CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson takes a look at the big movies of the moment
THE Minions are back and Netflix continues to shape the modern cinematic landscape in this week’s reviews
Despicable Me 3 – ★★★☆☆
There are four plots at any one time in Despicable Me 3, making it feel like a cinema-candy-induced sugar rush. Gru reluctantly bonds with his twin brother Dru; Lucy struggles with motherhood; the villain, Bratt, schemes in his lair; and the Minions, feeling ignored, head off to find a purpose.
When they all collide during the film’s climactic battle, it’s the first time in the series there’s been such a feeling of urgency. By the time the Minions are yelling “yippee ki-yay de bubbles!” there’s an authentic excitement, however fleeting and watered down it might be from other summer movies. There’s a feeling the filmmakers have tried to aim bigger than before.
The Minions are still great. The talent show and their time in prison are both particularly hilarious, but every time they’re on screen your eyes dart around to catch what they’re all doing. The Minions movie felt like overkill at the time, but with hindsight it lacked ambition more than anything else – a gag comparing a Minion to a jaundiced child was funny, but it was the only one of its kind in the entire movie.
When the Minions burst into a rendition of I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General, it’s genuinely funny because it sounds ridiculous and because of the absurdity of a Minion version of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Despicable Me 3, with its 80s-themed villain, has so many nods to that decade that it’s acknowledging its parent viewers as much as its younger ones. So when Trey Parker’s washed up Bratt is sleep-talking about Molly Ringwald, it’s enough to feel charmed, knowing that’s one for the grown-ups without resulting to crude humour. When the Minions burst into a rendition of I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General, it’s genuinely funny because it sounds ridiculous and because of the absurdity of a Minion version of Gilbert and Sullivan.
For all its new characters and its new story, upon trying to recall what happened in the series thus far I realised it’d all mashed into one big blur of Gru and yellow. The same will happen here due to an instantly forgettable plot, but an ultimately delightful watch. Who cares what it’s about as long as it raises a smile?
Okja – ★★★★☆
Screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival a week before its international distribution on Netflix, Okja was booed at its world premiere at Cannes for not receiving a wide cinematic release. Video-on-demand services are changing how we engage with cinema and Okja was the first to uncomfortably straddle the line between deserving of critical worship while not being shown in picture houses. The old guard didn’t know how to treat it.
Unfortunately, it really does deserve to be seen on the big screen. Its opening hour is exuberant, from a colourful fanfare intro to a playful oompah score accompanying thrilling chase scenes. It’s smiles all round, even as the baddies close in on the immediately lovable Okja and her companion Mija.
Okja is a super-pig, having been sent off as one of many super-pigs worldwide to be raised by a world-class farmer in Mija’s father. The Mirando corporation behind the experiment claims to love these animals, but in private its true motive boils down to what Tilda Swinton’s villainous Lucy Mirando says in her opening dialogue – “they need to taste good.”
When Okja stampedes around Seoul, it’s less Godzilla than it is Pokemon.
Okja is now an adult, and it’s time for her to return to Mirando for consumers to enjoy. In Mija we have a fighting young female protagonist, unshakable in her devotion to saving Okja. She’s Ghibli-like in her wide-eyed passion, with literally nothing being seen as too big a problem to stop her from rescuing her pet and friend.
Its Netflix releases means many more people will have the opportunity to see this playful and kooky film than usual. Despite its harrowing conclusion, it seamlessly sits alongside absurdities like Paul Dano leading a bunch of animal rights vigilantes who dress like militants but don’t believe in violence. When Okja stampedes around Seoul, it’s less Godzilla than it is Pokemon.
Its hard-hitting and emotional climax hits hard and fast, but what lasts is how downright entertaining Okja is. In the process, it might just turn a few people vegetarian.
The Circle – ★★★☆☆
The Circle’s Netflix story differs from Okja’s. It actually had a cinematic release in America but performed so poorly that no one bothered to distribute it in the UK, heading straight to video-on-demand instead. With a star-studded cast including Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega, and Karen Gillan, something went really wrong along the way that made The Circle such a critical and commercial failure.
Watson’s Mae gets a job working at a technological superpower called The Circle, with a headquarters not unlike what we imagine Google or Apple HQ to look like. Open floor office plans with a huge emphasis on community between staff are a jarring contrast to Mae’s old workplace in drab office cubicles.
At the top of The Circle is Hanks’s Eamon, a man who believes in the power of streamlining activities and connectivity. What appears to have begun as a social media platform is now developing to include surveillance platforms. Tiny cameras act as HD feeds from wherever you wish to place them, supplying not only video footage to The Circle but also facial recognition, atmospheric updates, and visual trends of the area.
Eamon frames this as transparency, opining that people behave better when they know they’re being watched. His influential greed only grows.
It’s a sci-fi film to be thought about in your bedroom, made all the more effective by watching it on your laptop while Facebook bleeps in the background and Twitter feeds scroll out of the corner of your eye.
Its critical shortcomings are what make it ideal for a Netflix release. Like the similarly straight to video-on-demand The Discovery, it’s a sci-fi film to be thought about in your bedroom, made all the more effective by watching it on your laptop while Facebook bleeps in the background and Twitter feeds scroll out of the corner of your eye.
It’s far too long, the acting is sub-par from all involved, and it never reaches lofty ideas found elsewhere, but it is an accessible thriller about the horror of modern technology. Eamon might be a greedy capitalist, but the scarier prospect is he believes he’s moral and just. In promoting transparency and constant surveillance, he mirrors call-out culture and the always-watching feel of social media.
By taking these ideas to the extreme The Circle is almost dystopian, not unlike a Black Mirror episode, acting as a warning and a moral conundrum for those who believe in accountability but don’t favour giving up our privacy. It’s a little pedestrian and its stars can do better, but in its timeliness is food for thought, and in its openness is a gateway to harder hitting sci-fi stories.
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