Summaries and mini-reviews of movies playing now, from e3 magazine:
DESPICABLE ME 2. The evil genius Gru (voice by Steve Carell) returns, this time enlisted by a secret agency to help track down a dangerous formula that's fallen into the wrong hands. Less ambitious than the first film in scope and sporting a fairly flimsy story, the movie still proves to be an entertaining affair, primarily because of the appeal of its unique characters (gotta love those Minions) and the inspired sense of lunacy that prevails throughout. Fans will love this follow-up though this sequel will more than likely not win over any new followers. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski) 98 minutes. Rated PG. AMC, HAR, SAV.
FRANCES HA.Greta Gerwig stars in the title role as an aimless young woman trying to find her way in New York City. Playing like an extended episode of HBO's "Girls," the film is at times amusing and others grating as the main character's behavior vacillates between endearing and exasperating. For members of the millennial generation only. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 86 minutes. Rated R. NOR.
GROWN UPS 2. (Opens Friday). Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade and Chris Rock return as high school friends who find that they are older than they think when they must contend with all of the issues that spring up with their own children. 101 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, HAR, SAV.
THE HEAT. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy star as two mismatched cops thrown together to track down a drug lord. This material has been gone over numerous times and this film brings nothing new to the table other than the fact we now have two women cracking wise instead of two men. Bullock is incredibly generous in the way she gives the film over to McCarthy, whose abrasive act becomes a bit too much to bear as time goes on. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 117 minutes. Rated R. AMC, SAV.
ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS. (Starts Monday) Animated 3-D adventures as mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah), saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), with crazed weasel Buck (Simon Pegg) as their guide, encounter dinosaurs in a subterranean lost world. Dinos and 3-D still don't elevate this beyond mediocre, though. The frantic saber-toothed squirrel Scrat still steals the show. 2 stars (Richard J. Leskosky). 93 minutes. Rated PG. SAV.
JOSH GROBAN: ALL THAT ECHOES ARTIST CUT. An opportunity to relive Groban's intimate Feb. 4 performance from The Allen Room at Lincoln Center. In addition to performing hits from his 12-year career and premiering selections from his latest album, "All That Echoes," Groban answered questions from audiences in theaters across the country. 130 minutes. Rated PG. SAV.
KEVIN HART: LET ME EXPLAIN. This concert film of the comedian's appearance at Madison Square Garden is a narcissistic exercise as Hart delves into the troubles he has had to contend with since becoming a major star. The film is very slight as the performer's set is under an hour and lacks the sort of sharp wit that cutting-edge comics need to make them stand out in a crowd. Truly nothing special. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 75 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
LABYRINTH. George Lucas produced and Jim Henson directed this gothic fantasy which pits living and breathing actors Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie (who, along with Trevor Jones, provides the film's music) against a motley collection of Muppet monsters. "A real masterpiece of puppetry and special effects, an absolutely gorgeous children's fantasy movie," says Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune. 101 minutes. Rated G. ART.
THE LONE RANGER. Though it sports an epic look and feel and at times successfully harkens to some of the great Westerns of the past, ultimately director Gore Verbinski's reboot of the classic pulp hero is undone by the filmmaker's penchant for broad humor and empty spectacle. Armie Hammer is the title character, the masked man who sets out to avenge his brother's death with the aid of Tonto (Johnny Depp), a Comanche outcast who has his own agenda where tracking down the villain, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), is concerned. Many of the action set pieces are astounding and well done, but Verbinski's insistence on turning this into a cartoon undoes it in the end. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 149 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, HAR, ONA, SAV.
MAN OF STEEL. Zack Snyder delivers a Superman film lacking in wit and warmth, instead opting to bludgeon the audience with one overwrought action scene after another. There's little in the way of character development as the origin of the hero and his early life on Earth are covered in a cursory way, as Snyder is far more interested in spectacle than story. Henry Cavill in the title role is given little to do but stand around and be heroic, while Michael Shannon as General Zod proves to be a worthy adversary. Much of the action is done well; there's simply far too much of it. Only Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as the hero's fathers come close to making some sort of connection with the audience. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 143 minutes. Rated PG-13. PRI, SAV.
THE METROPOLITAN OPERA, SUMMER ENCORES: LA TRAVIATA. (Wednesday). Natalie Dessay stars as Verdi's most beloved heroine in Willy Decker's stunning production, first seen at The Met in 2010. Matthew Polenzani is her lover, Alfredo, and Dimitri Hvorostovsky sings his stern father, Germont. Met principal conductor Fabio Luisi is on the podium. 150 minutes. SAV.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. Pixar offers its first prequel, and it proves to be a humorous exercise if not an overly moving one. The film tells us how best buddies Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) first met and how their friendship grew as both find themselves outcasts at Monsters University, which they attend in the hopes of learning how to be master scarers. The film is quite funny at times as the characters have to overcome various obstacles to prove themselves. It's serviceable entertainment, though it's lacking in the ability to tug at our heartstrings as the best Pixar films do. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 110 minutes. Rated G. 95 minutes. HAR, PRI, SAV.
MUD.Matthew McConaughey delivers a haunting, moving performance as a man on the run clinging to a lost love that may lead to his ruin. His experiences are witnessed by an impressionable teenage boy (Tye Sheridan) whose notions of love are inexorably altered in the end. Quiet yet moving, this is one of the year's best as it delivers a human story of love and loss that resonates long after the end credits roll. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 130 minutes. Rated PG-13. ART, NOR.
NOW YOU SEE ME. Not nearly as clever as it wants you to believe, this heist film about a quartet of Robin Hood-like magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and David Franco) who create illusions to right past wrongs tries one of the oldest tricks in the book to make you believe you've had an entertaining time. Director Louis Leterrier keeps things moving so quickly he hopes the viewer won't realize that all of the pieces in the movie's plot simply don't fit together. Though fun at times, in the end you're likely to feel as though you've been fooled rather than amazed. With Mark Ruffalo as the cop on the magicians' trail, Michael Caine as their duplicitous benefactor and Morgan Freeman as the man out to debunk them. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 106 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
PACIFIC RIM. (Opens Friday). Humans face extinction when a series of alien attacks hit the world's major cities. As a last-ditch effort, gigantic robots are invented that are controlled by human surrogates to combat them. Epic in scope and featuring characters we become invested in, Guillermo del Toro's film is a massively entertaining and ultimately poignant movie that must be seen on the largest screen possible. Far more imaginative than "Avatar," this is the year's biggest surprise and one of the best of 2013. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 131 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, SAV.
RIO. When Blu, a domesticated macaw from small-town Minnesota, meets the fiercely independent Jewel, he takes off on an adventure to Rio de Janeiro with this bird of his dreams. 96 minutes. Rated PG. PRI.
SPACE CHIMPS. (Starts Monday) A goofy, animated space opera that sends three U.S. chimpanzee astronauts rocketing to a galaxy, as they say, far, far away. 80 minutes. Rated G. SAV.
THIS IS THE END. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and Jay Baruchel play themselves in this end-of-the-world comedy that sees the comics' true natures emerge as the Rapture ensues. Though overlong and crude, it's done with such self-deprecating humor that you can't help but get swept away by the ridiculous nature of the movie. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 107 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
WHITE HOUSE DOWN. Channing Tatum stars as a D.C. cop who ends up protecting the president (Jamie Foxx) when the White House is attacked while he's on a tour with his daughter. This is a ridiculous exercise in excess that succeeds in being an acceptable piece of popcorn entertainment due to the spectacle it contains and the humor that keeps things afloat during some rough patches. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 131 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
WORLD WAR Z. Brad Pitt is a U.N. special ambassador who travels the globe in search of a cure for the zombie apocalypse that has ravaged the planet. The film is composed of nothing more than four extended action set pieces, all done well but each hindered by a spastic editing rhythm. While the special effects at times are laughable, the epic scope of the film saves it in the end, as does the star's sympathetic performance. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 116 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, SAV.