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Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Smurfs 2 - C-

Rated PG, 105 minutes

"Smurfs 2" fun for the kids but lacks originality or magic

The Smurfs
"The Smurfs 2," the sequel to the 2011 hit update of the animated series, should resonate with the very young set, peppered with some fun moments but otherwise lacking in genuine inspiration, not to mention the CG, much like the 2011 film (which inexplicably grossed $500 million worldwide), doesn't resemble the original cartoon. Gargamel (Hank Azaria), now a celebrity sorcerer, kidnaps Smurfette (Katy Perry) and takes her to Paris. Papa, Clumsy, Grouchy, and Vanity transport, using magical crystals, to the real world and seek their friends Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace Winslow (Jayma Mays) and their son, Blue to help rescue Smurfette. Directed by Raja Gosnell from the 2011 film, the forgettable "The Smurfs" is charming and cute enough for the young set but the weak storytelling and lack of any originality will have the parents frequently looking at their watches. There are a couple of bright spots: Harris' interact with the little blue ones and the enjoyable Jonathan Winters, in last role, energetically voices Papa Smurf (and the film is dedicated to him), but still can't keep this from being a lame, mediocre effort at best. If only the other cast members were as memorable. Katy Perry is a bland Smurfette, and listen closely for the likes Christina Ricci, George Lopez, Fred Armisen, Mario Lopez, Alan Cumming and Anton Yelchin, all talented actors wasted under a forgettable script and Azaria's dreadful overacting. British character actor Brendan Gleeson (of some of the "Harry Potter" films) is a nice addition though he spends part of the movie as a duck. For what it is, the shoddy "The Smurfs 2" may be occasionally cute but it goes on way, way too long (105 minutes, really?) and takes much too long to resolve. Young kids under age 10 will still enjoy it but this can be one parents should drop the kids off at the theater or pay a babysitter to go see it with them. "Monsters University," "Despicable Me 2" and even the box-office bust "Turbo" are all better movies than this.

Wes's Grade: C-

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Wolverine - B

Rated PG-13, 126 minutes

Jackman channels a leaner, darker "Wolverine"

Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine
Comic book adaptations have struggled as of late ("R.I.P.D"? anyone) but along comes Marvel Comics' "The Wolverine" to save the day. Darker, meaner and peppered with some sturdy action sequences, "The Wolverine" is an above-average, mostly satisfying but sometimes slow-moving superhero film. In this outing, based on some of Wolverine's comic book adventures overseas, Logan (Hugh Jackman) travels to Japan, where he engages an old acquaintance in a struggle that has lasting consequences. Stripped of his immortality, Wolverine must battle deadly samurai as well as his inner demons. Directed by "3:10 to Yuma's" James Mangold with a script from "The Usual Suspects'" Christopher McQuarrie, "The Wolverine" is a leaner, stripped-down action superhero that relies more on the action and characters than a bunch of explosions. In essence, this is what the recent and disappointing "Superman" version should've been and wasn't. Sure, there's still plenty to keep the young set engaged (blood, knives and robots), though this sixth installment of the "X-Men" franchise has more slower moments with some brief appearances by the lovely Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) as Logan battles some of his demons, as well as some violent ones (self heart surgery!). To balance out the bloodier moments there are a trio of young actresses that also make this outing memorable: Japanese actresses Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima as Logan's love interest and an assassin, respectively and Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova as evil mutant Viper, who clearly gets the most tongue action in the film. Handsomely filmed and set in Tokyo (a nice change of pace), "The Wolverine" has some energetic visuals that keep the film moving (including a breathless fight scene atop a Japanese bullet train) and anytime the tough Fukushima is onscreen. When the film slows down, which happens occasionally, the film drags a little, especially in its second act, before finishing with a preposterously fun climax that would have James Cameron proud. An entertaining and serviceable comic book adaptation, "The Wolverine," anchored by a scowling but charming Jackman and refreshing in that it doesn't drown in CG and explosions, is worth a look even if you aren't a fan of comic books.

Wes's Grade: B

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The To Do List - C+

Rated R, 90 minutes

Pleasantly profane "To Do List" cheapens a female coming-of-age story

Aubrey Plaza
With current, crowd-pleasing coming-of-age tale "The Way Way Back" and "The Kings of Summer" geared toward the guys, it seems natural for one to come along for the girls, and the appealing "The To Do List" fills that void but it's hardly anything new in terms of relationships. And while peppered with some genuinely fun moments, it takes the low road too often enough it feels too cheap in the end. Set in 1993, Boise, Idaho valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) wants to shed her uptight image before college, so she assembles a to do list of all the "activities" she missed out on in high school which results in a very interesting summer. Directed and written by TV veteran Maggie Carey in her feature film debut, the pleasantly profane "The To Do List" has a game cast, in particular a charming lead, but it lacks heart, looking and often feeling very cheap and overly low-brow. Newcomer Plaza, who had a breakout year last year with "Safety Not Guaranteed" and "10 Years," is a perfectly winning lead, capturing the awkward playfulness and of a horny 90s teen, and she's surrounded by a goofy (but cardboard) cast of characters: her amusing parents Connie Britton and Clark Gregg, her slutty sister Rachel Bilson, a slacker boss in Bill Hader (who also co-produced) and an equally awkward teen pal in Dallasite Johnny Simmons. Yet what's problematic is Carey's shallow script, which meanders sitcom-like from one profane, awkward episode to another, lacking the depth and emotion of others in this genre (some are mildly funny, others not so much) and without shedding much light into relationships or teens. It's refreshing that Carey provides a feminist entry in the typically male-dominated genre of coming-of-age, but it needs a more thoughtful, smart script, plus its R rating seems ironically geared more toward adults than its target audience of young adults or teens. Other than an energetic soundtrack filled with some nice 90s tunes you probably hadn't heard in awhile, the best thing about "The To Do List" is the genuinely lovely, talented actress Plaza (who has Kristen Wiig-esque potential when it comes to comedy), but it needs more heart and less cheap laughs.

Wes's Grade: C+

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Still Mine - B

Rated PG-13, 102 minutes

"Still Mine" a heartfelt, well-acted portrayal of being older

James Cromwell
Based on true events, the Canadian drama "Still Mine" is a sensitive, touching and superbly acted tale of what it's like to navigate life in your 70s. James Cromwell ("Babe") is a rural Canadian farmer who battles a government bureaucrat (Jonathan Potts) for the right to build a new house for his ailing wife Irene (Genevieve Bujold) when their existing home becomes unsuitable due to her increasing health needs. Directed and written by Canadian filmmaker Michael McGowan, "Still Mine" is a low-key, intelligent drama and a touching tribute to the older folks in our society who must deal with increased challenges due to their age. Cromwell (who won this year's Canadian Screen Award for Best Actor for his performance) is excellent as the strong-willed, smart farmer who uses his skills to meet the needs of his wife, played lovingly by Bujold also in a strong part. Slow-moving and somewhat pensive, "Still Mine" could've easily played on basic cable or HBO, but the strong turns by the leads will keep you engaged not to mention some moments of wry humor that those with older parents could certainly relate to. McGowan's assured script could've easily veered toward the maudlin, particularly when it deals with Bujold's illness, but the film stays guarded and focused until its satisfying ending. Handsomely shot on location in Canada and elegantly scored, "Still Mine" is affecting, deeply satisfying and features two unforgettable turns from both Cromwell and Bujold.

Wes's Grade: B

Friday, July 19, 2013

The East - B

Rated PG-13, 116 minutes

Clever, involving "The East" a different kind of spy thriller

"The East" is an unusual, occassionally slow-moving but satisfying spy thriller with a different premise: that of eco-terrorism. As the environment becomes an issue in today's society, eco-terrorism becomes more of a threat, and "The East" deals with many of those issues. Sarah (Brit Marling), is a former FBI agent who goes to work for private intelligence firm Hiller Brood led by Sharon (Patricia Clarkson). As she leaves a boyfriend (Jason Ritter) and a comfortable lifestyle behind, she goes in search of an anarchist, eco-terrorist group called The East to protect one of her new firm's clients. She eventually finds and infiltrates the group led by Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) and Izzy (Ellen Page) but her allegiances are tested when she fals in love with Benji. Directed by Zal Batmanglij ("The Sound of My Voice") and co-written by Batmanglij and Marling, it's a clever but engaging take on the spy thriller genre with the advent of eco-terrorism hitting the headlines. The mid-section is a little slow and sluggish and the romantic angles lack realism, but it is otherwise a sturdy, well-acted film with believeable turns by Marling, Skarsgard, Page and one of my favorite but underrated character actresses, Clarkson. The entertaining "The East" is worth a look especially for those interested in the environment.

Wes's Grade: B

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing - B

Rated PG-13, 110 minutes

Whedon's version of "Much Ado About Nothing" a wistful, well-acted garden party

Shakespeare has open been open to new interpretations, and Joss Whedon's version of Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing" is no exception, though the concept of love is still very much the driving force. The low-budget, independent and cerebral comedy, directed by Whedon and shot in black and white with a contemporary background with the original language intact, is still amusing, well-acted relevant, with a few new twists. Essentially, the movie/play concerns a two sets of lovers, the older, Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), and the younger, Claudio (Fran Kanz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese), whose love could be helped, or hurt, by their colleagues and/friends Leonato (Clark Gregg), Dogberry (Nathan Fillion), Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and the scheming Don Juan (Sean Maher). Lighthearted, fun yet very touching, "Much Ado About Nothing" is a skillful adaptation by none other than Joss Whedon, of last year's mega hit "The Avengers" but also the guy behind "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog." Sure, an interesting choice, but it's a remarkably sensitive, restrained version, elegantly shot in black-and-white (which adds nice texture to the film) at Whedon's home and also featuring a smooth, jazzy score from Whedon himself. "Much Ado About Nothing," with nice performances from a mostly unknown cast of TV actors, most memorable Acker and Denisof as Beatrice and Benedick, is a well-acted, wistful garden party that still says that love will prevail regardless of what others think about them. Worth a look and a nice, pleasant job from Whedon.

Wes's Grade: B

R.I.P.D. - D

Rated PG-13, 96 minutes

Messy, unfunny "R.I.P.D." is cinematic purgatory

Ryan Reynolds
Yes, it's true. It's as bad as it looks. The big-budgeted, expensive new high-concept comic book adaptation comedy "R.I.P.D." is an apt name, in that it rips off many other films, including "Men in Black," "Ghostbusters" with a little bit of Ricky Gervais' "The Invention of Lying" thrown in for good measure. After Boston detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is killed by accident, he is recruited into the R.I.P.D. (short for Rest In Peace Department) and partnered with veteran officer Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), a lawman from the Old West. The R.I.P.D. is an organization of dead police officers tasked with protecting the living from arrogant, malevolent, bloodthirsty evil spirits who refuse to move into the afterlife. Essentially, "R.I.P.D.," which is based on a comic book called "Rest in Peace Department," is movie purgatory and a mess of a comedy that likely had some potential early on and went South quickly in post-production. Interestingly, it's directed by Robert Schwentke, who directed the original "RED" (2010), whose sequel "RED 2" opens today as well, though he may not want to take credit for this. "R.I.P.D." also features one of his "RED" actors, Mary-Louise Parker (who is also in "RED 2"), one of the few bright spots about this dark, muddled film, which has the lead characters return to Earth as alternate avatars to protect human beings from destruction (yeah, like I said, very confusing). Bridges tries to humorously riff his "True Grit" character Rooster Cogburn, but he ends up excessively annoying in a take-the-money-and-run part, which is saying something given that Ryan Reynolds is his partner, who plays a character similar to ones he plays in most of his movies: bland and lifeless (poor guy, he doesn't seem to be having any fun here, ditto for villain Kevin Bacon). Outside of Parker, there are plenty of energetic special effects and visuals, which are fun but still remind too much of "MIB." Thankfully, it's only 90 minutes, which go by quickly but also feel much longer than the afterlife. "R.I.P.D.," which is somehow being marketed to the younger set, may have some afterlife on DVD or VOD, where it could become one of those "so bad it's good" cult classics. Right now though, this sniffs of something worse in cinematic terms: a flop. Do what's best: skip it.

Wes's Grade: D

Fruitvale Station - B+

Unrated, 84 minutes

Performances, emotion highlight powerful true story "Fruitvale Station"

Octavia Spencer
If you don't know who Oscar Grant is before seeing the powerful new drama "Fruitvale Station," you won't be able to forget him afterwards. Superbly acted and directed by newcomer Ryan Coogler, "Fruitvale Station" has won many festival awards, including major prizes at both Cannes and Sundance. It tells the true story of the unarmed Grant, who in the early morning hours of New Years Day 2009, was shot to death at a transit station outside of San Francisco by a transit officer following a scuffle. Coogler, in an auspicious debut as director, brings "Fruitvale Station" to the screen with intense emotion and superb performances from Michael B. Jordan ("Chronicle") as Grant and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer as his mother, whose birthday is on New Year's Eve. The sublime breakout performance from the charming Jordan, best known to many from the TV show "Friday Night Lights," should propel him to new heights, and he anchors the film well. "Fruitvale Station" as good as it is, isn't perfect. This is seemingly a sketch of Grant's life and doesn't delve into its nuances, not to mention it fails to examine the other issues that arose from the tragic incident, including the riots and protests that occurred after Grant's death or the motives of the police officer who gunned down Grant. While it's a sensitive and even overly sympathetic portrait of Grant, Coogler is still wise enough to keep the story at an intimate level, which keeps the story immensely touching, and bringing out fantastic performances from everyone involved. A low-budget, independently produced film, the deeply satisfying "Fruitvale Station" is worth your time.

Wes's Grade: B+

The Conjuring - B

Rated R, 112 minutes

"The Conjuring" a familiar but chilling fact-based horror-story

Vera Farmiga
We all love a good horror story, especially when it's (supposedly) true. That's the case with the new horror film "The Conjuring," which is inspired by a story from the investigators behind "The Amityville Horror." While it lacks some shock value and seems all-too familiar, it has enough chills to keep you engaged. The film tells the true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), acclaimed paranormal investigators, who in 1971 were called to help the Perron family (Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor) terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded northeast farmhouse. "The Conjuring" is directed by James Wan of the "Saw" horror film franchise and of 2011's horror hit "Insidious," also starring Wilson. It's due to Wan's expertise in the field, a decent cast and a familiar plot that relies more on the scares than blood-letting that keeps this a slightly above-average, entertaining entry in the hip demon-possessed horror genre. The sluggish script, loosely based on the case files of the Warren's, combines many jumpy elements seen in other horror films, including "The Amityville Horror," The Last Exorcism" and "A Haunting in Connecticut," but the film's two talented lead actresses, Farmiga and indie-film stalwart Taylor, draw you to the story ending in a spirited climax that will have you looking for "The Exorcist's" Max Von Snydow and Ellen Burstyn. What it lacks in genuine shock value is made up by Farmiga's sympathetic Lauren Bacall-like rapture that had me entranced from the first frame (her real-life character is still living and approved of the film), and Taylor's memorable, dark turn as a possessed Mom committed to her family. "The Conjuring" is a surprisingly tame for its R-rating, but it's still a serviceable thriller, thanks to two fine actresses and an experienced horror film director who adds a few nice, creepy touches (one ugly doll, an old music box and one nasty looking tree among them) without becoming too violent. Worth a look for horror film enthusiasts, and stay over for the credits to see a few pics of the real people who inspired the movie.

Wes's Grade: B

RED 2 - B-

Rated PG-13, 116 minutes

Predictable but charming "RED 2" is nothing new but still fun

Helen Mirren
If you thought the spies in the 2010 dark comedy "RED" were too old to be spying, think again. A sequel to that 2010 hit and based on the graphic novels of the same name, "RED 2" is utterly predictable and hardly anything new, but these aging spies have a few good moves left in them. Retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) reunites his unlikely team of ragtag elite operatives (John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Lee Byung-hun, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Helen Mirren) for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device and stop an unlikely villain (Anthony Hopkins) who will disarm it. Calculated yet charming, "RED 2" isn't as good as "RED" but is a decent, entertaining action flick, thanks to a great cast and a few nice action set pieces. The original made fun of the fact that these spies were past their prime, this one uses their age to their advantage, with mixed results. The plotting and character motivation lacks the smarts and wit of the first film and makes you wonder how a 70-year old villain with a 30-year old bomb could outwit them all. Speaking of which, Hopkins is a solid addition to the mix, Zeta-Jones an annoying one while the most memorable is lithe South Korean action star Byung-hun (one of the few bright spots of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation"), who adds some real kick to the film with his high impact martial arts. "RED 2," directed by Dean Parisot ("Fun With Dick and Jane") has a charm that works well in spite of its outlandish plot and a story filled with way too many unnecessary characters or plot points we don't care about or need (as amusing as they are, both Parker and Malkovich are more distractions here), but it is worth the price of admission seeing Oscar-winner and grand dame Mirren brandish weapons as only she can do. Mildly entertaining and serviceable, "RED 2" should satisfy those who enjoyed the first one or simply in need a mindless yet pleasant diversion.

Wes's Grade: B-

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Twenty Feet From Stardom - A-

Rated PG-13, 91 minutes

Richly satisfying doc "Twenty Feet From Stardom" chronicles the background voices

Background singer Lisa Fischer
If there's one documentary to see this year, it's the fascinating, vastly entertaining "Twenty Feet From Stardom," featuring some of the most amazing voices from people you likely don't know but have heard. It's a bittersweet but triumphant story of the people who have sung with such artists Sting, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger (all of whom appear here as well) and many, many more. There's Darlene Love, one of the first African-American background singers and whose incredible voice backed up many of Motown's greatest artists yet who was cruelly used by acclaimed producer Phil Spector. There's Merry Clayton, who could hold her own with Mick Jagger on "Gimme Shelter" but whose own career fizzled. There's Claudia Linnear, who started as a backup singer for Ike and Tina Turner and sang with the likes of the Stones and Joe Cocker, but also struggled to find a solo career. There's Lisa Fischer, an amazing talent in her own right, who started with Luther Vandross and found further fame with Sting and Jagger. These are among the amazing artists you'll see in "Twenty Feet From Stardom," and even more mind-boggling is how in spite of their talent, few could find breakout stardom; the one exception may be Fischer, who seems content as a backup singer but whose intense voice and ebullient attitude has still helped her find considerable fame in her role. The aforementioned artists such as Springsteen and Sting are here to (pun intended) sing their praises and rightfully so in "Stardom," which is directed by music producer Morgan Neville. Their fascinating stories, their place in musical history, not to mention the amazing music, all form a richly satisfying, highly enjoyable documentary that is among the best of the year. "Twenty Feet From Stardom" is an unforgettable look at the background singers who deserve their place in the spotlight.

Wes's Grade: A-

Girl Most Likely - C+

Rated PG-13, 103 minutes

Wiig the best thing about the uneven but fun "Girl Most Likely"

Kristen Wiig
Eccentricity is worn like a badge of honor in the familiar, sitcom-y new comedy "Girl Most Likely," starring Kristen Wiig, a talented actress in need of a better script. Wiig plays Imogene, a New York City magazine writer who fakes a suicide after a bad breakup. She is sent to live with her slightly weird but loving mother Zelda (Annette Bening), her social outcast younger brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), her Mom's secretive live-in boyfriend "The Boush" (Matt Dillon) and a young live-in singer (Darren Criss) where she has to try to find herself again. The charming but excessively quirky "Girl Most Likely," directed by Shari Stringer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the team behind the acclaimed "American Splendor," falls under the weight of its own oddball likability and predictability. It seems to be taking some clues from Wiig's own "Bridesmaids," as this character isn't much different from that one in her efforts to find her footing. Granted, without Wiig, this might be a total failure, and the film works best when it rests on her natural allure and intelligence, in addition to her fun chemistry with Bening, who exudes an appealing, cougarish sexuality and whose role seems intentionally secondary in order not to completely steal the movie. The rambling plot, which has Wiig find her way through uneven searches for her father and falling in love again, could easily be the pilot for a TV sitcom starring an actress who's not nearly as funny as Wiig, who brings a touching, almost pensive humanity to the role while still making you laugh. The effusive but unmemorable "Girl Most Likely" is peppered with a few fun moments, but unless you're a huge Wiig fan, you may find something more satisfying.

Wes's Grade: C+

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Turbo - B

Rated PG, 90 minutes

 Winning, fun "Turbo" moves along quite well

Ryan Reynolds as Turbo
Some of the better movies this summer have been animated, and you can add the enjoyable, colorful new film "Turbo" to that list. About a snail who ends up in the Indianapolis 500, it's immensely likeable and well-cast. Ryan Reynolds, is Theo, or Turbo, who longs to leave the slow-paced life of a snail behind him and become a race car driver like his hero, Guy Gagne (Bill Hader). When an accident infuses his DNA with nitrous oxide, Turbo may get his chance, and with his rag tag crew led by his new human friend Angelo (Michael Pena), his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) and a group of snails led by Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), he turns his world and everyone else's, upside down. Directed by David Soren and from Dreamworks Animation, "Turbo" is a predictable but entertaining animated entry, that while not on the level of Pixar, is a pleasant surprise and is filled with a peppy energy that will keep the young set engaged. It also helps that "Turbo" has some inspired voices, especially from the supporting cast including Jackson, whose tough snail character is clearly not intimidated by some crows, Hader as the competition, and comedian Ken Jeong ("Community," "The Hangover" films) as a wise-cracking female nail shop owner. The plotting, the messages of friendship, family and support are all-too familiar and its first act is a tad - no pun intended - sluggish (except for those darn crows, who provide the funniest moments early on), but overall "Turbo" bounces with enough energy to make this a fun drive in the end. "Turbo" is a winner and worth a look for even the adults.

Wes's Grade: B

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Grown Ups 2 - D-

Rated PG-13, 101 minutes

Adam Sandler and friends act like kids again in "Grown Ups 2"

Adam Sandler and the cast of "Grown Ups 2"
Let's say you grab a video camera, gather some of your friends, put on some silly costumes and wigs, jack around and act like buffoons for about 90 minutes. That's essentially what the dreadful new Adam Sandler comedy "Grown Ups 2," this totally unnecessary, woefully awful sequel to his equally terrible 2010 hit "Grown Ups," except the actors actually get paid for this piece of crap. In this outing, Sandler and his pals Chris Rock, David Spade and Kevin James goof off and hide from their lovely wives Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph and Maria Bello, still trying to grow up and figure life out. "Grown Ups 2" is really not a movie about anything in general, it's just a silly, recycled string of gags badly strung together and a lousy excuse for Sandler and his pals to horse around in front of the camera once again. His usual director, Dennis Dugan, is listed as officially being in charge of this mess, but Sandler is to blame, assembling a large coterie of his usual movie pals (including Nick Swardson, Allan Covert and Peter Dante), not to mention a "Saturday Night Live" current and former cast reunion, including Rudolph, Tim Meadows, Andy Samberg, Taran Killam, Jon Lovitz, Colin O'Quinn, Cheri Oteri and (gulp) even Ellen Cleghorne. And in keeping with the Sandler stunt movie casting, throw in Taylor Lautner, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The J. Geils Band, Dan Patrick (the worst of them), Chris Berman and Shaquille O'Neal into the mix, and if you watch closely enough, Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold, cameos. After the critical drubbing (which is putting it lightly) of recent Sandler outings such as "That's My Boy" and "Jack and Jill," Sandler is seemingly not making much of an effort here, so something like this once again makes him an easy target as he becomes richer off his childish, mean-spirited antics. Admittedly, there are a small handful of genuinely funny bits and lines (thanks mostly to Chris Rock and some cheesy '80s costumes), but certainly not enough to fill even a halfway decent movie, which this isn't. Far worse than the first "Grown Ups," which isn't saying much at all, the dreadfully cringeworthy "Grown Ups 2" is among the worst of not only the summer, but all of 2013 so far. In keeping with true Sandler tradition, this should be in contention for many Golden Raspberry Awards, as Sandler and pals (shame on you Salma Hayek!) laugh all the way to the bank. If this is your idea of fun go for it, but just know what you're getting into isn't all that fun at all.

Wes's Grade: D-

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pacific Rim - C+

Rated PG-13, 131 minutes

Big, loud and mildly fun "Pacific Rim"

"Pacific Rim" fits perfectly in the summer movie going season. The monstrously budgeted and mounted film is geared toward the guys and filled with special effects and action galore. The fact it's helmed by acclaimed fantasy director Guillermo Del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth") makes it a tad smarter than others in genre, with the visuals clearly the best thing about an all-too familiar, excessively loud film. The film is set in the near future as legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, start rising from the sea to engage war with humanity. To combat these monstrous giants, Earth constructs robotic monsters of their own, known as Jaegars and piloted by humans. A washed up pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee (Rinko Kikuchi) team to form mankind's last hope against a mounting apocalypse. The modestly fun but clunky "Pacific Rim" certainly delivers the action, even if it will certainly induce a headache from all the CG visuals crammed into it. Granted, Del Toro, the creative genius behind such hits as "Blade II" and "Hellboy" is an interesting choice for something like this, and he certainly has his usual, weird fun with the creatures, but they overtake the story early on, leaving behind a muddled narrative and cardboard characters. The enormous creatures, the real stars of the show, are indeed dark and brooding, but even they have a ring of familiarity to them, making this feel like "Transformers" crossed with "Godzilla" with a little bit of "Matrix" thrown in for good measure. It doesn't help that the talented cast is largely wasted amidst the action. Hunnam ("Sons of Anarchy") is a bland action-hero while Oscar-nominated Japanese actress Kikuchi, who doesn't fit here, just a plain odd one. Idris Elba, comedian Charlie Day, and Del Toro's favorite actor, Ron Perlman, are all mixed in for different flavors, with Day and Perlman thrown in for obvious comedic measure, and they end up with some of the better lines of the script by Del Toro and Travis Beacham. Del Toro is the most interesting of filmmakers, which makes "Pacific Rim" an intriguing failure; it's watchable with some well-placed action set pieces, even if it's so excessively busy you don't care about any of the humans. The mildly entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying "Pacific Rim" is a testosterone-fueled epic that will likely play best with the fanboy set (i.e. mostly young guys), who'll get the most out of the video-game style action and battles. In spite of its appeal on that level, it's a disappointment. Go if you must, but take some Tylenol with you if you do.

Wes's Grade: C+

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Way Way Back - B

Rated PG-13, 103 minutes

Familiar "The Way Way Back" a bittersweet, well-acted coming-of-age story

Liam James and Anna Sophia-Robb
"The Way Way Back" is all about the summer vacation you've always wanted to have. Touching and genuine, it's nothing new but it's destined to be the sleeper hit of a season in need of one. It tells the story of shy, awkward 14-year-old Duncan's (Liam James) summer vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell) and the pretty girl next door (Anna Sophia-Robb). Duncan finds an unexpected friend in gregarious Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of the Water Wizz water park, who helps him see the world a little differently. Co-directed and written by the Oscar-winning writing team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from "The Descendants," it's a a winning, somewhat bittersweet entry in the quirky, fun coming-of-age-story with a cast that makes it universally better. Teen actor Liam James of TV's "The Killing" and "Psych" grounds the film well as the lanky teenager trying desperately to find a place he's happy at, though most of the attention will likely come from the adults. The usually comic Carrell plays against type in a serious role as a Grade A douche bag you'll love to hate from the opening frame of the film. Also memorable in a small role is "The West Wing's" Allison Janney as a blowsy friend that may remind classic film lovers of the late Shelley Winters in her prime (for younger viewers, she was the Grandma on "Roseanne"). The charming Rockwell is also strong throughout the film, providing some of the film's lighter moments ("this isn't even my best material" he exclaims when he elicits the wrong reaction to a joke), and watch for directors/writers and actors Faxon and Rash as two of his endearing co-workers. Surprisingly, the underwritten, all-too familiar story is the film's biggest weakness, lacking the emotional and romantic gravitas of "The Descendants," but it works well because of the great performances, even when it tends to rely on some of Rockwell's (admittedly funny) jokes. Satisfying, amusing and well-acted, "The Way Way Back," named for where the main character has to sit in the station wagon, reminds us that it isn't all bad to find your happy place and be yourself. This may be a good companion piece to another fun current release coming-of-age-movie  "The Kings of Summer," and you will thank yourself for paying to see both this summer.

Wes's Grade: B

Monday, July 1, 2013

Despicable Me 2 - B-

Rated PG, 98 minutes

Steve Carrell as Gru
Once more, the Minions steal the thinly charming "Despicable Me 2"

The witty, original 2010 animated film "Despicable Me" was a big hit, in large part due to the voice talent of Steve Carrell as lead character Gru and a large cast of yellow, egg-shaped minions. They're all back in the enjoyable "Despicable Me 2," overall a weaker, thinner effort than the original but pleasant enough for the young set. Carrell is back as former world villain Gru, who has given up taking over the world in favor of raising three precocious girls and starting a jelly and jam business. He's lured back into spying on the bad guys and given a partner named Lucy (Kristen Wiig), with whom he shares a special chemistry, and the two must track down a mysterious restaurant owner (Benjamin Bratt), who may be supposedly dead villain El Macho. The first film's directors, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, are back directing here as well, and while the film is colorful and pleasant, the first act is a bit slow and suffers when the little yellow guys aren't on screen. Part of the appeal of the original film was Carrell's Gru, who's softened up a bit in this film, and as a result, less fun. "DM2" picks up with some much needed energy in the last act, when the minions have a greater role and are much more essential to the thin plot. Other than that, there isn't much to go on, but it's still an enjoyable outing for the little ones. It's also nice having Wiig around, who adds some more pep in a much nicer voice role than she had in the first film. It's hard not to like "Despicable Me 2," even if it's not as witty or energetic (and much less despicable) as the 2010 film, and you will want to stay over for the credits for more minion action and some of the best 3D you'll see this year. And if you can't get enough of the minions, never fear they'll have their own animated film (which the credits serve as a tiny preview to), "Minions" in 2014 with Sandra Bullock as the villain. I can only imagine what the director's notes had on this if they needed filler. When in doubt, always cut to the minions. You can't go wrong there.

Wes's Grade: B-

The Lone Ranger - C

Rated PG-13, 149 minutes
Johnny Depp and Tonto and Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger

Occasionally fun but bloated makes for one long "Ranger"

Hi-Yo Silver, please make this end! The wild west never seemed so tedious in the new big- budget, big-screen adaptation of the old TV series "The Lone Ranger." Granted, it's fun to hear the "William Tell Overture" amidst a few sporadically fun moments, but is still too long, tries too hard and improves nothing on the original. Native American spirit warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice-taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption. Directed by Gore Verbinski, who's teamed with Depp in the past to great success on such films as the "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the animated "Rango," fails to recreate that some same big screen magic in spite of a handful of fun moments, and much like a couple of sequences in the film, is largely a train wreck. There are two major problems with "The Lone Ranger:" one is an uneven, overambitious narrative that ends up about 30-40 minutes too long, with an especially sluggish middle act. The second is the miscasting of the bland Hammer (best known from "The Social Network") as the title character, played here as a wimpish, uptight city boy who literally stumbles upon his true calling, lacking the charm and dash of the popular 1950s TV series. Though Depp is inspired casting in yet another eccentric turn he's become known for, after a couple of box-office duds (last summer's "The Dark Shadow" among them) even he cannot carry this bloated film on his back, though he, along with that dead bird atop his head, tries valiantly. The most memorable of the cast is character actor William Fichtner as the primary villain, and Helena Bonham Carter as the madame with a leg up on the competition, not to mention the white horse eventually known as Silver, who genuinely steals most of the scenes from Depp and Hammer. By the time it finally picks up some energy in its action-packed finale, you'll be ready for it to end; on that note, the mildly enjoyable but overdone "The Lone Ranger" seems more "The Long Ranger" for its butt-enduring 2 hour and 30 minute running time. In what has already been a less-than-impressive summer, a forgettable "Lone Ranger" is its biggest disappointment yet, ke-moh-sah-bee.

Wes's Grade: C