and starring in Good Will Hunting, a 1999 movie about a troubled genius and the psychiatrist who helps him overcome his past and realize his potential.

Affleck and Damon soon realized their potential when they won the Best Original Screenplay award and embarked on two decades of Hollywood stardom, with both of them achieving success as actors, and Affleck becoming a celebrated director.

After 20 years of ups and downs both professional and personal, it’s heartening to see that Affleck and Damon remain best pals, as evidenced by a fun video that’s circulating online.

The duo teamed up with Omaze to raise money for Damon’s Water.org foundation, which aims to provide access to safe, clean water, and Affleck’s Eastern Congo Initiative, which is working towards a sustainable and successful society in eastern Congo.

The pair created a video to promote sweepstakes for someone to have lunch with the two friends, though there seems to be some dispute over where. And over many other things, as the pair can’t help but give each other crap, like good friends do, over their respective franchises, and even their use of Instagram.

You don’t need to donate to the cause to enter the sweepstakes, but you’ll have a much better shot at winning if you do!

Check it out:

Orangutan Kisses Pregnant Woman’s Belly

Bullied 7-Year-Old Opens Food Pantry To Help Others Who Are Struggling

Bullied 7-year-old opens food pantry
(Instagram/cooldopeliving)

Being a kid is amazing. The freedom, the lack of responsibilities, the ability to do basically anything in public without repercussions that will haunt you for the rest of your life – it’s a time we aren’t fully able to appreciate until it’s gone. But for some, being a kid means facing struggles you aren’t equipped to handle. All it takes is one bully to turn the best time of your life into the worst. When you’re a kid being bullied, you often have to rely on others to stand up for you – unless, that is, you’re 7-year-old Cavanaugh Bell.

To say that Cavanaugh Bell was bullied feels like an understatement. The torment Cavanaugh experienced left him feeling lost, and at just 7-years-old, this brave young boy decided to do something about it.

“After I was bullied and I felt a darkness inside of me, I knew I didn’t want other kids to feel the same way I felt,” Cavanaugh explained on his GoFundMe page. “And, the more I gave back to my community, the more I wanted to keep doing it.”

After realizing his grandma was in the at-risk age group for COVID, Cavanaugh was determined to help her. But the 7-year-old knew his grandma wasn’t the only one facing a challenging situation – other people’s loved ones were at risk too, and Cavanaugh knew he had to help not just his loved ones, but everyone’s.

With his mom’s help, Cavanaugh poured everything he had into starting his own nonprofit, Cool & Dope. Rather than let the bullying keep him down, Cavanaugh used the feeling as motivation. No kid, no person, should feel the darkness he felt.

The Cool & Dope website states, “My name is Cavanaugh and I’m 7 years old. I used my own $600 savings to make care packs for the elderly in my area. I’ve been SO blessed to get help from people, like you, to create a FULL community pantry to help 5,000 people in need in Maryland.”

Cavanaugh is giving back, filling care packages with food and toiletries and distributing them throughout his community – he even opened a food pantry in a local warehouse. Just as importantly though, he’s empowering other kids to make a difference as well. In a video shared on Cool & Dope’s Twitter page, the little mover and shaker explained that he was tired of being told he was too little to help. According to Cavanaugh, nobody is too little to make a difference.

The most recent update on Cavanaugh’s GoFundMe page explains that his original goal was to help 1,000 people. A lofty goal, when a 7-year-old is in charge of the operation. But Cavanaugh has proven that he is no ordinary 7-year-old. With fierce tenacity, Cavanaugh has helped over 8,100 people to date. Filling trailer after trailer with supplies to distribute, opening a food pantry, and speaking out against bullying, Cavanaugh proved once and for all that no one is too small to be a hero.