Recap of Current Summer Films

By Sandra Olmsted

Just in time for the weekend, here’s a recap of the new movies in theaters now.

Despicable Me 2

Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud and screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul do the near impossible and create a sequel that is as delightful as the original. Laugh-out-loud funny, Despicable Me 2 is joyous in its humor and playfulness. It is even playful in its use of 3D.

Although Gru (voice of Steve Carell) is still blissfully happy to be daddy to his three daughters, he hasn’t quite found his niche in the jelly making business, even with the help of longtime friend and mad-scientist Dr. Nefario (voice of Russell Brand). Then the Anti-Villain League (AVL) comes knocking in hopes of coercing Gru into finding the villain who stole an entire Arctic research facility. Gru takes AVL’s assignment and partners with agent Lucy Wilde (voice of Kristen Wiig) to track down the villain, who AVL believes is operating out of the local shopping mall. Under the cover of a cupcake shop, Gru and Lucy begin observing the other merchants.

Meanwhile, the girls are growing up and presenting new challenges for Gru. When the youngest, Agnes (voice of Elsie Fisher), can’t get the emotion right in poem she will recite in her school’s Mothers’ Day program because she “doesn’t have a mom,” Gru wisely tells her, “You did well in the Veteran’s Day program when you’ve never been in battle.”

The Minions (voices of directors Coffin and Renaud) are as fun and funny as ever and still into all kinds of merry mischief and gleeful pranks.

The animation in Despicable Me 2 is top form and the animators and designers employed a great deal of imagination to create wild inventions and creatures, the mirthful Minions and their slapstick, and the fantasy places that feel real.

The vocal acting and emotion are wonderful, and the film has a slightly sweeter note than the original Despicable Me. A Universal Pictures release, Despicable Me 2 runs a perfect 98 minis and is rated PG for rude humor and mild action. Don’t is this fun escape over the Holiday weekend.

The Lone Ranger

Director Gore Verbinsky retells the story of the Lone Ranger using a story within a story and all the conventions of the Western, and the conflict between civilization and wilderness, which is the heart of The Lone Ranger and Tonto’s relationship.

The film opens in the 1930s with Will (Mason Cook), a boy dressed as The Lone Ranger, visiting a sideshow attraction and having a conversation with the “Noble Savage” exhibit’s aged Native American, Tonto (Johnny Depp). Tonto mistakes the boy for his old friend, John Reid (Armie Hammer), and reveals John’s transformation into The Lone Ranger in flashbacks.

As idealistic John Reid, a newly-minted lawyer and the new prosecutor for his home territory, travels from the East, the train is attacked by outlaws planning to free the notorious Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who is being transported to his hanging. In this first big action sequence, John meets Tonto, who is also a prisoner on the train, and the two reluctantly work together.

At the town’s market, Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), the rich railroad boss, openly covets the wife and son of Sheriff Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), John’s brother.

Red Harrington (Helena Bonham Carter), the madam who has a beef with Cavendish, and Captain Jay Fuller (Barry Pepper), a Custer-esque Calvary officer under the control of Cole, also play important roles.

After the the Reid brothers and their posse are double crossed and ambushed by Cavendish’s gang, Tonto discovers that John is still alive and helps him to heal. He presents him with a mask to wear because the bad guys believe he’s dead and that’s a powerful tool.

The Lone Ranger, a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material and runs 149 minutes.

The Heat

An enormously fun and funny adult comedy that parodies, spoofs, and reinvents the buddy cop genre.  FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock), the toughest, smartest, by-the-book agent on the job, dreams of a promotion. Then her boss Hale (Demián Bichir) sends her to Boston to catch an anonymous drug kingpin who has an MO of dismembering the competition. If Ashburn impresses her boss, she is at least in the running for her dream job. The only obstacle is Office Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), the meanest, most effective and unconventional cop on the force; she’ll do anything to keep her neighborhood safe while teaching the bad guys lessons and flinging f-bombs around to humorous effect.

Eventually, and reluctantly, Mullins and Ashburn team up. When Mullins’ brother, Jason, (Michael Rapaport) gets out of jail and turns up on DEA agents surveillance tapes of the kingpin associates, Mullins has a personal stake in catching the kingpin, but the DEA agents want Ashburn and Mullins off their case.

Bullock and McCarthy have great chemistry and strut their comedic chops in this comedy. Definitely not mom’s Cagney & Lacey, Mullins and Ashburn are a fun team to watch, and the planned sequel would not be unwelcome.

A Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release, The Heat is rated R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence and runs 117 minutes.

Brad Pitt stars in Zombies thriller World War Z

After a tumultuous production, director Marc Forster’s World War Z final made it to the big screen, and it was mostly worth the wait. This new twist on the zombie genre offers extremely exciting sequences and a plot that allows Brad Pitts’ character, Gerry Lane, to travel the world during a zombie pandemic to see how different cultures approach the problem of zombies. He hopes to discover a way to help humans survive and beat the disease.

Lane must shepherd a young doctor on a fact finding mission looking for the zero patient in the pandemic; if he doesn’t he and his family will be sent back to the chaos and death of the city. From South Korea to Israel to a European World Health Organization facility, Lane gets the cooperation of local authorities and battles zombies.

The zombie film has come a long way. Lane and his love for his family are the center of the film. It is a satisfying and exciting film up to the point that the star doesn’t resist the urge to preach his personal gospel in a voice over during the final scenes.  Pitt’s vanity project would have been better without the sermon. World War Z, a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images and runs 116 minutes.

Monster University

Director and co-writer Dan Scanlon tackles the backstory of how Mike and Sully became friends and Scarers in Pixar Animation Studios’ prequel to Monsters, Inc. The film starts with the not-scary-enough and not-big-enough Mike (voice of Billy Crystal) as a grade schooler inspired by a field trip to the factory where children’s screams are turned into the energy that powers Monstropolis.  From that day, he is focused on going to university, studying scaring, and becoming the best scarer ever. All book learning and no natural talent, Mike is soon the nemesis of Sully (voice of John Goodman). Sully thinks books are useless. A prankish fight during a final exam run by legendary scarer Dean Hardscrabble (voice of Helen Mirren) gets Mike and Sully thrown out of Scaring Program.

Mike’s harebrained plan to get them back into the program requires them to join the wimpiest frat on campus and train their new frat brothers to be champion scarers.  Unfortunately, there is no clear villain for Mike and Sully to struggle against, especially after they are teammates.

The Pixar animation quality and style and detailed creation of a world are still there, but the little studio that could seems to have sold its soul. A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, rated G and runs 104 minutes.

Much Ado About Nothing

Director and screenwriter Joss Whedon’s fascinating take on the Shakespeare comic farce of the same name is done in modern dress and setting, but uses mostly the Bard’s original language — sometimes via smart phone. Confirmed bachelor Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and spitfire Beatrice (Amy Acker) love to spar with words and wit, but their friends and family make each think that their sparring masks unrequited love from the other.

Meanwhile, Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) fall madly in love. However, the conniving Don John (Sean Maher) and his treacherous friends plan to ruin their wedding day as a way of hurting Hero’s father, Leonato (Clark Gregg), at whose suburban estate everyone is staying.

The bumbling Dogberry (Nathan Fillian), the head of security for this gathering, and his incompetent subordinates uncover the plot against Hero and Leonato, which makes for more verbal and slapstick humor.

The film starts a bit slowly, but once the fun and games of the intrigues begin, it’s a riveting, joyous, and laugh-out-loud ride for those who can keep up with the language and the swiftly unfolding story.  A Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions release, Much Ado About Nothing is rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use and runs 109 minutes.

The Bling Ring

Obsessed with celebrities, Rebecca (Katie Chang) gets new-kid-in-school Mark (Israel Broussard) to steal from cars and houses in Calabasas, California. When Mark is able to track when celebrities are out of town via the internet, Rebecca decides to hit their homes and shop in their closets for the latest fashions. Soon, Nicki (Emma Watson) and Chloe (Claire Julien), who can see clothing and accessories and name the designer, join in the criminal activity without a second thought for the ethical or legal consequences.

The only parent really focused on is Nicki’s single mom, Laurie (Leslie Mann), who uses The Secret as the basis for her girls’ homeschooling. Otherwise, the parents are made to seem absent because they are not featured, but these kids don’t seem to have it so bad they have to steal, and that’s the mystery that director Sophie Coppola doesn’t explore enough. Mark’s father, who works in the film industry, might have the most to lose because of his son’s behavior, but Coppola remains resolutely focused on the teens as if observing their behavior will explain why they committed these crimes. Eventually, the gang runs afoul of surveillance cameras, and the parents are finally seen as their homes are searched and their kids are hauled off to jail.

The film is disturbing and fascinating, but it is not clear that director Coppola isn’t just making excuses for this generation when the real issues are the difference between right and wrong and personal responsibility for one’s actions and integrity. The gang’s desire for material goods driven by a culture of celebrity and endless media stories about how celebrities live doesn’t seem a strong enough motive. The Bling Ring, an A24 release of this American Zoetrope production, is rated R for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references and runs 90 minutes.

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