‘Despicable Me 4’ a funny family delight; Mads Mikkelsen gets dirty in historical melodrama ‘The Promised Land’; Guy Pearce shines in ‘The Convert’; Uplifting music drama in ‘Divertimento’

Rockin’ the suburbs: Gru and clan in ‘Despicable Me 4’

DESPICABLE ME 4 ***1/2 (94 minutes) PG
It’s ever-so-heartening to see no signs of franchise fatigue in the fabulously funny, fast fourth outing in the Despicable Me series. (There are actually six films so far when you include the two Minion spinoffs, but who’s counting?)

Under threat from super villain Maxime Le Mall, former super villain Gru has to go into witness protection with his family and three favourite minions, the rest being housed at the HQ of the Anti Villain League.

With a new identity and fake job, Gru tries to lay low but his encounter with his neighbour’s scheming daughter pulls back into the usual mayhem.

Driving the pace at breakneck speed are about six frantic storylines jockeying for attention, all of which are skillfully brought together for a ripper finale.

Easily as funny as the previous films, DM4 is full of the slapstick physical humour that has become the series’ signature, with the minions taking particular delight when cackling at the misfortunes of fellow minions.

It really is remarkable just how streamlined the storytelling can get in top-shelf animated films such as this, with Garfield and Inside Out 2 being two other current examples. Everything is geared towards providing a satisfying payoff as a host of foreshadowed narrative elements meld together in the third act.

There ought to be more recognition for this sort of artistry.

THE PROMISED LAND ***1/2 (127 minutes; subtitled) MA
In this gruelling, fact-based historical melodrama, Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen plays Ludwig Kahlen, a former army officer who is resolved to bring an unproductive patch of land to life through sheer grit and determination.

He has promising, if limited success as well as the King’s blessing, but it’s 1765 and struggling farmers are vulnerable to attacks from rival landowners.

In Kahlen’s case he’s saddled with Frederik Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), a nasty piece of work who gets nastier as the film goes on.

At first he’s just a money-hungry property mogul, but we later learn he’s something of a sadist who likes abusing women. He’s a powerful bad guy who’s just begging to be made an example of.

Featuring some great cinematography, the film isn’t all that keen on subtlety, preferring to repeatedly hit us with emotional wallops that justify Kahlen’s crusade and his unflinching approach to dealing with violent adversaries.

The action is nicely underscored with the way he reacts to tragedy by forming a de facto family in his weather-beaten cottage, which sits on the flatlands like a lone beacon for others to join him in his mission to activate the ungiving soil.

Mikkelsen is as good as ever, though the required sternness and steely determination does sap his performance of some colour.

The real treat here is Simon Bennebjerg, who imbues his bad guy with a posh snarkiness that makes you pine for his comeuppance.

THE CONVERT *** (119 minutes) MA
In a small English colony in 1830s New Zealand, holy man Thomas Munro (Guy Pearce) tries bringing the word of God to the locals, but gets caught up in the bloody war between indigenous tribes. Strong on atmospherics, director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors; Die Another Day) delivers a solid, singularly violent historical drama with Pearce exercising the conviction and versatility that defines his formidable filmography.

DIVERTIMENTO *** (114 minutes; subtitled) PG
The hard, age-old lesson that good art demands more than good technique is given its due in Divertimento, a heart-warming French film that gives the age-old movie theme about the transformative power of music a thorough going over.

Gifted music student Zahia (Oulaya Amamra) is striving to become a conductor but faces numerous obstacles, including a hard, though well-meaning teacher and the sexism of 1985.

With Zahia’s twin sister Fettouma (Lina Elarabi) also working to become a viola player, the fact-based film turns out to be a treat for the ears as well as an uplifting tale about how talent requires the fuel of perseverance.