Our Idiot Brother

© 2011 Ray Wong

Here's a summer comedy that is tailored for Paul Rudd (well, sort of) to capitalize on his boyish good looks and affable charm. So naturally, he plays an "idiot."

Ned (Paul Rudd) is a happy-go-lucky guy who enjoys his guilty pleasure: marijuana. His major flaw? He trusts people too easily; he's gullible. After Ned was entrapped and imprisoned for "dealing," he loses his girlfriend, job and home, and needs a place to stay. Naturally he turns to his family, which includes sisters Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and Liz (Emily Mortimer).

Soon Ned is entangled in his sisters' tangled lives. Liz is an unhappy housewife married to a selfish jerk (Steve Coogan). Natalie isn't sure about her sexuality even though she's in a loving lesbian relationship with lawyer Cindy (Rashida Jones). And Miranda is a demanding, ambitious journalist who has no time for romance. While they all love Ned, they all have their own problems and can't really handle their idiotic brother, who has a problem of speaking what he thinks, uncensored.

Ned's child-like demeanors and simple world view soon unravel his sisters' worlds. Ned's penchant for the truth is at odds with his sisters' deceptions: Liz is in denial about her marriage; Liz is compromising her integrity just to get ahead at work; and Natalie cheated on Cindy. Even though they hate Ned for "ruining" their lives, eventually they realize it's all for the best and they begin to learn something from their idiotic brother.

Paul Rudd (How Do You Know?) has made a name for himself for playing the dorky but cute boy next door. In Our Idiot Brother, Rudd plays the title role and turns up his affability to full throttle. As perpetual stoner and man-child Ned, Rudd is extraordinarily charming and sympathetic, even though sometimes you really do want to slap him silly and say, "Grow up already!" That's a good thing.

The trio of sisters have very distinctive personalities and they're well portrayed by three capable actresses. Elizabeth Banks (The Next Three Days) plays a similar character as her Emmy-nominated Avery in 30 Rock, but she does it so well. Zooey Deschanel ((500) Days of Summer) also plays a role that is similar to Summer (albeit a bisexual) and does a good job. The more complex role belongs to Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island), however. Her vulnerability and anger come through in a character who is deep in denial and low self-esteem.

Rashida Jones (The Social Network) is excellent as Natalie's bossy but kind girlfriend. Steve Coogan (The Trip) sinks his teeth in the role of an ultimate douche-bag. Adam Scott (Piranha), as Miranda's neighbor, adds a bit of sex appeal to the production.

Written by David Schisgall, Evgenia Peretz and directed by Peretz's brother Jesse (The Ex), Our Idiot Brother has a loose, character-driven plot that is centered on Rudd's character, surrounding by his sisters and their extended family. The plot is not really linear, but it does progress, with a central question: Is Ned really an idiot? The obvious answer is "yes," as the audience and Ned's own family can attest. But soon we find that everything is relative. While everyone around Ned seems to have it all together, they are far less happy and fulfilled, and they don't connect to others the way their idiot brother does. Fortunately, Peretz doesn't beat us in the head with that message. Instead, she lets the story and the character brings that across.

Granted, the characters and story can be frustrating at times. I mean, seriously, Ned is in his 30s and can he just get a grip? Is his brain really so baked that he can't tell what can harm him? Even an 8-year-old child seems to know better. In that regard, the character is rather frustrating to watch, even if we wish him the best. There are other inconsistency (for example, if Ned has a big mouth, then why would Natalie tell him her secret and then expect him to keep it from Cindy?), plot holes and contrivance.

The direction has an independent feel to it, which is actually an asset. The film is laid back and fun, much like the central character, and the story moves along well enough. Even with a large cast of supporting characters, we're never confused and the focus always rests on Ned: his influence on others and their reactions to him.

Our Idiot Brother is a nice, funny, small film with some stars in it. Could it be better? Definitely (it could, perhaps, use more obscure actors instead of all-to-familiar faces). But it's an entertaining, character-driven family comedy and there's nothing idiotic about that.

Stars: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Rashida Jones, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Adam Scott
Director: Jesse Peretz
Writers: David Schisgall, Evgenia Peretz
Distributor: Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout
Running Time: 90 minutes


Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 7.2 out of 10

Griff the Invisible

© 2011 Ray Wong

Superhero movies are a dime a dozen these days. What the filmmakers try to do with Griff the Invisible, however, is offer something different.

Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is a client relation representative by day. He is shy, withdrawn, and keeps to himself mostly in the office. He also gets picked on and bullied by coworkers, especially Tony (Toby Schmitz). Little do these people know, however, that Griff is a superhero by night. He takes order from "central office" and monitors local crimes. He's a true crime fighter.

But being a superhero has its price, and soon it becomes impossible for Griff to stay low-key without literally becoming invisible. So he tries to build an invisible suit. Meanwhile, he meets the girl Melody (Maeve Dermody) who his brother Tim (Patrick Brammall) is kind of dating. Soon, though, Melody becomes fascinated with Griff, for she, too, is not "normal."

It happens that Melody lives in her own world, too, and she is a scientist always trying to figure out the impossible. For example, she believes that if all the molecules align just the right way, a person can go through a solid object such as a wall or a door. When she realizes who Griff really is and what he's trying to do, she wants to help him make the invisible suit. And an unlikely romance develops between these two outcasts.

Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) gives an earnest performance very unlike his character in True Blood, for which the Australian actor is best known. As Griff, he is withdrawn, quiet, introverted, sensitive, but devious at the same time. Kwanten does a nice job disappearing in the character without relying on his usual sex appeal.

Maeve Derody (Black Water) is wonderfully odd as Melody. She plays the character with a slight awkwardness that doesn't make her a "crazy" character but you realize she is different anyway. She and Kwanten play off each other very well.

The supporting cast does an adequate job. Marshall Napier (The Water Horse) is solid as Griff's sympathetic boss and father figure. Toby Schmitz (Three Blind Mice) is fine as the office bully, if only a bit stereotypical and cliché. Patrick Brammall (Hawke) is affecting as Griff's adoring, protective older brother.

Writer-Director Leon Ford (Katoomba) takes an interesting approach telling this "superhero" tale. Before long, you realize something is off and not quite what it seems. Ford leaves little clues here and then, and then reveals Griff's secret quite bluntly, and the story takes on an odd and interesting twist. The audience is left to wonder where it is going and what will happen to these interesting characters.

That said, the screenplay and direction suffer from certain literary pitfalls that usually plagues new or independent filmmakers. The plot unfolds rather slowly and the structure is somewhat contrived -- clever for cleverness's sake, at times. The dialogue is rather dull at times, lacking the wittiness that could lift the by-and-large quiet story. What Ford succeeded, though, is creating intersecting characters with real motives and history, who make us care about them even after we know what really is going on with them.

I totally enjoyed the movie despite its flaws. It offers an interesting and off-the-wall take on the genre. At the core, it's a very human story about two people who, against all odds, connect with each other. It's also about unconditional love, which is refreshing without overt preaching. This independent film may be small and quiet, but it won't be invisible if you give it a chance.

Stars: Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Dermody, Marshall Napier, Toby Schmitz, Patrick Brammall, Anthony Phelan
Director: Leon Ford
Writer: Leon Ford
Distributor: Indomina
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, violence and themes
Running Time: 90 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 6
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 6
Editing - 6
Production - 7

Total - 7.0 out of 10.0

The Help

© 2011 Ray Wong

Once in a while there comes a "chick flick" that reaches past its limited audience base because it delivers something that is truly universal. The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel, is not your ordinary "women's story."

Eugenia "Skeeter" (Emma Stone) recently graduated from college and landed a job with the Jackson Journal writing an housekeeping advice column. She needs help, so she asks if domestic help Aibileen (Viola Davis) can assist her. While listening and observing Aibileen, Skeeter realizes there are stories behind these American-American women whose only jobs are working as "the help" and taking care of white folks' babies. She wants to write a book from their perspective.

However, writing such a thing is not only dangerous for the women, but also illegal in Mississippi. Even though often mistreated, Aibileen is scared for her job and safety. But the social injustice finally convinces her that her stories must be heard, and she agrees to work with Skeeter. She also convinces her best friend Minny (Octavia Spencer), the "sassy-mouth" help for Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), to participate.

Hilly is a mean-spirited social climber. And a racist. Her influences in her circle creates even more hostile and unfair treatments for the help. Skeeter is determined to expose all that injustice while keeping herself out of trouble. While America is on the verge of the civil rights movement, Skeeter and Aibileen have the utmost responsibility and urgency to get their stories out.

Emma Stone (Crazy, Stupid, Love) has always been fun to watch, truly the rising star with a unique onscreen personality. Here, however, she is able to keep her larger-than-life persona in check and play the role effectively. Her Skeeter is strong-willed but vulnerable, progressive but also a product of her environment, kind but also defiant. Good job.

But the real star of the movie is Viola Davis (Eat Pray Love). As Aibileen, she is strong but delicate, humble but determined, soft but courageous. Davis's amazing performance helps lift the great story to an even higher level. I expect her to be recognized comes the award season.

The cast is outstanding as well. Bryce Dallas Howard (Hereafter) makes us want to slap her around, and when her comeuppance is revealed, we cheer with enthusiasm. Octavia Spencer (Dinner for Schmucks) is marvelous as Minny, and she manages to escape the cliches while portraying the sassy-mouth woman. Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life) is equally fantastic as the town's outcast. Her relationship with Minny is one of the best things in the movie. Veterans Allison Janney (Juno), Sissy Spacek (Get Low) and Mary Steenburgen (The Proposal) add class to the already-classy production.

Written and directed by Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People), the screenplay adheres to the novel with its wonderful characters, interesting plot, and universal themes. The rich historical backdrop is fully realized, and the dialogue is strong and purposeful. Taylor skillfully and slowly unfolds the plot, which is strongly character-driven. With a large cast of characters, Taylor is able to keep the story straight, never leaving the focus and always keeping the characters and their relationships at the center.

While the subject matters and story are serious, there are also many light-hearted moments and laughs, especially through the outspoken character Minny. The screenplay builds on the foundation of the wonderful novel by Stockett, and the characters and their relationships leap off the screen. These colorful characters give the story the heart and soul, but also much laughs and tears. It's a cliche, but you will laugh and you will cry. While the film is filled with many great moments, the best line belongs to Sissy Spacek, and the final scene is devastatingly poignant.

I'm very impressed with the production. Everything from the art direction to costumes to cinematography to the acting is top-notch. During a summer of lackluster blockbusters, The Help will be remembered as a classic without much help.

Stars: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Chris Lowell, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen
Director: Tate Taylor
Writers: Tate Taylor (based on novel by Kathryn Stockett)
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and language
Running Time: 137 minutes


Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8

Total – 8.2 out of 10

The Change-Up

© 2011 Ray Wong

Body-swap stories such as Freaky Friday are nothing new. What's different about The Change-Up is that it's a hodgepodge of gross-out raunchy and buddy/bromance comedy, except Judd Apatow, unfortunately, isn't involved in this.

Dave (Jason Bateman) and Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) are bestfriends who can't be more different. Married to beautiful Jamie (Leslie Mann), Dave is a workaholic and an overachiever. He's about to make partner at his firm but he's trying his hardest to juggle between being a father of three, a husband, and a lawyer. Mitch, on the other hand, is always stoned, always late, and a womanizer, and he never holds a real job (except his half-hearted attempt at being an actor). How these guys stay buddies through the years is a mystery.

After a night of carousing, Dave and Mitch, while urinating into a fountain, confess they want each other's life. Something strange happens. They wake up in each other's body. At first they freak out, and they try to tell Jamie the truth, but she simply thinks they are nuts. So reluctantly they must carry on their respective lives for each other.

They are like two fish out of water. Mitch almost ruins Dave's career, while Dave is totally lost in Mitch's chaotic affairs. Then things start to turn around. Mitch realizes what a loser he has been and that he can be a responsible person. Dave realizes he's been working too hard and missing out on life. They enjoy their newfound purposes so much that they consider not switching back at all…

Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern) returns to comedy with ease. He is hilarious as Mitch the douche bag. What's good about Reynolds is that he can also do the serious side. His talent is evident when he switches personality to play the uptight and conservative Dave. Meanwhile, Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses) hits comedy gold: he's perfect as Dave, but outrageous as Mitch. Both actors are excellent in their dual roles. However, I feel that they have failed to impersonate each other's mannerisms and body language. Thus, I am not entirely convinced that Reynolds is Bateman in his body, and vice versa. It feels more like Reynolds is trying to play the character Dave instead of playing Dave the way Bateman does (if that makes any sense). Same goes with Bateman (although I think he does a better job copying Reynolds' mannerism).

Leslie Mann (Funny People) is very attractive as Dave's wife Jamie, who is a working mother who feels neglected by her workaholic husband. Mann does a great job exuding self-confidence and doubts at the same time. Olivia Wilde (Cowboys and Aliens) is gorgeous as Dave's subordinates at the law firm (and potential love interest). She also shows great comic timing and zest that we don't always see in her performances.

Screenwriters Jon Lucas (The Hangover) and Scott Moore (The Hangover) give us a script that is contrived and predictable, but full with R-rated obscenity, bathroom humor, raunch and nudity. The plot follows a template: vastly different personalities and lifestyles, impending crises, misplaced affection or lust, and lessons learned. Obviously we are not supposed to watch a movie like The Change-Up for deep philosophical musing. We come for the laughs, and Lucas and Moore give us plenty to laugh at. Anything from potty humor to crude sexual references and awkward situations. It is, frankly quite sophomoric.

The dialogue is generally funny with a huge dose of raunch and obscenity, sometimes rather unnecessary. I mean, seriously? Even if Mitch is a douche (again, why is he still a friend of Dave's family?), he wouldn't be swearing and talking about sex stuff in front of Dave's young daughter (and why would Jamie allow that?). What kind of person does that?

Also, the situations seem contrived at times. Conflicts are manufactured to up the stakes. And the relationship between Mitch and Dave, while endearing, is unbelievable. Would Dave really leave Mitch alone in his office to potentially ruin his career? I don't think so. He would be sitting in the office watching over him at all times (it's not like "Mitch" has anything going on in his life). Then again, there will be no story -- that's why I feel the plot is rather contrived.

David Dobkin's (Wedding Crashers) direction is crisp and fast-paced. There's really nothing wrong with his workman-like direction. Just that there's not much to be commended either. The plot flows smoothly and he lets the actors do their thing; that's always important. He's also not shy with presenting some of the more graphic materials. The production is professional enough, but the soundtrack is totally forgettable. A missed opportunity here.

The Change-Up isn't a bad movie. It uses tired formulas and adds raunch and filth to it to spice the punch. If you enjoy raunchy comedies about a couple guys and nudity and sophomoric humor, this is not a bad way to spend an evening. Otherwise, change the channel.

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, Mircea Monroe
Director: David Dobkin
Writers: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive, strong, crude sexual content and language, some graphic nudity and drug use
Running Time: 112 minutes


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 6.7 out of 10