Our Idiot Brother: I’m glad this movie is apparently going out on 2,000 screens, because you can never quite tell with the Weinstein Company: they might release a movie, they might recut it, they might shelve it, they might dump it into three theaters due to a contractual obligation, or if they’re feeling feisty and/or the one guy who works for the Weinsteins doesn’t CC the one other guy who works for the Weinsteins on the weekly status update email, maybe all at once, if possible.
Our Idiot Brother has the Weinsteins making a Sundance pickup, and having seen the movie, it is absolutely ridiculous that this movie was at Sundance to begin with. Not because it’s bad—actually, it’s quite good—but because if a friendly and likable $5 million comedy starring Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, and Emily Mortimer can’t rate direct studio financing, um, yikes. This is the kind of sweet-natured but grown-up comedy a bunch of people were pretending Crazy, Stupid, Love was about a month ago. I feel like regular people would like this movie. I mean, it’s not exactly Miranda July and a talking cat, you know?
Paul Rudd—best comic leading man of his generation? More or less? [Most beloved actor in Summerscreen history, certainly. -Ed.]—gives a smartly-observed performance as title yutz Ned, less an actual idiot than a mild, agreeable bumbler who’s consciously oblivious to people’s worst natures. The actresses mentioned above play his sisters, who alternate taking him in when he gets out of a short, bumbled-into jail sentence. It’s slight, to be sure, and perhaps a little too neat (reportedly the result of some Weinstein-style tinkering; I’d love to hear from anyone who could fill me in on what the original Sundance ending was), but this is also a movie with a fair grasp of how a variety of people actually think, talk, and behave, which doesn’t sound like much—but it’s in short enough supply that I felt pretty great when I realized this movie was getting it right. There are a lot of ensemble casts where half the actors have nothing to do; in this movie, even second-to-third-tier comics like TJ Miller get to do inspired character work. I don’t want to oversell Our Idiot Brother, so I’ll put it this way: if you wanted some non-effects-y entertainment out of Crazy, Stupid, Love or Larry Crowne or The Help and thought, wow, is this the best they can do? Then you should see this one. This movie doesn’t think you’re an idiot.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: It’s interesting that despite the occasional exception, horror movies don’t play well in May, June, July, or even sometimes August. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is the third wide-release horror movie in the past three weeks (with a found-footage knockoff, Apollo 18, skidding into theaters next weekend), and even if it wasn’t the quietest in terms of brand recognition (being based on an old TV movie, rather than one of the more successful horror franchises of the past decade or an 80s cult attraction) and the last one in the door, its prospects still wouldn’t look great, even though the last two weeks of August are always rife with the kind of movies that come out in January and February: genre programmers, smaller-scale action thrillers, and all manner of mild exploitation.
Even a classier-pedigreed horror picture like this one, though, coming with Guillermo Del Toro’s stamp of approval, somehow tends to strike audiences as the wrong movie at the wrong time. This is especially strange because a lot of the “scary” movies that come out in the more seasonally appropriate October aren’t particularly seasonal (or scary). This is all a long-winded way of saying this movie probably isn’t going to make any money, and probably could’ve made a bunch of money in October, maybe taking on the presumably-rapidly-aging Paranormal Activity series. I’m happy to sample it in August, even if between this, Insidious, and the upcoming Dream House, we’re getting three haunted-house movies (I guess that’s the new horror trend following extreme torture and 80s remakes?) on zero Halloweens.
Colombiana: Speaking of low-rent third-tier action pictures, well, yeah, if you speak of them, Luc Besson will appear and cowrite an internationally flavored one for a star of the moment (or a moment, anyway). The lucky recipient of this one is Zoe Saldana, sexiest Avatar alive. My expectations for movies from the Luc Besson ridiculousness factory have been perhaps inflated by my well-documented love of the Transporter series; I can tell you that Taken, From Paris with Love, or even District B13 don’t really measure up. But Besson’s formula of pitting a marginalized character (either an American in Europe or a minority anywhere) against pretty much the whole world is tantalizingly simple and stupid, especially around this time of year.
So yes, I’m going to pay to see Zoe Saldana assassinate the living shit out of the world, for super-dramatic revenge, with only slight trepidation over the fact that it seems like because she’s a lady, she has to get way more anguished about her assassinating than dude characters. The mayhem is orchestrated by the delightfully named Olivier Megaton, who was behind the series-worst-but-also-kind-of-best Transporter 3.
Higher Ground: Vera Farmiga directs! Now, usually when indie actors like Vera Farmiga take ownership of a project, even if not exactly directing, I feel like they tend to be interested in making an ultra-focused character study along the lines of Sherrybaby, that movie where Maggie Gyllenhaal fucks up for the better part of ninety minutes. Farmiga pretty much already did one of those movies with Down to the Bone, where she plays an upstate coke addict who fucks up for the better part of ninety minutes. Having conquered hard drugs, she wrestles with her faith in her directorial debut.