Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Film Review | The Bourne Legacy (2012)

It's hardly a surprise that, with the commercial and critical success of the first three Bourne films, Universal wanted to continue the franchise with a fourth outing. What's perhaps more surprising is that the studio decided to go ahead with this idea without Bourne. After Matt Damon decided that three is the magic number and elected not to return to the series, The Bourne Legacy hands the baton over from Damon to Jeremy Renner. A smart move on paper at least: Renner has over the last couple of years built the beginnings of a solid action CV with roles in The Hurt LockerMission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and, most recently, Avengers Assemble. But can a Bourne film work without the man to whom the series owes its name?

Renner is Aaron Cross, a black ops agent who suddenly finds himself under attack by his own employers following complications caused by the actions of Jason Bourne. Cross joins forces with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), also being hunted by the CIA for her connection to the program of which Cross was a part, and together they work to elude their pursuers.

Renner does well in the lead role, looking and acting the part of Aaron Cross whilst at the same time making him a likeable and, at times, sympathetic presence. Weisz is also pleasing as Marta, balancing both the emotional and physical sides of her character well. Edward Norton does well with what he has, although his character - a shady high-ranking CIA operative - feels underdeveloped, never receiving enough screen time to allow the actor to make him truly believable. The same can unfortunately be said for many of the less prominent characters. A key antagonist in the film's final act receives no development whatsoever in fact, coming across far too much like deus ex machina to feel in any way authentic. 

The action is enjoyable enough, but it is in this area that it truly becomes clear that The Bourne Legacy is not the same calibre of action film as those in the trilogy preceding it. Having written all four Bourne screenplays, Tony Gilroy clearly knows the series inside out, and he makes this apparent through the intelligent nods and references to events of the previous films (mostly The Bourne Ultimatum) that come up at several points throughout Legacy. Gilroy also directs here, but unfortunately never manages to imbue proceedings with the same energy or panache that Paul Greengrass brought to the previous two installments, or even that of Doug Liman who helmed the original. What Gilroy produces is not awful, just never memorable. I found myself struggling to recall any genuine action highlights that had stuck with me not long after watching.

That's The Bourne Legacy's key problem: it's a Bourne film in name and plot, but not in style or execution. It's a perfectly serviceable action film, flawed but enjoyable. But the fact that it's linked intrinsically to one of the most highly acclaimed series of action films ever made only serves to highlight how ordinary it is. I wouldn't go as far as saying that this is an unnecessary continuation of the series - the nature of this being a "sideways" sequel is one of the most inventive aspects of the film. But to get the most out of The Bourne Legacy, you might be best to emulate the circumstances of Matt Damon's character at the start of The Bourne Identity before watching, and forget everything you know about Bourne.


Film Review | Beethoven's 2nd (1993)

Revisiting films you loved as a child can be a risky business, and invariably leads down one of two paths: you  are either transported back to your childhood, memories flooding back of watching beloved pieces of cinema on one of four channels on a lazy weekend afternoon, as you rediscover a gem of a bygone era that has aged joyously well; or, you are faced with the reality that the film you watched so many times that the sound and picture wore out on your VHS cassette when you were a child is something that the adult version of you can barely get all the way through. Whilst Beethoven's 2nd, a childhood favourite of mine along with the 1992 original, is not an absolute stinker, it certainly hasn't held up as well as the 10-year-old me would have hoped.

We rejoin the Newton family, parents George and Alice (Charles Grodin and Bonnie Hunt both returning from the first film) and their two point four children, plus of course the eponymous St. Bernard who is now feeling broody. Beethoven soon finds his sweetheart in Missy, a female St. Bernard (complete with pink bow at all times), and raises a litter of puppies. However, the canine couple are soon separated after Missy is taken from her owner by his spiteful ex-wife Regina (Debi Mazar).

Unfortunately, Beethoven's 2nd is never as enjoyable as the first film. Grodin and Hunt do their best to keep things afloat, but even their collective charm can't counteract the film's shortcomings. Two of the Newton offspring again are given subplots, this time both involving young love, and both failing to impress - Ryce's (Nicholle Tom) relationship with a boy at school begins promisingly, but concludes with one of the film's most ludicrous scenes; meanwhile Ted's (Christopher Castile) failed attempts to woo a classmate of his own because he's too short just come across as lazy and, in all honesty, stupid, with a conclusion lifted almost entirely from Ted's bullying story in the first film.

The problems unfortunately continue with the film's main plot, which feels limp and lacking in any substance, and punctuated by saccharine doggy romance far too often. Debi Mazar is suitably hateable as the poisonous Regina, but seeing Chris Penn reduced to playing her pratfalling, dumb boyfriend Floyd less than two years after his role in Reservoir Dogs is painful every moment he is on screen.

Beethoven's 2nd does have some redeeming features - Sarah Rose Karr is perpetually sweet as the Newtons' youngest Emily, and there are a handful of genuinely entertaining scenes, usually those where Grodin shares screen time with Beethoven (something which sadly happens much less frequently than in the original). But the humour is largely recycled from the first film, and what new ideas there are here are never successful enough. If like me you first saw this as a child, you'll probably still enjoy revisiting the colossal canine's misadventures, but sadly Beethoven's 2nd doesn't hold up well to close scrutiny.


Monday, 27 August 2012

Film Review | Beethoven (1992)

Having written and directed a host of films throughout the '80s that have since gained everything from mainstream to cult adoration, John Hughes moved into slightly more safe territory in the '90s aiming squarely at the family market. Hughes continued to have considerable success, but seemingly hedged his bets with which of the films he wrote he would actually put his name to. In some cases, such as Home Alone or the 1994 remake of Christmas favourite Miracle On 34th Street, Hughes is clear to see within the credits; in others, Hughes chose the literary-flavoured "Edmond Dantès" as his pseudonym, possibly to protect himself from slightly less surefire hits. Beethoven falls into the second category, and whilst its never classic cinema, Hughes could have safely slapped his name on this and kept his reputation intact.

Beethoven follows the so-named St. Bernard who, after escaping being stolen from a pet shop to be used for illegal animal testing, winds up as the pet of the Newton family led by father George (Charles Grodin), who quickly develops a love-hate relationship with the huge hound.

As far as harmless family entertainment goes, Beethoven fits the bill. Yes, in many ways it goes down the well-trodden path of many that have gone before it - there's a montage to show Beethoven growing from lovable puppy to hulking St. Bernard, complete with puppy pee jokes and dad Grodin getting the rough end of the deal whilst the rest of the family get to pet and play with the new addition - but there's enough here to raise Beethoven securely a notch or two above more forgettable entries into the genre. 

The major component in this is Grodin; the role of harassed middle-class father might not be the most original, but Grodin makes it his own. It's also hard to deny the chemistry that he and his canine co-star share. Many of the laughs, as well as some of the film's more touching moments, happen when Grodin and the dog are on screen together. Add to this some able support from Bonnie Hunt as wife and mother Alice, as well as some early appearances in supporting roles from recognisable names such as Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt and David Duchovny (who hams it up well as a smarmy business associate of George's) and suddenly Beethoven reveals itself as a much more appealing product than it might first appear. 

That said, it's not without its faults. Some aspects are painfully episodic; son Ted's (Christopher Castile) problem with bullies at school feels more like something out of a preachy kids' TV series, and older daughter Ryce's (Nicholle Tom) teenage romance is given far too short shrift to become anything of worth to the film. The brief running time of just under an hour and a half also means that the film's main plot - an immoral vet stealing pets to make money out of animal testing - doesn't quite get the screen time to be fleshed out thoroughly. But it also means that the film never manages to outstay its welcome. Beethoven manages to entertain earnestly and swiftly, something that many more recent entries into the family market cannot manage.


Friday, 24 August 2012

Film Review | Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Boasting an impressive "who's who" of British acting talent (the only thing missing is a recent incarnation of Doctor Who), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is Tomas Alfredson's first feature following his international breakout picture, 2008's atmospheric and inventive Let The Right One In. It's also the first and (currently) only film to earn veteran Gary Oldman a Best Actor Oscar nod. With such talent loaded within it, Tinker Tailor... has a lot of expectation to live up to.

Set in the 1970s in the midst of the Cold War, the film focuses on an investigation into the existence of a Soviet mole at the top of the British secret service, known by those who work there as "The Circus". The operation is led by retired MI6 agent George Smiley (Oldman), brought back to work outside of the agency specifically to handle the investigation. Smiley's inquiries leads to him crossing several former colleagues, including recently appointed Chief of MI6 Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) and his right hand man Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), as well as Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). One by one, Smiley narrows down his suspects, penetrating further into The Circus and its intricate web of secrets and relationships.

Moving from contemporary horror to Cold War espionage drama may not seem like the most obvious of moves for Alfredson, but it is clear from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's opening frames that Alfredson is a capable and talented director. He ably creates a tangible atmosphere of tension and paranoia, whilst giving his film a highly polished and authentic feel. Alfredson's Circus is claustrophobic yet imposing, with both gloomy hallways and lurid meeting rooms making it the perfect place for such a complex and cerebral story to unfold. Alfredson's choice of cinematography is just as impressive away from the halls of MI6: Smiley's house is a labyrinth of shadows, a mortuary adorned with mementos of a life given over to the secret service; an early sequence taking place in Hungary is also beautifully shot, giving the locale a sense of both grandeur and menace.

The performances throughout the film are also comprehensively excellent. Oldman superbly inhabits the character of Smiley, bringing to mind the quiet servitude of his portrayal of James Gordon in Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy whilst at the same time giving Smiley an ethereal, almost ghostly quality, generating a performance both sympathetic and subtly unsettling. The supporting cast are also incredibly strong, with impressive performances from both more established names such as John Hurt and Colin Firth as well as younger talents such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy. Alfredson is blessed in the talent he has to hand, but also deserves credit for weaving the performances together expertly, whilst ensuring Oldman's Smiley is never overshadowed.

Despite the high quality performances and stellar direction from Alfredson, I finished Tinker Tailor... feeling somewhat unsatisfied. Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan's script is immensely complex and cabalistic, regularly to the point of being incomprehensible. Whilst I relish films which challenge on a cerebral and intellectual level, and applaud writers and directors who refuse to saturate their films with unnecessary exposition, Tinker Tailor... unfortunately goes too far in the other direction and too often becomes frustratingly obtuse.

The key issue behind the confusing nature of the plot appears to be in O'Connor and Straughan's adaptation of the source material, John Le Carré's 1974 novel. Essentially, the film attempts to fit too much into its two hour running time. Unless you are already familiar with Le Carré's book (which I'm not) you're likely to be somewhat bewildered, unable to mentally elaborate upon some plot details yourself. The abbreviated nature of the film also means that several characters are never given more than a handful of scenes, and some who wind up as key players in the story by the film's conclusion feel lacking in characterisation leading to a somewhat anticlimactic feel as the film reaches its end.

I really wanted to enjoy Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy more than I did. I also genuinely feel that it is a film that will entertain me more the second time round as the plot will already be familiar. There's no doubting the acting and directorial excellence on display throughout the film, but this ultimately feels like a film made for those who already know Le Carré's novel. If you don't, then the complex and purposely disjointed nature of the plot's relation is quite likely to mar your enjoyment of the film as a whole during at least your initial viewing.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Film Review | Fuck (2005)

Released in the same year as The Aristocrats, another documentary that cares not a jot how much it might offend, Fuck is a film that ostensibly sets out to analyse one of the most offensive and versatile words in the English language ("fuck", in case you hadn't got that from the title), looking at its use in history as well as the many areas of modern life it crops up in. Whilst Steve Anderson's documentary manages this to a degree, it's not without its problems.

Anderson calls on a wide range of talking heads to discuss the four letter word in question, from porn stars to PhDs via politicians, comedians and rappers. There's no doubt that the director has done his homework, providing facts and figures about the use of "fuck" from its etymology, including false acronyms (I was genuinely surprised by how many vox populi interviewees believed the word is an acronym for "fornication under consent of the king" or a variation thereof), to its proliferation through popular culture, comedy and politics.

The problem comes from Anderson's lack of focus. He includes a great many clips from films and other media, but with no real purpose behind them. The film moves from one focus to another in fairly quick succession, but often with no underlying thread to tie things together. Things also seem to move off track a little too often; at times I wasn't really sure why certain material had been included - such as discussion of the "Nipplegate" incident at the 2004 Super Bowl - as it bore little relation to the main subject of the documentary, nor did it add much to it.

Many of these problems stem from Anderson's sloppy direction, never making it clear what his purpose or attitude is in making the documentary. Is he attacking the proliferation of the f-word or celebrating it? Examining modern attitudes towards and usage of the word, Anderson gives equal footing to both liberal and conservative viewpoints through the people he interviews, but never has the gumption to place himself on one side or the other. By sitting on the fence in this way, Anderson essentially ensures Fuck never has any teeth, making it a much tamer animal than many in the audience surely would want it to be.

In the end, Fuck never goes far enough down any path to make it worthwhile. It's amusing here and there, informative on a superficial level, but feels more like an extended ramble than a well-structured argument. By the time the credits rolled, I didn't feel satisfactorily educated, entertained or even offended. For a documentary purportedly analysing a word that causes such strong feelings in a great many people, this is disappointing. If you'll excuse my language, it's not that Anderson fucks things up completely, just that he never makes it clear why you should give a fuck about his film.


Saturday, 18 August 2012

Film Review | The Rum Diary (2011)

Set in 1950s Puerto Rico, The Rum Diary follows the exploits of Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), a down-on-his-luck writer who has moved to San Juan to work for a local newspaper. The title is take from the Hunter S. Thompson novel upon which the film is based, and is a reference to the fact that Depp's character and his companions spend a considerable amount of time in the film drinking, and intoxicated by, rum. The problem is, whilst getting drunk can be enjoyable for the person drinking, experiencing other people getting drunk when you're sober is often less enthralling.

The film's main strength is in its cast. Depp is fine in the lead, although more and more of his post-Pirates Of The Caribbean performances seem to have at least a smattering of Jack Sparrow within them and Kemp is no different. Whilst amusing, it can be a little distracting to suddenly hear a fictional pirate captain when you're meant to be watching a 1950s American journalist in South America. The supporting cast is also strong: Aaron Eckhart does well as smarmy businessman Sanderson, and Richard Jenkins is pleasing as Kemp's jaded and exasperated editor Lotterman. Potentially the film's standout performance however comes from Giovanni Ribisi as the extrovert and perpetually sozzled reporter Moberg. Ribisi is almost unrecognisable at first, his performance laced with bitter energy, his over-the-top actions making his character both comedic and pitiable.

The problems come from the film's structure, in that too often it just doesn't seem to have one. There are plot threads which can be followed through the film but they regularly feel underdeveloped. The story involving Eckhart's character concludes abruptly and rather unsubstantially, and several elements of the film's final act - particularly one involving a witch doctor - seem to come out of nowhere. Too many sequences throughout the film come across as episodic and unfocused. Essentially, the whole thing feels a bit too disparate to engage with on a truly satisfying level.

Ultimately, The Rum Diary ends up as a fairly enjoyable film, but never threatens to become anything genuinely memorable. Much like a conversation with a drunk person whilst you're sober, The Rum Diary is relatively entertaining but without anything of substance behind it, making you long for something more satisfying and meaningful too long before its conclusion.


Friday, 17 August 2012

Film Review | Jackie Brown (1997)

Jackie Brown is arguably Tarantino's least celebrated film. It was never going to have an easy time, following on from the overwhelming mainstream and critical success of Pulp Fiction which in turn had generated greater attention in the director's first film, Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino had set himself up to incredibly high - maybe even impossibly high - expectations, so no matter how he attempted to meet them there was inevitably going to be at least some of his audience who would be underwhelmed by his third film.

Jackie Brown tells the story of the title character (Pam Grier), an air hostess who helps weapons dealer and gangster Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) smuggle money in and out of the USA. After ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) catches Jackie in the act, she becomes further embroiled in Ordell's business and a sting operation for Nicolette to arrest the gangster, whilst at the same time striking up a relationship with bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster).

In all honesty, I cannot understand the negative criticism levelled at Jackie Brown. It's almost certainly Tarantino's most "un-Tarantino-esque" film, not containing as many of the director's hallmarks (at least not as overtly). The narrative is by and large linear, and the dialogue is less flagrantly audacious than that heard throughout Tarantino's earlier works. It may be the absence of these features that lead fans of the director to be overly critical of the film; you don't have to scratch the surface too deep to see that Tarantino has created cinematic gold once again.

That Jackie Brown isn't as endlessly quotable as either of the writer and director's previous films doesn't mean that this isn't another stellar script from Tarantino. The intricate story builds perfectly throughout the two-and-a-half hour running time towards a gripping finale and a tense and emotional epilogue. The script is imbued with a subtle pizazz that often rings truer than the poetic style heard in Tarantino's previous films. This is potentially the director's most mature and balanced work.

Tarantino again garners a wealth of top-notch performances from his ensemble cast. Once again, it's hard to pick out one actor above the rest. Grier brings confidence and authenticity to the title role, with Forster's turn opposite her imbued brilliantly with introversion and subtlety. The attraction that builds between Jackie and Max is incredibly well-handled; theirs is a genuine and covert affection that only rises to the surface once or twice throughout, and is the most real romantic relationship seen in any of Tarantino's films. Robert De Niro is reliably excellent as Ordell's criminal associate Louis Gara, again bringing an understated feel to the role. In contrast to Forster's Max, De Niro constantly lets you know that there is fire burning beneath Louis' sometimes bumbling character making his performance captivating yet at times superbly uncomfortable.

Jackson is perfect throughout, giving his best performance of any of his films. Jules Winnfield may be Jackson's most iconic and quotable role, but it is through Ordell Robbie that Jackson truly shows his undeniable brilliance as an actor. Watching Ordell calmly and precisely pull on his leather gloves before preparing to do away with whomever he has deemed necessary to dispatch sends chills down your spine, which is testament to both Jackson's acting and Tarantino's direction. Ordell is  simultaneously calculating and cold-hearted, charismatic and despicable, but always feels completely authentic.

Simply put, Jackie Brown is a film of quality and maturity through and through. If Reservoir Dogs is a shot of tequila and Pulp Fiction a strong, carefully mixed cocktail, then Jackie Brown is a smooth sipping whiskey over ice to be enjoyed slowly. It's Tarantino at his most restrained, but also his most refined. An exercise in subtlety and expertly crafted cinema. The film stands incredibly well on its own, but it also rounds off Tarantino's opening trilogy of works superbly; together with his first two films, Jackie Brown eloquently argues for Tarantino to be considered as one of the greatest cinematic writers and directors of all time.


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Film Review | Pulp Fiction (1994)

In Reservoir Dogs, his feature debut, Quentin Tarantino laid down in raw, unbridled fashion what he is about as a film-maker. Pulp Fiction was his chance to refine this style and prove his first film was not just a fluke. History shows that he more than managed this: Pulp Fiction received seven Oscar nominations, with a win for Best Screenplay, and is regularly hailed as both a cinematic milestone and Tarantino's defining work. Eighteen years on, it's still not hard to see why.

The film relates, in nonlinear style, several different stories set in Los Angeles linked by the characters appearing within them, most prominently mob hitmen Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), their gangster boss Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), his wife Mia (Uma Thurman) and boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis).

Pulp Fiction is such a comprehensive success, first and foremost, because of the talent on show here. There  isn't a performance within the film which isn't excellent, and the cast play off each other superbly. It's unfair to single out any individual turn over the others, but there are a few which are so iconic that it's hard not to: this is the film that revitalised Travolta's deteriorating career and that made Jackson a renowned and respected Hollywood star; it also allowed Willis to truly prove he was capable of more than just action roles, his turn as Coolidge being one of the most varied and multi-layered he has ever given, and potentially his best performance in any film. Ironically, the only performance that truly sticks out (although not enough to spoil proceedings) is Tarantino's cameo as Jimmy - his n-word laden speech to Jules and Vincent when we first see him is still cringeworthy, and mainly serves as a reminder as to why Tarantino moved behind the camera in the first place. Thankfully, Harvey Keitel soon shows up to undo any damage with a performance that desperately begs the question as to why the man never made it as a genuinely big star.

The rest of Tarantino's work here is so exemplary that even his dodgy bit part can be wholly forgiven. Part of the charm of Reservoir Dogs is the rough-and-ready feel to much of it; Tarantino showed what he could do with a relatively small budget. With Pulp Fiction, Tarantino had the chance to show off a lot more with a studio behind him. The cinematography here is superb, with every shot considered and crafted to perfection. The director also shows ambition in using more abstract elements in his work - watch Mia draw a square in the air when describing Vincent's attitude, only for it to appear in front of her then disappear with a cartoonish pop. It's kitsch, it's unexpected, it's brilliant.

Tarantino's script fizzes and crackles throughout, his characters speaking in a poetry which oozes cool and perfectly fits the world Tarantino creates within the film. From Jackson's Bible-quoting mobster to Thurman's character saying "disco" where most would use the word "bingo", Pulp Fiction offers some of the finest, coolest writing ever heard in a film. Tarantino imbues his scripts with both contemporary fire and retro ice, making his films simultaneously modern and nostalgic. Pulp Fiction balances this effortlessly, arguably better than any of his other works, giving the film a timeless quality and allowing it to age beautifully.

Pulp Fiction is an incredibly ambitious work and succeeds comprehensively at everything it attempts. It's a film which can be endlessly analysed, interpreted and critiqued, but just taken as a piece of cinema it is purely and simply a masterclass in film-making. There is not a part of this film that doesn't work. Not only that, it cemented Tarantino as one of the defining cinematic talents of the 1990s and showcased both the scope and imagination of his talent.


Sunday, 5 August 2012

Film Review | Fracture (2007)

Fracture poses a seemingly impossible construct: a man shoots his wife, confesses to the crime, then pleads innocence and seems confident that he will get away with it. An intriguing scenario, but one that the film ultimately doesn't use to its full potential.

The man in question, Ted Crawford, is played by Anthony Hopkins in full "creepy intelligent guy" mode; something that Hopkins does very well and a role in which he doesn't disappoint. Crawford is no Hannibal Lecter, but Hopkins provides the balance of smarts and skin-crawling pleasingly. Prosecuting Crawford is hotshot lawyer Willy Beachum, played by Ryan Gosling. Gosling's performance is enjoyably strong, providing a great counterpoint to Hopkins. The film is by far the strongest when these two share the screen together, with some electric exchanges and first rate dialogue between them. 

The film is less successful when not focused on the relationship between Beachum and Crawford. Beachum's romantic involvement with Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike), his potential future boss as Beachum hopes to move to a high-flying corporate law firm, feels flimsy and underdeveloped; police detective Robert Nunally (Billy Burke) also feels unevenly written and never fleshed out in a meaningful way.

The plot provides some tense scenes, and director Gregory Hoblit manages to produce some genuine suspense, particularly early on the film and in the scenes between Hopkins and Gosling. But the conclusion is ultimately underwhelming and too often proceedings are allowed to unfold in a very ordinary way. Essentially, Fracture never truly does anything remarkable, and without the two strong leading men, this would be forgettable. As it is, the film provides agreeable entertainment but in a consistently average way.


Friday, 3 August 2012

Film Review | Despicable Me (2010)

Another entry into the ever-growing computer-animated market, Despicable Me was the first by Universal and met with considerable popularity upon its release. But with CGI giant Pixar still very much at the top of the pile in this area of cinema (with Cars 2 hopefully just an anomalous blip) and Dreamworks' Megamind covering similar themes and ideas, Universal needed to pull something special out of the bag to truly make a mark in the computer-animated market.

Despicable Me centres around Gru (Steve Carell), a super-villain who suddenly finds himself overshadowed by new villain on the block Vector (Jason Segel). Gru therefore plans his greatest scheme yet: stealing the moon. After one or two unexpected turns of events, Gru hatches a idea to adopt three orphan girls to help him succeed in his his evil plan.

There's a fair amount to like about Despicable Me. Carell is entertaining as Gru, and the young voice actresses for the three orphans Margo, Edith and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher) do very well, bringing a level of cuteness to the trio that is sweet but never saccharine and increasingly authentic as the film goes on. Russell Brand is almost unrecognisable as Gru's right hand man Doctor Nefario, giving him a pleasing gruff tone, but I felt he could have done a little more with the role. The cast elsewhere are satisfactory but never do much to truly bring the supporting players to life. I also can't help but feel that Jason Segel as Gru's rival villain Vector was somewhat miscast, holding back too much in a role that requires a more over-the-top approach; compare his performance to, say, Rainn Wilson's antagonist Gallaxhar in Monsters Vs. Aliens and Segel's villainous turn here just doesn't stand up.

The plot is predictable but enjoyable. At only ninety minutes in length, however, there's limited time for the relationship between Gru and his adoptive daughters to develop, the kind of development that has been achieved much more successfully in multiple Pixar offerings. That said, there is definite heart at the centre of Despicable Me's story, something which comes through pleasingly more and more throughout.

Elsewhere, things feel a little more uneven. The action set pieces never deliver anything more than satisfactory thrills. The plot too never fully resolves the fact that Despicable Me inhabits a curious world where super-villains live, but with no recognisable superheroes to oppose them. It's an odd choice, and one that becomes less important in the film's final act, but certainly one which for me left parts of the film's story feeling perfunctory or incomplete .

Ultimately, Despicable Me is enjoyable with enough going for it to make it a worthwhile watch. It never comes close to the heights of a Pixar classic in either story or technical wizardry; but it's never mediocre either, something which the inferior Megamind cannot claim. Placing a film like this under close scrutiny is only setting yourself up for disappointment. It's hard to truly recommend Despicable Me with so many perfect and near-perfect pieces of cinema being released in the CGI arena, but as straightforward entertainment it succeeds more often than it fails.