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Posts Tagged ‘Pierre Coffin’

One of the life lessons I came though the late unpleasantness having learned was that it really isn’t necessary to go and see films you’re likely to violently dislike just because they look intriguingly awful, or out of a strange sense of masochistic duty: hence the fact that I have spared myself from seeing Peter Rabbit 2 and you have been spared reading my howls of outrage and despair about it. And yet, just recently I found myself invited to go and see Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin’s Minions: The Rise of Gru and accepting said invitation with nary a pause. Then again, it was my old friend (and frequent presence on the blog) Olinka doing the inviting.

I don’t think the circumstances in which I ended up seeing the first Minions in 2015 have ever properly been recounted here on the blog. The conversation ran along the lines of ‘Let’s go to the pictures!’/’What’s on?’/’Terminator 5!’/’What else is on?’/’Err… Minions? But I want to see Terminator 5.’/’I don’t want to see Terminator 5. Let’s watch Minions.’/’I don’t want to watch Minions.’/’Well, let’s compromise then.’/ (some time later) ’Two tickets for Minions, please.’ However, I did have the last laugh as my then-partner agreed with me that Minions was mostly a load of old tat. Nevertheless, it made a billion dollars, which naturally spells one thing and one thing only: sequel! But how does it score on the whole load of old tat front?

Well. This time around we find ourselves in a rather peculiar version of the middle 1970s, in a world where supervillains are apparently ubiquitous but there seem to be no actual superheroes. Pre-pubescent miscreant Gru (Steve Carell, bravely hoiking his voice into a higher register) is seeking to establish himself as potential supervillain material, although whether the fact he is the master of the minions – a vast tribe of seemingly-indestructible little yellow morons – is a help or a hindrance to this end seems to be rather in the balance.

Nevertheless, he finds himself on the interview shortlist when leading villain team the Vicious Six have an internal squabble and a vacancy opens up. They have recently taken possession of an important plot-device amulet which they can potentially use to get up to all sorts of shenanigans. However, the important plot-device amulet gets stolen and misplaced several more times, becoming an object of desire for pretty much every major character, and putting Gru and the minions on course for a confrontation with their older, larger, and much more competent rivals…

I have to report that of our quartet who attended the movie (me, my co-spousal unit, Olinka, and her progenate Danya), I was the one who laughed least, by quite some way. But it is still a relief to be able to say that this is most likely a rather better movie than the first one; I may not have laughed a great deal, but it’s diverting and rather curious in places, and the 87 minutes or so I invested in it shimmied by mostly painlessly.

Should we address the whole I-didn’t-laugh-much issue? I expect so. Well, you know, what I can say; it’s not like I sat in stony-faced silence all the way through, I just found a lot of the jokes to be quite predictable, and the kind of slapstick which the movie frequently defaults to isn’t quite my thing. To be honest, I found some of the casting decisions to be much wittier and more impudent than anything in the script: there’s a French-accented supervillain called Jean-Clawed who’s played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, and a roller-blading Scandi villain named Svengeance who’s voiced by Dolph Lundgren. (The film’s inventiveness when it comes to ridiculous parody supervillains is admittedly very impressive – Lucy Lawless pops up as a habit-wearing, chain-stick wielding dominatrix calling herself Nun-Chuck.)

Actually, as an animated superhero movie, comedy spoof or not, this is technically extremely well done – as well as the designs of the various characters, the chases and fights are handled with real verve and inventiveness; they are entertaining in their own right and often quite exciting.

However, for me the most striking thing about the film was the element that wasn’t pitched at a very young audience. It’s customary in many of these films to include an element of some kind that will probably go sailing over the heads of the juvenile audience but nevertheless amuse and entertain the adult audience specifically: they’re the ones who are buying the tickets, after all.

The thing about how Minions 2 handles this is that most of the cultural references and parodies that it throws in for the adults are ones that the kids hopefully won’t get anyway: it’s the mid 1970s, so of course the characters go and see Jaws on the big screen. There are also allusions to blaxploitation movies, classic James Bond films, and martial arts films (the minions adopt Bruce Lee-style yellow jumpsuits for one sequence). As well as being a frantic, silly comedy, the film works on a whole other and entirely separate level as well, which is a rather curious achievement. (I should say that in an unexpected and most likely coincidental development, it also has a few points of connection with Everything Everywhere All At Once, most obviously a character played by Michelle Yeoh.)

I was trying to figure out just what Minions: Rise of Gru reminded me of when it came to me: this is like an animated version of an Austin Powers movie, only not as funny or inventive and with all the gross-out stuff and filthy jokes edited out. Whether that sounds appealing or not probably depends on your view of the Austin Powers franchise; personally I wouldn’t say I really missed it, but the first two films certainly had some very funny moments in them.

What this particular film lacks in consistency it certainly makes up for in sheer energy and work-rate; the pace never slackens and it never shows signs of running out of ideas. Most of it still occurs in the same register of manic stupidity, but it’s generally good-hearted. Rather to my surprise, I found it rather hard to dislike. Don’t necessarily put my name down for the next instalment yet, but don’t automatically write me off either.

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You may well have been expecting a review of Terminator: Genisys (sorry, spellchecker) to appear here or hereabouts at around this point. Well, quite frankly, so did I, but I’m afraid we will both have to wait a bit longer for that. Instead, for reasons which need not really concern us, we will have to content ourselves with a review of Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda’s Minions.

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This movie has been virtually inescapable for some time: trailers and merchandising spin-offs reached the point of total saturation a while ago, and why shouldn’t they, given that it’s hard to shake the feeling that here we are in the business of brand extension and the induced lactation of a monetary bovine (or, to put it another way, the milking of a cash cow): the first two Despicable Me films, to which this is a spin-off/prequel, made something like $1.4 billion between them, making the series what the Muppets would doubtless call ‘a viable franchise’.

I haven’t seen either of the previous films, but even so I know enough to understand what’s going on here: a popular set of supporting characters being elevated to the point where they carry (or not) their own vehicle. The characters in this case being the Minions, a swarm of small yellow morons who – it is revealed – evolved to fill the peculiarly specific niche of being sidekicks/henchbeings to the world’s greatest monsters, villains, and other ne’er-do-wells.

Being morons, they find steady employment to be difficult to come by, and eventually the whole tribe relocates to a remote icy fastness in despair. But Minions need a boss and it falls to a trio of the little yellow idiots to go forth in search of a new master. Their names are Stuart, Kevin, and Bob, and they find themselves in New York, 1968. From here they attend the world’s biggest Super-Villain convention and end up in the service of the dangerously glamorous Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandy Bullock) and her husband Herb (Jon Hamm). Scarlet has a plan requiring the Crown Jewels of England, and packs the Minions off to get it for her – will they succeed and thus secure a future for their kind? Or is that whole ‘moron’ thing just a bit too hard to shake?

Hum. Now, as regular readers will know, animated films are not something I go to see terribly often, but I like to think that when I do I give them a fair crack of the whip – I’m usually pretty positive about Studio Ghibli productions, and I seem to recall saying nice things about Big Hero Six and Shaun the Sheep earlier this year too. So I hope you will understand it’s not just bias or sour grapes if I say that Minions just struck me as being an extremely average film.

This is mainly because the folks at Pixar, amongst others, have managed to raise the bar for CGI family films to an almost uncannily high level in the course of the last two decades: these films are almost unfailingly astonishingly beautiful to look at, with jaw-dropping levels of detail and visual invention, something that is matched by the wit and sophistication of the scripts, which generally include surprisingly rounded characterisations and an unexpected level of emotional content.

Minions has that level of visual polish and design, naturally, and there’s not much you can fault about the look of the thing – indeed, the film’s big set pieces are pretty much flawlessly executed, from an aesthetic point of view of nothing else. It’s just that there’s really very little going on beyond the most superficial level of being good to look at.

The film seems predicated on the notion that the little yellow idiots are inherently lovable and hilarious: scene after scene ambles by with the three main characters wandering about doing stuff, with the directors clearly convinced this is utterly enchanting to watch. I did not find it so. This is not to say that the film does not have any decent gags in it – it does, but most of them are in the trailer. The rest of it is either just somewhat amusing, or actively baffling – the actual plot feels rather like an afterthought, contrapted just to propel the main characters from one quickfire gag-montage to another.

The rest of it feels a bit chucked together too. The 1968 setting simply seems to be an excuse to fill the soundtrack with comfortably familiar classic pop songs (while the film’s grasp of British constitutional law also strikes me as being somewhat suspect too). There are various visual shout-outs to things like classic Bond, and Marvel Comics, and an inevitable reference to Comic-Con, but they don’t hang together coherently – there’s no sense of a world with a deeper reality beyond whatever gag is currently on the screen.

The cast list is filled with the names of more-than-competent performers – as well as Bullock and Hamm, Michael Keaton, Alison Janney, Jennifer Saunders and Steve Coogan all appear – but hardly any of them make much impression, simply because the script isn’t nearly tight or sharp or funny enough to work as a piece of entertainment for anyone other than fairly undemanding children. Minions will probably make a great big pile of money, and further instalments are apparently already in the works, but that doesn’t make it anything approaching the standards of the best films in this genre.

 

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