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Capone has fun with the flawed PREDATORS, while having a evil blast with DESPICABLE ME!!!

Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Due to a slightly overwhelming travel schedule and work load this week, I've had next to no time to devote to keeping you informed about what films are worth checking out and which aren't. And so I'm going to resort to something I haven't done in well over a year, possibly closer to two: a mini-round-up. Just a few paragraphs per review. I'm not a fan of these, but I don't really have a choice. A lot opens this weekend, so let's get to it... PREDATORS I thought this fairly faithful sequel to the original PREDATOR got the job done, and I had a blast watching a group of seriously talented and fun actors get put through the paces on a game preserve planet being hunted by a handful of predator creatures. I rewatched the original film, starring the current governor or California, and I was surprised how much dead space there actually is in that movie. That said, I still enjoyed watching it. Coming in at about the same running time as the original, PREDATORS follows a bunch of military-trained, murderous humans all snatched from Earth and deposited on a jungle planet to both act as prey for the predators and get used to hone the skills of the aliens so they can hunt and kill more effectively. It's a great idea that plays off a very b-movie story and amps it up with extreme violence, loads of gore, and more compromised morals than I've seen in one movie in quite some time. Director Nimrod Antal (ARMORED; KONTROL) and producer Robert Rodriguez have crafted a great looking movie loaded with performers that take the story seriously and add a great deal of gravity to their characters when they easily could have been played for laughs. Leading the team is a mercenary played by Adrian Brody (you see, he's the American, so he's in charge), followed by Alice Braga, Oleg Takarov as the Russian, Danny Trejo as a Mexican kidnapper, Louis Ozawa Changchien as a Yakuza (named Hanzo, no less), Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as an African soldier, the scene-stealing Walton Goggins as a death row inmate, and Topher Grace as a doctor. Wait, what? Showing up at the halfway point is Laurence Fishburne; I won't spoil who he is exactly, but I liked his performance quite a lot. I also liked the new varieties of predators we are introduced to here, while still paying tribute to the original guy who freaked us out in the first film. Antal is without a doubt a talented filmmaker with a strong sense of pacing and one upping himself with each new action sequence. My only complaint was that I would have liked a few more surprises in terms of who lives and dies. It's pretty clear from the first 10 minutes who's going to make it to the end of the film and perhaps live to fight more predators in a possible sequel. No, I don't think this movie will make my best of the year list, and I'm not even that driven to see it again any time soon, but I was thoroughly pulled into this story and this world, and I think PREDATORS is worth checking out.
DESPICABLE ME Probably the week's best mainstream release, the 3-D animated DESPICABLE ME takes a rather bold approach to its storytelling by making its lead character--the Charles Addams-esque Gru (voiced in a vague Eastern European accent by Steve Carell--a bad guy... or at least a guy who thinks he's bad. In this world, villains are very much a part of everyday existence. They steal precious artifacts, destroy national treasures, and use a freeze gun on everyone in line in front of them at the local coffee rather than politely waiting their turn. Cads! When a new, younger villain named Vector (Jason Segel) starts besting Gru's best efforts, Gru devises a plot to commit the ultimate heist by stealing the moon with the help of a shrink ray and a rocket. The only problem is that Vector has the world's only shrink ray, so Gru must plot a way to steal it from him. Deciding that using little girls selling scout cookies would be enough to distract Vector, Gru adopts three cute girl orphans and tricks them into becoming a part of his scheme. Naturally their sweetness has an impact on Gru, who was treated quite awfully by his critical mother (Julie Andrews), and he starts to become attached to his new family. Carell adopts a lower-key persona than he has in the past for playing Gru, but by doing so, the jokes seem to resonate more and are much funnier. I liked the supporting voice work from Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Jack McBrayer, Danny McBride and Mindy Kaling, but I have to give a great deal of credit to Russell Brand as Gru's partner in science and crime, the elderly Dr. Nefario. Brand puts on a voice that I frankly didn't recognize as his. He's a real treat and a welcome surprise. And I certainly can't leave out the supporting work by Gru's dozens of little, yellow, goggled minions (who have been front and center in the film's ad campaign), who act as worker bees for his dastardly deeds. They are very funny and operate as a collective Greek chorus, commenting and criticizing Gru's work. Predictable? Yes, but it's a film aimed at youngsters. What do you expect? The truth is, I was occasionally blown away by the film's visuals and its novel approach related to the portrayal of bad guys. Apparently, there is a difference between a villains and a bad guy. I also was impressed by the 3-D, which usually stays in check but sometimes loses its damn mind and nearly pokes you in the eye with sharp objects. Perhaps the only downside to DESPICABLE ME is that it's coming out on the heels of the vastly superior TOY STORY 3. But there's plenty of room in the landscape for two solid animated features, so let's applaud the efforts of both rather than feel like we have to choose. I think you and the kids will get a kick out of this movie.
-- Capone Follow Me On Twitter

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