Monday, August 9, 2010

A 2-Movie Weekend

In 2010 a two-movie weekend does not mean a double feature unless you’re at Film Forum. Friday I walked from my lower-Tribeca office up to the Village, stopping at the Angelika to see what they had to offer (seriousness, for which I was not in the mood), then up to the Regal multiplex in its happy location between the Strand and Union Square. There I chose from a plethora of offerings based on the time of the next showings.

I chose Despicable Me. Not surprisingly, the majority of the audience was adult (such as we are), but the few children in the audience screeched their enjoyment. We adults, of course, did not screech.

For the first third of the movie, I worried about all the violence, as if I hadn’t watched cartoons and live action comedies with excessive violence throughout my childhood. The story, the art, the laughs forced me to become one of the children in the audience, enjoying the movie and its characters for what they were. What they were was well drawn, well acted, performing their parts in a fairly predictable story that appeared less so for its clever use of what might otherwise have been a timeworn shrinking ray gun. The main character is Gru, the most evil villain in the world. Or is he? Competition rears its head when someone else steals a pyramid. Gru is getting older, maybe he’s past his prime, says the evil banker who handles loans at the Bank of Evil (formerly Lehman Brothers). Ageism in banking? Impossible.

Gru has a mad scientist sidekick, Dr. Nefario, and many, many minions, little one- or two-eyed creatures that sound like residents of South Park (and yes, there is a “Kenny”). Gru’s meanness was explained by his flashbacks to his mean mother, although her meanness was never explained. No double flashbacks allowed. Of course Mr. Gru’s heart is touched by three little orphan girls, who throw his life and plans awry.

These kids had worries – the mean lady at the orphanage; the “Shame” box that serves as public solitary at said orphanage; the prospect of never being adopted; the prospect of being returned after adoption; and then being used as tools and hostages by the even more dastardly, heartless villain, “Vector.” The orphans are wily and funny -- the oldest is Margo, sadly wise beyond her years; the brat is pink-hatted Edith; and Agnes is the too cute one that we can't help liking despite her predictability.

The artwork is marvelous -- the facial expressions, body movements, all excellent animation. The voices are all marvelous:
Steve Carell as Gru
Jason Segel as “Vector”
Russell Brand as “Dr. Nefario”
Julie Andrews as Gru’s mean mom
Kristin Wiig as the mean lady at the orphanage
Will Arnett as the evil banker
The 3 orphans:
Miranda Cosgrove as Margo
Dana Gaier as Edith
Elsie Fisher as Agnes
 And directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, along with Jermaine Clement, as all the Minions.

Direction (Coffin & Renaud), writing (Ken Daurio, Sergio Pablos, Cinco Paul), art direction, production design, it all worked well and kept us all, big and little children, engaged and involved throughout. A fun movie.

The next night I saw The Kids Are All Right, directed and co-written by Lisa Cholodenko with Stuart Blumberg.

The story of The Kids Are All Right does not follow any set path or pattern. Happily, I managed to miss any reviews all these weeks after its opening, so all I knew was the basic premise of the film – the teenage children of a gay couple reach out to their mothers’ sperm donor of 19 years before. The moms: Annette Bening as Nic, a doctor, type "A" personality, the professional, and birth mother to 18-year-old daughter Joni played by Mia Wasikowska. Julianne Moore is Jules, the stay-at-home mom who’s had a few career attempts, and birth mother of the younger child, 15-year-old son Laser (Josh Hutcherson).

Mark Ruffalo is that sperm donor Paul, younger than the two women, an organic gardener and chef, a freethinking, freewheeling, free loving, single man who’s nonplussed and then pleased to meet the children his sperm helped create. Nearing 40, he’s still the 19-year-old who donated sperm because it was more fun than donating blood.

The two women and their two children are the nuclear family, an ordinary, dysfunctional family made that little bit crazier for having teenagers. Ruffalo is the fifth wheel, and of course his appearance throws the family off balance at a precarious time. Daughter Joni is soon to leave for college, and her 15-year-old brother is yearning for a father figure. The film has a great deal of humor to it, but the story, its characters, and their emotions are serious and truthful. The script is well structured, clever, heartfelt, and smart. The performances are uniformly excellent, these relationships are real, and the story is engrossing.

Like I said, this script does not follow an expected path, and I’m not about to tell you where it goes -- I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you. I will just tell you that that the kids are indeed all right.

~ Molly Matera, signing off, hoping you go to the movies this week.

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