Despicable Me 2
LIKE the Grinch, the super-villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a bad guy who turned his life around when he let love into his heart -- specifically the love that came unexpectedly when he adopted three cute orphans, as seen in the first movie.
That event doesn't leave much of a character arc for our newly minted hero in the sequel. Co-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud overcome that challenge by having Gru seek a life mate -- a mother figure for his three daughters -- while using his villainous expertise to help the Anti-Villain League track a mysterious new bad guy in possession of a Jekyll-and-Hyde formula that can transform Gru's lovable, capsule-shaped minions into indestructible fiends. The two tasks are conjoined when Gru is partnered with enthusiastic spy Lucy (Kristen Wiig).
The minions, kind of a comic chorus in the first movie, get some serious screen time this time out, especially in the DVD extras, which include three minion-centric mini-movies: Puppy, Panic in the Mailroom and Training Wheels. It's all quite delightful.
More than any other contemporary 'toon-makers, Coffin and Renaud channel the zany physical comedy of the Looney Tunes universe. ***1/2
Fast & Furious 6
IN the course of six movies, the Fast and Furious franchise has transformed from escapist gearhead entertainment when it was about illegal street racing. Five movies later, it has become a kind of blue-collar Bond.
In this one, ex-cop Brian O'Connor (the late Paul Walker) is living a life of leisurely exile alongside partner in crime Dom Torretto (Vin Diesel), after the successful heist from the last movie.
Evidently, they really love L.A.: In exchange for freedom to return home, they are recruited by muscular fed Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to pursue a former Special Services agent named Shaw (Luke Evans). A super-criminal who has assembled his own "evil twin" crew of high-speed felons, Shaw is in pursuit of components for something called the Nightshade Device.
It's something else that draws Torretto's attention. One of Shaw's confederates is his ex-girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), presumed dead and buried if you saw the fourth movie.
Fights, races and chases ensue, including a doozy in London where Shaw drives a weird wedge-shaped car deliberately designed to send his pursuers airborne. Dom's crew is equally stymied when pursuing a high-speed armoured tank down a highway.
But where there's direct-port nitrous injection, there's a way.
The series is getting sillier as it goes, with digitally enhanced stunts so ridiculous, contemporary Bond movies look like documentary realism by comparison.
But director Justin Lin somehow manages to pop a little nitrous into this series with a deftly balanced fuel blend of melodrama, action and heavy metal.
It must be said that the recent death of Paul Walker in a car crash leaves a sobering imprint on the viewing experience. This is a movie that doesn't really want its audience to consider the injuries and death that attend its automotive mayhem.
Grim reality has taken a hand. ***
Silent Night, Bloody Night
THIS oddball proto-slasher, shot in 1972, is not to be confused with the more controversial seasonal slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night, which spawned widespread protests in the 1980s, mostly due to a poster depicting an axe-wielding Santa Claus.
This movie aspires to more of an old dark house-style thriller, centred on the old Butler estate in upstate New York. It was once the home of a rich town-father type, seen burning to death in the film's confusing preface. It just gets stranger from there, as lawyer John Carter (Patrick O'Neal) appears on the scene with his mistress to tell the town's mayor and sundry citizens that the house is being put up for sale by old Mr. Butler's grandson. The aforementioned grandson (James Patterson) shows up around the same time a psycho has conveniently escaped from a nearby asylum. A series of killings proceed to decimate the town's eccentric population, which includes John Carradine as a mute newspaper editor who communicates by ringing a bellhop bell.
The DVD release lays claim to a high-def restoration from a 35mm print, but the word "restoration" should be interpreted loosely. The print is grainy and dirty and the sound is filled with pops and hisses. It even has an alternate title card -- Deathouse (sic) -- not Silent Night, Bloody Night. (Releasing a single movie with different titles was a common marketing ploy in that era.)
The truth is that the film is a public domain property, one of the reasons it was once featured in the series Elvira's Movie Macabre. It cost nothing for the company Film Chest to acquire. From all appearances, one presumes the only significant print restoration was accomplished with a Dustbuster.
On the plus side, it does boast some lurid '70s sleaze authenticity with brief appearances by Andy Warhol Factory stars Ondine and Candy Darling, underground filmmaker Jack Smith and of course, cult star Mary Woronov in the leading role as the mayor's daughter. **