Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin
Stars: Dana Gaier, Jenny Slate, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Pierre Coffin, Russell Brand,Steve Carell, Steve Coogan, Trey Parker
Released: June 30th, 2017
The Despicable Me franchise has officially reached that point in its life where it doesn’t have any idea where to go next and so it begins digging into the main characters past to try and come up with characters to fill in roles they have yet to address. You’ve seen it before in countless films whether it be something along the lines of Austin Powers in Goldmember or even something as wacky as the Fast & Furious franchise that can’t help but to keep bringing people back and connecting them in unforeseen ways. With the inevitable Despicable Me 3 the folks over at Illumination animation have decided to take this route and approach their film as if Gru (again voiced by Steve Carell) fell into something of a Parent Trap situation, but the two never ended up going to summer camp together. Instead, it is after the passing of their father that his long-lost twin brother, Dru (also voiced by Steve Carell), contacts the newly married and newly heroic Gru in order to connect and maybe try to pull him back into his old ways of villainy. It’s a fine enough device, I guess, and it mostly works because Carell’s voice work is so amusing in how he slightly differentiates the two and then has to subsequently voice both Gru and Dru doing impressions of one another in what is arguably the most entertaining and genuinely funny scene in the movie. If any other scene in the film had a hint of the kinds of layers or even this kind of wacky creativity in the sense of trying to accomplish something due only to the fact it presents an interesting challenge then the film as a whole might have in fact been more interesting, but as it is Despicable Me 3is more of the same, but busier. Busier in that it wants you and the children you’re presumably taking to the theater to think there is a ton of stuff happening on screen when in reality all you’re seeing is a collection of disparate scenes strung together by the standard objective of attempting to steal the biggest jewel in the world. That said, Despicable Me 3 doesn’t really have to be anything more than what it is as it is just funny enough and just consistently colorful enough to feel like the shiny new product it needs to be in order to please the masses who will spend their hard-earned money on it.
It’s kind of insane, actually-how many things Despicable Me 3 at least starts and then decides to more or less abandon down the line. For starters, there is the new main antagonist of the film in Balthazar Bratt (voice of Trey Parker) a failed child actor from the eighties who has seemingly refused to let it go that Hollywood dismissed him after he hit puberty and cancelled his show. Having played an evil villain on said TV show titled “Evil Bratt” it seems Balthazar has decided to actually take on that mantle in his adulthood as he is one of a few parties that is after this aforementioned “biggest diamond in the world”. To Parker and the animators credit though, Bratt is easily the best addition and maybe the best thing about this third film in general. Sporting not only a mullet, but a bald spot along with his purple jumpsuit with shoulder pads, parachute pants, and fingerless gloves Illumination does well to capitalize on the recent infatuation with that decade by not only giving Bratt a no doubt expensive collection of songs to jam to, but also feeding into the nostalgia of the parents in the crowd while simultaneously providing something silly for their kids to point and laugh at. Seriously though, the non-Pharrell songs used in the first ten minutes of the movie probably cost Universal their share of the Minions movie returns as you not only get Michael Jackson’s Bad (which was used in the trailer as well), but there’s also Phil Collins’ “Sussudio,” and a-ha’s “Take on Me” for Bratt to utilize in hopes of re-living his glory days. Parker also fits well into that nostalgia factor as younger parents who grew up with South Park or if South Park was a formidable part of their teenage years will be able to have the little in-joke of knowing just how demented Bratt could really get if this animated movie were to go off the rails while on the other side of things Parker just does well to embody the, for lack of a better word, brattiness of his baddie. The problem with Bratt is that he doesn’t get enough screen time in order to flesh out a more creative plan or more of what could have been fun character quirks, but instead directors Eric Guillon, Kyle Balda, and Despicablepioneer Pierre Coffin (who directed the original along with Chris Renaud who is now working on The Secret Life of Pets 2) spread everything so thin in this ninety minute feature that no one actually gets their due-not even the minions. This, of course, is a fault of the writers more than anyone, but as this comes from the writing team of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio who have essentially penned everything under Illumination’s sun one would think they’d have a better handle on how to better crank these things out. As it is though, Despicable Me 3 feels rather rushed and as a result is the least of these films thus far.
Beyond the new storyline featuring Bratt we also come to meet the new head of the AVL (Anti-Villain League) in Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate) who boots out Mr. Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan) for no other reason than to fire Gru and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) so that Gru has more reason to drift on over to the dark side once Dru is introduced. I assume they are enlisting Slate for future installments, but who knows-there certainly is no indication of that here other than the fact Slate has been killing it on the voice work side of things lately (Zootopia, Secret Life of Pets, The LEGO Batman Movie). This leads to the fact Gru and Lucy do indeed find themselves unemployed leading to troubles with the minions who, as led by Mel, start a rebellion due to the fact Gru refuses to go back to being a bad guy. The movie then deals Lucy a subplot of trying to better integrate herself with the girls as she is new to the role of being a mother, but Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) kind of gives Lucy a heads up on how to handle things while Margo herself is given a nonsensical story that has something to do with cheese and the marriage traditions that come along with cheese and pigs in Dru’s country called Freedonia. If this wasn’t enough the movie also gives young Agnes (Nev Scharrel) a quest to follow that concerns tracking down a real-life unicorn, but gives Edith (Dana Gaier) nothing to do other than follow Agnes around. It’s a whole weird thing because for as much as that sounds like a ton of stuff is happening there is no real progression on any of these storylines by the time the film hits the one hour mark and there’s only thirty minutes left to tie it all together. It’s a distraction tactic more than anything; getting the viewer invested in all these different strands only for maybe two or three to really have any type of significant payoff. There is literally no coming back around to why the AVL needed a new director or why Margo needed to almost fall into an arranged marriage with a foreigner, but they’re here! What’s even worse is the fact that it’s abundantly clear the creative forces behind these movies are genuinely funny and inventive people because you notice things in the background like billboards for fake movies like, “Gigantosaurus Wrecks,” and it’s charming, but it’s also so spontaneous if not totally absurd in how it’s integrated into the story that one quickly realizes that if they could’ve harnessed these juices into a concentrated effort this might have felt more cohesive and less sporadic than it ultimately ends up being.
What is maybe the most revealing aspect of Despicable Me 3 though is the fact that the minions are missed more than anything and that is because they dare to split them up from the rest of the story. There is no Gru/minions interactions and even more critical is the fact there are hardly any girls/minions interactions as it was always the dynamic between Gru’s henchmen and Gru’s daughters that kind of provided this fun and unpredictable dynamic that would then propel the plot forward in fun and interesting ways. This time around, the plot substitutes the minions for what is an alternate version of Gru and hopes that by giving the minions a side adventure that sees them breaking onto a Hollywood lot and landing on an America’s Got Talent-type show where they get their time to sing and dance and then onto a prison yard where they again…get their time to sing and dance that audiences will be satisfied. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the minions musical sequences, they’re a good bit of fun, but they feel so disconnected from the main narrative that they are more like intermissions from the actual movie than anything else. Whatever it is the minions are doing rest assured that it has no bearing on anything else that is going on. Also, a lot of minion bum in this one. Like, a strange amount.
It isn’t just the minions that are missing from Despicable Me 3 though, but while the little yellow henchmen may prove to be the more noticeable absence in the film what is more jarring the more one thinks about this third movie and reflects on the trilogy as a whole is the way in which each of these have tapered off-becoming less and less like the original that captured the imaginations and money of so many people around the world. That original was a rather unique piece of animation in that it took the whole villain as a hero archetype and gave it enough quirks and enough sweet moments to make it feel refreshing while largely standing out due to a unique animation style and big choices in the voice department. The point being, it felt a little bold and boldness counts for a lot. With the sequel they upped the minion count and slapped a story together that saw Gru still evolving, but mostly through re-purposing the original. With Despicable Me 3 it feels like they’re grasping for straws as far as what to do next with these characters. I mean, if Gru’s dad was this iconic supervillain how did Gru not know who he was if he was supposed to be these great villain himself in the original film? It just doesn’t mesh. And I get it, it’s a kid’s movie, it doesn’t all have to make sense, but that’s no excuse because children deserve better than this and those making movies for children should appreciate that fact rather than churning out lazily plotted dreck such as this. Early in Despicable Me 3 we get a shot of a pair of clownfish who we take to be a reference to Nemo and Marlin from the Pixar movies just before Gru, Lucy and the minions speed past on their secret agent jet ski’s. It’s almost as if Illumination is saying they’re zipping past Pixar, but Illumination might want to step back and check themselves before calling out the likes of Pixar as something like Cars 3 could compete with the best of what Illumination has to offer any day of the week. They haven’t earned the right to make such a motion and if Despicable Me 3 is any indication of the direction the studio is going, they never will.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Ol Parker
Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard
Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths
The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.
Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.
Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).
Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).
Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.
Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.
Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.
It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.
Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…
Hotel Artemis ★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.
On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.
On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.
On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.
Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.
Released: 12th July 2018
Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.
Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.
Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.
Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.
In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.
It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.
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