<p>This is either a scene featuring the Minions from 'Despicable Me,' or it is the absolute weirdest mosh pit of all time.</p>

This is either a scene featuring the Minions from 'Despicable Me,' or it is the absolute weirdest mosh pit of all time.

Credit: Universal/Illumination

The M/C Review: 'Despicable Me' is daffy family fun

Great 3D and an engaging wit makes this a winner

I am genuinely pleased and surprised that "Despicable Me" is an above-average animated comedy.  Pleased because I feel like parents get punished so often walking into the theater for this kind of a film that when they aren't punished, it is a rare delight.  And surprised because Illumination Entertainment is a start-up, a first time animation studio, and getting a movie this right is something that some companies never pull off, let alone the first time they try.

"Despicable Me" is the story of Gru (Steve Carell, using one of the weirdest Eurotrash accents possible), a supervillain who isn't really very good at his job.  He's a minor key nuisance at best, and he's finding it increasingly difficult to get the Bank Of Evil to underwrite his efforts.  When a new supervillain named Vector (Jason Segel) shows up and starts pulling off the sort of jobs that Gru wishes he could do, Gru realizes that he needs to do something amazing to secure his place in the hierarchy of evil.  He launches his biggest plan yet with the help of Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and his army of Minions, weird little yellow creatures who provide many of the film's biggest laughs, and in the process, sets off a battle of the bad guys with Vector.

This would be plenty to keep Gru busy, but he faces another challenge at the same time, and it's far more difficult.  Looking for an easy way into Vector's house, he temporarily adopts three orphan girls named Margo ("iCarly" star Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), hoping to use them and their cookie sales as a distraction.  Gru doesn't expect to feel anything towards the girls, and why would he?  His own mother (voiced with evident relish by Julie Andrews) was an unfeeling monster, and Gru has no desire to be a father, no inclination to nurture.  What we plan and what we accomplish in life are often different things, though, and "Despicable Me" illustrates that with charm and wit to spare.

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<p>Steve Carell, seen here in 'Dinner For Schmucks,' has two movies in release this July and recently sat down with HItFix to discuss them.</p>

Steve Carell, seen here in 'Dinner For Schmucks,' has two movies in release this July and recently sat down with HItFix to discuss them.

Credit: Paramount/Dreamworks

The M/C Interview: Steve Carell is a despicable schmuck, and we love it

With two movies in theaters this month, the comic performer is flying high

When I posted the first of my two recent conversations with Steve Carell the other day, I mentioned that we actually had that conversation face-to-face at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.  It's a beautiful hotel, commonly used by the studios for the various press days we participate in, and typically I would have just waited there so I could have the second conversation with Carell in person.

I had to run home, though, so when I did call in for the interview, he answered the phone already laughing.

Steve Carell:  So... you couldn't take it anymore, could you?

Drew:  Nope.

SC:  Pure torture, isn't it?

Drew:  Oh, it was unbearable.  I mean, how can you stand it?  It’s luxurious and it's nice and there's room service.  Oh, my God.

SC:  (laughs)
 
Drew:  Yeah, I saw Craig Robinson downstairs as I was leaving.
 
SC:  Oh, how is he doing?
 
Drew:  He was out front, getting ready for the “Hot Tub Time Machine” Playboy Mansion party tonight, so...
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<p>Noomi Rapace has been embraced by fans worldwide for her performance as Lisbeth Salander, the lead character in 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'</p>

Noomi Rapace has been embraced by fans worldwide for her performance as Lisbeth Salander, the lead character in 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'

Credit: Music Box Films

Catching up with 'Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' onscreen and in print

A look at the book that kicked off the phenomenon and the first film in the series

This week marks the DVD and Blu-ray release of the Swedish film version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," and so it seems like the perfect time for me to jump in and finally write about this international phenomenon, the first part in what is called "The Millennium Trilogy," well aware that I am about to engage a fanbase just as vocal and opinionated as that of the "Twilight" books or the "Harry Potter" series.

As societal standards change, art has to respond by updating the archetypes it uses in storytelling, and so we find ourselves now at the dawn of the age of the Autistic Superhero.  I'd argue that this particular idea was introduced to the mainstream in "Rain Man," in which Dustin Hoffman played a sort of exaggerated and ultra-capable version of what was then understood to be the "typical" autistic.  Now, just over 20 years later, we've got TV shows like "The Big Bang Theory" where an obviously autistic character is carefully never referred to as autistic, and in pop culture the notion of the socially-awkward-but-brilliant specialist in this or that continues to get used and re-used.  Now, with Lisbeth Salander, we get one of the most aggressive interpretations of the archetype so far, and the public appears to have fallen head over heels with this teeny-tiny bundle of fury.

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<p>No, really... go ahead... call me Larry.&nbsp; See what happens.&nbsp; And while you're thinking that over, buy a ticket to 'Predators.'&nbsp; Or else.</p>

No, really... go ahead... call me Larry.  See what happens.  And while you're thinking that over, buy a ticket to 'Predators.'  Or else.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

The M/C Review: 'Predators' restores some luster to fading franchise

Robert Rodriguez spearheads a return to form for this movie monster

In the interest of full disclosure, I should state for the record that my writing partner and I met with Robert Rodriguez as he was gearing up to make this film as co-writer/producer, before writers had been hired, and we pitched our take on the movie.  Obviously, we didn't get the job, but as big genre fans, we were happy to at least get in the room and talk about this franchise and how to return it to a place of respect with someone as visibly enthusiastic as Robert was.  If you believe that my losing a job would disqualify me from being able to speak about the final film in a fair way, then feel free to skip to the next story now.

I remember seeing the original "Predator" in the theater when I was seventeen, walking in with absolutely no expectations.  I went with about six friends because it was free (we were all theater employees), it was new, and it was an excuse to smoke some doobs, drive across Tampa, and stay out late.  I had no expectations for the film.  At that point, I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger was only as good as the directors he worked with, and John McTiernan was an unfamiliar name.  I thought his only previous film, "Nomads," was decent but certainly no guarantee that his next film would be anything special, and writers Jim and John Thomas were equally unknown quantities.  As much as I loved "Conan The Barbarian" and "The Terminator," I thought Arnold's taste was largely suspect, and I was worried that "army dudes fighting a monster in the jungle" sounded like it was going to be cheesy.  That was my greatest fear walking into a movie in the '80s... that special brand of embarrassing cheesy that still distinguishes '80s movies from all others. 

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<p>Peter Marshall is the face of fatherly vengeance and wrath in the searing Australian drama 'The Horseman'</p>

Peter Marshall is the face of fatherly vengeance and wrath in the searing Australian drama 'The Horseman'

Credit: Umbrella Entertainment

On The Shelf: 'The Horseman' is a revenge film that pulls no punches

Festival favorite finally arives on home video

And when I say "festival favorite" in that secondary headline, what I mean is "one of my favorite films I saw during a festival."  That festival happened to be SXSW '09, so it was over a year ago, but for me, the film stood out then and hearing it's finally available for audiences to see in some form is great news, reason to revisit it.

Steven Kastrissios is the young writer/director of the film, and it's one of those names that I look up after seeing a film, knowing that I'm going to have to learn to spell it, because I have no doubt I'll be writing it many times over the years to come as he moves on to whatever's next.  This is not a film I'd recommend because it somehow shatters the narrative paradigm or reinvents aesthetic film language... it's just a meat and potatoes revenge film, a father who is on a linear furious path of revenge against anyone involved in turning his daughter into first a porn "star" and second a corpse. 

Christian (Peter Marshall) is an obviously named lead, ironic in every moment, but that sort of obvious move is countered by the surprising tenderness and depth of Marshall's work as a father whose entire system has been fried by the idea of his daughter dying.  The further he digs into circumstance, the less he likes what he learns, and that pain would be bad enough without the idea of murder entering into it.  His rage would already be something any father watching the film would identify with, something primal and direct.  But knowing what happened to her, finding out detail after detail of it, just tears him to pieces, like the pain from her passing is this bullet that just keeps rattling around inside him, shredding, cutting, till nothing's left.

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<p>Annette Bening, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo make a most unusual family in 'The Kids Are All Right,' one of the most buzzed-about films at this year's Sundance Film Festival.</p>

Annette Bening, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo make a most unusual family in 'The Kids Are All Right,' one of the most buzzed-about films at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Credit: Focus Features

The M/C Review: 'The Kids Are Alright' offers up a fantastic look at the modern family

A great cast, a gifted director, and a wonderful script all add up to a great surprise

Lisa Cholodenko has a strong voice as a filmmaker, and I've been waiting for her to make the movie that would break her through to the mainstream success she deserves.  "High Art" was a strong, sad little film that featured a career best performance from Ally Sheedy, and "Laurel Canyon" captured a certain type of malaise that sets in here in Los Angeles in a very knowing way.  Still, both of those films were easily marginalized for one reason or another, and her last film, "Cavedweller," seems to have dropped onto DVD with little attention after a small festival run.

Thankfully, instead of following a career path I've seen play out so many times in the past, where early promise adds up to frustration and obscurity, Cholodenko showed up at Sundance this year with a new film, maybe the most personal she's ever made, and the real miracle of it is how she's finally made something this accessible by reaching into her own life.  "The Kids Are All Right" is an incredibly clear-eyed look at who we are right now, and how the definition of "family" is changing, featuring a great cast, a wise and witty screenplay, and pitch-perfect direction.  If there is any justice in the movie universe, this will not only make some real money for Focus Features, but it will also establish Cholodenko as a filmmaker who studios want to support.

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<p>Julie Andrews, seen here giving voice to her character in 'Despicable Me,' sat down to discuss the new animated comedy with HitFix.</p>

Julie Andrews, seen here giving voice to her character in 'Despicable Me,' sat down to discuss the new animated comedy with HitFix.

Credit: Universal Pictures/Illumination

Watch: Julie Andrews chats about 'Despicable Me,' 'Mary Poppins,' and more

Want to see an interviewer react like he just saw a double rainbow?

Julie Andrews is sunshine and rainbows and kittens and magic.  And anyone who says different is a godless robot.

When they asked me to participate in the press day for "Despicable Me," I was amazed to see Andrews on the list of possible interviews, and I asked if there was any way they could put me in the room with "Mary F**king Poppins."  I was being flip about it, but when they approved the interview and I actually got to the press day and realized who I was about to talk to, I got a wicked case of the jitters.

After all, there are movie stars, and then there are the icons we imprint on as children, and those people always remain incredibly impressive to us as we get older.  I've met a lot of Hollywood talent, both in front of the camera and behind, and there are very few people who have ever made me as nervous as this interview did.  When I walked in the room, whatever I intended to ask her disappeared completely from my head, and it turned into an episode of "The Chris Farley Show."

I have no idea what we discussed.  It literally passed as a blur.  When I walked out of the room, the fine folks from Universal were laughing at how big my smile was during the interview.  I'm not going to watch this until I publish it because if I'm beaming as much as I think I am, my first inclination would be to censor the footage permanently.

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<p>In this tense moment from 'Predators,' Adrien Brody faces down... er, wait a minute... that's Gru, voiced by Steve Carell in the new animated comedy 'Despicable Me'</p>

In this tense moment from 'Predators,' Adrien Brody faces down... er, wait a minute... that's Gru, voiced by Steve Carell in the new animated comedy 'Despicable Me'

Credit: Universal/Illumination

Watch: Steve Carell discusses 'Despicable Me' and 'Schmucks'

Where exactly did that accent come from, anyway?

I've been interviewing Steve Carell now for years. 

Not continuously, of course, but I've talked to him a good half-dozen times or so since the I met him on the set of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," and in that time, I've always found him to be a focused, impressive performer who is exactly who he appears to be.  He's got a wry wit, he seems like a real student of world comedy, and he makes strong choices in his work.

It's always good to sit down to talk to him, and on this particular morning at the Four Seasons, I had a few things I wanted to discuss with him.  I was there for the "Despicable Me" junket, but I'd also just seen an early screening of "Dinner For Schmucks," and both of them were still fresh in my mind and worth conversation.  I set up two different interviews with him for the same day, and what you'll see here is the first one.  We did this on video.  The second one was set up as a phoner, and Carell seemed greatly amused when we spoke the second time that I had driven all the way home just so we could talk again.

He seems to me to be very pleased with both of these films, and when an actor actually likes the film they're promoting, the conversation can be so much easier.  In this case, Carell couldn't have been more charming or approachable, and I hope that comes across in both of the interviews.  I'll run the print conversation later in the week, but for now, enjoy this one.

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<p>Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington are the co-directors of the new documentary 'Restrepo'</p>

Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington are the co-directors of the new documentary 'Restrepo'

Credit: National Geographic Films

Watch: 'Restrepo' directors discuss their approach to shooting war

Documentary team discusses filming under fire and more

There are not many filmmakers I sit down with who intimidate me, but Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger spent a year embedded with an active combat unit in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan while I was writing reviews of "Star Trek 5," so, yes... these guys intimidate me.

The result of their effort is "Restrepo," a harrowing piece of experiential cinema that puts you in the midst of that combat unit for that full year, experiencing all the boredom, confusion, and terror that the men of that unit felt, if only a small degree of it.  It's an interesting piece of journalism, and it works overtime to maintain an air of being apolitical.  Of course, these days, if you try to make something with absolutely no politics involved, especially about a subject as super-charged as this, people will always inject their own politics into it.  This is a film that people will inevitably see through whatever prism they choose, and I'm sure you could argue that it supports the war just as easily as you could argue that it undermines it.  I walked away from the interview fairly sure where Hetherington and Junger stood on the issue, but to their credit, it was only after our conversation, and not after seeing the film.

I sat down with Hetherington and Junger at the National Geographic offices in Culver City, where we spent a few minutes discussing their film, their process, and their collaboration.  This was a one-camera set-up, so you'll hear me but not see me.

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<p>Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, the head of a dream-invading team of thieves in Christopher Nolan's new film 'Inception'</p>

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, the head of a dream-invading team of thieves in Christopher Nolan's new film 'Inception'

Credit: Warner Bros./Legendary

The M/C Review: 'Inception' bends brains, breaks hearts with equal ease

An amazing cast rises to the challenge of their demanding director

I'm going to do this without spoiling the movie for you, because I think this is one of those films you should experience as free of fore-knowledge as possible.

Christopher Nolan has been making the same basic film since the beginning of his career, and one of the things that makes his filmography compelling is the way he circles the central idea in his work.

"Inception," like his earlier work, deals with a broken man, determined to fix his mistakes but only making things worse in the process.  That could easily describe "Memento" or "The Prestige" or "The Dark Knight" or even his one remake, "Insomnia."  Yet even with him returning to this idea, worrying at it, exploring different ways it can play out, he doesn't feel like he's stuck or marking time.  I'd argue the opposite is true:  by refining this idea over time and over different films and in different ways, Nolan is becoming merciless in his ability to engage both intellectually and emotionally.  As a result, "Inception" flattened me, and even now, more than a week after my first viewing of it, I find myself turning over images and ideas from the film almost constantly.

Shrouded in secrecy during production, the film isn't really built as a narrative shell game with mind-blowing twists and turns so much as it is a logical and orderly descent into a trippy but airtight exploration of the way we frequently chase illusory versions of the people in our lives while ignoring the real flesh-and-blood imperfections that we don't want to acknowledge.  Taken as a simple exploration of a marriage that has imploded, "Inception" is harrowing and brutal, and all the SF trappings layered in on top of that only serve to make that stark emotional truth palatable in some way.

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