Jim Carrey

Review – Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

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Review – Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

This week guest columnist Luciana Rabelo has a look at Jim Carrey’s documentary Jim & Andy.

It’s difficult to know for sure if Jim Carrey truly speaks from the heart or if it is all part of a carefully put together script, but Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton certainly is an amazing surprise.

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I Love You Phillip Morris

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I Love You Phillip Morris

The events in this film are true ones — which makes it possible to enjoy the seemingly impossible misadventures of pathological con man Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) for what they are. If it were fiction, you’d roll your eyes at the ridiculous stretching you would need to do to suspend your disbelief. This may force some comparisons to Catch Me If You Can, but as the title implies, Russell’s motives are not eluding the authorities or even his own gain, but instead are for caring for those who most matter to him. He’s not greedy or a narcissist, he’s a guy who just wants to do right by his family, be it his wife and daughter or the love of his life, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). Russell’s story is simply unbelievable — and all true.

We can debate all day and night as to why Hollywood casts straight actors in gay roles (see this film’s polar opposite, Brokeback Mountain, where the struggle comes from hiding their love rather than supporting it), but for this film, Carrey and McGregor as simply the best big-name choices. No-name actors might have killed this movie, which would be a tragedy. My readers know of my appreciation of Carrey’s acting skills, particularly in the twin arenas of great falseness and true sincerity. Carrey’s natural cock of the walk attitude suits Russell’s effortless impersonations. McGregor need only set his glassine, dreamy eyes to “in love” and you believe in his feelings to his core. He’s great at the aw-shucks and he’s strong enough to match Carrey. Mann gets to show us her non-Apatow side and she too can keep up with Carrey in a scene.

Russell meets Morris in prison, after the former was imprisoned for various moneymaking schemes he devised to support his newly adopted gay lifestyle and lover (Rodrigo Santoro). Before he accepted his homosexuality, he was an aggressively normal husband to Leslie Mann, living on the down-low and existing wrapped in lies, searching for who he really is. However, once he meets Morris, he opens like a flower, giving his heart with all honesty of feeling — but his need to lie about who he is continues, keeping his love alive and happy at any cost. Some of those costs lead to more legal misadventures and cross-purposes with McGregor. Through it all he adores Morris, and they have true happiness. His facility with pretending makes for some serious hilarity. What’s most enjoyable about the movie is how funny it is, and also how very romantic and sweet. It’s heartfelt and has an ending you will not see coming so don’t Google it! Let the movie take you there.

MPAA Rating R- sexual content including strong dialogue, and language.
Release date 12/3/10
Time in minutes 100
Director Glenn Ficarra, John Fequa
Studio Roadside Attractions

Yes Man

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Happy circumstances caused me to see this without my notebook, so please forgive me my failing memory. Despite my decade of Jim Carrey love, I had not run out to see Yes Man, fearing the film was going to be another Evan Almighty, a cheapening attempt at message with no funny slapped all over a beloved funny man. The previews did not look promising — but there I was, snug at the drive-in, and ready for anything. I was happily surprised by the result, and my companions guffawed nearly as loudly as I did. Sure, some jokes (as ruined by the preview) are a little predictable or depend on the concept that saying yes to some things can be reckless more than silly (think internet pop-up ads), but the overall flow is funny with a chance of redemption.

No doubt, it was a great help that Yes Man was directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down With Love, and The Break-Up) — Reed has a touch that can smooth over any hokeyness and bring the joy out of his actors. He sprinkles throwaway gags about to spice up the main course but never lets his story get off track. Harnessing Carrey is no small feat, but Jim also seems ready to be taken into a director’s vision more and more often lately. Reed’s signature directorial style appears to be shaping up as a sort of over-real realism — never passing the line of sheer ridiculousness, but always giving us that extra sparkle that the movies are so adept at providing. The benefits of grounding comedy in reality are never-ending, and Yes Man takes advantage of most of them. Looking also at Reed’s TV credits (Upright Citizens Brigade, Mr. Show, the Weird Al Show) I appreciate him more and more every movie.

The premise is simple — social recluse and excuse-making naysayer Carrey is dragged into a Say Yes To Everything program, and mayhem ensues. Maybe his unflinching, all-or-nothing embrace of the concept is exaggerated, but the movie is not just about being a more positive person. As a life-long cynic/pessimist (I prefer the label “realist”) I coveted Carrey’s character’s bravery, commitment and endless funding for his life experiment. Yes Man starts out looking like a movie advancing the Up With People agenda, but really the movie is condemning blind adherence to any extreme philosophy or lifestyle, and also decrying selfishness. Yes Man wants us to shout, as one, “Yes, we are all individuals!” as if Brian himself were leading us — but it wants us to follow up on the fun paths life can offer without getting bogged down in literalism. This comes off like a serious theme here, but it’s handled comedically. Chance acceptance of learning some new things pays off down the line in unexpected ways, plus comedy. We’re not seeing unplumbed depths of Carrey, but that is only due to his broad and deep bag of tricks being used to make so many different kinds of movies.

Yes Man’s supporting cast is sprinkled with faces you know and names you may not — but should. John Michael Higgins steals his scenes with feckless charm; Zooey Deschanel manages to help us remember her in Elf and forget her in The Happening. Rhys Darby (you might recognize him if you watch HBO’s Flight of the Conchords) is a big bowl of ice cream of a treat as Carrey’s simpleton, big-hearted geek boss. There is no reason for that character to be as well-developed as he is except for the sheer pleasure of letting Darby run with it. Cowriter Nicholas Stoller (director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall) groks the value of a rich side character, and Reed knows very well how to use them. Enjoy.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/19/08
Time in minutes 104
Director Peyton Reed
Studio Warner Brothers

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The Number 23

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Jim Carrey has made many brave choices, as do so many comedians who parlay their comic skills into acting, and The Number 23 is one of them. I am a noisy advocate of his dramatic work, and this first time he attempting a psychological thriller is a departure from his previous excellent choices. Walter Sparrow (Carrey) seems fated to find this clumsy little self-published thriller, which touches things inside him he never dreamed existed. The idea of where this movie ends up is an interesting one, and it could have been a great one but for one minor quibble: some of the plot devices that get him there are absolutely ridiculous. For this I blame Joel Schumacher. Nutty twisty thrillers like Seven or The Silence of the Lambs often require the audience to make insane leaps of logic and suspend their disbelief higher than a musical adaptation of Harry Potter. The trick is making you forget the machinations that brought you that incredibly unlikely conclusion (and then you forgive). The Number 23 drops all kinds of whizzbangers into the story line, all of which could have been forgiven if they weren’t so blatantly swept under the rug, like someone hiding their garbage behind a potted plant when you come to visit.

So, the number 23 has some cosmic significance, or else it’s one of those things that when you look for it you find, but in reality is no more common than any of the other significant numbers in our base 10, 360 degree culture. The calisthenics one must go through in order to come up with this “ever present” number are insulting, but the idea is good enough that you can go with it for the sake of the story. The idea that a number can get inside your head, haunting you, cursing you, has already been embraced and popularized by Lost (and 23 is one of those 6 numbers, so…..) so that is a fun idea being taken in a new direction: instead of being bad luck, it can actually change who you are (into someone evil, perhaps?), which is an interesting plot idea. All good so far.

Joel Schumacher, who if nothing else knows how to make the banal stylish (exhibit A: The Island), takes the real-life cast and casts them as the leads in the book Walter is reading, which is cool, since it’s relevant to how he interprets the book. The fun, stylish part is how over the top cornball pulp he does it all, with swooping zoom shots that transition from one place to another in sexy, push-color ways, hokey crime novel dialogue, and smoldering sexual movement everywhere. It’s neat to see Jim in regular guy mode (never has he been as successful at hiding wacky Jim except in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and then in intense dramatization mode. Sometimes it’s so stylish it’s hackneyed or embarrassing, but most of those moments are in the context of the novel, so we can forgive that as well.

And then the third act starts. Clumsy explanations, ridiculous cover-ups and lack of paper trails (or cell phones) make the real-life people in the story (especially with their old-fashioned names like Agatha and Walter) seem straight out of a gumshoe rag in their primitive inability to manage the events in the backstory. And my god, who names their son Robin Sparrow? It’s like a bad joke. Bud Cort makes an uncredited cameo as a person whose entrance and exit from the story is like a deus ex machina when Zeus takes the day off and lets a temp handle the machina duties. Oh I wish I could tell you the thing that made me the craziest with annoyance, but suffice it to say, you could catch this on HBO and not feel like you missed much except some interesting sound design.

MPAA Rating R- violence, distrubing images, sexuality and language
Release date 2/23/07
Time in minutes 95
Director Joel Schumacher
Studio New Line

Fun with Dick and Jane

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The plot of this movie is timely all over again after the years between its 1977 original satire and today, thanks to the colossal collapse of Enron, WorldCom, and their ilk. It has a particular resonance to those of us who did OK during those growth years, but always hoped we would turn that corner into that mythical, inconceivable prosperity of the go-go Clinton era. Then (as painfully documented in Enron: the smartest guys in the room) Carrey’s seemingly unstoppable company drops dead midstride, and our greedy, consumptive stars are forced to pay their nanny in appliances. Pity is difficult, but Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni still manage somehow to bring it to the table.

It would be far funnier if we didn’t know how devastating those crashes were to the regular underling people who weren’t already in $600,000 homes. Instead of being a satire of the boom-time keeping up with the Joneses, it morphs into more of a “consumption is king” reaffirmation of that dangerous attitude.

Fun with Dick and Jane is generally trying harder to be an Enron revenge than being a wacky romp with two extremely talented comic actors, so it doesn’t get too political nor does it get excited about its updated premise. Alec Baldwin dusts of his Rich and Powerful Baddie persona from The Cooler and gives him a Crawford twang of insincerity, which works wonders for what otherwise could have been a two dimensional character.

Considering it takes a powerful female comedienne to share the screen with someone as large as Carrey, you would think director Dean Parisot would have taken the time to use Leoni as more than just The Wife. Having directed the extraordinarily funny Galaxy Quest (check it out again if you don’t remember) as well as Monk and Curb Your Enthusiasm, I thought Parisot would have had a walk in the park with these actors and subject matter.

Judd Apatow – can he do it without Steve Carrell writing too? He cowrote the screenplay with TV writer Nicholas Stoller, and the movie does kind of bop along in an episodic way, set up and pay off and set up and pay off, no significant obstacles and no real turns of fate. I don’t have a sense of a narrative arc, just a stop-start ride with an ending. Carrey maniac that I am, I didn’t get to see him take any specific path with his role, either super wacky guy or actor with heart. It was more of the kind of role that Steve Martin might turn down. The capers are fun, but no one really has their heart in it. Maybe they feel the implicit crassness of having Enron-type victims turn into criminals just so they can put in a pool. I have to admit, however, it is shot beautifully.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/21/05
Time in minutes 909
Director Dean Parisot
Studio Sony Pictures

Comments Off on Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

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Many children’s books are made into movies because kids demand more of their favorite characters; books like these are written largely for the parents, so should the movie be. The twee charm of the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events is a difficult one to describe to one who has not read them. To try and evoke their unique tone for film is comparable to writing a bagpipe concerto of the books of Edward Gorey: it probably can be done, but it would take a careful hand to do the original works justice.

For fans, there is a lot here – the film glosses over and embellishes on the first three books in the Series, relying somewhat heavily on fans’ love of the ancillary characters. If you don’t already have a handle on (a phrase which here means “a working knowledge based on actual reading and not a screenwriter’s shorthand”) the various guardians and Olaf’s troupe of actor flunkies, you won’t come away with any real thoughts about them except “why did they cast all those amazing people and then not use them?” Watching this movie, with all these talented indie darlings in bit parts, one wonders what was cut from this film?

Independent film and/or Christopher Guest movie mavens will recognize the massive cast of supporting cameos (Catherine O’Hara, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Adams, Luis Guzman, Jane Lynch, Timothy Spall, Deborah Theaker). A few kids will recognize the prodigal Liam Aiken from Good Boy!, and I am certain a bunch of producers are prepping their filofaxes for the number of breakout Emily Browning (Violet). Sunny (as played by twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman) stole the show, in a surprising un-precious way, a testament to director Brad Silberling’s sensitivity to the material.

The Series is set in a wonderful No-Time world, which adds to its sense of magic and wonder. Linguistically, the film is solidly in the present, but visually the look is anytime in the past 100 years, which I feel is what the author intended. Fans will love the tiny clues and foreshadowing of future books and possibly freak out at a few changes (though I think they are justified). Casting Billy Connolly and Meryl Streep as Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine was inspired, a word which here means “the most satisfying possible choice giving the selection of living actors.”

You may be asking, “What of Jim Carrey?” Ah yes, Jim, my true love. Casting a physical chameleon in a role like Count Olaf is not just a Grinchian box office move but a necessity. Olaf must be in disguise and be funny (a word here which means “pass for an innocent person”) and also be dark and scary to match the books. What seems to have happened here (as well as with Sunny’s diluted dialogue, a phrase which here means “simplified for the masses, losing many smart jokes in the process”) is that too many studio honchos were nervous about this film. A holiday movie based on dark, unusual books written primarily for smart kids with weird titles, a love of language, developing mystery and no happy endings? It’s a miracle this movie got made at all. It’s enough to put even the Weinsteins off their dinner. Cast Jim Carrey, problem solved.

Jim, despite playing a ruthless and flamboyant actor with selfish malevolence as his only note, is, ironically, a little hobbled by this role as written. The studio wants a lovable villain who won’t terrify the tots and whom parents can appreciate. But Olaf is evil, gross, vile, truly awful, but screenwriter Robert Gordon (Galaxy Quest) wrote him merely as twitchy and capricious, a phrase here which means “prone to Jim Carrey-like outbursts of gentle villainy but not really all that menacing.”

By all means, let that not stop any fan of the books from going – the visuals are so, so beautiful and the references to later books exciting. Carrey does what he does best and he gives it his all – I never meant to imply otherwise; but Olaf is emasculated here (see: “twitchy and capricious”). It’s as if they worried the film would fail and so they made it as if it would be the only one. For non-fans, there are 11 books so far, this film was but three of them.

I delighted in every clue, every flourish, every anachronism (nonachronism, more like). The acting is solid and the events are truly unfortunate, as promised. It benefits from a big screen viewing even as it skips over some of the meat of the stories. Having the author narrate (in Jude Law’s distinctive voice) helps maintain some of the tone of the books, but I say fans, see it on the big screen and watch out for VFD. And the floor of the reptile room, oh my god! Check it out.

Blurb: More than adequate, a phrase which here means “delightful to fans but will win them no new ones after emasculating Count Olaf.”

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/17/04
Time in minutes 113
Director Brad Silberling
Studio Paramount

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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What’s not to love? Charles Kaufman screenplay, Focus Features. Jim Carrey. A mind-bending premise about memory erasure and the pain of love. A killer cast, including Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Elijah Wood. I am certain that the same people who tut-tut at Carrey stepping outside his butt-talking box in movies like Man in the Moon and The Majestic will skip this movie. Their loss. I simply adored it. I could say that Eternal Sunshine is sweet, but that’s not quite right. It’s rich and meaty, yet delicate and fragile. Some scenes are just as butterfly-wing light as anything in Lost in Translation, and others are as emotionally intense as – well, we all have our own movie to fill in there. It feels like a really personal movie, because we get so close to the people. It’s like a stew that is delicious but tastes slightly different depending on who eats it.

The central concept of the film is that Tom Wilkinson’s company, Lacuna Inc, has developed a process to target and erase specific painful memories from the mind of the patient. The procedure is no more mysterious or scary than a boob job or a CAT scan in this film. Scientifically speaking, the idea of associating memories by their emotional anchors is sound; using a mini fMRI to “map” the areas they then erase is already in practice today. Rather than over-explaining the procedure, and either insulting us with dialogue that will either be terribly wrong or quickly dated by scientific progress, Kaufman treats it as a matter of course and does as much explaining as any patient would want to hear before undergoing a procedure like Lasik.

Clementine (Winslet) and Joel (Carrey) erase each other, and finds in the newly purchased lacunae what’s really important about memories and themselves as a product of their memories. But I don’t want to give too much away. Most of the film is a tour through Joel’s memories of Clementine, happy, sad, private, and public, witnessed as they disintegrate, and Joel feels their value even as they slip away. It’s tricky conceptually and it’s pulled off beautifully. This is not John Malkovich in drag inside a slimy tunnel; this is a real science fiction double feature, with the love story and the adventure tales superimposed.

It is wonderful and fascinating to see Carrey play such a quiet, introverted person as Joel. To see the physical change when Clementine is around and the effects of her absence works better as an emotional barometer than even Jon Brion’s interesting score; parts of the music sounded as if it were recorded backwards, as if it were being sucked back up into the movie, or into Lacuna’s memory zapper. Brion also did the music for Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love.

What struck me the most in the film was the graceful and innovative use of editing and the production design to weave through the disintegrating map of Clementine in Joel’s mind. The photography is an intimate as a first person point of view and also as epic in the private moments as From Here To Eternity’s beach scene. I saw it twice in a weekend and I will be seeing it again. Art director David Stein and cinematographer Ellen Kuras meld their crafts into a perfect onion to be peeled apart by the movie. Their work delights even as it drags you kicking and screaming through Joel’s overlapping and failing memories even as Joel kicks and screams with you. The camerawork is so intuitive that you feel almost as if you turned your head, so would the point of view change; they are almost your memories.

Sunshine is poignant, nerve-wracking, tenuous, and disorienting. Director and co-writer Michel Gondry strikes a perfect balance between the intellectually high concept and the emotionally complex after effects. To discuss the finer nuances would be to destroy the surprise. Keep your eyes peeled for what’s happening in the entire mise-en-scene, not just the actors talking. This movie rewards your attention and it might pluck your heartstrings. It’s another triumph for Focus Features.

MPAA Rating R -language, some drug use & sexual content
Release date 3/19/04
Time in minutes 108
Director Michel Gondry
Studio Focus Features