FILM: Despicable Me 3 (2017, Pierre Coffin/Kyle Balda)

A minion in a black-and-white striped clothing, with a tattoo that reads "GRU LIFE" around his arms.

Despicable Me 3 is the eighth animated feature film from Illumination Entertainment. Gru (Steve Carell) is shocked to learn that he has a long-lost twin called Dru (also Carell), and when the two meet, they become inseparable. Gru, however, needs to catch Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) – a former child star turned supervillain – in order to get back his job at the Anti-Villain League, and enlists Dru’s help in order to do this.

PROS

  • Colourful animation, against which the cartoonish style of the film works, and which is used well to tell an altogether energetic narrative.
  • Steve Carell has a lot of fun voicing Gru and Dru, which he does with real energy, which is what Trey Parker voices Bratt (an altogether fun antagonist) with.

CONS

  • The jokes ultimately fall flat in this film, using quite generic slapstick gags, but ultimately resorting to Minions (Pierre Coffin) based jokes too much.
  • There are a number of subplots in the film, most of which revolve around Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and the girls, that go nowhere and cause the pacing and energy of the narrative to suffer.
  • A very convoluted climax, which even the fun character of Bratt cannot save.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: The Greatest Showman (2017, Michael Gracey)

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The Greatest Showman is a musical-biopic, which was distributed by 20th Century Fox. The film tells the story of P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), who grew up in poverty, but managed to secure a big enough bank loan that he was able to start up a hugely successful circus with playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron). The circus is a huge success, making Barnum a rich man, but a controversial figure, and the new life that it offers him results in him constantly wanting more, which puts a real strain on his marriage to Charity (Michelle Williams).

PROS

  • Barnum was a man who loved the spectacle of the circus, so it is only fitting that a biopic about him be filled with spectacle, thanks to huge, spectacularly designed musical sequences and sets that recreate well the 19th Century.
  • The musical numbers are very well choreographed, which the cast approach with real energy and enthusiasm, and while the lyrics and style are quite contemporary, the songs are incredibly catchy.
  • A very good cast, with Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Keala Settle especially showing real passion for the project, and displaying real singing talent.

CONS

  • Issues of social class and discrimination are only explored at a surface level depth, and as such are somewhat predictable.
  • A number of sequences boast quite shoddy CGI, which is primarily found in the circus animals.
  • Many of the supporting characters get little to do outside of the musical sequences, and as such are one-sided characters who really are quite expendable, and feel quite caricaturist, which is problematic given that this film is about equality.

VERDICT: 6/10

PREVIEW: January 2018

Well, the end of 2017 is nigh. For me personally it has been a year of ups and downs, and there have been a number of both of those in the film industry these past twelve months. However, a New Year is soon to be upon us, so it is time to look ahead to the first thirty-one days of 2018, although I will be getting a couple more reviews published before 2017 is over and out.

As of the 15th, I will be free of university assignments (for a few weeks at least), so I will have a little more free time on my hands. That can only be a good thing for me as a critic, as there are a lot of films coming to British cinemas in January. A number of them have already debuted in the USA, many to critical acclaim, ergo they are technically 2017 films. Those include the following: CocoBrad’s StatusThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriMolly’s GameDarkest HourThe PostDownsizing and All the Money in the World. The majority of those excite me. The official 2018 films debuting in British cinemas next month for the most part do not excite me, and they include: The CommuterMaze Runner: The Death CureInsidious: The Last Key and Early Man.

All of these films I will endeavour to watch, and publish reviews for (time permitting, of course). I look forward to taking this blog into 2018, and getting as much new content on it over the course of the year as I can. So, to you all I wish a Happy New Year, and, my dear readers, I also wish you Happy Reading for 2018!

FILM: The House (2017, Andrew Jay Cohen)

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The House is a comedy film that was distributed by Warner Bros. After losing their daughter’s (Ryan Simpkins) college scholarship, Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) team up with Scott’s best friend, Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), and open an illegal underground casino in order to raise the money for Alex’s college education.

CONS

  • The jokes fall flat, with only one or two gags that were worthy of so much as a chuckle, while the slapstick is truly awful.
  • The screenplay touches upon political corruption, but never explores it at more than a very basic surface depth. There is also no sense of consequence for anybody who breaks the law.
  • A unanimously bad supporting cast, who deliver their lines poorly, and disappointing turns from the main cast, the worst offence being the non-existent chemistry between Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler.
  • No redeeming qualities to the film on a technical level, with the overall film having a cheap, tacky feel, despite the Hollywood budget.

PROS

  • Their performances may not have been good, but the main cast throw themselves into their roles with real energy.

VERDICT: 1/10

FILM: Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017, S. Craig Zahler)

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Brawl in Cell Block 99 is an action film, which was distributed theatrically by RLJE, following its premiere at the 2017 Venice International Film Festival. Vince Vaughn plays an ex-boxer turned drug runner named Bradley Thomas, who ends up in prison. However, after being incarcerated his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) and unborn child are taken hostage, and Bradley is told that if he does not get himself upgraded to a Maximum Security prison, and then kill an inmate there, then they will be killed. In order to do this Bradley must turn to violence of the most brutal nature.

PROS

  • Bradley is not your typical cinematic prisoner, as he accepts his incarceration, and even when he is forced to turn to violence there is an inescapable sense of him being in control, aided well by the fact that he is a well rounded character.
  • Vince Vaughn gives a stoic turn, making the role his own, and using his physicality tremendously well.
  • A technically good film, with haunting underground sets that boast dim, artificial lighting. The fight sequences are very well shot, utilising long takes and close-up shots to bring the viewer into the fights.
  • The fight sequences are unforgettable moments, which are brutal, and utilise very good make-up effects.

CONS

  • While the set-up serves the film well, as it fleshes out Bradley into a well rounded character, it is not especially well paced, and could have easily been five to ten minutes shorter.
  • As he proved with his directorial debut (Bone Tomahawk), director and screenwriter S. Craig Zahler’s strong point is not dialogue, which does not flow especially well, and is often clunky.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: The Wall (2017, Doug Liman)

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The Wall is a war film that was distributed by Roadside Attractions. During the Iraq War, sniper Staff Sergeant Matthews (John Cena) and his spotter, Sergeant Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are wounded by a sniper (Laith Nakli), and left trapped on either side of a crumbling wall. With their communication technology damaged, they find that the sniper has tuned into their radio channel. Badly wounded, Isaac communicates with the sniper, hoping to hold his attention long enough that Matthews can take him out. But will the two men bleed to death A) before that or B) before they get rescued?

PROS

  • A technically excellent film, which is well edited, and both real-time and point-of-view shots are utilised very well, bringing the viewer into the heart of the action.
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena give very good performances, carrying the film well; while Laith Nakli uses malice very well as he voices the sniper.
  • Screenwriter Dave Bartis makes Isaac a well rounded character, with a clear sense of vulnerability, and also writes well how mundane a day of work can be for soldiers.

CONS

  • The narrative is unfortunately quite predictable, utilising cliches too frequently, and it can be a little slow at times.
  • The final fifteen minutes gets a little convoluted, and has some real continuity errors with the rest of the film.
  • Matthews is a quite one-sided character, who could have done with being fleshed out more.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017, David Soren)

Film poster showing a man in his underwear with a cape on his neck, standing on top of a building. A moon showing a silhouette of an underwear.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is DreamWorks Animation’s thirty-fifth theatrically released animated feature, based on the children’s novels of the same title. George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are fourth graders, best friends and creators of the Captain Underpants comics. When their Principal (Ed Helms) decides to put them in different classes, the two manage to hypnotise him into believing that he is Captain Underpants. Soon, however, a freak incident results in him actually becoming Captain Underpants, who must now defeat Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll), who intends to rid the world of laughter

PROS

  • A relatable narrative, as the depiction of the mundanity of school life and need for a class clown can be accessed by anyone who has been to school.
  • Colourful animation that recreates the illustration style of the novels very well, which, thanks in part to the screenplay, presents a fun, energetic narrative.
  • A good voice cast, with Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms and Nick Kroll pouring real energy into their voice roles.

CONS

  • The narrative is predictable, and while the poop gags will of course entertain the target audience of children, the gags get incredibly repetitive.
  • While the narrative is energetic, it is rather rushed and illogical, and it is impossible to escape the sense that this film has just been made to set up a franchise.
  • While the illustration style of the novels is recreated well, it does feel rather basic, and certainly would be more suited to a cartoon series than a computer animation.

VERDICT: 5/10

SHORT FILM: The Secret Life of Kyle (2017, Bruno Chauffard/Glenn McCoy)

Image result for the secret life of kyle despicable me

The Secret Life of Kyle is a short spin-off from Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me franchise. When Gru and the family are out, the vicious little dog Kyle gets up to mischief that they will never find out about. And today Kyle makes it his goal to win the affections of a poodle.

PROS

  • Kyle is the most one-dimensional character of the franchise, so it is nice to see a softer, warmer side to the little dog.
  • Just as good an animation quality as the feature films, while the story is told with real energy.

CONS

  • The slightly predictable narrative does ultimately stink of cash-in, as it adds a major element of the popular The Secret Life of Pets to Despicable Me.
  • At a mere four minutes it really is too short, and as a result it is quite rushed.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: 48 Christmas Wishes (2017, Marco Deufemia/Justin G. Dyck)

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48 Christmas Wishes is a festive television film that was produced by Brain Power Studio. Two junior elves (Ethan Yang and Clara Kushnir) lose an entire town’s letters to Santa (Paul Dick). Upon learning that Christmas will end if people do not get the gifts that they asked for, they go to the town, where they try to find out what everybody wished for before it is too late.

CONS

  • Truly atrocious acting by adults and children alike, which (when added to the following cons) makes it feel like watching a very, very bad school play.
  • A very dull, predictable screenplay, with running gags that never raise so much as a chuckle, and themes that are very cliche.
  • Very, very visibly flimsy sets, which reek of cheap production values.
  • Poor quality costume designs, the fabric of the elves’ and Santa’s outfits clearly of a bad quality, but the cherry on the cake are the elf ears…you can actually see the glue and tape that holds them on!

PROS

  • The depth of focus of objects in Santa’s workshop during the opening credits is actually very good, I genuinely cannot fault it.

VERDICT: 1/10

FILM: Going in Style (2017, Zach Braff)

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Going in Style is a comedy film, distributed by Warner Bros. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin play elderly retirees Joe, Willie and Al. The three are horrified to learn that they are going to lose their pensions, but upon finding out that it is because of their bank that they are going to lose them, they decide to commit a bank robbery. But given that none of them have ever committed a crime before, can they pull it off at their age?

PROS

  • Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin, three of the finest talents of their generation, play their roles perfectly, have good chemistry and good comic timing.
  • Well edited sequences piece together succinctly the puzzles that get presented characters and viewers alike in this film.
  • Themes of the importance of family that are relatable for viewers of all ages.

CONS

  • Not exactly the best balance between comedy and drama, while the emphasis on jokes about old age make a number of points in the film quite predictable.
  • Quite a formulaic, cliched screenplay, while the socio-political comments that screenwriter Theodore Melfi tries to convey have surface level depth only.
  • A rather underused supporting cast, who play very underdeveloped characters.

VERDICT: 5/10