Movie reviews: 'Despicable Me 3' lacks spark
Published Friday, June 30, 2017 6:25AM EDT
DESPICABLE ME 3: 2 ½ STARS
Once upon a time Gru (Steve Carrell) was a chrome-domed supervillain complete with minions, an evil genius assistant, a panda skin rug in his lair and a plan to shrink the moon but that was before Margo, Edith and Agnes three orphan girls forced him to rethink his diabolical dealings and become a family man.
The theme of family continued into “Despicable Me 2” which saw him as a doting single father working for the Anti Villain League with partner and love interest Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig).
The family feel extends into the latest film, “Despicable Me 3.” As the story resumes Gru is fired from his job at the Anti-Villain League when he fails to apprehend thief (and former 80s child star) Balthazar Bratt (“South Park’s” Trey Parker) following a daring diamond robbery.
With time on his hands Gru and family visit his long lost brother, the extravagantly accented Dru (also voiced by Carrell) in the far off island of Freedonia. “Shortly after you and your brother were born, your father and I divorced, and we each took one son,” explains Gru's mother (Julie Andrews). “Obviously, I got second pick.”
As the brothers bond, Bratt gets back to work, this time managing to steal the giant diamond. He plans to use the gem to power the giant robot and get his revenge. “This time Hollywood, I cancel you and all the losers who rejected me!”
As if that wasn’t enough plot, the Minions, the curious clan of yellow jellybean-shaped troublemakers who were once Gru’s henchmen, are arrested after invading a TV talent show called “Sing!” As Dru convinces Gru to take another run at Bratt and steal back the diamond, however, the Minions escape jail and lend a hand.
“Despicable Me 3” isn't exactly just an excuse to trot out the million dollar Minions but it's hard to imagine what it would be like without them. Gru and Company are fun enough but three movies in, plus a Minion standalone, the human characters have become familiar, predictable. The real stars are the jellybean shaped minions who are still silly, inspired and just stupid enough to make kids laugh uncontrollably.
The animation is wild ‘n wacky and there are several set pieces, like the henchmen singing Gilbert and Sullivan in Minionese, that are inventive but overall the film raises a smile when it is in silly mode but is less successful when it defaults to being a capital ‘F’ family film, which is far too often.
Adults of a certain age will enjoy Bratt's endless 80s homages—he even has an evil army called the Bratt Pack—but make no mistake, this movie belongs to Gru’s brightly coloured little companions.
“Despicable Me 3” isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t have the spark of the other films in the series. That lack f spark is amplified by a blatant sequel-ready ending that suggests this is simply a set up to a further adventure; an appetizer for a main course yet to come. As such, instead of leaving me hungry for more it took away my appetite for any more Gru stories.
BABY DRIVER: 4 STARS
Although it contains more music than most tuneful of movies “Baby Driver,” the new film from director Edgar Wright, isn’t a musical in the “West Side Story,” “Sound of Music” sense. Wallpapered with 35 rock ‘n roll songs on the soundtrack, it’s a hard driving heist flick that can best be called an action musical.
Long before he made “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” Wright conjured up the idea for the wild ride while listening to the John Spencer Explosion track “Bellbottoms” on repeat. He visualized a car chase to the song’s choppy beat and the idea of a young getaway driver on a doomed caper was born. Question is, does Wright keep the pedal to the metal or is “Baby Driver” out of gas?
“The Fault in Our Stars” star Ansel Elgort is the title character, an orphaned get-a-way driver with tinnitus who owes gang boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) a favour. Baby wants out of the life of crime and into the arms of diner waitress Debora (Lily James). Before they can run off to the happily-ever-after, however, he must square his debt with the older gangster.
The gangster uses different crews for every robbery, but Baby is always the driver because he’s “Mozart in a Go Cart. “He had an accident when he was a kid,” says Doc. “Still has a hum in the drum. Plays music to drown it out. And that's what makes him the best.”
With his debt cleared after a wild and woolly robbery, Doc makes Baby an offer he can't refuse, a gig doing another get-a-way job. It’s a job he can’t turn down. “What's it going to be?” Doc asks, “behind the wheel or in a wheelchair?”
"One more job and we're straight,” says Doc. “Now I don't think I need to give you the speech about what would happen if you say no, how I could break your legs and kill everyone you love because you already know that, don't you?”
Teaming up with an unhinged band of baddies, Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and loose cannon Bats (Jamie Foxx), Baby soon discovers this heist is not like any that came before. Perhaps it’s because he now has Deborah on his mind, or perhaps it’s because his partners-in-crime are a few spark plugs short of an engine block.
Even when there are no cars on screen (which isn’t very often) “Baby Driver” is in motion. Working with Sia choreographer Ryan Heffington, Wright has created a stylized dance between his camera and actors. It’s frenetic, melodic and just a dance step or two away from being the world’s first car chase musical.
Elgort is the engine that drives the movie. With dark Ray Bans and tousled hair he recalls Tom Cruise in “Risky Business.” His character has suffered great loss and copes by thrill chasing set to a soundtrack provided by stolen iPods. Baby doesn’t say much—“You know why they call him Baby, right?” says Buddy. “Still waiting on his first words.”—but the character takes a journey, physical and metaphysical. He has a wide arc summed up by the old cliché action speak louder than words.
Spacey is more verbose. He plays Doc as a gangster who talks like a character out of a Raymond Chandler movie. Instead of "get rid of the car,” Doc instructs Baby to "sunset that car." It’s a small but important role that adds flair and some laughs to the film.
James is all sweetness and light as Debora, a woman whose life is changed in the space of just a few days. Hamm, Foxx and González, meanwhile, bring various levels of badassery to contrast Baby’s ever-developing sense of morality. The movie’s tone is light, but this isn’t an outright comedy like Wright’s other films. Hamm and Foxx toss off the odd funny line but both bring the fire when necessary; bringing a kinetic undertone of danger to every scene they’re in.
“Baby Driver” succumbs to cliché near the end but for most of its running time is an exhilarating ride, fuelled by a tank full of adrenaline.
THE BEGUILED: 3 ½ STARS
In 1971 the Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood Civil War drama “The Beguiled” was written off as “heavy handed,” “funny when it shouldn't be, sentimental to a fault.” The story of a wounded Union soldier convalescing at a Southern girls' school didn’t find an audience in North America but was a substantial hit in Europe.
Forty-six years later Sofia Coppola’s remake of the overwrought story grabbed the attention of a European audience, wining Coppola the Best Director Award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Whether the film, which stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell in the roles originated by Geraldine Page and Eastwood, will be a hit on these shores remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, the damning reviews from 1971 are unlikely to be repeated.
Coppola has taken the simple story, toned down some of the lurid aspects of the take to create a film that corrects the knocks against Siegel’s version. The director’s touch is lighter; the laughs are earned and have replaced the sentimentality with subtlety.
It’s 1864 Virginia, three years into the Civil War. Farrell is gravely wounded Union deserter Corporal John McBurney, an Irish charmer, fresh off the boat who took a payday of $300 to fight in a war he didn’t understand. Discovered by Amy (Oona Laurence), a young student at Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, he convinces her to help him. She brings him to the white columned school where the headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Kidman) and teacher Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst) make a fateful decision. Sensing he will die soon they patch him up. If he lives they’ll turn him over to the first passing Confederate Army patrol. If not they’ll bury him. It is, as they say, “the Christian thing to do.”
His presence causes quite a stir in the house. Despite initial misgivings, the residents of the house fall for McBurney’s charisma. At first it’s subtle—they start dressing nicer, wearing necklaces and pins that haven’t been taken out of the jewellery box for years—the flirtations increase during his convalescence. A profession of love to Edwina sets in motion a series of events that leads to betrayal and a life or death decision.
Coppola’s telling of the story takes its time establishing the atmosphere inside and outside of the Seminary for Young Ladies. As the war rages on around them, the teachers and five students (Laurence, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke and Emma Howard) are sheltered, self-sufficient. They study French, learn to do needle point and become proper ladies. But life during the Civil war has also exposed them to the harsher realities of life. The younger ones may look like giggling schoolgirls but even they are no strangers to the dangerous vagaries of life during wartime. Coppola establishes their ecosystem and deftly displays the subtle changes that occur with McBurney’s arrival.
Removing the pulpy aspects of the story, Coppola is able to focus on the characters. Kidman is terrific as the pious but protective headmistress. A woman who could have been played as a one note straight and narrow caricature—all Southern charm and clasped hands—is instead given layers as the situation spins out of control.
Dunst is the model of repression while the younger actors are given distinct personalities from the bratty—Fanning and her devious grin—to sweet to infatuated. It’s a showcase for each and every one of them.
Farrell plays McBurney as a kind-hearted rapscallion, a man who can’t help but be charming. With sly wit and an even slier grin he is at once a welcome guest and a menace.
“The Beguiled” is an interesting and entertaining feminist take on a story that in the past was played as a sexualized fantasy.
OKJA: 3 ½ STARS
From visionary South Korean director Bong Joon Ho comes a film that defies categorization. “Okja” has elements of family entertainment, sci fi fantasy, cultural satire and more all wrapped up in a cautionary tale about genetically modified meat. It’s a big, handsome and entertaining adventure that not so subtly poises questions about the relationship between corporations and where food comes from.
In its opening minutes, the story of a girl and her super-pig feels almost like a Disney movie. Fourteen-year-old Mija (An Seo Hyun) and Okja, a gigantic genetically engineered swine bred to become a food source, live a quiet life in the far-flung mountains of South Korea. They romp and play, bonded by ten years together and the animal’s gentle, protective nature. They are a human-porcine Milo and Otis, inseparable until Mirando Corporation CEO Lucy (Tilda Swinton) recalls Okja is back to the United States.
Created in an agrichemical laboratory in New Jersey, the adorable Ojka was created to “consume less feed, produce less excretions” and to make people fall in love with an animal they are going to end up eating. “Soon supermarkets will be filled with their flesh and their organs.” Transported to New York, the animal is slated to become the kind face of Lucy’s plan to end world hunger while increasing her company’s bottom line. Working with Mirando but wrestling with the ethics of the situation is celebrity zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox (an unhinged Jake Gyllenhaal).
Concerned with appearances Lucy tries to exploit Mija’s and Okja’s relationship for PR purposes but Mija has other ideas. Working to make sure Okja doesn’t end up on a giant BBQ, Mija comes to the rescue, aided by the Animal Liberation Front, a crafty and idealistic group led by Jay (Paul Dano) and Red (Lily Collins).
“Okja” features strong work from Swinton—in a double role, playing Lucy and her even more cutthroat sister Nancy—and a wild performance from Gyllenhaal but it really is all about the bond between the girl and her super-pig. An Seo Hyun’s moon face conveys her pure and sincere love for Okja but it is the beast itself who brings heart to the movie. A combo of CGI and puppetry Okja is a strange animal but a tender one. He rescues Mija from danger and later, when she returns the favour, the bond between them is palpable.
That relationship smooths the way for the rest of this uneven but entertaining movie. The way “Okja” veers between action and comedy, horror and social commentary could lead to whiplash but it is never less than audacious.