REVIEW: “Dumb and Dumber To”

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I happily admit that I’m one of those guys who thought “Dumb and Dumber”, the goofball comedy from 1994, was absolutely hysterical. The film introduced us to Harry and Lloyd, two of the most good-natured and well-meaning morons ever to appear on screen. Your appreciation for these two characters and their story hinged on your tolerance for absurd and idiotic humor. When done well I love that type of comedy and “Dumb and Dumber” did it really well.

Twenty years (and one awful unclaimed prequel) later the boys are back in “Dumb and Dumber To”. The writing and directing duo of the Farrelly brothers return and, after wading through a difficult production process, the true sequel finally hit the screens. But I have to say I had mixed feelings about bringing these characters back. As much as I adored the first film I wasn’t convinced that the Farrelly brothers could recapture that same moronic magic.

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About a third of the way through “Dumb and Dumber To” I was thinking they had recaptured that spark. The characters were twenty years older, but they felt exactly the same as when we left them. For twenty years Lloyd (Jim Carrey) has been in a mental institution as a result of his breakup with Mary Swanson. His best friend Harry (Jeff Daniels) has been faithful to visit him every week, at least until Lloyd reveals that he has been faking in order to pull the ultimate gag on his buddy. The two are reunited and Lloyd learns that Harry is sick and needs a kidney transplant. Harry finds out that years prior he had fathered a child so with Lloyd’s help he sets out to reveal himself to his daughter and possibly get her to give him a kidney as well.

Of course all of that sounds completely insane, but it starts off in perfect harmony with the stupidity of the two lead characters (and I do mean that in a very positive way). The film quickly lobs one funny gag after another, some are incredibly over-the-top, others subtle and equally funny. I was laughing a lot. Everything was clicking for me early on and I was reminded of why I loved the original movie.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Jim Carrey, Rob Riggle, Jeff Daniels, 2014. ph: Hopper

But then this film runs into a wall. The humor, which energized the first part of the movie, flatlines and my laughter all but stopped. It seemed as if the Farrelly’s ran out of good gags and were straining to fill out their running time. It loses its cleverness, its charm, and its overall likability. Carrey and Daniels still go for it, but the material devolves into a desperate and dull mess. It becomes cruder and ruder and the laughs become more and more scarce. Then there is the end which is more or less nonsense.

I had high hopes for this film, but they were laced with an understandable hesitation. Sometimes movies like the first film should just be left alone. Today’s comedies seem locked into a single, repeated formula that I normally don’t find funny or entertaining. I loved the thought of a film bringing back that idiotic humor that we haven’t seen in a while. For a bit “Dumb and Dumber To” gives us that. But sadly it never maintains it and the unfunny toilet humor and gross out gags take over. It ends up being yet another Hollywood sequel that didn’t really need to happen.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

REVIEW: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

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Occasionally I will come across a movie that despite its obvious strengths and critical acclaim never connects with me. Often times it can be traced to a bad initial reaction or maybe to specific themes or performances that I didn’t care for. But there are also occasions where a movie will leave a slight mark in the back of my mind. These are films that deserve to be wrestled with regardless of my initial misgivings. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is one of those films. After a fairly tepid first impression I was ready to dismiss the movie, but overwhelmingly positive reviews and a tinge of curiosity convinced me that this film deserved a second viewing.

Acclaimed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman wrote the screenplay which was based on a story he created along with director Michael Gondry and Pierre Bismuth. It cleverly develops itself as a romantic drama but incorporates a subtle bit of science fiction to create a cerebral and multifaceted story. Kaufman and Gondry steer clear of any traditional mode of storytelling and instead engage the audience on an intellectual and emotional level. There’s nothing conventional about “Eternal Sunshine” and at times its lack of clarity may be a little frustrating. But having a firm understanding of the periphery allows you to better understand what is going on inside at the heart of the film.

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The story starts by introducing us to a morose and withdrawn man named Joel Barish (Jim Carrey). One morning while waiting on the train for his morning commute he takes off on a whim and hops aboard another train heading out of the city. While aimlessly strolling down a Long Island beach he notices a woman named Clementine (Kate Winslet) who appears to be doing the same thing. A couple of chance meetings later and the two are on the same train heading back into the city. Eventually a relationship forms between these two lost souls, but before we get a good taste of it there is a dramatic narrative shift.

The film leaps forward in time which is the first of many transitions in Kaufman’s fractured storytelling. We find out that Clementine has visited a clinic called Lacuna, Inc. which specializes in wiping certain people or things from an individual’s mind. Clementine has had Joel erased. There is a real challenge here for the audience because neither we nor Joel know why she has done it. You have to wade through this information gap until Kaufman is ready to give you more. An angry Joel decides to enact his own form of revenge by visiting Lacuna himself and having Clementine wiped from his mind.

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Lacuna, Inc. is the brainchild of Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). His staff is made up of his peppy receptionist Mary (Kirsten Dunst), his frazzly haired chief technician Stan (Mark Ruffalo), and his technician’s assistant Patrick (Elijah Wood). Each have their own surprising role to play in this absurd but utterly fascinating procedure that Joel undergoes. They also each have their own bits to add to a lightweight but intriguing side story. From there the majority of the film takes place in Joel’s mind as he has a sudden change of heart and tries to cling to and hide away any memory of Clementine before they can be erased.

The movie snaps back and forth between the surreal world inside Joel’s brain and the real world where an assortment of things play out between the Lacuna gang and Clementine. To go any further would be a criminal injustice to those who haven’t seen the picture but suffice it to say it’s some unique and compelling stuff. Also, you can’t simplify what is going on as I did during my first viewing. Kaufman and Gondry aren’t interested in a straight-line narrative or generic over-used tropes. There is a fragmented structure that is made challenging by the playing around with with chronology and order. But there is a method to the messiness that I didn’t appreciate before.

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I also didn’t appreciate just how good of a performance that Carrey gives. Over the past couple of years the actor hasn’t help his sputtering career with some rather dopey decisions he has made. But this is a performance that shows a comedic actor embracing something different and really doing it well. Winslet is her usual rock-solid self. It’s an odd and erratic role but she never struggles with it. The supporting cast is also very good at handling what they are asked to do.

I still think “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a bit indulgent and I do think there are some moments where it doesn’t hit the emotional note that it is going for. But to say my opinion of the film has changed would be an understatement. I can honestly say that “I got it” during my second viewing and my appreciation for what the movie does is unquestioned. I still feel the need to see it again after the birth of my new feelings towards it, but this time it won’t be for the same reasons.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

5 Phenomenal Movie Doofuses

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What are the qualifications for being a phenomenal movie doofus? I mean if you think about it there are a wide variety of characters throughout cinema’s history that could be singled out for their idiocy. They appear in every genre: horror, romance, comedy, and action films. Doofuses are everywhere on the big screen. But this week I’m looking at the dumbest of the dumb. These five doofuses are the cream of the crop in terms of clueless buffoonery. But I have to be honest, sometimes these characters are the funniest and that’s why I love these five. So on this week’s Phenomenal 5 I’m giving them their due. Now with so many brainless doofuses gracing the screen, it would be ‘doofusy’ to call this a definitive list. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to call these five movie doofuses absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – AGENT HUBERT BONISSEUR DE LA BATH (“OSS 117” series)

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The OSS 117 series was initially a group of serious spy movies made in the late 50’s and early 60’s. But in 2006 director Michael Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin teamed up to create a parody of those films with OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and its sequel OSS 117: Lost in Rio. If you haven’t seen them you’re missing a comedic treat. Dujardin’s Agent OSS 117 doesn’t waste time revealing his cluelessness and ineptitude. Whether he’s stumbling over obvious clues or offending women, countries, or religions, it all spawns from his undeniable idiocy. He’s a hysterical character and Dujardin’s committed performances and impeccable comedic timing are big reasons why.

#4 – FRANK DREBIN (“Naked Gun” series)
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Leslie Nielsen was a comic genius and that was never more evident than in “The Naked Gun” series. In Frank Drebin, Nielson created one of the most idiotic yet lovable comedic characters in film. Whether he’s destroying property due to his constant clumsiness or struggling with speaking or understanding the English language, Drebin is hilarious. Nielsen was also brilliant in selling Drebin’s sincerity even in the most ludicrous of scenes. Detective Frank Drebin found his origins in a small TV series that was canceled after six episodes. But this well-meaning moron made a name for himself on the big screen and he has to be on this list.

#3- CLARK GRISWOLD (“Vacation” series)

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Can you possibly have a list of great motion picture doofuses and not include Clark Griswold of the National Lampoon’s “Vacation” films? I think not. Chevy Chase had several good movie roles but for me none are as memorable as his portrayal of the good-hearted but dimwitted family man Clark Griswold. Clark always had good intentions when it came to family vacations. But whether it was his wandering eye, his volatile temper, or his unquestionable stupidity, he always managed to foul things up. But it’s that imbecilic nature that makes Clark such an endearing character as well as one of the funniest to watch. Either in Europe, Vegas, at Christmas time or Walley World, Clark is going to flub things up. What else would you expect from such a classic doofus?

#2 – LLOYD CHRISTMAS & HARRY DUNNE (“Dumb and Dumber”)

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Look I know this is a cheat, but how can you separate Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) from Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels)? These two best friends from the Farrelley brothers insanely funny “Dumb and Dumber” are textbook doofuses. In their cross-country trek to meet the girl of Lloyd’s dreams, these two imbeciles find themselves in more and more trouble all due to their lack of sense. There’s no denying it – these guys are doofuses. I mean I can’t even look at them without laughing. For me this is a side-splitting comedy and that’s mainly due to these two big time buffoons.

#1 – INSPECTOR JACQUES CLOUSEAU (“The Pink Panther” series)

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For my money the quintessential movie doofus was Inspector Clouseau from Blake Edwards’ classic “Pink Panther” series. Peter Sellers may have been the funniest actor of all time. Just ask some of his co-stars. I grew up watching Clouseau and his lame-brained attempts at detective work and these films are still some of my all-time favorite comedies. Clouseau could make something as simple as opening a door hilarious and his harebrained deductive skills give us some priceless cinema. Clouseau’s utter stupidity astounded people and even drove his boss mad. But it also cemented him as the all time greatest movie doofus in my opinion.

So where did I go wrong? There are several others than came to mind but there is only room for five. Who would have made your list?

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – 2 STARS

GRINCHAs audacious as filmmakers can sometimes be, their finished products don’t always match their ambition. Such is the case with the normally reliable Ron Howard’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. When I first saw this film, I left the theater with a pretty gnarly opinion of it. My dislike has eased up after a recent viewing, this time in the presence of my two children. They thoroughly enjoyed the picture and watching their pleasure naturally effected my experience. But while I have a slightly more favorable opinion of the film now, it can only go so far, and I still can’t call this a good movie.

Howard certainly had his work cut out for him. First, making a feature-length film out of a 26 minute animated short was a challenge. The script makes some required additions, some that work and more that don’t, and gives its star Jim Carrey many scenes by himself to just do his thing, this time in full green Grinch attire. When first seeing him, you’ll wonder how you’ll ever take the Grinch getup seriously, but the truth is it’s a pretty amazing transformation (Rick Baker and Gail Ryan won the Oscar for Best Makeup). But his shtick grows tiresome after a while and you almost feel like you’re watching a standup routine instead of a full-length movie. The film also creates storylines involving the Whos to try to stretch things out. But honestly, other than the expansion of the ‘cute as a button’ Cindy Lou character (played nicely by current hard rocker Taylor Momsen), the Whoville storylines are flat and utterly forgettable.

The second big challenge was visually capturing this unique world created by the pen of Dr. Suess in 1957 and the classic animation of Chuck Jones in 1966. I have to say the film looks pretty incredible. The scenery and background environments are nothing short of gorgeous and certainly capture the location created in the original material. Whoville is a busy and colorful assortment of visual splendor which makes watching these Christmas loving locals go about their frantic lives a bit easier in spite of Howard’s roughshod directing. On the other hand I didn’t remember the Whos looking quite so freakish. Their protruding front teeth, wolf-like noses, and peculiar hairdos more closely resembled small woodland rodents. To be honest, they were pretty silly looking and a bit distracting.

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But for me this movie’s biggest transgression lies in its overall lack of charm that made the original short so great. Now to be fair, Howard does try to inject some feeling into the storyline. He does try to give it some heart. But these few instances of emotion are smothered by the film’s overall dependency on in-your-face slapstick and bathroom humor which sometimes makes it feel more like a dark comedy than a spirited Christmas film. The main story of the original is still intact and there are several clever nods that fans of the original will appreciate. But unfortunately it’s missing too much of the key component that made 1966 short so special – heart and soul. Carrey gives it his all, but Howard pushes too far.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” would be tough for any filmmaker to transform into a feature-length film. But here Ron Howard shows us enough to know that it can be done. But he, along with a sometimes grinding script, undermine everything they get right. Yet I still have to say that my reaction to the film now isn’t as vitriolic as it initially was. In fact, I can appreciate what the film does well a lot more especially after watching it with my children. But even with all of its aspirations and risk-taking, it still falls short of being the really fun movie that it could have been. With a little more polish and a lot more restraint this could have been a holiday treat. Instead it’s a repetitive and sometimes laborious exercise that just doesn’t pack the emotional punch that it should. That’s a shame.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – 2 STARS

GRINCHAs audacious as filmmakers can sometimes be, their finished products don’t always match their ambition. Such is the case with the normally reliable Ron Howard’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. When I first saw this film, I left the theater with a pretty gnarly opinion of it. My dislike has eased up after a recent viewing, this time in the presence of my two children. They thoroughly enjoyed the picture and watching their pleasure naturally effected my experience. But while I have a slightly more favorable opinion of the film now, it can only go so far, and I still can’t call this a good movie.

Howard certainly had his work cut out for him. First, making a feature-length film out of a 26 minute animated short was a challenge. The script makes some required additions, some that work and more that don’t, and gives its star Jim Carrey many scenes by himself to just do his thing, this time in full green Grinch attire. When first seeing him, you’ll wonder how you’ll ever take the Grinch getup seriously, but the truth is it’s a pretty amazing transformation (Rick Baker and Gail Ryan won the Oscar for Best Makeup). But his shtick grows tiresome after a while and you almost feel like you’re watching a standup routine instead of a full-length movie. The film also creates storylines involving the Whos to try to stretch things out. But honestly, other than the expansion of the ‘cute as a button’ Cindy Lou character (played nicely by current hard rocker Taylor Momsen), the Whoville storylines are flat and utterly forgettable.

The second big challenge was visually capturing this unique world created by the pen of Dr. Suess in 1957 and the classic animation of Chuck Jones in 1966. I have to say the film looks pretty incredible. The scenery and background environments are nothing short of gorgeous and certainly capture the location created in the original material. Whoville is a busy and colorful assortment of visual splendor which makes watching these Christmas loving locals go about their frantic lives a bit easier in spite of Howard’s roughshod directing. On the other hand I didn’t remember the Whos looking quite so freakish. Their protruding front teeth, wolf-like noses, and peculiar hairdos more closely resembled small woodland rodents. To be honest, they were pretty silly looking and a bit distracting.

grinch photo

But for me this movie’s biggest transgression lies in its overall lack of charm that made the original short so great. Now to be fair, Howard does try to inject some feeling into the storyline. He does try to give it some heart. But these few instances of emotion are smothered by the film’s overall dependency on in-your-face slapstick and bathroom humor which sometimes makes it feel more like a dark comedy than a spirited Christmas film. The main story of the original is still intact and there are several clever nods that fans of the original will appreciate. But unfortunately it’s missing too much of the key component that made 1966 short so special – heart and soul. Carrey gives it his all, but Howard pushes too far.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” would be tough for any filmmaker to transform into a feature-length film. But here Ron Howard shows us enough to know that it can be done. But he, along with a sometimes grinding script, undermine everything they get right. Yet I still have to say that my reaction to the film now isn’t as vitriolic as it initially was. In fact, I can appreciate what the film does well a lot more especially after watching it with my children. But even with all of its aspirations and risk-taking, it still falls short of being the really fun movie that it could have been. With a little more polish and a lot more restraint this could have been a holiday treat. Instead it’s a repetitive and sometimes laborious exercise that just doesn’t pack the emotional punch that it should. That’s a shame.

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIE HAIRCUTS (that are so bad, they’re good)

I had a tough time putting this list together. First off you have the iconic haircuts – haircuts that aren’t exactly bad but have an iconic status in cinema. But then you have those that are just so bad that they’re good – those wacky haircuts that defy common sense. But even though these are some pretty goofy hair styles, you just gotta love them. Now considering that goofy is on the scalp of the beholder, I wouldn’t go as far as to call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these five movie haircuts, which are so bad that they’re good, are phenomenal.

#5 – GARY OLDMAN – “DRACULA”

Ok, how on earth do you even begin to describe Gary Oldman’s hair in Frances Ford Coppola’s telling of “Dracula”. It’s almost like receding Princess Leia buns turned gray. Oldman has had several movies that have featured truly atrocious haircuts. But there’s something so crazy about his Dracula “do” that I had to include it on this list.

#4 – JIM CARREY – “ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE”

Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura haircut is like Ed Grimley’s on steroids. The big looping front come to a point and is completely over-the-top. But as ridiculous as it is, somehow it perfectly fits this nutty character that Carrey came up with.

#3 – JON HEDER – “NAPOLEON DYNAMITE”

“Napoloen Dynamite” is one of those movies where at least three or four different characters have hairdos that could qualify for this list. Napoleon’s stands out mainly because it hasn’t met a comb in weeks. But again, just like with Ace Ventura, the goofy haircut perfectly fits this goofy character.

#2 – NICOLAS CAGE – “RAISING ARIZONA”

One of my favorite Coen brothers movies is one of their earliest, “Raising Arizona”. Nicolas Cage’s character H.I. “Hi” McDunnough is as goofy looking as he is dumb and that’s largely due to his crazy, wild hair. I’m not 100% sure how they made it do what it does, but his hair seems to have a life of its own. In a film full of laughs, it says something when some of those great laughs revolve around this awful hairdo!

#1 – JAVIER BARDEM – “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN”

What is it with the Coen brothers and bad hair? In “No Country for Old Men”, Bardem plays one of the most memorable villains in cinema. He’s brutal, scary, and menacing and he pulls it all off with one of the most hideous haircuts I have ever seen. “No Country for Old Men” is one of my personal favorite movies and Anton Chigurh, hair included, is one of my personal favorite villains.

That’s a lot of hair! So who did I miss. Take time and let me know a wonderfully awful movie mop that would have made your list!