Monday, 25 June 2012

Despicable Me

Despicable Me (2010)
Directors: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Starring: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett and others

Jon's Review:

There have been several animated movies about villains and superheroes of late - The Incredibles (2004) and Megamind (2010) being notable examples - so Despicable Me uses an already well-covered trope as its plot handle. Here Steve Carell plays arch-villain down on his luck, Gru. Gru needs to pull off a big theft to stay in the game. He has already been out-played by new kid on the block, Vector (Jason Segel) who has recently stolen one of Egypt's great pyramids. Gru therefore must aim high, and he goes about as high as it's possible to get with his plan to shrink and steal the moon. As part of his diabolical plan, Gru adopts three young girls, using them as a front to deliver cookie-bots into Vector's lair, in order to help him steal the Shrink Ray. Of course, this being a family film, the sweet nature of the three wee girls in Gru's charge soon begin to change his villanous heart.

So, nothing particularly new and fresh there, you'd think. And, sadly, you'd be right. The idea of competing super-villains is quite fun, but then there aren't enough of them here. It would have been nice for Gru to have more villains to play off than Vector. Given that this could be seen as 'high-concept' stuff, the film really doesn't do a huge amount with its central premise. The story is played out to expectation and the end is pretty run-of-the -mill. However, that's not to say that the film is dull or hasn't got great moments of comedy. (By the way, as an aside, interesting to note that Gru's car looks almost exactly like a Cybermat from Troughton-era Doctor Who). Gru's minions provide much of the comedy; these wee genetically-engineered critics happily fight, mock, blow each other up and generally run around in a mischevous manner all through the movie. Also, they look strangely like the 80s Weetabix characters that I remember from my childhood. The voice talent on display is also terrific. Steve Carell is a great comic performer and Will Arnett can do no wrong in my opinion. (I urge you to watch Arrested Development in which Arnett plays a failed stage magician.) Russell Brand is also suprisingly good as elderly super-villain Dr. Nefario. And yes, the wee girl characters are cute and charming,

While it's fun, beautifully animated and entertainingly performed, however, there's nothing about Despicable Me that makes it truly stand out from the crowd. Easy on the eye, but not massively memorable.

(6 out of 10)

Ali's Review:

Jon and I have been watching a LOT of the American series of The Office lately since Jon's cousin got seasons 1-3 on DVD. Fans of the BBC series, we were sceptical but have been hugely enjoying, not least perhaps because our relationship started out as an office romance. Hence, I have gradually been putting Steve Carell's work on my lovefilm list. Recently it was The 40 Year Old Virgin - just don't go there and avoid watching with your parents. Mine took it surprisingly well.

So along came Depicable Me but I have to stick up for the film here after some of my hubby's comments as unlike recent superhero animations, this gives you the tale from the villain's point-of-view and I can't remember a recent animation doing this, other than where a villain's assistant tries to do good. Jon's already given you the premise so I won't bore you and repeat it here. I found the film very enjoyable but I was expecting it to be hugely enjoyable, but it never quite got there and the jokes weren't as laugh-out-loud as I expected them to be, as they have been in The Incredibles like "No capes!" The closest was Gru's first experience of a roller-coaster. The role of the villain wasn't very well drawn out and was quite stereotyical as the geeky son.

The voice talents are undeniable and Steve Carell's take on a Polish or Russian accent implied a homage to Bond villains and his appearance made me recall Blofeld. He is a revelation as Gru and his reading of a bedtime story is an absolute treat. I completely did not recognise Julie Andrews as Gru's mum whom Gru has been trying to impress all his life without success. Her sharp accent was brilliant and it was great to hear her to play a cruel, unsupportive mother after growing up watching her in so many wholesome roles. Russell Brand was indeed a great surprise as well, 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer makes a cameo and there's also Kristin Wiig as the head of the orphanage whom we saw recently in Paul. I had difficulty recognising Eastbound and Down's Danny McBride or Flight of the Conchord's Jermaine Clement. I just like recognising voices.

Anyway, getting sidetracked, back onto the film. I know that in years to come, Maia will be insisting we go and see Tinkerbell 3: The Adventure of the Secret Unicorn or whatever, and if she would have insisted on Despicable Me, it would have been a cinema fare I would have been far happier to part with. This is a film about how we try to impress our parents all our lives and the joy and inspiration we get from them to tackle all manner of situations . This was especially poignant to watch after Jon and I spent a long weekend in Kent, celebrating his folks' ruby wedding anniversary, and my folks were there too.

Maia will love this film one day and I hope I can get her a cuddly minion. No, she wants one really. I don't want to add one to my vast collection. Really, honest.

(7 out of 10)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Starring Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, Luke Askew and others

Jon's Review:

Guns n' Roses first made me aware of Cool Hand Luke. In fact, I wasn't aware, for a long time, that the "What we've got here is failure to communicate speech", as featured at the beginning of their song Civil War, was from a movie at all. Fortunately, I am now wiser and more cultured, and after horror author Gary McMahon extolled the virtues of this movie to me, I knew that I had to see it.

Newman's portrayal of Luke is enigmatic and compelling. Luke initially takes things very much in his stride, smiling through his first few weeks of imprisonment. None of his comrades on the chain gang quite know what to make of him. When Dragline (George Kennedy) perceives he has been slighted by Luke, he challenges him to a fight; a very one sided fight as it turns out. Initially the convicts cheer on the boxing match, but when it becomes obvious that Luke is going to get punched in the face repeatedly with little chance of getting his jabs in, the cheers soon fall silent. And still Luke takes his punches. The phrase 'turn the other cheek' comes to mind, and, indeed, there are certain religious undertones in the film. Much of the movie seems to be concerned with what men who have no hope find to keep themselves going. The famous egg eating scene is a good example of this.

Trying to eat fifty hard boiled eggs is an entirely pointless and pretty stupid act. However, this challenge brings the whole gang together as they cheer on Luke as he stuffs his face. This is about more than a ridiculous challenge; the convicts have begun to instill their hopes in the figure of Luke - he offers them the possibility that a man can endure in impossible circumstances. The scene is both gruelling and horrifying (as Luke painfully gorges himself) but it is also uplifting and poignant.

The other scene in the film that I found very powerful was the aftermath of Luke's mother dying. Luke takes his banjo, sits on his bunk and starts to sing Plastic Jesus:

Well I don't care if it rains or freezes/ Long as I have my plastic Jesus

While Luke is our figure of hope, our martyr to the ideal that a man can endure anything with a great inner strength, he also talks to us about the fragility of faith in trying circumstances.

We're rooting for Luke all through the movie, regardless of his past. When he escapes we're there urging him on and when he's given the task of repeatedly digging a pointless trench until he is so exhausted he seems to be on the verge of death, we feel his pain.

Cool Hand Luke works because it has a remarkable cast and a remarkable script. But beneath the story of a man down on his luck, there is a big story about big themes that concern us all. It is a deeply brilliant, deeply powerful movie, and I can't recommend it enough.

(10 out of 10)

Ali's Review:

Can I just add that Jon has a more cultured taste in films now because of myself? I introduced him to Ealing comedies, Powell & Pressberger...OK, you get the picture.

Cool Hand Luke has been on my lovefilm list for a long time, not least because of being a fan of Paul Newman but also because the film was produced by Jack Lemmon's company, and Jack is the greatest actor ever, FACTOMUNDO in my book. And I knew about the famous egg-eating contest.

The film opens with Newman as Luke knocking parking meters off their poles (Newman knocked actual ones in a local town off their poles and they weren't replaced in a year). You get the impression that Luke has been doing this kind of thing for years since being a young boy, and he may not have got the best start in life, but that doesn't prevent him beaming at the cops as they arrest him and we next see a chain gang working in the intense heat of the US roadsides, countryside as flat as a pancake, and men working at the field with scythes. I love the shot where we first see Luke arriving through the mirrored glasses of the Captain.

It is back-breaking work and we begin to see familiar faces in their youth - Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton and Anthony Zerbe all in early roles in their career. Can I just say that Stanton sings well? Luke quietly immerses himself in the life of the gang, befriending  Dragline (George Kennedy) after a fight and it is their friendship which is the most poignant part of the whole film.

You are rooting for Luke the whole way through, as Jon says, and each time the system appears to be about to break him, he rallies back and fights his way through and earns the respect of the gang. Newman portrays Luke as a man down on his luck with quiet intelligence and thoughtfulness. Kennedy lends strong support and I found Moorgan Woodward's portrayal of Boss Godfrey absolutely chilling and apparently he acted like his character in between takes and spoke to no one, never taking his glasses off. He and his leaders relentlessly torment Luke and the scene where Luke repeatedly has to dig the trench and refill it again is one of the most painful scenes I've ever watched.

Certainly aimed at the guys though this film is, particularly with one scene where a young woman torments the guys as they work at the roadside by washing her car in a very tight dress and not exactly being subtle about it, lots of heaving bosoms and close-ups of upper thighs. Very funny, don't get me wrong and endlessly repeated in films that followed, whereas us ladies, yes, we get to see sweaty men as they work but we only get to see a guy's startlingly white bum before he goes into the shed as punishment but when it comes to Paul's turn, do we get to see Paul's bum? No. Obviously not in his contract. Just an aside there.

This is an uplifting and brilliant film about a man who will not be beaten and his buoyancy of and resilience of the human spirit. Enjoy. And full credit to Mr Lemmon for financing it.

(10 out of 10)