Despicable Me 2
Rated PG for crude humor and mild action
Action-Packed Animated Sequel Finds Reformed Gru Joining Forces With Anti-Villain League
When we last saw Gru (Steve Carell), the diabolical bad guy had abandoned his plan to steal the moon and turned over a new leaf, settling in suburbia to raise the three adorable orphans he had decided to adopt. At this action-packed adventure’s point of departure, we find the new family man content to dote on his demanding daughters, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher) with the help of his loyal army of minions.
But while in the midst of throwing toddler Agnes a medieval-themed birthday party, he is asked to come out of retirement by Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) of the Anti-Villain League (AVL). It seems that a research lab has totally vanished where scientists had been developing a top-secret transmutation potion.
Lucy further explains that the substance, PX-41, could be the most devastating weapon on Earth, should it fall into the wrong hands. And since it takes a villain to catch a villain, it is her hope that Gru will spearhead AVL’s effort to track down the serum-snatching scoundrel.
First, he must weigh his fatherly duties against the urgent call to apprehend a ne’er-do-well bent on world domination. Another consideration is the fact that he’s quickly developing a crush on the cute spy seeking his assistance.
So, it’s not long before the two are on the trail of El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), a Mexican madman intent on morphing Gru’s own minions into man-eating monsters. Complications ensue when the mendacious outlaw’s handsome son, Antonio (Moises Arias), starts seducing Margo after meeting her in the mall. Therefore, Gru’s challenging mission involves not only retrieving the vials of PX-41, but protecting his teenager’s virtue and wooing the love of his life to boot.
Again directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, Despicable Me 2 is as inspired a sequel as one might have hoped for. Far from a mere rehash of the winning elements which made the animated original such a hit, this episode features enough fresh ideas and funny moments to stand on its own and warrant a further extension of the franchise.
Sure, the pat Hollywood ending is a foregone conclusion, but nobody’s complaining when the roller coaster ride is so thoroughly enjoyable!
Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 98 minutes
The Weinstein Company
Bittersweet Biopic Recounts Final Hours In Oscar Grant’s Life
Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), were returning to Oakland in the wee hours of the morning after attending a New Year’s Eve 2009 celebration when their crowded train was stopped by police in response to a report of a disturbance. Oscar was among a number of male passengers ordered onto the platform at Fruitvale Station, where he was initially allowed to sit quietly with his back against the wall.
However, he was subsequently ordered to lie on his stomach so that he could be handcuffed and placed under arrest. When he resisted, a struggle ensued during which Oscar could be heard begging not to be tasered as a cop yelling “bitch-ass [N-word]” forced him to the ground.
Another officer pulled out a pistol and proceeded to shoot unarmed Oscar in the back, prompting the mortally wounded young father to exclaim, “I got a four- year-old daughter!” The entire incident was captured on a cell phone by a fellow straphanger who posted the video on YouTube, thereby instantly turning the controversial slaying into an international cause célèbre.
Had Oscar been callously executed or accidentally killed by a cop who had merely mistaken his .40 caliber weapon for his stun gun? Guilt or innocence, a matter ultimately left for a jury to decide, is not the primary focus of Fruitvale Station.
Instead, this bittersweet biopic seeks to humanize the very colorful Oscar Grant by chronicling the serendipitous series of events leading up to his untimely demise. The film unfolds over the course of the last day in the charming 22-year-old’s abbreviated life, a period during which he interacts affectionately with Sophina, their daughter (Ariana Neal), his mother (Octavia Spencer), pals, strangers and other relatives.
For instance, we see Oscar inform his disappointed girlfriend that he’s lost his job as a clerk at the local supermarket. Later, he tucks tiny Tatiana into bed and promises to take her to Chuck E. Cheese the next day. And he ominously takes to heart his mom’s erroneous presumption that riding the train would be a lot safer than driving to San Francisco that fateful night.
Already winning awards at both the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals, Fruitvale Station marks the remarkable writing and directorial debut of Ryan Coogler. A recent USC School of Cinematic Arts grad, the gifted 27-year-old exhibits the talents of a seasoned veteran here, crafting a character-driven tale that’s touching and emotionally engaging without resort to either sentimentality or melodrama.
Some of the credit must also go to Michael B. Jordan for his compelling, warts-and-all portrayal of Oscar, a complicated soul with perhaps as many positive attributes as faults. The support cast deserves a share of accolades, too, for ensuring that the palpable production, one well grounded in a sobering, inner-city reality, never hits a false note.
Whether Oscar Grant deserves to be remembered as a martyr or a provocateur, this poignant portrait of him as a flawed free spirit is moving enough to be remembered come Academy Awards season.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 85 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening July 12, 2013
Grown Ups 2 (PG-13 profanity, crude humor, partial male nudity and suggestive content) Adam Sandler and the rest of the principal cast reprise their roles as childhood pals now reuniting in their hometown for another round of nostalgia and middle-age mischief. Ensemble includes Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Maya Rudolph and Salma Hayek.
Pacific Rim (PG-13 for pervasive violence and brief profanity) Sci-fi adventure about the team of pilot-controlled robots called upon to save the day when the Earth’s surface is suddenly invaded by a hostile race of subterranean monsters. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi and Ron Perlman.
Beneath (Unrated) Harrowing horror flick about a half-dozen high school seniors’ attempt to make it safely back to shore from the middle of a lake after their rowboat is attacked by man-eating fish. Ensemble includes Daniel Zovatto, Bonnie Dennison, Chris Conroy, Jonny Orsini, Griffin Newman and Mackenzie Rosman.
Crystal Fairy (Unrated) Road trip comedy about a hedonistic tourist (Michael Cera) who befriends an eccentric free spirit (Gaby Hoffman) while crisscrossing Chile in search of a legendary hallucinogen derived from a cactus plant. Co-starring Agustin, Jose and Juan Silva.
Dealin’ With Idiots (Unrated) Jeff Garlin directed and stars in this social satire about a famous comedian who finds inspiration for his next movie after observing the absurd behavior of parents and coaches at his son’s Little League baseball games. Ensemble includes Gina Gershon, J.B. Smoove, Nia Vardalos, Jami Gertz, Kerri Kenny, Fred Willard, Timothy Oliphant, Bob Odenkirk, Christopher Guest and Richard Kind.
The Hot Flashes (R for sexuality and drug use) Midlife crisis comedy about a basketball team comprised of menopausal women who challenge Texas’ reigning high school girls’ state champs for the benefit of a breast cancer charity. Starring Brooke Shields, Wanda Sykes, Virginia Madsen, Robin Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Eric Roberts.
The Hunt (R for violence, profanity and graphic sexuality) Rush to judgment drama, set in tiny Taastrup, Denmark, about a kindergarten teacher (Mads Mikkelsen) who finds himself fired from his job, dumped by his girlfriend (Alexandra Rapaport) and shunned by his tight-knit community after being unfairly accused of exposing himself to one of his students (Annika Wedderkopp). With Susse Wold, Lars Ranthe and Thomas Bo Larsen. (In Danish, English and Polish with subtitles)
Israel: A Home Movie (Unrated) Reverential retrospective painting a poignant portrait of daily life in Israel as preserved on Super 8 between the ‘30s and the ‘70s by amateur filmmakers capturing everything from recently arriving refugees to shell-shocked soldiers.
Killing Season (R for graphic violence, torture, profanity and sexual references) Cat-and-mouse survival saga, set in the Appalachian hinterlands, about an American veteran (Robert De Niro) of the war in Bosnia who finds himself targeted by a revenge-minded, former Serbian soldier (John Travolta) posing as a tourist. With Milo Ventimiglia, Elizabeth Olin and Diana Lubenova.
Still Mine (PG-13 for brief sensuality, partial nudity and mature themes) Golden Years drama highlighting a retiree’s (James Cromwell) frustrating legal fight with a callous bureaucracy to build a house suitable to meet the needs of his gravely ill wife (Genevieve Bujold). Support cast includes Campbell Scott, Julie Stewart and Rick Roberts.
Terms And Conditions May Apply (Unrated) Cautionary documentary warning of the wholesale surrender of privacy transpiring as a consequence of consumers visiting websites, downloading apps and clicking on online use agreements without reading the fine print. Featuring appearances by visionary Ray Kurzweil, musician Moby and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
V/H/S 2 (Unrated) Found-footage horror sequel revolving around a couple of private investigators (Kelsy Abbott and Lawrence Michael Levine) whose only clues to a college student’s mysterious disappearance are contained in a pile of videotapes he left behind. With J.C. Holt, Simon Barrett and Mindy Robinson.