Philomena (2013)

PhilomenaReleased: November 27, 2013. Directed by: Stephen Frears. Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark. Runtime: 98 min.

Today, teenage pregnancy is a commonplace. There’s even a TV show about young pregnant girls called “16 and Pregnant” that premiered back in 2009. It seems like a stupid premise to me, but it shows how accepting people are of it these days. Back in 1960s Ireland, around the time of the Magdalene sister homes, if a young girl was pregnant – a lot of parents would be so ashamed that they’d disown their children and force them to live in a convent. They wouldn’t have any other place to go, and they’d have to work their asses off to repay the nuns.

This is what happened to Philomena Lee, a 16-year-old who had a child, and when her son was about 3 years old, he was adopted. Ever since, Philomena (Judi Dench) has kept this a secret. On the son’s fiftieth birthday, Phil (now in her 60s) tells her daughter about Anthony – and with their luck, they find a political journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who was recently let go from his job, to take on this human interest story.

After fifty years of Philomena not knowing where or how her son is doing, the pair set off to find Philomena’s son, following leads and information the convent might possess; which, unfortunately, isn’t much to go on. Martin has to use his journalistic skills to find where the son might be. One reason this film is so charming is because these characters are so different. Martin is a bit more realistic thinker who thinks questions like ‘Do you believe in God’ are difficult to answer. He’s more pessimistic than Philomena; but almost equally funny. Philomena is one of those people is genuinely interested in people say, and she finds humour in the simplest of things – even if she doesn’t realize that she’s being hilarious. That’s what helps make this a simple comedy in parts. It’s lightly entertaining but it’s an effective drama, too. It’s a different sort-of road trip film, but a refreshing one.

I’m glad that there is a surprising layer of great comedy, because without it the film would be boring. That’s a reason I was hesitant to see this, because the story sounds like it could be good, but it also sounded slow to me. Judi Dench’s great performance helps; she plays a character who only wants to know how her son’s life is going, and know if he’s ever thought of her. Like I said, she is very funny, as well. She is a character who carries around this secret and its shame hand in hand. I think Steve Coogan’s performance is great here, as well, because his comic delivery is just priceless. He is considerate of Philomena’s wishes, and doesn’t always feel like a journalist in it for the money. I think he’s an underrated actor. He impressed me here as an actor and as a co-screenwriter – I’m sure he had a big hand in the witty dialogue.

The friendship that is created is charming. The characters’ beliefs are challenged throughout from what they learn along the way. This is also an ideal film for schools that might want to express the Catholics’ beliefs back in the 1960s; it seems to me some nuns still hold those beliefs. Those would be the old-fashioned ones. I think this is a film that should be experienced because of its subject matter. It’s powerful and is emotionally gripping. It’s the idea of being taken away from one’s family that gets to me. I mean, if anyone tried to take me away from my mother, heads would freaking roll!

There’s a quote commonly used by critics “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” and oftentimes, those can only be applied to great films. Only so many directors and writers have that ability. Alexander Payne has a true knack for it, and even his co-writers on “The Descendants” Nat Faxon and Jim Rash do, too, as expressed in “The Way, Way Back.” This film’s director, Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) has a talent for it as well. I laughed a lot with this one, but for me, the “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” line can only partly be applied.

There’s enough emotional content here to make many people cry – because this is such a powerful subject. I didn’t cry, because it takes a lot for me to cry at a film. This might sound cheesy, but even though I didn’t cry on the outside, my soul ached for Philomena in parts – because she is just such a likeable and often relateable character. I relate to her because she likes “Big Momma’s House.” She at least laughs at a preview on hotel Pay Per View (also giving an idea of what year it is, because there are more new releases then older releases, so this film is set in 2000 or 2001). I hope she got around to watching that movie.

Score80/100

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Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Lightning ThiefReleased: February 12, 2010. Director: Chris Columbus. Stars: Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson. Runtime: 118 min.

Since the “Harry Potter” franchise was almost finished, this studio beat the new crowd of Young Adult adaptations. “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” headed that crowd.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is an average New York teenager battling with things like anxiety and ADHD. Soon enough, after Zeus’s (Sean Bean) lightning bolt is stolen, he finds out he is the son of Poseidon, god of the Sea. It is assumed that Percy has stolen the Bolt — and he must set out on a quest to prove his innocence and prevent a war between the gods. He won’t be going alone though, as by his side is Annabeth (Alexandria Daddario), daughter of Athena, and his guardian, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson).

“The Lightning Thief” was supposed to be the next Harry Potter, with the same director (Chris Columbus), but it ultimately failed. While it has some of the same visual effects of “HP,” it lacks the fresh magic. It’s not that the primary three “heroes” aren’t likeable, because they are, it’s just that the familiar plot doesn’t have a lot of surprises.

At least it has a great cast (from Sean Bean to Pierce Brosnan to Uma Thurman) to carry the film. But everyone is shoved in there in mostly minor roles, it very much feels like it’s trying to be like Harry Potter again, but with more American actors than British. The coming-of-age aspect of the film, where Percy has to adapt to this huge change, is interesting. And his motives are noble, but not exactly his ways to go about them. (He thinks he can rescue someone dear to him from Hades after one training session.) There are a few funny lines, mostly delivered by Brandon T. Jackson. The world is imaginative. I like this family-friendly take on Greek mythology. The movie is certainly watchable, but it’s forgettable and slightly too long.

Score63/100

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Despicable Me 2Released: July 3, 2013. Directed by: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud. Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt. Runtime: 98 min.

I don’t remember some of the first movies I’ve ever seen. At least the first one I saw at the theatre… I’ve been trying to remember, but I haven’t come up with the answer yet. I blame my memory and my Mom and Dad’s poor memory. Thanks a lot, parents! (Just kidding. You’re great.) Anyway, my point is, “Despicable Me 2” is a perfect choice for your weekend’s family-friendly entertainment. If your kids haven’t been to the theater to see a movie in their lives yet, even better. It will be a memorable first experience. Just make sure your tyke is five or six years old (as there is one intense-ish scare that could spook your little ones, as a child at the screening I attended, who looked about four years old, started crying; but more on that later), and they’ll have a great time. This film is endearing, charming, fitfully funny and a whole lot of other flattering adjectives.

“DM2” is a remarkably well-written tale of a bad guy who isn’t exactly a bad guy any more. Gru (Steve Carell) has hung up most of his awesome gadgets and weapons and he is trying to kickstart a business selling jellies (and maybe jams, but he’s undecided on that). Things begin to go awry when a new super-villain steals a serum that turns innocent little bunny rabbits into crazy purple beasts who will eat anything in their path. The Anti-Villain League, led by Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), recruits Gru to take down this super-villain, because he thinks like one. Gru and super agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) go undercover to take down the baddies, and hit things off in the process.

“DM2” struggles to repeat the magic of its predecessor in some aspects (with its antagonist), while it improves on it in others (with its elevated slapstick humour). The new villain is inferior to Vector of the first movie, but he produces a few laughs. He also receives an appealing back-story, and he’s particularly evil. He just isn’t the most amazing villain you’ll ever see, but the voicework enlivens him a bit. I won’t say the name of the villain, because the marketing campaign has done a good job at keeping the villain a secret from the movie-going public; but anyone over the age of five or six, will be able to see who the villain is before the “reveal”. The antagonist may be the movie’s weakest aspect, but it is strong in so many other ways.

DM2It has great heart, appealing themes of family and love, and well-written characters. Carell truly brings it again as Gru, and the character is given new layers as he struggles with over-protective fatherly instincts over his eldest daughter, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), who is attracted to Antonio (Moises Arias), the son of a restaurant owner, Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), who is suspected of stealing the serum. Gru’s mission also gets blinded by his growing attraction to Lucy. You’ll fall in love with Gru all over again, even if he isn’t yet above blasting someone with his trusty freeze ray. The unicorn-loving Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), the youngest daughter, is growing up very well, but she still maintains all of her signature cuteness. She also seems to be more mature than the middle child, Edith (Dana Gaier), who never feels more than a petite supporting role. Eduardo is amusing, but he is practically every Mexican stereotype shoved into one character. Kristen Wiig is just being herself to great effect as Lucy Wilde, an improvement over the cruel Miss Hattie (Wiig’s character in the first movie). Thankfully, this super agent isn’t super annoying; she turns out to be an endearing presence, and one can easily open up to her cuckoo for cocoa puffs kinda personality.

Despicable Me 2wsgg

And of course, there are the minions. They are as funny as ever with just the right amount of screen presence. They will help you watch this with a gleeful smile on your face, as they deal out slapstick humour, talk in their made-up gibberish language of Minion-ese, and sing renditions of All 4 One’s “I Swear” and Village People’s “YMCA”. (It’s seriously laugh-out-loud hilarious; and you won’t be able to stop laughing when you hear these songs in the future.) All of these characters help enrich 2013’s funniest animated film.

I think animated movies have quite a magic about them. They make me feel like a kid again (even though I just turned eighteen in December), but I still do view them with a mature eye. I see this movie as both an animated movie with lots of endearing characters and kiddish humour the little tykes will enjoy; but I also see it as a great family film with some AWESOME super-hero/super-villain action sequences and some hysterical slapstick humour, that adults will enjoy. They won’t feel the need to steal their kids’ Twizzlers and use it to strangle themselves.

Some scenes in animated movies are intense nowadays, at least for kids. “Monsters University” even has a sequence that plays out like an ode to horror movies. This film has an intense scene that could spook the hell out of kids. (So, please don’t bring any kids under the age of four or five, in case it makes them cry. In which case, it will make the 18-year-old film critic sitting in the fourth row want to knock someone the f*ck out.) All of these somewhat intense scenes have me thinking some studio should make an animated horror flick. (Oh please! It worked well with 2006’s “Monster House”…) Now that will give more adults something to feast on.

I give you... Samuel L. Jackson as a Minion. The resemblance is uncanny!

I give you… Samuel L. Jackson as a Minion. The resemblance is uncanny! (It’s been pointed out that this minion is a nod to Ted Lange in Love Boat; but this was the best picture I could find that’s closest to Jackson; I’m 95% certain there was a taller minion that looked more like S. L. Jackson…)

“Despicable Me 2” has a great atmosphere and it’s rivaled by its predecessor and Pixar’s “The Incredibles” as best animated super hero (super villain?) movie. This is the hardest I’ve fallen in love with an animated universe, that wasn’t created by Pixar. This might not make you bawl like a Pixar movie, but it will warm your heart a heck of a lot. It’s sure to entertain and make you laugh, if you have a measurable sense of humour. This movie brings a huge smile to my face, and I hope it has that effect on you. This original movie doesn’t have to be as good as “The Incredibles” or any other Pixar movie really, because this isn’t Pixar. This is Illumination Entertainment. They have created a movie with an amazing attention to detail (like making so many minions different, and even making one minion that looks a lot like Samuel L. Jackson as Jules in “Pulp Fiction”), and a spectacular universe. The music chosen by Pharrell Williams is quite possibly better this time around. I love this studio making movies, because they’re entertaining, charming and heartfelt. Illumination Entertainment is here to stay.

This movie also has cool cars, adorable minions, jokes you’ll be laughing about long after, and Steve Carell giving us an instantly recognizable Eastern European accent, that is the voice of Gru. That is my idea of a great time at the movies. In the words of Gru, “That’s what *I’m* talking, about!”

Score88/100