MINIONS (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action and Rude Humor

Minions poster

Directed by: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda

Written by: Brian Lynch

Voices of: Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Saunders & Steve Carell

It seems like you either love the Minions or you hate them. There’s not much middle ground. These goggle-wearing, yellow-skinned, pill-shaped creatures originally showed up in 2010’s DESPICABLE ME and wound up stealing every scene they were in. With DESPICABLE ME 2, they were granted even more screen time and became an integral part of the plot. Naturally, little kids who already loved the Minions proceeded to quote them anytime anywhere, wear clothing featuring a Minion or two, and posting thousands of so-so memes. Personally, I love the Minions…but also believe there can be too much of a good thing. That’s part of the reason that MINIONS, a prequel to DESPICABLE ME, is flawed fun.

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Through a prologue we learn that the Minions have always been around since the beginning of time. As evolution went on, they proceeded to follow the biggest, baddest villains around (including a T-Rex, a Caveman, and Dracula). No matter how big and bad their master was, the Minions seemed to have a knack for screwing things up. After being exiled by Napoleon (yet another master), the Minions found themselves living in snowy isolated caves and forming their own society. As time passes on, it became clear that they absolutely could not function without an evil master. So this leads a trio of Minions (courageous Kevin, absent-minded Stuart, and little Bob) on a quest to find a despicable master to serve. Their search takes them to 1960’s New York where they attend a villain convention (think Comic Con for bad guys) and the trio become henchmen for the biggest, baddest lady around: Scarlet Overkill. You can probably (and accurately) guess how the rest of the film plays out.

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The plot of MINIONS is extremely simple and serves as an excuse for outrageous scenarios and goofy gibberish spoken by the title characters. I can say that there are legitimately funny moments that got a solid laugh or two out of me. The film is remarkably well animated and sports a great soundtrack (The Rolling Stones, Donovan, The Doors, The Who, etc.). Besides awesome songs used throughout, MINIONS has a lot of 60’s references and jokes that only older viewers will understand (including a jab at Nixon, the Beatles, and more). As far as non-Minion characters go, Scarlet Overkill is an enjoyable villainess but really doesn’t receive a ton of screen time. I found her obnoxious husband (voiced by Jon Hamm) to be far funnier than her character ever was. The biggest laughs in the whole film come from Michael Keaton voicing a villainous family man who happens to run across the Minions a couple of times on their journey.

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As funny as it can be and as good-looking as the animation is, MINIONS has a couple of big problems. These mainly come in pacing and certain jokes wearing out their welcome. It’s quite clear that MINIONS is an easy movie to entertain children with, as opposed to a great entertainment that both viewers young and old can enjoy (sort of like the first two DESPICABLE ME movies). There are highly enjoyable moments in MINIONS, but the space between these sequences seems to drag to a noticeably dull effect. It’s not like the movie gets outright boring, but it comes very close to that on more than one occasion. A few montages of jokes seem stretched to give the film a 91-minute running time too. During these scenes, it would be a safe bet that you could dash out of the theater, go to bathroom and return with the montage still playing.

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MINIONS is likely to be one of the highest grossing movies of the year. If children in my screening were any indication, this DESPICABLE ME prequel will be a huge hit among kids. In all fairness, that’s who the movie was always intended for. However, I just feel like they could have tried harder to put more stuff in that both kids and adults could laugh at together. Even with a running time of only 91 minutes, the movie feels a bit too long. If you’re under the age of 10 (good on you for being savvy enough to read this website), you’ll likely love this movie. If you happen to be older than 10 (my realistic demographic of readers), you’ll find a couple of big laughs and lots of chuckles…and that’s about all that MINIONS has to offer.

Grade: B-

Derrick Carter’s Top 10 Films of 2013

List by Derrick Carter

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Trance, Ender’s Game, Simon Killer, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, Rush, Captain Phillips, Stoker, and Side Effects

10. Dallas Buyers Club

10. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB: This film may not be entirely true to the events that it’s based on, but DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is the kind of the movie that makes you re-evaluate just how you’re living your life once the end credits have begun to roll. Matthew McCounaghey and Jared Leto give two of the most heartfelt performances of the year. It’s not a movie that you’ll want to watch on repeat (mainly due to the fact that it’s a film about a man fighting an incurable disease and the war the FDA launches on him), but it’s certainly a powerful one. This is a movie that drained me emotionally by the end of the film, because I was feeling the same frustration at the injustice of how the characters were being treated. Excellent film and I’ll be surprised if both Leto and McCounaghey don’t get Oscar nods.

9. Maniac

9. MANIAC: 2013 was a fantastic year for cinema, but it was a bit of a pathetic year for the horror genre. The best wide-released horror flick was YOU’RE NEXT (which is missing from this list and isn’t even in my Honorable Mentions). There’s always independent and foreign horror to satiate the need to be frightened. MANIAC is a remake that outdoes the original in every conceivable way, whilst also adding the element of seeing the entire film literally through the eyes of a serial killer. What could have wound up being a cheap gimmick becomes a wholly disturbing and chilling experience that will leave you struggling to get a good night’s sleep for a long time after.

8. Place Beyond The Pines

8. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES: There are gripping stories, moments that shock you, and conclusions that leave you emotionally devastated. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES contains all of the above in a narrative that could be seen as almost an anthology format. It’s a story that follows three different characters that are forever shaped by the choices of someone else. Tragedy is one of the most accurate words I can pick when describing this film. Also, it should be noted that the final moments of the film (fueled with a haunting score) had me crying like the first time I saw AMERICAN HISTORY X.

7. Frozen

7. FROZEN: It seems like ever since Disney switched to the computer animation format, they lost the spark of what made their former efforts so magical. Gone were the musical numbers. The sense of timeless fairy tales seemed to be replaced with potty humor and pop-culture references. Recent films like TANGLED and PRINCESS AND THE FROG tried to recapture that flame that gave Disney films like THE LION KING and BEAUTY & THE BEAST. Somehow, against all odds, FROZEN winds up being the best Disney film in about two full decades. The songs are catchy and have stuck with me since my viewing experience. The script also gives memorable characters, while mocking certain Disney clichés and delivering a timeless, wonderful tale. FROZEN is truly something special!

6. American Hustle

6. AMERICAN HUSTLE: Capturing the essence of the 70’s from set designs, costumes, a very cool soundtrack, and Bradley Cooper’s unforgettable perm, AMERICAN HUSTLE told an intense and very entertaining crime story without ever delving into the ultra-violence that the subgenre usually contains. It was a bold move on the part of David O. Russell, but he’s crafted a fantastic film that let the A-list cast run loose and wild to my delight. This is a movie about people double-crossing each other and by the time everything begins hitting the fan, it’s unlikely that you guessed much of what was in store for you as a viewer (including one very neat cameo).

5. Gravity

5. GRAVITY: You can’t get much more epic than the setting of space itself and that’s exactly the canvas that director/writer Alfonso Cuaron (who held off on directing this film until technology was advanced enough to get across his vision) uses for this tale of survival. It’s spectacle, but cinema comes in many forms. It’s not all about important statements, human drama, character studies, or entertainment. Sometimes, a film just needs to be a ride and this is what GRAVITY was. A huge roller-coaster of a movie and I enjoyed it as such. It’s been a tad overhyped at this point, but GRAVITY still remains on my top 10 of 2013!

4. Worlds End

4. THE WORLD’S END: The final part of the “Cornetto” trilogy (also consisting of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ) is my favorite of the comedic trifecta. Some human drama is thrown into this sci-fi comedy which makes for some unexpectedly emotional moments (much like in SHAUN), which in turn make the laughs that much more heartier. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright have closed off their so-called trilogy in grand style and though it’s sad to see it come to a close, I can’t imagine a better way to conclude the so-called Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy. Jokes are brilliantly set up in advance and the chemistry between the cast is so convincing and enjoyable to watch that you may even forget there are robots that show up later on (I certainly did).

3. Prisoners

3. PRISONERS: Few movies have ever made me as uncomfortable as this one did. I was uneasy for the entire running time and for good reason, PRISONERS quietly builds suspense and keeps itself one step ahead of the audience. It’s unflinching in its violence, but also shows restraint when it needs to. Some of the more shocking moments in the film come as to what’s implied rather to what’s shoved into the viewer’s face. This script was supposedly passed around from many directors and tons of different casting choices. The end result is so flawless that it makes one wonder if how it even would have stood a chance with anybody else involved. Heartbreaking, intense and concluding in the most provocative way possible. PRISONERS is the best thriller I’ve seen since Fincher’s GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

2. Wolf Of Wall Street

2. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET: Give Leo the award. Just give Leo the award already! The man is proving himself to be a chameleon of acting (in the same way Gary Oldman is). In THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Leonardo DiCaprio skillfully slips into the skin of drug addicted, sex addicted, all-around rich scumbag Jordan Belfort. Far from an unpleasant watch, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is easily the most entertaining film I’ve seen in all of 2013. I haven’t laughed harder at a movie all year (the scene involving Leo and Jonah Hill high on Quaaludes is one of the funniest movie scenes I’ve ever seen in my life). The three-hour running time seems to rush right past, showing the best pacing I’ve seen in a movie this length. Overall, just see it. I loved this movie and it’s one that I plan on buying the moment it hits home video!

1. 12 Years A Slave

1. 12 YEARS A SLAVE: It’s pretty surprising that there’s never been a proper film depicting the horrors of slavery until 2013 (ROOTS doesn’t count). This is a heartbreaking movie that tore my emotions apart and had myself (along with a sold-out movie theater) crying heavily during multiple points in the film. 12 YEARS A SLAVE is the kind of film that you never forget once you’ve seen it. It will stick with you and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes required viewing during History classes for its unflinchingly realistic look on the dark stain in American history. The acting from everyone is top-notch, as is every single aspect with this film. I can’t say that I enjoyed this movie at all, because it’s not made to be enjoyed. It does show one man’s struggle to retain his humanity and survive a 12-year-long period in slavery. Hard to watch, but ultimately rewarding in many ways, 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a masterpiece through and through!

GRAVITY (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Perilous Sequences, some Disturbing Images and brief Strong Language

Gravity poster

Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron

Written by: Alfonso Cuaron & Jonas Cuaron

Starring: Sandra Bullock & George Clooney

Little under two months ago, I said that I wouldn’t be surprised if PRISONERS wound up being my favorite film of 2013. Having seen GRAVITY, I’ll now say that PRISONERS has some tough competition. GRAVITY is unlike anything you’ve ever seen on film before. Think carefully about how long films have existed and now, tell me you’re not the slightest bit intrigued. I was entranced from the beautiful opening shot to the intense finale. It’s a wondrous work of art, plain and simple.

Gravity 1

The plot follows Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski in the vast endless universe that is space. Their shuttle is hit by debris and winds up in pieces. Suddenly, the two sole survivors of a crew (that began with five) find themselves floating in the starry skies that were once so amazing to behold. The situation is dire, as their suits are running out of oxygen and the two must use every single resource available (not many, to be honest) to find a way to make it back to Earth (if they don’t fry re-entering the atmosphere). A task that becomes more dangerous as the debris is constantly circling around the earth.

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Though most of the sets were mainly composed of green screen effects, GRAVITY looks absolutely astonishing and feels real. In one moment, I was gripping the sides of my armrests and in the next, I was getting teary-eyed as the exasperated Ryan was finding her every effort to survive this ordeal becoming more difficult. George Clooney is a guy who cares about films as art, despite what some of his projects have shown (he is still ashamed of BATMAN & ROBIN to this day). He’s instantly likable as Matt Kowalski and does everything in his power to keep the two of them alive. He also frequently reassures Ryan that they’ll be okay.

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The real star of the film is Sandra Bullock though. She gives the best performance of her career and I will be surprised if it doesn’t garner her any nominations come awards season. I’m sure that there are some scientific mistakes that certain people will be more than happy to point out to the casual viewer. However, there was only one I noticed enough to annoy me and it was explained in a solid way. Films can be amazing, mind-blowing pieces of entertainment as well as stunning pieces of art. GRAVITY does both perfectly.

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Even though some bits of dialogue are given revealing more about a past tragedy in Ryan’s life, the film never once leaves the sides of the characters. We don’t get cheap flashbacks or scenes showing a devastated NASA group trying to figure out if anybody has survived the debris. Instead, we stay with the characters and it makes for an even more intense film, especially after one heartbreaking scene in particular.

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Director/co-writer Alfonso Cuaron paints a story with the biggest canvas ever: outer space. The sets (or lack thereof) make for an adventure that you’re not likely to ever forget. Boasted with two amazing performances and top-notch special effects, GRAVITY never once cheats the viewer on anything. It doesn’t run at a real-time pace, but you’ll find yourself tensing up all the way through. My arms were sore after seeing the movie from all the times that I clenched up. It’s an thrill-ride, but a beautiful and astounding one at that. As much as the word is overused, it applies to this film. GRAVITY is an epic masterpiece!

Grade: A+

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