Saturday, November 15, 2014

Movie Review: ‘Dumb and Dumber To’

*** 1/2 out of 5
110 minutes
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, partial nudity, language and some drug references
Universal Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ on Blogcritics.

Back in their heyday, the Farrelly brothers,Peter and Bobby, were household names when it came to raunchy comedy. Filling their movies with down-on-their-luck characters surrounded by wacky weirdos, they were on a huge winning streak. From their smash debut Dumb & Dumber to the cult favorite Kingpin to their biggest hit, There’s Something About Mary, the trio of hits were inarguable successes. Even Shallow Hal and Stuck on You have a sweetness to make the sick jokes go down easy.

Dumb and Dumber To, Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Kathleen Turner, Rob RiggleConsidering they made a second Jim Carrey vehicle was no surprise and Me, Myself & Irene showed their relationship with the plastic-faced funnyman worked. However, not everyone can keep pumping out the hits. Eventually came the underrated Fever Pitch, but then all they had in them were  a remake of The Heartbreak Kid, Hall Pass, and their worst film to date: The Three Stooges. Thankfully, the Farrelly brothers have gone back to the drawing board and delivered Dumb and Dumber To — their first sequel — but does it live up to the 20-year-in-the-making hype? Mostly.

Two decades have passed and we catch up with Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Carrey) as dumb and lovable as ever. Harry has been visiting Lloyd in a psychiatric hospital all these years with Lloyd in a coma-like state after Mary turned out to be married at the end of the first film. Turns out, it was all a big gag. Harry takes Lloyd home to their old apartment where Harry has taken in a roommate to pay Lloyd’s half of the rent. Here, Harry spills the beans that he’s in need of a kidney transplant so they visit his parents. Only to find out he’s adopted.

But wouldn’t you know it, Harry finds a 22-year-old postcard from his old flame Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner) saying that she’s pregnant. Sadly, Fraida gave her daughter up, but Penny (Rachel Melvin) was adopted by the wealthy Dr. Pinchelow (Steve Tom). Our bumbling heroes try to visit Penny, but she has already taken off to a Ken Conference in El Paso, Texas. Now, Harry and Lloyd are on another cross-country trip to deliver a package for the doctor with his groundskeeper Travis (Rob Riggle) in tow, who has a nefarious plan with Pinchelow’s wife Adele (Laurie Holden) to kill them and steal the package claimed to be worth billions.

If Dumb and Dumber To has one thing going for it, it’s seeing Carrey and Daniels on screen together again. The two have a manic glee that’s infectious and, if you’re a fan of the first film, you should find a lot to love here. Is it a perfect movie? Of course not. Is it about what you’d expect from a Dumb sequel, even if 20 years late? Absolutely. Rob Riggle is just about the only other person in the cast who drums up laughs — and we get a twofer out of him with him playing Travis’ twin brother Captain Lippincott. Everyone else pretty much gets to play it straight, which is no surprise because we came to see the Harry and Lloyd show anyway.

There are plenty of nods to the first film — with an extended bit involving the blind, wheelchair-bound Billy (Brady Bluhm) who now has a rare bird collection in his apartment. This is definitely not one of those dreaded sequels that simply remakes the original. I wish the cameos listed on IMDB had made it into the finished film, but I won’t spoil them here as there’s bound to be an unrated Blu-ray edition. Which brings up the amount of lowbrow humor. The Farrelly brothers have never shied away from making audiences uncomfortable, but also for making you feel guilty you laughed at something, and this is no different.

Dumb and Dumber To feeds your inner child with huge doses of hilarious wordplay and childish antics. With Daniels and Carrey back in the lead, we can finally put that horrendous prequel behind us. This is as good of sequel we’re likely to get, and fans will be pleased. I should feel bad for admitting it, but as a Dumb man once said, “I like it a lot.”

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Blu-ray Review: ‘The Vanishing’ (1988) - The Criterion Collection

Movie: **** out of 5
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: *** 1/2
Extras: ***

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘The Vanishing’ (1988) - The Criterion Collection on Blogcritics.

Not all horror movies rely on blood and guts. While those may be what’s most associated with the genre, remember there’s also films like The Silence of the Lambs, Jaws, The Shining, The Changeling (with George C. Scott, not Angelina Jolie), even Poltergeist and The Blair Witch Project were more interested in messing with your head than throwing another dead body on the barbie. Which brings us to the latest horror offering from The Criterion Collection: The Vanishing (Spoorloos).

The Vanishing, George Sluizer, Raymond-Pierre Donnadieu, Johanna ter Steege, Gene Bervoets, The Criterion CollectionDirector George Sluizer snuck under the radar with his creepfest back in 1988, five years before he proved lightning couldn’t strike twice with his own awful American remake. Sometimes it’s the unknown and implied that’s far more effective than a man in a mask wielding a big knife, especially when the villain could be your average next door neighbor who loves his wife and kids. As they say: “It’s always the quiet ones.”

Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege) are on vacation and seem to have an underlying disquiet to their relationship. When their car runs out of gas in the middle of a tunnel, Rex leaves her in the dark to go back and get gas. Saskia is terrified that he would leave her alone in such distress, but on the road to the next service station, they warm back up to each other. At said station, Saskia goes missing with absolutely no signs left behind. Rex goes on a three year crusade to find his missing girlfriend, which is when we are introduced to her abductor Raymond (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) who starts sending Rex anonymous letters, taunting him with the whereabouts to his beloved Saskia, leading him on a most dangerous journey.

As with all Criterion Blu-rays, the 4K scan of this now 26-year-old low budget French production looks amazing. Framed in its original Encoded onto a 50GB disc with few special features and only one audio track, The Vanishing is given plenty of room to breathe. Colors pop without bleeding and skin tones are natural, if a little on the pale side. Detail is ever present, whether it’s actor closeups, costumes, or building facades, and foliage never appear as green globs, which definitely helps considering there’s so much. Grain is ever present but never gives way to noise in even the darkest scenes; any amount of crush is clearly intentional. As for the audio, the single French/Dutch LPCM Mono track keeps the dialogue intelligible, without any annoying hissing or pops. English subtitles are of course included.

The Vanishing, George Sluizer, Raymond-Pierre Donnadieu, Johanna ter Steege, Gene Bervoets, The Criterion CollectionThe special features are on the scant side, but are worth a look. Brand new interviews with George Sluizer (19 minutes) and Johanna ter Steege (14 minutes), reminiscing about the casting, adapting, and filming of The Vanishing. Sluizer still is weary of Stanley Kubrick declaring it scarier than The Shining, but Sluizer is definitely as proud of his original film as he should be. Also included is the theatrical trailer and a leaflet featuring an essay by Variety writer Scott Foundas.

What makes The Vanishing work as well as it does is it’s leanness. There’s never any scenes that feel like exposition or unnecessary. Taken as a whole, this is one tight production. Even the finale moves along at a fast quip, taking us to places we would rather not go. If you don’t know how this ends yet, brace yourself. Back in 1988, The Vanishing wound up being a pretty big art house hit and now Criterion has provided a phenomenal upgrade from their original DVD. If you’re in the mood for something on the creepy side, or if you prefer your horror bloodless, then The Vanishing makes for the perfect purchase. Especially with such a fantastic video upgrade. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: Disney’s ‘Big Hero 6’

**** out of 5
102 minutes
Rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements
Walt Disney Animation Studios

Article first published as Movie Review: Disney’s ‘Big Hero 6’ on Blogcritics.

It was only a matter of time before we finally got a big screen computer-animated superhero movie. And is it even slightly surprising that Disney was the first out of the gate? The biggest surprise may come to unknowing audience members who don’t know that Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel comicbook. I’m sure they had a feeling it was based on some kind of comicbook, but Marvel’s name was never mentioned in any of the promotional material until recently. It’s a good thing they started association with the Marvel brand, because Big Hero 6 fits right in their wheelhouse. Full of heart and action-packed, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams have crafted one of the best animated features of the year.

Big Hero 6, Disney, Marvel, Stan Lee, T.J. Miller, Scott Adsit, Baymax, Jamie Chung, Ryan Potter, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph

In Big Hero 6, we’re introduced to the young,  brilliant Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter), living in the futuristic San Fransokyo, with a penchant for robot fighting. His older brother Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney) wishes he’d use his brain for a higher power, so one night he takes him to his “nerd school” (aka university) and introduces him to his friends: GoGo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), and Fred (T.J. Miller). While there, he also gets a look at Tadashi’s personal healthcare robot named Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit) and Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) who is immediately impressed with Hiro’s microbots.

Tadashi convinces Hiro to enter a science convention showing off his microbots – telephathically controlled with a neural-cranial transmitter – to gain him admittance to Callaghan’s school. Here, a fire breaks out and Tadashi is killed in an explosion trying to save Callaghan. Hiro is sent into a bout of depression and becomes anti-social until one day he accidentally activates Baymax who informs him that his sole nanobot is trying to go somewhere. The two are lead to an abandoned warehouse where they are attacked by his own creation, controlled by a man in a kabuki mask. With the local authorities failing to believe his story, Hiro decides to upgrade Baymax into an armored karate-enhanced super machine, and together with Tadashi’s schoolmates, ban together to find the masked villain and save the city.

Whatever Big Hero 6 lacks in the originality department – it is afterall, yet another superhero origin story (hilariously pointed out by Fred every time a new plot point comes to light) – it more than makes up for in its own unique take on the subject. The hybrid city of San Fransokyo alone is a brilliant meshing of east/west cultures. The voice cast are having a ball and the action looks spectacular, especially in 3D. Screenwriters Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, and Jordan Roberts have taken a few liberties with Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle’s original material, but there’s no denying the amount of fun in Big Hero 6.

While it may not be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it has all the same amount of adventure they can get away with at a PG rating. This is almost Marvel-lite, but is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. Big Hero 6 is one of the last animated films of the year – the only remaining offering is DreamWorks’ Penguins of Madagascar – but isn’t quite the best. I’d still give that title to both The LEGO Movie and The Boxtrolls. But if you’re looking for something more family-friendly in your action films – something you never see these days – Big Hero 6 delivers in spades.
Also be sure to be on time so you don’t miss the fantastic short Feast and stay through the credits for a hilarious cameo.

Photos courtesy Walt Disney Animation Studios

Friday, November 7, 2014

Movie Review: ‘Interstellar’

 ***** out of 5
169 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Interstellar’ on Blogcritics.

Well all right, all right, all right. Just when uber-director Christopher Nolan seemed like he had nowhere left to go, he just goes up. And in Interstellar, literally. With his Dark Knight trilogy laid to rest, it’s time for him to set his sights on continuing with original work, and Interstellar is no small step. While featuring a few cast members from previous endeavors, he’s now joined forces with Matthew McConaughey to take us to the stars and back.
Interstellar, Christopher Nolan, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, Wes Bentley,Bill IrwinIn a not-so-distant future, Earth has it in for us. Smothering the planet with dust, humankind is nearing the end of its reign. Cooper (McConaughey) is a good-old-boy farmer, living with  his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) and two kids, Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy). Tom is destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, but Murph shows signs of rebellion, getting into fights after bringing in old school books contradicting the corrected  versions which include details such as the Apollo missions having never happened.

One day, Murph makes a discovery leading her and Cooper on to coordinates in the secret mountainside location of NASA. Everyone thought it shut down to keep running without the public from throwing a fit over wasted tax dollars. Here, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) talks Cooper into leading a mission to find humankind a new home, along with Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi), and a robot named TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin).

As if his films weren’t already full of the “wow factor,” Nolan still shows no signs of slowing down. Interstellar is packed with breathtaking imagery, exhilarating intensity, and heartbreaking storytelling. This is definitely his most intimate film yet. Along with his brother Jonathan, the Brothers Nolan make no bones about their inspiration with plenty of homages to previous space ventures like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact, while still keeping the film’s vision unique. From wormholes to a whole new galaxy, there’s plenty of space exploration to keep the most hardened sci-fi buff happy.

The cast brings enough emotional weight to make the plight bigger than simply trying to find a new home for the human race. McConaughey in particular crushes your heart as he watches transmissions from home and sees his family grow up, while nearly no time passes on the  mission. Hathaway keeps the thought-provoking monologues from feeling overbearing and never false. Jessica Chastain even gets to shine as the grown up version of Murph trying to solve her own personal riddle back on Earth to figure out a way to get her dad back home.

There’s even a nice twist, but you’d be a bonafide a-hole to give it away. Let’s just say there’s a reason it wasn’t screened for the public. Seriously, this whole review is basically hyperbole because the film speaks for itself, even with the gargantuan 169 minute runtime. Just make sure you check your bladders at the door. Ultimately, you’re not going to want to miss one minute. Interstellar is another notch in Christopher Nolan’s résumé of never-ending cinematic accomplishments and one of the best films of the year.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures