Despicable Me 2 Review (Kirk Haviland)

despicable_me_2_2013_movie-HD

 

The writing and directing teams behind 2010’s smash hit “Despicable Me” have returned, minions in tow, with a follow up that furthers the transformation of former super villain Gru into all around good guy in “Despicable Me 2”. Universal and Illumination studios definitely know what worked best the first time around and have spent the time in the sequel to advance those storylines instead of just rehashing the original’s premise.

Despicable Me 2

Starring the voices of: Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier and Kristin Schaal

Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

In Despicable Me 2, Gru (Carrell) is recruited by the Anti-Villain League, rather forcibly by agent Lucy (Wiig), to help deal with a powerful new super criminal. The mission has Gru going undercover to find out who has taken a very deadly substance inside a shopping mall. Of course Gru’s minions and girls, Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Fisher), are all back attempting to help him out, and help him find love in the process. Meanwhile, Margo’s first boyfriend has Gru seeing red.

despicable-me-2-gru-is-kidnappedThe filmmakers behind Despicable Me 2 know exactly what the audience wants and they deliver in spades. Fans of the first film will be delighted with the sequel though the film has a much less original story than the first and because of that is not a strong a film overall, but part 2 may actually be funnier than the first. Despicable Me 2 is also the perfect launch pad/lead off point for the spinoff “Minions” movie that is slated for late next year. Gru and his minion’s antics seem to be front and center in this film, which leaves less time for the girls in this adventure and I suspect they will barely show up in the minion spin-off as the filmmakers have clearly identified that the minions are what the fans seem to want most.

despicable-me-2-paradiseThe 3D in the main film has its moments but is hardly necessary, but as with the first film the credits sequence filled with minion antics is crucial for 3D, in fact it’s some of the best 3D gag work ever put on film as it really pushes the boundaries of what ‘jumping off the screen’ really means.  The animation style has not changed, and why would it, but still manages to remain sharp and crisp. The gadget aspect of the first film has also taken a back seat here a more simplified spy plot. The work from the voice cast is very good though, Carrell seems completely comfortable in Gru’s skin, Wiig is a flighty delight and Bratt is excellent as the restaurateur who may or may not be the long thought dead legendary super villain and professional wrestler from Mexico ‘El Macho’.

 

despicable el machoWhile the story may be weaker, Despicable Me 2 delivers the laughs throughout providing some of the biggest laughs of the year and delivering a musical sequence at the end that rivals the equally hilarious “This is the End’s” final sequence for best musical based number of the year.  If Despicable Me 2 is any indication of what will come with the “Minions” movie, then you can be sure to see this movie junkie in the front of the ticket line.

Till Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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Ruby Sparks Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

Ruby Sparks Blu-Ray

Starring Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Elliot Gould and Steve Coogan

Written by Zoe Kazan

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox is the quirky comedy from writer/star Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks. Zoe, granddaughter of prolific director Elia Kazan, is following in the footsteps of her parents by writing Ruby Sparks.  Yet when it came to directing the film she was more than happy to let the tandem of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine fame take the lead. It’s been six years since Dayton and Faris stormed the indie scene with the runaway sensation of Sunshine, will Ruby Sparks make that six year span without a follow-up worth the wait?

29 year old high school dropout Calvin, who at 19 wrote a ground-breaking novel, lives a solitary existence in a giant house struggling to write his follow-up. On the advice and orders of his therapist (Gould) Calvin is assigned something to write and that night he dreams of a girl named Ruby (Kazan). Immediately inspired Calvin begins writing a new tome based on a supposed love story between Ruby and himself. His brother Harry (Messina) asks where the book is going and warns him that he’s written his ideal of a girl, but not a real person with his manuscript. Calvin awakes one morning to discover Ruby standing in his kitchen preparing breakfast, completely unaware she has sprung from his imagination. Ruby is the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” he has always fantasized about and this leads him to decide he will never write about her again, until she develops ideas and needs of her own. Calvin does what he swore he wouldn’t and starts rewriting their relationship, and Ruby herself. Of course things go drastically wrong and the real question becomes can Calvin let go of his controlling ways to allow someone else to exist, either in his life or on the page.

Ruby Sparks manages to assemble a great amount of talent behind and in front of the camera. Upon a second viewing the inspiration drawn from Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer and Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind becomes even more evident. Kazan’s smart script never becomes trite and pandering like some similar films tend to fall prey to, yet like the aforementioned films it stays the course and proves worth the journey. Paul Dano is fantastic here as Calvin, the awkward introvert faced with the gift of a lifetime that can’t seem to find a way to change his structured/controlling ways. Calvin’s Mother (Bening) and Step Father (Banderas) are the free spirited artistic type of people that served as inspiration in his writing of Ruby, yet he cannot get along with them. Kazan’s Ruby is the girl that Calvin has dreamed off, but she also has her own personality, goals and dreams. What could have been a one dimensional caricature becomes an intense and intimate portrayal in her capable hands.

Ruby Sparks also gets dark, real dark, in its 3rd act and to the credit of directors, Dayton and Feris, they do not let any of the dark scenes pass without impact. The inevitable scene where Calvin comes clean is particularly rough, and it’s never treated as flippant as actions and their implications are painfully played out. The ending is not completely satisfying if not predictable, but it’s far from enough to ruin the overall effect of the film.

The Blu-Ray is very limited on special features coming with 5 featurettes that total less than half an hour in length. The lack of a commentary track here is disappointing as both real life couples of Dayton and Feris and Kazan and Dano would most likely prove a fascinating listen. The featurettes being as short as they are only skim the surface of the production, but are fun none the less.

A film that survives multiple viewings, Ruby Sparks is the best type of romantic comedy, one that challenges the conventions of a relationship without resorting to typical conventions. Ruby still delivers on Blu-Ray and is a solid buy.

Till Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Ruby Sparks Review (Kirk Haviland)

Ruby Sparks (2012)

Starring Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Elliot Gould and Steve Coogan

Written by Zoe Kazan

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Actress Zoe Kazan may become a bit of a renaissance woman because of Ruby Sparks. Not only is she the female lead of the film, she also wrote it. Yet when it came to directing the film she was more than happy to let the tandem of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine fame take the lead. It’s been 6 years since Dayton and Faris stormed the indie scene with the runaway sensation of Sunshine, will Ruby Sparks make that six year wait for a follow up worth the time?

Calvin (Dano) is a now 29 year old high school dropout living a solitary existence in a giant house struggling to write his next epic novel. And oh yea,h as a 19 year old he wrote one of the “quintessential American novels” and has been unable to produce a follow-up since. On the advice and orders of his therapist (Gould) Calvin is assigned something to write and that night he dreams of a girl named Ruby (Kazan). Immediately inspired Calvin begins writing a new tome based on a supposed love story between Ruby and himself. His brother Harry (Messina) asks where the book is going and warns him that he’s wrote his ideal of a girl, but not a real person with his manuscript. After more obsessing, and weird discoveries around the house, Calvin awakes one morning to discover Ruby standing in his kitchen preparing breakfast, completely unaware she has sprung from his imagination. Unable to handle the situation and believing he is losing mind Calvin almost loses the literal girl of his dreams until he realizes she indeed has come to life. Ruby is the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” he has always fantasized about and this leads him to decide he would never write about her again (after showing his brother that she really is the girl he wrote by literally telling her what to do via his writing), until she develops ideas and needs of her own. Calvin does what he swore he wouldn’t and starts rewriting their relationship and Ruby herself. Of course things go drastically wrong and the real question becomes can Calvin let go of his controlling ways to allow someone else to exist, either in his life or not.

Ruby Sparks is another of the quirky comedies that have come out as counter-programming this summer like Safety Not Guaranteed and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Written by Kazan, Ruby manages to assemble a great amount of talent behind and in-front and behind the camera. With obvious inspiration drawn from Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer and Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Ruby does manage to deliver a very charming and entertaining film backed with strong performances from our leads. Paul Dano is fantastic here as Calvin, the awkward introvert faced with the gift of a lifetime that can’t seem to find a way to change his structured/controlling ways. Calvin’s Mother (Bening) and Step Father (Banderas) are the free spirited artistic type of people Ruby was based on, yet he cannot get along with them. Dano’s awkward manic energy works well in this context and he truly delivers an engaging performance here.  Kazan’s Ruby is that girl that Calvin has dreamed off, but she also has her own personality, goals and dreams. What could have been a one dimensional caricature becomes an intense and intimate portrayal in her capable hands.  Ruby Sparks gets dark, real dark, in its 3rd act and to the credit of directors, Dayton and Feris, they do not let any of the dark scenes pass without impact. The inevitable scene where Calvin comes clean is particularly rough, and it’s never treated as flippant as actions and their implications are painfully played out. The ending may not satisfy everyone, but it did work for me even if it was a tad familiar.

A strong script with solid direction that does not shy away from the darker, harder to watch situations of the script, Ruby Sparks goes farther into some of those darker places than most of the so called “romantic comedies” it will clearly be marketed as. Ruby Sparks is both charming and challenging at the same time and for that I give Ruby a recommend.

Till Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

Follow me on twitter @moviejunkieto

Contact me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

The Trip Review (Matt Hodgson) – Movies I Missed

The Trip (2011)

Starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

How? How did I miss this one? Back in late 2011 I was sitting in my apartment, the entire night ahead of me and I was considering leaving my warm living room to brave the cold streets in order to check out The Trip at a local Rep cinema. Well, the warm apartment won out and it’s taken me this long to actually see the film; I’m kicking myself. First a brief synopsis and then I’ll explain why I’m in love with The Trip.

The Trip follows Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, who play themselves, as they embark on a road trip in England in which they will be stopping at fine restaurants and sleeping in cozy inns. This entire trip is completely free of charge as Coogan has been asked by The Observer to write about his experience. Coogan was supposed to bring his young and attractive girlfriend, but she has backed out at the last minute. After trying a multitude of people he settles on inviting Brydon, who accepts. This turns out to be an unwise choice for Coogan as Brydon fills most of the silence in between courses with a plethora of impressions. Behind his annoyance with Brydon lies more serious problems for Coogan, he’s getting older and hasn’t settled down; the family oriented Brydon seems like his complete opposite.

The subject matter of The Trip is not the most dramatic and certainly not the most serious. In fact, as a narrative The Trip is not very strong at all, but the narrative (mostly improvisation from what I understand) is not why I enjoyed The Trip so immensely. Depending on our interests we all have real life individuals that we would love to listen to in an everyday context, when the lights, cameras, or whatever are not focused on them. I’m not saying that I’m a lifelong fan of Coogan or Brydon, but I do have a huge interest in film, and it was amazing to feel like an unnoticed third member at their dinner table as they joked, bickered, and spoke to each other with candor. On top of that, the film is filled with impressions by the two stars, many of which are quite good, but even the bad ones are hysterical to witness.

If the conversations between Coogan and Brydon were played out in front of a large audience, The Trip would feel empty. It’s the intimate locations at dinner tables across the beautiful English countryside that makes the viewer feel like they have a VIP ticket for a meal with two incredibly funny actors. If you require a dramatic storyline or a fast moving film, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you would like to witness something very different and incredibly entertaining for what it is, under no circumstances should you miss The Trip.

 

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