Movie Review: “Dumb and Dumber To”

Starring
Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Laurie Holden, Rob Riggle, Rachel Melvin, Kathleen Turner, Steve Tom
Directors
Bobby & Peter Farrelly

Sequels are rarely a good idea, but particularly when the original was released so long ago that part of the new film’s target audience wasn’t even born yet. Though there had been rumblings of a follow-up to Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s 1994 cult classic “Dumb and Dumber” for a number of years, the pieces never fell into place until now. Unfortunately, while the promise of seeing Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne together again may have sounded like a fun slice of nostalgia, it’s obvious within minutes of “Dumb and Dumber To” that, despite trying to recapture the goofball magic of the first movie, it never quite clicks.

It’s been 20 years since Lloyd (Jim Carrey) had his heart broken by Mary Swanson, and during that time, he’s been living at a mental hospital in a catatonic state… only to reveal to his friend Harry (Jeff Daniels) that it was all an elaborate prank. Harry appreciates the commitment to the gag, but he has much bigger things on his mind, like the fact that he’ll die unless he gets a new kidney. When Harry discovers that an old flame, Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner), gave up their daughter for adoption 22 years earlier, Harry and Lloyd set off to track her down in the hope that the gorgeous but dumb Penny (Rachel Melvin) is willing to donate a kidney to the biological dad she never met. Along the way, the duo gets caught up in a plot to kill Penny’s adoptive father (Steve Tom) by his duplicitous trophy wife (Laurie Holden) and groundskeeper (Rob Riggle), who are after the scientist’s large inheritance, including a mystery box that he’s entrusted to Harry and Lloyd to deliver to a TED-like science conference where Penny is accepting an award on his behalf.

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Movie Review: “Big Hero 6″

Starring
Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, T.J. Miller, Genesis Rodriguez, Damon Wayans Jr., James Cromwell
Directors
Don Hall & Chris Williams

There is a clear sea change in the quality of Disney’s animated movies once they acquired Pixar in 2006. “Bolt” was the first film produced after the merger, and it marries the sensibilities of both companies reasonably well, though still has too much of the old Disney stodginess. Over time, though, the Pixar Way shone brighter with each release, and with the 1-2-3 punch of “Tangled,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” and “Frozen,” Disney is succeeding both critically and commercially at a level that they haven’t enjoyed in a while.

With “Big Hero 6,” the Marvelization of Disney films has begun (Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment in 2009, and “Big Hero 6” made its Marvel comic debut in 1998). It is a superhero movie about science nerds, a film where no one escapes a bad situation using anything other than their brains. In fact, brute strength does not factor once in the proceedings. Peter Parker and Tony Stark would be proud. So would Walt Disney, because the movie has a ton of heart. Also, the lead character’s parents were killed 11 years before the opening scene. That’s the Disney way.

Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a bored boy genius living with his aunt and his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) in the city of San Fransokyo (you read that right). Hiro graduated high school at age 14, and spends his time taking part in illegal ‘bot fights. Tadashi, hoping to inspire Hiro to apply himself, brings Hiro to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, where Tadashi and his friends are working with cutting-edge tools to make the world a better place. Hiro wants in, and he earns his acceptance after dazzling Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) with his newest invention, mind-controlled microbots. The microbots are almost immediately lost in a fire, which takes the lives of Callaghan and Tadashi. Shortly afterward, Hiro discovers that his microbots are being manufactured in a seemingly abandoned factory, and he is nearly killed by a masked man who’s controlling them in ways that they were never intended to be used. Hiro convinces Tadashi’s fellow colleagues to team up and use their super smarts to unmask the man who stole Hiro’s tech.

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Movie Review: “Interstellar”

Starring
Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, John Lithgow
Director
Christopher Nolan

A coworker of mine is hoping that he can convince his wife to take their two girls to see “Big Hero 6” while he ducks into another theater to see Christopher Nolan’s new film “Interstellar.” Here’s the irony: the moral of “Interstellar” is that he should see “Big Hero 6” with his kids instead.

This is both an impossibly dense movie, and a deceptively simple one. The quantum physics talk and the hypotheses regarding time and space turn out to be a bit of a red herring. The true essence of “Interstellar” is about love, and Anne Hathaway’s character sums it up perfectly: time can contract and expand, but it can’t go backwards. In a nutshell, Nolan spent $165 million and 169 minutes telling us to seize the day with our loved ones. That’s a great message, and he pulls a number of incredible technical achievements in the process, but with “Interstellar,” Nolan has fallen into a trap that has caught many before him: the pitfalls of autonomy.

Set in an undefined but presumably not-too-distant future, Earth is suffering another Dust Bowl period, crops are dying, and there is reason to believe that the children will be the last generation Earth will ever know. Former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) has taken up farming to help the cause, but a series of strange events leads Cooper and his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) to an off-the-grid NASA facility, where a team is preparing to investigate a series of planets in a far-off galaxy, courtesy of a wormhole, to see if life is sustainable. They need a reliable pilot, though, and they ask Cooper if he will join them. Cooper is understandably conflicted, since there is no guarantee that he will return, but he ultimately decides that the salvation of the human race is the nobler goal, and he joins Amelia Brand (Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Romilly (David Gyasi) on a boom-or-bust mission to find another Earth.

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Movie Review: “Nightcrawler”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Director
Dan Gilory

Though it isn’t your typical Halloween movie by any stretch of the imagination, Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” might just be the most frightening film of the year – not in the scares it delivers (because there are none), but rather the chilling peek that it provides behind the curtain of a completely different kind of horror: local TV news. This isn’t the first time that subject has been satirized before in cinema (perhaps most notably in Sidney Lumet’s 1977 Oscar-winning film “Network”), but “Nightcrawler” tells its debauched tale of immorality in the newsroom through the eyes of a Rupert Pupkin-esque antihero more frightening than any masked killer. The cinematic influences are boundless in Gilroy’s directorial debut, but that hasn’t stopped him from producing a truly exceptional thriller highlighted by a wickedly entrancing, career-best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal.

The actor stars as Louis Bloom, a petty thief who’s willing to put in the hard work and make a career for himself if someone will just give him a chance. As luck would have it, Louis finds his calling when he passes by a fatal car accident one night and notices the freelance cameramen filming it in all its bloody glory. These guys are like the storm chasers of the TV news world – driving around at night waiting for tragedy to strike so that they can catch the mayhem on camera and sell the footage to whichever news station is willing to pay the most. After trading some stolen loot to a pawn shop in exchange for a camcorder and police scanner, Louis hits the ground running, and before long, he sells his first video to Channel 6 news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a kindred spirit of sorts who favors ratings over ethics. Louis has no shame in the barbaric manner in which he captures these moments (to him, it’s just part of the job), and that makes him very unpredictable, because once he gets a taste of success, he’ll do whatever it takes to get the best shot, even if that means crossing lines that aren’t meant to be crossed.

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Movie Review: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Starring
Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan
Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu was part of the Mexican Invasion that took Hollywood by storm in the early naughts alongside such visionaries like Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón. But after his little-seen 2010 drama “Biutiful,” he went on an unexpected sabbatical that left many wondering if he’d ever return. Iñarritu spent the last four years licking his wounds over the mixed reception of that film (as well as globe-trotting Oscar bait “Babel”), but he’s officially back with what’s arguably his best movie to date: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” a daring piece of filmmaking that’s as refreshingly original as it is wildly ambitious. The movie doesn’t always work – in fact, it’s sometimes as messy as the characters that inhabit it – but it’s also the type of magical cinematic experience that, just like fellow countryman Cuarón’s “Gravity,” you can only gaze in childlike wonder as it unfolds before you.

Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor best known for playing a superhero called Birdman in a series of successful Hollywood blockbusters. Desperate to revive his career and earn a little credibility in the process, Riggan mounts an adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” on Broadway. When one of the actors is injured in a freak accident, Riggan’s indebted co-star, Lesley (Naomi Watts), recommends her boyfriend and theater luminary Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) as a last-minute replacement. There’s no denying that Mike is a talented actor, but his unconventional methods lead to a clash of egos between him and Riggan, and with only days to go until opening night, the whole production becomes in danger of shutting down before it even begins – especially if the cynical and malicious voice in Riggan’s head (a manifestation of his Birdman alter ego) has anything to say about it.

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