We review this week’s new cinema releases, including DESPICABLE ME 2 and THIS IS THE END…

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, Starring Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Ken Jeong, Benjamin Bratt
THE PLOT:Gru (Steve Carrell) has mended his ways for the better, and is devoting his life to the three little girls who found their way into his life in the first film. When a new villain arises, however, Gru is drafted into the Anti-Villain League and must use his skills for good.
Despicable Me, released in 2010, was well received by audiences and critics alike, and made $540 million at the box office, so it is little wonder that we have been given a sequel this year. The trouble is that now Gru is working for the good guys, the dynamic that made the first film work so well is missing.
THE VERDICT: Steve Carrell reprises his chewy accented role as Gru, and he does a fine job with what he is given, although gru seems to have lost some of his charisma since going to bat for the good guys. Kristen Wiig returns to the franchise, but this time she plays Agent Lucy Wilde, an agent of the Anti-Villain League who is assigned to work with Gru; no evil orphanages this time around. Benjamin Bratt steps into the role so recently vacated by Al Pacino, as Eduardo, Steve Coogan makes very little impact as the head of the Anti-Villain League, and Ken Jeong pops up too, for a moment at least.
The Minions are moved more to the centre of the film and while they are still funny, their comedy seems a little more forced than last time. Actually, this is true for much of the film; although there are some genuinely surprising, laugh out loud moments, and the comedy is tuned for both kids and adults, some of the comedy feels forced and the shine has worn off Gru now that he is on the side of good. All of the pieces are there, but they don’t quite fit together as well as they should, and the girls are sidelined; which is a big mistake.
That said, however, there are still some incredibly nuanced jokes, the girls are still as adorable as ever and the minions continually squabble with one another. As well as this, the animation looks good – the 3D is as pointless as ever – and the slapstick that made the first film so good is up front and centre.
Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud obviously tried to replicate the formula of the first film, but without Gru’s life constantly falling down around him, there is little adversity for him to overcome, leaving the film feeling flat. This is not the fault of the actors, however, as they obviously give 110% to their roles. Instead, the fault must lie with writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul who have given us a watered down version of the first film, and perhaps the loss of Al Pacino affected the film more than we know.
In all, Despicable Me 2 is an adequate follow up to one of the best films of 2010. There is plenty for both adults and kids to laugh at, but it does seem that some of the shine of the original has worn off, leaving the film feeling a little flat.
Rating: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes 

THIS IS THE END (USA/16/107mins)
Directed by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg. Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Rihanna.
THE PLOT: LA, the present, and Jay Baruchel has flown in from New York to visit his old buddy, Seth Rogen, both keen to party hard – non-stop video games and ganja – before their Hollywood careers took off. The fact that Seth’s career has taken off that much higher than Jay’s seems to have created a distance between the two, with Jay particularly reluctant to head out to a party that night at James Franco’s house. Jay’s convinced none of Seth’s ‘Hollywood’ friends really like him, but, initially, there are enough wild distractions at the party for such fears to be put on hold. Distractions such as an out-of-control, coke-fueled, Rihanna-ass-slappin’ Michael Cera. And a butter-wouldn’t-melt, all-round good egg that is Jonah Hill. Oh, and the apocalypse suddenly raining down outside Franco’s bachelor pad, the virtuous being sucked up by a heavenly light. And the likes of Seth and his buddies being left to fend for themselves against Biblical demons. And having Danny McBride technically on your side.
THE VERDICT: What could have been so easily self-indulgent and self-loving home movie mayhem turns out to be a sharply self-deprecating and, most importantly, ferociously funny apocalyptic comic-horror picture show. It’s Wayans with brains, as Rogen, Franco, Hill and the gang have a lot of fun fighting demons and exorcising some ghosts in a film that might be best described as Whose Apocalypse Is It Anyway? Whatever your thoughts on these guys, chances are, they’ve had those thoughts too, as each struggles with both the love and the disdain that comes with success. A confessional diary allows each of the actors to riff on their co-stars – if they haven’t had the balls to insult them to their faces, that is. Something Danny McBride has always excelled at in his characters, and here, he almost out-Kenny Powers the great self-centred, chauvinistic, egotistical, mullet-touting pig himself. Working as both a gleeful gross-out comedy and a kick in the navel, This Is The End also boasts some of the sweetest celebrity cameos this side of Extras and The Larry Sanders Show.
Review by Paul Byrne

THE ACT OF KILLING (Denmark,Norway,UK,Sweden,Finland/TBC/115mins)
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Starring Anwar Congo, Haji Anif
THE PLOT: A documentary crew talks to Anwar Congo, one of the pivotal figures in the 1965 genocide of Communists in Indonesia. It immediately becomes clear that Congo and his supporters revel in the murders, so they are encouraged to recreate scenes they remember… With surprising results.
The Act Of Killing is a strange, but fascinating movie. It is clear that Anwar Congo and his men are revered and feared in Indonesia, but they also seem to be emotionally stunted; they revel in the ‘glory’ of having personally murdered countless people, and gleefully (at first) re-enact their discoveries about the most ‘efficient’ way of killing people. Congo dances on a rooftop that the used to murder people on, before confessing that he gets through his days using music, dancing and drugs.
THE VERDICT: The filmmakers take the brave decision to ask these men to recreate death scenes that they participated in. At first, much attention is paid to the props, the sets, the locations; Congo and his associates believe that this film will make them famous, and allow their ‘glory’ to live on throughout time. However, it is not long before the enormity of the 1965 killings begin to weigh on Congo, and cracks appear in his long held beliefs.
The Act of Killing is an interesting concept for a film; while the filmmakers try not to be biased towards the action on screen and allow the audience to make their own decisions about the men, the very notion of asking Congo and his associates to re-create events from their past, means that they are no longer impartial, they are the catalysts that set the story in motion. This does not mean, however, that the film is any less impacting; the scenes where Congo shows disgust at what he has done, and shows his acting debut – in a violent scene – to his young grandchildren, show that while Congo has the ability to change, perhaps this is beyond his reach.
There are issues with the film, and these mostly come from the production end of things. At 115 minutes, the film feels every second of its length, especially when the audience is asked to endure scenes of the men glorifying mass murder. There are also a number of sub plots that could have been cut out. As well as this, while the killings are explained in the opening scenes of the film, there is a distinct lack of historical context throughout, although it could be argued that this is not a film about history, but remorse.
The Act of Killing is an uncompromising, unflinching and uncomfortable look at the belief systems held by those who hold power. There are issues with the film, but this is a fascinating look at what happens when the power of conviction meets the enormity of truth and morality.
Rating: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

THE EAST (USA/UK/15A/116mins)
Directed by Zal Batmanglij. Starring Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson.
Opening on a crude-oil spill and the subsequent flooding of the house belonging to the CEO of the organisation responsible, we’re quickly introduced to the work of the eco-terrorist group The East. It’s an eye-for-an-eye world that The East insist on, a world that former intelligence officer Sarah Moss (Marling) has been employed to infiltrate. As Sarah joins the group on their ‘jams’ – such as slipping the dodgy drug a pharmaceutical company is peddling into their party champagne, or making the owner of a creek-contaminating corporation bath there naked – she finds herself drawn to leader Benji (Skarsgard)…
Playing like a plot straight out of The Guardian’s front pages, cold-hearted undercover agents out to bring down the Davids fighting the very Goliaths who’ve hired them is now part of our world. As is the hoary old Hollywood twist of said undercover agent falling for their prey, ideals and all. Thankfully, this second collaboration between writer/director Zal Batmanglij and star Brit Marling (after 2011’s religious espionage thriller The Sound Of My Voice) doesn’t paint too Citizen Smith a picture here, showing the good, the bad and the ugly on both sides of the divide. Still, when it comes to large, faceless corporations taking big shits on our heads, Batmanglij knows there’s an audience out there that needs to see some blood on the CEO’s carpet.
Review by Paul Byrne 

STORIES WE TELL (Canada/IFI/109mins)
Directed by Sarah Polley. Starring Sarah Polley, Harry Gulkin, Diane Polley, Michael Polly, John Polley, Mark Polley, Susy Polly, Joanna Polly.
Toronto, the present, and Canadian actor and filmmaker Sarah Polley interviews family and friends about her mother, Diane, who died when Sarah was 11 years old. Siblings Joanna, John, Mark and Susy, along with their father, Michael, talk about Diane before and after Sarah was born, whilst producer Harry Gulkin talks about Sarah’s professional life, as an actor and casting director. It’s during these interviews, and reconstructions of Diane’s life, that a long-running family joke – the lack of resemblance between Sarah and Michael – reveals a surprising truth…
Tackling a sensitive and difficult subject with intelligence and, it has to be said, style (Polley being not only a fine actor but a damn good filmmaker too), Stories We Tell hits not only on one woman’s story but the story of many women, especially those dealing with a feminist revolution that arrived a little too late. With ne’er a David Brent amongst them, the Polley family members know how to hold themselves in front of the camera. More importantly, they know how to hold a thought, as the layers to a complex life are delicately resurrected, reconstructed and reassessed. Diane would have been proud.
Review by Paul Byrne

RENOIR (France/IFI+/111mins)
Directed by Gilles Bourdos. Starring Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Vincent Rottiers, Thomas Doret, Romane Bohriger, Carlo Brandt.
It’s 1915, the French Riviera, and the recently widowed Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Bouquet) is wheelchair-bound and almost entirely lacking in inspiration when it comes to his painting. But when aspiring young actress Dedee (Theret) arrives on the Renoir estate, looking for work as a life-model, the old man’s drive gets more than a little lift. Dedee is already living with the maids, when Renoir’s son, Jean (Rottiers), returns from the frontline on sick leave, and it doesn’t take long for the latter to get over the firing of his childhood nanny, Gabrielle (Bohriger). The nanny had been let go by Jean’s mother, for getting too close to her husband. It becomes apparent that Jean’s mother may also have had a hand in Dedee’s arrival, knowing only too well what inspires her husband’s brush to rise…
All done in the best possible taste, of course, but there’s something annoyingly slight – and slightly redundant – about Gilles Bourdos’ slice-of-late-life on one of our most revered painters. Like a chocolate box cover with a few naughty bits hidden amongst the flowers, Bourdos’ film somehow manages to make Renoir, and his paintings, seem positively dull. Which, of course, may very well be true for some people, but this portrait is all framing and no picture.
Review by Paul Byrne