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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Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages provides a few moments of nostalgia and pleasure, but is mostly a joyless attempt to capitalize on Glee‘s success and preach a ‘stick it to the man’ philosophy.

What it instead succeeds in doing is casting people who can’t sing our old rock favorites and making these people behave like caricatures.

In short, Rock of Ages most decidedly does NOT rock.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released June 15, 2012

Written by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo and Allan Loeb

Directed by Adam Shankman

Starring Julianne Hough, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mary J. Blige, Malin Ackerman, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Bryan Cranston, and Paul Giamatti. 

Rated: PG-13 (should be R)

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Sherry Christian (Hough) (wink, wink on the name to you 80s rock fans) is a small-town girl (oh, I bet you know what song is coming) who just arrived in LA to seek her fortune as a singer. She sings her way off the bus and through the streets, setting up a musical a’la Glee, wherein bystanders get involved in the musical numbers but life and the action of the film doesn’t change during said numbers.

Sherry’s mugged right off the bus and a city boy named Drew (Boneta) who works at a legendary LA rock bar comforts her and helps her get her feet under her. The two of them are singers and are seeking rock and roll fame and true love is born. They seek their fame surrounded by all kinds of rock characters.

Dennis (Baldwin) owns the rock bar, called the Bourbon, and his right-hand man is Lonny (Brand). These are 80s rock worshippers who will do anything to keep their bar open. Dennis is jaded, but allows his love of rock and roll to get the better of him at times.

Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) is the biggest name in rock and roll. He’s a tattooed Axl Rose clone, except that he hasn’t got Axl’s pipes. He’s drunk and alienates everyone. Malin Ackerman plays a reporter who has Stacee’s number and with whom Stacee becomes obsessed. Paul Giamatti plays Stacee’s, you guessed it, slimy and conniving manager.

Then you have Bryan Cranston playing the new Mayor Whitmore of LA, who has pledged to clean up the town and his wife, Patricia (Zeta-Jones), is a religious nut who specifically has it in for the Bourbon and Jaxx.

Have we covered all the stereotypes and caricatures and tropes that a ‘stick it to the man’ and ‘rock and roll forever’ film should have? Because the film sure does, and not in a very interesting way, despite the charm of the actors.

Critique

The cleverness of the names and occurrences and the winking way that they reference iconic 80s rock and roll is not enough to make a fresh story. This movie does not exist to tell an interesting story; instead it appears to both skewer and pay homage to 80s rock and roll while trying to wrap a catalogue of big name stars in an ostensibly heart-warming story about staying true to who you are– all while essentially deflating some of the greatest rock songs that came out of the 80s and demonstrating that these are famous actors, not singers.

If you watch this film to see fresh performances of your favorite 80s hits, you’re better off sticking to season 1 of Glee– those people sing better. Tom Cruise is undeniably excellent as the character of Stacee Jaxx, but he can’t get anywhere near the notes needed to pull of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” You gotta scream and soar, Tom, and you can’t do it.

By the same token, Julianne Hough is a surprisingly solid actress. She’s warm, sweet, and really engaging, and she’s a great dancer. But her voice is about like Britney Spears’ voice– or in other words– she sings in a whisper/husky tone and just can’t hit the notes.

After a while, you don’t want to hear these two anymore, with the exception of Sherry’s version of “Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash. She’s got enough attitude that she delivers that number right. But it’s hard not to laugh when Sherry is asked if she can dance and she responds, “I’m a better singer.”

Mary J. Blige’s mighty voice comes as a treat about halfway through the film. Thank you, Mary. That said, if you want to hear your favorite 80s tunes, like “Here I Go” from Whitesnake, or a Pat Benatar tune… YouTube, my friends.

The acting is mediocre generally, but hits high notes (see what I did there?) with Hough and Cruise. And despite some serious talent, Rock of Ages lacks charm, heart, and soul– all things that 80s music had.

All of that said, the duet between Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin is hysterical and wonderful, although the jury is out on whether it’s MEANT to be hysterical.

When all is said and done, the show is a bizarrely misogynistic and preachy pile of lifeless scene after lifeless scene stitched together without elegance. With the suggestiveness and graphic face-sucking, it should be rated R.

Content warnings: Very sexually suggestive scenes, some strong language, a large amount of garbage.

Writing: 1          Acting: 3.5          Overall: 2

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