Review: Minions

Minions-2015

DIR: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda • WRI:  Brian Lynch • PRO: Janet Healy, Christopher Meledandri  • ED: Claire Dodgson • MUS: Heitor Pereira • Cast: Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Geoffrey Rush

 

While Minion’s predecessors Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 focused on the antics of Gru, the world’s greatest supervillain, this film focuses on, well, you can probably guess. Gru’s beloved little yellow henchmen are the be-all and end-all of this film, in their historic quest to find an evil master worthy of their service.

Things start off with the Minions’ evolution since long before mankind showed up and their insatiable desire to serve the biggest baddest creature around. From giant fish to dinosaurs and, eventually, to humans, the minions manage to mess things up for every master they serve and are forced into exile to live out their days in peace… and total boredom. When enough time passes, the minions are so depressed with their now meaningless lives that three brave/foolish minions, Kevin, Stuart and Bob, venture into the world on a quest to find a new master, and evil, villainous, despicable master.

When the three make their way to America, the year is 1968 and they manage to stumble their way to a supervillain convention where they seek out the most celebrated baddie the ’60s have to offer. The particular brand of the chaos that the minions specialise in follows them everywhere and the film rarely misses an opportunity to throw laughs at its audience.

Now, anyone familiar with the first two films will probably recall that the minions speak in a frenzied blend of different languages and actual gibberish, meaning that a great deal of the story relies on physical comedy and action to move forward. However, that doesn’t mean that this film should be written off as simply silly humour for kids. It’s fantastically silly humour for kids and some really intelligent cultural references and jokes which should sail right over younger heads and make some parents chuckle, if not laugh out loud.

The cast (yep, there’s a cast), includes some wonderful performances by Sandra Bullock as supervillain extraordinaire Scarlet Overkill, Jon Hamm as Herb Overkill, Scarlet’s husband, and Geoffrey Rush as a sombre narrator, with some wonderful cameos by Steve Coogan, and Michael Keaton. It also has to be mentioned that Pierre Coffin also manages to give the best voice performance (for all the Minions) where the words don’t carry any of the meaning since Vin Diesel broke our hearts as a talking tree. The performances all hit the mark and there are really no missteps in terms of story or entertainment. The biggest flaw I could find with this film is that the 3D effects were a little bit hit and miss, occasionally drawing attention away from what was actually happening and making it hard to focus.

The minions were easily the breakout characters from the Despicable Me movies and it would have been easy to tack on any cast and weak story to sell movie tickets and a lot of yellow toys with this film. What we got instead was a clever and hugely entertaining film with a lot of evidence of thought and effort put in. Minions is a film that tries to improve on its successors and, in many respects, it really does.

Ronan Daly

 

G (See IFCO for details)
90 minutes

Minions is released 26th June 2015

Minions– Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Book Thief

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DIR: Brian Percival • WRI: Michael Petroni • Ryan Engle PRO: Ken Blancato, Karen Rosenfelt • DOP: Florian Ballhaus • ED: John Wilson • MUS: John Williams • DES: Alec Hammond • CAST: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson

Adaptations run the gauntlet from faithful recreations to loose inspiration, and can get stuck in the quagmire of original fan opinion and input.  While Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief may not have the fanatical following of some novelistic journeys it is nonetheless a beloved book that touched many readers’ hearts on its publication in 2005.  It was also a work that lent itself to a filmic version: narrated by Death, addressing Nazi occupation, stellar protagonists with human foibles…it was a movie waiting to happen.  Now that it has arrived to cinema it suffers somewhat from the childhood-versus-Nazi effect, but successfully brings the book’s playful dalliance with tragedy onscreen.

 

Director Brian Percival takes a step away from comfortable television territory, but doesn’t stray too far from his Downton Abbey roots in the set-up of the story, with candle-lit conversations and sweeping outdoor shots.  Roger Allam’s dulcet Death introduces us to the story as we dip dramatically through clouds to find ourselves on a train with Liesel, a young girl making her way to a new family with her already-absent broken mother.  As the human who fascinates Death, the living soul that distracts him from his dour job of leading others from the world, the casting of Liesel was hugely important – and after a considerable search which gave the role its deserved significance, Sophie Nélisse was found.  A 13-year old French-Canadian actress, Sophie imbues Liesel with all the heart and feeling this staggeringly wise little girl needed to be taken from pages to screen.  And there lies the saving grace of the movie – yes, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are picture-perfect as her foster parents, one sunshine-light and the other ‘cloaked in thunder’, but it is Sophie who hypnotically draws the eye in every scene, imbuing the movie with such depth of feeling it’s impossible to look away.  Her journey through reading, beginning with a gravedigger’s manual and then consuming tales with a voracious appetite, shows the power of words in dealing with horrific reality.

 

Much like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, this is a Nazi-light version of the Second World War, where slight nods are made to concentration camps and Hitler, but the majority is as seen through a child’s eyes – peripheral and mostly ignorable.  This makes The Book Thief a good introduction to German experiences of the War for school-aged children, and certainly the film follows that line through Liesel’s friendship with both young Rudy (Nico Liersch) and older Max (Ben Schnetzer).  Max is a Jewish acquaintance who seeks refuge in their cellar, putting the family in danger but opening Liesel up to the possibilities of peaceful revolt – his influence from the book is underplayed in the film, but the overall effect on Liesel is much the same.  Rudy is another perfect casting choice – though perhaps it is just that children will always be more interesting than adults in situations like these.  His startling Aryan features look almost terrifying when dressed in Nazi colours, but his childishness and light shine through at every moment – giving the scenes where he and Liesel talk and play much beauty and force.

 

While by no means a fantastic film, it is a very enjoyable trip into a pretty basic story.  What hoists it above the parapet is the performances and, of course, John Williams’ didactic score which leads you from giddiness to tears at the flick of an experienced baton.  A family movie overall, it is a nice opening for children to the lives of those their own age throughout Nazi occupation and, while avoiding the more horrible truths of that time, it provides a springboard for further conversation on the eventual fate of so many.  Sometimes hovering too much on cliché, The Book Thief is nonetheless a simple tale told well, a tragic family story brought from ink to screen with excellent performances by its beautiful cast.

 

Sarah Griffin

12A (See IFCO for details)
130  mins

The Book Thief is released on 28th February 2014

The Book Thief – Official Website

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