Summaries and mini-reviews of movies playing now, from e3 magazine:
THE CONJURING. Based on a true story, this ghost tale follows the efforts of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who try to help a family rid their home of a malevolent spirit. James Wan does a fine job creating a genuinely eerie atmosphere and delivering the requisite scares; however, the movie is far too similar to "Insidious," the director's far superior effort from 2010, to be considered anything special. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 112 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
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, SAV.
FIELD OF DREAMS (1989). (Starts Thursday, Aug. 1) Kevin Costner stars as a 1980s Iowa farmer with a magical notion for undoing the Black Sox baseball scandal. If you accept the premise, it will enchant you. If not, you will be left cold. (Richard J. Leskosky). 107 minutes. Rated PG. NOR.
FRUITVALE STATION. (Opens Friday). Director Ryan Coogler's debut feature looks at the final day in the life of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a young African-American man who was tragically shot to death by an Oakland cop on New Year's Day 2009, an incident that spurred race riots and calls for reform in the city's police department. The film has the best of intentions as it attempts to portray Grant as an imperfect man, struggling to turn his life around. However, it errs in presenting him as too much of a saint, which undercuts the undeniably powerful climax, as does its deliberate pace. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 90 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
GRATEFUL DEAD MEET UP AT SUNSHINE DAYDREAM. (Thursday, Aug. 1) This year's Meet-Up features "Sunshine Daydream," the most requested release of the band's entire career. Originally shot on 16mm film and painstakingly restored to HD resolution, "Sunshine Daydream" captures the band at the height of their powers fresh off their renowned European tour and lending their services to the Kesey family to help keep their Springfield Creamery afloat. With special appearances by key members of the Grateful Dead community and a cavalcade of Merry Pranksters, it's more than a concert, it's a time capsule from 1972 exploding with the colorful sights of the counterculture experience. 130 minutes. SAV.
GROWN UPS 2. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade and Chris Rock return as old 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. Fart and vomit jokes abound in this pointless exercise that is neither original nor funny. This is just another excuse for Sandler and his friends to hang out together and get paid for their trouble. 1 star (Chuck Koplinski). 101 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, 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, PRI, SAV.
ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT. Manny, Diego and Sid (voices by Ray Romano, Denis Leary and John Leguizamo) return yet again for this tale of geographical and emotional upheaval. When the three buddies are separated from their herd and trapped on a rapidly melting iceberg, they must band together to reach a land bridge where their loved ones are waiting. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 93 minutes. Rated PG. SAV.
THE LION KING. (Saturday) "The Lion King" is a wonderful film for the whole family, a real must-see. Parents who were pleased to see the positive roles played by female characters in recent Disney films should note that most descriptions of the film do not convey the strength or importance of the female characters of this film. One problem with the film, however, is that it is more violent than the G rating would seem to suggest. 4 stars (Richard J. Leskosky). 89 minutes. Rated G. PRI.
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. PRI, 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. SAV.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Joss Whedon's adaptation of William Shakespeare's farce concerning mistaken identities and two love affairs beset by many difficulties doesn't translate well to the screen this time around. Shot on the fly over 12 days at the director's home, the film never really comes together as it feels like a parlor game among friends rather than an earnest effort to do the Bard's work justice. Still, the language of the play is a delight to hear, while the story itself is nothing less than charming. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 109 minutes. Rated PG-13. ART.
PACIFIC RIM. 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. SAV.
RED 2. Retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) reunites with his former colleagues to track down a portable nuclear device that has gone missing. Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren return for this sequel while Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones are added to the mix this time out. Far better than the first entry in the series, this sequel abandons much of the self-aware humor that hobbled the previous film and tells a grittier, more intriguing spy caper. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 116 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, SAV.
RIO. (Starts Monday) An unexpectedly joyous animated feature, this film follows the adventures of Blu and Jewel (voices by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway), the last two blue macaws who are thrown together for mating purposes but find themselves lost on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The songs are snappy, the interaction between the two principals is sharp and the visuals are vibrant in a love letter to director Carlos Saldanha's native land. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 96 minutes. Rated PG. SAV.
R.I.P.D. Ryan Reynolds stars as a recently deceased cop who is recruited to join the Rest In Peace Department, a group of ghostly detectives who attempt to right wrongs on Earth before passing over. Jeff Bridges co-stars as our hero's mentor. Though comparisons to "Men in Black" are inescapable, the film hardly deserves the bad rap it has been getting in the press if only for Bridges' fun performance. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 96 minutes. Rated PG-13. SAV.
THE SAPPHIRES.This adaptation of the hit musical from Australia follows the trials and tribulations of a women's quartet who try to break into the pop music scene by entertaining troops during the Vietnam War. There's nothing all that new here as far as story is concerned, but the performances from the principals in the group — Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell, Deborah Mailman and Shari Sebbens, and Chris O'Dowd as their manager — save it from being a rote exercise. Old-fashioned and charming, this is an entertaining film that's a welcome respite from the usual summer fare. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 103 minutes. Rated PG-13. NOR.
SPRINGSTEEN & I. (Tuesday) Extended unreleased big-screen concert footage from the London leg of the "Hard Rock Calling Wrecking Ball" tour and a special behind-the-scenes fan meet-and-greet with Bruce Springsteen featurette. SAV.
THE TO DO LIST. (Opens Friday). In 1993, a strait-laced valedictorian looking to shed her uptight image creates a checklist of sexual escapades to accomplish before college. With Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Alia Shawkat and Bill Hader. Written and directed by Maggie Carey. (Los Angeles Times). 104 minutes. Rated R. SAV.
TURBO. Ryan Reynolds gives voice to the title character, a snail that longs to win the Indianapolis 500 and may get the chance to do so as he endures a freak accident. This animated film also features the voice talents of Paul Giamatti, Samuel Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez, Maya Rudolph and Snoop Dogg. 96 minutes. Rated PG. AMC, HAR, ONA, SAV.
VERTIGO (1958). Starts Sunday) Arguably Alfred Hitchcock's darkest film, this masterpiece features a devastating performance by James Stewart as Scottie Ferguson, a retired police officer who is hired to secretly watch over a mysterious woman (the luminous Kim Novak) whom he becomes obsessed with. While the twists and turns in the plot ultimately involve murder and deception, what distinguishes the movie is its unflinching look at the destructive nature of possessive love, which ultimately exacts the price of one's soul. Underappreciated at the time of its release, the movie was recently named the Greatest Film of All-Time by "Sight and Sound" magazine. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 128 minutes. Rated PG. ART.
THE WAY WAY BACK. (Opens Friday) This coming-of-age story focuses on Duncan (Liam James), an alienated teen who must contend with feelings of abandonment when his mother (Toni Collette) gives all of her attention to her new boyfriend (Steve Carell). Though there's hardly much in the way of originality here, the film is buoyed by a dynamic performance by Sam Rockwell as an eccentric business owner who takes Duncan under his wing and a sense of charm generated by directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. This feature makes for an overall pleasant time at the movies. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 103 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. SAV.
THE WOLVERINE. (Opens Friday). Hugh Jackman returns in his signature role as the quick-healing mutant title hero, who goes to Japan at the request of an old acquaintance who promises to help free him from his curse of immortality. Though the film is too long, its emphasis is on its hero and its supporting characters, rather than empty special-effects-driven scenes. Jackman is solid as always as this entry effectively washes away the bad taste left by 2009's "X-Men Secret Origins: Wolverine." 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 126 minutes. Rated PG-13. AMC, HAR, SAV.
YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET. (Opens Saturday) New film from legendary French New Wave director Alain Resnais, features a who's-who of French acting royalty and a hybrid style. Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Eric Gautier on stylized sets that recall the French poetic realism of the 1930s, "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" is an alternately wry and wistful valentine to actors and the art of performance from a director long fascinated by the intersection of life, theater and cinema. 115 minutes. (http://www.thecuart.com). Not rated. ART.