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Rudd gives ‘Idiot Brother’ its heart, soul

Fri., Aug. 26, 2011, midnight

Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks in a scene from “Our Idiot Brother.”
Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks in a scene from “Our Idiot Brother.”

Every actor wants to play the Wise Fool at least once: Think of Tom Hanks and his chocolate-box similes in “Forrest Gump,” or Dustin Hoffman beating the Vegas odds in “Rain Man.”

Paul Rudd may not follow those actors to the Oscar podium by starring in the featherweight comedy “Our Idiot Brother,” but he delivers his best and most heartfelt performance in years.

Rudd plays Ned Rochlin, a bearded, beatific stoner living in the earthier, crunchier reaches of Long Island. He’s the kind of good-hearted dude who will always share his personal pot stash, even with a uniformed police officer.

That boneheaded move earns Ned a probationary period and sends him into the not-so-open arms of his sisters, three New York City slickers whose busy-busy lives are just begging to be wrecked.

These exaggerated but accurately drawn types include Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a stand-up comic whose bisexual love life is much funnier than her club-emptying material; Liz (Emily Mortimer), a Park Slope hover-mother married to a womanizing documentarian (Steve Coogan, always welcome); and Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a knives-out journalist pitching a big piece to Vanity Fair.

Some of the best performances come from bit players – Rashida Jones as a butchy girlfriend, T.J. Miller as a henpecked hippie – but Rudd is genuinely irresistible, hitting a career high after hit-and-miss comedies like “Role Models” and “I Love You, Man.”

As a kind of Forrest Gump for the jam-band generation, he gives “Our Idiot Brother” its heart and dopey soul.

– Rafer Guzman, Newsday

‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’

The new version of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is entirely too literal, but it still manages to be a literally hair-raising piece of modern-style old-school Gothic horror.

The involvement of writer-producer Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) meant that no effort was going to be spared to “show” us everything – every little beastie who whispers entreaties and threats, every little gnome who goes bump in the night.

But this remake of the 1973 TV movie of the same name manages the basics quite well. Because basically, there’s nothing scarier than a big, old, dark and spooky house and a little girl with only a flashlight to protect her.

The girl here is Sally, played by the normally bubbly and apple-cheeked Bailee Madison (“Just Go With It”), a California tween sent to live with her house-restorer dad (Guy Pearce) and his new interior decorator girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes).

The couple are fixing up a 19th-century Rhode Island mansion with the help of an old man (Jack Thompson) who knows its history, but isn’t sharing.

Sally has been sent to Dad because she’s depressed, on medication and in and out of therapy. She hates Dad’s new lady friend. And the creatures who inhabit the house pick up on that.

“We want to be friends,” they hiss. “They don’t want you, but we do.”

If you’ve ever seen a horror movie, you know where this is going. Things begin to go wrong and the adults don’t believe the fraidy-cat kid who is telling them these tales. Eventually, somebody has to take her seriously, right?

The first misstep here is the film’s prologue, which gives us the bloody 19th-century back story of the haunted house. The second is letting us see the creatures tormenting Sally; the terror we don’t see is always scarier than critters who look like digital pixies from the Harry Potter movies.

But those blunders aside, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” works up a fine head of steam as the “accidents” mount and the almost-helpless Sally tries to figure out a survival strategy.

– Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

‘Colombiana’

A brawny B-action picture with a gorgeous, graceful woman wreaking havoc at its center: Yup, “Colombiana” is a Luc Besson movie.

The director of “La Femme Nikita” and “The Fifth Element” serves as co-writer and producer here, but this is very much a spin-off of his brand, a continuation of the kind of stereotype- and gravity-defying characters he’s made his name on.

“Colombiana” feels more hammy and muscular, though – but knowingly so, and that’s what makes it solid, late-summer escapist fun.

Zoe Saldana stars as Cataleya, who saw her parents killed when she was just a 9-year-old schoolgirl living in the slums of Bogota. Played as a child by the intense Amandla Stenberg in her film debut, Cataleya escapes by performing a dizzying series of moves across rooftops and through windows before making her way to the U.S. Embassy to vomit up the microchip her father entrusted her with.

Fifteen years later, with the help of her Uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis), Cataleya has become a highly efficient professional assassin, but she still seeks revenge against the drug kingpin (Beto Benites) and his right-hand man (Jordi Molla) who are responsible for her parents’ deaths.

The mark she leaves on her victims’ bodies – a drawing of the orchid she’s named for – is a message for her childhood enemies but it also sparks the curiosity of the FBI agent who thinks he’s tracking a serial killer.

The catlike Saldana kicks butt in little more than tank tops and short-shorts, and prowls around during a thrilling jail hit in the kind of skin-tight body suit she might have worn to do motion-capture work for “Avatar.”

For the most part, it’s all big and silly, but at least it’s enjoyably staged and crafted. But Saldana also manages to earn our sympathy, as the script (which Besson co-wrote) allows her to convey a surprising amount of emotion and inner conflict.

But then it’s time for her to take her clothes off again.

– Christy Lemire, Associated Press

‘Another Earth’

“Another Earth” is quietly and movingly out of this world.

Director Mike Cahill has woven sci-fi imaginings and quantum physics theories of parallel universes into a provocative meditation on the prospect of rewriting your life history.

The film stars the ethereal young actress Brit Marling, who co-wrote and co-produced with Cahill, and the rock-solid William Mapother (Ethan on “Lost”) as strangers whose lives are upended by tragedy on a night seemingly filled with endless possibilities bought about by the discovery of a replica of Earth, dubbed Earth 2, in our skies.

What-ifs abound – what if there’s another you, what would you say if you met your other self?

The shoulders carrying the weight of these worlds belong to Rhoda (Marling), a high school senior whose MIT future goes up in flames after a horrific mistake sends her to jail, and John (Mapother), a noted composer whose life goes into a terrible tailspin after an unbearable loss.

By melding that collision of events, the filmmakers use the ordinary to examine the extraordinary, forcing the central characters to contemplate how a choice can change a life, the way regret reshapes a future, why redemption rarely comes easy and whether a second chance in any world is worth the risk.

With so many big ideas packed into this tiny indie, it should come as no surprise that there are loose threads everywhere. What keeps it all from unraveling is the assurance found in even the most unfinished moments.

– Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

‘The Devil’s Double’

Two hours with Saddam Hussein’s psychotic, bloodthirsty butcher of a son. Now there’s some true counterprogramming to the big, splashy summer fare out of Hollywood.

“The Devil’s Double” presents two excellent performances from British actor Dominic Cooper as unhinged party boy and all-around nut job Uday Hussein, along with the body double he uses to thwart assassins.

As grand and showy as Cooper is, the characters and action are so unsavory – even sickening, at times – that you really need to be sure you’re up for a peek into Saddam’s inner circle of crooks and monsters before laying your money down.

Director Lee Tamahori (“Die Another Day”) lays on the savagery relentlessly, from revolting sexual abuse of women to nauseating slaughter.

Into this “Caligula”- meets-“Scarface” world comes the honorable Latif Yahia, a soldier in Iraq’s war with Iran who is summoned to Baghdad in 1987 by Uday, an old schoolmate who recalls their remarkable resemblance and graciously asks him to be his double – then, after Latif declines, not so graciously.

So Latif relents and begins his physical transformation – through prosthetics and plastic surgery – and spiritual indoctrination, through “Pygmalion”-like coaching and viewing of Uday’s torture-porn tendencies on video.

“The Devil’s Double” was adapted from Latif’s memoir, though the filmmakers take liberties to heighten the conflict between him and Uday and its eventual outcome.

The movie would be mainly a one-man, two-character show if not for Ludivine Sagnier as Sarrab, one of Uday’s mistresses who winds up drawn to Latif. Their tender moments together aren’t all that interesting, but they do provide a breather from the carnage and cruelty that Tamahori piles on to show us what a depraved animal Uday is.

What is fascinating, at least fleetingly, is the inside look the movie offers of Iraq as U.S. forces move in to liberate Kuwait after Saddam’s invasion. But that passes quickly, and soon the movie is back to stomach-churning mode.

Bring your antacids.

– David Germain, Associated Press


 

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