Hello, good readers!
You may have noticed I’ve been absent from these parts the past few weeks, so let’s get back up to speed with the movie world, shall we?
First, a new release: the animated Despicable Me, from Universal Pictures. The year has featured a robust slate of block-busting animated fare—from Dreamworks’ lovely How to Train Your Dragon, to their more comfortable offering Shrek Forever After, to Pixar’s consummate Toy Story trilogy capper—and Despicable Me is unlikely to buck the trend.
Steve Carell lends a broad-based Eastern European accent (somewhere between Count Dracula and Borat) to Gru, a hulking evildoer who suddenly finds his devious deeds outpaced by another. Gru conspires with his horde of pudgy yellow minions to reclaim his lead in the supervillain game. He plans to pull off the ultimate heist: stealing the moon.
It turns out that the new mischief-maker in town, a tracksuit-sporting super-nerd named Vector (voiced by Jason Segel), is much smarter and stronger than Gru anticipates. To infiltrate his domain, Gru adopts three sisters from the local orphanage, hoping to use the guise of their sweet faces to catch Vector off-guard. Of course, the girls are much more trouble than Gru ever bargained for, and just as his dreams of lunar larceny percolate into something real, so does his affection for his three adopted daughters.
The animation here is cheeky, with harsh angles and bubbly designs that suggest at once a large puffy cloud and a giant, pointy needle with intent to pop it. A striking color palette is somewhat dulled by 3D lenses, but the film uses 3D at its playful best. Be sure to stick around during the end credits, which feature a game of 3D chicken (i.e. – “How three-dimensional can you go?”).
Despicable Me is set to a hyperactive tempo, drawing laughs from slapstick shenanigans, outrageous sight-gags, and silly one-liners. It’s a sugar-high without a sugar-crash in sight. Gru’s devotees, a sea of doddering cylindrical blobs, giggle in gleeful mania, but your patience with the frenzy, and with the film, is likely to wear thin. (I don’t care. I still want one!)
What the film lacks in true ingenuity, it makes up for with timely zingers (parents will appreciate a jab at Lehman Brothers) and cuteness overload. It’s a sprightly good time—if not made with a bit too much esprit—but it never quite reins you in beyond its superficial delights. So as our prickly anti-hero expectedly softens and grows attached to the kids, Despicable Me will tug at your cheekbones but not your heartstrings.
Directed by Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud. Written by Ken Daurio, Sergio Pablos, and Cinco Paul. Rated PG for rude humor and mild action. Runtime is 95 minutes.
Other recent releases I managed to catch:
Pixar saves the best for last in its animated playtime adventure series. Toy Story 3 is not just an example of expert craftsmanship—its visual design as dazzling as a supernova explosion (with gorgeous 3D effects to boot). It’s not just a masterstroke in storytelling, brimming with imagination, excitement, and profundity. It’s not just an electric cross-section of genres, touching on themes of drama, comedy, romance, action, adventure, western, and fantasy—among others. It’s not just a stunning existential saga, deftly exploring questions of our creation, our existence, our purpose, and our demise. It’s all of these things, and more; the personal implications for each viewer are surely as powerful as the ones that unite us. It’s simply remarkable. (G • 103 min • Tickets/Trailer/Site)
Tom Cruise returns to the big screen in Knight and Day alongside blonde beauty Cameron Diaz and director James Mangold at the helm. Tension builds quickly after Cruise and Diaz first cross paths in an airport during a glistening opening sequence. From there, an edgy, unnerving vibe portends some climactic twist or revelation that will bring clarity to a dodgy, stunt-stuffed plot. It’s a shame, then, that the film only builds to a generic action narrative and stale genre clichés, plus (arguably) an embedded endorsement of date rape. (PG-13 • 109 min • Tickets/Trailer/Site)
Winter’s Bone nabbed Best Feature and Best Screenplay notices at the Sundance Film Festival early this year, and now the film is riding a wave of good word-of-mouth, including Oscar buzz for leading lady Jennifer Lawrence. Director Debra Granik crafts a backwoods terror noir that shivers and croaks. Lawrence is indeed quite strong, bolstered by a slew of supporting faces and a starkly pallid landscape. Though Granik carefully paints a realistic portrait of a caustic American life, she makes no attempt to understand or empathize with her creation. (R • 100 min • @The Charles/Trailer/Site)
The indie-textured comedy Cyrus spends a lot of time cultivating a feud between Jonah Hill’s swollen titled character Cyrus and John C. Reilly’s doughy John. The object of each man’s affection is Molly, played by the willowy Marisa Tomei—John as a lover and Cyrus as a mother, with the silly-icky suggestion of an Oedipal dynamic. The film goes down easy, but everyone here has done much better work. (R • 92 min • Tickets/Trailer/Site)
And some films I didn’t get a chance to see:
I’m told the Karate Kid reboot, starring Will Smith’s son Jaden learning Kung-Fu from Jackie Chan on the Great Wall of China, is a temperate, if not culturally-confused, entertainment. I plan to catch it on DVD, if only to see how it compares to the original.
Adam Sandler continues his streak of financially-successful, critically-trashed goofball comedies with Grown Ups, this time with some help from fellow funnymen Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider. I hear the summation is about what you’d expect.
The third film in the insanely popular Twilight Saga has already grossed over $300 million worldwide. Monetary gains are guaranteed (and then some, and then some), but Eclipse has actually been commended for a matured love triangle and a revved-up action quotient.
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, based on the animated Nickelodeon series, looked pretty cool from the trailers. But Shyamalan surprised absolutely no one when he churned out yet another dud. I’ve heard opinions ranging from “an abomination” to as good as “not a complete disaster.” Go figure.
Also opening this week is Predators, the latest entry in the Predator creature-feature franchise. The film’s events are said to occur after Predator 2, ignoring the interlude of wimpy Alien vs. Predator crossovers. As of posting this, reviews are decidedly mixed. (R • 106 min • Tickets/Trailer/Site)
Next week, Christopher Nolan’s Inception is set to take the cinema world by storm. Comparisons to Stanley Kubrick have already been drawn. Can it possibly live up to the hype? Stay tuned!
So now I ask you, good readers, what have you been watching lately? Which films have you seen so far this summer? Are you as excited for Inception as I am?