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Entries in Elizabeth Banks (7)

Friday
Aug262011

Our Idiot Brother

Paul Rudd is an infinitely likable guy. Regardless of what one may think of his movies, I find it hard to believe anyone could look at him as anything other than goofy and lovable. But never has he been more lovable than he is in Our Idiot Brother. His character, Ned, is a shining example of how we should all act. He is unselfish, kind, trusting and he loves those around him. It’s these characteristics that apparently make him an idiot, but if he’s an idiot, sign me up.

From the minute the movie begins, Ned’s kindness is established as he gives a free bowl of strawberries to a little girl passing by his fruit stand. It’s his next act of kindness, however, that lands him jail. He gives weed to a uniformed cop who tricks him into trusting him. Some months later, he is released from jail and heads home, but not before saying his goodbyes to the prison guards (with whom he is now on a first name basis). When he returns, he finds his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), shacked up with a man named Billy (T.J. Miller). It’s enough to make any man lose his temper, but Ned is as polite as can be, especially to Billy. He only wants his dog, Willie Nelson.

Now that he’s out of a home, he is forced to move in with his three sisters, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a journalist looking for her first big story, Liz (Emily Mortimer), a stay at home mom who is married to documentary filmmaker, Dylan (Steve Coogan), and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a struggling stand-up comic who is in a lesbian relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones). While none really want him to stay in their homes, they have no choice, so he jumps around at their whim. He lands a job, at Liz’s insistence, working with Dylan on his documentary. He is just happy to be helping and doesn’t think for a minute, despite all the clues, that Dylan may be having an affair with his documentary subject. When he walks in on them naked, he still doesn’t figure it out, buying Dylan’s lie that nudity can sometimes make the interviewee more comfortable.

As is evident, Ned has a naïve view of the world, similar to that of a child. He doesn’t see the infidelity happening in front of his eyes, or the news story in someone’s words, or the humiliation in rejection (after asking someone out and being shot down, he merely smiles and shrugs. “No big deal” he must have been thinking). He always sees the positive side of things and feels bad when he lets someone down. When he turns down a threesome involving another man, he actually apologizes, as if the fact that he is straight is somehow something for which to be sorry. When he counts his money on the subway and hands a wad of cash to the guy next to him to hold, the thought never crosses his mind that that person could rob him. It’s ignorance, sure, but it’s also bliss (as the old saying goes). Some believe that children don’t see evil and are born with an inherent trust in people. If that’s true, then Ned is just a big child.

He’s an intrinsically happy person, which makes a late movie breakdown all the more powerful. At this point in the film, he is being blamed for ruining Liz’s marriage, killing Miranda’s career and destroying Cindy’s love for Natalie. None of those things are his fault, but his sister’s keep telling them they are, which leads him to, for the first and only time, raise his voice. It’s enough to make them feel sorry for what they said and realize how much Ned loves and cares about them; they’ve never seem him act that way and neither have we. So while the resolution feels a bit rushed, it makes sense based on how Ned has acted up to that point.

In a way, Ned is too much of an exaggeration—being blamed simultaneously for such horrific things would break a real family apart—but that’s where his charm lies. He’s willing to forgive and forget, but for him it’s not a choice; he simply doesn’t know any other way. Life is wonderful to him, a belief not expressly stated, but obvious anyway. Why spend it holding grudges? Ned is a clueless individual and at times deserves the idiot moniker, but he loves unconditionally and exudes joy at every possible moment. As it turns out, some idiots can teach you a thing or two.

Our Idiot Brother receives 4/5

Friday
Nov192010

The Next Three Days

Russell Crowe’s star power seems to be dwindling. Two of his last three films (State of Play, Body of Lies) failed to do much more than fizzle at the box office. While they both went on to surpass their budgets in worldwide ticket sales, their domestic intakes were less than impressive. With that in mind, teaming up with Paul Haggis, director of the 2004 Best Picture winner, Crash, almost seems like a no brainer, but a messy script, uneven pace and a general lack of believability will most likely make The Next Three Days just another blip on Crowe’s devolving career.

Based on the 2007 French film, Pour Elle, the story follows John Brennan (Crowe), a normal family man and college professor who is forced to go to extreme measures to keep his family together. His wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), has just been arrested and charged with murdering her boss. Throughout the next few years, she appeals her case and loses every time. The only option left is the Supreme Court, who hasn’t heard a murder case in a very long time and isn’t likely to now. So John, certain that she is innocent, decides he’s going to break her out and bring her home to her child, Luke (Ty Simpkins).

The Next Three Days has a problem that is morally unsound. John knows in his heart that his wife is innocent. He loves her tremendously and refuses to acknowledge the possibility that she could have actually murdered somebody in cold blood. At one point, she even tells him that she did it, to which he simply replies, “I don’t believe you.” We’re supposed to go along with that, but it’s not easy to. Until the final scene, which comes off like a roundabout and more than a little late way of telling us how we were supposed to feel, there is no indication that Lara is innocent. In fact, every sign points to her guilt. She had just had a giant argument with her boss, her fingerprints were found all over the murder weapon, the victim’s blood was found on her jacket and a witness saw her fleeing the scene of the crime. But that’s all supposed to be irrelevant because John loves her. I wasn’t buying it, so the whole movie became useless to me. I didn’t want John to break her out. As far as I could tell, she was guilty and deserved to rot in prison.

The events that unfold in The Next Three Days are about as likely as Ann Coulter taking a liberal stance on anything, which is to say it could happen, but you’d be shocked if it did. John is an English professor (at a community college no less) who hasn’t done a harmful thing in his life. He wouldn’t even know where to begin if he wanted to steal a bag of chips from a 7-Eleven, but he somehow concocts a master plan that spans a giant radius of Philadelphia (complete with a pleasure ride on the metro) where he outmaneuvers the entire police force by accurately predicting their every move. He even plants evidence to send them on a wild goose chase. It gets to the point where you become exhausted. You can only take so many leaps of faith before your legs get tired.

It completely goes off the rails when John buys a gun and starts shooting people up for money (but not before setting a house with a meth lab in the basement on fire). Had I actually cared about what was going on up to this point, I would have found this scene questionable, but I didn’t. The Next Three Days has cinematic ADD, transitioning from the prison break to a shootout to playground shenanigans to romantic entanglements. The pace hits only highs and lows. It’s either moving at a crawl or zooming by.

Sadly, there is a good movie hidden somewhere in here. The Next Three Days is well acted and directed, but it’s only moderately engaging. It’s the type of movie where you’ll find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat in one scene and slumping over it the next. Had the script been tightened up and the proceedings made at least somewhat realistic, this probably would have been a good piece of entertainment, but instead it will sit in your mind for the span of its title and then disappear forever.

The Next Three Days receives 2/5

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