Friday, July 1, 2022

Here's to more 'Minions,' less Gru; 'Nolan' is a hit; small 'Stalker' still rattles

The best thing about "Minions: The Rise of Gru" just might be an 87-minute running time that still leaves what mostly plays like an overblown TV cartoon seem a lot longer than it should be.

As a matter of fact, "The Rise" begins with a 10-minute car chase of villainous creatures you might see on the Saturday morning small screen and, yet, does not feature any of the title characters. What it does do is set up this prequel story, if not perhaps appeal to a few starstruck adults in the crowd impressed by the latest, ahem, vocal artists playing bad guys and gals. 

Nicknames such as Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Jean Clawed (Jean Claude Van Damme), the religiously robed Nunchuck (Lucy Lawless), Svengeance (Dolphe Lundgren) and Stronghold (Danny Trejo) take advantage of the '70s-era look and feel that also gives rise to jokes and sight gags with an occasionally welcome assortment of golden oldies. (The Carpenters' "Goodbye to Love" becomes a real reel highlight.)

It's all the early villainy afoot, though, that has franchise bad boy and increasingly obnoxious Gru (now almost 12 and still voiced by Steve Carell) eager to join the "Vicious Six," so the mean wittle kid attempts just that. As is their happily accepted plight, his game and tiny yellow henchman engagingly try to help, too, with all their vocal spontaneity provided by the only legitimate vocal star in the house. That remains to be the gifted Pierre Coffin, a French animator who has nicely learned how to squeak, giggle and talk gibberish with the best of them. 

Among other lenghthy segments, a few Minions get some martial arts pointers from a Kung-Fu master (Michelle Yeoh), and another rides cross-country on a Big Wheel to pursue a tough-looking cyclist (rapper RZA). Certainly the charming title characters remain cuter than the average bear, but their latest pushy adventure remains a movie that only small fry up through the grammar school set might really enjoy. 

Rated "PG" by MPAA: some action/violence and rude humor; 1:27; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

(Naturally, "Minions: The Rise of Gru" is playing at just about every theater everywhere on this long holiday weekend.)

Next up is a fine baseball documentary "Facing Nolan," which should attract quite a few enthusiasts for America's favorite pastime (that is, if there are any of us truly left).

I mean, big righthander Nolan Ryan, who holds an astonishing 51 MLB records, probably is the best pitcher never to win a Cy Young Award, which is given anually to the top hurlers in the American and National League. Despite performing in both leagues, with four teams, for a combined 27 years, throwing seven no-hitters and likely striking out just about every batter he faced more than once, the "Cy" slight also might be called astonishing

Then again, the apparently unperturbed Ryan only preferred to prove himself on the field, perhaps especially since -- as a pitcher who might have been baseball's original "Wild Thing" -- his early goal was to play in the "Bigs" for four years, simply long enough to earn a pension. Besides, as the thoroughly assembled doc from director Bradley Jackson suggests, the real competitor in the family might be Nolan's wife Ruth, who first saw him in the fourth grade and "in those days always wished" she could play organized baseball, too.

The faith-inspired couple has held firmly together ever since their first date in 1962. As fate might have directed, the film they watched included the line: "For every woman, there's just one man." (It was the otherwise forgettable "Rome Adventure," starring Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue.)

Ruth, their kids and even grandchildren speak freely among eons of family, friends and baseball-connected talking heads saying compelling things here about Ryan, his achievements and his current rancher doings in Texas. Former President George W. Bush and all-time MLB hit leader Pete Rose pop in and out mostly to bust chops but, among many other top players, fellow-Hall of Famer Randy Johnson calls Ryan, "Mythological."

The fact that big lefty Johnson sits second to Ryan in most strikeouts ever recorded -- and still trails him by almost 900 Ks -- itself speaks volumes and shows why actually "facing Ryan" and his way-over-100-mph fastball had grown men shaking in their spikes. You, on the other hand, may just be a little moved by a bit of it all.
Not rated by MPAA (with a couple of swear words that likely won't offend many); 1:43; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("Facing Nolan" was shown recently at a special "Fathom" national event and is now making its rounds at a few select theaters.)

Finally this week, look around long enough and you're likely to find the simply named "Stalker," a nifty little potboiler with no official web site but still worthy of a quick look for its sizzle down the stretch.

Carrying tags like "Best Thriller Feature" from something called "Shriekfest" (in Los Angeles) and the Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival, the story -- perhaps not-so coincidentally -- concerns a nice-guy teacher named Andy (Vincent Van Horn), who actually moves to L.A. from Austin because of a troubling breakup.

We hear about the latter, after some nicely placed locator shots in the City of Angels, when our hero reveals all to a pretty if cautious potential pickup (Christine Ko) in a "dive bar" (one of a few telling terms viewers themselves might pick up during quick glimpses of Andy's cell phone).

Plotting heats up and ambiguities follow from there when the new couple calls for a "ryde"share and the driver (a cleverly creepy Michael Joplin) eagerly volunteers to show Andy around his new hometown. Both characters and viewers might even discover places they probably didn't expect to explore. 

Not rated by MPAA (but it contains just about all the "R"-rated stuff you'd likely see in a film called "Stalker"); 1:26; $ $ $ out of $5

("Stalker" is streaming now on Hulu and available to rent on other subscription services. Among newer films opening in theaters today are "The Forgiven," "Mr. Malcolm's List" and "Official Competition." Debuting but streaming only is "The Princess," also on Hulu.)

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