Minions (2015)

It’s a huge hit, its success already guaranteed on the back of the two Despicable Me films (in which the titular yellow creatures first appeared), so there’s little point in me getting too in-depth here, besides registering my general enjoyment. Here the Minions have been moved ever more to the forefront of the narrative, still voiced as ever by director Pierre Coffin in a strange burbling blend of European and Asian languages. It’s a prequel to the earlier films and sends us back to the swinging 60s, so the filmmakers lean heavily on a period soundtrack, which provides some memorable moments. Yet on the whole I found it just a little bit disappointing, lacking some of the inventiveness of the earlier films. That won’t probably matter much to the kids at whom it’s aimed, and it didn’t frankly matter much to me on a Friday night after a few drinks in the pub. It’s colourful, it’s silly, it’s not too demanding.


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda | Writer Brian Lynch | Starring Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm | Length 91 minutes || Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Friday 26 June 2015

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Jupiter Ascending (2015)


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Seen at Vue Croydon Grant’s, London, Saturday 14 February 2015


© Warner Bros. Pictures

The Wachowskis are filmmakers with a strong directorial vision, who’ve put some pretty good films together (also, admittedly, some bad ones; I do not intend to make a case for any of the Matrix sequels), so when you see the kind of critical mauling that Jupiter Ascending has been getting from some quarters, well I think that’s as good a recommendation as any to get oneself along to the film in question. Sure, it’s a big confusing mess, but there’s nothing in it that seems to invite the derision it’s been getting, though this may in fact be down to a lot of similar factors to Inherent Vice‘s reception — that the plot is so elaborate that it’s turned some viewers off. But, weirdly, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, this is a much an exercise in evoking the fabric of a lost world (or, here, an imagined universe), which should always be something worth celebrating. It’s no mean feat to try and visualise the textures of such a vast system of planets (think Star Wars) and power factions (think Dune), so if there’s a bit of recycling involved, well that’s to be expected — in fact, one sequence has such an indebtedness to Brazil that Terry Gilliam himself turns up. There’s plenty enough that’s unfamiliar — new experiences and imagery, created jargon for new technology — that as a viewer you feel sympathy for Mila Kunis’s titular heroine Jupiter when, like Vice‘s Doc, she is called on to continually express confusion at what’s happening. It’s refreshing too to see a woman playing the central character for such a big film — she is a lowly Russian cleaner who turns out to be (via some method) the owner of Earth — though Channing Tatum (with quite the silliest facial hair of the season) provides plenty of valuable support as the ‘spliced’ mercenary (think Guardians of the Galaxy, perhaps) who has her back. The acting star here though is Eddie Redmayne, who chews up the scenery with such a hammy performance that it goes through badness to being sheer genius, and perfectly matches the tone of the film. Other performers can be uneven, and taken as a whole it doesn’t always hold together perfectly, but as an experience it’s every bit the equal in imagination and scope as any other big budget blockbuster, and as a “space opera” it’s more interesting than any nonsense from 1977.


CREDITS || Directors/Writers Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski | Cinematographer John Toll | Starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth | Length 127 minutes

The Lego Movie (2014)

I’m going to do a thing I don’t usually do, and I’m going to draw your attention to my rating. I’ve given this film three-and-a-half stars, because that’s the highest I’ll go for a film that is essentially a feature-length product placement. There are few movies I’ve ever seen in which cross-promotional brand awareness is more hard-wired — not even Cast Away (2000). It’s in the title, it’s in every frame, and it’s even in the overall theme: Lego™ can free your childhood imagination, and allow you to do whatever you can imagine (though I’m not sure this configurability extends to every product in the Lego back catalogue). What makes it better than just a mere advert, though, is the script, which is witty and, crucially, very funny.

It also helps that as the voice of the central character, the construction worker Emmet, Chris Pratt is very good. He hits exactly the right tone of someone who is happy to conform to rules, playing up to the same simple-minded everyman he portrays in, for example, TV’s Parks and Recreation, but with just enough self-awareness to see his limitations, and respond humorously to challenges to it. Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle is the woman who makes him realise that there are more ways of dealing with the world, while Morgan Freeman is of course an elder (Vitruvius) who dispenses sage advice.

The setup starts all very broadly, with the deranged Lord Business (Will Ferrell) stealing a powerful weapon from the clutches of Vitruvius, which allows him, now re-branded as President, to rule over a conformist world that sticks to his single-minded vision. But things quickly move into more interesting comic variations and imaginative reconfigurations of this world. We get Liam Neeson’s Janus-like Bad Cop/Good Cop, Will Arnett’s snarky Batman, and a perky rainbow character verging on the psychotic (almost predictably voiced by Alison Brie, again channelling a TV role, Annie from Community).

It’s all very broadly pitched, but the humour is knowing and self-referential enough that I also found myself wondering if kids would get it. We’re very much in the same nostalgic 80s ballpark as Wreck-It Ralph (2012), another slyly knowing children’s animation. What’s impressive is that all this plays out while the animation remains solidly based on the original plastic creations. Expressiveness comes from the animated mouths and the talents of the voice cast. Everything else is resolutely stop-motion in effect, if not creation (I’m fairly certain it’s CGI). And then there’s a late introduction of a surprise (but not, in the end, surprising) twist that really brings home the pathos — and, for those of us so afflicted, a few tears.

In the end, it’s a warm and impressive film with an unforced religious allegory, a bit of shmaltz and, importantly, enough strong and inventive gags crammed into every scene, that you almost forgive it its baldly capitalist pedigree.


© Warner Bros. Pictures

PREVIEW SCREENING FILM REVIEW
Directors/Writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller | Cinematographer Pablo Plaisted | Starring Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman | Length 100 minutes || Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Sunday 9 February 2014

My Rating 3.5 stars very good

Despicable Me 2 (2013)


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin | Writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio | Starring Steve Carell, Kristin Wiig | Length 98 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Thursday 8 August 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good


© Universal Pictures

I should state up-front that I haven’t seen Despicable Me (2010), the original film of which this is a sequel. I started this blog earlier this year because I had felt for some years that my cinema attendance was slacking off and I missed the enjoyment of the silver screen. I only saw 28 films in the cinema in 2010, and needless to say amongst those few films I didn’t find much space for animated films aimed at children.

That said, this does not of course mean that childrens’ films need lack complexity or characterisation or be totally bereft of interest for adults — some, such as Wreck-It Ralph (2012), even seem predicated on a nostalgic familiarity with the recent past that kids just wouldn’t have. I can’t speak to how well this or any animated film goes down for kids because I don’t tend to hang out with them (and the ones that my friends do have are a bit young to even be watching movies, let alone to be telling me about them over a pint in the pub), but for my part, Despicable Me 2 was a good solid piece of fun candy-coloured entertainment.

The plot won’t win awards but then you hardly expect it to: an evil mastermind plots to take over the world and our protagonist Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) must team up with the Anti-Villain League to stop him. The twist is that Gru is a reformed super-villain himself (I understand his own evil exploits were dealt with in the first film), which is a nice gentle touch suggesting that it is possible (desirable, even) that those who have gone wrong earlier in life deserve a chance at redemption. Still, part of the joke is that even if he is single-handedly raising three cute (adopted) daughters in leafy suburbia, he still glowers like a villain, creeping around hunchbacked and glabrous, while his home is a domineering gothic pile on an otherwise perkily conformist terraced street. Continue reading “Despicable Me 2 (2013)”