DESPICABLE ME 3 (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action and Rude Humor

Directed by: Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Voices of: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews & Jenny Slate

One of three unexpected animated sequels in 2017’s summer movie season (alongside THE NUT JOB 2 and CARS 3), DESPICABLE ME 3 falls in the middle of its great-to-okay franchise. I feel that the first DESPICABLE ME is overrated and a bit bland, but has enough sweetness and laughs to barely overcome its many flaws. DESPICABLE ME 2 is Illumination’s best film (so far) and a sequel that easily surpassed its predecessor. MINIONS was an okay spin-off that had great moments, but was aimed far more at little kids than previous two DESPICABLE films. DESPICABLE ME 3 serves as an improvement over the first DESPICABLE film and its yellow pill-shaped spin-off, but falls beneath the still-superior second installment. This is a fun piece of family entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.

Former-supervillain-turned-good-guy Gru (Steve Carell) and agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) have been serving as husband and wife crime-fighting partners for the Anti-Villain League. After he’s thwarted by 80s-child-star-turned-evil-villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), Gru and his wife are fired. Things look grim for Gru until he receives an invitation from his wealthy long-lost twin brother Dru (also Steve Carell). It turns out that Dru is looking to get into supervillainy and hopes that Gru will assist him. Meanwhile, Lucy struggles to be a good mother towards Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).

DESPICABLE ME 3 has colorful, vibrant animation. The designs on a giant robot and certain backgrounds look pretty darn realistic, even though these settings are populated by cartoony characters. The film also excels in its Minion moments. The Minions were the funniest part of the first two DESPICABLE ME films and they (once again) steal the show here. Their subplot, which involves them revolting against Gru and serving hard time in prison, is filled with hilarious moments and one montage that ranks as one of the funniest bits of the entire DESPICABLE series.

The film falters when it comes to the more emotional side of things. The first DESPICABLE film had Gru adjusting to a newfound family life and the sequel had a love-interest for Gru alongside more hijinks of him parenting a preteen who was developing an interest in boys. The third DESPICABLE ME forgoes any emotional arc for Gru altogether as his brother storyline serves as simple comedic means to an end. The only emotional moments to speak of involve Lucy Wilde trying to adjust to motherhood and Agnes facing a blow of harsh reality towards her wild imagination. The former only makes up about five brief scenes of screen time and the latter is wrapped up in the space of 15 minutes.

The series’ more grown-up moments take a backseat for a plot that’s very predictable and feels like your average kids cartoon. Much like the MINIONS spin-off, DESPICABLE ME 3 is aimed for a much younger audience and barely attempts to put the same amount of effort into entertaining older viewers as it does occupying children’s short attention spans. One positive quality that might give adults a few chuckles comes in Trey Parker’s 80s-obsessed antagonist. His break-dance fighting (ripped off from ZOOLANDER), constant reminiscing over a bad TV show, wacky weapons, and references might get an occasional laugh or two, but this villain isn’t nearly as clever as he could have been and DESPICABLE ME 2’s El Macho still serves as the series’ best baddie.

There really isn’t much else I can say about DESPICABLE ME 3. This film ranks higher than the okay first entry, but is not on the same level of smart writing and emotional weight of the far-superior second film. The vibrant animation and fast pace are sure to keep this fun for children, while adults will likely get a few laughs out of it. The Minions easily steal the show, but that’s always been the case in this franchise. Meanwhile, the actual draw of this third installment in Gru’s long-lost brother doesn’t make much of an impact at all. If you liked the other DESPICABLE ME movies, you’ll like this one. However, just don’t expect anything really special.

Grade: B

DESPICABLE ME 2 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and mild Action

Directed by: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong, Elise Fisher, Dana Gaier & Moises Arias

DESPICABLE ME 2 has the benefit of being from the same pair of directors and two screenwriters who made the first DESPICABLE ME. It also serves as an animated sequel that’s superior to its predecessor in every possible way. Because the first film is out of the way and groundwork has already been laid for this franchise, DESPICABLE ME 2 hits the ground running with new material, more imagination, better humor, and memorable new characters. While the first film had a bland plot and just enough charm to barely overcome its faults, DESPICABLE ME 2 is a blast from start to finish.

Having adjusted to family life and newfound parenthood to three adopted daughters, supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) is recruited to The Anti-Villain League and partnered with potential love-interest agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). Together, Gru and Lucy go undercover at a mall to investigate a possible villain who’s hiding in plain sight. All the while, Gru’s Minions are being mysteriously abducted and eldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) finds love in a preteen boyfriend.

DESPICABLE ME 2 has two main plotlines occurring alongside two smaller subplots and hardly receives any time to drag. In careless hands, juggling multiple storylines may have wound up making this family-friendly animated sequel into an overly complicated mess. However, the team of directors and writers seem genuinely interested in furthering their established DESPICABLE universe and wind up with a sequel that’s vastly superior to their previous effort. DESPICABLE ME 2 is smarter, bigger, and funnier than the first film. Some of these qualities can be attributed to all around better storytelling which uses clever twists to produce big laughs and surprising revelations.

While the first DESPICABLE ME suffered from a thin excuse for a villain, this sequel has a much more colorful and entertaining antagonist in play. I won’t go into specifics about this baddie because this sequel slowly reveals their identity for bigger laughs and extra twists, but this person is a far more interesting villain than the last film’s Vector. Another improvement is that Gru’s relationship with his daughters is more believable and focused this time around. He has a unique bond with the cute Agnes, tomboy Edith, and maturing Margo. The interactions between this unusual family result in both heartwarming moments and hilarious bits. It’s especially funny to watch Gru’s escalating distress over Margo’s growing interest in boys.

Gru has a love-interest of his own in Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig, who previously played the strict orphanage owner from the first film) and their chemistry feels natural too. Lucy is quirky and Gru is awkward, but the two characters just seem (literally) made for each other. This romantic plotline is further hammered home by Gru’s bad childhood experiences with crushes and aggravated interactions with an annoying neighbor who keeps trying play unwanted matchmaker. It’s also worth noting that DESPICABLE ME 2’s Minions play a major role in the plot. I thought they were easily a highlight of the first film, but they get even funnier in this sequel and contribute to the main story in a big way.

DESPICABLE ME 2 isn’t a perfect animated film in that a few jokes fall flat and older viewers will be able to correctly guess where certain plotlines are heading from a mile away. However, this second DESPICABLE installment packs a few smart surprises for adults alongside big laughs, a soft heartwarming center, and energetic animation that’s always moving. DESPICABLE ME 2 is a sequel that outdoes the original in every way and (at least for me) currently sits as Illumination’s best film yet!

Grade: B+

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-

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.

Minions 1

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.

Minions 2

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.

Minions 3

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.

Minions 4

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-

FOXCATCHER (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Drug Use and a scene of Violence

Foxcatcher poster

Directed by: Bennett Miller

Written by: E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman

Starring: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave & Sienna Miller

Audiences were actually supposed to get FOXCATCHER in late 2013, but the studio delayed the film’s release by a full year due to an oversaturated sea of potential Oscar contenders. This is a case where the delay was actually a very positive thing because FOXCATCHER deserves every accolade that it could possibly receive. Based on the fascinating true story of the Schultz brothers and John du Pont, this chilling film slowly crept under my skin and left me shaken as the end credits began to roll. Those expecting a mere sports drama (a few people in my theater seemed surprised at how the dark events played out) better do some research before viewing this movie as it is the furthest thing from a feel-good film about Olympic wrestling than you could ever imagine.

FOXCATCHER, from left: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, 2013. Ph: Scott Garfield/©Sony Pictures

Mark Schultz won a gold medal during the 1984 Olympics, but constantly finds himself in the shadow of his older brother who won a gold medal in the very same Olympics. While Dave Schultz gets offered coaching positions and guest speaker opportunities, Mark has become a frustrated guy tired of being left unrecognized for the exact same accomplishment as his sibling. This is when John du Pont enters Mark’s life. John is one of the wealthiest men in the USA and has taken a keen interest in wrestling. He hires Mark to coach a team that’s destined for the Olympics, as well as provides excellent living conditions and forms a real friendship (seeming almost like a father figure). Not all is well with du Pont though. He’s socially awkward and becomes increasingly mentally unhinged. This puts Mark, Dave, and du Pont on a collision course of emotions that has devastating consequences that no one could have foreseen.

FOXCATCHER, Channing Tatum, 2013. Ph: Scott Garfield/©Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy Everett

FOXCATCHER is an appropriately depressing movie that stays mostly true to the real events. Though Mark Schultz has criticized his portrayal, it seems that Bennett Miller and the screenwriters nailed the hot-headed nature that seems to have been woven into this complex man. There’s a slow quiet intensity that creeps across the screen and into the crowd. This is aided by a haunting soundtrack and the story being kept on a semi-small scale. There are scenes of the team wrestling at the Olympics, but most of the story stays within the confines of “Foxcatcher Farm.” This also lends to a thick, brooding atmosphere of gloom that makes every scene that much more uncomfortable.

FOXCATCHER, Steve Carell, 2013. Ph: Scott Garfield/©Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy Everett

Before I dive into the main attraction of the cast, I’d like to point out that both Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo completely sold me in their performances. Mark Schultz’s extreme actions to stand apart from his brother make complete sense when watching the film. Channing Tatum demonstrates a highly impressive set of dramatic acting skills that he really hasn’t fully been given an opportunity to flex. This isn’t to say that Dave Schultz comes off as a condescending older brother, because it’s quite the opposite. Mark Ruffalo shows a ton of emotion and honest humanity in the older Schultz brother who happened to receive more fame, but loved his younger sibling more than anyone could imagine. The dynamic between Tatum and Ruffalo is simply fantastic. Now onto the obvious, Steve Carrell is scary in the role of du Pont. Going through an intensive make-up transformation, Carrell is the spitting image of the real du Pont and has plenty of talent to sell this socially inept, mentally disturbed person. In one scene, he might seem innocent and charming (mainly near the beginning), but he becomes terrifying in his erratic mood swings that get darker and more intense throughout.

MCDFOXC EC001

This actually brings me to my one complaint with this film. There are jumps in the final third that seem like Miller rushed through them in interest of a shorter running time (still slightly over two hours). However, the movie really could have benefitted from being about 30-40 minutes longer and a dramatic epic that was sure to further devastate the emotions of any viewer into a powdery dust. The notorious concluding event (look it up if you want to know more before venturing into this film) is covered in the space of less than 10 minutes, when the actual timeline of that event spanned across two full days. To make matters more frustrating, everything closes off with an underwhelming epilogue that wasn’t transitioned in a convincing way. FOXCATCHER’s conclusion mainly suffers from the problem of “If you’re going to tell this true story, then tell it completely right.”

FOXCATCHER, Steve Carell, 2013. Ph: Scott Garfield/©Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy Everett

Though it really could have benefitted from 30-40 more minutes in the final third, FOXCATCHER is a fantastically unnerving film. It’s boosted by amazing performances from all three leads, a highly interesting story, a haunting soundtrack, and thick atmosphere hovering over every frame. Don’t go in expecting to leave with an uplifted spirit as this film covers a harrowing true story. If you think you can handle the emotional devastation and are the slightest bit interested in this film (be it for the performances, how the actual events translate on the screen, etc.), FOXCATCHER comes highly recommended!

Grade: A-

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