Well, believe it or not, two of the year's best are coming out this weekend. They're both witty, well-acted and elegantly mounted. Both are from Universal, which has been having a tough time at the box office of late. Well, that should be over now. Both are getting raves from critics. Go and see veteran animators Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin's 3-D feature Despicable Me, which comes from the new animated division headed by Fox's ex-Blue Sky czar Chris Meledandri, and Focus Features' Sundance pick-up The Kids Are All Right, from Lisa Cholodenko. Both films should wind up Oscar contenders.
The script is tight and well-observed; the tone is comedic but touching; the performances are strong. While I admired Cholodenko’s Sundance entries High Art and Laurel Canyon, this movie is far more engaging and accessible. It’s her best film to date, scoring 94 % fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and should play well in sophisticated cities and suburbs around the country. See my flip-cam interview from Sundance with Cholodenko and my interview with Annette Bening below.
Despicable Me stars Eastern European-accented Steve Carell as Gru, a sharp-nosed megalomaniac villain with mother issues (Julie Andrews) and an army of yellow helpers led by brainy inventor Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand). Gru wants to shrink and steal the moon--if his arch-rival Vector (Jason Segal) doesn't get there first. How will Gru win? With the aid of a trio of little girl orphans, of course. It works. Despite a pan from LAT's Ken Turan, the movie's getting 79% fresh on the Tomatometer.
To its credit, Predators, producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal's $45-million reworking of the 1987 Schwarzenegger original, is an unpretentious B-movie that looks and sounds gorgeous; they use some of Alan Silvestri's original score. I'm a sucker for a movie that knows how to move and build suspense with artful mise-en-scene. I also liked the ensemble that gets picked off, inevitably, one by one, as they are hunted by deadly aliens, especially Walton Goggins (Justified) and Laurence Fishburne. Of the two leads, Alice Braga holds her own in this troop of brawny multi-national professional warriors, while Adrien Brody, boasting an impressive 25 pounds of muscle, seems to think that adopting Christian Bale's gravelly hero voice is the key to playing an action hero.
Predators starts off strong when the disoriented gang of fighters is trying to figure out what is going on. But the more they know, see and engage with their mysterious enemies, the less threatening they become. The design of the aliens is too similar to others we have seen before. And these filmmakers don't come close to matching the first film's explosive finale. Here's my SXSW report. Critics are fairly positive at 63% on Rotten Tomatoes.
If you like high school musicals,the other good time at the movies--assuming you live in a city where it's playing--is the new Grease Sing-Along. It's an experiment from the new label at Paramount: Insurge.