Dumb And Dumber To ***

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My how time flies. Feels like I just saw “Dumb And Dumber” in theatres for the first time last week. But no that was on a cold winter night in 1994. Now comes the sequel which reunites Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey as Harry Dunne and Lloyd Christmas. Yes they are back and dumber than ever. The nostalgia factor here for me is incredibly high. I’ve seen the first movie probably more times than anyone should. It is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen in theatres. So how on earth could a sequel made twenty years later recapture that magic? The answer is that it is impossible. Best they can do is get close.

“Dumb And Dumber To” gets pretty close. It is a hilarious and worthy follow-up to the orginal fim. Harry and Lloyd look a little older but are certainly not any wiser. Lloyd has spent the twenty years since the original flick in the nut house, seemingly frozen in time over the fact that he didn’t win the heart of Mary in the original movie. Harry visits every week until Lloyd snaps out of it yelling “Gotcha!”. Turns out it was a two decade long gag on Harry.

This time the boys embark on a road trip to find Harry’s long lost daughter so he can beg her for one of her kidneys. Stupid and hilarious hijinks ensue.

Peter and Bobby Farrelly return to direct the sequel and also show that they have not matured much over the years. They aren’t afraid to give us jokes involving masterbating old ladies or grown men changing each other’s diapers. This movie is like a throw back to another time. It is very 1990′s in termsr of it’s humor and I fully appreciated that.

So did I laugh? You betcha! Is it as classic as the original? Nope, but I loved it anyway. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take twenty years to get a third film! I like it a lot!.

Big Hero 6 ***1/2

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“Big Hero 6″ is a fun and exciting animated adventure. It is a Disney production adapted from a Marvel comic book. That mix results in one of the best family films of the year. It has been a rough year for CGI animation in my opinion so this movie could not have come at a better time.

The story follows the special bond that develops between Baymax, a plus-sized inflatable robot, and prodigy Hiro Hamada. When a devastating event befalls the city of San Fransokyo and catapults Hiro into the midst of danger, he turns to Baymax and his close friends adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. Determined to uncover the mystery, Hiro transforms his friends into a band of high-tech heroes called “Big Hero 6.”

The devastating events are caused by the emergence of a super villain who can control thousands of tiny robots called nanobots which can take the form of almost anything. The action sequences that result are wildy inventive and could probably only be created in an animated film. This film comes from the creative teams that brought us “Wreck-It Ralph”, another genre bending animated film with lots of wild action scenes.

Disney is on a role right now. “Tangled”, “Wreck-It Ralph” and the phenominal success of last year’s “Frozen” have put them back on the cinematic map in a major way. “Big Hero 6″ continues that success with what I think is the best film out of those listed titles. It is a fun and exciting cinematic achievement. One cannot exclude the contribution from Marvel as well who is also on a tear of their own.

Nightcrawler ****

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Who would of thought a film about freelance journalists who spend their nights gathering gruesome video for newstations could result in such a tense thriller. These guys are the basis for “Nightcrawler” starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhall plays Louis Bloom, a seriously unhinged thief who stumbles upon this lucrative business almost by accident. Louis is a sociopathic loner who spends his nights stealing copper and selling them to construction sites. We get our first glimpse of his focused personality when he applies for a job at the site he just sold stolen goods to. He recites his qualities in an oddly intense fashion before being told that they can’t hire a thief.

One night Louis happens upon a brutal car crash. This is where he first sees a freelance camera man shootings video up close. This gives him the idea to get his own camera and chase down accidents and crimes on his own so he can film them send sell them to a local news station. When his footage of the aftermath of a car jacking is seen by Nina, a news director, she buys it and asks for more. She is drawn to how close to the gore he got and wants to use the footage to shock and absorb the viewers.

Eventually Louis gets too good at his job. He is able to arrive upon scenes long before the police can. At one point he arrives at a car accident and moves the corpse a ways to get a more appealing shot. When he shows up at a reported home invasion he manages to capture footage of the the asailants as they are exiting the house. Louis then enters and films the dead bodies left in the house. At this point it becomes a legal and moral decision by the news station as to whether or not they can show the footage. When they do, the police show up at Louis house to question him.

“Nightcrawler” was written and directed by Dan Gilroy. Gilroy has mostly been a writer until now. On the basis of this film he is a hell of a director. He shoots everything in a style that reminded me of great thrillers like “Thief” and “Drive”. He develops his own visual style that shows the city of Los Angeles, where the film takes place, in a way that feels gritty yet dream like. This film begs to be seen on the big screen.

The final act of the film alone is a masterpiece. After Louis is able to manipulate a situation he manages to have the police catch up to the home invasion suspects in a public restaurant. The results are shocking and violence. The lead up is suspenseful. Brian De Palma would of been proud. The resulting car chase is fresh and thrilling. I can’t wait to see this director’s follow up movie.

As Bloom, Gyllenhaal brings to life a character who masks his dark insanity with the face of an eager professional hunger to make a name for himself. It is a challenging role that Gyllenhaal takes on effortlessly. I wonder if he had a hard time shutting this character down when it was time go to home.

Rene Russo plays Nina, the station agent that Louis sells to exclusively. Nina is just as ruthless as Louis. Louis eventually blackmails her in to a sexual relationship which Nina almost admires due to his shocking proposal. Bill Paxton also shows up as another Nightcrawler who has been in the business for years. He adds a veteran presence and ads a different dimension that only Paxton can deliver.

“Nightcrawler” is an incredible film. Like I said, it needs to be seen on the big screen. It is shot as a big thriller. It is tense, exciting, dramatic and original.

John Wick ***

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“John Wick” follows “The Equalizer” as an old school, R rated action that really delivers. Although not as efficient or emotionally involving as “The Equalizer” it is just as effective in terms of delivering some great slam bang violence and action sequences.

Keanu Reeves stars as John Wick, a former hit man who has retired. He left the business when he fell in love with his wife who has just passed away from cancer. Before she died she bought a puppy for John to help him grieve. When local gangsters show up to steal his car, they beat him down and kill the dog. This sets Wick off looking for vengeance against this crew and their whole organization.

Wick comes out of retirement and engages in a series of brutal fights and shoot outs as he guns for the mafias top guys who all know and fear him. There isn’t really much more to the story than that.

The director is Chad Stahelski who shoots all of this close up with a lot of style and flair. He doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the violence. I found myself wishing he had directed the most recent “Expendables” movie. He also places the story in a sort of fantasy world where the law doesn’t exist and everyone operates on some very bizarre rules and codes.

This movie kind of came out of no where. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Maybe it could of benefited from a little more story but honestly I’m not really sure where it could of been fit in. Reeves is at his best. In fact this is his best movie in years.

Fury **

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“Fury” is an amazing movie from a technical stand point. There are a few tank battles that are truly harrowing and spellbinding. The cinematography, locations and visual effects are all fairly astonishing. I just wish that all of this supporting characters and a story that were so dull.

Brad Pitt stars as Don “Wardaddy” Collier. He is in command of a tank and it’s crew which consists of characters played by Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Logan Lerman and Jon Bernthal. All of these characters are assigned one dimension each. There is the solemn preacher, the cocky bully, the brutal leader, the inexperienced private and a Mexican character who simpy provides comedic relief. We don’t truly get to know anyone on a personal level so when their lives are in peril we really are not that invested. Eventually some of them change and grow suddenly and sometimes jarringly.

That is not to say that this movie is poorly acted. Everyone does there best. There are some scenes that really stood out such as when Pitt forces the new private, quite literally, to murder a prisoner of war. Then there is the disturbing moment where the crew liberate a small German town then proceed to debase themselves and some times rape the inhabitants.

My issue here is that none of these scenes added up to much. These characters are all clichés, which is not too bad except that they are done so poorly.

The real reason to see this movie is for the technical aspects. The tank battles, although few and far between, are well staged using real props and special effects. There might of been CGI but I couldn’t tell at all. There are some point of view shots here that are mind blowing, especially when the we see a tank fire from the inside. My only complaint is that there are only a few brief conflicts. The final battle takes place after their tank has broken down. They defend themselves from within, basically mowing down German soldiers as they confusingly keep running at their vehicle.

Now once again I find myself at odds with almost everyone on this film. It has a very high score on Rotten Tomatoes and word of mouth is quite good. I may watch it again some day but not too soon.

The Judge ***

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“The Judge” is a wonderful film about a family that has simply come apart through years of tragic moments. It also gives Robert Downey Jr. a break from the Marvel Universe to really sink his teeth in to a more dramatic role. Director David Dobkin, known more for movies like broader comedies like “Wedding Crashers” and “Fred Claus” shows here that he can really handle some difficult drama. I was surprised by how much this movie affected me after it was over.

Downey Jr. stars as Hank Palmer, a lawyer with questionable ethics who suddenly needs to fly to his home town to attend his mother’s funeral. This forces him to be with his brothers and father, all of whom he has not seen in years after some family drama we learn about later. His father is Joseph Palmer, the local town Judge. The first moment they see each other on screen is so cold I think I felt a shiver go down my spine. Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong are his brothers, who he receives a little more warmth from.

Soon after the funeral Hank’s father is arrested for vehicular homicide. Guess who is going to step up and represent him in court? Of course his son Hank. This is a movie after all. One of the movie’s short comings is that it is rather clichéd. The heart of the story involves the family as they slowly begin to accept one another again. There is never a true reconciliation which might not be possible considering the events that drove them apart, but they do make a serious attempt.

Movies like this really depend on the performances by the actors. Robert Downey Jr. plays a character that we don’t really like nor do we really hate. He is very good here. His father is played by Robert Duvall, who gives his best performance in years as a man who is absolutely firm in his believes and has a very difficult time forgiving anybody.

Vera Farmiga also stars as Samantha, Hank’s high school sweet heart who still desires him. She knows full well he is leaving town in a matter of days but doesn’t mind getting a little action. There is a minor drama including her daughter who may or may not be Hank’s daughter.

“The Judge” really touched me. I couldn’t really care less about the court room plot. I was more interested in this family and how they started to heal old wounds that were so big that they were still felt years later.

St. Vincent ***

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“St. Vincent” is one of those comedies about people who exist on the fringe of society. Bill Murray stars as Vincent, an aging low life who smokes, curses, gambles and sleeps with prostitutes. He reminded me a bit of Willy in “Bad Santa”. Vincent does have a few soft spots he keeps hidden but Murray is more or less never shows his cards. Melissa McCarthy also stars as a struggling single mother who lives next door who employs Vincent as a baby sitter. This is McCarthy’s best performance since “Bridesmaids”.

Movies like this really depend on the performances of the actress’ and actors. Murray is great at playing grumpy and sort of vile but he is most effective when he starts to care and when we see him tending to his wife who is in a nursing home and doesn’t remember who he is.

McCarthy has been stuck getting comedic roles that require her to be as obnoxious as possible. This is a shame because she is so much better playing real people with real intelligence. Here she plays a woman who is dealing with divorce, working too much and still trying to raise a son.

The writer and director Theodore Melfi, who I am not fully familiar with but on the basis of this movie he does have an ear for authentic dialogue. He also gives the actors the proper screen time to really develop their characters. The film does sort of contain some sentimental moments and a few clichés but I was able to over look that because the authentic parts were just so good.