Steve Carell goes 3-D, ‘despicable’

Posted July 15, 2010, at 7:21 p.m.

In theaters

“Despicable Me,” directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin, written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, 88 minutes, rated PG.

The new 3-D animated movie, “Despicable Me,” is a surprise and a delight. It’s a movie about one horrible supervillain named Gru (Steve Carell), who borrows MONEY from evil banks to support his evil doings. He also lives in a creepy house decorated in ways that would make the folks at PETA cough up a hairball — panda skins used as rugs, alligators turned into sofas, a rhinoceros outfitted as a chair.

Essentially, whatever is on the most endangered list, Gru has it stuffed.

He’s a cruel one, that Gru, and he revels in that cruelty whenever the chance presents itself, which is often. What makes his character interesting is that Gru is cosmopolitan, a witty sophisticate in uberchic black attire that suits his dark mood.

For sidekicks, he has a hideous dog hybrid with sharply misguided fangs, a gaggle of yellow blobs who are gung-ho to help Gru in whatever task he presents to them, and also Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), an elderly scientist who provides the movie some of its bigger laughs.

And then there’s Gru’s equally evil nemesis Vector (Jason Segel), who has a mind sharper than Gru’s, which causes a firestorm of jealousy and hatred between them.

As well as competition.

When Gru decides he wants to shrink the moon and steal it, Vector naturally wants to do the same. And so they try to outwit each other, with Gru going so far as to adopt three tots from an orphanage so he can steal from Vector the device that will turn the moon into the size of a softball, thus making it easier to pluck from the heavens.

Why does he do all this? In clever flashbacks, we’re offered glimpses into Gru’s rotten childhood. He was raised by a fickle mother (Julie Andrews) who poo-pooed his every dream, his every move, his every breath. She never supported him or his wild inventions, which worked to turn Gru against people while still striving to make his mother proud of him. Would stealing the moon be a turning point in their relationship? Will he finally receive her approval? Gru thinks he might, and so he goes for it.

Meanwhile, knowing why he is the way he is, audiences can’t help rooting for him, especially as he softens toward his adopted children, which is predictable, but which is nevertheless handled well by French directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin.

In fact, you can feel their French sensibility ringing throughout “Despicable Me.” There is a cool aloofness to the proceedings that gives the film an edge and helps to make its dark humor something unique and unexpected.

The animation also is very good, and even in 3-D, which already is a sad gimmick that often ruins a film — and costs ticket buyers a ridiculous amount of money to rent glasses they have to give back, — the movie manages to hold back and use its additional dimension only when it offers the maximum effect.

Watching the movie, what you find is a fine balance as to what appeals to children and what appeals to adults. Since many of the film’s jokes can be taken two very different ways, that’s especially tricky to pull off, but “Despicable Me” shows the competition how it’s done and it does so with aplomb.

Grade: B

On Blu-ray disc

“Waltz with Bashir,” written and directed by Ari Folman, 87 minutes, rated R. In Hebrew, German and English, with English subtitles.

Ari Folman’s Academy Award-nominated “Waltz with Bashir” is about the ramifications of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre that took the lives of hundreds of unarmed men, women and children during the Lebanon war.

It uses animation not only as a means to generate the film’s stunning imagery — you’ve never seen a war movie quite like this war movie. More profoundly, it employs the animated form as a method of underscoring the surreal and hallucinatory aspects of war, and all the varied difficulties of coping in the wake of war.

As such, it takes a medium best known for pleasing tots and uses it to inform its story and characters in ways that real life couldn’t.

This isn’t new (Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” did it, as did others,) but the way it’s handled here is something of a contradiction — a beautiful-looking film about an ugly, unthinkable event. If Folman had chosen to tell his story via live action, it goes without saying that the film’s mix of horror and bloodshed would be anything but beautiful, but it is here. And what are we to make of that? In this case, one shouldn’t assume any disrespect on Folman’s part — the dark color palette he chooses alone is enough to suggest shame.

Folman based his script on his own experiences as an Israeli soldier in the Lebanon war, and what he has created is a film geared specifically toward adults that carves into the subconscious and explores what doesn’t want to be remembered or revealed. For Folman, it was this: He and his fellow soldiers knowingly allowed Christian Phalangists to enter a Palestinian refugee camp and go on a killing spree.

The movie begins with a jolt of terror. Twenty-six dogs — all ravenous, wild and hungry for blood — are seen rushing through city streets, their fangs bared, their eyes burning orange against gray coats sharp with angles only animation could create. Their target is a man named Boaz, who awakens from this nightmare to ques-tion the reasons why he continues to have it.

For counsel, he goes to his friends, including Folman, who now must confront his own lack of memories surrounding the war. Bizarre dreams start to strike and with them, the pull for answers and the need to face the darkness he himself has buried. This is key: Even if he didn’t fire one bullet himself, by standing silent so that massacre could happen, how much blood does he have on his own hands?

It’s a question for the ages, and it’s just one of the reasons why “Waltz with Bashir” is so relevant to the here and now.

Grade: A

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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