Jay Baruchel flies in to LA planning a quiet weekend of beer and weed at his buddy Seth Rogen’s apartment, only to discover that Seth plans to attend James Franco’s house-warming party. Grousing about how Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride et al only pretend to like him because he’s Seth’s friend, Jay tags along anticipating that the party will be something of an anti-climax. Instead, the apocalypse arrives. Written and directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, This is the End is far funnier than its self-indulgent set-up sounds. All of the actors — who are joined by Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Michael Cera, Jason Segel, Craig Robinson and Emma Watson, among others — are more than happy to laugh at themselves, with James Franco making a mockery of both himself and his reputation for being a difficult, overly serious actor. Equally humorous is the way the actors play against the Hollywood type: here they are a cowardly bunch of disorganised stoners engaged in a selfish battle to save their own skins. Some of the ad-libbed dialogue fallsflat, it’s true, but for the most part this is entertaining right through to the ludicrously OTT ending.
Despicable Me (2010) gave us the criminal mastermind Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell), who ‘adopted’ three orphaned girls in order to further his nefarious plans for world domination. In Despicable Me 2 (G), Gru has learned the error of his wicked ways and has settled down to become a legitimate businessman and a respectable father to Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier). Commissioned by the Anti-Villain League to track down a top secret formula that has been stolen, Gru finds himself forced to work with Agent Wilde (Kristen Wiig) — but the three girls, who want a mother, would prefer his relationship with Lucy was more personal than professional. Fans of the first movie will find plenty to like here, as the anarchic yellow minions run riot, the little girls maintain their heart-melting form and Gru’s humorous turn as a socially awkward criminal mastermind is given an extra twist by his inability to use his enormous brain to woo Agent Wilde. The downside is that there’s a nagging sense of having seen it all before, and that the makers — the film is directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud — are simply amplifying the elements which played best to the kids the first time around. Of course, entertaining the kids is a noble (and tricky) ambition, but while this is a solid outing that provides occasional belly-laughs, it lacks the sparkle and irreverent wit of the original.
Renoir (15A), which is set on the Cote d’Azur in 1915, opens with artist’s model Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret) arriving at the home of the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet). Ageing, confined to a chair and suffering from severe arthritis in his hands, the artist still paints every day, with Andrée a muse who reawakens his lubricious creativity. When his son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) returns home from the trenches to convalesce after being temporarily invalided out of the war, the scene is set for a very unusual love triangle — particularly as we already know that Jean Renoir will go on to become a filmmaker with a reputation to match that of his artist father, with Andrée Heuschling as his inspiration. Directed by Gilles Bourdos, Renoir is a beautifully slow-paced film that thrives on its attention to detail. Long, lingering takes of the bucolic countryside and the unspoiled Riviera are composed as if each frame were itself a painting, while the character development is allowed to happen in an unhurried, unfussy way. It’s also a film of fabulous contrasts (the gnarled old Renoir painting, the silky-smooth flesh of the young model; a platoon of horribly disfigured French soldiers lounging against an idyllic Mediterranean backdrop) as Bourdos deftly juxtaposes art and reality. That languid pace belies a crackling sexual tension as Renoir pere et fils play out the ageless theme of the son who seeks to usurp the father, with all three main actors in superb form — although it’s Christa Theret who steals the show.