Monday 24 October 2016

Minions: shiny happy beings that aren't mellow yellow

Minions Animation/family. Starring: Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Saunders. Directors: Kyle Balda/Pierre Coffin. Cert: U HHHII

By now, it's likely that you've seen Minions' little yellow animated devils everywhere: on bus shelters, in supermarkets and beyond. Most parents are already keenly acquainted with the break-out stars from the hugely successful Despicable Me franchise… but can these hyperactive, yippy little creatures carry their own movie?

Well, yes and no. The titular Minions have a limited vocabulary, but that doesn't mean the rascals are not endlessly charming. There's something satisfying, too, about how Minions acts as a sort of origin story for the little critters.

Their raison d'etre is to service baddies and villains, and their long search brings them to the threshold of evil villain Scarlett Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock). Scarlett looks a bit like a fashion magazine editor, but make no mistake, she's as bad a baddie as can be; a villain on the rise with world domination in sight and the ambition to pull it off. But the Minions are not exactly employees of the month, in this or any other age.

After botching the job time and time again - by killing Dracula with a surprise birthday party or booting Napoleon into oblivion with his own cannon - the Minions find themselves in the 1960s, where Scarlett enlists their services.

Chaos ensues, as well it might when accident-prone, yellow tubular people are involved. With Bullock and Jon Hamm on board (Hamm voices Scarlett's sort-of sappy love interest, Herb Overkill), the film is in safe hands. Neither of them, from the sounds of things, are simply dialling in these performances, and Minions is all the more entertaining for them.

It's a zippy, silly and fun ride, packed with gags (although the Minions' relentless non-English yapping, voices by directors Balda and Coffin, may grate on audiences after a while). Adults will appreciate the visual attention to detail and the ever-so-slight dark underbelly, while kids will eat the cuteness right up.

Whatever becomes of the box-office fortunes of Minions this summer, parents may as well be warned from the outset… set your wallets to 'fork out for yet more yellow stuff'.

Slow West

Action/Western. Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorious, Andrew Robertt, Edwin Wright. Director: John Maclean. Cert: 15A

When it comes to carving out a lasting movie career, Michael Fassbender appears to be doing things right. Not for him the ceaseless carousel of premieres, parties and aftershave campaigns.

Fassy appears to have swapped out celebrity for something far less ephemeral and more intelligent, choosing instead a handful of considered, slow-burn roles.

And after climbing to prominence on the back of great directors and A-list stars, Fassbender provides the Hollywood horsepower for his latest film. Here, he stars as Jay Cavendish, the shady and enigmatic outlaw in 19th-century America who takes Silas Selleck (Kodi Smit-McPhee) under his wing.

Silas is a 16-year-old emigrant from Scotland, travelling on horseback through the unforgiving plains in search of his love, Rose (Caren Pistorious).

Silas is a member of the landed gentry, meaning he's a bit wet behind the ears when it comes to surviving the new world. Jay offers to be his guide, and it's not long before we realise that he has ulterior motives.

Shot largely in New Zealand, Slow West sets the screen ablaze with some truly stunning vistas. The movie looks exquisite, those stretching, arid landscapes providing as much tension as any character.

As Western heroes go, Jay is no great shakes. Yet Fassbender breathes a moody magnetism into the character. Conversely, Kodi Smit-McPhee, with his boyband lips and sword-sharp cheekbones, is certainly one to watch for the future. Silas is something of a naïve, passive anti-hero, so it's not a role the promising young Scotsman can really sink his teeth into. But greatness awaits the actor, no doubt about that. Kudos, too, is due to Ben Mendelsohn, who plays Payne, another menacing outlaw.

Slow West is bleak, moody and atmospheric at times, though the action occasionally falls off the knife-edge.

There's enough tension and pace to keep an audience engaged, and the plod across the plains is occasionally broken with some blood-spattered action. As should be the case with any decent Western, it becomes clear that there was never such a thing as the good old days.

Jay and Silas don't quite have the sort of bromance that will last through the cinematic ages. Still, there's something about their dynamic - a mystery even to them - that will stay on your skin long after the credits have rolled.

She's Funny That Way

Comedy. Starring Imogen Poots, Rhys Ifans, Owen Wilson, Ileana Douglas, Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, Cybill Shepherd. Director: Peter Bogdanovich. Cert: 15A

In the annals of Hollywood history, Peter Bogdanovich remains a stone-cold heavyweight. With immortal classics like Paper Moon, The Last Picture Show and What's Up Doc? to his name, the 75-year-old is synonymous with the golden age of cinema. Which makes his recent slide into small-screen oblivion all the more puzzling.

Of late, Bogdanovich has been ratcheting up several TV directing credits (and has five acting roles on the slate this year). A new Bogdanovich classic, ready to join the annals of the greats, has been a long time coming. Alas, the wait isn't over just yet. Still, Bogdanovich's name is respected in Hollywood, which is likely how he managed to amass quite a stellar cast.

Heading the charge is Owen Wilson, playing theatre director Arnold. A fan of luring pretty young things into bed, he happens upon working girl Izzy (Imogen Poots). So taken is he with her candid, earthy charm that he offers her $30,000 to quit the day (er, night) job and pursue her long-held dreams of stardom. As luck would or wouldn't have it, his actress wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) is no stranger to love triangles herself. Seth (Rhys Ifans) is an ex-lover and former co-star who looms into view.

Izzy auditions for a part in Arnold's latest production opposite Delta, kickstarting a chain of romantic collisions, mid-life crises and near-misses. So far, so Woody Allen.

Now, I'm all for staying true to a genre (in this case Bogdanovich's beloved screwball comedy). Still, it's almost embarrassing even, to see how many of Woody Allen's beloved tropes Bogdanovich has shamelessly pilfered: the loveless marriage, the sparring intellectuals, the cheeky jazz soundtrack, the moments of French farce comedy, the ingénue Brooklyn call girl with a heart of gold. It's a miracle Arnold didn't grow up under the Coney Island rollercoaster.

Sadly, the cracking one-liners that make Allen's repetitive films bearable are few and far between here. And a whole load of wacky coincidences does not a great film make.

She's Funny That Way is not without its plus points: Imogen Poots lights up the screen, while Kathryn Hahn effortlessly earns her pay cheque. Alas, the film is nowhere near as great as the sum of some of its parts.

Filmmaking and screenwriting has come on in leaps and bounds since that golden era of cinema in the 1970s. It's just a shame no-one remembered to tell the master.

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