26 September 2010
Gru (Steve Carell)
Gru was once the greatest super-villain of them all but is now facing obscurity and bankruptcy. In order to reclaim his status as the ultimate evil genius, he devises an elaborate plan to steal the moon. However, he not only has to contend with an ambitious young rival but also with three orphaned girls who are becoming increasingly fond of him.
The 3D computer animation Despicable Me is comparable to Pixar’s 2004 The Incredibles, which was about superheros living everyday lives. The idea of instead focusing on a super-villain facilitates lots of jokes about balancing the crazy inventions and plans for world domination with suburban domesticity. While lacking the sophistication of The Incredibles, Despicable Me is still a fun series of throwaway gags and slapstick; balancing its black yet family-friendly humour with moments of sincerity that never feel saccharin.
Steve Carrell is great voicing Gru and the animation feels like a faithful extension of his personality and physicality. The army of Beaker-like minions also provide plenty of laughs but they also have a lot to do with the film ultimately being a series of fun gags rather than something more cohesive and satisfying.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 363, 2010
© Thomas Caldwell, 2010
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22 July 2010
Notes on some of the MIFF films getting a general release
I used to recommend that people don’t go to films in the festival that already have an Australian distributor attached to them (and are therefore likely to get released) because that was a waste of a ticket but I don’t abide by that anymore. For a start, seeing a film at the festival is so much more enjoyable than going to a regular session at the local cinema. There’s more a sense of occasion plus festival audiences seem to be less inclined to talk, play with their phones and eat three course meals throughout the film. Also, because not all the films always end up getting cinematic releases – especially the ones that have no confirmed release date yet. As Cerise Howard notes on her list of films with Australian distributors, many of them may be destined to go straight to DVD.
Two of the films in the festival that I’ve seen that are getting released soon are The Special Relationship and Despicable Me. The Special Relationship is a dramatisation of the dynamic between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton while Despicable Me is a 3D computer animation about a super villain, sort of in the vein of The Incredibles. Both are films worth seeing but not ones I’d personally give priority to at the festival.
Of more interest is Debra Granik’s new film Winter’s Bone about a teenage girl trying to track down her methamphetamine-making father in the ultra poor Missouri mountains community that she has the misfortunate of living in. I’m still not sure how I feel about this film because I found it such a depressing experience, although it also functions as a strong and tense mystery. There is a lot to admire about Winter’s Bone but I’m not so sure if I enjoyed it – although I guess that is sort of the point.
The other mystery of sorts that I’ve seen is Roman Polanski’s new film, the very atmospheric The Ghost Writer. While not in the same league as classics such as Repulsion and Chinatown, The Ghost Writer is one of Polanski’s better straightforward genre films.
I remember seeing New Zealand director Taika Waititi’s acclaimed short film Two Cars, One Night at a MIFF opening night years ago and absolutely loved it (it was certainly far superior to Somersault, which was meant to be the main attraction). While I wasn’t a big fan of Waititi’s first feature film Eagle vs Shark, his new film Boy is absolutely wonderful. It is so genuine and funny that it is little wonder it has taken the New Zealand box office by storm. Highly recommended.
The two MIFF films that I have seen that I am most excited about are the Cronenbergian Splice and Michael Winterbottom’s new film The Killer Inside Me, a neo noir with shades of Kiss Me Deadly and No County For Old Men. I suspect many others will not share my enthusiasm for both films to the same extent and these are certainly not films for everybody. While the visceral horror of Splice is more transgressively fun than anything seriously confronting, the violence in The Killer Inside Me is some of the most shocking violence I’ve seen in cinema for a very long time. However, I loved them both and will probably include them on my top ten films of 2010 list at the end of the year.
© Thomas Caldwell, 2010