TBT – Minions (2015)

animation, films, Jennifer Saunders, Jon Hamm, meh, Michael Keaton, reviews, Sandra Bullock, TBT

Was anyone really crying out for a spin-off Minions movie? I mean anyone other than the film studio who saw another way to wheedle more cash out of poor parents. The tiny yellow creatures were the breakaway starts of the first 2 Despicable Me films so it was decided that they would be given their own film. Cut to months and months of the bloody things turning up on everything. It was a relentless campaign and I ended up feeling like Tippi Hedren in that playground scene of The Birds. Hell, it was only a matter of time before they got their own fucking Tic-Tacs. As I mentioned more than once on Tuesday, I’ve never been a fan and don’t really understand how anyone can find them anything but irritating. However, I do know a fair few people who adore them. My brother-in-law is something of a fan and I willingly added to his obsession by buying him a Minion dressing gown one Christmas. Then there’s a friend that I used to work with who I respect in every sense bar her feelings for these tiny yellow knobs. I don’t get it. As a lover of all things dungarees, I appreciate their fashion sense but that’s about all I can stomach. Their made up language is hardly something that makes me chuckle and I’ve long since passed the age when I find fart jokes and repeatedly saying the word “banana” to be amusing. Then again, I’m not really the kind of person that this film was targeting.

I would have been perfectly happy to have never seen the Minions movie. Despite enjoying Despicable Me and not hating its sequel, I had no interest in the origin story of Gru’s tiny henchmen or having them onscreen for an entire film. It wasn’t the most obvious spin-off as the minions only speak in their own, annoying language and are, essentially, just a series of pratfalls. I really didn’t see how they could sustain a feature film on their own. As I sat down, I was ready to hate every second of what was to come. However, I was shocked to find that I enjoyed the opening sequence. It provides a brief history of the Minion’s search to find a boss and the difficulty they have in holding on to one. Their only stipulation is that they be the most despicable creature around. This means that anyone goes and we see them move from a Tyrannosaurus Rex to Dracula and onto Napoleon in the fantastic opening sequence. It really is the greatest part of the film.

Unfortunately, the film then continues and somebody attempts to place the Minions within a narrative instead of continuing the sequence of tiny skits. Whilst the majority of the group hide in a cave in the Arctic, three of their party (Kevin, Stuart and Bob) head out into the real world to find a new boss. Their journey takes them to New York then to a super villain convention in Orlando and, finally, heading to London. At the convention they meet the rising star Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and she hires them to be her henchmen. Their first mission? To steal the crown from Queen of England. The end result? Bob getting crowned as King. It’s all very silly and not always successful but there are humourous moments to be found here. It’s just that it all gets super old really quickly.

There just isn’t enough substance to the usual Minion shtick to carry through a whole feature film. There was a reason they were seen so sporadically in the previous 2 Despicable Me films. There is only so much content that comes from them giggling about nonsense and getting into ridiculous scrapes. This is why they quickly find themselves attached to a super villain so there is a human presence to drive the action. Unfortunately, there is nothing about this plot that really appeals. The characters feel flat and the dialogue is all terrible. It says something when I’d rather hear more of the Minion gibberish than any of the bullshit being spoken by the people.

It isn’t terrible and will no doubt have appealed to all of the young fans of the franchise. It is packed full of sight gags and call backs but, for an older audience, there just isn’t anything about this film that justifies it being made. I wish I could go back in time and talk myself out of watching it.

Gravity (2013)

Alfonso Cuaron, drama, fucking beautiful, George Clooney, review, Sandra Bullock, space

Gravity is one of the films that has featured in a pretty much every ‘Top Films of 2013’ lists and, despite being extremely late to the party, I managed to fit in a viewing before the year came to an end. Despite the cavalcade of positive feedback that poured out following its release, a friend of mine saw this fairly early in its release and came up with the one word review of “weird”. Although, as she is the same friend who argued the case for the awful 2011 Three Musketeers remake, I wasn’t prepared to miss the opportunity based on her analysis. (She also hated Hugowhich, if you ask me, is unforgivable.)

Gravity comes to us thanks to Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón and his co-writer son. Quite frankly, it is one of the nerve-wracking, emotional and visually exciting films you will probably see with a main cast of only three people. Cuarón does a grand job throughout his pretty short runtime (91 minutes to be precise) of balancing the phenomenal space landscapes and knuckle-biting drama. Everything that the director throws at you is designed to take your breath away but not entirely steal focus. It’s clever and precise film-making that will restore your faith in the industry.
The opening manages to be both sedate and breathtaking. In the impressive and unbroken 13 minute take, the camera slowly pulls away from aerial shot of planet Earth to reveal the films meagre cast making repairs to a satellite. Sandra Bullock plays rookie engineer, Dr Ryan Stone, who can only boast of six months specialist NASA training. Understandably nervous, she carries out her repairs under the watchful eye of veteran spaceman Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who would rather spend his time gleefully playing with his super cool jetpack. He happily lets the scientists work as he regales Houston mission control (voiced by Ed Harris in a wonderful reference to his role in the 1995 space-adventure Apollo 13) with his all too familiar anecdotes.
It is a lovely and understated opening to a film that is pretty much guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat for the remainder of the narrative. For, inevitably, the mission isn’t all plain sailing. All too soon word reaches our space folk that trouble is brewing in the shape of debris heading straight for them. When Dr Stone finds herself untethered and drifting through space, the audience is spinning along with her. We join her on her frantic race against time: equally alone and equally lost.
Gravity is a tense experience. Thanks in no small part to Steven Price masterful and atmospheric Gravity is made what it is because of sound or, in actual fact, the lack of it. Taking its lead from that Alien adage “in space, nobody can hear you scream”, Cuarón, for the most part, leaves the film hauntingly quiet. The most claustrophobic moment occurs just after Bullock has been set adrift in space where the audience moves inside her helmet and can only hear her frantic breaths.  Bullock essentially carries the weight of the film on her shoulders. Thankfully, she pulls it off with great gusto: showcasing not just physical flexibility but emotional range and mental strength.
Since it was released, there has been a great deal said against the scientific fact on show within this film. Whilst I admit I’m no real scientist (my A Level Chemistry teachers would definitely attest to this fact), I honestly can’t say that I care. Gravity, like every other Hollywood film, behaves as though the characters and story that it is presenting is both relevant and entirely feasible. It stands out as a film set in space because it neither refers back to the golden age of space exploration nor looks into an exciting and unknown future. Gravity is a contemporary piece that could very easily be happening above our heads. Meaning that, even though Cuarón’s film may demand you suspend your disbelief on a fair few occasions, this film becomes all the more absorbing.
For that is the great thing about Gravity: from the opening subtitles onwards, it engulfs its audience. I, like most sane people, haven’t completely warmed to the new 3D era of film. I have enjoyed specific productions that have utilised it well but have yet to be convinced it was a technological advancement that we desperately need. Hugo, The Hobbit and, though I’m loathe to offer it too much praise, Avatar have all shown that, given the right love and attention, 3D can be a benefit. Then comes Gravity: quite simply the visual effects supplied by Tim Webber are mind-blowing: the only time I’ve ever been one of those people who ducks when something comes flying towards them. Avatarwas the first triumph for the third dimension but Gravity takes it to another level: providing a totally immersive experience.
It is only when the film reaches its denouement that everything looks to be on shaky ground. Cuarón hammers homes the idea of rebirth and evolution. It feels a little sloppy and rushed after such a sensational display of talent and care. Stone is the ordinary woman who finds herself in the most extraordinary of situations and she has to fight, at times with herself, to survive. Cuarón is forever pushing the drama throughout the film and, by the final scene, there is a disappointing sense that he has tried to push it too far. However, by the time it reaches that point, you’ll have gone through too much emotional turmoil to really be paying attention.

The Heat (2013)

buddy comedy, comedy, cops, Melissa McCarthy, review, Sandra Bullock, women

It was the Bridesmaidscombo of Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig that really put the former on Hollywood’s radar. She is slowly making a name for herself as a reliably funny performer despite not always receiving the type of material she deserves (see IdentityThief). Here the two reunite for the film that was, for a long time, known as ‘The Untitled Female Buddy Cop Comedy’. In Snakes on a Plane style part of me wishes they had kept this at the title but alas, The Heat is what we were left with. As with his last film, Feig was on a mission to make a female-centric comedy that both men and women would enjoy. To prove that women are just as funny and downright silly as men. It worked with his first film, which was incredibly popular with both critics and audiences alike. Can he and McCarthy work their female-centric magic in the world of cops and robbers? 

The Heat doesn’t exactly break any boundaries in terms of plot and the script, written by Katie Dippold of Parks and Recreation, sets out a pretty simple premise in order to introduce the pair. At its bare bones it’s the standard buddy cop narrative but with more jokes about vaginas and spinsterhood. Sandra Bullock plays the career-driven FBI agent, Sarah Ashburn, whose desire to succeed is alienating her from her colleagues. Much like the career-driven and socially awkward FBI agent that Bullock played in the Miss Congeniality films in fact. With the promise of a prestigious promotion, Ashburn finds herself investigating a drugs baron working out of Boston. It doesn’t take long before she is stepping on the toes of local detective Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) and her never-ending mission to clean up her streets. Unsurprisingly, the pair soon discovers that their only chance of cracking the case is to combine their individual skills.

It’s really not difficult to see how this will pan out from here. The by-the-book Ashburn and the anything goes Mullins clash throughout the investigation. Whether that’s about how they dress, how they deal with suspects or their romantic lives. It is their differences that keep the plot plodding along until the inevitable turning point in their relationship occurs. This happens, unsurprisingly, during a night of heavy drinking when they ladies discover that under the surface the two are just passionate about their jobs. It is a scene which only goes to highlight the wonderful chemistry between the pair which gives their banter a pleasingly natural and improvised feel to it.
I think it’s safe to say that in the hands of different actresses this film would have flopped instantly. Both Bullock and McCarthy are capable of being incredibly funny and have no concerns about looking too silly. They throw themselves into every aspect of their parts and are incredibly successful. It would be easy to dismiss this as an ‘it’s all been done’ situation but, thanks to Feig and his two leads, you end up caring about the main characters. This is even more of a testament to the actresses when you consider that, at their core, the pair of law enforcers are essentially just dicks. It’s easy to see why they are so alienated from their co-workers. Ashburn brags about her superior skills and delights in humiliating her colleagues at any opportunity. Likewise, Mullins is loud, brash and turns to threats and profanity if she ever feels cornered. In lesser hands it would be easy to end up turning against these characters but, thanks to the incredibly likeable leads and Feig’s direction, the audience are with them every step of the way.
Feig may believe in his characters but he has some problems with keeping the film going. Just as he did in Bridesmaids, the director has a slight problem with pacing; some scenes keep going for much longer than they need to, some jokes are stretched out to beyond their limit, and there are moments which just distract from the main action. For example, the stand-out bar scene where Mullins and Ashburn drink themselves into a mutual understanding may be one of the funnier scenes but it is hard to escape the idea that it sort of outstays its welcome. At the same time, Dippold’s script often attempts to turn its simply narrative into something grander and attempts to pull off the kind of twist ending expected by a much better film. As it happens, the final reveal of the identity of the drugs lord is just unnecessarily confusing and feels sillier than any of McCarthy’s physical comedy… which, now I think about it, is probably a fitting revelation.
After all, at its heart, The Heat is an incredibly funny film. In fact, if it ain’t funny it’s more than likely that The Heat just isn’t interested. Every scene, even the weakest ones, contains something that will get you chuckling. Despite an arguably weak narrative, Dippold’s script if full of fantastic jokes and amazing physical comedy perfectly tailored to the women at its centre. It is impossible not to get caught up in the sheer energy and heart that everyone is bringing to the production.