Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)

Released: February 18, 2005. Directed by: Wayne Wang. Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Dave Matthews. Runtime: 1hr 46 min.

One of my childhood favourites, Because of Winn-Dixie depicts the positive effect a dog can have on one’s life. In particular, it’s about India Opal (AnnaSophia Robb), a 10-year-old girl who meets a smiling, stray Picardy Shepherd in her local supermarket – the Winn-Dixie.

She names the dog Winn-Dixie in the heat of the moment – claiming the dog to be hers to save him from the pound.

Opal just moved to a small-town Naomi, Florida – a town so small, the main Church is in a convenience store. She’s struggling to fit in and also struggling to communicate with her preacher father, simply called Preacher (Jeff Daniels), who has been depressed since his wife left him when Opal was three years old.

With her trusty pooch Winn-Dixie, they meet a cast of eccentric characters across town where together, they bring joy back to Naomi.

I think the film works best because of its charm. The plot isn’t the most original, it’s basically Opal going around to the town’s characters, trying to make friends and learning lessons. It’s kind-of like a throwback to the fantasy genre of going from an amusing encounter to the next, without all the fantasy.

Winn-Dixie

Winn-Dixie and AnnaSophia Robb in Because of Winn-Dixie (Source)

The film’s frame is the aspect of the narrative of Opal coping with her mom leaving. Even after seven years, we’re catching up with her at a time where she thinks of her mom a lot because she’s so lonely. It enables poignant exchanges between Opal and the preacher – which are often heartwarming or heartbreaking, and sometimes simultaneous. The sentiment is always in the right spot, regardless.

The character also calls for AnnaSophia Robb to have a lot of maturity as a performer in her first film role on the big screen (before this she was on an episode of Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh and the titular role in TV movie Samantha: An American Girl Holiday). Robb is completely up to the task, where she’s moving when she has to be, naturally funny and she has a good narration, to boot.

Antagonists include Mr. Alfred (B.J. Hooper), the trailer park owner of where Opal is living, who doesn’t allow pets and wants Winn-Dixie gone. He also doesn’t allow kids, but made an exception because Preacher is the… well, the preacher. I guess they couldn’t think of a better name for him.

But since it’s a family flick, there’s not much conflict – besides just coping with life. There’s also not much conflict because everyone opens up to Winn-Dixie. How can you resist that dog’s smile?

But since it’s a relatively weak-plotted family flick, there’s not a lot of conflict and everyone eventually opens up to Winn-Dixie, because how could you resist that smile?

The characters that author Kate DiCamillo created are well-sculpted, and that’s what really sets the film apart. From Dave Matthews’ singing pet shop caretaker Otis, to Eve Marie Saint’s librarian Miss Franny and Cicely Thomson’s Gloria Dump, they all have entertaining stories and are portrayed well by a talented cast.

Winn-Dixie is just a funny and enjoyable family film, notable as AnnaSophia Robb’s first film and for its emotional range, even though many of the lessons in the film are literary in scope. They just don’t feel like something that would happen naturally in real life.

This is particularly notable with the ‘littmus lozenge’ plotline and the story about its creator – a Civil War soldier who came home to his entire family dead, and made the flavour of his candy kind-of like his life: sweet and sad.

When Opal goes around giving her friends this candy, it’s cheesy but sweet. It makes people think of their sadness, like the amusing reaction of Elle Fanning’s Sweetie Pie Thomas, where she spits the lozenge out and says, “That tastes bad. That tastes like not having a dog.”

It enables moments that got a few tears out of me because a good, emotional screenplay – and it helps characters make a bit more sense.

It’s a creative, occasionally feel-good family film, especially after getting past any melodrama it might have. Most importantly: The film entertains.

3 outta 4

 

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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

Dumb & Dumber (1994)

Released: December 16, 1994. Directed by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly. Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly. Runtime: 1 hr., 46 min.

The cult favourite Dumb & Dumber put the Farrelly brothers on the map. It was also part of Jim Carrey’s first breakout year of a trio of films that made sparked his great career, along with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask.

For me, it is definitely the definitive road trip film. It’s a buddy comedy about two complete idiots, Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) who travel cross-country to Aspen, Colorado, in pursuit of one of Harry’s limousine passengers, Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly).

She purposely left her briefcase at the airport as ransom payment for her kidnapped husband. It was meant for thugs – Joe Mentalino (Mike Starr) and J.P. Shay (Karen Duffy). When Christmas grabs the briefcase, the goons mistake him for a “professional” or an FBI agent and not just a love-struck buffoon.

Both Lloyd and Harry have lost their jobs. Harry was a pet groomer who recently spent his life savings turning his car into a sheepdog. With no jobs or reason to stay in Rhode Island, Lloyd coerces Harry into a road trip to Aspen to deliver the briefcase to Swanson, who Larry later thinks is named Samsonite – the brand name on the briefcase.

The thugs learn of their intentions and pursue them, but not before they take decapitate Harry’s pet parakeet, Petey. Both Larry and Harry think his head falling off is from old age. The two idiots need some cash for the road after Lloyd was robbed. Lloyd hilariously sells miscellaneous items, including Petey, to a blind adolescent named Billy, who lives in their apartment building.

Billy misconstrues the bird as simply quiet, and it becomes a bit of a sensation on the news and one of the film’s funniest moments. The clever humour about two guys being stupid as they can be won’t be for everyone.

Surely, their sheer stupidity can become frustrating, but it’s the joke. If you like two guys getting in a lot of misunderstandings, you are sure to laugh. If you are one of those people who are continuously frustrated by that one incredibly stupid character on every sitcom, avoid this. The two protagonists are that type of character and their daftness is the ongoing gag.

The plot isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it’s good enough for a simplistic road trip buddy comedy. And for the film’s tone and the protagonists, it fits very well. It’s funny when just about everyone they meet overestimate them.

Thugs think they must be special agents – and never for a second do people consider them just being the idiots they are. Even Mary mistakes Harry’s stupidity as intentional humour. She also thinks that their orange and sky-blue tuxedos are an ironic joke.

There are plot inconsistencies. Why does Lloyd pack mittens and think there are Rockies when at first he thinks Aspen is in California and calls it a warm climate?

But their misadventures along the way make it largely worth it. I, for one, was hooked by the first gag. Limousine driver Lloyd crawls back to the passenger seat of his limo to hit on a beautiful woman. He asks her if she is from Jersey and she says she is from Austria. He then tries to impress her with an Australian accent, which just perfectly captures his stupidity early on.

Score8/10

Looper (2012)

Looper

Release Date: September 28, 2012

Director: Rian Johnson

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt

Runtime: 118 min

Tagline: Face your future. Fight your past.

Johnson brings us action, and science fiction, moviegoers one heck of a unique ride.

It is the year 2042, where time travel hasn’t been invented quite yet. Thirty years in the future, though, it has been – and criminals send back people they no longer want to deal with. They send them back illegally to a group called ‘Loopers’, where a Looper awaits the victim with a gun. Joe is one of the best Looper’s there is, despite his drug problem. One day, Joe’s future victim turns out to be his future self. In turn, it puts both Joe’s on the run from their once trusted group.

Looper offers a fairly unique experience, and a lot of great action sequences. The character development is pretty awesome, too. It’s a fairly awesome story that can drag on in areas, but is still quite enjoyable.

There isn’t a lot of material that has been done before. This time travel story is fresh and unique. There are a lot of moral dilemmas thrown into the screenplay, so that makes for really good character development.  Jeff Daniels’ character of Abe was sort of awesome; he had the whole nice-crime-boss-who-could-be-ruthless-when-he-wanted-to-be bravado going on. Some of the subplots are a little tired and not explored quite enough.

The performances from the cast are really good, and the whole thing is easily enjoyable and entertaining. Bruce Willis definitely brings his great badass-ness to the feature. Looper brings together elements of great action, science fiction because of the time travel concept, thrilling moments, and there are even a few laughs to be offered.

Even some of the supporting actors did well, like Paul Dano as Seth, Noah Segan as Kid Blue and Pierce Gagnon as the cute child, Cid. The numerous antagonists tended to make some parts of the screenplay a little crowded. It is a film that has a cool concept and it executed itself quite well. That’s admirable because a lot of films have cool concepts, but wasted the opportunity – like Clockstoppers, for example.

Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (with some really cool makeup on to make him look like a younger Willis), Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Qing Xu and Garret Dillahunt.

Looper offers quite an action experience that should be cherished because of its unique entertainment value, along with a memorable story and characters. It is one of the finest action films of the year thus far, and the only other great action film so far this year that is nearly as good as this is The Dark Knight Rises. Looper may beflawed because of its crowded areas, numerous antagonists and sometimes lack of non-stop carnage.  It really can be quite easy to follow despite one scene, but I was back on track in a hurry. I thought that was impressive because it seems like a concept that could easily confuse if it got much too complex. The concept is intelligent, and it doesn’t aspire to be any smarter than it has the right to be. Its action sequences are extremely memorable, and don’t drag on too long. It’s a flawed film, that nonetheless offers one of the most entertaining action experiences of the year.

88/100