REVIEW: Minions

12 07 2015

The tiny yellow Minions from “Despicable Me” became the breakout stars of the franchise, and Illumination Entertainment has happily licensed them to hawk any number of products – Xfinity, GoGurt, Vivo smartphones –  in between installments of dastardly Gru’s villainy.  With their lack of adherence to a single language as well as their inherent childish tomfoolery, the Minions might represent the well-equipped figures for transnational stardom in the time of talkies.  (And to that end, “Despicable Me 2” brilliantly realized their potential for silent-era physical comedy.)

Yet in “Minions,” when all they have to sell is their own appeal, the ploy falls flat on its face.  When the little guys get bumped up from sideshow status to the main attraction, they simply cannot carry a movie.  Though many people, myself included, clamored for them to take the spotlight, this feature-length exercise in branding proves the little nuggets are most enjoyable in small doses.

“Minions” somehow made me beg for relief from the comic relief.  The meek attempts at plot by screenwriter Brian Lynch are downright insulting; not that I was expecting “Citizen Kane,” but a movie targeted at preschoolers does not have to possess the sophistication of a story they scrawl out in finger-paint.  With connections this tenuous between scenes of Minion mayhem, directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin should have opted for a sketch-style film that brought a train of big comedic set-pieces with no expectations of forward motion toward a climax.

If aiming for the lowest common denominator with the audience, pretensions of a narrative are futile.  Everything else aimed at viewers who managed to complete kindergarten feels like a waste, especially the presence of Sandra Bullock as the Minions’ chosen master, the villain Scarlett Overkill.  Bullock’s considerable vocal talents are completely squandered in service of a one-note character that would sound no different if voiced by someone millions cheaper.  Furthermore, the “adult” humor could not be more painful with a recurring transphobic gag and a disturbingly glib attitude towards torture – the film summons the memory of Abu Ghraib only to laugh at the abuses.

The Minions still have a more than welcome place in our culture, despite the complete face-plant of the film.  (Box office numbers will surely reflect otherwise, though.)  Illumination would be wise to relegate their antics to a “Penguins of Madagascar”-style television series, where they can spew gibberish and cause chaos in palatable portions.  Parents, too, can tune in and tune out as they please while still enjoying an agreeable amount of Minion madness.  C-1halfstars

10 for ’10: Quotes

28 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

A single line can have so much power in a movie.  It can make us laugh, make us think, or make us cry.  It can delve profoundly into the soul, give insight into a character’s mind, provide a perfect punch of beautiful language, or be so foolish that we can’t help but repeat it endlessly.

2010 gave us many great quotes from many great movies.  Here’s just a sampling of how the power of the written word was wielded this year from 10 fantastic lines that served a great deal of purposes.

“Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster.”
– Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in “The Social Network

“I just want to be perfect.”
– Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) in “Black Swan

“That Charlene … she’s one of them MTv girls!”
– Micky Ward’s sisters in “The Fighter

“It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!”
– Agnes in “Despicable Me

“This rock has been waiting for me my entire life.”
– Aron Ralston (James Franco) in “127 Hours

“It was almost as if … I had a love that was all mine.”
– Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) referencing Natasha Bedengfield in “Easy A

“You’re waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can’t be sure. But it doesn’t matter … because we’ll be together.”
– Mal (Marion Cotillard) in “Inception

“When the world slips you a Jeffrey, just stroke the furry walls.”
– Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) in “Get Him to the Greek

“Stop trying, SURRENDER!”
– Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins) in “Eat Pray Love

“Thanks, guys.”
– Andy in “Toy Story 3

Random Factoid #350

13 07 2010

Is it worth it to see animated movies in 3D anymore?  That’s the question Cinematical posed on their site, and it’s the question I’m answering in the random factoid.

18 out of the 28 weekends this year have been dominated by 3D movies, 8 of which were animated movies.  The latest to claim the top spot was “Despicable Me,” which exceeded each and every expectation the industry laid out for it.  However, only 45% of its profits came from bloated 3D ticket prices.  This is good news to me because it gives me hope that America doesn’t just blindly drink the 3D Kool-Aid.

Seemingly every animated movie being released is in 3D, and often times it does add something.  But how do you know when to go and when not to?  I haven’t paid for 3D since “Clash of the Titans;” however, through free screenings I have had the opportunity to see “Shrek Forever After” and “Toy Story 3” in 3D.  Had I paid extra to see them in 3D, I wouldn’t have been too happy.  It’s cool but not worth $3.50 because it doesn’t really add much to the experience.

So my new rule of thumb is unless I have heard that the 3D is spectacular, or the movie is shot in 3D, I will not be paying those premium ticket prices.  Even if it does make the unicorn look fluffier.

REVIEW: Despicable Me

11 07 2010

A lot of comedies aren’t made by the main attraction.  We don’t love “Caddyshack” because of Danny Noonan.  “Knocked Up” might have been any old stoner comedy without Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd’s married couple breathing humor and humanity into it.  Even in animation, would you really say that your favorite character in “Toy Story” is Woody or Buzz?  Or Shrek and Fiona in the “Shrek” series?

So it’s unfortunate that Gru (Steve Carell), the despicable one that the title of “Despicable Me” alludes to, doesn’t really have much to offer us.  While most animated movies require us to suspend reality a little bit, here we have to go so far as to believe that a treacherous villain can go to Starbucks and have a house in the suburbs like normal people while still making headlines.  He becomes deadlocked in a fight for the top spot with Vector (Jason Segel), who we can never really buy as villainous because he looks like Edna Mode from “The Incredibles” in a track suit.  Their storyline is corny and, quite frankly, pretty stupid, but it sets up the “Grinch”-like tale of Gru’s adoption of three young orphans.

Thankfully, the movie doesn’t rely on Gru solely for laughs.  The minions are absolutely hilarious, easily the best part of “Despicable Me” and the real reason to see the movie.  Gru’s partners in crime resemble kernels of corn, and they pop off the screen with more energy than anyone else.  Every time they scamper on, a chuckle is guaranteed, but usually a giant laugh ensues.  We only get them in small doses as comic relief from Gru, yet I think I’d be more willing to sit through uninterrupted minion antics than the despicable villainy of their boss.

The movie has a big heart, something all kids movies should have but few really do nowadays.  This is most evident every time the three adorable kids waltz on screen, particularly the youngest, Agnes, who totally wins us over.  I probably would have cried had it been told with Pixar sensitivity.

So, despicable you, Gru, for hogging all the screen time.  You may be the #1 supervillain, but you aren’t the #1 attraction in your own movie.  B /

What To Look Forward To in … July 2010

10 06 2010

People are already calling summer 2010 one of the worst seasons in history.  Ouch.  Does July hold anything in store to turn the tide late in the game?  Let’s take a look.

July 2

M. Night Shyamalan give us his most mainstream movie yet with “The Last Airbender.”  Due to James Cameron’s mildly successful film “Avatar,” the Nickelodeon series opted to use only the last part of its name to avoid confusion (although you could make some good money from dumb moviegoers under the impression they’re seeing “Avatar 2”).  It got the quickie 3D conversion slapped on in the past months, which means I’m sticking to 2D here if I even see it at all. I’m worried that some backlash against the conversion could wind up really hurting this movie. But even before I knew about the added dimension, I couldn’t get myself too excited. No matter how extravagant and enormous they make it look, it’s still a Nickelodeon series. I have mixed feelings for Shyamalan; the only movie of his I actually liked was “The Sixth Sense.” I don’t know anyone in the cast save for Dev Patel, better known as Jamal Malik from “Slumdog Millionaire,” and he may end up being what draws me in to see it.

Sometimes I don’t catch everything when it is initially released, particularly indies.  I want to give them their fair shake, so I’m going to feature movies when they open in my hometown if I missed them before.  The first of these movies is “Solitary Man” starring Michael Douglas and thank heavens it’s not Michael Cera (that’s code for Jesse Eisenberg).  In her glowing review of the movie, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly called this, not “Wall Street 2,” Douglas’ best shot for Oscar glory.  The story seems friendly enough and the character seems an Oscar type.  Rounding out the ensemble are Jenna Fischer (“The Office”), Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, and Mary-Louise Parker, so it seems pretty audience friendly too.

July 9

I’ll get to the mainstream fare later.  First, I must cover the indie comedy hit of the summer, “The Kids Are All Right.”  More to come later in an “Oscar Moment,” but expect it to make a splash a la “Little Miss Sunshine” and “(500) Days of Summer.”

Adrien Brody steps back into the horror arena after … let’s just say, going places in “Splice.”  This time, he’s rebooting the “Predator” franchise along with Laurence Fishburne and Topher Grace.  “Predators” proudly flashes the name of producer Robert Rodriguez.  But here’s what I want to know – will sequel/reboot/remake fatigue catch up with moviegoers by July and kill this movie?

I’m so excited for the release of “Despicable Me.”  Not because I want to see it, but because I’m so tired of seeing the stupid trailers with every movie I have seen for the past year.  My guess is families will still be choosing “Toy Story 3” over this.  Not even Julie Andrews can save a movie that proudly boasts the participation of an executive producer from the “Ice Age” series as if they had Steven Spielberg.

If you are looking for some shaky-cam horror, “[Rec] 2” comes out.  Strangely enough, I must have missed “[Rec]” 1.  But I did know about the predecessor to “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” the big indie of 2010 so far, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

Opening in Houston on July 9 is “Restrepo,” the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for documentary features.  It takes a look at the grittiest and most intense location of fighting in Iraq and its effect on the soldiers who fight there.

July 14/16

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Meanwhile, opening two days earlier to get out the way is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest blockbuster.  It starts Nicolas Cage as the sorcerer and Jay Baruchel as his apprentice.  I’ve been saying for quite a while now that Baruchel needs a big breakout; maybe he will get it with this once people match his face to the voice in “How to Train Your Dragon.”  On the Nicolas Cage front, the role seems kind of kooky.  Perhaps this is his Jack Sparrow?  I may end up seeing this solely for villain Alfred Molina, who rocked Doc Ock in “Spider-Man 2.”

Officially released on June 18 but not hitting Houston until July 16 is “The Killer Inside Me,” starring Casey Affleck and Kate Hudson.  Apparently it’s based on one of the most brutally violent and disturbing stories ever.  I’ll trust Kubrick here.

July 23

I’m hoping “Salt” becomes this summer’s “Wanted.”  Just an enjoyable, action-packed movie that doesn’t try to wow you, only entertain you.  Angelina Jolie makes one BA action heroine … or villain, depending on what happens in this movie.

Kiddie fare comes for the third straight weekend with “Ramona and Beezus,” starring Disney Channel sweetheart Selena Gomez.  This could do well because it’s an adaptation of the beloved series that has been around for decades, and it has an impressive adult cast including Sandra Oh, Bridget Moynahan, John Corbett, and Josh Duhamel.  Then again, it could also just fade into the mist of the other kids movies.

Opening on the indie side of things is “Life During Wartime” starring Allison Janney.

July 30

I’m honestly scared of “Dinner for Schmucks.”  I love both Paul Rudd and Steve Carell to death, and the plot here just reeks of a bomb.  My worst fear is that this and “The Other Guys” become the “Land of the Lost”/”Year One” comedy flop combo of 2010.  Maybe Zach Galifianakis can save it…

But what reeks of a stinker even more is “Cats and Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore,” a sequel that no one really wants.  And “Charlie St. Cloud” reeks of Zac Efron.

Meanwhile, there’s some good indie drama with “Get Low,” starring Robert Duvall.  See my Oscar Moment for further commentary.

Can July save the summer?  Will “Inception” rule the roost?  What will be the BEST movie of the month?  Let me know by taking the poll … DEADLINE IS JUNE 25.