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Minions: The Rise Of Gru movie review – Everyone’s favourite little anarchists outstay their welcome in disappointing prequel

Also reviewed this week: Nitram and Castro’s Spies

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The Rise Of Gru feels like it was extensively rewritten or cut

The Rise Of Gru feels like it was extensively rewritten or cut

Caleb Landry Jones is superb in Nitram

Caleb Landry Jones is superb in Nitram

Castro’s Spies interviews all the major players

Castro’s Spies interviews all the major players

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The Rise Of Gru feels like it was extensively rewritten or cut

(G, 88mins)

Minions: The Rise Of Gru

Critics everywhere have greeted the release of this second Despicable Me prequel like a double dose of Epsom salts.

Not more Minions, they have groaned, pointing out the dreary repetitiveness of these villain-led capers, and the inane witterings of the rotund yellow folk themselves, who all sound as though they’re reciting Shakespeare in Esperanto on helium.

All of which, however, is to ignore the effect that Minions have on children.

Introduced as the undercard in Illumination’s 2010 animation Despicable Me, the Minions won over small viewers instantly with their polished gibberish and elaborate slapstick routines.

Kind-hearted anarchists, they undercut their boss Gru’s simmering sadism and provided a conduit between him and the three orphaned girls he accidentally adopts.

Gru (voiced with glottal flourishes by Steve Carell) was supposed to be the star of the show, a kind of frustrated Bond villain, but it was the Minions kids cheered for, inspiring an avalanche of merchandise.

While not a classic, that first film had jokes a plenty, and heart. Gru had a psychological back story, in which the indifference of his sarcastic mother (voiced by Julie Andrews) left him with a chronic desire to be noticed.

And he did fall for those orphans in the end, becoming a doting father figure, marrying a government agent in Despicable Me 2 and turning reluctantly towards good.

The franchise has been a cash cow for Universal: Despicable Me 3, which us picky-picky critics hummed and hawed over, grossed more than $1bn. Expect Minions: The Rise Of Gru to do likewise.

It is, as we mentioned, the second Despicable Me prequel. In Minions (2015), we found out how the chatty yellow subspecies survived various historical scrapes before meeting the criminal boss they’ve always wanted to work for — Gru.

In The Rise of Gru, he’s now 12, but is already dreaming of diabolical world domination helped by the Minions, who live in his basement.

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It’s 1976 and Gru gets laughed out of class when he announces he wants to become a supervillain. But he’s deadly serious and when he hears that a vacancy has arisen in his favourite crime gang, the Vicious 6, he decides to apply for the job.

The 6, led by their grizzled leader Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), have robbed an ancient amulet that possesses enormous power, but Knuckles was then betrayed by Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), who’s taken over the gang.

During a disastrous job interview, Gru decides to cut his losses by stealing the amulet, making himself and the Minions a target. He is then kidnapped by Wild Knuckles, who will become a mentor.

Minions, which was not that bad, was set in Swinging 60s London and enlivened by a terrific voice performance from Sandra Bullock as unhinged villain Scarlet Overkill.

The setting facilitated a cracking soundtrack and, though frenetic, the film was concise and focussed. The Rise Of Gru is altogether more muddled, obscure in its intentions, and feels like it was extensively rewritten or cut.

Indeed, it never seems quite sure of its focal point. Is it Gru, the despicable tween, or the sashaying villain, Belle Bottom, or the muddling Minions themselves? We get rather too much of them, rehashing old Three Stooges routines and hogging the camera unforgivably.

I have always found their Latinate patter amusing, but in small doses: in The Rise Of Gru, they never shut up, adding to the general confusion.

The possibilities of the era, too, are largely thrown away. A few slo-mo kung fu sequences involving the voice of Michelle Yeoh and a spot of uptown funk are the only nods to the messy splendour of 70s America, and a joke involving a Tupperware party hosted by Gru’s terrifying mom is entirely thrown away.

Could this be the end of the Minions? I wouldn’t bank on it. These films make a fortune and Despicable Me 4 is supposedly in the works.

Rating: Two stars

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Caleb Landry Jones is superb in Nitram

Caleb Landry Jones is superb in Nitram

Caleb Landry Jones is superb in Nitram

Nitram

(15A, 112mins)

While films like 22 July approach the horror of mass shooting head on, Justin Kurzel’s Nitram takes a more circuitous and disturbing route.

It’s based on a notorious 1996 attack in which Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 23 others in Port Arthur, Tasmania. Caleb Landry Jones is Martin, or ‘Nitram’, to use his pejorative nickname, who’s almost 30, but has no job and still lives at home with his exhausted parents, Maurice (Anthony LaPaglia) and Carleen (Judy Davis), who live in fear of his violent outbursts.

When Martin meets Helen (Essie Davis), a much older woman who lives alone in a vast house filled with cats and dogs, he moves in with her. She seems acutely aware of Martin’s pain and imagines he might be worth saving.

But when she dies, all constraints on his behaviour evaporate, and after watching a report on the Dunblane massacre, he hatches a plan. While Nitram makes for uncomfortable viewing, it’s also a riveting drama.

Landry Jones is excellent as Martin and Davis is quite superb as Carleen, who wants to love her son but cannot figure out how.

Rating: Five stars

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Castro’s Spies interviews all the major players

Castro’s Spies interviews all the major players

Castro’s Spies interviews all the major players

Castro’s Spies

(15A, 112mins)

When Fidel Castro swept to power in 1959, a steady stream of dislodged exiles set up home in Miami, forming a vocal anti-Castro lobby in the US and a breeding ground for terrorists.

Right-wing militias trained openly in the Miami region and, by the early 1970s, were conducting indiscriminate bombing campaigns in Cuba.

In 1976, Castro decided he’d had enough and established a spy network in Florida to infiltrate the militias. In 1998, five of those spies were arrested and became the focus of a show trial.

Written and directed by Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon, Castro’s Spies paints a vivid portrait of a historical time and place through interviews with all the main players, and particularly the spies themselves, René González, Fernando González, Ramón Labanino, Gerardo Hernández and Antonio Gurrero.

All of them spent over a decade in American prisons on charges that, at this remove, seem trumped up and hypocritical.

Separated for years from their families, they were released in 2014 by Barack Obama and welcomed home as heroes, which seems appropriate.

Rating: Four stars


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