Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Everything about "Valerian" is long and motionless.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

In 1997, there was a science fiction film that I fell in love with called "The Fifth Element." I was blown away by the look of the future, the fun adventure in the film, and just how bloody interesting it was. That film was made by Luc Besson and he created a unique look at the future, something we weren't seeing much of at the time. "The Fifth Element" was not big at the beginning, but it eventually developed a cult following, and now its a big favorite for a significant amount of fans. Luc Besson returns to the future with "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," an adaptation of a French comic book.

I wish I can say the same positive things for "Valerian," which I am just going to abbreviate as "Valerian," I have no pleasure to write out the name over and over again in this review. I don't think "Valerian" is going to have the same kick after it vanishes out of theaters soon. I don't think it found an audience when it was released over the weekend and I don't think one will pop up now or anytime later. "Valerian" does not have the same energy as "The Fifth Element" did, it does not have the same sense of adventure. It does not have the same memorable characters or emotional depth. "Valerian" is just kind of there. Yes, its visuals are great, this I will give the film. I can spend possibly two thousand words on how beautiful the various sites, aliens and futuristic hardware is in this movie. I could turn the volume off of this movie and just view it as a silent movie, and I would probably like the movie much better.

But "Valerian" isn't a silent movie. It takes place in the future, on board a space station called Alpha. What started out as any old space station quickly became a place where people all over the world could congregate with species from all over the universe. They began sharing their technology, sharing their knowledge and sharing their culture with each other. It became a very peaceful place. We follow Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) who are police men working on the city of a thousand planets, which is what Alpha eventually turned into. They make a good team and as you could have guessed, a romance between them begins to blossom.

For being a peaceful place for countless different races from all over the universe, not all is well on the city of a thousand planets, there is a conspiracy which got an entire planet destroyed. There are those trying to cover up that this specific planet was destroyed. Valerian and Laureline plan to find out what that is. The problem is that the mystery of the film is never really intense, interesting or even mysterious. Once the culprit is revealed, its pretty clear that you will be able to find out that they are the villain of the movie. Plus, the evil plot, really isn't interesting either.

I have watched Cara Delevingne in a couple films now, and I honestly don't see the appeal. She just comes off as a blank who memorizes scripts, not a full blown actress. I don't get any emotions from her. I don't feel anything from any of the characters she creates. I really don't see her appeal. Because, honestly, she isn't that good looking either, so I don't see how she can even serve as eye candy. How is she still getting work when there are far more talented, far better looking actresses her age out in the world? I don't get it. Dane DeHaan is usually an actor that I like, but I think he's an actor that works well in grounded, dramatic stuff. When he stars in high concept fare like this and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," he's too hammy, too quirky and I don't believe in the characters he plays. I think certain actors can fit certain styles, and no matter what they can do other styles. I mean, I can never imagine Daniel Day-Lewis doing a superhero or supernatural film, I think DeHaan might suffer the same problem.

Yes, Rhianna shows up. She's fine I guess. But nothing special.

Its too bad, because its clear lots of creativity and care went into the creation of the visuals. Much like "Ghost In The Shell" earlier this year, "Valerian" is masterful just to stare at. Its pretty easy to get lost in the film's visuals. But no creativity and care went into forming a compelling story to tell, nor making up genuine, unique characters. At nearly two and a half hours, its a pretty long movie for a story that really doesn't do much. "The Fifth Element" is a fairy simple story, but Bruce Willis had a compelling character to play, as did Milla Jovovich and Gary Oldman. There was a sense of fun and adventure and it was also marvelous to look at during that particular time period. "Valerian" accomplishes not even half of that. Its a clear that Besson is a visual artist, but I guess the story's get away from him every once in awhile. Or maybe this comic book wasn't worth adapting.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

San Diego Comic-Con Trailers...everywhere!

This weekend was the annual San Diego Comic-Con. As always it was a banter year featuring tons of new information about some coming attractions. Like always, there were trailers. Lots and lots and lots of trailers. Below is literally every and all trailers you would ever want to see from Comic-Con. There is all sorts of stuff you can enjoy here. From movies and TV. I can say that the trailers I liked the most included "Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle," that looks like its going to be a shit-ton of fun! I liked the "Thor 3" trailer, and our first looks at Fenir, Surtur and a talking Hulk was awesome. This doesn't look like the average Hulk movie, and that's exciting. Surprisingly enough, the "Justice League" movie looks awesome. I really enjoyed the footage there. I think "Ready Player One" is going to blow us away when we see it. I am very much looking forward to "The Defenders" on Netflix next month, I am so excited I just might finish "Iron Fist" soon. I also liked the "Stranger Things" season two trailer!

 I think "Bright" could also end up being a big deal for Netflix this Christmas. I read the script and it looks like its going to play pretty close to the script I read. I think I am going to re-read it soon. Its a great script up until the anti-climatic ending, so I hope the ending has cleaned itself up by then. But overall, this should be a big hit in their film department.

 The season eight trailer for "The Walking Dead" looks fine, season seven was fine, this trailer looked fine. I hope its the big bananza it's aiming for. But the show is hit-or-miss these days. "Jigsaw" looks like absolute shit and more of the same. "Pacific Rim: Uprising" looks fine too, but I am not sure that movie needed a sequel, no matter how good I thought it was.

 But, like I said, any trailer you could possibly want to watch is below. Enjoy.

Movie Question- Do you believe there is a difference between "Best Film of All Time" & "Favorite Film of All Time"

Movie Question

Best Film of All Time & Favorite Film of All Time-The Difference?

I have been fascinated by the world of film all my life. No surprise that I decided to start spewing my opinion on the matter for free for the last few years, huh? For the longest time, I always felt that a movie someone considered the "Best Film of All Time" were the same as "Favorite Film of All Time." I mean, if you consider something your favorite, that has to mean its the best right? Can those two terms be that different? Don't they walk hand and hand?

No. Yes. Well, maybe. It depends on who you talk to. I have read critics and movie fans alike make two different lists when discussing the films they love most, A Favorite List and Best List. Others have said to simply state that a movie is better than the other is arrogant, and all they can really divulge are their favorite films, the movies they resonated most in a given time period. Movies are art, and art is subjective. So can there really be a "Best Film of All Time?" What makes a film better than another? I have consulted friends on this matter today. Because honestly, I have struggled putting my feelings together on this. I know its the most important issue in the world, but since I run a movie blog, I decided to discuss it today. Since I have never discussed it here before. Several online voices have tried to break down the difference between "Favorite Film" and "Best Film" and there have been debates over it all over the internet as well. So I wanted to throw my two cents at the matter.

Based one what I have read and what people have said about it, there are things I agree with and things I may not necessarily agree with. I would agree that there are varying levels of greatness, even when it comes to great movies. I don't think that every movie has to be a technical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual achievement in order to be a great movie, simply because not all movies are designed that way. I love the movie "Independence Day" which is a "B-Movie" style alien invasion film from 1996. It is clearly inspired by the 1950's alien movies that came before it, and lots of stuff goes boom in the film. There is funny material and adventurous material. But its not a technical nor is it intellectual. It doesn't bring anything particularly new to the genre. But does that make it a bad movie? No. But how does it compare to say, "Citizen Kane?" I have a hard time putting "Independence Day" above "Citizen Kane," but then again, why would you be comparing those two at all?

If you look at the AFI Best List, or the Sight And Sound Poll that happens once a decade, or the Best Films of All Time List that the late, great Roger Ebert published before his passing, you will see while some of the same films show up across these lists, you will even see them on other lists too. Anybody who truly loves movies has taken a stab at creating a "Best Films of All Time" list, and while films like "The Godfather," "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca," "2001" and "Singin' In The Rain" have all appeared in those lists, the order is different and it doesn't seem any film critic or film historian or film analyst can agree on what the truly best film of all time is. Most of those lists are based on votes anyway, which means the placing on the list is based on the most votes. Which means we really don't know just how many people are in consensus on the best of all time.

But why is it generally the same movies in same "Best of" discussions? Why when there is a massive world of film out there that expands by each weekend? Who decides what movies are the best? A bunch of film analysts and cinema snobs? How can you honestly become an expert on something that is, by design, subjective? It seems when people discuss films like "Casablanca" and "The Godfather," they consider them the best because they are culturally important, influential to the greater language of cinema, they change the world of movies in some way. I can absolutely agree with that. Some movies are more important, more influential to cinema, and change the game of movies as we know it. Not all movies do this, but there are some that have. Its part of what makes those movies great. But does that mean something that isn't a game-changer or isn't influential is suddenly not great? Absolutely not. Like I said, there are varying degrees of greatness. I think more than anything, the lists presented by AFI and Sight and Sound are more measures of influential and important films, rather than the best films. 

I say this because, movies are art. I don't think there is anything scientific or mathematical about movies. I don't know if you can honestly say that a movie is the best in stone cold fact without sounding like a snobbish asshole. If you mix the colors blue and red together, you get purple, that is a fact. The Allied Forces defeated the Axis Forces during World War II. That is a fact. Those things are backed by the scientific method and primary sources proving them correct. But how do you take a movie is the best by fact? Sure, there are a handful of movies considered the best. But that's the thing, they are considered. They are considerations, not law. And when people discuss and list the "best films" there is even disagreement in the ordering of the films themselves. No two people ever agree.

This is why I am convinced that "favorite films" and "best film" go hand-in-hand. All people are different and what we get out of movies are so different. They are also art, and art has always been subjective. The way people react to art is so complex that the mere way of listing a group of movies and ranking them over others is hard to distinguish. I would agree that there are varying degrees of greatness and I would say that if I made a list of my favorite films of all time, and the films that I believed are the most important, or movies that I feel have changed cinema the most, those lists would look different. I would probably put films like "Citizen Kane," "Apocalypse Now," "Casablanca," and "Gone With The Wind" on that list. Sometimes my lists wold overlap, like with my favorite film, "The Maltese Falcon." I love Humphrey Bogart, and he gives the best performance in that movie which I have ever seen him in. I think the characters and the music and the story and the actors fuse together in a way I find obsessive and brilliant. But I feel the movie is also important because it gave birth to an entire film genre...the film noir. A genre we still feel the affects of today. How can it not be an important film? How can "Pulp Fiction" not be an important film? For completely affecting cinematic output from 1994 until today. For putting independent cinema on the map in a huge way and pretty much keeping it there now. For showing just how well you can tell a good story un-chronologically. But neither of those movies come up as much as they should, because the critics don't put them there.

That's the tricky thing. Listening to those critics. Yes, I will say that the average critic is much more informed in film that the average Joe Schmoe who likes film. I try my darnest to cram as many films I haven't seen before, new and old, into each year. I treat it like a goal every single time our calendars reset. I get lucky if I come anywhere close to 200 titles. The average critic sees 300-400 new films a year, that's a lot of new movies each year. So yes, a critic is well informed. Maybe that is why they are much better at picking the "Best" films of anything. But even the decisions they make are personal decisions, so much of picking the good and the bad of any type of art comes down to personal taste that I wonder if a best can really be picked.

So whether as you pick your end-of-the-year lists, and you wonder whether to call it a "favorites list" or a "best list," remember its up to you. I love movies for varying reasons. I re-watch lots of stuff for varying reasons. I love the crazy carnage something like "Braveheart," or "The Expendables" or "The Rock" offers. I love films like "Lawrence of Arabia" or "The Apartment" or "Taxi Driver" because I love seeing what inspired who to make movies and how it has affected the business, both good and bad. I love watching "Ghostbusters" because I love the way it blends special effects and comedy, and it has never been done on the level that you see there. I love "The Godfather" films because, even though they are romanticized, its an amazing journey filled with characters that I love. I love watching "Goodfellas" because its a more personal, more realistic take on the gangster movie, which lies its power. I love watching "There Will Be Blood" because of Daniel Day-Lewis. Yes, that film has many other technical accomplishments to its name, but Day-Lewis' performance is so amazing, it infects the rest of the movie like a virus. I love watching "The LEGO Movie" because its completely in love with being a movie. I love watching "Phantom of the Paradise" because...well...there is nothing else like it.

I think those movies are some of my favorites. They are also some of the best to me? They are interchangeable and what you think of the movies you watch depends on you.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review: "Dunkirk" is a realistic, harrowing look at war and survival.

Dunkirk Review

Way back in 2012, I was student teaching at a middle school in Iowa, I was a social studies room for 8th graders. The classes were learning about the American Revolution and we showed them the film "The Crossing," where Jeff Daniels played George Washington, and it was about how a group of American soldiers during Christmas 1776 and told the true story of how they captured several Hessians soldiers. I remember seeing the part where Washington successfully captures the Hessian leader. In the days that followed, I remember one of my students coming up to me, disappointed. They asked me why there was a fight between Washington and the Hessian leader. I would later discuss in the class that followed that the action movies we like to watch isn't real life, and while war can be very brutal and deadly, its not the least bit exciting.

I think that's the biggest problem that war movies face, kow-towing the line between being a historical drama and a straight up action movie. I don't think any kind of war movie or military movie should feel like an action movie. I think it sets up a disservice to the memory these soldiers leave behind. I think its a huge mistake to make these video game franchises out of war, trying to turn the very role of war as some kind of sensory high. The biggest lesson war films try to teach us is that war is hell. Soldiers aren't action heroes, they are a different kind of hero. A hero that is real, authentic and honorable. So while I think "Dunkirk" is a great film. A completely mesmerizing and intoxicating experience, those expecting something along the lines of "Inception" should be warned off.

What Christopher Nolan has crafted here is a deeply human, deeply realistic take on defense and evacuation of Dunkirk in France. The film follows three stories. One take place on The Mole, the beach in Dunkirk where 300,000 British and French troops waited to get to Allied territory as the Nazi forces began to surround them. Another story follows the commandeering of private ships for the British Navy to ride those trapped troops to safety and how a normal civilian took it upon himself to make sure as many soldiers reach the safe haven. The last story takes place in the air and follows a pilot keeping the Nazi bombers away from The Mole. There is not lots of fighting or typical "battle scenes" in any of the stories. But Christopher Nolan is able to build intensity and heart-wrenching depth out of his characters and the slow burn pace at which he chooses to tell his story. 

Most of all, Nolan shows us that war is Hell. When violence does break out, its a horrifying nightmare that sweeps into the souls of the characters we meet. We see it in their faces and in their emotions how much they are trying to survive. As we meet Commander Bolton, played by Kenneth Branagh and Colonel Winnant, played by James D'Arcy, they are not the typical stiff upper lip, heroic leaders. These are men who know full well that the decisions they are about to make don't include making every soldier on the beach safe, and it clear that the very thought tears them up inside. There is powerful spark of humanity etched into the entire story of "Dunkirk" and the result is harrowing.

Tom Hardy plays one of the pilots that is trying to give more time for the destroyers and private boats to pick up the soldiers on the beach. Much like with Bane in Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises," Hardy speaks through a masked speaker throughout most of the film. I think Hardy is amazing how he is able to act pretty much through his eyes. In two movies, we have seen that you can cover up half his face and he can still deliver the emotional depth of a character just as well as if we could see his entire face. Its also amazing that he is pretty much in a claustrophobic state, sitting inside a cramped fighter plane, for his entire appearance in the film. He does outstanding work here, and as always, has some of the highlights of the film at his disposal.

Mark Rylance plays a different kind of hero in this movie. He's not a soldier. He isn't a participant of the Royal Navy. He is just a man who chooses to do some good during a time of great upheaval. Under the discourse of the Navy, Rylance takes his own boat out to sea to help in the evacuation effort. He doesn't allow the Navy to take his boat because he doesn't want any more young kids putting themselves in harms way. He is fully capable of putting matters in his own hands for the greater good. He believes that if can give his sons the blessing of fighting in the war, then he can participate in the effort. One of the first people he rescues is a soldier played by Nolan regular Cillian Murphy. Murphy plays a soldier who is really suffering the mental breakdown of war, and how Rylance chooses to care for this soldier creates some of the best and most provocative drama in the whole film and the choices made during this segment of the film were rewarding at each turn.

Some of the best acting came from the story on the beach. We follow Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he gets out of the city of Dunkirk and tries to get off the beach, time and time again, as the boats and beach continue get ravaged by the Nazi forces. He meets various troops and helps them out in their needs. He befriends a private played by Harry Styles...yes THE Harry Styles. Harry Styles disappears in his role as the private and there is no typical singer charm in his acting, apparently he beat out hundreds of other actors for the role and I firmly believe it. He's got some real strength as a performer and this is definitely something he could do long term.

I don't want to over-hype anything here, because I don't think that Nolan is quite on the level of Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick or even Steven Speilberg yet. But I think he's getting pretty close. I will firmly say that Christopher Nolan is one of the best modern filmmakers in the business right now. "Dunkirk" is another masterwork from the director, which is further cementing his legacy in the world of Hollywood.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Disaster Artist Teaser Trailer

This could very well be the best movie of the year. It has the absolute potential. 

I have been wildly curious about this movie ever since I started reading about it last year. If you know your cult classic movies, if you know your comedies, and if you have a love for seeking out the worst of the worst movies to see to believe, then you've probably heard of Tommy Wiseau's "The Room." "The Room" has been dubbed the "Citizen Kane of Bad Movies." Its been called one of the worst movies ever made. Yet, people can't deny the power of his awkwardness. "The Room" is a simple story. A man who is dedicated to his girlfriend is blindsided that she is cheating on him with his best friend. Plenty of room for intensity and depth. But Tommy Wiseau made something terrible. There are several logic and narrative flaws, it feels like your watching a soap opera on TV, except worse, the acting is bad, entire subplots go nowhere, I could on and on. Yes, "The Room" is terrible, but its a fascinating kind of terrible. I have not seen too many movies that were so bad, they are funny, but "The Room" is so bad its funny. That's why it grew in the oddball popularity it has. Tommy Wiseau not only wrote and directed the film, but he was the lead star, and his performance is so one-of-a-kind strange that you have to see it to believe.

I mean, just see this to believe it.

And remember, this was supposed to be a serious drama.

Apparently, the story of how "The Room" got made is just as fascinating as the film itself. Tommy Wiseau's co-star Greg Sestero wrote a non-fiction book called "The Disaster Artist," which was about Greg Sestero's experience making "The Room" and his unlikely, weird relationship with Tommy Wiseau. The book is finally being adapted into a movie. James Franco will portray Tommy Wiseau and his younger brother David Franco will portray Greg Sestero.

I have normally been weary standing in James Franco's corner. For much of his early career, I was not a big fan of his. There have been good points in his career, and when he's making comedies and playing silly goofs (Saul from "The Pineapple Express" comes to mind) that's usually my favorite work. I am hoping Franco really hams it up as Tommy Wiseau, the weirder he chooses to go with this character, the better this movie is going to be. It seems like he's created a crazy Wiseau accent, and he seems to embrace the eccentric personality of Wiseau. Even though the teaser is incredibly short, this could be one of the James Franco's best performances.

"The Disaster Artist" is building a great cast. Josh Hutcherson plays Philip Haldiman; who portrayed Denny in "The Room." Zak Efron plays Dan Janjigian; who portrayed Chris-R in "The Room." Ari Graynor plays Juliette Danielle; who portrays Lisa in "The Room." Jacki Weaver plays Carolyn Minnott; who portrays Claudette in "The Room." If you know the movie, you know that these actors both talent and look-wise will be great in these roles. This could end up being the best thing Zak Efron has ever done. Seth Rogen will play a script supervisor who ended up directing giant chunks of "The Room." Alison Brie will appear as Greg's girlfriend, Sharon Stone will play Greg's agent and Greg Sestero himself will play a casting agent! Bryan Cranston, Kate Upton, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Randall Park, Hannibal Buress, Judd Apatow, J.J. Abrams, Danny McBride, Adam Scott, Kristen Bell, and Keegan Michael-Key are also confirmed to appear.

Even the real Tommy Wiseau will cameo in the film!

As a fan of "The Room" who has been charmed by the innocent stupidity of it. As somebody who gets a kick out of Tommy Wiseau in general. I am dying to see this movie. It looks like this will be a good one!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: "The Big Sick" is a romantic comedy for those who hate romantic comedies.

The Big Sick Review
"I wish I could just, get into a relationship and relax"

I don't know if that's the exact quote, but I know its close. Its a moment when a Pakistani woman is having a real discussion with Kumail Nanjiani, the lead character of "The Big Sick," playing a fictional version of himself. Kumail is a Pakistani American who has parents with traditional Pakistani values, and all movie long they are trying to get Kumail to meet several potential Pakistani women for an arranged marriage. Kumail isn't interested though, he's not interested in any of the women. Why? Because he has a crush on a different girl. The rub is that this girl he is crushing on is a white woman, which is the mortal sin according to his family. But as Kumail stands in front of the home of his parents' latest marriage candidate, there is a very real moment. A moment where the candidate unleashes everything that bothers her about the old traditions from their old country. It shows that not only is it tough to meet all these potential marriage candidates if you are a Pakistani male, there is tons of pressure on Pakistani women to be the best possible candidates. Its a very real moment that hit in the heart in a way I wasn't expecting.

This is what separates "The Big Sick" from several other romantic comedies. Yes, this is a movie about a romance between Kumail and Emily (Zoe Kazan) the white girl he falls for. Yes, it is an incredibly funny. But this is not the same kind of romantic comedy we are used to. I detest most romantic comedies. They are so sappy, so cheesy, so full of grotesque one-liners that I can't focus on the films on its own terms. I have known people who have watched boat loads of these movies and feel like that is how love is really like. But romantic comedies are not a reflection of real life. They are fairy tales. They are phony. They are so far from real life that its almost scary. Its sad that people watch these movies and expect to have their happily-ever-after in a similar fashion. Not trying to say that I don't believe in love. Because I do. I married the woman of my dreams, of that I am positive. But it was a long road to figure out how right for each other we were, and I will admit that there were many times before our engagement that we nearly called it quits. Another thing "The Big Sick" says is that love is not easy. I wholeheartedly agree. Love is never easy. Whether its with your spouse, or your family or your best friends or shit, even your dog. Love is not easy. You have to work at it, you have to throw your entire self at it. You have to grow with it. Most romantic comedies never show that.

I think "The Big Sick" feels revolutionary in the genre because its based on a true story. This is Kumail telling a fictional version of how he met his white wife. Maybe that's why Kumail and Emily don't feel like the typical characters we encounter in romantic comedies. This is not a movie about a loser guy who miraculously gets the girl whose out of his league. This isn't a movie where two people come together, tears them apart, and then fate brings them back together. These are real people, authentic people. They have their own baggage, their own quirks, their own insecurities. Their relationship blossoms slowly, and builds authentically. I think that's why so many people are identifying with this movie, because its a romantic comedy that is about real people. 

Kumail and Emily find out they like each other. They begin dating. Kumail doesn't tell his family that he's dating a white girl, or otherwise his mother will "fucking ghost him" as his brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) tells him. Kumail can't help his feelings, he really likes Emily. But he hasn't told her about his family's expectations or the dozens of marriage candidates he secretly meets. Emily finds out the hard way about Kumail and his secrets, and she leaves him. He tries to get her back, but to no avail. Then she gets a really bad infection and spends several days in the hospital, and while she is there, Kumail examines his life and tries to figure out what he truly wants.

The film works not only because it feels real, but oh my goodness, its funny as shit. Kumail is hilarious all by himself, and does a good job bringing the laughs. He is a stand-up comedian, and lots of the movie is dedicated to his stand-up routines, and its all very funny. The movie features several hilarious situations. As much as I love the cast, I think the work done by Adeel Akhtar is the very best. Adeel steals the show as Kumail's brother and viewers should keep a close eye on him in each scene he's in. You will also love the work done by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, who play Emily's parents. Kumail's friends played by Kurt Braunohler, Aidy Bryant and Bo Burnham all have time to shine. In fact, it seems like each character, whether they are leading or supportive, all do solid work. 

Its amazing how shockingly "real life" this film feels. I would really wish that every romantic comedy felt this way. Its amazing to me that within two weeks of this roller coaster of a summer we have had, movie wise, I have seen two of my favorite films of the year in that period. Between this and "Baby Driver," I can only hope the hits keep coming.


Review: "Despicable Me 3" charts into new territory and is better for it!

Despicable Me 3 Review

I think the "Despicable Me" movies are fun. They aren't great or mind-blowing, but fun. I have enjoyed the characters. I find Gru funny and he brought to absolute tremendous life by Steve Carell's voice. I like Gru's adoptive daughters. I like his new wife who is voiced by Kristen Wiig. I love all the dog-gone minions. I like Gru's assistant, Dr. Nefario and how I can't hear a single aspect of Russell Brand's voice in him. Shocking I tell you. Its been a fun series, its been safe and ultimately familiar. But its been a fun series. I don't think the second film really did anything better than the first movie, and I don't think the series has lived up to its potential.

"Despicable Me 3" is a representation of what I personally look for in sequels. Most sequels just remake the first film, they don't expand on the characters or presents new challenges to them. I find nine out of ten sequels frustrating because its just putting the characters into a similar situation as the first film, but just slightly different. In the first "Despicable Me," Gru learns not to be a villain and learned to love his daughters. In "Despicable Me 2," Gru learned to use his villain skills to be a hero and learned to love a woman. They are very similar movies. One thing that is, at the very least, refreshing about "Despicable Me 3" is that its not really about Gru learning something new. It just simply puts its characters into a new challenge and expands the mythology of its characters. That's what I hope for in every sequel I sit down to watch.

The film opens with the introduction of Balthazar Bratt (voiced by Trey Parker of South Park), an old 1980's star who has turned into the next big supervillain. Gru and his wife Lucy Wilde, who are now employed by the Anti-Villain League. The capture of Balthazar Bratt goes less than well, and when the Anti-Villain League gets taken over by new management, Gru and Lucy are out of the job. The minions want to return to a life of crime, but Gru refuses, so the minions leave Gru. With no job and no more minions, Gru is abruptly visited by Fritz (Steve Coogan), who is the butler of Gru twin brother Dru. Gru never knew he had a twin brother and he and his family go to visit him. Dru doesn't just want a family reunion though, he wants something very specific from Gru. What is it and will Gru accept? And what is Bratt up to?

There were several moments in this film where I thought I had the film all figured out. But "Despicable Me 3" surprisingly throws curve balls in nearly every corner. I liked, at the very least, being on the edge of my seat. I liked that each character had some sort of challenge to face. Gru meeting his twin brother and having a new revelation. Lucy adjusting to being a mom and trying to do right by Gru's daughters. Dr. Nefario is...well...occupied by something cold. The minions go on their own way, but they eventually miss Gru. There is something that each character faces, and I think parents who have been watching along with their children will find something new for the characters to face, and I hope you enjoy. This is not just the same thing over again, this feels fresh. Which is nice.

The animation is, as to be expected, luminous. But I will admit that the animation has always been a little too cute for me. In fact, that is the biggest nitpick I have had for this entire series is that everything about these movies are cutesy. The humor, the visuals, the screenplay...its all very cutsey-poo and on-the-nose. I don't think it all lands every time. This is what separates the other animation studios from Pixar, they make movies for everyone. The other studios make animated movies for kids. I think the themes in this movie are universal, so that's a step in the right direction. But it what keeps this franchise in the fun zone and not something important. Something more that is very clear they are reaching for.