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 Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Purge AnarchyReleased: July 18, 2014. Directed by: James DeMonaco. Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford. Runtime: 103 min.

After last year’s The Purge disappointed, my expectations were virtually non-existent for The Purge: Anarchy. The quick production of the sequel also contributed to my low expectations, because I appreciate a strong production value.

The film opens with three different chapters that intersect within the first 30 minutes. The first chapter is an average working mother Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo), and her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul). They represent the lower-class citizens, and they’re forced out onto the streets when a small army infiltrates their urban apartment building. Another chapter follows a police sergeant (Frank Grillo) who is out on purge night on his own accord, searching for vengeance. The third follows a middle-class couple (Liz and Shane, Kiele Sanchez and Zac Gilford respectively) whose car breaks down on the highway in downtown Los Angeles. When all of these characters intersect, a simplistic A to B plot is introduced.

 Writer/director James DeMonaco improves on the original in a lot of ways. Most notably, the high concept works better as an ultra-violent action flick, and the original’s horror aspirations just made it weaker. With a decreased amount of pop-up scares, this seems to aspire to be an action film with horror undertones – as it would be freaking scary to be out on purge night. It’s a high-concept from the mind of DeMonaco where annually each year, crimes – including murder – are completely legal for twelve hours. Of course, you can’t use weapons over Level 4 (rocket launchers would be out of the question) and you won’t legally be able to assassinate the President.

 The idea is designed to render the crime rate non-existent and to lower the unemployment rate. It’s a way for Americans to let off steam, or to “release the beast,” a right they are given by the new founding fathers of 2023. It’s also a way for the corrupt government to allow the murdering hunters to thin the herd by killing those who cannot defend themselves – the homeless and the poor. It’s also a way to control the American population, like hunters do to control the animal population.It’s also another way for Americans to be Number One in lowest unemployment rate and lowest crime rate.

 One unbelievable aspect is that people still won’t be imprisoned on non-Purge day. I don’t buy that there still won’t be money laundering or bank robberies. One thing that DeMonaco failed to take into consideration is the desperation of humans; because if they’re desperate enough, they’ll still steal or rape. Especially if they’re mentally ill, they’ll probably still kill because they could just snap. Even if they do wait until Purge day, it’s just not logical – because the justice system is what would be keeping that anger, or crazy urge to kill someone, in line.

Never-mind one’s morals or anything. There’s a bit of a more moral argument brought into this film through certain characters. One is a young woman named Cali (Zoë Soul) who is fascinated by an activist’s beliefs in the immorality of the Purge. This man, Carmelo Johns (a great Michael K. Williams), wants to fight back – because it’s legal, baby! Cali’s brief lectures to another character about the immorality of it all makes it a bit more in your face than it should have been in an average horror movie, but it adds a layer that the original was missing.

Another thing that is fascinating is the fact that some wealthy families actually purchase martyrs for Purge night. They go through sick and poor people, desperate enough to be bought out for a sum of $100k, which could help their families in great ways. It’s an intriguing little concept within the Purge mythology.

The film has good pacing and a strong third act. The characters are underdeveloped, but that’s fine with everything else going on. Since DeMonaco brings his story onto the streets of the purge night, it has much more depth and possibility of events than the first had, which was a limited home-invasion thriller with long stretches of yawn-worthy cinema. He knows where to improve and that’s great for a young filmmaker. Perhaps I enjoyed this because my expectations were non-existent, but if this is the direction the low-budget franchise is headed, it’s looking pretty good.

Score: 75 out of 100

Get on Up (2014)

Get on UpReleased: August 1, 2014. Directed by: Tate Taylor. Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd. Runtime: 139 min.

Timelines in biography films can be difficult to depict, especially when dealing with a 54-year timeline that the ambitious Tate Taylor tackles while depicting the life story of James Brown, the Godfather of soul.

Wow, though, Taylor and writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth make this unnecessarily difficult to follow. A big problem with the timeline here is that it sporadically offers one event, goes to other events, and revisits the first event in 30 minutes’ time. That’s just one frustrating and bizarre way that the film displays its narrative. There’s also very little indication of the actual point in time between 1939 and 1993, other than cues for music buffs, like when Brown’s song he’s performing was released; or important events in time, most notably the Vietnam War or when Brown performs at The Garden in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The meandering order of events finds no groove and it just feels lazily formed. Within the 149-minute run-time, it feels like it jumps around in time more than Doctor Who and Mr. Peabody combined.

This year’s Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood’s music biopic depicting the story of the Four Seasons, also suffers from awful timeline issues – as the make-up department did not do a good job of successfully aging the actors – which is a problem Get on Up doesn’t possess. The film is, of course, about James Brown. It depicts his rise to fame from extreme poverty, and his road to be among music’s most influential artists.

Themes of extreme prejudice in 1950s Georgia are displayed by James getting five to 13 years in prison simply for stealing a man’s suit. This does put him on a course where he meets future band-mate Bobby Byrd (a grounded and memorable Nelsan Ellis). Byrd is a reasonable man, which seems to be a reason bandmates can tolerate Brown for so long, because even though he has a vibrant energy on-stage, his personality is quite arrogant. He could be soured by fame, which seems to be the case with a lot of big stars. Brown shows a preference to his black audience, and I think that’s well-highlighted by how well James seems to react to a “Let’s not make music for the white devil” spiel by a young singer named Little Richard (Brandon Smith). One jarring scene depicts his preference to black people, where he performs in front of a white crowd, and then breaks the fourth wall and is then performing in front of a black crowd. The imagined sequence just doesn’t have a strong transition.

There are scenes that do conduct their job marvelously. A scene in James’s childhood depicts him finding a hanged black man in the woods. James steals the dead man’s shoes. This told me his poverty is so extreme, in order to get a new pair of shoes he had to steal them from a dead man. This was the film’s most powerful scene.

The acting is fine all around. Octavia Spencer performs well in her brief screen time, and Viola Davis is great as James’ mother, Susie Brown. Up-and-coming star Chadwick Boseman gives it his all as the iconic James Brown with an energetic performance. He embodies Brown perfectly, down to the persona and vocal patterns. At least we can all take pleasure that both Tate Taylor and Boseman capture the essence of Brown in their film. However, Boseman gets so involved in the role that he might not realize he mumbles constantly. It’s difficult to hear him clearly and often enough, only every few words per sentence are caught. That’s the way Brown talks, but it makes for a truly frustrating experience if what is being said will make ask “What did he say?” every so often. Due to that irritating aspect, wait for the DVD and just watch this with subtitles.

Score: 55/100

 

Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

Deliver Us From EvilReleased: July 2, 2014. Directed by: Scott Derrickson. Starring: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn. Runtime: 118 min.

Director Scott Derrickson brings the same eerie style to his latest film “Deliver Us From Evil” as he did with “Sinister”, even though this is the more basic of the two, without the same heart-pounding effectiveness. Early on, the scares rely heavily on creepy crawlies and scares from hyperactive animals. This choice for atmosphere doesn’t enable any ability to differentiate itself from “The Silence of the Lambs”, until it gets into the story.

The competent mystery begins in Iraq with a small army group who find a cave with odd inscriptions. This leads to 1990s New York where the real-life Sergeant Ralph Sarchie resides. A passionate detective, Sarchie is deeply affected by the abuse of children – it is established early on. The mystery starts when a seemingly insane woman Jane (Olivia Horton) throws her two-year-old baby in the lion’s den at the local zoo. Sarchie is sent on an awry journey and first-hand encounters with malicious evil, and makes him want to find out why a woman with no previous criminal record just lost her mind.

Basic horror film scares can be found in this film: creepy crawlies, strange noises from the basement, weird static, children’s laughter, and children’s toys that come to life. Latin inscriptions might make you expect a basic exorcism film and the long-run, and that’s what is delivered. Some aspects of the mystery are intriguing, particularly the repetition of lyrics from a song by The Doors (“Shut the door, the damn door”). The film, running nearly two hours, is too long for something this basic and something that delivers only a few intense sequences and a creepy atmosphere.

What does set this apart is a sensitive performance from Eric Bana; as he truly captures the essence of Sarchie, who cares deeply for others, even if he is not the best at showing it. By being so dedicated to his community, he neglects to spend time with his family (Olivia Munn isn’t notable as his wife). This is an enjoyable aspect. This is a movie that’s about how people can be affected by secondary evil, and the effects it has on them. Sarchie has been deeply impacted by this kind-of evil, but is now experiencing a whole other type of evil, a primary evil that sometimes can’t be explained. Many of these concepts are brought up by a priest named Mendova (Edgar Ramirez), a heroin addict who found God.

One good thing about this film: This is Joel McHale’s first truly enjoyable film role. He’s been playing jerks since his days of TV’s “Community” and that’s the only place it has previously been effective. This time he plays a mildly likeable character, and perhaps action or horror films might be his calling in the movies.

Score: 63/100