Despicable Me 2

The onslaught of animated films continues with this sequel.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I wasn't the biggest fan of the first Despicable Me. I found the first film cute enough, but the film was never as evil as the main character was supposed to be nor cute enough that the film moved me in any way. The film was better than a lot of low-rent cartoons that have graced the screen but didn't hold a candle to most Pixar films that found a really good balance of heart and humor.

Evil villain Gru (Steve Carrell) has given up his evil ways and has now resorted to making various jams and jellies with his ever-frustrated gadget man Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand). Gru has become well-adjusted as a former villain with his three girls; Margo, Agnes and Edith (Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier). When Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) with the Anti-Villain League is ordered by her boss, Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan) to bring Gru in to work undercover, Gru struggles with his current life and that of returning to his past.

Once recruited, Gru and Lucy work undercover inside a mall as bakers while looking out for a supposed super-villain who is hiding within the mall. Gru immediately notices Eduardo Perez (Benjamin Bratt) whom he believes was once El Macho, the most macho of all villains. As El Macho apparently perished in the most mach death ever, eyes turn to other patrons in the mall. As Gru is away, Margo begins to notice boys; Eduardo's son, Antonio (Moises Arias) in particular while Gru's array of Minions begin disappearing.

If you liked the first one, this one feels like a solid continuation. The humor and heart feel the same, though I did enjoy Benjamin Bratt in full-on and somewhat-Al Pacino-like (funny considering that Al Pacino was initially cast and provided the original voice of Eduardo). The Minions still annoy me for the most part and the new voice additions of Steve Coogan and Kristen Wiig really don't provide much to the film. Wiig's role is to be the romantic interest while Steve Coogan is pretty much wasted in a small role.

Even though the feeling is that this is on par with the first film, I think Despicable Me 2 slightly improves over its predecessor. Some of the jokes were funny and Benjamin Bratt did infuse the film with some funny, if stereotypical, Mexican humor. This is a mixed bag of a film, but as a children's film, this does the trick and most adults would find this enjoyable enough.

The bottom line I guess, is that Despicable Me 2 is enjoyable enough.


Upstream Color

This film may provide my shortest review to date.

From writer/director/editor/basically every job associated with this film, Shane Carruth (Primer) comes an impossible to explain tale about two persons: Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Shane Carruth) who find themselves brought together by forces that they do not understand. Along their journey, they will share experiences, relive moments that never happened and stumble across pigs. Lots of pigs.

This is a film that really would take a couple of pages to describe, and by the time you have described what the film is about, you have ruined the whole movie. I don't want to ruin the whole movie for anyone curious about this film, so what I have given you is all the plot you will get. Either see the movie, or just cheat and go read the Wikipedia page with the plot breakdown.

This film is nowhere near on par with Shane Carruth's first effort: Primer. What we have instead is a film with some big ideas, but Shane Carruth isn't able to convey his ideas as well as was done in Primer. Here, the film feels somewhat more forced and also provides an ending that the film did not earn. What is set up as a relatively dark, science fiction film is then let down in the last 5 minutes by a happy ending that really undermines what came before.

The performances in the film are solid, especially with the low budget of the film. Shane Carruth is able to get good performances out of his female lead, and also provides a good supporting role. Carruth's directing is very good and makes good use of his locations on a limited budget along with providing some very good shots. The score is also well done and provides a good sense of mood when required.

This is just a really hard film to review as the material is dense (as would be expected) and also is more of a conversation piece than review fodder. Even though the film is very uneven, the run time never really dragged and  the movie did move along at a good pace. Some ideas and executions within the script do hold the film back, but as this is an original film, I certainly am happy to see something that doesn't end in a number.

I recommend the film, but also be sure to know what type of film you are in for.



The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Did I find a film that was worse than Movie 43? No, but damn if this film didn't try.

An interesting idea is undone by a our lead character, Burt, (Steve Carrell) being such an unlikable character that even if he was written well (he isn't) his personality turns you off to him and you really don't care about his failing career and whether or not he can return to glory (spoilers: he does).

After being inspired by renowned magician Rance Holloway, (Alan Arkin) a young Burt tries his hand at simplistic magic trick in elementary school. While perfecting his magic in school, Burt meets another school outcast, Anthony; the two becoming good friends and magic partners.

Flash-forward to the present: Burt and Anthony, now known as Anton Marvelton, (Steve Buscemi) are headlining Bally's Hotel with their large-scale magic tricks to dwindling audiences. Owner of Bally's, Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) begins looking at new avenues to boost sales while Burt and Anton grow apart. Just in time for them to separate, we get wacky and extreme magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) who continuously pops in and out of the film as a somewhat antagonistic and rival magician to Burt and Anton's act.

This film is an utter mess with no likable characters to side with, save for Anton. Of course, as Anton is the only sympathetic character in the film, the writer and director decide that Anton needs to disappear (see what I did there?) for most of the mid-portion of the film. What we are left with is unlikable Burt falling in love with a wanna-be magician Jane (Olivia Wide) while Steve Gray keeps showing up and really acting like he is in the wrong film.

As most people seem to think Jim Carrey may be the best thing in this film, he is more of an anomaly than something that actually elevates anything in this film to good. The character really doesn't come into direct contact with Burt and mainly is a side-story where Steve slightly intersects into Burt's life and then leaves it.

There really isn't much to say about the film. This really is a misfire from all angles: filled with awful performances, terrible writing and some of the most obvious "gags" of the year. Thankfully, Steve Carrell has the Despicable Me franchise, so he can shake this film off like a case of fleas.

Hopefully Jim Carrey, on the other hand, will have more luck with Kick-Ass 2.


Honestly, this review has been mostly written for the past month or so, but it's taken me this long to finish it. It just makes me sleepy. Where's Mark Buffalo when you need him?