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-

THE NIGHT BEFORE (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

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

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Directed by: Jonathan Levine

Written by: Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Jonathan Levine & Ariel Shaffir

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon, Mindy Kaling & Lorraine Toussaint

I’m a fan of Seth Rogen. Though his comedies completely hinge on juvenile humor and an overuse of profanity, I really enjoy most of his films. Just last year, I gave good reviews to both NEIGHBORS and THE INTERVIEW. THE NIGHT BEFORE looked like Rogen and crew were taking on the holiday season with hard R-rated style. While the film definitely relies on juvenile humor and contains a ton of profanity (two elements that I’ve enjoyed in the past), it really struggles with its story and characters. The screenplay (constructed by four writers) can’t decide on whether this wants to be your typical Rogen vehicle or a Christmas Eve dramedy. Whatever the film wanted to be, it simply doesn’t function very well as it tries to be both of these things at the same time.

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Ethan, Isaac and Chris are three best friends who have made a tradition of hanging out on Christmas Eve for the past fourteen years. This originally sprung from Ethan’s parents dying in a car accident and leaving him with no family to celebrate the holidays with. Over a decade later, the annual routine of drunk traditions has gotten dull and repetitive as Isaac and Chris both have obligations in their adult lives, while Ethan remains a stunted man-child. Seeing as this is their last Christmas Eve out on the town together, Ethan obtains three tickets to the most exclusive Christmas party in the city. As the hours tick closer to the party, Chris attempts to track down a thief on the streets and Isaac experiences a hallucinatory journey of self-discovery thanks to a box of drugs.

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THE NIGHT BEFORE is an R-rated holiday comedy that falls victim to a wildly uneven tone. On one hand, it plays out like a typical Rogen vehicle, albeit a slightly lazy one. On the other, the film tries so hard to include an emotional core that only shows up for a couple of scenes. This sappy underbelly feels especially unearned during the last 20 minutes of the film. It’s not as if a crude comedy can’t be emotional (e.g. KNOCKED UP), but the story here is basic and relies on overly familiar set pieces. The tone of the film doesn’t match up when in one scene we have a supposedly heartfelt conversation about parenthood and then in the very next shot Rogen is hallucinating that his wife is a dragon beast. This is all complete with cartoony CGI hallucinations that we see. These moments aren’t plentiful, but they do stick out like a sore thumb.

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This all being said, Rogen definitely earns the biggest laughs in this otherwise lackluster film. It’s too bad that those laughs mainly come from two scenes in particular, one of which is mostly revealed in the trailer. There’s a NSFW phone conversation that had me cracking up and a church scene that had me rolling. The rest of the film only contains a handful of chuckles. The plot doesn’t do much to service the talents of its three main stars. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie are wasted here. Michael Shannon has more of a personality as a weird pot dealer than these two performers have as the main characters alongside Rogen. It’s worth noting that Shannon’s mere presence is far funnier than any of the actual scenes he’s been given. The rest of the cast contains a few familiar faces with Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell and Mindy Kaling who are decent enough in their roles, but serve more as set-ups to jokes rather than actual characters (which is what this script tries to make them by the conclusion).

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Suffering from unconvincing tonal shifts, stale jokes, and forced sentimentality, THE NIGHT BEFORE is one of the bigger disappointments that I’ve had this year. Rogen is definitely the best part of the film, but everything else is wildly uneven with a handful of chuckles and a plot that strains its running time. Aside from two solid sequences (one of which is given away in the trailer), THE NIGHT BEFORE is a mostly forgettable slog. Just stick to other R-rated Christmas comedies (e.g. THE REF, BAD SANTA) or pretty much any other Seth Rogen comedy out there. THE NIGHT BEFORE is a disappointing lump of coal.

Grade: D+

INSIDE OUT (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Thematic Elements and some Action

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Directed by: Pete Docter

Written by: Pete Docter, Meg LaFauve & Josh Cooley

Voices of: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Davis, Diane Lane & Kyle MacLachlan

From 2007 to 2010, Pixar really spoiled us. We received RATATOUILLE (one of my personal favorites), WALL-E, UP, and TOY STORY 3 for four consecutive years. After 2010, it was revealed that Pixar were mere mortals with the likes of a sequel (CARS 2), a so-so prequel (MONSTERS UNIVERSITY) and a enjoyable-yet-not-up-to-their-normal-standards original film (BRAVE). Now, we are receiving two original Pixar films in space of a single year. We get THE GOOD DINOSAUR in November and we currently have INSIDE OUT in theaters nationwide. This film was one of my most anticipated releases of 2015 and it exceeded all of my expectations. This is easily a stellar return to form for the Pixar that we all knew and loved. INSIDE OUT is an appropriately emotional and boundlessly creative adventure that will keep kids engaged and older viewers in a state of awe. It’s a wonderfully imaginative modern animated classic and I love everything about this movie.

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Riley is a young girl with five different emotions running around inside of her mind. There’s Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. These emotions all get along well enough and live in Headquarters, taking turns at the control panel of Riley’s mind for given situations. At the end of each day, memories are stored, with important core memories shaping various islands of Riley’s personality. When Riley moves to a new city with her parents, the five emotions are thrown into turmoil. This causes Joy and Sadness to accidentally be sucked out of Headquarters with Riley’s core memories. With three unqualified emotions (Disgust, Fear, and Anger) running Riley’s mind and her personality falling apart in the absence of her core memories, Joy and Sadness must make the seemingly impossible journey back to Headquarters in order to save Riley’s emotional state.

INSIDE OUT – Pictured: Anger. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

INSIDE OUT moves very quickly and has a lot of big concepts. This is a film that turns everyday life into an adventure. The landscape of Riley’s mind is massive and each piece of it (whether it be Imagination, Long-Term Memory, etc.) is executed with skill. I would guess that younger viewers can grasp most of these concepts pretty well in the way that the film presents them. The animation is beautiful, though that’s not a big surprise seeing that this is Pixar. Still, the way in which Riley’s mind is turned into this gigantic world is creative and awesome.

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While INSIDE OUT technically tells two parallel plot threads (Riley in the real world and the emotions inside of her head), they both blend perfectly into a single narrative. Riley is a likable girl and her parents are loving guardians. It’s not like we see as much of them as the emotions, but they give us a good idea as to what kind of people they are through their scenes. The emotions themselves are great! Just because they are technically a single emotion doesn’t mean that they don’t have character arcs. It sounds like that would be impossible, but the clever screenplay pulls it off brilliantly. Joy is a lovable character and we root for her from the very beginning. Sadness provides a lot of comic relief early on, but develops into a more serious presence later in the story. Anger, Disgust and Fear provide a lot of laughs. I was cracking up during their scenes. One moment involving Fear watching a dream is comedic gold.

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However, INSIDE OUT’s biggest strength comes in its emotional side. That may sound corny and obvious to say, but it’s true. I was surprised by how teary-eyed this movie was making me throughout. It’s not all Sadness though as the movie also has a lot of sentiment feelings about family and provokes nostalgic memories about growing up (e.g. jokes about catchy commercial jingles, imaginary friends, and forgetting pointless information learned in school). I know I wasn’t the only one having such a strong reaction to this film either. I could hear many older viewers in the audience who were on the brink of crying during a couple of scenes. It’s not nearly as sad as the first 10 minutes of UP, but it’s still really emotional in every way imaginable throughout.

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INSIDE OUT is a beautiful film! The story is clever, hilarious and deeply heartfelt all at the same time. The creativity on display is bound to spark the imagination of many viewers young and old. This is a clear return to form for Pixar and easily my favorite family film of 2015 thus far. I love this movie! It’s an emotional ride that I plan on revisiting many times in the near future! If you’re a Pixar fan or just a fan of great family movies, INSIDE OUT is a must-see!

Grade: A+

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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