In between the fireworks, the barbecuing, the picnicking, or whatever July 4 festivities are exploding over your week, you may need to escape to a quiet, dark, air-conditioned movie theater for a few hours. But like those fireworks, some of the summer film offerings are sparklers, others are duds. Here's your star-spangled cinematic guide.
Taking the kids?
Both "Monsters University" and "Despicable Me 2" are fairly new, and both are animated comedies with one-eyed monsters/minions as part of their cast.
Want to stick to G-rated fare? "Monsters University" gets the lighter rating, as Mike and Sulley from "Monsters Inc." are shown as bumbling college students who just can't seem to make the grade. Parents who are fans of "Revenge of the Nerds" will recognize the plot here as our monster heroes must try to pull together a fraternity made up of the college outcasts (there's even a returning adult student monster, whose dadlike goofiness sometimes steals the show). It's not the best Pixar movie you ever saw, but that's a high bar to clear.
"Despicable Me 2," opening on Wednesday, is rated PG -- probably for its inclusion of weapons (though one is a Lipstick Taser). Supervillain-turned-dad Gru (voiced delightfully again by Steve Carell) is still trying to do right by his three adopted girls, and his yellow pill-shaped Minions are still running amok. Some critics have issues with the Gru and girls part of the film, but the slapsticky Minions are again a cartoon treat -- if you don't mind their Looney Tunes-style slapstick. (Love the Minions a lot? Hang in there till 2014, when they'll be at the heart of their very own spinoff movie.)
Need more fireworks?
If you're not getting enough excitement from the rockets' red glare, there are action movies aplenty in the theaters this month.
Opening Wednesday is the long-awaited "TheLone Ranger," starring Armie Hammer as the masked man and, more importantly, Johnny Depp as his partner, Tonto. No one should be surprised by the fact that this is Depp's movie, though he's a little restrained by Depp standards -- despite the white and black striped face makeup and the dead crow he wears on his head. The movie's overly long, but covers all the elements of the Lone Ranger legend, from silver bullets to the dramatic end action sequence set, of course, to the William Tell Overture. Like a sparkler, it's fun while you're in the middle of it, then fizzles out to be quickly forgotten.
"Man of Steel" is the second of four superhero films coming this year, following "Iron Man 3" and with Wolverine and Thor movies yet to come. Some critical reviews are less than super, but hunky Henry Cavill steps capably into the classic S-branded outfit and the action is indeed faster than a speeding bullet.
It's been in theaters for six weeks already, but if you haven't seen "Star Trek: Into Darkness" yet, and you can tell your Scotty from your Chekov, beam down right away. The new cast from the 2009 reboot of Gene Roddenberry's classic sci-fi show are all back, and they're settling nicely into their roles -- especially Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as McCoy. May they live long and prosper.
Zombies will always terrify us -- they tear into us physically and mentally, since they're the undead versions of those we once loved. "World War Z" doesn't break new ground as far as zombie flicks go, but once the action kicks in, Brad Pitt races from China to Israel to Wales trying to save the world, all without getting bitten or getting a haircut. (Maybe Angelina likes the stringy moptop look?)
In the mood for laughs?
It's mind-boggling that there's never been a true buddy-cop comedy starring two women before "The Heat." But maybe Hollywood was waiting for a classic duo like Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy to pull it off. As you'd expect, McCarthy steals the show with her do-anything crudeness, and Bullock holds her own as the more strait-laced partner. Warn easily shocked grandparents in advance -- McCarthy's potty mouth earns "The Heat" that R rating.