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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Paul

Paul gets a few things right, a few things wrong, and is overall somewhat enjoyable because it knows how to mine a single joke for all of its humor.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released March 18, 2011

Written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

Directed by Greg Mottola

Starring Kristen Wiig, Sigourney Weaver, Mia Stallard, Jane Lynch, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons, Jeffrey Tambor, and Seth Rogen’s voice

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Paul opens with a scene of a girl (Stallard) with her dog having a close encounter. Then we fast forward many years and find Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) on tour in America. They’re British bachelors who love science fiction and they have attended a great conference in Las Vegas and are now driving a rented RV around the west, visiting all the important sites involved in alien visitations.

Graeme and Clive encounter some bullies (Koechner and Plemons), and then encounter Paul (Rogen), an alien who has escaped from the government after some 50 years of custody. Paul knows more about American culture than do these Britons and he has assimilated into American culture and language well, despite being obviously an alien.

So Graeme and Clive go on the run with Paul, and are chased by Zoil (Bateman), who appears to be a stone-cold killer and his underlings Haggard (Hader) and O’Reilly (Truglio). But that’s not all. Graeme and Clive meet a born again religionist named Ruth (Wiig), who is blind in one eye and whose religious doctrine precludes any chance at extra-terrestrial life.

Now all are on the madcap, sometimes droll, sometimes actually entertaining journey of their lives.

Critique

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost know how to set up a joke and deliver multiple punchlines for it. There is plenty of that going on, although some of the jokes strain the audience’s tolerance, particularly in the area of Ruth, whose extreme ‘Christianity’ is made fun of at length. This particularly line of jokes is intermittently funny, but too often the humor feels like commentary of some sort, and the jokes are going after easy, lame targets.

The twist with Paul’s character is that while he is an alien, he is crass, has a healthy libido, and is totally irreverent– and is thus not very ‘alien.’ This results in quite a few funny moments, but also gets a little old, until the movie starts allowing Paul to have an arc along with arc his new chauffeurs/companions experience.

One of the major winners for this movie is the pacing and the presence of a wide array of fun characters. Hader is particularly a joy as Haggard, the underling with ambition and who might just end up being too smart for anyone’s good– especially his.

We get treated to Sigourney Weaver’s voice, as she is the boss running Zoil’s efforts to track down Paul. We also get treated to David Koechner’s great comedic timing, as well as Wiig’s remarkable fearlessness.

So, setting aside some of the too-easy targets for humor and a bit too much crass humor, Paul mostly delivers a good time. Pegg and Frost have great chemistry and the effects are totally non-distracting. It’s a pretty good movie, but it won’t appeal to a very wide audience. To enjoy it, you’d have to be a fan of Pegg and Frost, as well as a bit of a science fiction geek.

Content warnings: Lots of very salty language, some sexual references and the like.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4          Overall: 3.5

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How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon accomplishes the seemingly impossible: making dragons an adorable and engaging companion and friend. At the same time, it tells a suitably archetypal story of a young lad who finds his own way to defend his people from the scourge of dragons. And at the SAME time, it’s hilarious, heartfelt, and has heavy themes thrown in.

In short, How to Train Your Dragon is a great movie.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released March 26, 2010

Written by William Davies, Dean DeBlois, and Chris Sanders. Based on the book by Cressida Cowell

Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders

Starring America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, TJ Miller, and David Tennant

Rated PG

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Hiccup (Baruchel) is the son of Stoick (Butler), the most courageous of viking warriors and the leader of the clan. The problem is that Hiccup is more of a thinker and inventor than a warrior, which is probably good since Hiccup is the size of one of Stoick’s legs.

Instead of training for battle with dragons, Hiccup spends his time inventing awesome contraptions to help in the fight against the dreaded beasts. See, the dragons show up with some frequency, carrying off the vikings’ livestock– and the vikings obviously aren’t fans of this type of thing. Thus, the battles are a pitched and serious business.

During one evening battle, Hiccup fires a massive bolo at what he thinks is a night fury, the most vicious and feared dragon known to viking. He’s pretty sure he hit something. But the village is in tatters and Stoick decides to lead the warriors in a search for the dragons’ lair in order to, once and for all, stop the scourge. Gobber the Belch (Ferguson), a grizzled warrior with one hand missing, is left behind to train the next crop of viking warriors.

This group of warriors consists of Hiccup’s peers, Astrid (Ferrera), Snotlout (Hill), Fishlegs (Mintz-Plasse), Tuffnut (Miller), and Ruffnut (Wiig). Tuffnut and Ruffnut are twin siblings who are tough and full of vim. Fishlegs is a walking encyclopedia of dragon lore, but is not very physically gifted. Snotlout is essentially a bravado-filled goofball. And Astrid is a gangly, tough girl who loves battle.

Hiccup and his colleagues achieve varying degrees of failure in their training while Stoick and the others are off hunting dragons. Meanwhile, Hiccup is sure his weapon hit something, so he tracks down where he thinks it landed and finds an injured night fury.

Now Hiccup forms a new friendship while innovating a way to help the night fury. Hiccup’s new understanding of dragons could either save the vikings, or doom them to destruction. And when it all comes down to one decision, Hiccup has to decide if he will rally his friends and save both the vikings and the dragons.

Critique

On the strength of the plot, with its complexities in human relationships, unshirking look at feeling like an outcast, and a truly excellent hero’s journey, How to Train Your Dragon is extremely effective. Rare is the animated film, or really any film, that has such a fine plot that tells a seemingly simple story, but really tells the story of people doing their best to live the way they choose and having to deal with the consequences.

Add to the excellent writing and character development some wonderful animation. These is not realistic stuff– the people are capable of impressive physical feats and their size is generally a caricature. But the colors are bright when they need to be, the expressions on people and dragon alike are emotive, and there’s some truly well-thought out construction of the village of Berk and the dragons’ lair. Toothless, the night fury, is a particular accomplishment, with his great expressions and snake/cat-like movement.

To top off all of this great stuff, the voice acting is mighty good. Hiccup’s dialogue had to be written with Baruchel’s self-effacing, dry-wit manner in mind, because it matched perfectly. Butler is wonderful as the gruff dad who loves his boy. Ferguson clearly had a blast voicing Gobber’s action. The team of dragon-warrior trainees also do a mighty fine job.

In short, How to Train Your Dragon delivers fun, comedy, action-packed, and heartfelt entertainment that even little kids will adore. Instant classic from DreamWorks, and very likely their best film ever.

Content warnings: some intense scenes of dragon battle

Writing: 5          Acting (voice): 5           Overall: 5

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