Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2 returns Gru and minion fans to the people they love and offers a surprisingly effective story about fatherhood, heroism, and even romance. While not as edgy as the first, the minions take even more of a center stage role in this flick– none of us should be surprised if there’s a minion movie coming out in 2015 or soon after.

You’re going to enjoy Despicable Me 2 if you liked:
Despicable Me
Toy Story 1, 2, or 3
The first Ice Age
Wall-E
The Croods
Warm Bodies

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 3, 2013

Written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

Starring Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Carell, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Benjamin Bratt, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong, Steve Coogan, and Moises Arias

Rated: PG

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Gru (Carell) is pretty content as a dad to Margo (Cosgrove), Agnes (Fisher), and Edith (Gaier). Sure, he sometimes craves the danger and action of being a bad guy and he certainly still invents wacky machines, but he’s a great dad who wants to make sure his daughters know he loves them this big.

It’s hard to go wrong with a movie that has a character like this at its heart.

But there’s a really bad thing going on and a group of super-villain stoppers are recruiting Gru to help stop a villain from bringing great peril to the world. The agent in charge of recruiting and handling Gru is Lucy (Wiig), and Lucy is a confident, no-monkey-business, and competent agent.

So Gru and Lucy open a front in a mall so that they can monitor some people who might be the big bad guy they’re looking for. The front is a bakery. Meanwhile, the minions go about their business of keeping things under a minion-value of control, and Gru’s daughters are growing up.

When Gru and Lucy find the bad guy, the people Gru loves are put in peril and he has to find a way to outwit a guy who might actually be his biggest rival from his past.

Critique

Filled with lots of fresh, surprising, very well-timed humor of all types, as well as an unashamedly deep sentiment, Despicable Me 2 doesn’t go far wrong. The plot contrivances that set up the need for a bakery front in a mall are a bit– well– easy. Some of the jokes are a bit toilet-humor, but are mitigated by the minions’ unfailing goodness.

And we know that Gru’s going to win, of course.

But there are great sequences that will keep even adults entertained and there are moments that kids will laugh and parents will say, “Aww.”

This is a good movie. Clean, heartfelt, really, really funny, and captivating. The girls, Agnes, Edith, and Margo are just wonderfully written and voiced, making the conflicts of the movie a little deeper and impactful.

You’ll like this flick.

Content warnings: Only if you don’t like intermittent, low-brow humor.

Writing: 4          Acting: 5          Overall: 4

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Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game had so much going for it, what with a very intelligent story that is intelligently told, along with extraordinary effects, and with deeply affecting characters. Thus, it comes close to having serious impact and is a very entertaining movie.

That said, it was hurried and didn’t spend enough time on Ender’s journey. Granted, there was no real way to do justice to the incredible source material, but there were enough missteps with the film that this fan is a little disappointed.

You will enjoy Ender’s Game if you liked:
Super 8
Inception
Hanna
The Hunger Games

Here’s a trailer:

And the deets:

Released November 1, 2013

Written by Gavin Hood, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card

Directed by Gavin Hood

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Jimmy Pinchak, Aramis Knight, and Nonso Anozie

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Ender’s Game takes place in a future Earth after the Formics, a race of war-like aliens, attacked and nearly destroyed humanity on Earth. A great hero beat them, but now humanity expects them to return. So they are training people from a very young age to be soldiers in the battle against these critters. Indeed, they are training children.

Ender (Butterfield) is one of these. He is insanely smart and has grown up with his brother, Peter (Pinchak) being constantly cruel to him, and with his sister Valentine (Breslin) being a source of love and friendship.

But Ender is now off to Battle School, where Graff (Ford) believes Ender will flourish. Graff is certain that Ender is the answer. Anderson (Davis) thinks Graff is too hard on Ender. Rackham (Kingsley) is the hero who beat the Formics last time.

Ender pulls together a team, notably including Petra (Steinfeld) and Bean (Knight). These are all incredibly gifted young people and Ender proves their mettle by leading them to great victories in Battle School, particularly in the battle room.

The story of Ender’s training hurtles along until we start seeing that Ender is having odd experiences with dreams and visions that involve Formics. When the climax of the film happens, this connection he’s been having helps him prepare to be in the next movie.

Critique

The filmmakers, particularly Gavin Hood, were in far too much of a hurry to capture the crucial scenes of the book and translate them to celluloid. This resulted in a movie that moves far too fast for us to really ever be in Ender’s head. We also don’t have nearly enough time with the battle room, the single coolest thing about the film. This also means that the arc that Ender goes through doesn’t have nearly the impact it needs to have.

So if the movie had slowed down a little, it would have been better.

Lost in the movie is the sub-plot where Peter and Valentine Wiggin essentially scheme to run the Earth’s political discussion. Also lost is the heart and soul.

Which means we have great, beautiful, awesome scenes that are connected by a character we don’t have time to come care deeply about.

Ender’s Game is still entertaining and at times all kinds of fun. It’s also visually wonderful. The joy in the battle room sequences makes us ache for more and the rest of the movie just doesn’t make up for that lack.

Sigh.

At least the performances are good, with standout work done by Steinfeld and Ford.

Content warnings: Some violence and some salty language.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3.5

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The Wolverine

Why are these Wolverine movies unsatisfying? Have they not gotten to his heart yet?

I don’t know.

Happily, The Wolverine is better than the first flick about this most interesting of Marvel comic book heroes. It delves into a lot of the old comic book story bits, particularly relating to Wolverine’s experiences in Japan and with Japanese culture and people. This is nice.

You will probably enjoy The Wolverine if you liked:
Any X-Men movie
Iron Man 3
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Dark Knight
2 Guns

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 26, 2013

Written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank

Directed by James Mangold

Starring Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Hal Yamanouchi, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, and Hiroyuki Sanada

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Logan (Jackman) has removed himself from society, sick of being the mostly human killing machine who is also immortal and clearly broken from having to kill Jean Grey in a previous battle. He’s in a remote, northern, chilly wilderness, going into town only for supplies and booze.

Of course he gets in a fight. And of course a mysterious person shows up. Her name is Yukio (Fukushima) and she is an unusal-looking and strangely prescient Japanese woman. She also knows how to use a katana pretty well.

Yukio tells Logan that someone from his past would like to see him. We start finding out through flashbacks that Logan was a POW in Hiroshima on the day the A-bomb was dropped. We also learn that he saved a Japanese man’s life. That man is Yashida (Yamanouchi).

Yashida is now very old and he tells Logan that he can give Logan what he wants– mortality. But of course, Yashida has other plans too. Other people have plans as well, including Yashida’s doctor (Khodchenkova) and some other shady folks, one of whom uses a bow very well and who has a history with Yashida’s daughter, Mariko (Okamoto).

Suddenly, Logan is embroiled in a plot of power-plays, ninja, Yakuza, and forlorn-looking women. There’s lots of Japanese without subtitles (fun for those of us who speak Japanese) and really cool cultural stuff. There are also some nifty set-pieces which use Japanese architecture and transportation to great effect.

All leads to a showdown that most people will probably see coming. The old guy is not what he seems and Logan has got to rely on others for help.

Critique

We still don’t know why Logan hates immortality, invulnerability, and his ability to grow adamantium claws. Because we still don’t know this, the emotional impact and satisfaction level of the film is diminished.

That said, the plot is surprisingly rich and textured, with real characters populating the scenes. The acting is very nice, although Khodchenkova needs a few different snarls. The fights are good and utilized Wolverine’s abilities well. Interestingly, the writers pulled a kryptonite/Superman on this film, which hopefully does not become an overused trope in these flicks.

You’ll enjoy this movie. Hugh Jackman is convincing again and he lends a lot of depth to a character that really does need more depth– and far more clarity.

Content warnings: Plenty of superhero violence, some of it a little bloody. Some salty language.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4

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Gravity

Thank you, movie gods, for Gravity.

But thank you even more, movie gods, for Alfonso Cuaron. Gravity is far and away the best movie of 2013. I don’t think we will ever see such an immersive, intense, technically challenging and effective movie for a long time. Cuaron has given the movie-going world an example of what a director can do when vision runs the show.

If you haven’t seen Gravity (the future Oscar winner of best movie for 2013), go see it. In 3D. This has been the only movie I’ve seen in 3D and it was extraordinary.

You will like Gravity. That said, you will love it if you enjoy/enjoyed the following:
Space and science
The Grey
Movies
Alien
Unstoppable
Life of Pi

Here’s a trailer (without 3D):

The deets:

Released October 4, 2013

Written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris, and Phaldut Sharma

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Gravity opens with one of the greatest establishing shots of all film. It is quiet. A total lack of sound ‘quiet’. We are in space. Everything is in three dimensions– front/back, side/side, up/down. But these are relative, because space is an alien thing and down means nothing when there is nothing to stop you from spinning out of control forever.

Then we meet the astronauts. Ryan Stone (Bullock– yes, her ‘strong’ female character has a typically male name and yes that’s deeply stupid) is not a professional astronaut. She is a research doctor/engineer and she is there to help install and implement an impressive new technology. That technology doesn’t matter. It’s not even a MacGuffin.

Guiding her through her work in space is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney). Kowalski is professional and chummy, and when catastrophe strikes, he takes charge.

And catastrophe strikes. A de-comissioned satellite’s debris field smashes into the shuttle and sends Kowalski and Stone in different directions. Now Stone has to get back to Kowalski.

But things just keep getting worse. With her air diminishing, her options very limited, and with very limited training, Stone has to find out just how deep she can dig to survive the seemingly un-survivable: being stranded in space.

Critique

Gravity is beautifully shot. This is because it is technically nearly perfect. The science might not be spot-on, but that is not important. This is a movie about a human being who doesn’t have a family or a life to return to, so she has to find out just exactly what she is living for. Her answers are inspiring.

It’s also a film about the man versus nature at her harshest and most alien. And at her most cruel– because she has no interest whatsoever in man, and can’t be bothered to notice man in his/her desperate state.

Everything that could go wrong, does. Every calamity that could realistically happen in the confines and vastness of space, does. The pacing is heart-stopping and the movie is intensity defined.

Since I can’t say enough about why this movie is so good, I’ll keep this brief. Here you have a smart, flawed character going on the most incredible of journeys. You can’t help but notice how magnificent is creation, even when she’s desperately holding onto a space station to not get swept away. Her journey is challenging, intense, and never lets up. She has to discover who she truly is, deep inside.

The acting is flawless. The story is flawless. The filming is astonishing.

This movie is as near perfect a movie as you will ever see.

Just go see it already.

Content warnings: Some salty language.

Writing: 5          Acting: 5           Overall: 5

Just go see the movie. For Pete’s sake.

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