Friday, December 12, 2014

Quick Movie Review: Cruel Intentions 2 (2000)


As a direct-to-video prequel to the 1999 original, most will go into watching this film with a lot of doubts. And while it does abandon a lot of the tone from the original to become more of an American Pie type of film, it gives a realistic setup to where we see Sebastian and Kathryn in Cruel Intentions. None of the actors are the same, but they aren't terrible. In fact, Amy Adams is quite impressive given the poor script. The only problem is that this version of Kathryn is openly evil and not as undercover about it. Robin Dunne, who plays Sebastian, gives us a more likable character, but provides nothing of the same charisma as Ryan Phillippe's portrayal of the original.

I compare this film to the straight-to-DVD American Pie: Band Camp. It's entertaining, but not the exact same. It's more aware of itself as a film, and at times feels like a Dawson's Creek episode--which it acknowledges once or twice.

Although many may not like the twist ending, I think that it concludes an interesting backstory as to how Sebastian got to be so wicked and conniving in the original film.

Cruel Intentions 2 steals a lot from the original, but also provides some more jokey dialogue and shock value--hence the American Pie type film. The jokes miss a lot of the time and are usually set up very blatantly.

The plot might move a little slow and it may be low budget, but it's not a complete waste of time if you're a fan of the original.


Twizard Rating: 59

Quick Movie Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)



After watching Sin City, you itch for more. The only thing is, you want something to build upon from the last movie. In fact, there's not a whole lot that we're left hanging with after the first film, so we trusted Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez to come up with some new way to connect the two films. The only satisfying link to the first movie is the story of Nancy defeating Senator Roark, which doesn't come until the last 10 minutes. The rest of it, although individually engaging, would have served better as a series of shorts as they added nothing to the last movie. They all keep you entertained, but you could have done without them--save the gambling storyline with Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt), which is pretty fun and equals the type of things we love from the first film.

The timeline is a little fuzzy, as we're unsure why certain events are happening before and certain events are happening after. I know it's a sequel/prequel, but now the deceivingly simultaneous events of the first film is thrown off with our revelation that the stories in this film overlap. It becomes even more confusing when several characters from the first film, unbeknownst to me, get recast with new actors. Also, I would have liked to see the Salesman get included and developed in this movie as he wasn't explored enough in the first installment.

The stories didn't interlink as well as they did in the 2005 film, and the ending wasn't as satisfying. At the end of the first, you're left wanting more. Here, you don't really feel like it calls for a second viewing.

You have to love the underlying tone of these films. Here, you enjoy seeing Marv get explored more because he's such a great character. He represents a time where people went out of their way for strangers and even risked their live for them.

In Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the acting is just as good, and so are the aesthetics. I'm not saying that this movie wouldn't have been a fun stand-alone film, but as a fan of the first movie I wanted a little bit more "sequel" in this second installment.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: A Merry Friggin' Christmas (2014)


You might look at the reviews for this film and think that this is going to be a really terrible Christmas movie, but it's really far from it. The reviews make it seem like a so-bad-it's-funny type of film, but it's actually entertaining in its deliberateness. I actually laughed quite a lot. I tried to find the good in this movie and found a lot of it. It could have been better script-wise, and by allowing the presents to have been seemingly lost and magically arriving under the tree would have been a better twist.

Although I liked the film and would watch it again, it could have been a lot better on the technical side. The timeline doesn't make much sense. You're never sure where they are in their 4 hour trek between Illinois and Wisconsin. They abruptly appear certain places crossing the same paths with people multiple times in different cities. It's just confusing if you try to rationalize it. This, along with carless continuity errors in the script, and you have a nitpicker's dream.

Also, they never settle on a set theme. They sort of go back and forth seeming to forget which direction they want to go. It plays the "Santa is real" game, but then sacrifice its full potential for a "just stop stressing and everything will work out" message, all while trying to mend Boyd and his father's relationship--a plot culmination that somehow got neglected amidst everything else.

Joel McHale plays Boyd well, who is a very relatable character in many respects. Clark Duke is also very good as Boyd's younger brother, Nelson. However, Robin Williams and Candice Bergen don't bring much of anything to their roles--especially chemistry with each other. And since when did Lauren Graham become such a bad actress?

With a little more pedantic attention this movie would have appealed to even the harshest of critics. But there are some very funny in-jokes and scenarios that kept me laughing, and I appreciate the messages that come across. I can see this movie becoming somewhat of a cult film in the future.

Twizard Rating: 79

Quick Movie Review: Predator (1987)


Throughout much of the first half of this movie you start getting the feeling that it's gonna be one of those films where the plot gets stretched way too thin and it becomes a yawnfest. While the former is still true, the latter goes away as soon as we get our first encounter with the monster. From then on we are wide awake and become invested in the outcome, while Predator turns into a pretty decent action-suspense film.

However, much of the dialogue is laughable and every time Arnold opens his mouth you have to shake your head.

Besides the impressive special effects and costume design, all of this film's points come from the second half when the action starts rolling, as the Thomas brothers aren't too competent at writing narrative.

Twizard Rating: 64


Quick Movie Review: Home Alone (1990)


Every once in awhile, we will get a Christmas film that becomes synonymous with the holiday for us. Each person has their own. My two are The Santa Clause and Home Alone. Most everyone I know loves the former, however Home Alone might not be for everybody. Some say it's corny, silly, and ridiculous. Honestly, I think it holds up pretty well for a film that's 25 years old. We were more tolerable of idiotic characters back then, and somehow when we watch a film from those years we become more tolerable again. Home Alone may walk a fine line between family entertainment and crudeness, but that's what makes it unique. Growing up in the '90s, this film wasn't bad enough to have my parents restrict me from watching it like they did with The Simpsons, but it wasn't The Brady Bunch either. Although it involves a family that shows complete disrespect towards each other, it does provide reverent family lessons that can be taken with us. It teaches us how to forgive--albeit too easily in Kevin McCallister's case--and it teaches us that facing our fears helps us to grow.

If I were Kevin, I wouldn't have really missed my family at all. I feel like the first 20 minutes that we see his family interact with him are a pretty good indication of how they treat him all the time. The amount of terrible parenting decisions and enabling that occurrs is enough to make the audience hate his family and NOT want them to come back. In fact, the only reason why he misses his family is because his life is on the line and he just wants some familiar faces. We forget that they are terrible and he has no business missing them. He would have done just fine with Old Man Marley keeping an eye out for him.

The movie is full of plot holes and laughable head-scratchers, and the adult characters all use the same word bank. The events in this film are all pretty ridiculous, but hey! It's 1990!

I have a blast watching this movie and never stop smiling when it's on. It's a really fun film, and the music is perfection! Love it or hate it, you always wished you had the chance to rig your house like that.

Twizard Rating: 90

Friday, December 5, 2014

Quick Movie Review: Penguins of Madagascar (2014)


In a similar fashion of A Million Ways to Die in the West, this film spews joke after joke, so there's always something to grasp on to. However, the jokes here are all of the same taste and keep the film at a consistent tone throughout. They don't really talk down to the kiddies either. I found that the humor was much less juvenile than expected--more Shrek-esque.

However, the overlying premise is based on something that would never happen--they wouldn't keep getting rid of an animal in the zoo just because he suddenly got demoted to the second most popular animal. It's a plot hole that is easily cracked by adults, although kids won't realize or care.

Although it stretches the plot pretty thin, it's hard to tell with all the jokes coming your way. It moves along briskly and keeps your attention throughout, and at least it's not 2 hours long!

In a world where good kids films are getting rarer and rarer, we find a good one that the parents won't mind watching either. As the Madagascar films get better with each new installment, Penguins of Madagascar follows that trend.

Twizard Rating: 87


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Quick Movie Review: Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)


As funny as 2011's Horrible Bosses is, Horrible Bosses 2 is even funnier. The jokes are more consistent and the comedy shows no restraint. It continues its skit based comedic style, and instead of having a story that they squeeze jokes into, the jokes and story go hand in hand. In a comedy, this is what you want.

As for the rest of the film, the story is not as easily paced as its predecessor. In the first movie the events all fit together to feel like one big event--similar to Reservoir Dogs. In the sequel, there are a few more plot points, so the story becomes a little more intricate, thus the narrative more unorganized. But because the tone is so consistent, its slightly uneven pacing is forgiven.

If you're a fan of the first, you won't have to worry about typical sequel problems with this one. The plot is very creative and doesn't feel forced. And it's the same exact type of comedy here, but more of it. 


Twizard Rating: 83

Quick Movie Review: Cruel Intentions (1999)

Looking back on this movie, it holds up really well. It may have been deemed mediocre in 1999, but in 2014 it's better than many similar films we get nowadays. It narrates itself well through a plot which is, in fact, quite intricate and could have been complicated if executed incorrectly. Fortunately, it moves briskly along the plot points and never leaves us confused or anxious.

The only criticism I have with this film is the speed at which Sebastian and Annette fall in love with each other. It's almost too quick to be believable. It's not obvious, but for the over analyzer, like myself, it seems odd. Nonetheless, you can't get mad at this movie because of its alacrity--otherwise it would have been likely to be weighed down by unnecessary scenes. The ending was a little too "big" for the tone of the film, but I didn't hate it. You want to see Kathryn get what's coming to her, and she does. However, it would have been more effective and believable if it turned out that Sebastian was really alive in the end, driving away with Annette.

The acting is impressive and it's fun to look at. Cruel Intentions lives up to its name in the best way possible.

Twizard Rating: 90

Quick Movie Review: Whiplash (2014)


As a lifelong musician who went on to receive his bachelor's degree in music, this film hit home with me. Not only was it a really well done movie, but I found myself laughing at every little nuance of our world that was, for the first time, revealed on screen. It acts as a long-deserved glorification of the musician and the hours of practice that we spend at home practicing our craft. It also touches upon so many ideas and struggles that we have to constantly deal with. The belittling comparison to athletics in this film is one that I have always had an issue with. So much attention and money is shelled towards sports--something that people are less likely to become successful through than music. When music is a tool that is more useful, people scoff at it and give it no attention. Those of us in that world know its importance, but getting the "normal people" to understand that is almost useless. If someone gets to be starting quarterback they are worshiped and bragged about, but when someone earns first chair saxophone it usually just warrants us a simple pat on the back as if we were just getting an A- on an algebra test. Luckily I had parents that were extremely enthusiastic and supportive of my music endeavors--always bragging about what I have accomplished. That's why the only thing in this movie that I can criticize is Andrew's dad's negativity towards his son's music career. It doesn't make sense that his dad would pay for and support Andrew in music academy, but then go on to tell him that he would never play at the Lincoln Center. It was the only thing random and out of place in this film. It caused unnecessary tension between the two characters. But that scene doesn't warrant dismissal altogether. It may also be one of the most true and honest parts of this movie. People are praised when they are said to be going to college to play football, but when I tell others that I am a music major, most people's response is "Why?" or "So, what are you going to do with that?" When in reality, I am unbelievably more likely to get a job in my industry than an athlete is in his or hers. But because sports are deemed as cooler, nobody cares. Whiplash touches upon and pokes fun at these typical ideals, which makes the film all the more great. But perhaps the one thing in this movie that I can relate to the most is having an instructor eerily similar to that of J.K. Simmons' character, Terence Fletcher.

In high school I was in jazz band that started every morning at 7am. And if I wasn't tuned up and ready to go by 7:00 exactly, my teacher would start the rest of the band while glaring at me the entire time as I was frantically trying to get everything setup. This was me almost everyday. I felt like he hated me because he thought that I didn't care enough to get there on time and that I was ruining his valued rehearsal time. Little did he know, I did everything to make it to rehearsals and performances on time. I sped through lights, rolled through stop signs, and probably almost hit several pedestrians at times. But honestly, it had nothing to do with caring about not wasting his time--I just didn't want to get yelled at. Honestly, I didn't care as much as everyone else. I should have, but I didn't. That's where Miles Teller's character and I differ. I had other things on my mind--girlfriends, my social life, sleeping. Throughout high school we had a weird relationship. He would always scold me about things while the rest of the band would sit there in an awkward silence thanking the Lord that it was me and not them. Much like when we, much like in this movie, would sit there for 10 minutes while our teacher would yell at the drummer for not being at his tempo. The scenes in this film almost exactly replicated what happened in our rehearsals. It was almost funny, but you wouldn't dare laugh. There was a genuine fear that he placed in all of us. He and Fletcher shared the philosophy that belittling and humiliation helped to motivate. In a way, they're right. It's just not for everybody.

I practiced my parts at home for bare minimum--an hour every couple of days. I was 2nd chair tenor saxophone the entire time. One time we had a jazz competition and I forgot all of my music. To this day it was the most nervous I have ever been. There I am, in the front row, 6 feet from my teacher, and I was pretending to play an entire folder of music. Some I could bare through off the top of my head, but most I had to improvise. It was a real test of how well I knew the music. A test that I failed. I'm not sure if he knew what was up with me. To this day I'm convinced that he did, but just let me suffer through the agony rather than saving me the humiliation by making me sit backstage. If I had practiced, I wouldn't have needed the music to begin with.

He had lost his voice a few years before I got there, but I'm not sure how. We always speculated it was because of his yelling, but we never really knew. He was a stickler for everything and none of us understood it. We feared him, but also respected him at a high rate because he did what no other teacher had, or will, ever do--go to extremes to make sure that we never satisfied for mediocre. Doing music in college was the last thing I ever thought that I would do. I have him to thank. He put me one step ahead of the game and taught me that music was just as meaningful as sports--if not more. He hated playing at the football games because he thought that such a beautiful thing as music shouldn't pander to a silly thing such as high school football. He had his ideals set. We didn't understand at the time, but his passion for the art transcend to me all these years later.

My teacher wasn't as extreme as Terence Fletcher in Whiplash, but he was definitely on my mind the entire time I watched this movie.

As for the film, it was fantastic. It features great jazz, and equally as good acting, and the story never drags. It's a must watch for anyone who was ever in an ensemble.

Twizard Rating: 99

Quick Movie Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

There's a fine line between dark comedy and creepy. Nighcrawler walks that line with conviction, and it's completely believable. Jake Gyllenhaal helps its believability--never once going too much over the top. When the movie is over you have to remind yourself that it was the same guy who plays the charming pharmaceutical rep in Love and Other Drugs. I thought he was fantastic in Prisoners, and he stepped his game up even more with his performance here.

It's beautifully shot and properly paced. There is one scene, however, that is slightly tonally jarring. Near the end when Nina (Rene Russo) awkwardly submits to Lou (Gyllenhaal) after he gives her the last video, it just seems slightly out of line for her character. It was too abrupt for me.

You have a difficult time liking any of the characters, although the direction is good enough that we end up rooting for Lou the entire time only realizing towards the end that we probably shouldn't have been. And then we feel weird about it.

The social commentary regarding the media is smart and real. Although it may get lost in everything around it, it gets the job done for the audience, the entire time lying right below preachy, which is a good place to be for a film of this nature.

It may be unrealistic at times, but the performances and the direction don't allow you to harp on it that much. As the ball keeps on rolling, we gradually get to see Lou spiral out of control even more than when we first see him at the beginning of the film. You won't like the main protagonist, but you can't deny that it's a really well-made film.

Twizard Rating: 95