Movie Revews: Predators, [REC] 2, Great Directors, Cropsey

Despicable Me

CROPSEY Despite gestures toward defining Staten Island or illuminating the fact-fiction membrane, Cropsey is really a scary story told in the dark, in the get-this whisper of documentary. Filmmakers Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman explore a spate of 1980s kidnappings with the inquisitive-but-we're-good-people stance of two natives trying to get to the bottom of things. The abandoned grounds of a children's mental hospital fuel local tale-telling centered around "Cropsey," a generic Northeast bogeyman, until actual disappearances focus anxieties on Manson-eyed former attendant André Rand. Brancaccio and Zeman roll out citizen search groups, track court-case progress, interview twisted police detectives, dig up vintage Geraldo Rivera clips and spotlight Rand's rants. By halfway through, they've succeeded in hedging enough that every narrator seems equally unreliable and plausible, and even the filmmakers' true intentions remain in doubt as they play up Rand's perpetual postelectroshock affect. Embracing what's really the standard tabloid fodder of the decade with earnest engagement and doled-out suspense, Cropsey is one step from macabre comedy. Ultimately, we're not convinced that truth is a chimera, but just that these underdog storytellers have demonstrated an ability to tell an indeterminate yarn. (Nicolas Rapold) (Sunset 5)

DESPICABLE ME As the lights were dimming before a preview screening of Despicable Me, the 6-year-old who lives in my house leaned over and said, "I hope this is funny — not like Toy Story 3." Now don't misunderstand: He adored that movie. It's just that whenever the subject comes up, the first word he uses to describe the final adventures of Woody and Buzz is "sad." "Scary," too, when further pressed. But "funny"? Not once in a month's time. So, then, to the movie featuring fart guns, shrink rays and squid shooters! Despicable Me is a silly antidote to Toy Story 3's thoughtful heaviness — a cavalcade of kiddie giggles, titters and belly laughs with as much heft as helium. It's rather joyful and heartfelt, too — a summertime, air-conditioned Grinch, this is the story of a wannabe evil genius (Gru, voiced by Steve Carell) who learns that buried beneath his heft and hefty Mommy issues is a heart large enough to find room for three orphaned girls. To that, add countless yellow, pill-shaped, one- or two-eyed "minions" who provide comic relief enough to fuel a surefire spin-off show on Nickelodeon. Despicable Me is also one of the rare instances in the recent history of 3-D's resurrection as The Savior of Cinema in which the technology accentuates the experience. Though, grown-ups, be warned: I had more fun watching the kid giggle through the screening than I did watching the movie itself. It's no Toy Story 3. (Robert Wilonsky)

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE This grim and bloody adaptation of the second volume of the late Stieg Larsson's best-selling Millennium trilogy — featuring journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) — moves the story into a very different register from the stand-alone murder mystery of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire is a cliffhanger whose resolution comes only in the third volume, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which makes for certain structural infelicities in the adaptation (suggesting that the best way to enjoy the trilogy would be as weekly episodic television). This time, we navigate the innermost recesses of post–Cold War Sweden's secret state. Lisbeth, a semicriminal adult ward of the Swedish state, gets her biography painstakingly backfilled, revealing disturbing connections with the main narrative, in which Mikael hires two investigative journalists with a bombshell story on child sex abuse in high places. Predictably, this pair is soon murdered, and their killer, equally predictably, is linked with baroque psychopaths from Lisbeth's past. Stripped of Larsson's social/political minutiae and slimmed down to its thriller chassis, certain clichés become more glaring: Lisbeth's superhuman hacking skills, overfamiliar from a zillion TV procedurals; an exploitative lesbian sex scene that mightn't have pleased the feminist Larsson; the secondary villain, a blond giant incapable of feeling pain — gah!; and the too-comfy manner in which the twin narratives finally interlace. As with the Twilight franchise, fans of the novels will eat it up while newbies may wonder what all the fuss is about. (John Patterson) (Arclight Hollywood, Landmark)

GREAT DIRECTORS Ten interviews with 10 "name" American and European directors — including Todd Haynes, David Lynch, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Catherine Breillat — diced into a documentary as asinine and fawning as its title suggests. The first measure of Greatness is agreeing to be interviewed by director Angela Ismailos, whose qualification seems to be a faint resemblance to the late actress Melina Mercouri. Leftist leanings are another evident step, so we hear from John Sayles and Ken Loach, who let slip one of the only candid moments in the film, cautiously noting that his interview is being filmed on a set, not in his actual rolling country garden. Talking to TV vets Loach and Stephen Frears prompts the funniest of Ismailos' unmotivated cutaways to herself, as she poses with serious face outside BBC headquarters following stock footage of Margaret Thatcher. Interviews are extended with excerpts from films, superficially tied in to anything being said and sufficing to remind us of the Great Films these Great Directors oh-so-Greatly made. It's interesting to briefly see Liliana Cavani, but her career is boiled down to The Night Porter; other subjects can be found saying these same things elsewhere (especially annoying-Aunt-of-the–New Wave Agnes Varda, an ardent autobiographer). Received ideas, creative class cheerleading, and outright schmoozing bore, but the yacht party after the Cannes screening sounds awesome! (Nick Pinkerton) (Nuart)


THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Serious comedy, powered by an enthusiastic cast and full of good-natured innuendo, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right gives adolescent coming-of-age and the battle of the sexes a unique twist, in part by creating a romantic triangle between a long-standing, devoutly bourgeois lesbian couple, Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), and the newly identified, merrily free-spirited sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), responsible for both the couple's teenage children. Normality, as made clear by the introductory family dinner that features two mothers acting all motherly, rules. (The moms' designated kink is their occasional use of gay male porn as an aphrodisiac.) Whereas Cholodenko's two previous features, High Art (1998) and Laurel Canyon (2003), each focused on an innocent young woman swept up in the glamorously baffling sex-and-drugs scene swirling around a charismatic older female artist, the situation here is reversed; unexpectedly drawn into and fascinated by the ultradomestic household created by a pair of charismatic femmes, the swinger is the straight man (literally). Premiered last January at Sundance, The Kids Are All Right triggered a lively bidding war. The enthusiasm is unsurprising: It's actually a pretty conservative movie. Given its juicy premise, The Kids could have been played for sitcom, reality show or soap opera — had it been made in 1970, it might have been an Echo Park Teorema, with everyone winding up in bed together. Ten years into the 21st century, it's a heartfelt poster for family values. (J. Hoberman) (Arclight Hollywood, Fallbrook)

PREDATORS This Robert Rodriguez–produced sequel goes back into the bush to follow 1987's Predator — a sci-fi horror that put the multimegaton American stud-soldiers of Reagan-era action in the infrared, stalking POV of a higher-tech galactic Superpower. This time, U.S. black ops turned soldier-of-fortune Royce (Adrien Brody, knotty with new muscle) literally plummets into uncharted jungle terrain. Mind-wiped and stranded, he finds a likewise-disoriented gaggle of international badmen yanked from Mexican cartels, the Chechnyan front, Sierra Leonean death squadrons and death row, rounded out by a femme sniper (Alice Braga) and an unarmed comic-relief Topher Grace. Middle-range genre man Nimród Antal (Control, Armored) carries the burden of franchise-expectation without undue solemnity, conducting his Dirty Octet through the slow-dawning revelation that they're on a game preserve, handpicked for Predator hunters — then cranking up the grinder. The loyalties and tensions in this hell-is-other-mercenaries premise might have been more deviously rigged. There could be more open pleasure in the exploitation-movie concept (only Walton Goggins' con really basks in villainy). Louis Ozawa Changchien's silent Yakuza suddenly stopping for a samurai showdown makes no sense unless motivated by inscrutable Asian motives. But doing The Most Dangerous Game is, for action directors, what covering "Satisfaction" is to bar bands; if you hit most of the notes, it'll do. (Nick Pinkerton)

[REC] 2 The de facto highlight of the horrific [REC] 2 — the 28-minutes-later sequel to the Spanish zombie flick Americanized as Quarantine — comes when a bug-eyed, crucifix-clutching priest (Jonathan Mellor) tries in vain to extract a blood sample from a demonically possessed young pea-soup-spitter while SWAT-team studs with itchy trigger fingers lie in wait. In other words, where the overrated [REC] was a Blair Witchy 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. Contrived panic abounds, as do expiring camcorder batteries and expletive-laden variations on "Shoot it in the head!" Meantime, subtext and even text remain scant unless one counts the creeping misogyny of a script in which pure evil tends to be female, whether the flesh is underage, withered, ravaged or nubile. Predictably, [REC] 2 is higher-budgeted than its bare-bones predecessor, which only means that the spectacular degradation of video in scenes where the zombies get in close and start chomping will test the limits of any HDTV. If only [REC] 2's rabid baddies knew how to push [STOP]. (Rob Nelson) (Sunset 5)

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