Dumb and Dumber To (PG-13)

6 Stars

Does it need to be outstanding?

If so, maybe save the sequel for a future rental.

My mother was kind enough to attend the theater with me, and we mostly enjoyed Dumb and Dumber To. It’s good.

Definitely not ‘great,’ but still good.

If you’ve seen the trailer, some jokes are spoiled. Yet another reason to wait and rent.

The scatological humor is never strong.

Quite a bit is distasteful.

Which may be due (partly) to the rating. Gotta dial down the cursing and ratchet up the scat to nab a PG-13.

I guess?

Consider the following list:

Top Five Comedies of 2014
1. 22 Jump Street (R)
2. Neighbors (R)
3. Let’s Be Cops (R)
4. The Skeleton Twins (R)
5. Dumb And Dumber To (PG-13)

One might argue it’s generous not to swap it out with Chef (rated R).

This review’s only going to frustrate fans, and I feel bad for Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey who do an outstanding job returning as Harry and Lloyd.

But the Farrelly brothers were never strong filmmakers.

The original D&D is the only great entry in their entire filmography. Everything else ranges from bad to meh.

The common theme is revulsion. There’s Something About Mary, Osmosis Jones and Me, Myself & Irene all initially trigger memories of disgust.

Now, looking back on the long-awaited sequel, it’s difficult to separate the gross from the chuckles.

This is not to discredit the banana peel antics – that stuff’s hysterical.

Anything involving a zamboni (especially when combined with tree limbs) – hilarious.

Shoving people into bushes, and pointing and laughing – gets me every time.

The double-point-and-laugh is classic.

The callbacks are mostly solid; some hit home better than others.

Reused snippets from the original score resonate strongly.

Favorite bit parts, like ‘Billy in 4C’ and Seabass, make cameos.

But, again. Was it funniest to increase the morbidity factor with the blind kid? The joke’s edgy enough in the first movie.

And why…

Why, why, WHY…

…do we need close-up shots of the cat’s anus?

During post-production, how many adults watched as feathers are rocketed from a cat’s asshole, and agreed it’s an essential cutaway?

Perhaps the viewers hadn’t realized from the mutilated bird corpses what’s just taken place.

I’m not trying to hate on this movie, but that’s only one of three revolting moments. I’ll spare you the rest.

To finish on a high note, a few words on the acting.

Jim Carrey is incredibly funny. His delivery is spot on.

Watching Lloyd’s facial expressions is enough to keep the viewer in stitches.

Jeff Daniels is just as chucklesome as Harry Dunne.

He’s a terrific actor.

Rachel Melvin is an excellent addition to the cast of ‘dummies.’ It’s not easy to play stupid in a convincing or funny manner, and she pulls it off with finesse.

Jennifer Lawrence is somewhere in this movie as Young Fraida. Which is odd.

If it’s her making out with Lloyd, what a strange cameo…another scene must have gotten cut out. Or something.


Be sure to stay through the credits for the following stinger. The images accompanying the rolling are enjoyable as well.

Dumb and Dumber To is not a disappointment.

But it’s nothing to write home about.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (PG-13)

9 Stars

Wouldn’t it be best to change the team name to X-Humans?

I’m kidding, of course.

Want to know what isn’t hysterical?

A ‘loose canon.’

The exact origin of the nautical phrase is uncertain. It’s presumably sailor jargon for a canon breaking free of the rigging keeping it stationary. Imagine one hundred pounds of cast iron rolling about a storm beaten ship deck.

The phrase is overused. But one can understand this reviewer’s hesitation, when associating the live-action depiction of Wolverine with a loose canon.

Ever since Cyclops’s cinematic demise, the clawed crusader’s gone a little soft.

Jackman’s Wolverine is much less of an antihero. He’s more compassionate, no longer a recluse. And wouldn’t you know it – he stars in this film, too.

Despite the saccharine portrayal, I’ll take plenty more sequels with Hugh at the helm, because Days of Future Past is excellent.

What sets the X-Men apart from other comic creations is time travel, success through crafty teamwork and mutant segregation. This movie tackles the entire thematic trio with vigor.

First some notes on the acting, directing and writing. Then the fighting. And finally, a gloriously thought-provoking takeaway.

Before any of that, a warning to spoiler-sensitive readers. Cease your literary digestion and devour DOFP before it vacates the big screen.

James Marsden is excellent as Cyclops in X-Men (2000), and fourteen years later proves he’s still got it.

By the by, after all this talk of ‘getting the gang back together,’ it’s a bit underwhelming with only one scene featuring Cyclops, Rogue or Jean Grey.

All’s forgiven, because DOFP’s greatest achievement is the creation of a ‘narrative reset.’ The denouement (the falling action after the climax) indicates the button’s been depressed, removing any narrative restrictions set by the previous films.

There are too many characters to mention but for hints toward each player’s prominence, check the theatrical poster (not pictured). The relative size of the character’s image to screen time ratio looks exactly to scale.

Ellen Page returns for a particularly great performance as Kitty Pryde. Her only previous appearance is from The Last Stand back in 2006, making her unique amongst the supporting players.

Another reliable favorite from the earlier films, Shawn Ashmore, delivers as Iceman. He’s easy to love and fights quite a bit, too.

Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as Mystique and doesn’t disappoint. The blue beauty engages in some serious hand-to-hand combat, and it’s consistently thrilling.

She’s an enormous talent. My sister groans every time the young actress’s name is uttered. However, if pressed, even my sister will agree J-Law’s a dynamite thespian.

Perhaps she doesn’t usurp her last performance in American Hustle. But Mystique is one of the more difficult roles. She must remain on the villainous side of morality while conveying a pitiable sense of decency.

There’s a nod to Rebecca Romijn in the movie, as well as a reference I can’t quite figure out. In Shanghai Noon, Owen Wilson quotes James Brown in saying, “I don’t know karate, but I do know ka-razy.”

So when Wolverine says it, I assume it’s a nod to Shanghai Noon. Perhaps others disagree?

Michael Fassbender plays young Magneto, and delivers a fitting performance as one of our best actors working today.

A major personal criticism of earlier X-Men films is the underwhelming action. There are always fight scenes, but oftentimes they’re brief and never elaborate enough. For example, consider the action involving Banshee in First Class, the most recent film from 2011.

To be clearer, consider the two major fights involving Beast. In First Class, Nicholas Hoult doesn’t throw a single punch on-screen during the final brawl on the Cuban beach. Whether or not Hoult lands a blow, his battlefield presence pales in comparison to Kelsey Grammer’s ferocity at Alcatraz in The Last Stand.

DOFP opens with a spectacular fight sequence. Really, it’s one of the best superhero battles ever. But it’s brief, and trumps all other physical conflicts (in terms of quality) occurring later on.

The sentinels are superbly rendered, and the teamwork dynamic is explored throughout various altercations between mutants and robots. Sending Colossus falling through warp holes (in order to achieve maximum velocity) is genius.

My sole request from the X-Men franchise remains the same: A further exploration of collaborative battle tactics. Engage the audience with higher stakes, alternative bits of terrain, contrasting settings, differing elevations, complex character pairings, elaborate face-offs; more tense and intricate ‘continuous action’ sequences that last for minutes, rather than seconds.

Good examples of what I refer to are found in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (but without the teamwork dynamic.)

What’s absent is ultimately inconsequential. I want a final fight scene, one in which the X-Men collaborate to triumph over the ultimate villain. One in which they don’t all die.

I never receive my bejeweled battle, but in retrospect, am pleased with the filmmakers’ decision. Everybody loves a superhero movie that doesn’t fit the mold.

Besides, I’ll trade anything for the narrative reset.

When Magneto informs Charles (James McAvoy) of a misunderstanding (pertaining to J.F.K.’s assassination) a hearty stroke of laughter pierces the canopy of suspended disbelief.

Apparently a fellow moviegoer buys into the whole story leading up, but JFK being assassinated for his mutation is just too silly to remain silent.

That, my friends, is a person looking for a place to laugh.

‘Because everybody’s thinking it, right?’

No, you scoundrel!

Moving right along; Beast’s serum is tough to swallow, but other than the lackluster fighting and Professor X’s whining, here’s my final criticism.

Magneto’s mutation allows him to manipulate metal. This doesn’t include an ability to remotely control or reprogram computerized machinery. Therefore, the process by which he gains their support would be much more complicated than simply imbuing the sentinels with metallic cables.

That’s a major inconsistency, and like the serum, I’m sure it’s necessary to tie up loose narrative threads. For my tastes, it’s not quite tidy enough.

By the way, superhero movies are constantly berated for being male-oriented entertainment.

In DOFP there is one scene involving nudity, and it’s Wolverine from behind.

I’m not complaining.

When the political correctors start to cry out for a more ‘accepting’ team moniker, I’ll remind them of this previous gender imbalance.

How’s that for conclusive?

Breathtaking, isn’t it?

American Hustle (R)

10 Stars

Yes, for God’s sake, I’m aware of the similarities to GoodFellas.

It’s a strange human trait, but if an individual in a group professes love for American Hustle, there’s always that one dude – The guy who believes he’s most ‘in the know.’

Regardless of any real opinions, he’ll say, “Yeah, I thought it was pretty good. But it draws too much from Scorsese’s early work; namely GoodFellas.”

If you hear this in a professional business environment, at home, in the church confessional booth or what have you; I urge you seek out this monster, and silence their blowharding with a crescent kick.

Because David O. Russell’s most recent effort is a spectacular film.

I don’t think I can oversell this character study, with its ten Oscar nominations and three wins at the Golden Globes.

One is for ‘Best Comedy or Musical.’ Here’s a diabolical scheme waiting to hatch: Remake The Producers (again) and secure a nomination for this award. No matter what the competition, it’d have to win by default, no?

Amy Adams took home a Globe for Best Actress and Jennifer Lawrence nabbed the gilded sphere for Supporting Lady.

As it pertains to performance in film, those were three of the most deserved awards distributed for the previous year.

I walked into the theater with my nose held high in the air. The movie looked overwrought with cliché, but I had seen the trailer several dozen times.

Plus, I was only familiar with one David O. Russell film by then; Silver Linings Playbook. For further reading on my historic disappointment in SLP check out my review.

(I caught The Fighter a month later; solidifying my certainty in Davey Russ’s directing ability.)

If you haven’t seen American Hustle, it’s #2 on my ‘Best Films of 2013’ list, so go into it with reasonable expectations and you should be swept away.

What else can be said? It’s a great movie that’s sure to delight.

So if you haven’t seen it and you’re sensitive to potential spoilers, stop reading now.

There is plenty of material up for discussion surrounding this film. For now, I’ll focus on several plot aspects I found noteworthy, and then talk a little smack about Jared Leto, before wrapping things up.

Jeremy Renner, who deftly performs a tense unfolding of his character’s arc, plays what is potentially the most compelling role, Mayor Carmine Polito.

The opening title card before Fargo, the Coen brothers’ film, is a comedic take on a common trend in modern movies. The appearance of the words, “Based on a true story,” is a complete red herring. Fargo’s entirely fictional!

David O. throws his hat in the ring with another satirical take on the opening title card. At the beginning of Hustle the words read: “Some of this actually happened.”

The message triggers a hearty laugh, and it’s a great reveal (especially being unacquainted with the story’s connection to reality.)

As I mention in my review of Elysium, the ‘parable’ is a prolific plot device often utilized in a clumsy fashion. Therefore, it often comes off as cliché or contrived. Neill Blomkamp avoids this by having the protagonist interrupt another character’s allegorical narrative with a summary of the conclusion. (To astounding effect, I might add.)

O. Russell’s version of the parable is a fishing story that Louis C. K.’s character (Stoddard Thorsen) tries to tell Bradley Cooper (as FBI agent Richie DiMaso) throughout the film. It’s uproariously comedic, eloquent and dynamic.

While it serves to reveal subtle character traits, it’s also a brilliant and original take on an ancient plot device.

Turns out I like my Cooper like I like my women: Unhinged and antagonistic.

That’s a dumb joke but the sentiment towards BC retains credence. On top of his roles in Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, Brad’s shown impressive villain chops, and we should all appreciate him a little more next holiday season.

Cooper, and by the same token Michael Fassbender (for 12 Years a Slave), were snubbed for the Best Supporting Actor Award.

But not to worry, because Matthew McConaughey, a handsome straight Caucasian depicting a character of similar description, will be winning an award, so they’ve reached their limit on that demographic.

I’m reminded of an award season several years ago, when Milk was getting a lot of press. Okay, yes, Sean Penn depicts a convincing portrait of a gay man. But the movie’s boring! (And, side note, Harvey Milk wasn’t the greatest guy in real life.)

Jared Leto (whom I don’t mean to criticize, unless we’re talking about acceptance speeches) did a fine job of depicting a transsexual. But I found his character enormously off-putting, and as much I appreciate the effort that went into the performance, Leto just doesn’t do it for me.

But that’s DBC, not the hustling Americans.

Ready for a strong opinion?

All of the cast’s main players are wildly prolific in modern cinema, and judging by their performances in previous films, are among the most talented actors working today.

Every single performance I’ve seen by Christian Bale, J-Law, Coop-A-Loop, Amy Adams, J. Renner and Louis C.K., has been spot-on, nuanced and (for all intents and purposes) near perfect.

If that doesn’t tell you anything about this film, nothing will.

Go out and catch American Hustle before it loses its crispy freshness!

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (PG-13)

10 Stars

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a great sequel.

It’s incredibly rare that a second installment can be considered ‘good,’ let alone ‘great.’

A great sequel contributes a furthering and expansion of the narrative, evolving on the previous film’s themes and ideas, while maintaining suspense, thrills and compelling character interactions throughout.

I catch a lot of flack for finding The Hunger Games underwhelming.

The chariot promenade through the poorly animated stadium is painfully striking in contrast to the rest of the film, and ironically the scene in which she sets fire to her dress knocks down the whole movie a couple pegs.

Overall, I enjoy THG the First, but Catching Fire is a significantly better film.

The first suffers primarily from poor CGI. Catching Fire never once does.

This deserves the full five stars. I should have given it 4.5 since it’s PG-13, but I stand by my 5. The stakes are high and this is solid, thoughtful filmmaking. It’s as good as a PG-13 movie can be.

Obviously it’s helpful that the author, Suzanne Collins, wrote the awesome character names and brilliant plot beforehand. But it’s translated to the screen in a masterful fashion.

Catching Fire is easily worth your time. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading, I might spoil something below.

This sequel’s also the perfect example of what a stellar cast looks like.

Admittedly, Elizabeth Banks has been a favorite since Zach and Miri Make a Porno (one of the most underrated comedies of all time.) In the first Hunger Games one doesn’t think twice of Effie Trinket. Frankly I found her irritating.

Who’d have thought she’d make such a huge turnaround? She totally catches me by surprise midway through, and gets the tears flowing. Betty Banks plays such intriguing roles and is hands down one of the best actresses working today.

J-Law (as Katniss Everdeen) can do no wrong.

Even her little sister, Primrose Everdeen (played by Willow Shields) is a strong small character.

And The Tooch! Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman is, if anything, even more perfect than he was in the first film.

This is just a well-made movie on all quarters.

People complain about Lenny Kravitz as Cinna (Katniss’s wardrobe designer) but I can’t see why. I think he delivers just fine.

Complaints arise when Woody Harrelson’s role as Haymitch Abernathy comes up in conversation. But why? Woody Harrelson’s a great actor who, as this character, doesn’t irk me in the slightest! He even gets the emotional juices flowing when he makes a turn and you can tell he’s grown fond of Katniss.

How about Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee? It’s a sheer delight to watch the character developmental of the ‘game maker.’ What a great character!

Another one of my favorite players is the fetching Jena Malone as Johanna Mason. You love to hate her from the beginning, and the scene where she strips in the elevator is fantastic. The subtle misdirecting of the audience is executed with precision.

In much the same way, Sam Claflin is excellent as Finnick.

If you insist on squeezing a criticism from me, I’ll give you my strongest half-hearted slight on the plot. Don’t get all up in arms, but I think Katniss’s treatment of her love interests is not ideal. She’s our hero, years are passing, and she’s stringing two men along who’ve only been loyal and honest with her.

But she’s a complex hero with tough decisions to make so disregard that last point.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an excellent sequel that delivers more than its fair share of compelling narrative.

I can’t wait for installment number three.

Silver Linings Playbook (R)

4 Stars

Everybody apparently loves this movie.

I do not.

It’s alright. Not okay, not good, not even close to great.

SLP is alright.

And I find this extremely disappointing. The plot holes, the oddly dull characters, and the plodding narrative add up to a unsatisfying movie.

It gets nominated for Best Picture, I read about how touching and spectacular it is. Yet it’s neither smart, nor enjoyable enough to be a nominee.

First of all, Bradley Cooper is terrific, and J-Law is even better…but that is where the goodness ends.

De Niro’s acting isn’t bad, but it’s by no means exceptional.

It’s a Dromantic Quirkedy (dramatic and romantic quirky comedy); not a recipe for success for this writer’s tastes.

There are quite a few moments that are written to be cringe-worthy: dark comedic scenes that ask a lot of the viewer in exchange for a half-hearted chuckle. That being said, on to a more in depth look at the film.

Now if you haven’t seen SLP, beware the spoilers, and long-winded complaints below. But if you also haven’t seen American Hustle, I’d suggest you watch that instead.

Here’s my big thing: The reference to Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is inaccurate. B. Cooper’s character talks about how he likes the part in which the characters are dancing but doesn’t like the ending.

There is zero dancing between Henry and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms. I know because I read the novel immediately after seeing the film.

Perhaps Cooper’s incorrect use of the word dancing or his false reading of the story is intentional. In fact, it better be intentional.

If we are to accept the reality we’re being shown on screen, Bradley Cooper’s character misinterprets the book, or he’s lying about reading it. Either way, this seems wildly incongruent with the rest of the film.

If it’s not that, we can only assume it’s a mistake in the screenplay, yes?

It upsets me that a movie gets nominated for Best Motion Picture with such a glaring error in the writing.

A lot of strange stuff is going on when Jennifer Lawrence’s character is introduced to Cooper’s family near the end of the film. She helps herself to a beer from the fridge, when she’s never been to his house, nor met his family. This scene seems crazed, hazy and diluted, like we’re interpreting some sort of illusion through the veil of BC’s consciousness.

During that same scene, his father’s best friend invests in a nonsensical parley with De Niro. Why would he force such a thing on an old friend? Seems astonishingly cruel. Why would the bookie just go on her word about the scoring system for the dance competition? They haven’t been introduced, yet he’s already disrespecting and adding pressure on the romantic interest of his best friend’s son? (BC was never any concern to the bookie in the first place!)

Do these people have nothing more important in their lives than to invest all of their time and energy into this semi-serious attempt to place in a professional dance competition?

Why would the ex-wife show up? If anybody in this movie were in their right mind, they’d recognize the lingering potential for problems between BC and his ex-wife. This would not be the appropriate time for him to approach her.

Another major issue is with the psychiatrist. Even if I saw my psychiatrist at a football game, I wouldn’t go bother him for more than a hello and a handshake. And I would expect the same from him.

There would be no tailgating and hanging out for the game. And he would most certainly not walk into my living room (where he is familiar with nobody) without a shirt on, and sit down on the couch. My best friends who walk into the house without knocking wouldn’t dream of sitting shirtless on the sofa. (Even if they were in the highly unlikely situation to walk in the house without one on.) This is one of the dumbest fucking scenes I have ever seen in a movie that’s supposed to be taken seriously.

Best Picture? Really?

Also, the shrink would never play the song to purposely upset Cooper. In retrospect, it’s rather cruel (and dangerous apparently, to the other people in the waiting room.) A psychiatrist doesn’t play mind games with their patient. And getting such a strong reaction, I truly doubt Bradley’s actions would be taken lightly.

I don’t appreciate the letter; it’s a misleading central plot element. It’s dissatisfying to build mystery around what’s going to be inside the envelope, when the answer is nothing. J-Law wrote it, as we expect all along.

There is some strange stuff going on with Chris Tucker’s character. The mother doesn’t acknowledge his presence in a way. She never looks at him, or engages him in a conversational manner. This recurs with Tucker’s character throughout the movie. He is never really acknowledged by another individual, except J-Law. Even then, their interaction is odd. It’s incredibly misleading. I thought Tucker was potentially an extension of BC’s personality, a figment of his character’s imagination.

But this doesn’t jive with certain portions of the plot. So all I’m left with is a confusing mess.

Finally, the ending is painfully nonsensical. The last judge is portrayed as tough beforehand. You expect a harsh rating from him. Yet, he’s the one who equalizes the score to just barely win it. If he is passionate about his job as a critical judge, he’d be consistent. He would not have much patience for such a terribly executed final move.

David O. Russell, I know you devour all of my reviews, so I’m sorry for crapping on your film.

But American Hustle is much better.