Despicable Me 2
The first Despicable Me released in 2010 was a much better-than-average Pixar romp with clever ideas, cute characters and a sense that in anti-hero Gru, Pixar had found a way of breaking out of a rut. It didn’t please all the critics, but it had charm and long-term appeal, and there was a good chance all this would be ruined by a money-grubbing sequel. But no, Despicable Me 2 continues to show a high level of intelligence, and has fun with Gru, who has given up his villainous ways, and is now recruited to face off against a new super villain. While there is nothing here to challenge the supremacy of Pixar classics, a pitch-perfect voice cast and a superabundance of sweet nature manage to pull Despicable Me 2 through with a positive scorecard, and it is enjoyable enough that you might be able to forgive yet another blatant child-targeted merchandising opportunity.
White House Down
Directed by Roland Emmerich, the man who brought us Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. So, you might think that you know exactly what you’ll be getting: cardboard characters, overblown emotions, flat humor, self-importance and mega action sequences. And you would be right. It is all of these things, and it all adds up to a loud pointless two hours of shouting and explosions. As far as the plot goes, the title pretty much says it all. The White House is taken over by terrorists. The authorities are helpless. Maverick John Cale (Channing Tatum), who is turned down for a job as a secret agent protecting the president, ends up caught in the White House and finds himself as the only person in a position to keep the president (Jamie Foxx) out of villainous clutches. The president even discovers how much fun it is to shoot big guns and blow things up. Yawn.
Stand Up Guys
Al Pacino and Christopher Walken have been increasingly relegated to minor roles, playing stock characters in other people’s movies. Now they get to do that in a new picture all of their own. It’s a kind of mafia Space Cowboys where Pacino gets to look back at some of the great characters he has created, all the way from The Godfather to Scent of a Woman. Doc (Walken) has been ordered to kill Val (Pacino) after picking him up from prison, but these two old stickup men have too much history, and the order of execution gets postponed through a few too many Viagra jokes, whorehouse scenes and reminiscences. The story is vastly improbable, but Pacino and Walken, along with support from Alan Arkin, are occasionally able to dig into the mythology of the American crime movie and create something worth watching, even if it is only a few minutes in a relatively bearable 95-minute film.
A film about a middle-aged actress whose life is gradually falling apart, living off parts in second-rate horror films, drinking too much and finding that her marriage of 25 years is all but an irreparable disaster. Written, directed and starring Noemie Lvovsky, the film sees the heroine, after passing out at a New Year’s Eve party, back in 1985 as a 15 year old girl. To the audience, she looks and thinks like her middle-aged self, but appears to all around her in the film as an adolescent, who tries to save her mother’s life and avoid the advances of her future husband. There is some enjoyable humor in the disjunction of our contemporary culture and the distant past of the ’80s, but that isn’t quite enough to carry the film along, and at its conclusion the whole thing seems to disappear like a puff of smoke.
Be a Mother (男女關係之密語)
A big winner at the China Image Film Festival, the largest Chinese film festival in Europe, and popular among film festival audiences, Be a Mother is a serious and well-acted film about surrogate motherhood and all the issues, emotional and practical, that this entails. Starring Alex Fong (方中信) and newcomer Wang Pei (汪裴), the film follows a well-off urban couple who long for a child. They decide first to bring in a surrogate mother (played by Qin Lan, 秦嵐), and then Wang’s character also adopts an orphan after being on assignment in an earthquake zone. There is more than enough to get some melodramatic emotions kicking in, and it doesn’t take much to figure that things will not turn out well for anybody. Despite the improbable story, the cast does a reasonably good job keeping things grounded in recognizable human emotions.