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Weekend Must-Sees: Despicable Me, The Kids Are All Right, Plus B-Remake Predators

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 9, 2010 at 11:41AM

It's pretty slim pickings this summer. Assuming you've seen Toy Story 3, what else is there?
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Thompson on Hollywood

It's pretty slim pickings this summer. Assuming you've seen Toy Story 3, what else is there?

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.

Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood

The Kids Are All Right is a pitch-perfect, organically-grown relationship comedy that Cholodenko fussed over for five years until it finally came together at the right time. A well-heeled lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) are raising two teenagers, one from each mom, with sperm from the same donor. When the older sibling turns 18, the younger one wants to know who their father is. So they find out. It’s Mark Ruffalo, a genial bachelor restaurateur. When he enters the picture, confusion and mayhem ensue.

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.


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This article is related to: Awards, Directors, Genres, Headliners, Studios, Video, Reviews, Summer Movies, Oscars, Sci-fi, Sequel, Musical, comedy, Animation, Action, Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Universal/Focus Features, Twentieth Century Fox, Interviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.