Sep 032013

The minions (and Gru) return in this mad, action-packed sequel. Becca investigates…

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since Gru, the bald, evil villain (with the most unidentifiable accent), and his hilarious minions exploded onto our screens. I watched it a week ago, and was struck by how often I found myself in fits of ache-inducing laughter (honestly, I was in a lot of pain). With this in mind, I was unsure – even sceptical – that Despicable Me 2 would be any better. Silly me.

Gru has turned his back on his villainous past to become a more hands-on dad to his adopted daughters, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith and Agnes (who is as adorably odd as ever). He has also started up his own business, making jams and jellies, with Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), though his old friend would much rather be playing the evil scientist he has always been.

Life is boring, but good…until a mysterious woman named Lucy dramatically shakes things up. She kidnaps Gru and takes him to Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), the head of The Anti-Villain League – and he needs Gru’s help. A dangerous purple chemical called PX-41, that can turn people into mad, powerful versions of themselves, has been developed by an unknown baddie, and it seems only a former baddie can figure out who it is. Despite initial grumblings, Gru can hardly resist playing spy (although he is less than pleased to have Lucy as his partner), and it isn’t long before he’s getting into all kinds of slapstick hilarity.Despicable Me 2

This is what sets Despicable Me 2 and its predecessor apart from any other animated feature, I think. The comedy is an outrageous mixture of physical and the just plain unpredictable, courtesy of an intelligent script and some of America’s finest comics providing the voices to bring it to life. Kristen Wiig, for example, is exceptional, playing a feisty secret agent with all the best gadgets, like a handbag that turns into a hand-glider (I want one!), and then of course there is Steve Carell. He reprises his role as Gru, and it’s here we see a more vulnerable side to the anti-hero, as he attempts to juggle being a good dad to his girls – imagine the shock he gets when Margo meets a boy! – and finding the culprit behind PX-41. And where would he be without his loyal minions? They once again steal the show, though this time they play a more pivotal role to the story, other than a healthy dose of belly-laughter.

So, this summer, I insist you take the kids to see this film. You will be so glad you did, and not just because they will enjoy it – you all will.

Rating: 4/5

Jun 062013

Becca reviews the latest  Star Trek sequel…

Star Trek into Darkness

Okay, I admit it; even though I proudly call myself a geek, before J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek in 2009, I had never watched a single episode all the way through, or any of the spin-off films, for that matter. In my defence, though, I tried watching the series when Patrick Stewart was Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but as I was only about seven at the time (and even though I really, really wanted to) I didn’t understand any of it. This was exactly why the film reboot was such a welcome breath of fresh air, because Trekkie newbies like me could appreciate and enjoy it almost as much as the hard-core fans.

Star Trek into Darkness is no different. As the title suggests, it takes the crew of the Starship Enterprise into much shadier territory than before. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and all the others are sent on a mission to find an unstoppable force hiding within their organisation, after a series of devastating terrorist attacks shakes it to its very core, one of which is partly carried out by a desperate – gasp! – Noel Clarke (Mickey fromDoctor Who! My Geek-radar is going nuts right now!). But who is the mastermind behind them all? A brilliant, relentless man with the very unassuming name of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, War Horse) – who also goes by the title of Kahn, which fans will be quite (ahem) familiar with.

It is terrifically fast-paced, blasting you off on quite the light-speed (hee!) rollercoaster ride, particularly when combined with the sheer power of IMAX (phew). As aforementioned, all the well-known characters return (my favourites are still Spock, and his strangely expressive, inexpressive face, and Simon Pegg’s Scotty, who is clearly having the time of his live playing this role, fulfilling a childhood dream), but there is new girl on board: Carol Markus (played by Trevor Eve’s daughter, Alice Eve), who appears to be quite a mysterious woman with some kind of hidden agenda. Now, I have no qualms over her acting ability, and though I would have liked her to have more to say, there is a scene that doesn’t fit with the pace of the film at all, and stood out strangely (and oh-so gratuitously) within the trailer. Okay, granted, I’m sure the majority of people going to watch this are young males, but gosh darn it, not everyone is, so didn’t feel completely necessary in this reviewer’s opinion.

Which brings me nicely on to Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn, and my goodness me; it looks as if Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has some competition as Most Complicated Geek Villain. For a start, Cumberbatch has the best voice for the role, one that can turn even the most trivial of sentences into something dark and sinister (which is why he is going to be playing Smaug in the next Hobbit film! Yay! More geeky happy feelings!); his performance as Kahn puts all the others actors to shame, with a simmering fury (insanity?) that never boils over. In short, he has the audience hanging on his every word, and you find yourself missing his dark, brooding presence when he’s not on screen.

Unfortunately, Star Trek into Darkness still has its faults. As I mentioned before the plot is incredibly quick, and this can be quite disorientating at times. A significant example of this comes nearer the end of the film (which I will try to keep vague for those who have yet to see it). Some important information for the story, concerning the Starfleet’s boss appears to have been forgotten in all the excitement and explosions. It left me scratching my head, wondering if perhaps the jarring vibrations of the IMAX had scrambled my brain a bit. Also, a fan-favourite species is mentioned and seen only briefly in a way that doesn’t justify how popular they are, which I found a bit disappointing.

All in all, though. Star Trek into Darkness is a thrilling roller-coaster of a film, with unexpected turns, hilarious squabbling between Spock and Kirk (as always, it never gets old), and a villain whose mere presence is enough to make him a cult favourite without the old films to look back on. I actually want there to be another sequel to this.

Rating: 4/5

May 112013

Robert Downey Jr reprises his role as Iron Man (hopefully not for the last time!); Becca investiagtes… 


Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes) is a broken man. The battle for New York may be long over (and the Avengers may have disbanded for now), but the memories are still very fresh. He is no longer quite the cock-sure playboy philanthropist; he’s having trouble sleeping and the mere mention of ‘New York’ results in severe panic attacks. So, to occupy that time, Stark has been developing more suits, as well as the technology to summon his suit without all the whirring screws and stuff we’re so familiar with.

While this is going on, an old ‘acquaintance’, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, Prometheus, The King’s Speech) is making goo-goo-eyes at Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow, Contagion) and has apparently found the answer to self-healing. Then there’s an eccentric terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsely, looking like a weird cross between Osama Bin Laden and Kill Bill’s Pai Mei), is making quite the name for himself hijacking America’s television networks, armed with messages that are surprisingly grandiose for a bad guy with that much tacky bling on his fingers. That’s a lot for one man to deal with, but is Iron Man still up for the challenge, or has (deep breath) New York left him too damaged to save the day? Answer: Just watch him.

There was never any doubt it was going to be a rough task for anyone to best the sheer awesome power ofAvengers Assemble, and I think – I think – Shane Black has pulled it off. It has (surprisingly intense) heart; the emotional side of the film is captured in a way that often makes it raw and painful to watch, thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s incredible performance. We’re so used to seeing him as (puts on dramatic voice) Tony Stark, this brilliant, supercilious guy who takes whatever comes at him with a cheeky, acidic comment and a twinkle in his eye, so it’s a real shock to see him this vulnerable, relying on his suits more and more to cope with all that has happened to him. This is demonstrated in a startlingly poignant moment when he’s having lunch with Rhodes in a crowded restaurant. A young boy and his sister approach them to have him sign a picture the boy has drawn of Iron Man being the hero of New York. This, of course, starts Stark off, causing a bit of a scene and eventually flying off in his suit which is stood (parked?) outside, waiting for him. It is here you realise how much his suits are a way of escape; they are safe…almost like a comfort blanket when Pepper isn’t around to comfort him, and even then, being with him is not always exactly a walk in the park for her either.

In contrast to this, Iron Man 3 is all about action and explosions, which doesn’t always juggle well alongside Stark and his demons. Sure, the finale is exciting (leaving many a fan squealing in delight), but everything is happening so fast, you’re left feeling a little bewildered when it’s all over, and the final scenes seem rushed, when they could be considered the most important part of the film (!).

Then there are the villains, and that is where the real holes start to appear. In hindsight, I think I came into the cinema expecting too much, hoping we would have someone complicated to hate/secretly love, perhaps like along the lines of Loki or Bane – but so much worse – for Iron Man to go all righteous hero on. But no. Not even close. Even now, a week after watching it, I still have no idea what Killian was trying to achieve, being the other bad guy. Revenge on Tony for ignoring his scientific ideas all those years ago? It seems such a petty reason for coming up with such a hazardous thing as being able to regenerate limbs out of what can only be described asfire. Was that in the comics? Because if it was, I’d probably let the script-writers off, but there is no explanation in to how that could possibly work at all. Also, though Kingsely is absolutely hypnotic as the Mandarin (apparently the crew all gave him a round of applause at the end of one particular scene), he cannot seem to decide which accent to speak in, which begs the question “who is he, really?” Prepare to be amazed…and confused, that’s all I’m saying.

All in all, Iron Man 3 is playful in some aspects, dead-serious in others, and that doesn’t always mix happily together. As great as it should be, you may leave the cinema at a loss for words over how this will eventually lead up to the sequel to Avengers Assemble (fingers crossed Robert Downey Jr will still be up reprising his role), and all the questions it leaves frustratingly unanswered. However, for a nice surprise, I suggest you stay until the credits are over. Shane Black takes Iron Man in a new direction that may or may not appease everyone (and makes the other films look way too intense). At least it’s more engaging than Iron Man 2.
Rating: 3/5