Friday, July 17, 2015

The Small & the Large

Two good films have crossed my path this past week. One is getting all the buzz you would expect from a follow-up/prequel to the successful Despicable Me movies, but the other is not only flying under the radar, it's getting swatted by critics - I think unfairly. So let's talk Minions but let's also chat about Self/Less.

 First - Minions. Narrated by Geoffrey Rush, this film purports to explain how the minions first crossed paths with Gru. To be honest, I wasn't expecting too much from this one, figuring it was a quick cash cow for Universal. But as soon as the iconic studio logo was given the minion gibberish-language treatment, I decided that this might be a fun ride. True, Minions isn't ground-breaking, but it's entertaining for kids (our almost-teenage god-daughter might be a touch old for it, although she declared it "adorable" and seemed to have a fine time. Then again, she was with me and FryDaddy and we're just delights) and for adults. In fact, there are some great gags in here that will resonate far more with the adults than with the young 'uns. Given that the film is set in "swinging London" of 1968, you have a fantastic soundtrack and some great visual jokes (be on the look out for the Abbey Road one in particular). Vocal talent is strong, with Sandra Bullock as the supervillain Scarlet Overkill (I love that name!), the incomparable Jon Hamm as her gadget-building husband, Allison Janney and Michael Keaton as a lovely family teaching their children how to best climb the villain ladder of evil, and Jennifer Saunders (from Absolutely Fabulous) as the Queen of England, who's a tough broad. Go. Have fun. It's a lovely summer popcorn flick, with some sly things to say about the infamous "Hall H" at the world's largest pop culture gathering that is the San Diego Comic Con.

Self/Less is not getting much love from the critics, which is a shame. Starring Ryan Reynolds and Ben Kingsley, what you have here is a solid science fiction body-swap movie. (Plus, for fans of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, there's a nice bit in here about whether or not a slate can ever truly be "clean.") More psychological thriller and less CGI shoot-em-up, this is a film that summer just doesn't know what to do with. It's not an early Oscar showcase picture and it's not intended to be a summer blockbuster. Honestly, it's the sort of movie Hollywood used to turn out regularly - workmanlike, well-structured, and entertaining, but making no pretense of reinventing the genre. Sadly, that's not enough these days. Studios would rather churn out expensive 3D dreck that has a chance of making boatloads of money with the international market (which is more and more important - especially China) than risk far less money on a well-crafted, albeit smaller, picture. It's worth checking out - why, this film even made me forgive Kingsley for the mega-mess of his portrayal of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3.

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