DESPICABLE ME (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and mild Action

Directed by: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Voices of: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Diana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig & Julie Andrews

DESPICABLE ME was released in 2010 to massive financial success, launched the popular yellow-pilled creatures known as Minions, and served as Illumination’s first feature film (the company has since become a major competitor for DreamWorks, Pixar, and Disney). Even though this film made a big impression on the animated film market and audiences, I find DESPICABLE ME to be bit overrated. It wasn’t even the best animated sensitive supervillain film of 2010. That distinction belongs to DreamWorks’ MEGAMIND. However, this film sports colorful animation, some clever jokes, and enough charm to overcome an overly familiar storyline and narrative faults.

Bald supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) has been depressed because another supervillain has recently taken the limelight away from bad guys everywhere by stealing Giza’s Great Pyramid. In order to reign supreme as the greatest supervillain of all-time, Gru decides to enact a plan to steal the moon. To do this, he’ll need to steal a shrink ray from rival villain Vector (Jason Segel) and adopt three orphaned girls Margo, Edith, and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Diana Gaier, and Elise Fisher) to unwittingly assist him. As his plan moves forward, Gru begins to grow a soft spot for his three new daughters, much to the dismay of his mad scientist colleague Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand).

DESPICABLE ME walks the tightrope of trying to be colorful and innocent enough for young children, while also supplying enough dark humor and mature jokes for older viewers to enjoy. While it mostly maintains this balance, things occasionally slip too much into little kid territory. There are really fun jokes revolving around Gru living a totally inappropriate life for a family (including one hilarious bit involving a torture device) and his gradual acceptance of his new children is very cute to watch, but the overall story is too simple and not nearly as clever as it tries to be. The latter is especially epitomized by Jason Segel’s lackluster villain. This antagonist is just plain boring and a would-be conspiracy around him feels like a half-baked development in the proceedings.

Steve Carell’s voice is unrecognizable as Gru, aided by a strange accent. Meanwhile, Cosgrove, Gaier and Fisher are convincing as the three adopted daughters, with Fisher’s adorable Agnes guaranteed to melt even the hardest of hearts. These characters are further aided by vibrant animation that breathes life into a world of supervillainy with regulations. One big plot point revolves around Gru trying to secure a loan from an evil bank to finance his diabolical deeds. The film also succeeds in its yellow pill-shaped Minion moments. Some people may utterly despise the Minions with every fiber of their beings, but I’m in the group that loves these hilarious creations. The Minion scenes have just the right combination of potty humor, immature antics, and fish-out-of-water slapstick.

DESPICABLE ME’s plot may be a bit too basic and the overall film is overrated in the grand scheme of things (MEGAMIND is miles better and its second installment is a bit improvement too). Still, this is a fun piece of family entertainment that’s sure to keep younger viewers occupied, while supplying a decent supply of laughs for teenagers and packing in enough sentimentality for parents (especially seeing that the whole movie revolves around a new parent adjusting to having three new additions to his family and growing a heart). DESPICABLE ME is decent. Not great, not really good…but just decent.

Grade: B-

11:14 (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexuality and Pervasive Language

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Directed by: Greg Marcks

Written by: Greg Marcks

Starring: Henry Thomas, Barbara Hershey, Clark Gregg, Shawn Hatosy, Hilary Swank, Patrick Swayze, Rachael Leigh Cook, Stark Sands, Colin Hanks, Ben Foster & Jason Segel

11:14 is a work of pure creativity and genius storytelling! To describe the film as a mere anthology would be doing a disservice to just how well-constructed the whole thing is. Playing out sort of like a rural PULP FICTION, this is a cinematic puzzle about a group of shady individuals connected by a single moment. Featuring lots of big names and stylish flare as well as a wickedly sick sense of humor, I can imagine 11:14 pleasing fans of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers. Yes, it’s that good!

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11:14 pm on a rural road. An intoxicated man is driving to pick up a friend when he has the misfortune of slamming his car into a random somebody. Trying to cover up evidence of his crime (e.g. a corpse), the man comes face-to-face with a frustrated police officer. In the same town, a group of teenage jackasses are driving around in a van doing misdeeds when tragedy strikes in the form of a sliding window. A couple of blocks away, a father is trying to cover up the grisly consequences of the sins of his daughter. Just down the street from him, two convenience store clerks are botching a would-be robbery. These events interweave through each other and every plotline is connected in some way. The story of 11:14 is about a car accident and everything leading up to that. Everything just happens to be executed in brilliant form!

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The script of 11:14 is littered with accidents, cover-ups, insane characters and random acts of violence. The film as a whole is a collage of different stories and people. With what little screen time each performer is given, they all manage to get across exactly what kind of scumbag their individual character is. A young Colin Hanks and Ben Foster are appropriate as idiot teenagers, one of which makes an unfortunate decision involving a foreboding sliding car window. Hilary Swank is totally off her usual role as a brace-faced clerk who doesn’t exactly have the highest IQ. Henry Thomas is convincing as the drunk driver caught up in the middle of the deadly hijinks surrounding him, but is probably the least used character. Rachael Leigh Cook shows up as a beautiful femme fatale living in this podunk town. It’s also worth noting that a young Jason Segal makes an appearance as an ambulance driver. With all these big names, Patrick Swayze really steals the show as a father doing bad deeds with good intentions.

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The weaving plotlines and ridiculous (but believable) characters really sell 11:14. The style in which it’s told is also remarkably assured. This was director/writer Greg Marcks feature debut and to date, he only has one other movie to his name. That’s a pity because I would love to see many more stories told in this vein from him. Though the tone of 11:14 is pretty bleak and grim all the way through (seeing as death and violence are both present), there’s also a hilarious dark sense of humor layered over everything. This really did remind me of an early Tarantino flick and that’s probably the highest compliment you can receive on a film of this type. If there are any complaints to be had with this movie, I would say that two subplots didn’t necessarily have a conclusion (the drunk driver segment and the teenager one), while another lingered longer than was necessary (the botched robbery). However, those are totally satisfying in spite of their minor flaws. The film fits together as a nearly perfect creation.

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11:14 might be one of the coolest movies that you’ve probably never heard of. This flick is all-around great, blending together multiple storylines in an entertaining way and throwing pitch-black comedy into the mix as well. The big name cast add even more fun to the proceedings, especially seeing these actors and actresses playing parts that are so out of their usual type-cast roles. 11:14 is awesome, plain and simple. This is a must-see!

Grade: A

SEX TAPE (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and some Drug Use

SexTape poster

Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Written by: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe, Jack Black

In Summer 2011, director Jake Kasdan delivered BAD TEACHER. That R-rated comedy was a decent flick and struck a nice balance between crude and sweet. Two years have passed and Kasdan has returned with SEX TAPE. The title alone gives the impression that this will be a more relentlessly raunchy effort this time around. I was actually pretty excited to see this film given the promising premise and a solid trailer. Unfortunately, I can count the number of funny moments on one hand. This is especially disappointing given that Kasdan has done hilarious work in the past (WALK HARD), as have stars Cameron Diaz (THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY) and Jason Segel (FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL). SEX TAPE is bad for a whole lot of the reasons, but most of them all lead back to a lazy script.

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Jay and Annie are a married couple who were once passionate lovers and now have fallen into the monotonous trap of a sex-free marriage. Trying to rekindle a spark in their life in-between the sheets, Annie suggests that they record themselves having sex in every position imaginable. The couple have a steamy, awesome night. Their video winds up being an epic length of three hours long and Jay is tasked with deleting the footage. However, Jay makes the horrifying discovery that their sex tape has been synched to the cloud and is now available on all the iPads they handed out as gifts to their friends and family. In a race against time and the possibility of their sex going viral, Annie and Jay try to recover all the iPads and delete the footage. This is easier said than done.

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Despite having a believable relationship together in BAD TEACHER, there’s a whole lot of forced chemistry between Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel this time around. One of the biggest problems with SEX TAPE is that the movie is a jumbled mess with different tones that change from scene to scene. Sometimes, it’s tries to go profane, but it mostly takes an oddly out-of-place romantic-comedy angle. In a movie called SEX TAPE that revolves around an outlandishly crude premise, a rom-com view feels like an odd way to approach this material. It’s not even as if anybody’s trying either. Jason Segel is running around doing slapstick. Cameron Diaz says a couple of swear words. Finally, even some of the score from BAD TEACHER was recycled here and stuck out like a sore thumb.

SEX TAPE, from left: Rob Lowe, Cameron Diaz, 2014. ph: Claire Folger/©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Eve

The movie is completely predictable in a whole lot of areas. Some obvious foreshadowing at the beginning gives the viewer an idea of how a scene will play out in the final 10 minutes of the film. The R-rating goes nearly wasted here. There are swear words and some quick comedic sex scenes, but nothing to write home about. The script is also crammed with repetitive jokes. One scene involving a group of people listing off dirty websites might have earned a chuckle, if it had been summed up in a single sentence. Instead, the one joke keeps running for about three full minutes. I was actually getting aggravated and wanted to yell at the screen “Get on with it, already!” Though we never see the actual sex tape (which might have easily earned an NC-17 for pornographic content), there are pieces shown at the tail-end of the film. Instead of serving as a payoff to any of the dusty jokes and frantic situation that we watched play out over this three-hour-long video, these bits only serve to pad out the already desperate running time. At least, SEX TAPE passed by quick!

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I can say a couple of nice things about SEX TAPE though. There is one really funny sequence (briefly glimpsed in the trailers) that involves Cameron Diaz’s character trying to retrieve an iPad from her new boss (Rob Lowe). It lasts about 10 minutes and I was laughing quite a bit. The scene escalates in so many ways and a running gag involving Disney paintings through the house was cracking me up. If the rest of the film had been as funny as that 10 minute stretch, then this would have been a worthwhile comedy. Rob Corddry isn’t up to his usual hilarious standards, but manages to outshine every person on-screen. Some of his moments also got a few chuckles out of me.

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SEX TAPE is bland, boring, and lazy. The screenplay (written by three people including Jason Segel) doesn’t take advantage of a raunchy premise. A few half-hearted moments aim for sweetness rather than outrageous laughs. It’s a tonal mess and feels like nobody is putting any effort into this film. I laughed for Rob Lowe’s memorable scene and a few moments featuring Rob Corddry in a supporting role, but those are the only times I even cracked a smile. It’s a disappointing lackluster comedy all around. The trailer was like foreplay and the actual movie left me with a case of comedic blue-balls.

Grade: D

THIS IS THE END (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Crude and Sexual Content throughout, brief Graphic Nudity, Pervasive Language, Drug Use and some Violence

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Directed by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Written by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Paul Rudd, Channing Tatum, Martin Starr, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari & Jason Segel

For the nearly a decade, some of the best comedies have starred a recurring group of faces. THIS IS THE END gathers all of these actors, who have seen gone on to have sprawling careers, together for a satirical apocalyptic comedy in which they play exaggerated versions of themselves. Chock full of references to these actors’ past films, but never resorting to pop culture gags that would have made the film age horribly, THIS IS THE END is a hilarious star-studded comedy that revels in the R-rated material. The humor is full of bad taste and the crass sensibilities make it a delightfully irreverent time. This is a comedy unlike anything else done within the genre and (if it were even attempted another time) it’s unlikely that lightning could strike twice with the success of this formula.

Seth Rogen;James Franco;Danny McBride;Craig Robinson

Jay Baruchel has flown into Los Angeles to reunite with Seth Rogen. Rogen knows that Jay is uncomfortable in the setting of LA and convinces him to go to a house-warming party at James Franco’s newly constructed home. The party is packed full of stars, sex, and drugs. It also happens to be the night that literally all hell breaks loose. Beams of light shoot down from the sky, riots begin, sinkholes form, and monsters roam the outside world. In order to stay alive, the six remaining surviving actors (Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride) barricade themselves in Franco’s pad, but soon find that the horror outside is nothing compared to tolerating each other in close quarters.

Seth Rogen;Jay Baruchel;Jonah Hill

Script-wise, THIS IS THE END feels like it isn’t so much a story, but is an elaborate feature-length skit. The characters are all stereotypes of how one might joke about how all celebrities act when they’re off the screen. The opening party sequence is where plenty of other familiar faces pop up. The funniest of which is most certainly Michael Cera, who plays himself in a way that skewers any preconceived notions of being a wimpy awkward nerd. Cera is only on-screen for a limited amount of time (much like a majority of faces in the first act), but he had me laughing the hardest. The chemistry between our six leads feels convincing enough to make things entertaining. Out of the leads, Danny McBride was my favorite and also leads to one of the best cameos I’ve ever seen.

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The fast and loose style of the plot leaves a lot of room for imaginative scenarios playing out. Some scenes are better than others. One scene involving Jonah Hill felt forced and wasn’t funny in the slightest. When things began to lose my interest, someone or something else captured it again. At nearly two hours, the film feels a little stretched, but it doesn’t detract from the fun being had. The effects are fantastic too. This is a comedy (of all things) that manages to nail the scope of spectacle better than a ton of other movies that were released in the summer movie season 2013. My biggest problem came in the final moments of the film. This is where some of the jokes in the entire film appear (e.g. the aforementioned cameo or the return of a certain character). How things actually concluded felt a little tired though. It was as if directors/writers Rogen & Goldberg were so busy going all-out on the humor overload they had worn themselves out when bringing everything to a close.

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THIS IS THE END isn’t going to be for everybody. It’s essentially one big long in-joke. The script is a loose narrative (to say the least) that allows for the cast members to go crazy in their exaggerated roles of themselves. It’s loaded with a lot of bad taste humor, foul language, over-the-top gore, and amazing effects. Despite the problems I had with the ending and some of the worn-out jokes, everything else is so well executed and hysterical that this warrants a recommendation. It might not be for those who haven’t seen any of the other films these actors have starred in. For fans of their previous work, THIS IS THE END is a blast!

Grade: B

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