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"Despicable Me," "The Girl Who Played with Fire," "Predators," "Winnebago Man," More

We've already got entries going on the two most interesting films opening today, Jacques Rivette's Around a Small Mountain (here) and Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right (here). Here's a sampling of what's being said about the rest.

"The difference between inspired creation and frantic pretending is the difference between magic and mediocrity, between art and junk, or to cite a conveniently available example, between Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me," suggests AO Scott in the New York Times. "Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud and produced by Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment — a new player in the lucrative and competitive world of feature animation — Despicable Me cannot be faulted for lack of trying. If anything, it tries much too hard, stuffing great gobs of second-rate action, secondhand humor and warmed-over sentiment into every nook and cranny of its relentlessly busy 3-D frames."

"Credit where credit is due," argues Matt Prigge in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Despicable Me is consistently loopy, with guns that shoot octopi, shrunken elephants, spider cookies and Gru's [Steve Carell] minions — a horde of yellow, babbling whatzits always on hand to bring the cute.... Unlike most non-Pixar feature-length toons, Despicable Me suggests its makers actually gave a shit, with striking character design and a minimum of sentiment and shitty Shrek humor."

More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Tim Grierson (The Simon), Peter Hall (Cinematical), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York), Robert Wilonsky (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Drew McWeeney interviews Carell for Hitfix. Jessy Krupa chats with screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio for PopMatters.





"Even as America races to create our own film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, one thing is already evident," establishes Paul Constant in the Stranger. "We will never find an actress to play Lisbeth Salander who is as good as the actress in the Swedish adaptations, Noomi Rapace. Rapace's Salander is a brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime performance: She's tough, smart, damaged, sexual, and vulnerable all at once, and it never feels like acting. Rapace was far and away the best thing about the first film in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and she carries the whole of the second film, The Girl Who Played with Fire. If only the rest of Fire had the same energy as the first."

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and to a lesser extent The Girl Who Played with Fire, may have succeeded as Jacobean-style revenge stories had they more narrative focus and camp sensibility," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant: "carnage can be counter-intuitively life-affirming when servicing an audience's manipulated desire to have all grudges on stage consolidated in a gleeful crimson spray. But the tense orchestras and bound-and-gagged bodies of the Millennium trilogy don't know whether they're trying to thrill, illuminate, or comment, an ambivalence that produces little more than nihilistic mediocrity."

More from Ed Champion, Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Paul Matwychuk, Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), John Patterson (Voice), Michael Phillips (Tribune), Ray Pride (Newcity), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager, AO Scott (NYT), Betsy Sharkey (LAT), James van Maanen, Zach Wigon (L) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Allison Williams interviews Noomi Rapace for Time Out New York. And why has this series of been so successful, given the rotten state of the market for foreign language films in the US? Anthony Kaufman looks into it for IFC.com.





"Adrien Brody and Topher Grace joining forces to revive a franchise inaugurated by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura doesn't exactly say, 'Badass!' or even, 'Necessary!'" Jonathan Kiefer in the Faster Times: "But of course a lot has happened to that franchise in the meantime — too much, says producer Robert Rodriguez, a fan from way back, who has seen fit to reboot it and return to basics. And so, while Rodriguez dusted off an old script and handed it over to some other writers and to Vacancy and Armored director Nimród Antal, we braced ourselves for some sort of steroidal reality show, like 'The Most Dangerous Lame.' By contrast to which, the actual result of Predators isn't half bad. It isn't, like, good or anything, but who expected goodness?"

It "flirts with too-muchness in a good way," suggests the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Nigel Floyd (Time Out London), Michael Guillén, Stephen Holden (NYT), Drew McWeeney (Hitfix), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post), Ray Pride (Newcity), Andrew Pulver (Guardian), Tim Robey (Telegraph), Matt Singer (IFC), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Joe Utichi (Cinematical) and Michael Wilmington (Movie City News). Amy Kaufman talks with Brody for the LAT. Meantime, there's a new trailer out for Rodriguez's Machete and Alex Billington's got it at FirstShowing.





"The 2007 Spanish-language horror hit [REC] shocked audiences with its savvy rejuvenation of the found-video genre (à la The Blair Witch Project)," writes Michael Ordoña in the LAT. "Now, returning directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza bring their finely tuned sense of what is freaky to [REC] 2, that rare zombie movie with actual scares."

Rob Nelson in the Voice: "[W]here the overrated [REC] was a Blair Witch-y riff on George A Romero's Dead reckonings, the s(l)icker follow-up — again set almost entirely in an apartment building overrun by the hungry infected, and shot through the survivors' shakycams — principally channels The Exorcist and Aliens, but none too memorably."

"If you can accept that [REC] 2 is a carnival ride, then you'll probably like this flick as much as I did," offers Ed Champion. More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Robert Horton (Herald), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Ray Pride (Newcity), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager (Slant) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).





"In its uncovering of the apoplectic protagonist of a 20-year-old viral video, Winnebago Man ends up not meditating on 21st-century digital fame (a Douglas Rushkoff comparison to 'Roman spectacle-torture' notwithstanding), but a semi-touching reaffirmation that everybody's in showbiz, or will enter it if summoned." Bill Weber in Slant: "University of Texas film professor Ben Steinbauer, the documentary's director, made a project of tracking down Jack Rebney, a grimacing RV salesman who became the unwitting star of the outtake reel, circulated via VHS dubs and then YouTube, of a 1989 Iowa-based industrial promo for Winnebago which he wrote and emceed."

"Steinbauer located Rebney on a mountaintop in northern California, where he'd been living alone, only vaguely aware of his fame, and somewhat suspicious of it," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "Saying more about Rebney's state of mind would spoil the surprises that animate Winnebago Man, which is one of those thrilling instances where reality grabs a filmmaker by the lapels and drags him (and us) to unexpected places."

More from Simon Abrams (L), Sam Adams (Salon), Ian Buckwalter (NPR), David Fear (TONY), J Hoberman (Voice), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michelle Orange (Movieline) and Matt Singer (IFC).

Three out of five stars for Racing Dreams from Eric Hynes in Time Out New York: "No longer just a weekend amusement, go-karting has become the Little League of NASCAR driving, complete with nifty jumpsuits and pro techniques. Marshall Curry's sleek documentary captures the second-hand thrill of watching tweens hurtle at 70 mph around a blacktop, as it follows three potential superkarters over the course of a single season." More from David Edelstein (New York), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michelle Orange (Movieline) and Andrew Schenker (Voice).

Rachel Saltz for the NYT: "Ananth Narayan Mahadevan's Red Alert: The War Within deserves credit for veering off the beaten Bollywood path to take on an unusual subject — India's Maoist rebels, the Naxalites. But the film, much of it set in a rebel camp in Andhra Pradesh, seems torn between two storytelling modes: episodic with a documentary flavor and action-driven pulp. It makes a hash of both." More from Adam Keleman in Slant.

Local screens. Roundups from Simon Abrams (New York Press) and Steve Dollar (Wall Street Journal) for New Yorkers; plus, Ty Burr (Boston Globe), the LA Weekly, Shawn Levy (Oregonian) and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

 

IN THE UK


First, note that the entry on the Alberto Cavalcanti season at BFI Southbank has been updated with links to today's reviews of Went the Day Well?





"Even for the routinely terrific Kristin Scott Thomas, the infidelity-themed Leaving is a top-drawer thesping workout," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey, "better, for my money, than the overrated I've Loved You So Long, though her run of form in these prestige French dramas must be the envy of monolingual actresses everywhere."

This "could easily have been a much more mundane study of the conflict between practicality and passion in love and marriage," writes Dave Calhoun in Time Out London. "As it is, Leaving plays it pretty straight and is rarely a very subtle affair, although director Catherine Corsini succeeds well in planting a seed of discomfort about the limits of romance and freedom that blossoms into full-blown cynicism by the end." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian) and Anthony Quinn (Independent).

London River tells "the story of two middle-aged people — prosperous Guernsey smallholder Elisabeth (Brenda Blethyn) and African migrant worker Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté) — who have come to London, suspecting that their missing children have been killed in the [7/7] bombings, and desperate to find the truth," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. Rachid Bouchareb's film "is perhaps, in plot terms, a little contrived... But everything is acted with intelligence and dignity and the movie is an honourable, humanist attempt to elucidate common experience and common ground between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds, and to see the 7/7 bombings as part of a global convulsion. Yet it also, in its final grim moments, emphasises the victims' bitterness, alienation and loss." More from Wally Hammond (TOL) and Tim Robey (Telegraph).

Ronald Bronstein's Frownland (2007) is opening on a single screen in London today and for the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, "It looks like a Cassavetes or Allen film from which malign aliens, in the course of a sinister experiment in brain-depredation, have somehow sucked out every scintilla of mojo, fun or energy." But for Neil Young, "this is a film which requires patience, commitment and close attention, but which repays such investments severalfold."

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