Dumb and Dumber To (2014)

Dumb and Dumber To, IMDbReleased: November 14, 2014. Directed by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Laurie Holden. Runtime: 1 hr., 49 min.

In 1994, ignorance was bliss for Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey). In 2014, it’s still endearing, and they maintain the same level of innocence but they are more obnoxious. They make arm fart noises and try to get the crowd to call the speaker a nerd at a sort-of TED talk. It misses, though the joke could be their harsh misjudgment of the situation.

Harry (Jeff Daniels) is still the innocent one. Daniels is able to fall back into his character, even though he seems rusty until ten minutes pass. After twenty years, that’s expected. Lloyd still puts his needs before anyone else, dead or alive. Carrey is occasionally over-the-top, but he has a blast portraying the character. The film is kept alive by the actor’s chemistry when there are periodic, unfunny lulls.

After twenty years, a Lloyd, who now looks like a hermit, is at a mental hospital. He’s upset about not getting with Mary Swanson and he has been sitting in a wheelchair with a blank stare into nothingness. It turns out, he has been joking this entire time to prank Harry.

Harry needs a kidney and thinks he needs it from a family member and not just a blood type match. When he finds a letter from old flame Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner) that states she is pregnant, he sets off to find the daughter he never knew. And meanwhile, he can hit her up for a kidney.

Lloyd is attracted to the daughter and decides to tag along. They find her in El Paso, Texas, after stopping in Maryland at her house. They meet her adoptive father and have to hand deliver an important invention that she forgot to bring. The pair get mixed up in a murder plot where they are one of the targets.

It’s formulaic, but in the spirit of the original film. I can understand that the Farrelly brothers want to emulate the intense success of the original cult pleasure, but comedy sequels have proven time and time again that it’s difficult to recreate the magic twice. The writers actually repeat five jokes from the original. They largely follow the original’s premise to a tee and it disables any room for innovation because of that.

Some repeated choices are charming – particularly the repeated song of the Apache Indian’s “Boom Shack-a-Lack”. It’s a pleasant, nostalgic moment. I do like some music decisions by the film’s composer, the band Empire of the Sun. Songs like Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” are obvious, but effective. They tie scenes together.

Harry gets a fantasy sequence which depicts what type of father he would have been to Penny. Lloyd’s fantasy sequence is just as violent as the first one – where his fantasy of being with Penny mirrors his one with Mary Swanson.

The defense of his girl’s honour is still creative. The daughter, Penny, portrayed by Rachel Melvin, is dumber than a doornail. Melvin can’t display much talent because she is give a character with very little depth. The character’s stupidity isn’t endearing – it is more often annoying.

Lloyd and Harry treat Fraida Felcher with a distinct meanness, which just isn’t in good spirits. The joke is that the beautiful young woman experienced the reverse ugly duckling and changed into one. The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden portrays a character named Adele who is married to Pinchelow. She doesn’t get any depth. She works with a sneer throughout but doesn’t get any laughs.

Rob Riggle is the main villain. He plays two characters – a handyman named Travis and then his twin brother, Captain Lippincott, a military figure who has camouflage expertise. This enables cool displays of make-up and great attention to detail.

When the film’s humour misses, it’s awkward – like a kid trying too hard to be funny. It’s frustrating when the Farrelly brothers take the joke too far, it’s like they don’t know the boundaries of utter grossness. They might be going for a shock factor but it’s unnecessary.

The humour doesn’t have that shadow of intelligence behind the stupidity like the original. Much of the jokes don’t flow as well as the original because the plot isn’t quite coherent.

The most negatively astounding thing about the film is that the entire narrative falls apart at the end within a matter of ten minutes. It’s frustrating because many plot aspects are forfeited for either convenience or for a half-assed joke. It makes the road to the end completely irreverent. It’s a creative decision that I will never be able to get behind.

Score60/100

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Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Source: IMDb

Source: IMDb

Released: June 6, 2014. Directed by: Doug Liman. Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton. Runtime: 1hr., 53 min.

When it comes to summer blockbusters, there are three kinds of anticipation. The ones that muster excitement and they satisfy; the movies that you get excited for but they bring disappointment; and the ones that you don’t have high expectations for, because high-concept science fiction so often just stays that way – a high concept with bad execution. I’m looking at you, Transcendence.

But sometimes, those high-concept movies get great execution and just blow you out of the water, because it actually is good. That’s the category Edge of Tomorrow falls under.

The story follows Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a man who tries to get out of duty by blackmailing a General (Brendan Gleeson). The General doesn’t like that, and he puts the untrained Cage into battle against an alien race called the Mimic. It’s a day much like D-Day, but this time the baddies have the edge.

When facing sure death, he is able to adopt the power of the Mimics: the ability to restart the day. He is given another shot to win an unbeatable war. To do so, he needs help from the poster girl of awesome soldiers, the Full Metal B**ch herself, Rita Vrataski. She also found herself in a similar situation when she led the victory at the Battle of Verdun. Rita will train Cage in an attempt to win the war, and create the perfect soldier out of him.

This film is a lot smarter than anyone might expect it to be. It handles the time loop effect perfectly in a mildly easy to follow narrative. It weaves in a great sense of humour into the superbly shot and ridiculously fun action sequences. The humour is helped out by Tom Cruise and a great Emily Blunt. Cruise offers a vulnerable, wide-eyed and charismatic performance.

The film’s helped out by great writing by Christopher McQuarrie and the Butterworth brothers, adapting the novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. McQuarrie’s humour is evident in the screenplay.

The films blends a great training movie with fun sequences, and aspects of Groundhog Day – notice the same the female protagonist name, Rita – to form a refreshingly original blockbuster. It’s surprisingly not a repetitive film, as it finds new and creative ways to re-shape every days – even if we’ve seen the dialogue before.

A bothersome aspect is why Cage is forced into combat, when he recruits a few million soldiers for the war as an apparent military marketer. He’s an average guy plunged into a crazy situation, and since he is only experienced in marketing, he has to be trained to win this war. It’s a funny aspect to the narrative.

Also bothersome is how run-of-the-mill the ending feels to the rest of the brilliant picture. Saving it is superb visual effects and a great chemistry from the cast. Even if the ending isn’t perfect, it’s still a film that can be enjoyed repeatedly.

Score: 85/100

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Source: IMDb

Source: IMDb

Released: August 1, 2014. Directed by: James Gunn. Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel. Runtime: 2hr., 1 min.

If a time traveller had told me that the writer of Scooby-Doo, James Gunn, would co-write and direct one 2014’s most enjoyable films, I would be hesitant to believe them.

But with co-writer Nicole Perlman, he does so with Guardians of the Galaxy. And it hits a perfect strike in every aspect. The Marvel comic book films’ humour fits this film like a glove.

Its laugh-out-loud funny consistency suits the film’s easy-going tone. The humour is clever and often literal. The simplistic story follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), subject of a manhunt after he finds a powerful orb. The orb has caught the eye of Ronan the Accuser (a strong Lee Pace), who is to deliver it to the powerful Thanos.

Ronan, a Kree who takes the beliefs of his people very seriously, has been pillaging planets motivated after his people signed a Peace treaty with the planet Xandar. Djimon Hounsou portrays one of Ronan’s henchmen. His villainous side is fun to watch.

Also on Peter’s tail is Yondu, portrayed by The Walking Dead‘s Michael Rooker, leader of the Ravagers and the man who abducted Peter 26 years ago. His deadly power allows him to control a tiny spear with varying whistles.

Even with the two crews are after him, the film doesn’t feel over-crowded with multiple antagonists. Impressively, this introductory film has great pacing. The characters fit superbly into the Marvel universe, in between the characters of the Avengers group.

I prefer this crew over them, which surprises me because I don’t usually favour these space movies. Peter Quill is a great character and an outlaw who calls himself Star Lord. He’s an average hero with cool gadgets and a great sense of humour.

Chris Pratt brings his charisma and training to the role, after losing sixty pounds to take on the role. There is a familiar character arc with Quill where he has a letter and gift from his late mother that he doesn’t open. Though, he does like music from the 1970’s and 80’s, which enables this to be my favourite soundtrack from 2014.

Gamora, Zoe Saldana, is like a living weapon who works for Ronan. She is also the adopted daughter of Thanos, and her sister, the villainous Nebula, portrayed by Karen Gillan, is badass in her own right.

Rocket Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper who only vaguely sounds like himself, is a bounty hunter driven by money. The character is given poignancy through the fact that he is the only one of his kind – half-machine, half-raccoon, the result of an illegal experiment.

Vin Diesel portrays Raccoon’s best buddy Groot. “I am Groot” is a phrase he regularly says in varying volumes and emotions, actually recording the phrase about one thousand times. Groot is among a species of walking trees who could have just come out of Middle Earth. The quiet character is surprisingly funny. Rocket is like a translator of Groot’s tones. Diesel is just as effective as he was when he voiced the titular Iron Giant back in 1999, also a character of few words.

The final piece of the group is Drax the Destroyer, a great Dave Bautista, who is driven by vengeance for his wife and daughter. Ronan killed them. Money is the group’s main drive, but Groot seems like he’s just along for the ride. Their drives make them relatable, and they work so well because they’re an unlikely cast of characters.

The make-up specialists, in special effects and in general, outdo themselves, especially with Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace and Karen Gillan. The story’s heart in such a compelling and easy-going film is just astounding. Due to the film’s great visuals, top-notch writing and its ability to surprise its audience, it just has to be seen.

Score100/100

Maleficent (2014)

Photo source: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2488531712/tt1587310?ref_=tt_ov_i

Maleficent (Source: IMDb)

Released: May 30, 2014. Directed by: Richard Stromberg. Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley. Runtime: 93 min.

In the fairy tale re-imagining sub-genre, this is the best addition yet, and it seems that first-time director Richard Stromberg learns from the mistakes of the the previous two films in the sub-genre.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” was too generic, and this has a great narrative. “Snow White and the Huntsman” was too morbidly dark tonally, but this is only dark when it has to be.

The story re-imagines Disney’s 1959 cartoon “Sleeping Beauty” from the perspective of the film’s titular protagonist, Maleficent; the original story’s villain. After experiencing the ugly greed of man, Maleficent seeks revenge on King Stefan (Sharlto Copley), and she takes her anger out on is his baby daughter, Aurora. Stefan learns that if you’re going to take a fairy’s wings, you should kill her instead. And not only because she could sue for airfare costs.

Aurora is cursed to enter a deep sleep on the sunset of her sixteenth birthday, and can only be awaken by true love’s kiss. The story is written intelligently by Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King” and 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland”). The film’s sweetness and sincerity is a pleasant surprise. The film’s human and raw cinematic storytelling is also impressive. One of the film’s most realistic aspects is a teaching that anger is a curved blade.

Great performances and characterization help add emotional depth. Angelina Jolie is deliciously evil as the titular Maleficent. She handles the cruel grace and pain of Maleficent so well in one of her strongest performances in recent memory. In one adorable scene, Jolie’s real-life daughter Vivienne, as Aurora (5 Years Old),  goes up to her and hugs her around the waist and pulls at the prosthetic horns. It’s impressive that Jolie doesn’t break character.

Elle Fanning also bring layers to the character of Aurora. Fanning captures the kindness of the character because her smile and gentleness is radiant. The loving curiosity of the character is also appealing. Fanning was cast for her physical likeness to Aurora and for her capacity as an actress; and the fact that she gets to sleep on the job is definitely a pro of the role. I learn cast members were also cast for their physical likeness to the original characters. Some unimpressive stars include Sharlto Copley as King Stefan; he captures the depression of the character, but he’s boring. Sam Riley as Diaval is also not compelling, but that could be because of the boring character. He’s a lot better as a crow, acting as Maleficent’s eye in the sky.

There are many strange creatures in the film, many of which reside in the Mores (which is kind-of cruel as I thought it was S’mores at first), the bordering forest Maleficent rules. The creatures range from weird swamp creatures with ant-eater like noses to something that looks like Groot of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It gets so strange, that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see those stone giants from “Noah.” Nonetheless, the visuals are great.

There are visuals reminiscent of other films, notably flying scenes (reminiscent of “Avatar”) and the visuals in a war scene that bring to mind “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Most of the time, the visual effects team make the visuals their own, except there are occasions where the visuals also look like “Oz the Great and Powerful” (mostly the colourful Mores creatures). It also seems that it is more difficult to differentiate style for director Robert Stromberg, because he is production designer on both “Avatar” and “Oz.”

Too creepy for my liking. (Source) http://www.awn.com/sites/default/files/styles/original/public/image/attached/1016753-bc1020ddlv1142.1104r-1200.jpg?itok=5g0b58kq

Too creepy for my liking. (Source

The three fairies that care for Aurora – Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton) and Thistlewit (Juno Temple) – get sidelined in this version of the fairy tale. Even though they do have sporadic, amusing banter, the three actresses aren’t used to their potential. They’re a funny trio with strong costume design, but their pixie selves are visually strange. This is the film’s only poor visual effect.

They’re often in human form to make sure people see them as three women raising their child in a humble cottage. The set design for that is fun. The film flows improves on exhausting and overlong runtimes of “Snow White” (2hr., 7 min.) and “Oz” (2hr., 10 min.) and ensures that this film runs at a strong pace. Surely, this breezes by at one hour and 37 minutes, a perfect run-time for this well-told fairy tale.

Score: 85/100

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

The Fault in Our StarsReleased: June 6, 2014. Directed by: Josh Boone. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff. Runtime: 125 min.

Even if you aren’t the target audience of The Fault in Our Stars, you’ll be able to enjoy it for its stunning realism, which warrants its occasional corniness. Josh Boone directs John Green’s novel with finesse, and stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort to an extraordinary chemistry. The story follows Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a girl who has had a form of leukaemia since the age of 13. She’s trying hard to cope with her sickness, even though she has depression. Her mother (Laura Dern) wants her to make new friends, and she thinks a cancer support group will be good for her. There, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a young man who lost his leg because of cancer, but he survived. He also shares her love for the unconventional. He also wants to put his mark on this world before his time is up.

The film raises themes of cherishing every moment, and making a star-crossed love infinite. One never knows how long they have on this world, but you just have to make the best of it. It raises these ideas beautifully with its main characters. Ansel Elgort is good as Augustus, someone who’s a bit strange at first as he just stares at Hazel for their first encounter. What blossoms from there is a stunning romance. I like a metaphor he uses: Putting a cigarette in his teeth, but he never lights it so death doesn’t have the power to kill him.

It’s sweet how he always wants to make Hazel happy, even when she’s trying her hardest to push him away – because she describes herself as a grenade, and when she sets off she could destroy and hurt everyone in her wake. She doesn’t want to add any casualties to the mix. Her vulnerability as a character is sweet. She likes the simple, unconventional things in life – and it brings some great humour to the film. I really cared about the character, and Woodley’s performance as her makes it even better. She’s hard of breathing, and I felt terror for her in even the most simple of moments like climbing a steep set of stairs. It makes it even more effective.

Hazel has a great adopted philosophy from her favourite novel, and much of the plot revolves around her wanting to know what happens to the main characters’ loved ones after she dies. The authour, portrayed by an effective Willem Dafoe, is someone you’ll sympathize with only maybe for a second. Josh Boone isn’t able to direct the character to anything that stands out. Laura Dern is good as Hazel’s mother, even if she’s sidelined for much of the film, as she is often called to panic whenever Hazel calls her name. Hazel’s Dad (True Blood’s Sam Trammel) is sidelined a lot more. Nat Wolff brings a lot of humour to his role as Isaac, Gus’s best friend. His character’s girlfriend is representative of a person who cannot take the death of a loved one.

Anyway, anyone who’s seen this film or read the novel (which I’ll surely seek out because of John Green’s evidently realistic writing style) will tell you it’s a sad story. You’ve just found the new “I haven’t cried this hard since…” film of the decade thus far. This is The Notebook for a new generation. It’s effectively heartbreaking and it’ll leave quite an impression on its viewers, and it’ll make you now think of Anne Frank’s attic as a romantic area. I loved every minute of this film, and just got swept in its realistic look at life and romance.

Score: 88/100

Box Office Predictions May 30-June 1: A Million Ways to Die in the West Gets a Little Maleficent

A Million Ways to Die in the WestMaleficentAs one of the two big films being released this weekend, Seth MacFarlane brings us his follow-up to 2012’s Ted, this time basing this film in 1882 Arizona. This one is called A Million Ways to Die in the West. MacFarlane has quite the fan-base because of his work in television as the creator of Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. Since he still seems most comfortable with 22-minute slots, it would be nice to see his newest film not suffer the same pacing issues found in Ted. That film was a major hit at the U.S. Box office, making $54.4 million in its opening and grossing $218.5 million domestically, and going onto a $549.3 million worldwide total. 

I can’t see his latest being as successful, perhaps because of the negative reviews. Films similar to this open at $28.4 million. This might also not go as high as Ted because it’s a Western, and those don’t appeal nearly as much as vulgar teddy bears. This will mark MacFarlane’s first live-action leading role. Westerns still can be popular, if you’re Quentin Tarantino. Django Unchained had a $30 million debut back in 2012, so let’s see if MacFarlane can register numbers around there. I think he has a chance because the cast looks great for A Million Ways. It also includes Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried, to name a few stars. Anyway, I’m going to predict this film at $33.7 million, because the marketing campaign has been strong. Then again, people might just wait until 22 Jump Street – and since that comes out in just two weeks, it could really prevent this from hitting $100 million. 

The other film coming out this weekend is Maleficent, it stars Angelina Jolie as the titular character, and the film is the tale of Sleeping Beauty told from the villain’s perspective. How awesome does that sound? I for one am excited for it. Though, negative reviews have reduced my ‘very excited’ to a firm ‘excited’. Maybe that’s because it looks like it has a similar visual style to Snow White and the Huntsman, in some ways. I think it could be great. Films similar to this open at $63.6 million. Since this had such a strong advertising campaign, I think this will open between Snow White and the Huntsman ($56 million), and Oz the Great and Powerful ($79 million). This is being released a weekend earlier than SW&H was released two summers ago, and I see it surpassing it. I’m not sure if it has $70 million potential, so I’m going to predict this mildly close at $65.3 million.

Blended (2014)

BlendedReleased: May 23, 2014. Directed by: Frank Coraci. Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Wendi McLendon-Covey. Runtime: 117 min.

Adam Sandler and co bring us a rom-com that’s heavy on the romance, light on the comedy. Six or seven good laughs throughout the feature is no impressive feat, but is okay for Sandler’s current streak, considering six laughs is around my personal combined tally for how many times I laughed during That’s My Boy, Jack and JillGrown Ups 2 and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. You could say the film is funny on occasion. Sandler portrays Jim, a family guy with no wife and three daughters. He goes on an awful blind date with Lauren (Drew Barrymore), as his first attempt at dating since his wife passed. When Lauren’s best friend Jen (Wendi McLendon-Covey) breaks off her relationship with Jim’s boss, Lauren pounces at the opportunity to take her kids to Africa. Jim does too, and the trip is conveniently a getaway just for blended families! 

Blended is pretty much Just Go With It with a twist: the characters hate each other at first, but everyone’s still just bonding on vacation in an exotic place. Writers Ivan Menchell bring so many components of Sandler’s previous films to get Blended, which is a film that just steals from stronger movies. At least Sandler knows what works to still get work. Some of the laughs that hit are amusing song choices, at least when they’re not completely obvious. Before I get onto what jokes do work, I’ll say what doesn’t make this a family-friendly movie. There are so many sex jokes and some of this is just plain gross. Some of it’s even worse than a deer pissing on Sandler’s face in Grown Ups 2. Take this for example: A giraffe’s very long tongue goes down a character’s throat, practically, when a character is going in for the kiss. This abysmal attempt at comedy is cringe-worthy.  

What work best are some cameos and bit roles. Shaquille O’Neal shows up in a not that funny cameo, because his acting is as strong as his free throwing ability. Terry Crews constantly shows up to sing a song about blended families and whatever else is on the caricature’s mind. He is funny at first, but the film gets a bit desperate to use him so many times during the film. It’s somehow amusing on a minor level throughout, even after his signature titty dance. It’s partly due to his energy, and partly due to the fact that the film gets boring and energy is welcome. I’ll keep the most amusing cameo under wraps. 

It seems to me that Sandler is trying to get laughs by channeling aspects of his comedies that have worked in the past. I counted seven occasions where characters channel aspects from his other films. I guess if it works, many people won’t notice – but those who do, it’s going to seem a bit lazy. Sandler brings slapstick humour and adult-oriented jokes that get the bigger laughs, while parents will think “As if this looked family-friendly.” Kevin Nealon portrays one half of a strange Canadian couple. He channels his character from Happy Gilmore at times. His wife is a bimbo named Ginger; a character who doesn’t get one laugh. She shimmies a lot, which makes Lauren’s eldest son Brandon horny. 

He’s a walking joke; as he resembles Frodo, he’s a masturbating fiend, and he calls his mom hot on two occasions – which might be a subconscious reason for his hostility against Jim. I detect an Oedipus complex. Lauren’s other son Tyler is a temperamental kid who might only have few lonely brain cells left, due to the amount of times his mother hits his head on walls in one week’s span. Barrymore can’t save this because she gets only about two laughs. Her chemistry with Sandler is only able to give audiences so much enjoyment because it’s gotten old. It also doesn’t help that they don’t like each other for the first half. Wendi McLendon-Covey is cast in a lame sidekick role where she can’t exhibit much talent, and Joel McHale portrays Lauren’s ex. He’s been largely unfunny in every film I’ve seen him in thus far. I think he’s funny on TV’s Community, but now that it’s been cancelled – he needs to be picking stronger roles to star in, now more than ever. His schtick seems to be asshole characters, but he’s just not funny as them. 

Bella Thorne’s character Hilary is a tomboy who only sportswear and is nicknamed Larry by her father. Can you tell he wanted a boy? She experiences an ugly duckling arc, which isn’t believable because even with that hideous curly bowl cut wig, she’s still mildly pretty. Put some extensions on her and slap on some make-up, and wow, she now has confidence because no one will mistake her for a boy or an ugly lesbian! The song choices for her transformation are obvious and just not that funny. Sandler’s middle daughter Espn (idiotically named after his favourite network ESPN) has a strange arc: She carries on conversations with her dead mom. Emma Fuhrmann’s performance helps it ring true occasionally, and it adds sincerity to the film, but it’s weird throughout. I guess there’s a big problem when the weird girl’s arc is the strongest. 

Elsewhere, there is sporadic sweetness in the film – but the film’s attempt to tackle realities of today’s day and age are forgettable, and the writers stretch it when they attempt to show that even in nature, families are blended. (A tiger and lion proceed to eat a baby hippo.) For Blended, predictable is fiercely boring and all the extraneous crap makes this run at nearly two hours. Films like these just shouldn’t be that long, unless it’s entertaining.

Score: 45/100