Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

20th Century Fox

Rated PG for mischief and rude humor.

Adolescent Angst And Sibling Rivalry Escalate In Fun-Filled Sequel

Geeky Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) has resigned himself to returning to Westmore Middle School after spending most of the sixth grade getting picked-on by bullies. At least the scrawny, 98-pound weakling and his beefier best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), have buried the hatchet, even if they remain social outcasts as they start the seventh grade. Nevertheless, they’re not quite as ostracized as some of their fellow nerds, like the totally clueless Fregley (Grayson Russell) and the equally odd Chirag Gupta (Karan Brar).

At the beginning of the fall semester, Greg, who reached puberty over vacation, develops a crush on a cute classmate, Holly Hills (Peyton List). Unfortunately, the object of his affection, barely notices her awkward admirer, a sign that Greg could be in for another, very long school year.

Meanwhile, the lovesick lad is just as miserable at home, between being tormented mercilessly by his older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), and being tattled on by his younger one, Manny (Connor Fielding). Compounding the problem is their meddling mother’s (Rachael Harris) futile attempt to discourage sibling rivalry by rewarding her sons with “Mom Bucks” for spending time with each other.

“Now, Rodrick can get paid for beating me up!” an exasperated Greg complains about the big brother he says is “The King of Laziness, except when it comes to torturing me.” Is it any wonder, then, that when their misguided mom’s pressure to bond backfires, Greg retreats to his bedroom to fantasize about being adopted by a billionaire couple?

Such frustrations ought to sound familiar to fans of the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid franchise, for this rib-tickling sequel reestablishes the original’s premise. And it also trades in the same sort of teasing, slapstick and bodily-function humor most likely to resonate with the ‘tweener demographic.

Directed by David Bowers (Astro Boy), the movie is based on the second installment of the best-selling series of children’s novels written and illustrated by cartoonist Jeff Kinney. To his credit, Bowers managed to reassemble the principal cast, most notably, Zachary Gordon and Devon Bostick, as the ever-antagonistic siblings at the heart of the tale.

This go-round, Rodrick enjoys center stage, literally and figuratively, as the drummer of a heavy metal, garage band called Loded Diper. The group is gearing up to compete for the $1,000 grand prize in their hometown of Plainview’s Most Talented contest.

However, when Rod throws a wild party in the house while his parents are out of town, the proverbial fly lands in the ointment after Greg inadvertently lets the cat out of the bag upon their return. Rodrick blames his brother when he’s subsequently grounded, and the tension builds as the day of the concert approaches.

Will Rod be granted an 11th hour reprieve and be permitted to perform or will he remain angry at Greg forever after? Far be it from this critic to spoil a cliffhanger beyond a reminder that this flick is rated PG. Let’s just say, that wimps still rule in this upside-down universe where it’s cool to be square!

Excellent (3.5 stars).

Running time: 90 Minutes

Black Swan

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Rated R for profanity, graphic sexuality, and drug use and disturbing violent images.

Portman’s Oscar-Winning Performance Arriving On DVD

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a dancer with a leading New York City ballet troupe preparing a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Although previously just a member of the chorus, Nina’s recently learned from her director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), that he’d like to feature her as the face of the company during the upcoming season.

She’s getting a shot because he’s decided it’s time to replace his aging prima ballerina, Beth (Winona Ryder). So, Nina is among the handful of promising aspirants invited to audition for the split role of the White/Black Swan.

She proceeds to perform flawlessly as the former, effortlessly exhibiting the innocence called upon to play that part. But Thomas has reservations about casting Nina when she fails to display the requisite sensuality expected of the character’s seductive alter ego post-metamorphosis.

Therefore, to test whether or not Nina has the mettle to capture the carnality of the Black Swan, he pressures her sexually on ballet’s equivalent of the casting couch. Instead of filing harassment charges, shocked Nina opts to internalize the angst generated by the violation. After all, she senses that if she fails to accommodate his advances, there are others just waiting to jump at the opportunity, especially her primary rival, Lily (Mila Kunis).

Nina’s already fragile psyche is further compromised by the omnipresence of her overbearing stage-mom (Barbara Hershey), who can’t help but live vicariously through her daughter, employing reminders about “the career I gave up to have you” to motivate by guilt. As if all of the above weren’t enough, when Nina is announced as Beth’s replacement, the recently-demoted diva asks, “What did you do to get the role?” insinuating that she must have slept her way to the top.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), Black Swan is a harrowing psychological thriller, which paints a surreal portrait of the chilling consequences of compromising one’s values in the quest for success. For the closer our heroine gets to the realization of her lifelong dream, the more we bear witness to the gradual disintegration of a tormented soul swallowed whole by blind ambition.

Beyond the freaky front story, the film features an abundance of breathtaking dance sequences, thanks to a splendid combination of costuming, sound, lighting and choreography, as executed by a score of professionals courtesy of the Pennsylvania Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. But make no mistake, the best reason to recommend Black Swan is for the performance of cynosure Natalie Portman who earned an Academy Award for her spellbinding portrayal of the troubled diva at the center of this intriguing mindbender.

Excellent (4 stars).

Running time: 108 Minutes.

DVD Extras: Trailers and a featurette entitled “Black Swan Metamorphosis.”

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules: Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

For movies opening April 1, 2011

Hop (PG for mild rude humor). Mixed live-action/animated adventure about a teenager (Russell Brand) who runs away to Hollywood to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a drummer rather than replace his retiring father (Hugh Laurie) as the Easter Bunny. However, the rebellious rabbit comes to reassess his options while being nursed back to health by the slacker (James Marsden), who accidentally hit him with an automobile. Voice cast includes Chelsea Handler, Elizabeth Perkins and David Hasselhoff.

Insidious (PG-13 for violence, terror, mature themes, frightening images and brief profanity). Horror flick about a couple (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) desperate to prevent evil spirits from inhabiting the body of their son (Ty Simpkins), who can’t be roused from a coma after hitting his head. With Barbara Hershey, Angus Sampson and Andrew Astor.

Source Code (PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and profanity). Sci-fi thriller about a highly-decorated soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) who discovers that he’s on a mission to find the terrorist bomber of a Chicago commuter train when he suddenly wakes up in someone else’s body. Cast includes Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright and Michelle Monaghan.

Cat Run (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and graphic violence). Paz Vega stars in the title role of this action comedy as a call girl who enlists the assistance of a couple of bumbling private eyes (Alphonso McAuley and Scott Mechlowicz), while on the run from a ruthless assassin (Janet McTeer) after overhearing an incriminating secret about a crooked politician (Christopher McDonald). Cast includes D.L. Hughley, Bill Perkins and Karel Roden.

Circo (Unrated). Dysfunctional family documentary about the diminishing returns of a mom-and-pop traveling circus that has been crisscrossing the Mexican countryside since the 19th Century. (In Spanish with subtitles)

The Elephant In The Room (Unrated). Suburbia meets the jungle expose’, examining the increasing popularity of raising exotic, deadly and dangerous animals as pets.

Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (Unrated). Biggest loser biopic about Joe Cross, a morbidly-obese Aussie who shed over a hundred pounds and cured himself of a host of health issues in the U.S. in just 60 days by adopting a fruit and vegetable juice regimen.

The Last Godfather (PG-13 for brief sexuality). Mafia comedy about a mob boss (Harvey Keitel) whose mentally challenged heir apparent (Hyung-rae-Shim) unwittingly ignites a turf war with a rival gang. With Jason Mewes, Blake Clark and Jon Polito.

Queen To Play (Unrated). Corsican comedy about a middle-aged chambermaid (Sandrine Bonnaire) who prevails upon a reclusive American expatriate (Kevin Kline) to teach her how to play chess. Supporting cast includes Jennifer Beals, Alice Pol and Didier Ferrari. (In French and English with subtitles.)

Rubber (R for violence and profanity). Horror comedy about a tire that comes to life and starts slaughtering people after discovering its telekinetic powers. With David Bowie, Wings Hauser and Ethan Cohn.

Super (Unrated). Action comedy about an Average Joe (Rainn Wilson) who transforms himself into a wrench-wielding, crime-fighting superhero after his wife (Liv Tyler) comes under the influence of a smooth-talking drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). With Ellen Page, Rob Zombie and Michael Rooker.

Trust (R for profanity, sexuality, violence, rape and disturbing images). Revenge thriller starring Clive Owen and Catherine Keener as the parents of a 14-year-old girl (Liana Liberato) seduced over the Internet by a middle-aged, sexual predator (Chris Henry Coffey) posing as a boy her own age. With Viola Davis, Noah Emmerich and Garrett Ryan.

Two Gates Of Sleep (Unrated). Visually-captivating mood piece, set in Mississippi, about two brothers (Brady Corbet and David Call) who embark on an arduous journey upriver into the wilderness in order to honor their recently-deceased mother’s (Karen Young) last request.

Wretches And Jabberers (Unrated). Tolerance is the theme of this enlightening documentary, chronicling two autistic friends’ (Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher) cross-country mission to change the prevailing public opinion about their affliction.

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