Our Idiot Brother

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Written by Stephanie | Rated: 3 Stars - Some Beef, Comedy, Drama | Posted on 28-11-2011

My name is Stephanie and I am a Ruddaholic. Sure, Paul Rudd has been in some horrible films (I’m looking at you, How Do You Know) but I’ve never seen him be anything less than wonderful. He even helped Friends limp through its final two seasons, while the rest of the cast sleepwalked through their, by that point, rather hackneyed roles. He just makes me happy, with his baby blue eyes and his head that is slightly too big for his body. I tend to seek out his films, and, if they showcase the Rudd as he deserves, I’ll watch them again and again. I’ve seen Role Models at least five times. Paul Rudd + Jane Lynch = 1000x amazing (I’m well good at maths).

In Our Idiot Brother, my blue eyed hero plays Ned. Ned is a hippy, and I guess what some would call a loser (or an idiot, obv). Though at the start of the film he appears to be living the dream to this fellow loser. He works at a farmers market, has the best dog ever, looks happy and content, and sells a bit of the good stuff on the side. Sadly, a stupid mistake means that Ned is wrenched from this life rather abruptly and forced to rely on the kindness of his family to help him back on his feet.

This is where the film really comes into its own. Everyone here is amazing, it’s like the casting director put together a list of people I love and put them all in a big lovely film, just for me. Almost without exception, like Rudd, they are playing to their own stereotype, which is fine by me. Regardez –

Elizabeth Banks – Shrill, selfish, workaholic
Zooey Deschanel – Freespirited, sexually ambiguous, kooky
Emily Mortimer – English, uptight, repressed (she isn’t actually playing English, but she might as well be)
Steve Coogan – Pretentious prick
Adam Scott – Lovely, lovely but slightly lacking in masculinity
Rashida Jones – Massive lesbian who wears terrible shorts and glasses throughout the film, just in case we forget at any point that she likes the poontang
Hugh Dancy – Pretentious prick #2

Actually, i’ve never seen Rashida Jones play a tough lesbian, or Hugh Dancy play anything but lovely. I just wanted to mention that they’re involved, as they are both super cool (Also, I actually kinda like the terrible glasses/shorts combo… and Dancy makes a surprisingly good pretentious prick).

The film follows the route of a thousand gentle comedies before it. It doesn’t shock and it doesn’t surprise. It did, however, manage to make my boyfriend (who had been threatening to go for a nap) stay with me for the entire duration. We both laughed a lot, though most of the jokes didn’t stick with me past the closing credits.

In the end, Our Idiot Brother is rather like a lovely big bag of Haribo. It’s sweet, goes down easily, tastes delicious and might even make you giddy for a while… but it contains no substance whatsoever, and might make you a little sick if you lack the tooth for this kind of thing.

Our Idiot Brother was released in the USA in August. It’s still awaiting release dates elsewhere. When it does finally get a release, I recommend watching on a rainy Sunday afternoon with an enormous bag of sweets, and letting the sugar wash all over you.

Sidenote – I’ve included the picture at the top because me and my friend Gemma sat in those EXACT seats at Cafe Gitane in New York. Yes, I have shared bum space with the Rudd. I am awesome.

The Woman

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Written by Stephanie | Rated: 3 Stars - Some Beef, Horror | Posted on 18-10-2011

The first I heard about The Woman, it was via a Youtube video of a man who was thrown out of a screening at The Sundance Film Festival as he was so incensed by it. It’s quite an interesting watch, the official from Sundance displays a masterclass in how to deal with irate customers, and the guy actually comes across as a bit of an arse. However, his arguments did nothing to make me want to watch the film. I’ve always loved horror films but the recent trend for ‘torture porn’ does not float my boat one little bit. I watch horror films because I love the feeling of being scared, adrenaline pumping, wondering when the killer is going to strike. I don’t want to see people chained up with no chance of escape while various imaginative cruelties are performed upon them. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I just don’t see the fun in it, it’s just nasty for the sake of it.

The only reason I finally decided to watch The Woman was because I thought it would be interesting to write about. It’s directed and written by Lucky McKee, who was also responsible for 2002’s May. May is a rare creature indeed, a film about loneliness seen through the prism of horror. I liked it a lot, and recommend you hunt it down if it sounds like your bag. It helped to give me some faith that his new film must be about more than the angry Sundance man said it would be… and it is.

Just as May was really a film about loneliness, The Woman is really a film about domestic violence and a certain type of man who needs to feel power over women. The film centres on a family, The Cleek’s, who although initially picture postcard perfect looking, clearly have something going on under the surface. The smiles are a little too tight, the wife a little too timid, the father a little too cordial, the daughter depressed, the son disconnected… Things aren’t right, and just to drive that home, Daddy’s decided to trap a feral woman he found in the forest, so that they can “civilise” her.

The origins of the titular woman (she’s never given a name, which seems a strange omission if the goal IS to civilise her, which clearly it isn’t) are unknown to us, although it’s suggested that she was raised by wolves. Sadly Mogwli she is not, she can’t speak, she’s filthy and she eats live animals. She HAS managed to fashion quite a sexy rag ensemble for herself though, so that’s nice.

She’s locked in a cellar, and introduced to the family…. who take it well enough that we know those tight smiles hide abuse. The scenes between the female members of the family and the woman are beautifully done, the actors manage to convey a huge amount with no verbal communication. The wife (Belle) is played by Angela Bettis, who also starred in May, and she’s just as good here. The rest of the cast are excellent too, excepting the daughter, Peggy’s, teacher, who is rotten. If I tried to act, that’s what I’d look like, she’s THAT bad.

The violence is kept to a minimum early on, and, despite fears to the contrary, this isn’t torture porn. The father, Chris, seems less interested in cruelty for the sake of it, and more in power. He is as violent as he feels he needs to be, unlike the son, who seems more of an unformed psychopath, trying to emulate his father, without any of his power. Chris Cleek wants his women under his control and the hold he has over his family is terrifying. We see just enough to know how far he goes to hold onto this power, and until towards the end, it’s mostly shot (relatively) tastefully. Even the scenes of sexual violence (which are normally the one thing I can’t deal with) didn’t feel exploitative to me. The perpetrators are the pathetic ones here, not the victims.

I honestly thought I would hate The Woman, but I didn’t. It’s a film about the darkness that can lurk under a perfect surface, and has the same air of the surreal that pervaded May. Sadly, It all falls apart a bit at the end, with a slightly ‘throw enough shit at the wall, and some of it will stick’ air to it. All together though, The Woman is a tale about misogyny, rather than one that glorifies it. The women are the heroes here, and I think Lucky McKee is a man who really likes women. Sadly, there is something about the horror genre that seems to attract men that really don’t. So, it’s nice to finally see a horror film that has that air to it, and I really hope Lucky McKee (awesome name BTW) , and others like him, get to continue to make films…. Saying all that, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it as a film experience. I’m never going to enjoy watching women be tied up and subjugated, no matter how tastefully it is shot. However, I respected it and think its heart is in the right place, and that’s just as important sometimes.

The Beaver

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Written by Stephanie | Rated: 3 Stars - Some Beef, Drama | Posted on 17-10-2011

Mel Gibson was a movie star. Not just an actor, but an honest to goodness movie star. I was made to watch Mad Max: Road Warrior recently and the man exuded charisma out of every pore. He was one of those rare people I just couldn’t keep my eyes off when he was on screen, he seemed mysterious and sexy and interesting. All the things I want when I’m sitting down to be entertained (take note those who keep casting Gerard Butler, who is none of these things, and less. Wonky, sweaty and grubby looking does not get this ladies biscuits tingling). He was box office gold too, What Women Want made over $182 Million, despite being poorly received by critics. The man was a charm machine, dropping knickers at fifty paces with one of his megawatt smiles and a flash of his baby blues.

Saying all this, I’ve always felt like there was something slightly ‘off’ about him, something behind the eyes when he’s being interviewed. He was married to the same woman for a long time and they sired many, many children. He’s a Catholic, and while I am loath to criticise anyone’s beliefs, he has publicly denounced the use of birth control and of abortion. This just doesn’t sit right with my personal beliefs, especially coming from a very wealthy man, who has little of the worries that plague us normo’s. He has proven himself to be rather a talented film director, though his projects are somewhat, erm, ‘specialist’… but things started to go badly wrong for Mel a couple of years ago. There were various reports of anti-semitism (Winona Ryder recently told a story of him referring to her as an ‘oven dodger’ at a party. He’s also claimed that ‘Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world’. How lovely!) homophobia and racism. The thing that really sealed it for him though was a relationship which ended badly, amid reports of physical and emotional abuse. I won’t go into the details here, all this is making me feel grubbier than Gerard Butler, but, suffice to say, his career was knocked sideways. I find it really difficult to look at him now without picturing his depiction on Southpark, which doesn’t bode well for suspending disbelief and actually enjoying his performance in a film.

Given all this, I wasn’t expecting much from The Beaver. I have a lot of love for Jodie Foster, but I’ve never been bowled over by her Directorial efforts, and I was confused as to why she wanted to taint her film with the stench of controversy and hatred that Mel brought. We open with Walter (Mel Gibson), displaying all the signs of full blown depression, overlaid with a voiceover telling us exactly that. This guy is at rock bottom, he’s sleepwalking through life, and dragging his family down with him. The voiceover is Mel, channeling a strange mixture of Ray Winstone and Michael Caine. Turns out this voice belongs to the titular Beaver, a puppet that Walter finds in a bin, and promptly begins to use as a tool to communicate with the world around him. It’s a bizarre plot device, and it could have fallen flat on its face, if the puppet wasn’t so damn CHARMING. Whatever has happened in his personal life, Mr. Gibson is still a bloody movie star. It’s heartbreaking watching the absence of light in his eyes, while the puppet jokes and cuddles and reconnects with his family.Jodie Foster plays Walter’s wife, and is, as ever, pretty fantastic. His youngest son manages to stay just the right side of annoying (I am not a huge fan of cute kids in films. I blame Jonathan Lipnicki from Jerry Maguire) and I thought the effect of his fathers condition on him was well portrayed. This isn’t just a film about one mans breakdown, it’s about the effect this has on those around him. It’s essentially a film about depression/dysfunction and the way it can be passed down through generations; Mel’s eldest son desperately wants to shed his associations with his father, to avoid meeting the same fate.

It’s an independent movie staple to try to depict mental illness through the prism of an audience friendly story, and The Beaver hits all of the beats you would expect. The soundtrack is pure whimsy and the puppet serves as a comical device which helps to make rather a tragic tale a little more bearable. In the end, I found it a little too fluffy to truly connect with, and I suspect the memory of it won’t linger with me for long. The fluff does ease as it moves along, but I didn’t ever feel moved or like I was watching something truly genuine. One thing is does prove though, for me at least, no matter what disgusting things he says/does in his personal life, Mel Gibson is a movie star. Though one we won’t get to see shining much anymore. Do I care? Not really, there are other actors out there with the same skills who don’t set my teeth on edge so much, but damn, this man owns the screen. If only he’d just keep his mouth shut (and his fists to himself) when he’s off it.