Do Not See The Emoji Movie


Like all well-intentioned people, I didn’t mean to see The Emoji Movie. But life happened, and I saw it.

For all the parents out there, I understand. You just need to get the kids to be quiet for an hour and a half. Non-parents, I’m sympathetic. You think it can’t be that bad.

If you want to get the experience of The Emoji Movie without seeing it, go outside when it is 110 degrees. Sit in a metal dumpster, then set the dumpster on fire. Bring all of your favorite books, movies, and music with you. As all of that creativity and inventiveness (because no matter your tastes, I’m sure it will be better than this) burns around you, you will understand The Emoji Movie. The amount of effort put in the title of this Sony flick is how much effort was put into the film.

If you are a parent and are looking at Fandango anxiously, your fingers inching towards the “buy ticket” button, because it’s Summer and you just need a break, please bring your child over to my house. I will personally babysit them for an hour and a half, just to spare their innocence, and increase the brainpower of the future generation.

To say anymore about this piece of 💩 would be to give it more thought than it got during its entire two years of production.

-Madeleine D

Revealing Humanity Without Humans: War for the Planet of the Apes

war ftpota

*Spoilers ahead

“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heaven, and let us make a name for ourselves, let us be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth” (Genesis 11: 4-9).

“And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. And he looked down towards Sodom and Gomorrah and towards all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace. So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley” (Genesis 19: 27-29).

These verses are here not just because I think the makers of War For the Planet Of The Apes would appreciate them, but also because they perfectly set up the atmosphere and morality explored in this last entry of the Planet of the Apes trilogy.

War for the Planet of the Apes begins where the second film left off. Caesar (the phenomenal Andy Serkis) is the leader of his band of enhanced apes. He is forced to fight a war that a crazy ape named Koba started before he died. Caesar tries to make peace with the humans he’s fighting against, led by a zealot Colonel (Woody Harrelson) but when his own family is murdered, he drops everything to carry out a revenge mission against the Colonel.

War FTPOTA is not only a visual feast, but uses its effects to serve its science fiction premise to the fullest. It does what science fiction is supposed to do: make us think about our world. This apocalyptic story about apes overtaking humans is simply a vehicle to ask bigger questions. What is the primary difference between humans and animals? Is it language? If so, what about people who can’t talk? If animals achieve human language, then what determines it? If there were a plague that infected your loved ones but put others at risk, what would you do? Is revenge ever justified? What makes a leader?

War FTPOTA asks big questions, and expresses itself through poignant imagery. It isn’t always subtle. There are strong Apocalypse Now parallels, to the point where some graffiti is shown that says “Ape-pocalypse Now.” It is the second film of the year to feature animals re-enacting a kind of holocaust (the first being Netflix’s Okja) and it loves religious imagery, too. Caesar is hung up on a cross and is pierced in his side. The Colonel, in explaining his backstory, says, “I sacrificed my only son to save humanity.”

It might not be subtle, but it’s interesting. War FTPOTA uses intertextuality to make this story bring in stories we already know to increase the emotional impact. It no longer seems as foreign, because we recognize the archetypes, just re-enacted with apes.

The film goes big with imagery, and it goes big in messages. War FTPOTA is political. All art is to some degree, because every creator has a worldview that impacts their work. But this film has a villain that is trying to build a border wall (I know the film was made before Trump became big, but still). It combines warfare and religious imagery, muses on how the ability to speak and use language defines us as human beings (consider the verses about the Tower of Babel above), and gives a compelling story about failed leadership. Caesar has been the leader of the apes for two movies now, and in this movie, he falls. Great leaders are ones that put aside their personal desires for the cause of the group. Here, Caesar lets himself get personal with the humans. When his vendetta becomes his focus, the entire group falls, and everyone suffers the consequences. While he is able to do the right thing in the end, he still dies.

With that storyline, it’s impossible not to see similarities to this year’s Logan, a film I loved. Both feature the patriarchs of a franchise showing wear and tear. They become father figures to young girls who don’t speak, fight military men to get across a border, take their charges to a safe Eden-esque place, and die. I don’t know quite what that pattern says about today’s culture, except that a maybe a lot of filmmakers are becoming parents and are trying to make blockbusters more prestigious, but again, I’m interested. I’m intrigued.

In the end though, if this movie proves anything, it is, say it with me:

Give!      Andy!       Serkis!      An!       Oscar!

Motion capture acting is real acting, and it’s about time the Academy at least acknowledges it. His performance as Caesar is emotional and intimate, yet stoic. The entire cast takes the project seriously, and it shows.

War for the Planet of the Apes exceeded all of my expectations. In the two weeks before seeing the film, I watched five war-themed films (Saving Private Ryan, Joyeux Noel, Their Finest, Hunt for Red October, and Dunkirk). I would easily count this new Apes film among those. War films should reveal something about humankind at large, and War FTPOTA does that and more.

-Madeleine D

Rockabye Baby: Baby Driver


Every year there is a film that blows up at a film festival. There is tremendous hype for it as it moves from the festival circuit to wide release. There is a wave of rave reviews, Oscar predictions, and the main actors start signing major deals. Sometimes the film rides to the Oscars and lives up to its hype. But more times than not, it disappears a few months later and becomes lost.

This year, the breakout star of the SXSW (South by Southwest) film festival was Edgar Wright (The Cornetto Trilogy, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World) with Baby Driver. Can the film about a getaway driver survive in a summer of superheroes, transformers, and minions?

Baby Driver tells the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort) a young man paying off a debt to crime boss Doc (played by Kevin Spacey). He is a getaway driver who uses music on his iPod to drown out a ringing he has in his ears from a childhood accident. When Baby meets Debora (Lily James) he decides he wants to get out of his line of work and run away with her. And he will, Doc assures him. He just has one last job.

Edgar Wright is a director known for directing. That sounds weird to say, but it’s true. A lot of directors helm fine movies and are good at orchestrating the production of a film. But when Wright directs, he directs. The film is his breathing, living organism. And that applies to Baby Driver. Every scene is handmade, every detail significant. It simply isn’t a film that could be made by anybody else. Because of that, Baby Driver radiates passion, and I love when a movie does that. The more it seems like the filmmaker was dying to make the movie, the more I’m dying to see it.

For those who are here for a particular actor, I’m happy to inform you everyone turns in good performances here. It’s an ensemble film, though, so it’s the energy and personality of all the actors together that make the film tick along.

Speaking of ticking along, a major selling point of the film is the soundtrack. Almost every scene is set to rock n’ roll, making it like a musical where nobody sings. While it sometimes dances towards the line of being a gimmick, it mostly gives the film a surreal quality.  It ends up serving the film well, and makes the crazy climax feel more grounded.

The best compliment I can give Baby Driver is that it is unique, and in a summer where there are a lot of movies that are retreading old ground, unique is refreshing. Edgar Wright has created something that is a complete blast while still being smart and thought-provoking. It made me want to run out to my car and drive  around with my favorite playlist.  Did I? You’ll never know. But try and tell me you don’t feel the same way when you see it.

-Madeleine D

Well, That Was Intense: Dunkirk


If you don’t know about the Miracle of Dunkirk, you’re in the majority (of Americans, at least). So here’s a little background, because the film jumps right into the action.

Dunkirk follows three different time lines, ‘cause Chris Nolan isn’t interested in your linear thinking. The evacuation of British soldiers from the French city of Dunkirk by military ships and civilian boats across the English channel takes places over a week. The story of one of those civilian boats takes place over a day, and the story of a British air force pilot happens in the span of an hour.

There is sparse dialogue, little exposition, and maybe two characters are named. It’s almost like a silent film, save for a menacing score by Hans Zimmer.

Nolan here presents a war film like no other in that it is a war film with very little heroics. It’s cold. Part of that is the characters (or lack thereof, see below), the other is that this is a survival situation, and becoming a soldier doesn’t just automatically make you a hero. Every man is there for himself, and in a sense, it is more of an evenhanded, empathetic film. There are very few real heroes presented here, and so there is no bad guy when everyone is just trying to live.

I go to the movies to meet people I would never meet in real life, and share in their experiences. I’m a character person. I’m excited for franchises when they’re built on dynamic characters. I love it when I walk out of the theater wanting to know that character’s favorite color and if they’d be my best friend.

Dunkirk is not a movie that cares about its characters. It’s a film about an event, and the character are more or less just pieces. And that’s a message in itself: Wars don’t view people as people.

I get it, not all movies are character-driven or need to have memorable characters. Dunkirk is an experience-film. The emotion you have watching the film comes from the basic human desire to survive. It doesn’t need compelling characters and backstories to make you want to scream, “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES.”

But as a character person, Dunkirk bothered me in that regard. I can’t tell you the name of a single character. In fact, if we did a line-up, if I couldn’t name the actor, then I probably couldn’t tell you what the character did. They all looked the same, too. It’s not just me either. I saw the film with about twenty other people, and most of them said similar things.

So if you go into Dunkirk knowing it’s an experience-movie, then you’ll have an even better time. Go big, treat yo self. Go see it in a theater that is showing it on film. See it with a crowd. See it in a claustrophobic room with no escape. See it on a sinking ship. Go big in getting the full experience, because this will probably be the only time you see it. Unless you like war movies as light bedtime watching, it doesn’t have much of a rewatchability factor.

That’s fine, because Christopher Nolan has achieved what he wanted. He created a film that pushes himself as a filmmaker, the war genre, and audiences to expand their definition of heroic. This isn’t Saving Private Ryan. This is Saving Private Me, and while everyone who went to war was heroic, Dunkirk demonstrates that living is its own kind of heroism. Who lives and who dies is often more left up to circumstances than to the quality of the people around you.

I don’t know if this film will finally win Nolan some Oscars, but it is a win for audiences. Dunkirk is a thought-provoking, adrenaline-rushing, minimalistic film, and it is clear that Dunkirk was a vision executed to its finest.

-Madeleine D

Comedy in the Real: The Big Sick

Warning: Some spoilers ahead.


I’ve seen a fair number of romantic comedies in my life. Just a few days ago I watched Notting Hill. But then I saw The Big Sick. And boy does it make those other rom-coms look like lightweights.

The Big Sick, written by married couple Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon, is a slightly fictionalized version of their first few months of dating. Did you think meeting your girlfriend’s parents was bad? Well move over Spider-Man: Homecoming, because imagine if you met your girlfriend’s parents while she was in a coma. And you were Muslim and Pakistani, and they were white. And your parents wanted you to be in an arranged marriage.

Yeah, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts have nothing on this.

The Big Sick boasts wonderful performances from not only Kumail Nanjiani as himself and Zoe Kazan as Emily, but also Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents Beth and Terry. Greater than their performances, though, is their mere presence. When was the last time you saw a movie where there were multiple sets of (alive) parents, who have their own storylines and problems, and whose presence is shown as ultimately a positive thing for their children? I can’t think of one.

The idea that you leave parents behind when you grow up is one of the few things Hollywood is holding on to from past generations. It’s true that just a few generations ago the relationship between parents and children were different. But these days parents and adult children are usually very connected, and parents remain significant and constant parts of their children’s lives.

The Big Sick is about romantic love, sure. But I would argue it is even more so about familial love. Kumail bonds with Emily’s parents. His relationship with her parents is vital to his relationship with Emily. They teach Kumail plenty of things without being faultless themselves. Watching them interact with Kumail made me think of all the parents of my friends who have taught me things through the years, who have been mentors to me.

Kumail also cares deeply for his family, even when they are at odds. His parents want him to marry a Pakistani woman, one they choose for him. And while his mother’s attempts at arranging a marriage are played for laughs, it is also made clear that arranged marriages have made many happy couples. There is a respect for the culture and people. So just because an arranged marriage would not work for Kumail does not mean that those in his family who are in arranged marriages are unhappy or less-married. This film is extraordinarily pro-family, and I have a great respect for that.

The Big Sick is also an honest look at modern relationships, and it’s not just because of the interracial and intercultural aspect. It offers a look at today’s style of dating and tries to observe modern sensibilities while paying homage to the past. Kumail and Emily hook up on the first date, but Emily doesn’t get re-dressed in front of Kumail because she’s “just not that kind of girl.” They continue with their relationship by sleeping together, but they also reveal intimate details about themselves and genuinely care for each other. Kumail tries to be chivalrous without being condescending, Emily tries to respect Kumail’s culture and is distraught when she realizes she might tear him and his family apart. They love each other, but their dating strategy is messy, and from a Christian perspective, immoral.

But, I appreciated it. Even though it was awkward watching the film with my apologetic parents beside me, I appreciated that The Big Sick shows that today’s dating culture isn’t clean cut. It’s harder to navigate without rules, and I think the film doesn’t try and hide that. It doesn’t glorify it.

I just applied to two colleges. But it doesn’t matter how private or how Christian they are. Nothing is going to shield me from the attitude of modern dating and its root of insecurity. Luckily, though, if The Big Sick tells us anything, it’s that messes like these can be redeemed. Terry and Beth work through difficult marital problems, Kumail and Emily get married mere months after Emily’s coma, and it is implied that Kumail’s family starts to reconcile with Kumail (in real life, they welcomed Emily into their family).

That is what makes The Big Sick one of the most redemptive films of the year. And one of the funniest. The best comedy comes from real life, because comedy must start with truth, and Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon have proved it here.

-Madeleine D

Coming of [Age] Avenger: Spider-Man: Homecoming


*Spoilers Ahead!

Spider-Man has had it rough. Beyond his parents dying, Uncle Ben dying, getting spider powers, and being an outcast nerd at school, he’s had an abundance of movies that have left a bad taste in audience’s mouths. He’s been separated from his home studio, Marvel, for years. Who is going to save him?

Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios, that’s who. Feige has done the impossible, bringing the character home in a joint Marvel and Sony Studio film. It’s not an origin story, and it’s not related to the former Spider-Man movies. It’s got Iron Man/Tony Stark (a surprisingly subdued Robert Downey Jr.) as his mentor figure. It has Hot Aunt May™ (Marisa Tomei). It has a cast of rising young stars as Peter’s classmates.  And it has Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture (because you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain).

But none of this star power can save the film if it isn’t a return to what made people love Spider-Man to begin with: his relatability and heart.

That’s a lot to put on relative newcomer Tom Holland’s shoulders!

It was an exciting experience watching a superhero film about a teenager, as a teenager. I’m so used to watching ones about brooding, rich, genius thirty/forty year old men that I forgot super powers have no age range. And the filmmakers really do understand what being a teenager feels like. During the whole film, I was thinking things like:

Peter Parking was in the marching band? I was in the marching band! I wonder what he played.

He’s on an academic team? I was on an academic team!

I remember doing those crunches in P.E class too!

Zendaya’s character Michelle is wearing that dress to homecoming? I wore a dress sorta like that to my homecoming!

Aw man, that girl totally reminds me of someone at my school.

Most of the time when Hollywood tries to do modern teenagehood, it plays like a grandpa yelling “get off my lawn” made it. Kids are obnoxiously on their phones, they reference hip, cool things like Beyonce and fidget spinners without context, and are all played by adult-looking adults.

Here, though, it doesn’t play like that at all. There are phones, sure, but not beyond what you actually use a phone for. Most of the kids are likeable, if a little odd and awkward, which I can say from experience is true to form. And they are all played by either teenagers or really young adults! This film has gotten comparisons to classic John Hughes movies. And, while that isn’t an unwarranted comparison, I would say it’s deeper than that.

This year has constantly impressed me with great comic book movies, and the running theme between them is that they take another genre and apply comic book props to those genres. Logan was a western, with the main character having claws that came out of his fists.  Lego Batman was an animated parody and spoof movie, reminiscent of films like Airplane! Wonder Woman was a traditional superhero origin story with the quality and atmosphere of golden age Hollywood classics.

Spider-Man: Homecoming joins those ranks by being a coming-of-age story. But it works even better than expected, because the movie understands this about teenagers: everything, and every situation, feels like it is dialed up to an eleven.

So you think meeting your date’s dad is bad. What if he’s the criminal you’ve been fighting?

School competitions are tough. What if you’re also having to save your classmates from certain death?

Everyone has masks they protect themselves with. What if you have an actual mask and secret identity you have to hide?

By using the props and locations of a superhero movie, the drama of Peter Parker’s life is exaggerated and visually demonstrated in a heightened way.

What may have impressed me most about the movie, though, was the third act. Marvel, in general, has bad third acts. I think they have been getting better, but almost all of the comic book movies today struggle between, fight a giant blob of mayhem (ahem, Batman V. Superman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and kill everyone (ahem, Man of Steel).

(stop here if you don’t want spoilers)

But Spider-Man: Homecoming has a third act that is different from all recent superhero movies I can think of. It comes down to just Peter in his pajama suit and Toomes. Toomes, who steals superhero equipment for a living, hijacks an Avenger plane.  Peter is able to crash the plane on a secluded beach, but by then Toomes is out to kill. The next few minutes is watching an adult brutalize a child. And it hurts.

Then the scene goes further. Toomes decides to abandon Peter and grabs a box from the plane wreckage. He starts to fly off with it, seemingly successful, but then it explodes. Peter sees Toomes go down, and without hesitation, runs off and saves him. He carries the man to safety on his back through the fiery landscape, ala Return of the King.

After this climax, we find out what happens to Toomes. He’s taken to trial, eventually going to jail. Peter has to face his daughter Liz, and see all the pain brought on her family. It’s not his fault, but it is still painful. This is a villain who is not a mindless robot, a powerful god-like entity, or an alien. He is a man with a family, who thinks he is doing what is right, who will forever suffer the consequences. And he’s played by an intimidating Michael Keaton. Toomes is a return to good villain form, because first and foremost, he isn’t easy to beat.

All throughout this climax and these dramatic scenes, there is not one quip, not a single one-liner, and no indication that we should take this any less than very seriously. The film never winks at itself. Because of that, I felt real emotions.

Recently, I came across a video essay (link below.) The main idea of the essay is about how films use bathos. Bathos is when a film climaxes dramatically, then has a lapse in mood, like telling a joke during an emotional scene. The essay shows an example from Doctor Strange, one of Marvel’s films last year. I liked Doctor Strange, but rethinking the film in terms of how it used bathos made me realize how, while I was entertained during the film, I never felt anything significant during it. Contrasting it to the intense feelings I had during this year’s Logan and Wonder Woman, I realized how insecure the film was in terms to its own emotions. It was afraid to be sincere.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is not afraid to be sincere. It is not afraid to have its protagonist be rendered helpless, then see his reflection in the water and an inspirational voiceover play overhead. Cheesy? Depends. I was greatly moved watching Peter cry out in pain, because I have been there. I’ve been there, and when I feel like screaming out in pain, I don’t feel like following it up with a joke.

What might be even more of a feat is that Homecoming is able to work on two levels. A sincere, stand-alone coming-of-age story on one hand, and a hilariously meta MCU movie on the other. The more you know about the Marvel films, the better the movie becomes. It has an abundance of Easter Eggs. Yet none of them get in the way of the story, which is what makes it stand out from the crowd. You could say that the sincere story level is Peter Parker, and the Easter Egg level is Spider-Man. As much as we all love Spider-Man, it’s Peter Parker that makes him someone worth remembering.

Just Write Video Essay: Qo 66o

-Madeleine D

Movie Minute: Volume 2

Continue with me as I watch and review older movies!


Inkheart (2008)

Inkheart is in the tragic company of movies like Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Eragon, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. 2005-2010 was not a kind time for book to movie adaptations. But Inkheart, based on one of my favorite books of all time by German author Cornelia Funke, has something those other movies don’t have. A sense of fun.

Inkheart is unintentionally hilarious, and is my ultimate guilty-pleasure junk food movie. I have seen it a few times now, and I will continue to love it unabashedly. There is something otherworldly and magical about seeing prestigious actors in B-level fantasy roles that I will never grow tired of. Helen Mirren riding a unicorn, Jim Broadbent watching on as Andy Serkis is eaten by a mythical shadow-monster, and Paul Bettany talking to a ferret and breathing fire is the movie I never knew I wanted. While I love the better adaptations we’ve gotten, The Hunger Games still has nothing on this.


Rain Man (1988)

It’s interesting to watch the commentary on autism Rain Man presents in 2017. On one hand, it is clear we have come further in our understanding of autism in the last 29 years. However, our depiction of autism on screen really hasn’t, making Rain Man an even more outstanding film. When movies do show autism, the characters generally must either be extraordinary, as to justify their existence within the film, or they must be tiptoed around, a beacon of representation without the humanity it requires to be a successful one.

Rain Man takes the bolder route of letting Raymond be a fairly standard autistic man, and making the other characters around him change. Raymond acts how he wants to act, and we as an audience, through Tom Cruise’s’ Charlie, have to adjust our own perceptions, not the other way around. Raymond never has to become a comfortable presence for us. This makes Rain Man a very interactive experience. Not only am I watching a movie, I’m experiencing the frustration that can come with interacting with someone who is different than I am, and am also experiencing frustration at Charlie for not being more sympathetic to Reymond. This push and pull between characters and audience makes Rain Man feel more real than the occasionally uneven screenplay does. While the film is well made, very-well acted, and has a lovely score, the unique experience of the film was my main takeaway. It is a must-see.

miss potter

Miss Potter (2006)

To be honest, Victorian period dramas are not my cup of tea. I’m a little tired of the standard petticoat and British accent award bait films. While not every period piece that comes out is made with Oscar intentions, there is something about actresses getting stuffed into a corset and bemoaning pre-liberated society that makes the academy go wild. Because of this, I was not naturally inclined to like this film.

Miss Potter is about the life of Beatrix Potter, the author known for her Peter Rabbit stories. Throughout the course of the film, she gets published, falls in love, becomes a conservationist, and that is about it.  If that sounds dull to you, then you’re right, it is.

The most important thing the film does is give a wider audience knowledge about Beatrix Potter. And while her story is not particularly thrilling, she is someone people should know about. Beatrix Potter is a role model, and it is because she is ordinary enough to be relatable, but just courageous enough to look up to. She interacts with her world as I think we all do, yet she is able to go the extra mile to become a person whom we can admire.

However, not even a great heroine could sway me to really enjoy this film. My biggest problem with Miss Potter is that it just doesn’t seem to have a point. Now sure, there are some nice messages here. The importance of conservation, telling stories, doing what you love, and moving on after loss. And telling the story of any human life has intrinsic value. But the film didn’t feel like it was directed with urgency, or passion. It does not seem like someone was bursting with the desire to tell the story of Beatrix Potter. It seems like someone just decided they might as well make a movie about Beatrix Potter, and not a particularly interesting one at that.


The Godfather I&II

I don’t feel like I can say anything that hasn’t already been said about Francis Ford Coppola’s epic masterpiece, so I’ll just say this: it’s mandatory viewing for any cinephile. Or, anybody who just wants to see great art.


Okja (2017)

Okja, a new Netflix original movie, is a message movie. And being a message movie is hard, especially when the message is about food.

Okja argues against GMO foods and the modern food industry, taking aim at pork production in particular. Because it’s a message movie, it doesn’t take a look at all sides. The villains are some of the most over the top and cartoony I’ve ever seen, and there isn’t much room for debate when you bring in Holocaust imagery.

But the saving grace for Okja from being a very on-the-nose movie about heroic animal activists and super pigs, is its direction. Thanks to director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) the film offers up much more.

The standout of Okja is newcomer actress Seo-Hyeon Ahn. She’s not only impressively able to act against a CGI pig with conviction, she’s also a force to be reckoned with against the adult actors and an action star in the making. She does some Tom Cruise level stunts in this film, and pulls them all off beautifully. The supporting cast all get time to shine, too. Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Lily Collins all have particularly good moments.

In the end, it’s the stylistic direction of Joon-ho that keeps you going through the movie. The film has some clunkier moments, and the message will be grating to some, but at least it has a position, purpose, and drive. It’s a quirky, whimsical and dark fairy tale that may be one of the most unique things you see all year. It is clear that Bong Joon-ho was bursting to make this film, and it shows. That is what makes any message movie work.

-Madeleine D

Gru Isn’t The Only One Not Living Up To His Potential: Despicable Me 3


Despicable Me still stands as one of the most innovative, unique, and heartfelt animated movies ever made.  It took a creative premise- bad guy adopts three little girls to help out with his villainy- and added even more creativity through layered storytelling and stylistic touches.

Despicable Me 2 was a forgettable sequel, but it still showcased the very specific style that Illumination animation has.

Then there was Minions. We don’t talk about that film.

But I still had faith. Despicable Me 3 could be a return to form. Never mind that it was going to do the lazy move (in my opinion) of introducing a surprise twin brother. There was still a chance!

Or so I hoped.

Despicable Me 3 operates more as a series of vignettes than a singular story. Each of the characters go off on little solo missions. If you were to choose an A-plot, though, it would be the newly married Gru, Lucy, and daughters Margo, Edith, and Agnes going off to meet Gru’s newly discovered twin brother Dru. In a nice change of pace, Dru isn’t an evil twin. Sure, he wants to be evil, but he isn’t the exact opposite of Gru. He’s more of a whiny, please release Steve Carell from the recording studio version of Gru. As the brothers learn to get along, Lucy tries to bond with her stepdaughters. The family reunion goes south when they are threatened by rejected ‘80s child star villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker).

The signature Illumination animation is still breathtaking after three movies. Each location is gorgeously animated. The action sequences have a rube goldberg-like quality, and there are small, clever details in each piece of weaponry the villains and agents in the movie use. The exaggerated style of the character designs are similar to that of a quirky children’s book. Also, along with this film and Hidden Figures, Pharrell  proves that he should be in charge of all movie soundtracks.

But the children’s book analogy works against the film, too. It has style, and a cute factor, but very little substance. The film’s message about family goes only so far as the previous films have gone. The brotherhood angle is used much more as a vehicle for visual jokes than any meaningful commentary. Even Gru’s existential questions about not living up to his potential and his family’s legacy is quickly forgotten by the next fart joke. The movie tries to appeal to adults through ‘80s nostalgia and scenes with Gru and Lucy trying to parent, but there is really no point to the scenes except to exist. Since they are so disjointed from the film, they don’t even serve the plot. They are cute, but that certainly won’t keep an adult entertained, and little kids won’t find it exciting.

Overall, the film is a missed opportunity, and lacks the stronger direction of certainly the first film, but even the second. It’s sloppy, when it has every advantage not to be.

I have to admit, I felt a little sentimental watching Despicable Me 3. I’ve seen all the movies in theaters, from little ten year old me in 2010 for the first film, to the second one in 2013. Now I’m 17 years old, driving my sister and friend to the movie theater in my own car, and we’re the only teenagers in the audience; but who cares, because supervillain family.

Unfortunately, this kid’s movie may have pushed me closer towards being a cynical adult. I’ve never automatically been skeptical about sequels and trilogies and so on. I’m the person who has advanced tickets for the 16th Marvel movie next week. However, this is certainly not the first time I’ve been disappointed by a franchise. It just hurt a little more. There is too much talent involved for this level of sloppiness, and kids deserve the same quality entertainment everyone does. Don’t we want them to love good films, too?

-Madeleine D