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New release film reviews - 20 June
DESPICABLE ME 2 ****1/2 (98 minutes) PG
Three words best describe this film: funny, funny, funny.
As naturally suspicious as we are of sequels, Despicable Me 2 is the type of cinematic extension that restores your faith in follow-ups.
Stuck in high gear from go-to-whoa and bearing all the fabulously exaggerated character trademarks from the hit 2010 film (it took $543m), DM2 is actually faster, funnier and crazier than the first.
Former super-baddie Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has settled into suburban life with his adopted daughters Margo, Edith and Agnes, and his hilarious little yellow minions, who vary in number from a few dozen to several thousand.
Gru is pressed back into service to help fight new villain on the block Eduardo (voiced by Benjamin Bratt, replacing Al Pacino who left the production at the 11th hour due to "creative differences".).
With the minions stealing more than their fair share of scenes (they're getting their very own film in 2014), and Gru's new-found paternal instincts giving the film a nice emotional core, the film's breakneck pace is coupled to a gag quotient that delivers a laugh about every 10 seconds.
This is actually something fresh. It's almost become mandatory in new-millennium animated films to have scenes with slower, dramatic moments to highlight some serious theme or under tone.
Those sombre sidebars are gloriously absent here; directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud (who did the first one) seem intent on proving that you can develop character and story points without having to slow things down.
Here's to the next Despicable adventure.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY *** (110 minutes) G
In yet another off-the-boil film from hit factory Pixar, we visit huggable monsters Sully (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) in their youth as they attend uni to learn how to scare.
Focussing largely on Mike's battle to overcome his inferiority complex for not being scary enough, the film, while boasting the high standard of animation Pixar has conditioned its global fanbase to expect, quickly slips into campus comedy cliches, such as the ones we just saw in The Internship.
The debt these two films owe to Animal House (1978), Revenge of the Nerds (1984) and even the Rodney Dangerfield lark Back to School (1986) is huge - though, to be honest, it's unlikely six year olds will notice how derivative the film is. It'll only be a bother to the adult patrons Pixar has fought hard to courts.
So while MU is fine family fare, it is something of a letdown. Creatively, there's clearly something going on at Pixar. Although the studio has long prided itself on innovation with each new film, Cars 2 proved that its story department is just as prone to laziness and cliche as anybody.
This film confirms that, and though MU is consistently enjoyable and never less than entertaining, it does have a quality of sameness that we never used to associate with Pixar pictures.
Still, whatever you do, don't be late for Monsters University, lest you miss The Blue Umbrella, a beautiful short film from Pixar about two umbrellas who fall in love during a down-town downpour. A showcase for a new brand of photo-realistic animation techniques, it's an absolute gem.
WORLD WAR Z *** (116 minutes) M
It's zombies-versus-Bad Pitt in this frazzled, jumpy, here-comes-the-apocalypse action lark.
Directed by Marc Foster (Quantum of Solace) with an eye on maintaining a joke-free docu-realism, it pits Pitt's retired UN investigator against a growing number of rabid, fast-running zombies, the result of a plague that is giving people a hunger for human brains. And it's fun.
But why subject yourself to more zombies, pray?
After all, we've had zombies coming at us without relent recently: The Walking Dead; Shaun of the Dead; Dawn of the Dead; Day of the Dead; Warm Bodies; The Crazies; Resident Evil; I Am Legend; Evil Dead; 28 Days/Weeks Later; The Cabin in the Woods; Quarantine, etc, etc. It's Zombiemania.
So what makes this zombie offering different enough to warrant your hard-earned?
Simple: the scale.
Foster has gone to great lengths to make you really feel the earth is being rapidly overrun by The Undead.
In one neo-classic set-piece, a walled Jerusalem is beset by zombies who climb over each other to form unhuman mountains. It's a bizarre, strangely beautiful sight, especially when seen from above.
As has been widely reported, the film was beset with production and script problems, including a frantic bid to rewrite the ending.
All this no doubt accounts for the film's choppy, episodic pace. It also features one of the world's fastest propeller-driven cargo planes, as Pitt flies from a zombie-ravaged America, to Korea, to Israel in the blink of a few edits.
Another reliable tell-tale sign that the film had trouble is the lack of a final action pay-off to top the Jerusalem scene. All the production hassles apparently blew the movie's budget out from $125m to a whopping $200m. Yeow.
Still, it's not enough to hobble what is a roaring good, bloody block party with The Undead.
But why all the zombie stuff? And why now?
Here's a theory: the appeal of having an unstoppable, emotionless enemy that you simply must kill in order to survive is obvious in this era where everyone is supposed to be politically hyper-sensitive about not offending anyone.
This is why, like Nazis, zombies are a safe bet as baddies. Especially when they attack en masse. What fun.
ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY *** (102 minutes) M
Motivated by the death of his baby son, genetic scientist Geoff Burton (Michael Eklund) searches for the cure of a virus being developed at a German lab. A tight, twisty little sci-fi thriller, directed with skilful economy by Eron Sheean. Rik Mayall - forever Rik from The Young Ones and Alan B'Stard from The New Statesman - puts in a good performance as the head of the research centre.