MINION MANIA

THE TRUE STARS OF THE DESPICABLE ME FRANCHISE FINALLY GET THEIR OWN LONG AWAITED MOVIE, AND IT LIVES UP TO THE ANTICIPATION

Director: Kyle Baldin and Pierre Coffin

Starring: Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Saunders and Steve Carell

Studio: Universal/Illumination

Rated: G

Running Time: I Hr, 31 Min

When Despicable Me conquered theatres in 2010 and the sequel busted the box office 3 years later, it was universally agreed that while both movies had a few other things going for them, the true stars were Gru’s army of diminutive yellow minions, who carried out his bidding, assembled and maintained his array of weapons and super villain gadgets and assisted him on his heists and adventures. It was only natural then that the little yellow super stars deserved a movie where they got top billing (in fact, Universal announced the Minions stand alone movie shortly after the successful debut of Despicable Me 2 in the summer of 2013). Minions has been one of the most anticipated movies this summer, and as it turns out, for good reason.

The minions story goes back to the dawn of time, when they crawled out of the ocean around the same time mankind’s evolutionary ancestors did, and right away their search began for the Big Boss, the Alpha Villain they could serve faithfully. Unfortunately for both them and their adopted employer, the minions enthusiasm usually lead to a bad end for whoever they’re calling boss at the time, and one such disastrous incident forces them to seek refuge in one of Earth’s polar wastelands. There they build a society and live out their master less lives, but the absence of a Big Boss begins to weigh on them and one by one they lose focus and drift into a deep, melancholy depression. Until one day, an enterprising minion by the name of Kevin decides that he’ll act out his daydreams of being a hero and will venture out into the world to find a new boss for the minions to serve, bringing purpose back to their lives. Joined by the overzealous Stuart and he reluctant, mostly uninterested Bob, Stuart sets out on an adventure that reveals just how the minions came to be in the service of the super villain Gru. Although before they begin helping Gru rob banks, the banana loving minions find themselves in the temporary employ of the world’s greatest super villain, the seductive yet merciless Scarlet Overkill (voiced perfectly by Sandra Bullock).

If you loved the zany antics and spontaneous slap stick of the of the first two movies, you’ll love Minions. Not a scene goes by without Kevin, Bob and Stuart getting themselves into some sort of manic stupidity and then trying to get out of it with even more nonsense. And their limited but hilarious vocabulary serve as exclamation marks for the physical comedy. It’s like watching shorter, squeakier versions of the Three Stooges in a world with even less physics. The plot serves only to move from one sight gag to the next, which is the whole point. Kids and adults alike will find Minions hilarious, sometimes for the identical reasons and sometimes for totally separate ones. Bullock does a fine job voicing Scarlet Overkill, lending the villain plenty of tender, maternal sweetness when she’s being manipulative or taunting, and injecting plenty of cartoon venom when Overkill becomes borderline homicidal. Jon Hamm, who voices Overkill’s inventor husband Herb, is convincing as a stereotypical hippie paramour who seems to just tag along for the fun and if Pierre Coffin, who has voiced the minions since they were first unleashed onto pop culture (and is a co-director here) doesn’t get any love this Oscar season, it will be a cinematic crime. Minions succeeds at capturing a very 60’s flavour for the film, and deliciously mines British culture, from Beatle mania to London coppers to the Monarchy itself for plenty of its laughs (especially the scene where Queen Elizabeth goes all Monday Night Raw on one of our stars, giving him a lecture on gentlemanly behaviour while she’s kicking his little yellow ass). But the best thing about Minions is that even though the little yellow guys are the movie’s unquestioned stars, it leaves you wanting more (Universal has one more Despicable Me up their sleeves, scheduled for a 2017 release, before likely putting the franchise to bed).

Industry insiders will be watching to see if Minions can match or best the success of Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out (Universal and Disney have had a an intriguing tug of war at the box office all year long, with Universal looking like it’s got the upper hand for the time being, while Disney has one mother of a bullet left in it’s chamber that goes by the name of Star Wars). Minions opening weekend is blowing everything else out of the water with a near record debut (estimated second highest animated opening in history), proving the little yellow tykes have tonnes of marketing appeal. Now the question is how they’ll fare against competition like Ant-Man and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation over the next few weeks. But box office economics aside, this is definitely one you want to take the kids to see, even if it only gives you an excuse to see it yourself.

Shayne Kempton

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SUMMER MAY BE A MEMORY, BUT ITS BIG BLOCKBUSTERS HAVE JUST STARTED TO HIT DVD AND BLU-RAY SHELVES.  HERE ARE MY HIGHS AND LOWS FROM THE SUMMER OF 2013

Pacific Rim Locandina

Pacific Rim Locandina (Photo credit: Debris2008)

Depending on the calendar on your wall or the time zone where you live, you probably said farewell to the summer of 2013 a few weeks ago (but here in the Nations’ Capital, Mother Nature seems to be suffering a mild case of weather dyslexia and you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit confused for having wished summer a bon voyage lately).  The end of summer is a bittersweet time for movie fans because it usually means the year’s supply of big blockbusters is almost exhausted, although 2013 still has a handful of interesting titles for all movie fans up its sleeve (and don’t forget, we’re entering awards season-when studios like to showcase their Oscar worthy efforts without having to compete with the noise of the billion dollar franchises and popcorn spectacles).  But the fact remains that as far as most movie fans are concerned, from the beginning of May to the end of August is when we spend most of our movie going dollars.  So I thought I’d take this opportunity to sum up my favorite movies from this past summer, as well as a few forgettable ones.  I wrote reviews on most of them, and while time has a habit of altering perspectives, it didn’t really change my views on most of these titles.  I still plan on adding some to my home collection while avoiding others like Miley Cyrus’ inevitable collection of STDs (that poor, poor foam finger).

Favourite Animated Movie:  Despicable Me 2

I’m a huge fan of the first and while I went into the theatre worried that the sequel may prove inferior, I came out more in love with the franchise then before.  Watching a domesticated Gru wrestle with the challenges of raising three girls (including one whose just discovered boys) while becoming a villain hunting spy and navigating his own romantic waters was entertaining in its own right.  Watching him cope with all of that WHILE dealing with the antics of his minions was much better.  It’s common knowledge that the real stars of the franchise are the little yellow agents of mischievous comedy and you can bet that Gru’s minions get some special treatment in Despicable Me 2’s DVD/Blu-Ray release (the little yellow rascals have already snagged themselves a spinoff movie starring Hollywood’s sweet heart Sandra Bullock tentatively scheduled for summer of 2015).

Blu-Ray/DVD Release:  December 10th, 2013

 Favourite Comedy:  The Heat

Fair warning-if you have sensitive ears or are offended by swearing, DO NOT see this movie.  This profanity laced girl buddy cop movie makes shameless use of just about every dirty word in the book (and makes up some new ones along the way).  That being said, the chemistry between stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy was hilarious and it isn’t tough to imagine director Paul Feig simply setting up the shot and letting his two female leads improvise each and every scene.  The movie was a financial hit and was so popular Twentieth Century Fox green lit an unexpected sequel shortly after The Heat’s release.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 15th, 2013

Favourite Comic Book Movie:  Red 2

Sorry Man of Steel and Iron Man 3, Red 2 gets the nod as my favorite comic book movie of the summer of 2013.  Based on the Dark Horse comic of the same name, this sequel to the 2010 sleeper hit reunites Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker and the rest of the surviving gang of Retired yet Extremely Dangerous CIA operatives from the original.  Framed and one the run, the Red group travel the globe in an attempt to prove their innocence while saving the world.  Like The Heat, it’s the chemistry between the film’s stars, most of them established screen legends, that makes this movie work.  And if there was an Oscar for Best Scene Stealer, Malkovich would walk away with it hands down for his portrayal of the deadly yet hilariously unstable Martin.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  November 26th, 2013

Favourite Popcorn Movie:  Pacific Rim

The plot is fairly simple, enormous alien monsters called the Kaiju are invading the Earth through an inter-dimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  Mankind defends itself with giant 250 foot tall robots called Jaegers.  It’s giant Monsters vs. giant Robots.  Got it?  Good, because Pacific Rim doesn’t take itself seriously and it doesn’t expect you to either.  Watching Idris Elba chew up the screen as the gruff Stacker Pentecost is a nice little sidebar, but after that, Pacific Rim is sheer spectacle on an epic scale (during one momentous battle scene, a Jaeger uses an entire train as a baseball bat, knocking a Kaiju the size of a mountain flying).  If there was one movie where you could comfortably check your brain at the door and kick back with a giant size bag of popcorn this summer, it was Pacific Rim.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 15th, 2013

Scariest Movie:  The Conjuring

There wasn’t exactly a lot of horror fare this summer, but trust me when I say The Conjuring made up for the absence of other scary flicks.  Loosely based on a true story, the Conjuring follows infamous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they investigate a haunted house in Rhode Island.  The would be ghost hunters quickly discover that this house is unlike anything they’ve ever seen and soon, the supernatural gloves come off in a no holds barred battle royal.  Take the “real story” bit with a strong helping of salt; despite the movie’s ending, the house’s real life residents claim that the Warrens’ attempts to clean the house made the haunting worse (yet they continued to live there for years afterwards).  But be that as it may, I consider myself a bit of a jaded horror movie vet and I jumped at least once.  The Conjuring is perhaps the most efficient horror movie in years.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 22, 2013

Worst Movie:  The Lone Ranger and R.I.P.D

We have a tie.  The Lone Ranger and R.I.P.D. were both really, really, REALLY bad.  Having seen the two of them back to back, I honestly can’t say which one was worse, so they get to share this honour.

Disney gambled that simply duplicating the formula of their Pirates of the Caribbean franchise would also duplicate it’s box office numbers as well.  So they reunited star Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, replaced the ships with trains and the pirates with cowboys and stuck the whole shebang in the American Old West.  What they got was the biggest bomb of the year.  Plagued with problems when it began production years ago, The Lone Ranger was immediately reviled by critics and audiences alike.  Outside of a few memorable comedic moments by Depp (whose casting as Tonto, the most famous First Nations warrior in movie history, was an early source of controversy and bad press), the Lone Ranger was a failure on every level.  The action was uninspired (not the best sign for an action movie), the hero a stumbling putz (making his transformation into a man of action an even tougher sell) and the plot pedestrian and predictable.  Depp and co-star Armie Hammer blamed the movie’s catastrophic performance on critics who gave the movie bad reviews before they even saw it.   Fair enough.  But they didn’t have too much to say about the numerous critics who gave it terrible reviews after they saw it.  While that particular question may have been left unanswered by the movie’s stars and producers, summer movie-goers answered it with their collective absence.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  December 17th, 2013

            And as far as R.I.P.D. goes, I’m pretty sure that everyone involved in this disaster of a movie was asleep during every step of production.  R.I.P.D. couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a supernatural Men in Black or an updated twist on Ghostbusters and in the end it failed to hold even a candle to either.  Ryan Reynolds played a recently deceased Boston police officer recruited into the Rest In Peace Department, an organization of supernatural peacekeepers keeping the world of the living safe from the world of the dead (earning some much needed karma points along the way).  It was actually a pretty neat little concept and should have made for a decent flick, but unlikeable characters, a thin plot that went MIA at times, absolutely no chemistry between the leads, recycled special effects and clumsy dialogue conspired to make this a memorable piece of pure cinematic manure.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 29th, 2013

Most Disappointing Movie: Kick Ass 2

The original Kick Ass performed humbly at the box office back in 2010, but it’s strong performance on DVD and cable convinced producers to make the graphic novel’s sequel into a movie as well.  Now, those same producers are wishing they had a Delorien to travel back in time and face palm themselves.  The movie performed poorly at the box office despite facing lukewarm competition, and there were no shortage of excuses why it failed to connect with audiences, including fans of the original.  Director Jeff Wadlow didn’t share the same affection for the source material as Kick Ass director Matt Vaughn, Jim Carrey’s refusal to support the movie following a recent barrage of mass shootings (particularly Newtown, Conn.), Chloe-Grace Moretz’s absence from the movie’s panel at Comic Con, etc., etc.  But what it really boiled down is that Kick Ass 2 lacked the same heart as its predecessor.  Vigilante heroes Kick-Ass and Hit Girl returned (sans Big Daddy) to face a villain that was a mere shadow of Mark Strong’s mob boss from the first movie (it’s often said that a hero is defined by the villains he fights; the villain in Kick Ass 2 was a whiny little rich kid who masturbated too much).  There was no excitement of discovery in their characters, and watching hit Girl spend most of the movie trying to overcome high school angst got pretty thin, pretty quick (although the cafeteria scene will more than satisfy anyone’s high school revenge fantasies).  Kick Ass 2 wasn’t a bad movie per se, but it was a big steaming pile of meh.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  To Be Determined

Most Controversial:  Man of Steel

Man of Steel has made a lot of money (just shy of 663 million worldwide to date), yet for every dollar it’s raked in, it’s been spat on at least twice.  I enjoyed Man of Steel for one big reason, I finally got my over the top, climactic fight scene where the battle between Superman and the movie’s villain (in this case, a genocidal General Zod) was so epic it leveled an entire city.  But the rampant destruction of a fictional Metropolis was just one of many reasons countless Superman fans despised the movie.  For months, movie message boards and online forums were filled with venom and contempt and shameless verbal cancer and Man of Steel could easily qualify for the Most Hated Successful Movie of all time, let alone 2013.  The best compliment I heard from one of Big Blue’s fans was that Man of Steel was a good action movie, but a horrible Superman one.  That seemed to sum up the best many fans had to say about the movie.  And don’t think for a second that studio heads didn’t notice the furious fan backlash.  A theory currently making the rounds is that the contempt from many corners of comic fandom was what convinced Warner Brothers to include a re-booted Batman in the next Superman movie, using the established Bat property like a crutch.  The theory has some serious merit; there were legions of fans so turned off by Man of Steel that they vowed never to see the inevitable sequel, but you can bet every human being with access to a Cineplex will be going to see the Batman/Superman movie in 2015.   Now the question is, will Batman fans be just as equally pissed off in two years time?  The entire internet practically lost its mind when it was announced that Ben Affleck had been cast as the next Batman; which is either brilliant marketing to keep people talking about the movie a full two years before it’s release, or the first step in a full cinematic meltdown.  Time will tell.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  November 12th, 2013.

Shayne Kempton

SUMMER REWIND

FEARLESSLY CRUDE FLICK THE HEAT PROVES THAT GREAT CHEMISTRY BETWEEN THE LEADS CAN MAKE AN AVERAGE COMEDY A GUTBUSTER FOR ADULT EARS

Director:  Paul Feig

Starring:  Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy

Studio:  Twentieth Century Fox

Length:  1 Hr 57 Min

Rated:  R

F.B.I. agent Sara Ashburn and Boston Police Detective Shannon Mullins don’t just come from different worlds, but are polar opposites when it comes to police work as well.  Ashurn is a straight-laced, clean-cut, well-dressed example of professionalism and efficiency.  She can recite the rulebook backwards and forwards as well as highlight the achievements on her considerable resume, which she repeatedly does to the chagrin of her F.B.I. colleagues.  But socially, she’s clumsier than a drunken three-legged giraffe and her definitively awkward social skills combined with her defensive arrogance distance her from everyone around her.  She’s so lonely she regularly kidnaps her neighbour’s cat for companionship.  Mullins on the other hand, is a sloppy, crude, profane force of nature with all the subtle charm and grace of a wrecking ball on speed.  Over the course of the movie, she throws watermelons, telephone books, knives and plenty of punches and bullies both cops and crooks alike.  The only reason she’s tolerated in her precinct is because she knows the streets better than anyone and fills more jail cells than any of her co-workers.  The two even find themselves working the same case for different reasons and there’s immediate, hilarious friction between the two.  But while their polar opposite characters clash on-screen, it’s soon apparent that Bullock and McCarthy shared immediate, natural chemistry during filming and that’s what lifts The Heat from being a potentially disappointing she-buddy cop movie to a hilarious comedy for grown ups.

Special Agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is dispatched to Boston to bring down a drug lord no one’s even seen.  It’s difficult finding witnesses because anyone who’s gotten on the wrong side of the mysterious underworld figure is found a piece at a time. Ashburn is sent because she’s an expert interrogator who, in the words of her boss, “gets inside people’s heads.”  Her incentive is purely professional because the F.B.I. is dangling a promotion in front of her, promising her a sweet job if she does well.  Following a trail of suspects, she comes across a low-level drug dealer nabbed by Boston Police Detective Mullins (Melissa McCarthy).  Turns out McCarthy isn’t just possessive of Boston’s streets, but of her suspects as well and even her precinct captain avoids going near her collars.  The two become reluctant partners and soon Mullin’s family, especially her ex-con brother, find themselves in the crosshairs.

Watching McCarthy and Bullock on-screen you get the feeling that the majority of what’s coming out of their mouths was pure improv, the two actresses feeding off one another and allowing their characters to just flow out, using the script like a schematic more than anything else. The two intuitively allow the friendship between their characters to grow naturally, using their few similarities as the foundation of a bond.  Ashburn is a former foster child while Mullins has a loud, crass Boston family who hates her because she was the cop who arrested her brother.  Ashburn hasn’t had anything resembling a date in years while Mullins goes through men and one night stands like Captain Kirk goes through green alien strippers, yet she’s just as lonely as Ashburn.   Both are friendless but they share a relentless devotion to their jobs, albeit with different motives.  This makes the eventual friendship more natural, and the laughs more genuine.  Half way through the movie, you forget your watching partners arguing and start to believe your watching two sisters hurling insults at each other, and it’s all a testament to the easy relationship Bullock and McCarthy must have shared during filming.  The nightclub scene alone is nearly worth the price of admission, where Ashburn’s horrific attempts at being seductive are balanced out by Mullins’ impersonating an NFL linebacker, spewing one liners and obscenities the whole time.

Director Paul Feig is smart enough to sit back and allow his female leads plenty of slack to work their magic, and you have to think that the outtakes and deleted scenes on the home release a few months from now will be worth more than the actual movie.  The plot is pretty standard fare with few surprises, but it’s just a clothesline to hang a pair of excellent comedic performances on.  The supporting cast is strong, whether it be Marlon Wayans bright young agent Ely or Thomas Wilson’s exasperated captain Woods, everyone is pretty much there to get arrested, get smacked around or to observe Bullock and McCarthy have at one another.

The humour is pretty adult without being pornographic or obscene, and your definitely leaving the kids at home for this one.  Even some of the scenes they wanted to show off in trailers had to be cleaned up a little for TV audiences.  If you’re turned off by swearing and profanity, then seeing The Heat is a waste of both time and money, but if you’re looking for some guilty laughs and maybe need an escape from the saccharine kiddie movies for a few hours, then this is one summer comedy definitely worth checking out.

Shayne Kempton

TURNING UP THE HEAT