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This Week's Film Reviews (July 5, 2013)

02 Jul 2013

Early Wednesday openings of DESPICABLE ME 2 and the LONE RANGER due to the holiday on July the 4th in the U.S.  Other films open Friday.

DESPICABLE ME 2 (USA 2013) ***

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

            To love DESPICABLE ME  and DESPICABLE ME 2 films, one must love those invented cuties called minions.  The minions are tubby little minitiasized children-like helpers of villain Dru (Steve Carell), who is supposedly turned over a new leaf in the second film.

            Both directors voice several minions themselves, so this a minion obsessed film.

            No doubt these creatures are cute, cuddly and goofy, and one film about them could have stretched their lovability to the limit.  It does not help that the directors intensify the cuteness factor in this one.  Neither does it help that the film has a thin plot relying on the affability of the minions again.

            Gru, who stole the moon in the first film is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to deal with a new super criminal (Benjamin Pratt).  His faithful second in command, Dr, Nefario (Russell Brand) turns out not to be faithful as he joins the other side.  Gru is assigned a female agent, Lucy (Kristen Wii) to help.  The two lonely souls fall in love with each other and Gru’s villainess has turned to niceness.

            DESPICABLE ME 2 is animation more inclined to the younger children.  But the blend of goofiness and cuteness work well to keep the adults laughing as well.  But this is no super animated film say compared to BRAVE, THE PIRATES MOVIE or SHREK.  The directors also resort to lots of objects hurled out from the screen to the audience in this 3D outing.

I’M SO EXCITED! (Spain 2012) **

Directed by Pedro Almodovar

 

            The Spanish title of the new Almodovar film which translates to “The Passenger Lovers” has been changed to the title of Pointer Sister’s song I’M SO EXCITED which is performed as a lip-sync drag queen dance style, except that the performers keep their male clothes on.  Anything can happen in an Almodovar movie, and in this case, 3 gay flight attendants perform I’M SO EXCITED to cheer the passengers of a troubled flight.

            Almodovar has opted for serious fare lately since the success of his best film LA MALA EDUCACION (BAD EDUCATION).  ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, TALK TO HER and his previous THE SKIN I LIVE IN show the gay director in top form.  In his latest offering he goes back to the comedies that he started with that made him famous.

            Almost the entire action of the film takes place on board a passenger flight.  Due to mishandling of the plane’s landing gear (Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas in cameos), a flight has to keep circling till they can make a dangerous emergency landing.  The flight attendants have to save the day.  With this scenario, director Almodovar tries very hard, in fact too hard for comedy.

            All the staff are gay or if not, have tried by giving blow jobs.  One passenger is a psychic who can foresee death.  (In Almodovar’s early WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS? There is also the supernatural with a child able to move objects.) 

            But the film only goes to prove how difficult it is to make a funny film.  Despite Almodovar’s gift for coming up with comedic set ups, more often that not, the timing is off or what comes off is just not funny.  One can tell from the performance of I’M SO EXCITED” how hard all the staff of this film have tried.

            The result is a slightly amusing rather than the hilarious farce that the film aims to be.  Nothing to be too excited about this film whose highlight is the performance of this song.

 

THE LONE RANGER (USA 2013) ****
Directed by Gore Gerbrinski

            It’s been a while since THE LONE RANGER hit movie screens.  So, as well known as his hero is, the LONE RANGER feels original in look, concept, layout and execution tough the film’s format has bee used before.

            The story of the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammr) is told from Tonto’s (Johnny Depp)’s point of view.  A boy wearing a mask visits an Indian exhibit in a museum where an older Tonto appears to tell his story.  The last time, an aged Indian told his story of the west was in Arthur Penn’s LITTLE BIG MAN with Dustin Hoffman as a 100-year old Indian telling his version of Custer of the West.

            As a Hollywood blockbuster produce by Jerry Bruckheimer, THE LONE RANGER has plenty of pyrotechnics even and special effects though one might think a western need not have any.  A bridge is blown up, trains with carriages plunge into a river and the Lone Ranger rides his white horse, Silver on the roof of the train.

            Running a two and a half hours, Vebinski’s film is well paced with more evil and plot revealed towards the climax.  At least the filmmakers realize that a good story is important to the success of a good film.  And the film has good one involving evil railroad Lords, best villains and chivalrous heroes.  The Indian is given a different more sympathetic look in the film.  This is one film in which the audience will be cheering for the Indians and booing at the Calvary.

            Depp who stars and produced the film does a good job.  Depp injects the humour, mystery and depth of the otherwise traditional tale of the west.

            THE LONE RANGER plays its safe with a look typical to the old westerns like THE HALLELUYAH TRAIL and CAT BALLOU that were all hits at the box-office.  The filmmakers also opt for more slapstick action complete with chase and wild antics at the end, similar to films with chase endings like Richard Lester’s A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE E FORUM and WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?  The film has lots of shoot-outs and killings but with minimum amount of blood.  The film will serve as a good family outing.

            THE LONE RANGER will likely spin off ore sequels.  But judging fro the care and effort put into this one, a few other LONE RANGER films will be welcome.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM (USA 2013) ***

Directed by Morgan Neville

 

            Forget DREAMGIRLS and THE SAPPHIRES!  This is the real thing!  This comprehensive documentary on back up singers takes a cross sectional look at a number of famous back up singers, all Black, who make it to the top on their own.

            Audiences seldom realize the different back up singers do to a song.  The back up singer to Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson are just two examples that both Jagger and Jackson cannot do without.

            Neville’s film starts at the very beginning when back up singers were only white who just oo-ah’ed a song without body movements.  When the Blacks took over, the back up singers practically guaranteed he success of a song.  Archival concert footage illustrates the fact.

            Neville has assembled an impressive list of interviewees that include Sting, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen who attest to the contribution of back up singers. 

            But the film gets a bit high ended over these singers.  At one point, backup singing is described as a higher calling in which the love of singing is put above fame.  The film then contradicts itself by displaying one such singer, Darlene Love who progressed from back up singer to sole performer.  Yet another case is denoted – the one of Judith Hill.

            The only downside that is mentioned is the decline of the industry for the need of backup singers in the80’s, but this segment is slowly shadowed by the induction t fame of back up singer Darlene Love

            But one cannot deny that the film does not shed light on the singers that stand 20 FEET FROM STARDOM.  More should be said of the future of the subject.  But the archive footage of performances is sufficient to entertain audiences for the price of their ticket.

THE WAY, WAY BACK (USA 2013) ***

Directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon

            This charming and hilarious comedy is about a teenager, Duncan (Liam James) who learns how to stand for up for himself for the first time.  This he learns during his summer break, while earning the bonus of learning to be cool at the same time.

            THE WAY, WAY BACK can hardly be called a coming-of-age story as this change in his life occurs in a short period of time (the summer break).  This is a plus, as there are already too many coming-of-age indie films.  It also helps that the script, also written by Rash and Nixon (who also have minor roles in the film) is a very funny one.

            Duncan is spending summer with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette).  He would rather be spending it with his father, though he does not realize that he is not wanted there.  But to make matters worse, he is taken to the summer house of his mother’s boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell) who belittles and bullies him half the time.  Duncan sneaks a job at an amusement park, bonding with one of the managers, Owen (Sam Rockwell).  In the mean time, he has a crush on the neighbour’s daughter, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).

            The story is simple enough with Duncan proving himself at work, gaining confidence and finally standing up for himself against Trent.  The success of the film thus depends on the different set-ups that lead to the conclusion.  These are both hilarious when need be and dramatic, again when need be.

            Performances are excellent all around, especially from newcomer, Liam James.  Carell plays against type and is entirely convincing as the asshole character. Though it is easy for Sam Rockwell to steal the show as the child man who cracks his own jokes every opportunity he can, it is actually Collette who delivers the film’s best performance as the mother, who has to show affection for her son and boyfriend and needing to demonstrate the traits of both sensitivity and strength.

            Though simple in design, THE WAY, WAY BACK emerges as a winning crowd pleaser.  No wonder Fox Searchlight decided to screen several word-of-moth screenings even before its screening for the press.

 

Best Film Opening:THE LONE RANGER

Best Film Playing: THIS IS THE END

Best Action: PAIN AND GAIN

Best Family: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

Best Documentary: HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS

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