In case you're wondering why such a high percentage of this month's movies were aimed at the younger set, it's because I spent a solid chunk of last month in the company of the younger set -- daughter Allie, nephew Jack and niece Ryan. They didn't necessarily make the movies any better, but they did make the experience of watching them more fun.
That being said....
Here's all I'm going to say about these "Despicable Me" movies, which are apparently very, very popular despite (or, more likely, because of) following a by-the-numbers template of heartwarming moments, pop culture references and 3D-friendly action scenes: Whoever thought up those minion characters was a genius. Not because they necessarily add anything of real value to the movie (like, say, the supporting characters in the "Toy Story" movies) but because anytime the already thin plot runs a little too thin, they can be used to tell any joke that passes a few seconds of screen time. (Strained Village People reference, anyone? Complete with the Leather Man? Coming right up!) It's a brilliant move, really.
Somehow, despite all my efforts, I wound up watching this Adam Sandler movie that, with a cast that includes Sandler, Kevin James and David Spade, feels like some sort of animated stealth version of "Grown Ups." Like "Despicable Me 2," it follows that template so devotedly that a month or so later I can barely remember anything about it. One thing I do remember is the awful ending where Sandler's Dracula and the rest of the character perform some sort of hip-hop number that everyone loves (and everyone in the audience is supposed to love). Remember many, many years ago on "The Simpsons" when Homer did a little impromptu rapping and Lisa and Bart told him to never do that again? That applies to all characters in all animated media.
Here's an interesting 1971 heist movie from Sidney Lumet that awkwardly straddles the '60s era of high-spirited crime flicks and the '70s era of paranoid conspiracy thrillers. Sean Connery plays an ex-con with the master plan of stealing everything from a luxury apartment building. The conspiracy twist is that he and his accomplices are under the surveillance of various government agencies and private detectives. The twist-on-the-twist is that none of these spies are communicating with each other (or even know the others exist), so no one realizes a million-dollar heist is about to take place. The cast is solid, with Connery exuding his usual rough-edged charisma (and probably having fun not playing 007) and support coming from an impossibly young Christopher Walken and Martin Balsam playing what Hollywood thought a gay man was like, circa 1971. Keep an eye out for a pre-"Saturday Night Live" Garrett Morris playing a cop at the end. I can't be 100 percent sure, but it looks like he was climbing around some impressively high New York buildings without the aids of ropes -- or a stunt man.
Highlight of the month and, frankly, one of the highlights of the year. This is a fascinating documentary about Rodriguez, a Detroit musician who recorded a couple of albums that never sold, then disappeared. Two things, however, make Rodriguez' story different than that of 99 percent of the musicians in the world. One, despite being ignored and forgotten in his homeland, he somehow developed a HUGE fan following in South Africa, selling thousands of records and inspiring a number of people in the anti-apartheid movement. And two, Rodriguez was really, really talented, with a sound that resembles early '70s Dylan but with a certain Detroit edge. You hear that voice and those lyrics, and you wonder "What the heck ever happened to that guy?" Well, this movie answers that question. It's structured in a way aimed at surprising the viewer, but since it's been out for a year or so, anyone interested enough to watch it probably knows the twist. Even so, it's still a fascinating movie full or great moments and great music. And even if you know -- or suspect -- what's coming, the scene where the moment you've been waiting for actually does arrive really packs a wallop. Be sure to check this one out.
Two of my favorite actors (that would be Mr. Robinson and Mr. Arnold) in a newspaper/crime drama sounds like something right up my alley, but the elements in "Unholy Partners" never quite come together. Robinson plays a returning WWI doughboy who decides to start his own newspaper that will (a) be smaller than a broadsheet (but apparently not a tabloid) and (b) tell the real news, the tough news, the news when -- or, if possible, before -- it happens. Naturally, with a screwy business plan like that, he has trouble finding investors. Not so naturally, he winds up turning to local crime boss Arnold. I think you can see where this is going, and that's exactly where it goes, with only some sharp black-and-white cinematography and fun performances from the two leads to keep things interesting. Too bad. Talk about a wasted opportunity.
One of the best political movies ever made, striking just the right note between low-key comedy and laid-back drama. Maybe Redford's best performance, with Peter Boyle even better as his campaign manager. Why oh why is this not out on Blu-ray. Criterion, get your ass in gear!
Want my thoughts on "Pacific Rim"? Then click here, friend.
Last but not least, but not exactly first, either. There's nothing really wrong with "Frankenweenie," but there was nothing wrong with Tim Burton's original (much shorter) live-action version, and that didn't stop him from remaking it. At this point, no matter how charming the character design is or how many references to classic movie monsters we get, I think we're all suffering from Tim Burton fatigue. Maybe what he needs is to go small-scale again, like he did in his best film, "Ed Wood," and maybe that's just what he's doing in "Big Eyes," his 2014 film about Margaret and Walter Keane, the artists behind all those painting of kids with, well, big eyes. The casting of Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in the lead roles is a good signs. Hell, at this point, any Tim Burton movie that takes place in the real world and doesn't star Johnny Depp is a good sign.