Tuesday’s Reviews – Despicable Me 3 (2017)

animation, family, films, Kristen Wiig, meh, review, sequel, Steve Carell

Let’s get one thing straight, I, like every other sensible adult human being, fucking hate the minions. I’m so sick of seeing those tiny yellow pricks all over the place again now that the fourth film in this movie franchise has been released. Not content with giving them their own film, the annoying little creatures are back with their master in Despicable Me 3. It’s a bit insane that a random animation from 2010 has cultivated so many follow-ups but here we are. I had originally planned on seeing this film with a friend from work but, before we could, she cruelly left me for a better job. So, instead, I had to watch it without her… which is a shame because she was definitely more excited about the whole thing that I was. If I’d seen it with her I might have gone in with higher expectations or, at least, without an underlying sense of dread. I didn’t hate the sequel to Despicable Me but there were moments when it seemed unnecessary and not very well thought out. So I really doubted that a third film would be much of an improvement. However, in my review of Despicable Me 2 back in 2013 (god I’ve been writing this nonsense for a long time haven’t I!?), I decided it was Gru’s lack of villainy that made it fall so short. The trailers have suggested that he is rethinking his moral life so maybe my prayers have been answered?

At the end of Despicable Me wannabe super villain Gru (Steve Carell) had found himself the adopted father of three young girls. After Despicable Me 2 he added a new wife (Kristen Wiig) to the equation. The question on everybody’s lips was “who would Gru acquire in number 3?” Turns out it’s an identical twin brother. Possibly in an attempt to save on wages by making Steve Carell work twice as hard or to save the animators the job of having to create a new character. Who knows? Still, Gru is shocked to discover that his mother has hidden his sibling, Dru, from him all this time. The discovery couldn’t come at a better time for Gru who, at the time he is approached by Dru’s butler, has just been fired from his job with the Anti-Villain League. He has very little time to process this personal upheaval before he is whisked off to his brother’s fancy mansion in Freedonia. Turns out the father he never really knew was actually a super villain and Dru is keen to keep up the family tradition. But, to do so, he needs his brother’s help.

After finally settling into a happy life of crime fighting, can Gru really just get back into villainy? Well, quite possibly considering the humiliating defeat that sees him chucked out of the AVL. Is there really any other response to being beaten by an ex-80s child star than resmuing your life of crime? Yep, 80s throwback Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) has repeatedly outwitted the AVL and, after Gru allows him to escape yet again he and Lucy are forced out. Leaving Bratt to carry out his plan to steal the world’s biggest diamond whilst listening to classic 80s music. Will Gru take the righteous path and hep stop Bratt or will he embrace the life Dru is pushing him towards?

Then there’s a lot of shitty stuff about Lucy trying to come to terms with being a mother and some more adorable moments of their youngest daughter Agnes being super cute. In terms of narrative, Despicable Me 3 is kind of mixed bag. Lucy gets incredibly short-shrift and I find it hard to see why Kristen Wiig would have agreed to this bullshit. It’s the kind of sentimental and cliched “am I a good mother?” shit that you seen in every terrible sitcom or soap opera at some point. It’s clearly the worst part of the film but just won’t stop. There are some great moments to be had, obviously, and Balthazar Bratt is a far superior nemesis to the previous film’s. His 80s references will keep parents entertained whilst children will just enjoy his over-the-top silliness. He’s the perfect foil to Gru and his insane gadgets are like something James Bond’s Q would come up with if he started creating whilst he was in a drunken haze of 80s nostalgia.

The Gru/Dru storyline doesn’t always work but there are some humorous moments to be had. Dru is even less successful than his brother and there is some fun to be had with their bickering dynamic. It kind of grows old after a while and the chemistry doesn’t always fly. If I thought the emotional struggle in the second film was weak then this is even more of a damp squib. But, as with the previous film, none of that matters at all in the long run. Despicable Me 3 is a film intended to amuse little people; by which I mean children and not someone of diminutive stature but that’s not to say short people can’t be amused by it. Anyway, this is a film that’s main purpose is making children laugh and, when it comes down to it, it never pulls any punches. Every spare second is crammed full of jokes that it doesn’t really matter if not all of them land as well as they should. The target audience isn’t even going to notice.

Especially when the screen is constantly being filled with those irritating yellow tic-tacs every 5 minutes or so. That’s all that really matters, right? Despicable Me 3 is the worst of the 3 films, as it probably should be, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find joy within its running time. There is still enough life in Gru that audiences can’t help but want him to succeed and, more importantly, keep coming back to the cinema to watch him try.

TBT – The Addams Family (1991)

comedy, family, Halloween, TBT

When I was younger our local village shop started renting out films on VHS. Yes, that does probably age me horribly but I lived through a golden age of video tapes, cassettes and floppy disks and I’m not about to hide that. Anyway, there were a couple of films available that I became obsessed with and always tried to get my father to rent for us. It drove my twin sister a bit mad because she got bored with them but I really didn’t give a shit. One of them was Addams Family Values. I fucking loved that film. It was everything to my pre-teen self. I’m pretty sure it’s the reason I love Joan Cusack so bloody much. Which makes it weirder that I don’t think I saw its predecessor until quite a few years later. I don’t know how I managed it but I somehow avoided the 1991 Addams Family film. Thankfully I’ve seen it more than enough times to make up for it now. And, as I never actually got round to creating that list of alternative Halloween films that I promised you, I decided I would discuss it here for my post-Halloween TBT. After all, along with last Thursday’s Hocus Pocus, it definitely would have made the list.

The Addams Family were first introduced in 1938 thanks to the cartoons of Charles Addams. There have been many incarnations of the weird aristocratic family with a love of the macabre but their introduction on the big screen didn’t come until 1991. Although, if I’m being honest, the film and its sequel are the only real knowledge I have of the family and, as such, it’s difficult for me not to see them as the dominant adaptation. I’m sure others would disagree but there’s fuck all I can do about it now. It just means that Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, and Christopher Lloyd are the people I think about when someone mentions the Addams family to me.

We are first introduced to the new version through a storyline involving Uncle Fester’s (Christopher Lloyd) return to the family after disappearing in the Bermuda triangle 25 years earlier. He and his brother, Gomez (Raúl Juliá), fell out years later meaning Gomez has spent their time apart blaming himself for Fester’s disappearance. It’s safe to say the family are overjoyed to find their missing relative again and quickly try and help him recover from his amnesia. However, his young neice, Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and sister-in-law Morticia (Anjelica Huston) quickly begin to suspect that all is not what it seems. After all, Fester is actually just the disguised son of a greedy woman who has united with the Addams’ lawyer to steal their secret fortune.

As narratives go it’s hardly the most inpsiring and it tends to bungle around for a while before getting to the rather obvious and fairly cheap conclusion. It never really pushes itself too far and, instead of developing characters or concepts, puts too much empahsis on visual gags and family-friendly scares. Still, the whole film is fun and the tensions that exist between the Addams family and the real world create a fair amount of humour. There are more than a few great one-liners and the visual gags really are quite spectacular at times. I mean take the scene in which Wednesday and her brother Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) tackle the fight scene near the end of Hamlet. It created an iconic scene of bloody hilarity.

Still, it feels as though their world is never really explored as much as it should have been. It’s all rather tame. The narrative is rather flimsy and the script doesn’t really tie together. There are too many loose ends to tie up and the ones that are attempted are carried out clumsily. It’s all very awkward and should be better considering how great the casting is. I know I’ve already said that I’m biased but the family are all played wonderfully by their respective actors. Ajelica Huston was rightly nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Morticia and Christopher Lloyd and Raúl Juliá are both equally fun as Fester and Gomez. This film had such great potential but it wasn’t until the follow-up that the characters and their world were really able to get going. Still, it’s worth a watch every now and then. Especially at this time of year.

TBT – Step Brothers (2008)

buddy comedy, family, fucking funny, John C. Reilly, silly, TBT, Will Ferrell

After watching Sisters for this week’s Tuesday review I was all set to re-watch Baby Mama for the accompanying TBT post. However, the last few days have been tough and I haven’t had the time. So, in keeping with the apparent theme of the week, I had to come up with a plan B. When Sisters first came out last year a lot of critics made a connection between it and the Will Ferrell/John C Reilly film Step Brothers. It just so happens that I fucking love that film so it didn’t take much to persuade me to review it for this week’s post. It’s one of those Will Ferrell films that you can just quote on any occasion and it is an unrelentingly funny film. If there was any film that deserved a TBT review then it was this one. Plus, the idea of having to watch the shitty Baby Mama again was too fucking abysmal. I mean that family guy joke about the film totally rings true. “What happens when a 40 year old woman asks her 41 year old friend to carry her baby?” I love the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler but that film is so hard to love. Give me Will Ferrell and John C Reilly shouting and fighting any day of the week.

I have to admit that I have an intense fondness for John C Reilly. I think ever since I saw him in the film Chicago as a teenager I’ve always felt a certain amount of joy when I see him on a cast list. Reilly is both a tremendous actor and a hugely funny performer. It’s no wonder that, after they first teamed up for Talladega Nights that Will Ferrell was keen to repeat the experience. There can be no denying that the pair have exceptional chemistry and Step Brothers plays on their comedic connection perfectly. They get to be silly, outrageous and play off each other’s silly outrageousness. If anything their second film together only further proves that the two actors should work together in everything.

Step Brothers deals with two 40 years who refuse to grow up and laze around their parent’s houses. When Brennan Huff’s (Will Ferrell) mother, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen), marries Robert Doback (Richard Jenkins) the man-child finds himself at odds with his new step-brother, Dale (John C. Reilly). When the two find themselves as roommates they take an instant dislike to each other despite having so much in common. They fight and cause problems for their weary parents. However, a vist from Brennan’s younger brother, Derek (Adam Scott), shows the two men that, as well as a dislike of their annoying sibling, they share a whole host of interests. Facing eviction from Robert’s house, Brennan and Dale must work together to turn their lives around and find employment. But can their dream of starting an entertainment company really come to life?

Step Brothers is the kind of film that was created for its audience rather than critics. It isn’t as clever or original as some of Will Ferrell and writing partner, Adam McKay, have previously created but it will satisfy anyone who enjoys their silly, adolescent sense of humour. This isn’t a film that wants to make some sort of social commentary about the increasing number of grown-adults who still live in their parental homes. No no, this is a film that just wants to make you laugh and it manages to do this thanks to the undeniable chemistry between the two main stars. It is a testament to the two that they make Brennan and Dale such lovable characters as they could so easily have been nothing more than obnoxious and annoying dicks.

There are several aspects of the film that don’t work as well as the two actors, of course. No matter how good the talent on screen is they never quite manage to convince that the world they inhabit is one in which people would put up with Brennan and Dale’s shit. I know this is a movie and should be viewed with a pinch of salt but even by Hollywood’s standards these guys would have been slapped many years ago. It does occasionally take a huge suspension of disbelief to go along with it. Still, it just so happens that there is enough funny stuff to make it much easier to ignore that nagging feeling at the back of your mind. The gags aren’t always successful and the more adult stuff doesn’t exactly fit with McKay and Ferrell’s previous films but, in the end, there is more than enough to funny shit here to get you laughing your tits off.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Finding Dory (2016)

animation, family, films, Kate McKinnon, Pixar, review, sequel, Ty Burrell

Pixar have established themselves as the greatest animation studio in Hollywood right now. They are beloved by critics and audiences alike but they have never been able to harness they talent to become consistent. One moment they release a showstopping film like Inside Out and the next they’re offering the forgettable Good Dinosaur. For every Toy Story 3 there is a Brave to follow. Pixar have managed to create some of the greatest animated films of all time but they have also been responsible for some truly shitty ones. Plus, they don’t really have a great track record with sequels. They constantly churn out follow-ups to their big films but they have generally had trouble meeting the expectations set by the first. There is the odd occasion in which the second film will be better , Toy Story 2, but for every success there is a Cars 2. So the announcement back in 2012 that there would be a sequel to the fucking awesome Finding Nemo it was a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we all wanted to see what was happening to our favourite characters yet we didn’t want our love of the original to be put in jeopardy thanks to an underwhelming sequel. I guess that fear is the main reason it took me so bloody long to get round to seeing it.

It’s been 13 years since Finding Nemo came out. Every time I hear that I have to take a second to collect my thoughts and stop freaking the fuck out. It’s been so long and I think it’s safe to say that nobody expected there to be a sequel at this point. I doubt many people actually really wanted one. The story was a great one that came to a satisfying conclusion. We didn’t need anymore and, if people were craving more from Nemo, Dory and Marlin, then they could just rewatch the animated classic. However, as of 2012, director Andrew Stanton decided that Dory’s story hadn’t finished so he wrote Finding Dory. A sequel that owes enough to it’s predecessor whilst being a separate film in its own right. A film that was created to be enjoyed by those who have watched and rewatched the first film but still accessible to those youngsters meeting our fishy friends for the first time.

The film delves into Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) past from the off where we see her much younger self struggling with her short-term memory problems with the help of her living parents (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton). As well all know from the first film, that happiness is short lived as Dory manages to lose her family and end up wandering the sea with no idea of where she came from. Until she bumps into a frantic clownfish searching for his lost son. Cut to a year after the events of Finding Nemo where Dory has settled into family life with her new friends. Everything is going swimmingly until she begins to remember snippets from her past. Forcing the trio to go on an international adventure to find her parents.

The journey takes the trio to California and the Marine Life Institute. Dory is captured by some marine biologists and sent to Institute’s quarantine area. There she meets her new travelling buddy Hank (Ed O’Neill), a gruff octopus who is trying to prevent his release back into the ocean. The two work their way around the park to get Dory to the home she once knew with the help of the quirky residents. Meanwhile, Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Marlin (Albert Brooks) make their own way into the park and attempt to reconvene with Dory. To be honest, the narrative is essentially a rewrite of the first one where the three main characters are kept apart for as long as possible before being dramatically reunited in an emotional climax. Still, that is forgivable because of the extra elements necessary to allow a character with memory loss to head the film. There is an added element of mystery embedded in the plot as we discover who Dory is as she does. We end up compiling an image of her past with every flashback before we finally find out the whole sad story. It’s like fucking Memento for kids.

After all, Finding Dory is a terribly sad tale. We see a lost and lonely fish desperately try and get back to the family whilst being held-back by a condition that has hindered her life since childhood. We see as she finally gains the confidence to see past her difficulties and make her own way. It’s a weird but lovely take on how life with a disability doesn’t have to hold you back and you can be strong enough to overcome everything. Even more than the first film, Finding Dory is a sentimental, thought-provoking and emotional film. It will create just as many tears as it will laughs and that’s what makes it so great. It is a very human film hidden in a beautiful under-sea world.

We all know that Pixar are on comfortable ground when it comes to the animation side of things and it cannot be denied that the film is visually stunning. However, they are also able to create incredible characters. Every single character added to the returning faces are spectacular. The stand-out, of course, it Ed O’Neill’s Hank. A character who not only epitomises the studio’s animation prowess (I cannot get over that scene where the octopus is introduced) but their talent for writing very real and lovable characters. Hank may be crabby but, through his narrative journey, it is impossible not to fall in love with him. His fellow inmates of the MLI are equally as wonderful. My personal favourites are, of course, Ty Burrell as a beluga whale who has lost faith in his echolocation abilities and Kaitlin Olson as a near-sighted whale shark.

Finding Dory is a film that may lack in originality but is overflowing with enough charm, heart and silliness to prove that it doesn’t matter. It may not be the sequel we needed but it is the ideal one. People will constantly argue about which of the films is better but really it doesn’t matter. It is overflowing with memorable characters that you will love forever. Plus, those fucking otters are OTTERLY adorable.

Goosebumps (2015)

books, family, Jack Black, monsters, okay, review

It feels like fucking ages since my last old fashioned Monday film review. I’ve gotten so used to letting off steam in a rant every week that I’ve moved beyond the point of this blog at all. Change is all well and good obviously but this was my chance to play out my long dead desire to be a film critic. It’s just a really sad fact that I don’t get chance to see as many films at the moment. I need to catch up with things. It’s always the way though: one thing starts going well whilst everything else suffers. Reading or films? Surely there are people out there who find the balance? Until I find the dream solution I’ll count the victories where I can. Last month I managed to watch a film that I’d been excited about for a while. A film that summons up feelings of my childhood… although without the fear I experienced in those days.

Apparently, the Goosebumps series of books has sold over 350 millions books worldwide and has been translated into 32 languages. Despite being written between 1992 and 1997, the series is still one of the best selling series of fiction for the 7-11 year old market. I guess this goes someway towards explaining why it’s taken until 2015 for the books to make it to the big screen. The original fans are now about my age and only a handful will go and see it out of some weird nostalgia. Still, better late than never. Of course, with so much source material to chose between, it begs the question “how do you pick which story to turn into a film?” The obvious answer: you don’t. Instead Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski created a story about a fictitious version of author R.L. Stine who hides a terrible secret in his cobwebbed mansion. It’s a little bit weird but it’s not the most ridiculous plot we’ve ever heard.

When Zach (Dylan Minette) and his mother move to a new town, he could never expect that he’s living next door to the famous author. R.L. Stine has become something of a hermit and has locked his daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush), away from the world. Obviously, Zach and Hannah quickly fall for each other and, despite her father forbidding contact, they meet in secret whenever they can. Fearing Hannah is being held prisoner Zach and his geeky friend, Champ (Ryan Lee), break into Stine’s house and discover his biggest secret.

Stine has been keeping his spooky creations locked up in manuscripts to prevent them coming to life and causing chaos in the real world. Not too surprisingly, Zach unwittingly unleashes one of these monsters and sets off a chain of events that leaves his new town in great danger. Not wanting to pick just one eponymous Goosebumps monster to scare modern audiences screenwriter Darren Lemke unleashes all of them. It’s a relentless chase that won’t give you many chances to collect your thoughts.

There’s very little subtlety here but, for it’s intended audience, it will certainly fit the bill. The monsters are frequent and the action never-ending. For the older audience members, it’s incredibly cliched and the characters are lost in a frantic computer world. The time there are given to make connections shows some depth but that just makes it more of a shame that it’s so fucking rare.

Although, there is something about Goosebumps that works. It has the feel of a classic B movie but with a fuck-ton of CGI thrown into the mix. Some would say too much CGI but, when you look at the 90’s TV show, it’s probably for the best. The premise is a good one and celebrates the books in a better way than a traditional Goosebumps tale might have done. It shows the power of books and the importance of imagination and storytelling. If nothing else, it might inspire a new generation to embrace Stine or their own creativity.

TBT – What Maisie Knew (2013)

book, divorce, family, film, review, Steve Coogan, TBT
Recently one of my closest work friends left the business and I was put in charge of his leaving collection. This is mostly down to the fact that I’m fucking awesome at buying people presents. I’d love to be modest here but it’s the cold hard truth that I always find the perfect gift for any occasion. It’s a blessing and a curse. Once again, when the time came to present him with my offerings it went down incredibly well. Considering that much of our interaction at work came down to quoting Alan Partridge I knew what I had to do. Amongst other random shit, I managed to track down an Alan Partridge blazer badge, Alan’s big plate, some Kiss My Face brand soap and a chocolate orange with superficial damage to the box. Turns out there’s a lot of great shit out there for any fan of Steve Coogan’s most successful character.

The big curse of creating a character like Alan Partridge is that trying to do anything else is always going to be tricky. I admit that whenever I see Steve Coogan’s name associated with a film I always get a bit suspicious. I loved The Trip as much as the next person but I’m always disappointed when there’s a lack of Partridge-esque behaviour. Especially when he’s trying really hard to be a serious actor. There was nothing wrong with him in Philomenabut it just felt weird that he wasn’t being silly.
I also find it questionable when he’s cast as a Casanova because I just can’t see him as desirable. In the 2013 adaptation ofHenry James’ What Maisie Knew, Coogan plays a failing art dealer who marries his much younger nanny after his first marriage breaks down. Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s adaptation transports the novel to modern day New York City. Beale’s ex-wife is the dramatic and narcissistic rock star Susanna (Julianna Moore) and, as they take solace during their impending divorce, both neglect their young daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile). The story focuses on Maisie and her struggle to create some kind of family base.
What Maisie Knewis made thanks to it’s young star. The camera focuses on Maisie for the most of the narrative and Aprile is outstanding in the role. Maisie, at only 6 years old, is already world-weary thanks to her self-centred parents who treat her as something to hold over their ex. The film doesn’t quite get into the lessons Maisie learns about love and family in as much detail as the novel but it does paint a truthful and often uncomfortable portrait of modern family life.
With her parents ignoring her, it is down to Maisie’s new step-parents to take control of her well-being. Beale and Susanna both marry young and kind people (Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Venderham) who love Maisie more than her biological family ever have. Skarsgård in particular has awesome chemistry with Aprile. In one sequence where Maisie and Lincoln, a bartender, have fun in the city I swear my uterus exploded it was so fucking adorable.
What Maisie Knewis an acidic portrait of a bitter divorce and modern life. It’s not quite as dark and bleak as the novel but it does well in it’s updated setting. The characters, whilst over-the-top and often grating, work perfectly within James’ original idea. There are some fantastic performances but many of the adult actors get lost within their one-note performance. Julianne Moore is a whirlwind but never really gets beyond the dysfunctional and egotistical rock star. It’s a disappointing turn from such a wonderful performance; though still not as shitty as The Lost World.

What Maisie Knewis beautifully shot and handled with great care by McGehee and Siegel. It often verges on the edge of, and occasionally well into, cloying sentiment. It is a successful adaptation that flourishes in its new setting. However, no matter how cute its lead actor may be, there is no escaping the sense that something was missing. That it just wasn’t as great as it could have been. 

TBT – Goonies (1985)

30 years, anniversary, family, review, TBT
On June 7ththis year the classic ’80s movie The Goonies celebrated it’s 30th anniversary. Now who doesn’t love The Goonies? It’s the kind of film that will appeal to anyone with a sense of adventure and fun. A great watch for all the kids out there that still believe in Pirates and all the adults that used to. I can’t put into words how much I love The Goonies, which considering I’ve made it the subject of this TBT post is a fucking disaster. It never gets old and I will never be too old to enjoy it. It still has such a huge impact on my life. I mean it gave the name to one of my favourite online retailers. I work with a guy who does his own version of the Truffle Shuffle to cheer me up… which definitely isn’t as mean as it sounds. He loves it. I swear. From the first time I watched this film I knew I was a Goonie and 30 years on it’s still worth celebrating.

Richard Donner’s 1985 family adventure film follows an intrepid band of misfits as they go to desperate measures to save their town. How? By following the ancient treasure map of One-Eyed Willie to his secret Pirate bounty. Following the clues, they stumble across the hideout of runaway criminal family, the Fratellis, and find themselves trying to outwit them as well as the Pirate’s dangerous booby traps. Will the young friends find Willie’s gold and will they survive long enough to help their families?
In terms of narrative, The Goonies isn’t exactly revolutionary but there is enough excitement jammed into it to keep everyone happy. Visually there is a great deal to keep an audience engrossed and plenty of references to other films to give adults a fun game to play. The narrative moves at breakneck speed and offers more than enough thrills for your money. With plenty of rolling boulders, deadly spikes and collapsing walkways for the youngsters to work their way around, it’s edge of your seat kind of stuff. The greatest sequence by far has to be the moment the group cascade down an exhilarating waterslide into an underground cave. It’s a fucking stunning reveal.
It’s an almost exhausting experience to watch this film because there is so much enfolding on screen. The group themselves are loud and speak over each other constantly. It can be confusing at times but adds a certain amount of realism to proceedings. The Goonies themselves may fall into Hollywood clichés but they still feel very real. The kids are all likeable and funny; the actors deal with all of the absurd situations wonderfully and have enough passion to make it work. Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus’s script captures youth incredibly well and creates characters that feels natural.
Obviously, there are some issues of stereotyping when it comes to the token Asian techno-wiz, the put-upon chubby kid and the pathetic girls who are only included to be romantic interests and damsels in distress. Yes, there are problems with the characters but ultimately their message is worthwhile. They are a ragtag bunch of kids who have been overlooked by everyone. This is a film that shows their loyalty to each other and their determination to help their town. I can forgive a certain amount of lazy characterisation when they are so bloody inspiring.
I can see why a lot of people might not love this film. I have to admit that it hasn’t aged as well as other films of the time. There are a lot of dated references and the special effects are obviously nothing in comparison to the latest blockbusters. However, The Goonies is more than that. It’s a film about unlikely heroes having the kind of adventure we all wanted when we were kids. It’s one long fantasy sequence that you can’t help but get caught up in. Once you’re subjected to the Goonie’s endless spirit, you’re right their with them. Because this is our time.
The Gooniesmay not be the best film you’ll ever see but it will live on forever. Nobody will every be able to kill its spirit. After all, Goonies never say die.

Us by David Nicholls

books, David Nicholls, family, marriage, review

This years Man Booker prize long list proved two things: that last years embrace of female writers was a bit of a fluke and that the judges were going to extremes to prove that they were fans of more popular literature. Or at least this felt like the most likely explanation for the inclusion of David Nicholls’ Us. Don’t get me wrong, after one false start, I liked One Day as much as the next person. However, Nicholls’ books aren’t necessarily prize worthy; they’re nice. A term that, in regards to literary works, takes on a sickeningly patronising tone most often applied to works enjoying unprecedented sales success. Then again, I have been known to be over critical so I thought I’d give his new, Booker prize longlisted novel a chance…. plus it was on offer at the time.

Frozen (2013)

animation, Disney, family, fucking beautiful, Kristen Bell, musical, review

When the first teaser trailers appeared for Frozen way back when I wasn’t convinced it would be my kind of thing. When it comes to animated films I’m not likely to get as excited about Disney’s offerings as I am about the work of other studios. Though I’ve been a fairly loyal fan since my childhood there can be no denying that they don’t always offer the animated prowess of their sister studio Pixar or the originality and intelligence of Ghibli. I find it hard to mention any recent Disney film that I have got really excited about. I enjoyed Wreck It Ralph but the idea was greater than the execution. However, these days you can’t really go anywhere on the internet with somebody mentioning this supposed ‘game changer’ and its Oscar nominated song ‘Let it go’. So, once again, I bowed to peer-pressure and checked it out.

Frozen, Disney’s 53rd feature film, is another in studio’s traditional yet modern style of storytelling that has become their trademark since John Lasseter made his way over from Pixar. Disney may be well into the technological age with their computer-generated animation but Frozenjust goes to show that the studio still hasn’t given up on its primary principles: namely wholesome family fairy-tales chock full of courage and fun garnished with big musical numbers and charming characters.

Disney has been playing around with the idea of adapting Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queenfor a fairly long time but it wasn’t until Jennifer Lee’s screenplay that they found the best way to translate the tale for its audience. Lee took the decision to rebrand the villainous Snow Queen into an isolated and scared teenager with the power to control ice and snow.
That teenager is Elsa (Idina Menzel) who, after an incident involving her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), is taught by her father, the King of Arendelle, to conceal her powers and hide herself away. When their parents are tragically killed, Elsa and Anna must fend for themselves and Elsa goes to greater lengths to hide her powers from both her sister and the rest of the kingdom. Unfortunately, her skills are revealed at her coronation leading the new Queen to flee the city whilst accidentally enveloping it in vicious winter weather.
Anna is much more impetuous than Elsa and, after hastily getting engaged to a virtual stranger, the youngster instinctively rushes off after her sister to bring her back and fix the situation. On her journey Anna is aided by an ice harvester Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his pet reindeer and a talking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). The sisters must battle great obstacles to save each other and their subjects: taking part in the ultimate battle between love and fear. It’s hardly a massive leap from the tales of old but there is something refreshing about the focus on two females.
Frozen contains all of the state-of-the-art and breathtaking animation that we have come to expect from the studio. The frosty landscape is engrossing and shiver-inducing: Elsa makes her magical flakes whirl across the screen; frost collects beautifully on windowpanes and boats; and the ice palace is an awesome glistening spectacle. The focus here has been put more on visuals than narrative but I can forgive the patchy nature of the story when the animation is so wonderful.
Like any self-respecting Disney film, the action in Frozen is occasionally halted to make way for an uplifting song and dance routine. These musical numbers have been written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (known for their work on Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) and have a musical theatre style to them. Not only do these moments appear infrequently but they also happen to sound fantastic: at the very least they’re annoyingly catchy. Kristen Bell proves to be a formidable vocal talent and plays Anna perfectly. Unfortunately, she has been overshadowed by Idina Menzel (a Broadway personality) who, in my opinion at least, has been horribly miscast as Elsa. Menzel’s rendition of ‘Let it go’ has been eaten up by audiences but I just found it uncomfortable. The lovely song has become hyperbolic in her hands and sounds very nasally and strained. It is too Broadway (not meant as a compliment I’m afraid) and Menzel is far too mature to play the youthful Queen.
Though this isn’t really Elsa’s film and, after Anna, the key figures are the more high-profile supporting characters of Kristoff, Sven the reindeer and Olaf. Sven defies Disney logic by being unable to speak but, in a self-aware and tongue-in-cheek touch, Kristoff often provides the voice for his friend in their one-sided conversations. It is Olaf, though, that comes out on top here. Despite the annoying presence he had in the endless marketing campaign, the snowman is a naive and caring figure who provides plenty of warm and humorous moments.
Frozen can certainly be classed as a ‘modern’ take on a Disney princess films thanks to its awkward and dorky heroine Anna, its knowing winks to the tropes of the genre and its unrelenting focus on the two female leads. However, I have seen a worrying number of people claiming it is the first major step to a feminist Disney era. Whilst watching the film I found myself enjoying it more than I expected, having long passed the age when I unquestioningly engulf these types of narratives, but I can’t say that I saw it as a major step towards any real gender equality at the studio. Yes, it does portray strong female relationships over the typical male/female ones and I obviously celebrate that. However, there are still enough worrying gender stereotypes to prevent me from celebrating too quickly.

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

animation, comedy, family, Kristen Wiig, review, Russell Brand, sequel, Steve Carell, Universal

Despicable Me was the animated success story of 2010 which saw audiences embrace the story of super-villain Gru and his accidental move into family-life. It was a refreshing and original concept that quickly became a firm favourite with moviegoers. This was thanks in no small part to his little, yellow minions who provided the young audience with plenty of incredibly silly moments. As we all know, that film ended with Gru giving up on his plan to prove just how evil he is (by trying to steal the moon no less) and dedicate himself to his new daughters. So where did that leave us in terms of a sequel?

Despicable Me 2 opens with Gru (Steve Carell) adjusting to life as a single father having to deal with such missions as throwing children’s parties, dating, interacting with pushy parents and raising his three young adopted daughters alone. After throwing in his evildoer towel, he has chosen to turn his hand to home-made jellies and jams. Unfortunately, Gru and his sidekicks aren’t exactly naturals when it comes to stewing fruits. Despite his satisfaction at playing the doting dad, Gru can’t help but suffer from the lack of excitement in his suburban life.

Thankfully, for both the super villain and his audience, Gru’s life is turned upside down when he is kidnapped by Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), an agent working for the Anti-Villain League. Her boss, the uptight and snooty Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), offers him the chance to work with them to help foil a plot by an, as yet, unknown criminal who is responsible for stealing an entire laboratory to get their hands on a dangerous chemical. Leading to a completely ridiculous and unnecessary sequence where Gru is placed in a mall so he can use his inside knowledge to guess who the culprit is.

So the man who can be credited with having once stolen the moon is now working for the good guys. And therein lies the problem. Gru was a fantastic character because we found ourselves caring about a man whose sole purpose was causing chaos. It was hard not to become embroiled in his struggle to chose between his evil deeds and his new role as father figure. However, this conflict between good and evil has been long forgotten in this sequel. No longer hoping to make a name for himself as a villain, Gru now spends his time worrying about his eldest daughter’s move into the world of romance and Agnes’ dream of him finding her a mother. These side-lines attempt to bring about the emotional aspects that fuelled the first but there is no getting away from the fact that something is missing. Gru is now a disappointing watered-down version of himself. He just doesn’t have the same presence that he once had and there is a lack of energy in his family-sagas.

So Despicable Me 2 turns out to be anything but despicable. It’s just another in a long-line of unnecessary sequels intended to squeeze as much money out of families as possible. There was no need to continue Gru’s story aside from the fact that he and, more importantly, his tic-tac like minions were a big hit with the kids. It is these little yellow bastards who are the real stars of the show and they will certainly keep the youngsters watching falling out of the seats with laughter. Their hark back to a simpler brand of comedy, associated with the silent era of film, with a focus on over-the-top physical gags, visual jokes and pantomime. The Minions appeal because they were created as a symbol of silliness. They are nothing more than unadulterated fun.

However, the sequel is almost solely devoted to creating moments where the Minions are given freedom to lose control and reference as many popular trends as possible. It feels as though the dull search for the mysterious villain was simply created to glue these sequences together. Even the eventual reveal of the man Gru is searching for is rushed and he is never given the chance to explain just why we should be concerned about his plan. It’s lazy film-making and the focus is clearly on potential merchandise (as the new breed of minion goes to show). Time that should have been given to setting out the various plot-strands has instead been used up to show Minions dressed in various costumes dancing or fighting each other.

Despicable Me 2has the unavoidable feel of a sketch show that has been fleshed out with a flimsy story-arc that was written 5 minutes before the deadline. This means that the remaining cast never get a chance to make much of an impression and the returning characters are unable to remind us of what made them so great in the first film. Most notably seen in Gru’s crazed scientist friend Dr Nefario (Russell Brand) who is brought out at the moments when an easy fix is required. Some great talent has been wasted in favour of cheap laughs. This film is miles away from its innovative predecessor and you feel it throughout.

Despicable Me 2was created by the same team who brought us the first one and the team from Illumination Entertainment continue to channel the work of Chuck Jones in their follow-up. This is a animation that harks back to the early days with the Looney Tunes style humour, slapstick and in-your-face animation. It is a film that really makes use of cartoon physics and logic, where violence and danger have no deadly consequences and cars can turn into submarines and helicopters without any real effort. Despite the flaws involved, there is no doubt that Despicable Me 2 was an enjoyable film to watch and has enough to appeal to its older audience as well as the primary one.
For there can be no forgetting that this is a film intended to be enjoyed by young children and, looking at it from that point-of-view, it is a success. It may not have the overall slickness and precision that Monster’s Universityhad but it will certainly keep your young ones entertained. The older sections of the audience may find it disappointing after the freshness of Despicable Me but there is still enough of the same spirit and heart that appealed first time round. Whilst there have been far greater animated sequels, this one certainly does the job it intended to: get us all ready for the upcoming (and I’m guessing farcical) Minionsmovie.