Despicable Me 2 Rated PG for rude humor and mild action Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D It was surprising when the first Despicable Me scored a $500 million plus world wide gross, but absolutely stunning is the almost billion dollar haul from its sequel. Back again is Steve Carrell as the voice of the super villain Gru as he works with a secret agency to take down an even worse baddy. This new installment is not only a cuter film but is a much stronger narrative as well. The minions are still adorable and their antics are hilarious. While its not the caliber of films like Frozen and The Croods - it is still entertainment that won’t make the adults watching it want to leave the room. B+
Fast & Furious 6 Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language Available on DVD and Blu-ray The Fast and Furious gang, including Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and the late Paul Walker are back and this time hired by the government to take down a huge criminal ring. When it pulled in $786 million at the box office I assumed that big improvements were made to the franchise, which I considered silly and ridiculous. But I was wrong. The writing is still horrible, filled with senseless exposition dumbed down for an assumed ADD audience. The action is nonstop, but the laws of physics are completely thrown aside as are any brains behind them. What you get it is simply the title: fast and furious action with no thought or intelligent design. C-
Mary Poppins Rated G Available on DVD and Blu-ray Having caught a sneak preview of the new Tom Hanks/Emma Thompson film Saving Mr. Banks, I was in the mood to revisit the Disney classic that inspired it. Widely considered to be Walt Disney’s crowning achievement, Mary Poppins was nominated for 13 Oscars and won 5 including actress, editing, effects, music and original song. Now almost 50 years later, the movie still looks amazing thanks to a beautiful digital restoration by the mouse house. And if you're like me and haven’t seen it since you were a kid, you, once again, are in for a huge treat. A
When my good friend, former colleague and Emmy-winner Brad McMullan left television a few years ago to start his own business, I must admit that I was blown away. After all - he is one of the best newscasters I've ever had the pleasure of seeing on air. And if you are unfamiliar with him, he is the only victim of Borat who came out smelling like roses in his hit movie. If you've seen the entire footage of the morning show where Borat was being interviewed by Brad, you could tell that Sasha Baron Cohen was getting frustrated because Brad wouldn't lose his composure. With a genuine approach to delivering information and none of fake persona that you many times are used to seeing on and off air, Brad looked like he was poised to take over the airwaves. Well good news - now he's back! Brad is now hosting his own show - The Brad McMullan Show which has great potential to be a hit family-friendly talk show in syndication. With great self-effacing sketches and interviews with local celebrities and sports stars, Brad has found the perfect opportunity to join us in our living rooms once again.
Jobs Rated PG-13 for some drug content and brief strong language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26% Available on DVD and Blu-ray Ashton Kutcher stars as the infamous Steve Jobs as he goes from building computers in his garage to starting Apple. Glossing over some of the most important parts of his life, the script has holes where it can’t afford them. And while Kutcher and Josh Gad are decent enough as Jobs and Wozniak, the film plays like a movie of the week rather than a big-budget theatrical. C The Smurfs 2 Rated PG for some rude humor and action Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14% Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D The little blue creatures are back as they go to Paris to rescue Smurfette after she has been taken by Gargamel. While not nearly as terrible as the first Smurfs outing, this new one isn’t all that great either. It passed the kid test in that my toddler loved it, and the humor was slightly more sophisticated than I expected, but the writing and plot were both lame, unoriginal and frankly uninteresting. So if you’re merely looking for a ninety minute baby sitter then I guess you’ll be in luck. Any more than that expectation and you should be able to accurately predict a smurfing let-down. C-
I can’t think of a year when I wasn’t absolutely thrilled by what was coming to the local cineplex over the holidays. For years Hollywood has saved up its best offerings for a Thanksgiving or Christmas release and while they do this to make it fresh in voters’ minds, it also leads to great times spent in a darkened theater with family and friends while you wind the year down.
For the first time in my life, I am less than thrilled at what is on the November and December calendar. 2013 hasn’t been the best year for movies, although there have been some truly great ones. If I were to bet on it, I would put my money down that we’ve already seen our big Oscar contenders for this year. With such terrific movies as 12 Years A Slave, Gravity and Captain Phillips, its hard to imagine any of the upcoming pictures will be able to surprise us in the awards season.
But I am hopeful. Every year there are films that sneak up and bat me upside the head. I’ve no clue what film has that potential this holiday, but here are the ten films that I am most looking forward to seeing in the coming weeks.
10) Anchorman 2. The Legend Continues. Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and company are back as Ron Burgundy attempts to make a name for himself on cable news. The early indications are that this could be a really good comedy filled with many more raunchy one-liners for us to copycat for years to come.
9) August Osage County. Sure to garner tons of acting accolades, Tracy Letts’s Tony-winning Broadway play is getting the big screen treatment with an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor and many others. This could easily be the next Steel Magnolias.
8) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Part two in Peter Jackson’s new Hobbit trilogy looks to be yet another grand Tolkien adventure. While not as rich and sophisticated a story as Lord of the Rings, Jackson’s first third proved worth the buzz and part two looks even better.
7) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This screenplay has seen many names attached through the years, including Steven Spielberg, but finally found a home with director and star Ben Stiller. I really don’t have a clue why its such a big deal, but i’m anxious to find out. If the long-time buzz holds true, this could be the surprise smash hit of the holiday.
6) Walking with the Dinosaurs 3D. I’m not sure how original this big-budgeted CG dino tale will be but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see it. Not necessarily for me but for my three-year-old who knows more about dinosaurs than anyone I’ve ever met. His desire to see it, and he’s been talking about it for months, has me jonesing to take him.
5) Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. This has been an amazing year for films about the black experience. With such amazing films as 12 Years a Slave, Fruitvale Station, The Butler and Captain Phillips I think we’ve all learned and grown a lot. While this new film about Nelson Mandela is sure to bring controversy, many, including myself, are looking forward to see this long awaited account of the legendary figure’s life.
4) Inside Llewyn Davis. While I have no idea what this film is about, and don’t want to know until I see it, I’ve learned one thing over the last two decades: true the Coen Brothers. They always deliver a great film, and yes I even liked Intolerable Cruelty.
3) Her. Another filmmaker I’ve learned to trust is Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich). The story follows Joaquin Phoenix as a man who develops an unusual relationship with the voice on his new computer. I just love weird and wonderful films and I hope this fills the void.
2) American Hustle. Combine writer/director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) with Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Robert De Niro and its hard not imagine a huge hit. I can almost guarantee this will be a much talked-about pic with huge twists and turns that you’ll hate when your friends accidentally give them away.
1) Saving Mr. Banks. As a life-long Disney fan and even a former employee, I have long been waiting to see one of my heroes come to life. In this new sure to be sappy but sweet comedy, Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney as he tries to convince Marry Poppins writer P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to allow him to bring her story to life on the big screen. Of all the films on the horizon, this is the only one that has me a little giddy.
The World’s End Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references Available on DVD and Blu-ray From writer/director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, whose great teamwork brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, comes yet another terrific end of the world comedy. This time around Pegg and Frost, as well as some other wonderful British actors, attempt to recreate an epic pub crawl from their youths and are bound and determined to get to the 12th pub, The World’s End, even in light of an alien invasion serving as a blockade. While not quite as good as their other two movies, this is still an incredibly entertaining comedy with huge laughs coming off of a sophisticated sense of humor. While the characters aren’t as likable as you’d expect, you still manage to cheer for them to win out in the end. A-
We’re the Millers Rated R for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity Available on DVD and Blu-ray When a down-on-his-luck drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) is forced to go to Mexico and pick up an RV full of weed and bring it back to the states, he hires a stripper (Jennifer Aniston) and two teens to pose as his happy family in order to keep his cover safe and get across the border. I heard from so many people that this was one of the funniest comedies of the year, but honestly, I just wasn’t as entertained. Don’t get me wrong - its funny at times and also occasionally clever, but many of the jokes are overly contrived and some of the jokes are flat out not funny. B- Planes Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D What was supposed to be a straight-to-DVD animated film from Disney ended up being released in theaters to make a quick buck before stealing more money from audiences right before Christmas. No one said Disney wasn’t smart if not a little cruel in this case. Planes is basically Cars in plane form except Pixar didn’t participate. While it’s probably meant for toddlers with weak attention spans, it failed my three-year-old’s test as he was begging to watch the Lion King 30 minutes in. Everything is lame here including the writing, directing and voice acting. The only thing of any value is the animation which manages to make the film only partly watchable. D+
2 Guns Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity Available on DVD and Blu-ray Denzel Washington, an undercover DEA agent, is teamed up with Mark Wahlberg, an undercover naval officer, who are both after the other until they find out they might need to collaborate in order to survive a setup. The script is good enough with an interesting plot and 2 very likable actors. Unfortunately, the amount of violence is excessive and while a lot has cooled down since the theatrical release, it’s definitely not going to be a film for everyone. Personally, my attitude toward this type of violence has changed and I am thankful that Hollywood has decided to shift away from these sorts of ultra-bloody movies over the last several months. B-
Thor: The Dark World Starring Christ Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Tom Hiddleston Directed by Alan Taylor Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content
Set two years after the events of the last Thor film, upon learning that his lost love, Dr. Jane Foster (Portman) could be in trouble, Thor (Hemsworth) travels to Earth again to rescue her. Upon bringing her back to Asgard, his home is attacked by the leader of the dark elves who is after Foster for an ancient evil power she has stumbled upon.
It’s hard for me to complain about this film too much since it feels like all of my complaints of Thor’s first outing were corrected here.
First I thought the first Thor was just a giant commercial for The Avengers movie. It felt like it had little identity of its own and served as a prequel for a film yet unreleased. This new Thor feels more epic and individual. SHIELD and The Avengers are nowhere to be found (aside for a hilarious cameo by Captain America).
Secondly I thought the directing and overall production was weak. Here, relative newcomer Alan Taylor does a fine job directing the Norse super hero and Asgard has a stunning look that should satisfy his fans. I was also deeply disappointed by the music of the first film which was written by its director’s close friend Patrick Doyle. Doyle’s scores are typically spectacular but Thor was disjointed and so overly percussive that it distracted rather than elevated the film. Here the very young but talented Brian Tyler gives a dramatically beautiful score worthy of such a film.
Where both films come up short is in the writing. The dialog and humor are fine here, but ask me what the plot is really about and I could hardly tell you. I know hardcore Thor fans are well familiar with the nine realms, but most normal folks are not and I was confused when I had time to stop and think about it. Then again, they kept the action so non-stop that you really didn’t have to think it through so this complaint didn’t ruin it for me.
And while I was satisfied that this wasn’t a setup film for the Avengers sequel, I was also plagued by the sudden lack of SHIELD or any other heroes. This seemed to be a serious and potentially world-ending event and only Thor was there to save the day. Hmmm.
So while not a hugely impressive feature, Thor: The Dark World is a vast improvement over the first film and provides a fun couple of mindless hours of entertainment. B
Man of Steel Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D 300 director Zack Snyder’s epic reimagining of the Superman story still stands as one of my favorite films of 2013. Henry Cavill is fantastic as the greatest of all super heroes and villain General Zod is masterfully portrayed by Michael Shannon. And with great performances by Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Amy Adams and a very talented supporting cast, Man of Steel turns out to be not only a visionary production, but one with acting muscle as well. So its a tad violent for the younger kids and the mass destruction of Earth is underplayed, but for teens on up this is a remarkable film. Now I can’t wait for my toddler to grow up so I can watch this with him and have his little mind blown. A Dexter: The Final Season Rated TV-MA Available on DVD and Blu-ray Some shows like Breaking Bad know how to end a series and some shows, like Dexter here, haven’t a clue. In our favorite TV vigilante’s last season, he faces a new killer with close ties to the new criminal psychologist working with the Miami police department. Unfortunately there is a lot of been there/done that played out here and the drama seems forced to say the least. And with a finale that shows how not to end a series, my advice is to pretend Dexter is already over and if you are catching up on Netflix, let his universe end with John Lithgow’s exit. C-
White House Down Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image Available on DVD and Blu-ray The second of the 2013 White House under attack films has our president under the gun of rogue agents and rednecks rather than the North Koreans but the results are just as silly. Just like Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, the White House is attacked and its up to someone not on his security team to rescue him. While both films are over the top, White House Down differs in its tone as it chooses to be more sarcastic towards our government and very much less believable. The script is incredibly weak with dialog worthy of a film by Roland Emmerich, director of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. That being said, the action, while much of it doesn’t make sense, is packed and there are enough gunfights and explosions to keep you occupied through the lame storyline. C- Clear History Rated TV-MA Available on DVD and Blu-ray Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm lead an all-star cast in this very typical Larry David comedy. Here David, a marketing executive from Hamm’s car company, is justifiably fired right before the launch of a vehicle that changes the world. Years later David seeks his revenge on Hamm for making him look like a fool. Of course he is a fool and that doesn’t stop. He is practically the same character he always is as he lacks the filter that prevents most people from saying whatever comes to mind. While it probably could have been released theatrically, HBO took it straight to TV but that doesn’t mean it’s any less hilarious. The actors look like they had a blast making the project and I had a blast watching it. A-
Mad Men: Season 6 Available on DVD and Blu-ray We’ve already seen Don Draper (Jon Hamm) at his worst and here in season 6 he attempts to put his life back together again. With a new moral compass that occasionally falls apart, his work and home life begin to suffer from his past and present sins. As we gear up for what should be a jaw-dropping series finale, hopefully like AMC’s other hit show Breaking Bad, season 6 allows a last long look at what Draper has accomplished before it all might be taken away. A-
Monsters University Rated G Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D Rather than go the sequel route which has been the norm for animated features, Pixar chose to make a prequel for their hit film Monsters, Inc. In this new adventure Mike and Sully (voiced once again by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) meet in college where they are rivals who must become friends in order to succeed. I was very hesitant going in since Monsters, Inc is my absolutely favorite Pixar movie and the thought of the prequel was underwhelming. But my attention was grabbed quickly and I ended up loving it. The writing is back to the Pixar quality we’ve been missing over the last couple of years and in spite of its G rating, the pic is easily as fun for adults as it is for children and doesn’t have to resort to going over kids’ heads with questionable jokes to do it. A-
The Way Way Back Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material Available on DVD and Blu-ray After scoring an Oscar nomination for writing The Descendants, I was excited to see what actor/writer/director Nat Faxon could do with his own movie. Set in a sort of retro yet modern time, a young teenager (Liam James) and his mother (Toni Collette) travel to a summer getaway with his mom’s new boyfriend (Steve Carell). While temporarily living in the beach community he learns about life and love and pain while working at a water park with its crazy owner played by Sam Rockwell. There are workable moments throughout but the film suffers from trying to be uber-clever and fails by not delivering. Too much of the film is completely contrived and just plain nonsensical and these moments completely distract you from becoming emotionally involved. C
R.I.P.D. Rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D When a young police officer played by Ryan Reynolds is killed in action, he is sent to the Rest In Peace Department which is ultimately responsible for getting rid of dead spirits that disturb the planet. Joining a wild west lawman played by Jeff Bridges, the two uncover an unholy terror plot that they must foil to save Heaven and Earth. If you think this movie looks like a Men in Black knockoff you’d be correct. For Universal to put so much money into such a B movie seems like an insane investment. Of course the film bombed badly simply because it wasn’t very good. It’s not a total stinker, but its far from a quality sci-fi adventure. Predictable and tasteless from start to finish, the film unfortunately qualifies as a must-avoid. D+
The Conjuring Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror Available on DVD and Blu-ray One of the scariest things about The Conjuring is that it is supposedly based on a true story. Apparently, real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) came across a house in 1971 in Rhode Island that would later be described by them to be the worst case of demon possession they had ever seen. If you believe in this sort of thing, and I certainly do, then you will be exponentially more horrified by the goings on in the film. What separates it from the other run of the mill demon possession films? It’s authenticity. The film feels very organic and in turn manages to really deliver the goosebumps. This is already being hailed as one of the scariest movies of the last decade and many will feel that its one of the most entertaining as well. A-
Shrek the Musical Available on DVD and Blu-ray While Disney has had a lot of luck on Broadway with The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan I’m sure soon with Aladdin, Dreamworks struck out with its big stage version of Shrek starring Brian D’Arcy James and Sutton Foster in the roles of Shrek and Fiona. But just because it didn’t survive on the great white way doesn’t mean its any less of a quality production. Having seen the show in New York, I have been a huge fan for years. The music is clever and extremely fun and the performances are award-worthy. I think Dreamworks was so shocked that it didn’t do well that they decided to try to breathe new air into it by releasing it for home viewing. I hope this does the trick as I would love to keep enjoying this one on stage for years to come. A
Vikings: Season One Available on DVD and Blu-ray While we didn’t see a ton of Emmy’s being thrown the way of the History Channel this year, they are certainly on the road to greatness with this years original programming including The Bible and now Vikings (which just happened to score 3 noms). This original series follows the fearsome but fair viking Ragnar Lothbrok as he rises to greatness within his tribe and attempts to conquer Europe. Good drama, solid writing and acting and excellent production values make this a series worth watching. While its not on par with Game of Thrones maybe, its definitely heading in the right direction and is sure to gather fans as it rolls along. B+