Despicable Me 3 Review

The Plot

Reformed supervillain Gru finds his new life as a hero thrown into turmoil thanks to a new adversary Balthazaar Bratt and the discovery that he has a long lost twin brother Dru. Meanwhile his loyal Minions question their place in Gru’s crime free adventures and his new wife Lucy comes to terms with being a mom to their adorable adoptive daughters.

The Good

Despicable Me perfectly combines the key elements of classic children’s entertainment. The absurdly popular Minions provide silly slapstick humour, an infectious soundtrack propels colourfully inventive action set pieces and Gru and his girls deliver a genuinely emotional message about ‘family’. It’s an increasingly well practiced formula which allows the forth film in the ever growing franchise to largely match audiences high expectations.

Steve Carrell slips effortlessly back into his vaguely eastern European drawl as criminal mastermind turned family man Gru. The Office star also manages to find enough vocal variety to play Gru’s flamboyant brother Dru as well, giving distinctive personalities to the Gru-some twosome as they bicker and bond.

Kristen Wiig clearly delights in returning as super-agent Lucy, giving her quest to become a ‘super mom’ a perfect balance of humour and heart. South Park co-creator Trey Parker is also a great fit for new villain, the 80s obsessed Balthazaar Bratt. It’s a fun character that lends the film an excuse for plenty of playful action and continues the fine villainous pedigree of the series.

In truth though it’s Nev Scharrell as the adorably unicorn obsessed Agnes who shamelessly steals every scene she’s in. It’s her endearingly wide eyed glee that best capture the true spirit of the franchise, perhaps even more than the irrepressible Minions.

While the Minions are of course still a constant presence, Despicable Me 3 wisely avoids being too overly reliant on them. Having had a whole spin off film to themselves this new sequel uses them a little more sparingly, helping to further preserve their unique charm.

Overall Despicable Me 3 is a worthy continuation of the series and packed with a near perfect balance of humour, heart and cartoon magic.

The Bad

The stunning box office success of the original Despicable Me made sequels and spin-offs absolutely inevitable. While countless children still can’t get enough, some parents might be suffering from a little bit of Minions overload. Especially after the recent spin off movie focussing shamelessly on the banana loving gibberish speaking sidekicks.

Given how perfectly resolved the plots of the first two Despicable Me films were, some cynics may also have wondered whether or not the never-ending series is merely being prolonged to facilitate the vastly lucrative burst of Minions merchandise that accompanies each new release.

Though there’s undeniable a commercial incentive for the studio to keep going, thankfully there’s still enough depth and sincerity in these increasingly beloved characters to deliver a deserved continuation of their stories.

The Ugly Truth

Despicable Me 3 is a warmly fun addition to a franchise that knows exactly what it’s doing. Capturing all the elements which have made the previous films such a crowd pleasing success guarantees that fans of all ages will leave the cinema just as happy this time around.

Review by Russell Nelson

Nobody Speak : Trails Of The Free Press Review

The Plot

A Netflix original documentary exploring Hulk Hogan’s successful $140 million sex tape lawsuit of celebrity gossip website Gawker and the supposed threat to free speech posed by Billionaires and the Donald Trump presidency.

The Good

Although from its title this documentary is clearly crafted to promote a very specific agenda, amongst its heavy editorial bias there’s enough raw information and extensive access to allow audiences to learn much about principal figures on both sides of the high profile Hogan legal drama. Lawyers, journalists and public figures all touch upon a number of important issues in their various testimonies even if the film inevitably then drifts back to its evil billionaires theme.

The Bad

The film’s attempts to sustain a credible narrative that American free speech and the entire global industry of professional journalism is somehow at urgent risk of dire destruction by sinister billionaires is patently absurd and transparently self-serving. Listening to the former staff of a notoriously tasteless celebrity gossip site and a regional newspaper shamelessly self-aggrandise themselves as heroic victims against totalitarian oppression is at least fascinating viewing.

Sadly the film mostly squanders the opportunity to truly explore the complex legal and social issues surrounding the innate conflict between freedom of speech and privacy in an increasingly digital world. Instead the film choses to make billionaire boogeymen the overwhelming focus of its badly lopsided editorial drive.

The fact that tech billionaire Peter Thiel helped finance Hogan’s legal costs due to his own long standing objection to the type of journalism Gawker represented isn’t the sensational smoking gun the filmmakers clearly imagine it to be. It’s not illegal or unethical and it’s ultimately entirely irrelevant to the legitimate legal process that lead to Gawker being successfully sued for recklessly and stubbornly publishing a ‘sex tape’ obtained under questionable circumstances.

What hotel Hogan’s lawyers stayed at or who paid for their room is meaningless trivia that has absolutely nothing to do with hysterically proposed concepts of a ‘broken legal system’ and the ‘death of fee speech’.

Likewise Hogan’s successful lawsuit against Gawker has absolutely nothing to do with the purchase of a regional Las Vegas newspaper by a wealthy family or hypothetical fears surrounding the Trump presidency. The film tries desperately to tie these three unrelated events together in a portrait of billionaires dangerously stifling media scrutiny.

What the film deliberately chooses to ignore is that a digital world where information can be instantly disseminated globally without cost or censorship of any kind is both an indestructible guarantee of free speech and ironically the only real threat to print and broadcast journalism. A world where people communicate without borders sharing primary audio-visual materials is one in which the importance of traditional media institutions is vastly diminished if not entirely irrelevant.

What’s actually interesting about the Gawker case is how it represents the inevitable conflict between current legal systems, established social norms and the mostly lawless ‘wild west’ of our online lives. Where those new lines in the sand are drawn between free expression and personal privacy are a challenge for the judiciary, journalists and society as a whole. Important practical questions that can’t be resolved merely by being ignored or by attempting to further vilify the wealthy elite.

The Ugly Truth

Nobody Speak is a transparently one sided exploration of some genuinely interesting subject matter. It’s just a shame the filmmakers chose to use such extensive source material  to merely pander to populist loathing for the wealthy ‘1%’ rather than actually address the real challenges facing journalism and the legal system in a digital world.

Review by Russell Nelson

Transformers The Last Knight Review

The Plot

Optimus Prime searches the cosmos for the creators of the Transformers while back on earth mankind wages an increasingly desperate battle against both the heroic Autobots and evil Decpeticons. As hidden secrets of Transformers history are revealed it sets Earth and the planet Cybertron on a collision course that threatens the survival of both worlds.

The Good

Toy loving youngsters and die hard older fans will enjoy the typical promotional push that comes with another big screen instalment of Transformers. Even if the film almost inevitably doesn’t live up to the hype it’s still another huge public celebration of the much beloved franchise. Young audiences will obviously at least enjoy the loud carnage of fighting robots. While critics and more mature fanboys may once again be left vocally disappointed, in truth many young fans will be oblivious to their concerns and instead merely delight in seeing Bumblebee and Optimus Prime back on screen. While some franchises have consciously matured with their core audiences over time, Transformers remains committed to securing the giddy excitement of 6 year olds. Regardless of any other failings the film at least offers fan a scale of spectacle befitting a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars. Against that vast canvas of generic blockbuster grade destruction the film also offers a few rare treats such as a welcome Stanley Tucci cameo and a bigger dose of Robot Dinosaurs and Dragons.

The Bad

The Transformers film series under Michael Bay’s disappointingly persistent control continues to repeatedly make the same mistakes, ignoring consistent criticisms with a stubbornness fuelled by the sagas seemingly bulletproof financial success. The guaranteed box office returns delivered by global audiences hoping to finally see a film which delivers on the vast potential of the enduringly popular franchise merely emboldens Bay to carry on regardless. Once again leaving dejected anyone not seeking the most mindless explosion drenched CGI distractions.

Summer blockbusters can and arguably should be crowd pleasing fun, unfortunately there’s a vast array of shortcoming and obvious problems which largely prevent Bay’s Transformer’s saga from delivering that.

Bay’s myopic focus on CGI intricacies and excessive pyrotechnics at the expense of basic elements of storytelling remains a fundamental problem. As usual, human and robot characters alike are treated as disposable props moved clumsily through a story designed solely to facilitate a series of predetermined action set pieces. Mark Wahlberg still feels noticeably misplaced as the series leading man, bumbling through extraordinary adventures with mundane Bostonian bravado. Former Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins phones in a paycheck performance as an eccentric old plot device, while Bay’s latest token eye candy Laura Haddock struggle valiantly to maintain Oxford professor credibility in a bust boosting cocktail dress.

A serious criticism of Bay’s past Transformers films was that the robots were frequently based on heavy handed racial stereotypes. Bay himself has previously acknowledged these concerns and had vowed to ensure some of the most ‘offensive’ characters didn’t feature in future instalments. Unfortunately the new robots introduced in this film include a snooty British butler and the arrogant Hot Rod complete with an embarrassingly exaggerated French accent. They join a team of robots that already includes a sword wielding Samurai, a cockney hard man and a blustering big gutted American gun nut voiced gregariously by John Goodman.

Bay might offer the defence that it’s just a way of injecting identifiable personality into the alien robots and making the film more internationally accessible for global audiences. But like much of the film’s humour it’s hard to ignore the reality that it often feels lazy and perhaps even a little inappropriate. It would be easier to ignore these choices if the rest of the human cast wasn’t equally two dimensional and consistently drawn from cliché stereotypes.

Ironically for a franchise built almost exclusively around showing off the latest polished special effects wizardry the fact that the film was only partially shot for IMAX means that the aspect ratio changes frequently during scenes. Not everyone will notice this technical quirk but for anyone who does it’s an annoying distraction that worsens already surprisingly messy editing. The action sequences often feel noticeably disjointed as cameras cut between badly mismatched shots trying frantically to capture the practical effects of never-ending explosions, CGI of wildly varying quality and also advance the frequently jumbled narrative.

The film attempts to expand and rewrite the “mythology” of Transformers by integrating it with the overly familiar Arthurian legend of the Knights of the Round Table. Sadly it ultimately takes the franchise even further away from the winning original premise of the good Autobots fighting the evil Decepticons as ‘robots in disguise’. The ultimate result is a painfully long 150 minute mess packed with embarrassingly muddled subtext and woeful dialogue that fails utterly to be funny or dramatic with alarming consistency. The film lurches constantly between Bay’s trademark vacuous lingering shots and horrible shaky cam urgency both equally lacking in meaning or any hint of genuine emotion. There’s something innately hurried and seemingly half-finished about almost every aspect of the plot and production, producing an experience so mindless and joyless that it actually manages to become unforgivably undeniably boring.

The Ugly Truth

Anyone left disappointed by the past Transformers films will almost certainly leave cinemas yet again regretting the price of admission. If you truly want to see a different kind of Transformers film the only real alternative is to stay away this… It’s time to take the camera away from Michael Bay.

Review by Russell Nelson

Bat Out Of Hell The Musical Review

The Plot

In a dystopian future wild teens wander the apocalyptic streets, mysteriously never aging past 18 years old. The tyrannical Falco rules high above them with his wife and rebellious daughter Raven trapped in a luxurious skyscraper. Until a forbidden romance between Raven and Strat, the rock and roll leader of the Lost youth, threatens to tear both worlds apart.

The Good

Meatloaf’s epic musical collaboration with composer Jim Steinman remains one of the highest selling and most iconic albums of all time. Originally created with the intention of being a theatrical production, after over 40 years Steinman finally realises that dream to the delight of long term fans and new audiences alike.

As crowd pleasing ‘jukebox’ musical Bat Out of Hell draws upon a truly unique collection of songs, made even more powerful by audiences existing familiarity. Few West End productions can boast soaring power ballads with even half the power of I’ll Do Anything For Love. It’s simply an enjoyable embarrassment of musical riches to parades hits like Dead Ringer For Love, Two Out Of Threes Ain’t Bad and the titular Bat Out Of Hell.

Meatloaf is one of the most instantly recognisable and powerful vocalists in rock history, so it’s a massive compliment to the entire West End cast that they are able to fully match that note perfect power and collectively reimagine his popular back catalogue. Aided by elaborate production value and the grandeur of one of London’s most lavish Theatre spaces the musical fully succeeds in avoiding ever feeling merely like skilful karaoke. There’s  genuinely electrifying atmosphere to these live performance that gives audiences so much more than watching a YouTube medley of Meatloaf music videos ever could.

Bat Out Of Hell has assembled a talented cast of seasoned theatre veterans and undaunted newcomers. The shows core quartet of Rob Fowler, Sharon Sexton, Christina Bennington and Andrew Polec all deserve considerable praise for vocally flawless performances and for bravely tackling some of the more cringe inducing dialogue. The show often nods to self-awareness of its more ridiculous elements and the cast’s consistently earnest and enthusiastic performances carry audiences through those moments with a confident smirk.

Though the first act lurches often from the sublime to the ridiculous an indisputably stronger second act sees the show deliver a steadier stream of musical spectacle less often interrupted by silly narrative elements. Uncertain audiences are likely to be won over entirely as the show finds its feet and struts through a succession of iconic power ballads with their rapturous support. Having adjusted to the somewhat weird and wonderful world of Bat Out Of Hell The Musical audiences are ultimately left with the simple truth that these songs are uniquely entertaining and meaningful in the way only rock anthems truly can be.

The Bad

Meatloaf’s unique brand of gothic rock opera is widely appealing, but there are still some who are of course less enthralled by its kitsch charms. Those reluctant to embrace the ostentatious vocal theatrics of Meatloaf and Jim Steinman’s elaborate compositions are unlikely to find that opinion altered by the transition to stage. Indeed those that specifically object to the self-indulgence of 10 minute long power ballads will only be left more exhausted by a series of them tied together by sparse dialogue and a frequently bizarre narrative.

Shamelessly gothic production design and a near constant use of heavily stylized video projections may also divide audiences between those who love the camp fun factor and those left unsure how seriously to take anything. Likewise while Steinman’s lyrics have always been elaborate and wildly melodramatic, without the swooping support of symphonic guitar riffs that same language risks becoming outright laughable dialogue during the connecting scenes. Though of course that bare chested crudely poetic silliness is an entertaining guilty pleasure in its own right.

Though the show undeniably captures much of what millions of fans love about Meatloaf, amplifying those distinctive traits won’t win over everyone and especially those who find endless rock opera more draining than delightful.

The Ugly Truth

Bat Out Of Hell soars onto stage with triumphant performances of the most beloved rock ballads. The show pays loving tribute to the unique charms of Meatloaf while equalling his legendary live performances, especially in a relentlessly spectacular second act. After 40 years this new musical is a unique addition to the West End and essential viewing for existing fans and those discovering these song for the first time alike.

Review By Russell Nelson

Snatched Review

The Plot

Stuck with a non-refundable exotic holiday for two after a breakup, a directionless young woman resorts to taking her reluctant mother along instead. Unfortunately the dysfunctional pair get much more adventure than they ever bargained for when they venture outside of the safe confines of their holiday resort and get swiftly caught up in a world of violence, kidnapping and death.

The Good

Goldie Hawn returns to the big screen and quickly proves a good partner for Amy Schumer as the pair work their way through all the typical mother/daughter dysfunctions. Schumer likewise clearly benefit from having someone consistently in place to play against. If the film had been attempted as solo vehicle with Schumer’s character facing her Latin American misadventures alone it would surely have proved unwatchable. Thankfully the leading ladies are a comfortable match and it helps spread the comedic responsibilities around.

Though the film is noticeably heavy handing in shoehorning Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack into the supporting cast, ultimately they deliver enough scene stealing laughs to justify the overtly clumsy way the film introduces them. Their contribution is good enough to make the lengthy set up it requires feel like it was at least worth it. Likewise The Mindy Project star Ike Barinholtz manages to deliver surprisingly consistent laughs as Schumer’s geeky housebound brother. He keeps what could so easily have been a pointless sub-plot distraction frequently amusing instead.

Writer Katie Dippold and producer Paul Feig manage to dramatically improve on their critically and commercially drubbed Ghostbusters reboot. This time Dippold’s script succeeds in at least crafting a fair few satisfying set pieces, one liners and supporting characters. Though Schumer still regularly steers proceedings towards her own most comfortable territory at least Dipplod’s script keeps the comedy a little more diverse. Schumer’s signature shtick is undoubtedly more appealing when diluted down.

At least Snatched is never dull or disgusting in the way so many similarly themed low brow movies become. To that extent it does surpass the lowest expectations even if it falls short of achieving truly memorable success.

The Bad

While Snatched represents an unquestionable vast improvement on Amy Schumer’s infamously disliked recent Netflix comedy special, those that loath Schumer’s trademark style of lazy self-deprecation will undoubtedly find her character in Snatched yet another unappealing prospect.

Schumer’s default self-loathing caricature of someone utterly oblivious, selfish and slovenly is fast becoming overly familiar. It also persists in making her readily embraced and self-proclaimed status as a feminist icon feel deeply ironic. The only thing that really saves Snatched is that it isn’t as egocentric and one note as Schumer’s self-obsessed stand up material.

While Goldie Hawn’s return to the big screen is indeed welcome, it’s a little strange to see the famously precocious star now morphed fully into a neurotic mother role. Perhaps after a self-imposed sabbatical and career lows like The Banger Sisters this is likely a deliberate decision though.

Snatched does much to help writer Katie Dippold and producer Paul Feig atone for the unmitigated disaster of their female fronted Ghostbusters flop, however it’s still the same kind of set piece slapstick cringe comedy that will divide audiences between giggles and groans. For example, watching Schumer get inevitably caught attempting to wash her vagina in a public bathroom is either amusingly awful or just awful, depending on your point of view…

The Ugly Truth

Snatched certainly won’t win over those already firmly opposed to Amy Schumer, but it offers enough genuine laughs to mostly amuse audiences seeking a simple guilty pleasure. Goldie Hawn’s welcomed resurgence and a scene stealing Wanda Sykes are also notable positives.

Review by Russell Nelson