This is a movie that caught me completely off-guard; I didn’t see it in theaters because I didn’t expect much from it, but, after finally seeing it, it has now become one of those movies that I never tire of.
Despicable Me tells the story of Gru (Steve Carell), a middle-aged villain whose despicable crimes (such as stealing the miniature Statue of Liberty from Las Vegas) pale in comparison to the newest villain on the block, Vector (Jason Segel), who recently stole a pyramid from Egypt. Not to be outdone, Gru, along with the help of his fun-loving “Minions” and assistant, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), devises a plot to pull off the “crime of the century”: stealing the moon itself. Along the way, he adopts a trio of orphan sisters in order to gain access to Vector’s heavily-fortified home, but he’s in for a surprise when he realizes that these children may be more important than simply being unknowing accomplices in his evil scheme…they may just change his life.
The voice acting in this film is superb on all accounts. Carell as Gru is hysterical, with his strange foreign accent providing lots of fun lines to imitate with friends, and Segel as the competing villain Vector brings plenty of laughs as well…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shouted his “oh yeah!” when around friends! Julie Andrews as Gru’s mother is an unexpected delight as Gru’s cruelly indifferent mother, and Russell Brand’s voice transformation from a higher tenor to a gruff elderly baritone as Dr. Nefario is unrecognizable. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment in the voice acting department, however, is in the talent from the three girls: the impossibly adorable Agnes (Elsie Fisher), the rebellious Edith (Dana Gaier), and the critical eldest child Margo (Miranda Cosgrove). In the presence of much more experienced actors, these three never miss a beat in matching their older colleagues step for step. The directors have guided them wonderfully.
One aspect of this movie that particularly surprised me was its heart; the growth of Gru as a character throughout the film is heartwarming and well-developed. At no point does it ever feel rushed or forced, with his transition feeling very natural and genuine. As likable as Gru is as a villain, his role as father to Agnes, Edith, and Margo makes him even more lovable, and the fact that his “evil” plot to steal the moon is just the result of a long-time dream to visit space brings an interesting twist to the characterization. The humor in the film is also well-done; with every re-watch, I never tire of the jokes, which seem to never stale or grow old. The Minions add quite a bit to this humor, with their tendency for slapstick comedy and inappropriate jokes appealing equally to kids and to adults, or at least to me as a young adult in his early twenties.
As I mentioned before, I was totally surprised by how much I loved this film. The script is smart and the dialogue is endlessly quotable, and it has become one of the few movies that I have no problems with watching again and again. It has a fantastic (and, unfortunately, unreleased) score by Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams, with Pharrell’s original songs being quite enjoyable as well, despite me not being too fond of all of the lyrics (they just seem strange at times). The likability of these characters and the humor brought by each of the vocal talents behind them make Despicable Me one of the best animated films of the past few years.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG – for rude humor and mild action
1 Comment | tags: animated, cgi, crime of the century, dana gaier, Despicable Me, dr. nefario, elsie fisher, Gru, heitor pereira, jason Segel, Julie Andrews, las vegas, minions, miranda cosgrove, pharrell williams, russell brand, statue of liberty, steal the moon, steve carell, universal, vector | posted in 4.5, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores, Various
Roland Emmerich likes to do things to famous buildings in his movies. In Independence Day (1996), he blew up the White House. In The Day After Tomorrow (2004), he buried the Statue of Liberty in snow up to her waist. In 2012 (2009), the White House is destroyed by the USS John F. Kennedy coasting into it via tsunami. Nothing new is brought to the table in his latest directorial effort, White House Down – the White House and Capitol buildings are both severely damaged and nearly destroyed, but hey, at least we have fun along the way.
Channing Tatum plays John Cale, a US Capitol police officer, a man who has struggled to hold a steady job and to be a good father to his daughter, Emily (Joey King), who is obsessed with politics and the current US president, James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Cale takes Emily to the White House when he goes to apply for the president’s Secret Service, but he is rejected by Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Dejected, he and Emily join a tour through the White House when the worst happens: domestic terrorists take over both the Capitol and the White House, gathering the tour group as hostages and trapping the president in the building. John must find a way to help protect both the president and his daughter before time runs out.
I’d never seen a Channing Tatum film before this, and I found that I didn’t hate him, so great for you, Mr. Tatum. Sure, he’s not spectacular, but he could have been a lot worse. The important thing is that he does the action well, and there are even a few moments when his character’s relationship with his daughter feels at least kind of close to genuine. Speaking of his daughter, Joey King, who I’d only seen as the young version of Marion Cotillard’s character in The Dark Knight Rises (my review), is charming here, if not a bit too smart for her age, but who cares? She’s sweet, she brings the proper mindset and stubbornness of a preteen, and she provides Tatum’s character with great (if not a little bit over-the-top) motivation. Jamie Foxx does a great job as always as President Sawyer. He carries the air of authority well, and his likable personality in the role brings a lot to the film. Lastly, Jason Clarke proves yet again that he can play the crazy character well, though this time he’s not torturing suspected terrorists (Zero Dark Thirty) or shooting a rich man who ran over his wife (The Great Gatsby); this time, he’s a mercenary who takes over the White House…and apparently he can hold quite the grudge. He does well with it, though, and I like him as the villain. Other notable performances come from James Woods, who plays Martin Walker, the head of Presidential Detail, and Nicolas Wright, who plays a quirky White House tour guide who serves mostly as comedic relief. Maggie Gyllenhaal is also in the movie, and, though I’m not really a fan of hers, she isn’t awful here.
For the first bit of the film, I tried too hard to take it seriously: I thought that it was trying to make a political statement or teach a valuable lesson, and I thought that the circumstances were incredibly ridiculous, but the frequent inclusion of (quite effective and humorous) one-liners and the tendency for things to be just a bit too convenient for our protagonists – and sometimes for our antagonists as well – helped me to realize that even the movie wasn’t taking itself too seriously. Once I realized this, I started having a lot more fun, which is what I really think the purpose is here. Is there a message or a political statement to be found somewhere? Yeah, sure, probably – maybe a comment on how dedicated people can be to the people (or country) that they love? – but that’s not the point of the film…the point is for it to be a fun action film, and it does a great job at pulling that off. Don’t go in expecting a whole lot of substance, but also know that the action isn’t mindless either. White House Down is good for what it is and good for what it isn’t; it’s not spectacular, and it’s not endless pointless explosions, but it is good for a few laughs and a few decent dramatic moments, and it succeeds the most at being what it’s meant to be: a fun summer action flick.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image
1 Comment | tags: 2012, capitol building, carol finnerty, channing tatum, d.c., Independence Day, james woods, jamie foxx, jason clarke, jfk, joey king, maggie gyllenhaal, marion cotillard, nicolas wright, president, roland emmerich, secret service, statue of liberty, the dark knight rises, the day after tomorrow, the great gatsby, tsunami, us capitol, uss jfk, uss john f. kennedy, washington, washington dc, white house, white house down, zero dark thirty | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies