The Smurfs 2

Feeling Blue? Join the exciting adventures of our stalwart crew as they join forces to rescue Smurfette, who knows a secret....

The opening credits feature pop-up pages in a child's book. Every child in the screening audience recognized them right away. In fact, other than the toddler who was instantly (and vocally) bored, the rug-rats seemed very involved; they were quiet and well-behaved. These opening credits, by the way, are the only time I felt the 3D was used to any special effect. It's lovely for the travelogue/story that follows, but it does NOT enhance the plot.

New Yorkers Patrick and Grace dash off to Paris to help their friends when Smurfette needs to be rescued. To me, the joy was to recognize Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Élysées, Jardin des Tuileries, and Place de la Concorde, with a few more thrown in for good measure! (Like the ferris wheel that seems to come and go in Paris these days.)

We saw:
  • Neil Patrick Harris ("The Smurfs") as Patrick, the Smurfs' Number One friend who helps them when sweet little Smurfette is lured away by the evil wizard's cute henchmen.
  • Jayma Mays ("The Smurfs") is Grace, Patrick's wife, and mother to their four-year-old boy named Blue.
  • Hank Azaria ("The Smurfs") is Gargamel, the evil wizard who needs two things: 1) The Secret Formula, and 2) the "Essence" of a few Smurfs. ("It'll only hurt a teeny bit...")
  • Brendan Gleeson ("The Guard") is Victor, Patrick's most UN- welcome step-father, who has all the finesse of a bull in a china shop.
  • Katy Perry (Lots of TV) is the voice for Smurfette.
  • An amazing Computer Generated cat. Technology wins again!
In this blend of live action and animation, each Smurf  has his or her own personality and is portrayed by a "name brand" actor. I won't go into that here, as there is nothing distinctive to note.

The message in this movie is that parents love their adopted children as though they are their own. Not a bad thing...
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Here is a preview:
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The Wolverine

This is sort of "Crouching Wolverine, Hidden Dragon..." because much of it takes place in Asia and the women are martial artists. Our hero was near Nagasaki when the A-Bomb was dropped and he saved a Japanese soldier at the time. Many decades later, with the death of his beloved Jean still haunting his dreams, he is summoned to Japan as that same man, now elderly, lays dying.

My favorite part of "Iron Man 3" was when our guy was suddenly stripped of his power. In this one, we see another Marvel superhero become a mere mortal...at least for a time. Wolverine tries to help a young woman who is being pursued by gangsters and killers who are somehow tied to the death of her grandfather. In addition, he also finds himself in dire need of assistance from a young Goth chauffeur/body- guard.

Let's see who's who in this one:
  • Hugh Jackman ("Real Steel" and "Les Misérables") is, for the sixth time, Logan/Wolverine, our self-repairing immortal who has retreated to the wilderness to grieve for his lost love.
  • Famke Janssen ("Taken" and "X-Men") joins us courtesy of flash- backs and dreams, as Jean Grey, the woman he adored...and killed...
  • Rila Fukushima ("Karma: A Very Twisted Love Story") is Yukio, Wolverine's maroon-haired bodyguard.
  • Tao Okamoto (in her first film) is Mariko, granddaughter of the elderly industrialist who offers to "cure" Logan of his immortality.
There are many, many more characters in this story, but I have named the ones who caught MY eye. Of course we can expect endless fisticuffs and martial arts, along with CGI-driven action, but the fight on top of a speeding bullet train is worthy of mention, as is our lonely hero's anger and isolation. This is a PG-13 film, so they are allowed one "F" word... which is used appropriately. I DID object to one scene where our hero has more arrows piercing his body than St. Sebastian! Enough already!

Do not join the stampede to the exit when the final credits start to roll: This is a Marvel production, so there WILL be a teaser for their next outing! You'll smile...
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Fruitvale Station

Anyone who followed the news in 2009 already knows how this will end: BADLY! I really, really did NOT want to screen this movie because it's based on a true, news-making tragedy that took place at a Bay Area transit station early in the morning of New Year's Day, 2009. This R-rated script by writer/director Ryan Coogler follows Oscar Grant III as he goes through December 31, 2008, the last day of his messed-up life.

We see:
  • Michael B. Jordan ("Parenthood" and "Red Tails") does a terrific job as Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who has several things going on in his life: A mother who loves him; a girlfriend who is trying to forgive; a daughter he adores; the loss of his job; and rent that is due.
  • Melonie Diaz (Lots of TV) is Oscar's concerned fiancée. She can see him clearly, but still loves him.
  • Ariana Neal ("Footloose") is Oscar's daughter; she tries to talk him out of his New Year's party because she is afraid.
  • Octavia Spencer ("The Help") is marvelous as Oscar's mother, who talks him into riding the train on New Year's Eve because he and his friends will be celebrating.
  • Chad Michael Murray ("One Tree Hill") and Kevin Durand ("Lost") as the transit officers who pull the trigger.
My companion felt Oscar was really trying to turn his life around. His main motivation was his love for his family, which in turn made him reexamine his behavior. This still didn't dull his hair-trigger temper, but he seemed to be moving in the right direction.

If there is a lesson here, it would be: Keep your life in order because you never know when it may end.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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"Un-dead police officers?" Really? C'mon! This PG-13 action-fest once again had me scanning my mental Thesaurus... Idiotic? Ludicrous? Preposterous? Ridiculous? Outrageous? Goofy? Hilarious? I think you get the picture. If you've seen the ads you know a recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers in the Rest In Peace Department.

This absurd comedy, written by Phil Hay/Matt Manfridi ("Clash of the Titans") and directed by Robert Schwentke ("Red") is a sure-fire winner, full of action, comedy and Computer Generated Imaging. I freely admit that there were times things got too, too silly and my interest faltered, but then the story rallied again.

We watch:
  • Jeff Bridges ("Hearts of the West") is Roy, wearing a Buffalo Bill beard and mumbling like he has a mouth full of chewing tobacco, is an old-time lawman on the third sixty-year extension of his assignment.
  • Marisa Miller (Victoria's Secret model) in her slinky gold dress, is Roy's avatar when he walks among us.
  • Ryan Reynolds ("Chaos Theory") is Nick, slain by his trusted partner and stunned by this new turn of events. He quickly adjusts to the idea that he can't be killed any more, at least THAT is a relief!
  • James Hong ("Safe") is Nick's avatar.
  • Mary-Louise Parker ("Red") is Proctor, the R.I.P.D. orientation officer in her short black uniform and white knee-length go-go boots...she made me think of Diana Rigg.
  • Kevin Bacon ("Frost/Nixon") is Officer Hayes, ready and willing to comfort his partner's widow.
The CGI technicians had a blast and the audience saw blowie uppie stuff galore! Our poor heroes are really up against big-time trouble; only a few things might be worse: Global Warming, the Black Plague and bad cell-phone reception.

Oh, by the way, only in the early scenes is 3D used to any effect. $o $pend the extra money only if you are a fan....
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Here's a link to a preview:
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Here they are again, our favorite former CIA black-ops agents, still Retired and Extremely Dangerous, who must reunite to track down a portable nuclear device, invented by a man who, for over 30 years, has been held in an institution for the criminally insane.

If you saw the original RED you know that after all those wild events, Frank and Sarah became a couple. Now we get to see what happens after the "happily ever after...." (It's hilarious!)

We see:
  • Bruce Willis ("RED") Frank is in a domestic frenzy, deliriously heaping his shopping cart at Costco with countless household items.
  • John Malkovich ("RED") Marvin is horrified to see Frank in this condition. He will do anything...
  • Mary-Louise Parker ("RED") Sarah has an edge over Frank and Marvin: people LIKE her... But she watches Frank's new-found domesticity with a mixture of dismay and affection.
  • Helen Mirren ("RED") Victoria is in the middle of another "side job" when our friends contact her.
  • Byung-hun Lee ("G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra") Han Cho Bai has a $20M contract to kill Frank.
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones ("Side Effects") Katja is a Russian operative who formerly worked for the KGB. She and Frank have a "history."
  • Anthony Hopkins ("You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger") Bailey is our mad scientist.
This PG-13 outing is another wild ride with our favorite foursome, maybe even wilder than the original: Our screening audience laughed all the way through.  Expect vehicular mayhem, endless gunfire and blowie uppie stuff, hardly any profanity, several interesting kisses but no sweaty bodies. Mirren makes a great Mary, Queen of Scots, Parker speaks lousy Russian, Malkovich is fetching in a Carmen Miranda chicka-chicka-boom hat and Willis plays Willis flawlessly.

Do NOT miss this one!
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Take a peek at a trailer:
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The Way, Way Back

Sam Rockwell has done so much with so little for so long, we now expect him to do everything with nothing. This time however, he actually has something to work with! My thanks to writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (Oscar for "The Descendants" script) who also doubled up as actors; they both had bit parts in this terrific film which won the Audience Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

We see a teenage boy who is bullied in a subtle but humiliating way by his mother's new boyfriend. Due to his age, he has no recourse but to bite the bullet and accept the bullying; his mother is too infatuated with the guy to realize what is happening. They go to the boyfriend's vacation cottage at the seashore for the summer. This story is about that summer, the neighbors, a water park, and how they all fit together.

We watch:
  • Sam Rockwell ("Moon," "Midsummer Night's Dream," and "Seven Psychopaths") is Owen, an employee at a local water park. He befriends our sad teenager and in a roundabout way, offers him coping lessons. I LOVE this guy!
  • Liam James (Lots of TV) is Duncan, our misbegotten hero. We cringe when we see how he is treated and are with him all the way as he starts to assemble the man he will become.
  • Toni Collette ("About a Boy") is Pam, the lonely mother who thinks she might have found the man of her dreams. Collette can play any type, any nationality and any genre. She's amazing!
  • Steve Carell ("Date Night") is Trent, a single dad who is delighted he has found a woman looking to create a whole new family. Carell has played victims of bullying so often he certainly knows how to play a bully! Trent's technique is extremely effective because it is so understated.
  • Allison Janney ("The Help") is Betty, Trent's sister who lives next door; she seems to start off each day with alcohol! If Rockwell hadn't been in this one, she would have stolen it hands down!
  • AnnaSophia Robb ("Race to Witch Mountan") is Susanna, the pretty teenager who lives next door; her mom is a drunk, her brother has a lazy eye, and her dad has found the man of his dreams. All in all, she's pretty happy!
We saw this in a theater that offers Closed Captions, so opted for the feature, but discovered we didn't need it at all. The soundtrack is crystal clear, the diction is perfect and every speech was articulated.

In this warm and wonderful PG-13 dramedy, we saw no sweaty bodies, watched no vehicular mayhem, heard no gunshots or blowie uppie stuff. I DID appreciate the great background music that was appropriate for each phase of this satisfying film; I loved the last vocal trio by Edie Brickell and the Gaddabouts.
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Take a look and see what you think:
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Pacific Rim

This is RoboCop on steroids! As I watched, I mentally reviewed my Thesaurus for words that could describe these huge robots: Herculean, massive, enormous, gargantuan, stupendous, vast, humongus... Do you get the idea? I live on the eighth floor of my downtown condominium and these behemoths (there's another!) would have to stoop to look in my living-room window!

Earth has been attacked by gigantic monsters who came out of a volcanic rift in the Pacific Ocean. Humankind is helpless to ward them off and the end of the world as we know it is fast approaching. Only a handful of now-obsolete mechanical Jaegers (Hunters) offers any promise of hope, but each one requires two (2!) compatible operators working in sync to make it work.

Guillermo del Toro directed this action-filled (lotsa Computer Generated Imaging) PG-13 Sci-Fi fantasy. This is targeted specifically for fans, and last night, they were entertained! In addition, del Toro included clever bits for the rest of us, like tasteful pretend water drops splashed against a pretend lens, witty byplay among the principals, plus subliminal hints of other movies.

We see:
  • Idris Elba ("The Wire") his rallying speech to his troops is Shakespearean, but we worry about his health. He has only two rules: One: you do not touch me. Two: you do not touch me!
  • Charlie Hunnam ("Sons of Anarchy") is one of the last Jaeger operators.
  • Ron Perlman ("Drive") gets the final word, wait for it! And check out those chuntaros (fancy Mexican shoes with extra long, pointed toes.)
  • Max Martini (Lots, and lots, and LOTS of TV) is a veteran in the Jaeger unit.
  • Robert Kazinsky ("Red Tails") is an egotistical S.O.B. with daddy issues, according to his commanding officer.
  • Charlie Day ("Horrible Bosses") provides half of the comic relief (and some science) for this doom-laden situation.
  • Burn Gorman ("Game of Thrones") is the other half of the comic relief.
  • Rinko Kikuchi ("Sideways") provides the estrogen for this testosterone-soaked story.
As a non-fan of CGI, this became a bit of an endurance test for me (131 minutes), but there were delicious bits of humor and the interaction of the humans was mostly believable (unlike the moment when one of the monsters sprouted wings and gales of laughter erupted from the audience).

The visual effects are overwhelming, there is hardly any profanity, there are no kisses or sweaty bodies and very little blowie uppie stuff, nothing but endless mayhem as CGI monsters whale the tar out of one another. Whew!
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Take a look at the trailer:
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The Lone Ranger - 2013

Why do they DO that? This bold, handsome, and wildly entertaining PG-13 romp, also contains nasty hints of cannibalism, sadistic stabbings, and heartless, point-blank gunshots! Not like the thrilling days of yester- year....

This entire story is told in flashback. In 1933 San Francisco, a boy goes into a Wild West show where he sees three life-size dioramas: an American buffalo, a grizzly bear, and a "Noble Savage," which turns out to be an elderly Tonto, who comes to life and immediately starts lying to him. The boy knows his legends though, and argues back. Brilliant make- up, by the way!

Director Gore Verbinski ("Pirates of the Caribbean") swings wildly between a goofy white horse that seems to be right out of "Cat Ballou," to a poignant love story that left us wanting more.

These guys are workin' it:
  • Armie Hammer ("Mirror Mirror") is our eponymous hero, white hat, white stallion, silver bullet and all. This is where we learn what turned mild-mannered attorney John Reid into a legendary Texas Ranger. He is so earnest it makes the comedy very, very funny.
  • Johnny Depp ("Dark Shadows") is Tonto, his stalwart (?) sidekick (do you know what "tonto" means in Spanish? I didn't think so... Look it up!) Our two heroes are at odds through most of the movie, linked only by circumstance.
  • James Badge Dale ("The Grey") is Dan Reid, the brother who married the woman John loves. Dan is a heroic Texas Marshall, soon killed in the line of duty.
  • Ruth Wilson ("Anna Karenina") is Rebecca Reid, the woman they both adore.
  • Tom Wilkinson ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") is Latham Cole, the ambitious railroad magnate who is linking the East and West coasts by rail.
  • William Fichtner (Lots of TV) is the dastardly villain Butch Cavendish. Our hero refuses to shoot him because "violence never solved anything."
I mentally divided this 2 1/2-hour PG-13 outing into five sections:
  1. The first 30 minutes or so tell us how an icon is created; it is laugh-out-loud funny and ends with a rousing rendition of the William Tell Overture, which as we know is our hero's theme song;
  2. The second section includes the massacre of an Indian tribe;
  3. The center section is again very funny; 
  4. Then about 30 minutes that feature more cold-blooded killing;
  5. The final action-filled section (with an encore of the William Tell Overture) takes place on moving trains and contains slapstick and sight gags that would have done Buster Keaton proud!
I feel so sad because I would LOVE to recommend this wholeheartedly. Maybe if you go get popcorn during the icky parts? (I WILL probably own the DVD because of the funny and poignant scenes; Armie Hammer is wonderful.) Sigh....
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See for yourself:
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The Lone Ranger - 1981

Actually, the full name is "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" but like many other elements in this classic misfire, it's too cumbersome... The music is awkward, the dialogue is absolutely dreadful and the voice-over is in verse (?!?). Only one statement in the script resonates with me: "In Texas, robbers are outlaws; in Washington D.C., robbers are elected." This tells me nothing much has changed over the years.

Scripted by a committee chaired by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, this cringe-worthy mess was directed by William A. Fraker (Lots of TV)...may their names go down in infamy....

Here are the on-screen culprits/victims (take your pick):
  • Klinton Spilsbury is John Reid/Lone Ranger, the idealistic lawyer who wants to see Justice brought to Texas. (This is Spilsbury's only film. After it wrapped he went to Europe, did some modeling, then became an acting coach in Vancouver, B.C.)
  • Michael Horse (Lots of TV and voice work) is Tonto, Reid's friend and blood brother since childhood.
  • John Bennett Perry ("Independence Day") is Captain Dan Reid, our hero's brother. He feels he is fighting a losing battle...and he is.
  • Christopher Lloyd (Lots of TV and voice work) is Butch (short for "Butcher") Cavendish, the bible-toting villain of the piece.
  • Richard Farnsworth ("The Straight Story") is Wild Bill Hickok, the well-known gunman riding in the presidential train and playing poker with the president.
  • Jason Robards ("Magnolia") is President Ulysses S. Grant, who comes campaigning to Texas.
  • Juanin Clay ("WarGames" she died of a heart ailment at age 46) is Amy Striker, the idealistic young journalist who has attracted the attention of our hero.
There is a startling amount of profanity, along with deaths by hanging, shooting, stabbing and a firing squad, so the PG rating surprises me, but then again, maybe the MPAA decided no one would go see this black hole, so the rating wouldn't matter. And it IS only 98 minutes long!

Nominated for numerous Razzie Awards and a winner for Worst Actor, Worst Script and Worst New Actor, we'll just let the work speak for itself. It's clear that Klinton Spilsbury is handsome, personable and charming, so it's sad to see that in his first (and only) time out the gate he got mixed up with this bunch.
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The only link is to the whole movie, I have NOT tested this:
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Despicable Me 2

Didja love The Minions last time? I know I did! So I'm happy to report those little yellow fireplugs are back...in FORCE! It is clear that the filmmakers knew how much the children loved them; AND like last time, they saved their best 3D effects for the final credits, so I $ugge$t you $kip tho$e extra charge$.

Our hero is asked to come out of retirement to help find a villain who can inject the sweetest creature with a serum that turns it into an indestructible force for Evil. Gru would rather stay home and host a birthday party for one of his beloved daughters, so he turns down the job.

In this PG family outing:
  • Steve Carell ("Hope Springs") returns as Gru, our favorite villain-turned-marshmallow, the fellow who adopted three little girls under false pretenses in the first Despicable Me, then learned how to read bedtime stories and become a really good father.
  • Kristen Wiig ("Bridesmaids") is Lucy, our hero's sidekick, a pretty tough cookie who obviously has a "thing" for him.
  • Benjamin Bratt ("Snitch") is Eduardo/El Macho, the proprietor of a Mexican-food place in the mall.
  • Moises Arias ("The Kings of Summer") is Antonio, the muy guapo heartthrob who sweeps Gru's dazzled daughter Margo off her feet.
  • Miranda Cosgrove ("Despicable Me") is Margo, the oldest of Gru's three girls, just entering her hormonal years...to her father's dismay.
  • Russell Brand ("Rock of Ages") is Gru's assistant Dr. Nefario, who leaves his employment for a better deal.
I enjoyed the children's giggles of delight with The Minions and I appreciated the well-balanced parenting I saw from Gru. (These are the nicest little girls!) In addition, it always pleases me to see professional voice artists used in these projects, so kudos to the casting folks!
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See what you think:
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The Heat

Another cop/buddy movie, the best part is: this time it's two gifted comediennes! In keeping with what audiences expect in today's R-rated comedies, this one is action-filled, profane, and very anatomical. (Why must body parts be discussed so specifically these days? Are they really THAT funny?)

Director Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids") has paired this reluctant odd couple: an uptight FBI agent and a down and dirty street cop, to bring a drug cartel to justice.
  • Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side") is, of course, the uptight, New-York based, FBI agent. Bullock likes to start her films as an unlikeable character so she can be humiliated, then demonstrate improvement and get the audience to warm up to her after all.
  • Melissa McCarthy ("Identity Thief") is a Boston beat cop so down and dirty she only manages to turn her t-shirt inside out by the fifth day to pretend it isn't so soiled.
  • Demián Bichir ("The Bridge") is the ultra-patient boss who realizes that no matter how brilliant his agent might be, her co-workers still hate her guts.
  • Marlon Wayans (Lots of TV) is winning as the colleague who really is trying to help!
  • Thomas F. Wilson (Lots of TV) is the poor guy stuck with trying to manage this pair when they finally agree to go out on the job together.
There are a LOT of funny bits: I particularly liked the one where McCarthy encounters Bullock's Spanx in the ladies room. You've gotta be there!
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Take a look at this trailer:
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Rabbit-Proof Fence

For over a century Great Britain enforced a misguided social policy that removed half-caste Aboriginal children from their mothers and placed them in orphanages where they were taught "their place." They became gardeners, housekeepers, cooks, maids and chauffeurs while their families mourned their absence. You will be gratified to know that this policy was abandoned by 1970 but it's shocking to know how long it had been in effect.

In 1931, three aboriginal girls were snatched from their homes and placed in one such school. This movie is a dramatized account of their escape and subsequent attempt to cross the continent in order to rejoin their families.

Not only is this story exciting, in the extras on this PG-rated, 94-minute award winner, we are given the privilege of meeting the actual women, now very elderly.

Playing real people, we see:
  • Everlyn Sampi as Molly Craig;
  • Tianna Sansbury as Daisy Craig Kadibill;
  • Laura Monaghan as Gracie Fields;
  • Jason Clarke as Constable Riggs;
  • Kenneth Branaugh as A. O. Neville; and
  • David Gulpilil as Moodoo the tracker.
This is a seat-of-the-pants thriller, a comedy, a social commentary, a tear-jerker and a feel-good drama. Who could ask for anything more?
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See if you agree:
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