Friday, January 30, 2015

Quick Movie Review: City Slickers (1991)

I always say that even the worst movie is good if it has Billy Crystal in it. And although Crystal helps make this film what it is, along with a great supporting cast, it's really a nice story. It's about a man's second coming-of-age and it's about camaraderie and second chances.

The comedy is slightly irreverent and jarring, as it is partially a satire. It juxtaposes tragedy with humor, but that goes along with the film's theme of "That's life!" And although the intermittent jokes may disrupt and off-put the film's tone at times, the build up to the 3rd act is well worth the wait.

Even if the humor is not for you, the story is undeniably charming. If I ever get to the point in my life where I'm facing a midlife crisis, I will be sure to queue up City Slickers.

For a comedy, the writing in this movie is superb. There aren't any silly plot holes or goofs that stand out. This film just doesn't do anything to annoy you.

With circumstances that are easily related to and fun in-jokes you feel like you're on the journey with them. And as someone who hasn't yet gotten to their midlife crisis, this movie makes me realize that it won't be so bad.

Twizard Rating: 96

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Quick Movie Review: The Imitation Game (2014)

I was really looking forward to watching this movie. How bad can a film about decrypting a Nazi war tool be? I failed to realize that it was more of a film about Alan Turing, himself.

It's a dual story, explaining how England government is secretly trying to decrypt the Nazi's Enigma code, while also acting as a character study of Alan Turing himself. My biggest issue with The Imitation Game is the filmmakers 'decision to put Turing's personal struggles and stopping Nazi Germany on the same importance level.

Throughout the film there are many chronological lapses back and forth in time. Although jumping around in the timeline may serve a grander purpose, we almost always prefer remaining at the time during the war when Enigma is being cracked. Maybe this is because the flashing back and forth is only there as testament to Turing as a person--not to parallel the issue with the Nazis.

When character studies are concluded we're meant to understand the character on a level that we thought not to be possible. But at the end of this film, we are still left at a cold distance away from him. And this is a trend, as there are no characters in this movie that we actually like--an issue that plagues many a potentially great film. While The Imitation Game is a great war drama, the character study is lacking that warmth, and ultimately this film, at times, becomes as hard to connect with as its main protagonist.

The script, although filled with superb dialogue, features confusing plot points, which aren't helped by the time-lapse narrative.

But this film does do many things right. Benedict Cumberbatch is terrific as Turing, and the supporting cast does a great job too. On the technical side, the set pieces and design are great to look at, and the score has heightened awareness. This film does everything correctly in those minute aspects. My biggest issues just come from within the script. However, overall, it isn't a bad movie by any means. It just isn't a great one.

Twizard Rating: 83

Quick Movie Review: Finding Nemo (2003)

The visuals are just serene in this 2003 Pixar installment. We get a great story of love, sacrifice, and acceptance. The film already captures our attention in the first act with some tragic events. But the great thing is, we're sucked in despite the absence of the movie's great characters. This is back when Pixar, much to our good fortune, used to rely on its plethora of fun characters. While nowadays they're just seeming to become less musical Disney films. But Finding Nemo is when Pixar first started making its influence of Shrek known. The jokes become more abundant--both subtle and forthright. The comedy took greater risks and involved more self-parody and a little more potty humor. Before Shrek, animated movies were all trying to mimic what Toy Story did--provide us with a very classy story and warm comedy. And nowadays those films strive to find a happy balance between Toy Story and Shrek.

But Finding Nemo doesn't shy away from warmth either. The oceanic cinematography makes you feel like you're in the ocean as well. You even develop a good sense of direction of where everything is.

The characters are about as deep as you can go in an animated movie--with the exception, maybe, being Toy Story.

There's not really anything that doesn't work. This is an amazing family film that both parents and kids will enjoy. Another Pixar classic.

Twizard Rating: 100

Friday, January 23, 2015

Quick Movie Review: American Sniper (2014)

If you want a film about a guy who you can relate to, this film might not be for you. American Sniper prides itself on finding complexities from such a simple person. It proves that even the most unvarnished soul can have the most intricate internal conflicts.

And if you're looking for a film that's going to be inspirational and moving, this film is not for you. This isn't Saving Private Ryan. It's going to leave you slightly speechless and feeling funny. It's a film that is built to teach you about a life that has lived--a complicated life to say the very least. It's a peek inside the life of the most lethal sniper in U.S. history and how he grew as a person throughout his life, and how the military changed him.

Bradley Cooper is fantastic as U.S. Navy Seal, Chris Kyle. He gets the character and commits fully, which serves the purpose of this film tremendously.

What we have is a movie that doesn't waste time with very many subplots. Instead, it uses the few elements that it has and intertwines all of them so that it becomes one big tangible object. The character arc is so dynamic that you almost become Chris. You feel his conflicts and you don't blame him for being detached and aloof. You've seen what he's seen. The thing with war films is that they're hardly ever predictable. You might know what's going to happen, but you never know how. So this helps you move along the journey with Chris even better. Except finally, when Chris is at home, yet feels like he has to go back to the war, you realize that after all you had been through you would never want to go back there. You realize where you and Chris differ. And at that point you slip back into reality for a moment and remember that it's just a movie. But this clarity is necessary in order for you to further understand his character. How messed up must he have been in order to feel the need to go back? He's hearing his dad's wolf speech in his head still. American Sniper does the best thing possible to make you understand a character. It makes you the character and then pulls you away in order to see the contrast. It's brilliant!

When I grade a film I look at the intentions of the director. And it's a joy to see the exact film that the filmmakers wanted to make. It came out entirely how they wanted it. You can't knock it for that.

Twizard Rating: 100

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Quick Movie Review: The Wedding Ringer (2015)

Between predicting every move before it happens and watching the characters make decisions that are so implausible you need to put your hand out, it seems like this movie is destined for eye rolling. But with a premise that begs all kinds of questions before our butts are even in the seats, you must already know what you're getting into.

We have Doug (Josh Gad)--occupation: something that gives him the ability to spend $50,000 on a whim right before his wedding without worrying that his future wife will notice. He has no friends and is trying to show his fiancé that he is worthy of her marriage. Then we have Jimmy (Kevin Hart)--occupation: a wedding ringer who is hired by grooms who have no friends (or Facebook accounts) to deceive their fiancés into thinking that he is their best man. He is hired by Doug to pull of a Golden Tux--a service package which requires Jimmy to find 7 groomsmen for Doug.

After sitting through a semi-slow setup that finds itself fishing for jokes, we get the typical antic-driven premise, much similar to The Hangover. But when you want consistent farce, you mostly get filler scenes, such as the groomsmen versus old men in mud tackle football, a dance montage between Doug and Jimmy, and a bachelor party scene that is pretty empty up until the end. Then the predictable happens, where Doug becomes smitten with a call girl from his bachelor party. But even though we predicted it, we didn't see this happening until Doug had a REASON to fall out of love with his fiancé, Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting). At this point, the audience had no physical cue to sense that this was going to happen. And the character acts as if he knows he is going to fall out of love with Gretchen before he even has any reason to.

Although we all know what's going to happen and how this movie is going to end, we don't dislike it. And the reason for that is the humor. It's so smart and witty, with compliments to director, Jeremy Garelick, who makes up for his story arc mistakes with sharp cuts that help the jokes reach their maximum potential. Kevin Hart and Josh Gad are good together and display chemistry. However, I would have liked to have seen a better utilization of Gad as the straight-man. But where it's used, it's really funny. The group of groomsmen hired by Jimmy make you laugh-on-site as they all shine wonderfully without taking away from the stars.

While this film may be painfully unrealistic and ridiculously predictable, it has some touching moments and will no doubt make you laugh out loud a lot.

Twizard Rating: 76

Quick Movie Review: Paddington (2015)

Paddington is a very old school family film, which is a good thing. It doesn't meddle with juvenile humor or cheap gags--save for maybe a brief wall-scaling incident. But it remains honest to its purpose of bringing the beloved book series to life on the big screen without sacrificing its integrity for a "21st century touch".

Yeah, sure, it's completely predictable, but we really don't care. Paddington is just too lovable and this story is just so sweet and innocent. And there aren't really any concerning plot holes, which are common in films of this nature.

I did notice that it borrows heavily--whether intentionally or not--from 1992's Beethoven. However, that film was so long ago that Paddington still receives it's own identity from having such a great backstory and a charming lead.

Most of all, the movie never tries to be anything that it's not. It's classy and refreshing.

Twizard Rating: 96

Quick Movie Review: The Interview (2014)

Amidst the controversy of a film that was more famous prior to its release than Star Wars VII, you sort of have a fear in anticipation of seeing this movie. Will they find me and kill me for purchasing a ticket? Am I contributing to an act of war? Maybe I'm just paranoid. Nonetheless I'm glad I decided to take the risk.

Seth Rogen sure knows how to stay relevant. Part of that reason is the fact that he still refuses to sit back and become complacent. No. He still takes risks with comedy and with his career. And it's never been more evident than with his current piece of work. He, partnered with Evan Goldberg, loves asking "what if?" while answering it just as eloquently.

Besides it's edgy nature--as we all know the general plot--this film eventually moves beyond predictable, down a rabbit hole where anything could be at the bottom.

It's not so much of a political commentary because they're telling us everything we already know, but it's the smartest film they have written to date. Their maturity level goes up another notch. They tone down the potty humor in favor of a much smarter straight-man/banana-man schtick.

And it's the most consistently funny comedy that I've seen in awhile--along the lines of Jonah Hill's 21 Jump Street adaptation. What's typical with films of this genre is that the 1st act usually fills itself with rapid fire jokes, while the rest of the film focuses more on story and less on humor (e.g. Dumb and Dumber or Caddyshack). But The Interview manages to keep you laughing AND equally engaged in the unpredictable story at the same time.

There's not a lot that doesn't work. Maybe we could see some better character growth, but when it comes down to it we don't feel robbed of anything as the credits roll.

Rogen and Goldberg definitely have a knack for good ideas, and it's clear through their direction of this film. They take chances with the action and they're never afraid to ask each other, "What if we [blank]?" They outdid themselves, as this is their best piece of work yet.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Upon watching this movie for the second time in preparation for the sequel, I've realized how funny it really is. Although much of the humor is subtle, the situations are priceless. For a film that seems fairly shallow and silly, it digs pretty deep and even gives off a grandiose vibe. The cast plays well together and feed off each other well. Those who are nostalgic about the '80s will also appreciate this film as it gives plenty of nods to the decade.

While the jokes are sharply written and aren't simply dependent on one-liners, the dialogue could be a little less vulgar. Not that it bothers me a whole lot, but it feels as if a 16-year old boy wrote much of the characters' responses to one another. When cursing isn't used to enhance the dialogue it becomes distracting and a seemingly cheap way to get laughs from teens.

Other than that, I can't complain too much about Hot Tub Time Machine because it never tries to be anything that it isn't, and it's a very unique addition to the comedy genre.

Twizard Rating: 89

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Quick Movie Review: The Gambler (2014)

I can always use a good gambling movie. Unfortunately, this isn't a gambling movie. The title may throw you off, but Mark Wahlberg's character, Jim, even says so himself; "I'm not a gambler." As disappointing as that is, I have to look past it. I have to take this movie for what it is--a story about a cynical realist who has a gloomy outlook on humanity and is struggling to rediscover his purpose. But he's not actively looking for a reason to live, until a couple of them fall into his lap. He didn't think he wanted a reason, but realized that sometimes you don't have a choice. You can try to control every aspect of life, but you have no control over your heart.

And while the messages of The Gambler may be well intended, the execution is a different story. The dialogue, although smart and often funny, just sounds like every character is speaking directly from the writer's mouth so that all of them are having the same supercilious conversation with themselves. Each character seems like an arrogant, vulgar Woody Allen.

Under the direction of Rupert Wyatt, the drama and suspense work outside of the actual gambling itself is impressive. But together with the DP, Wyatt seems to not understand the world of blackjack or basketball enough as a spectator. I typically become resilient when watching basketball movies because I understand the game too much that the slightest error annoys me. It's laughable, but I let it slide a little here. But the movie is about gambling--blackjack to be specific--and the filmmakers continue to show us 1st person perspective while NOT giving us enough glimpses of the dealer's hands. How can we adequately feel the suspense if we can't see what Jim is seeing--or the rest of the table for that matter?

What works is Wahlberg's interpretation of Jim. You can see in his eyes that he understands him, and that he and Jim are one in the same. You're convinced.

The rest of the cast is great as well. Brie Larson, who always delivers her lines with such fluidity, and John Goodman, who is as intimidating as ever, are joys to watch on screen.

But regardless of how entertained you are, you might be disappointed, like me, that The Gambler isn't really about gambling at all.

I heard the 1974 original is better anyway.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Night Shift (1982)

While this is a film that feels very dated, it doesn't lack quality. Other than a setup that drags on forever, there isn't too much wrong with this film. With that said, there also isn't anything that makes it stand out from the pack either. Although it's technically sound, it doesn't have many traits that prevent it from being forgettable. The story may have been somewhat unique for the time period, but it's not told in the grandiose fashion that we have become accustomed to in this era of film.

Henry Winkler and Shelley Long hold their ground pretty well here, but the highlight of the film is Michael Keaton who really keeps the film moving. You can't take your eyes off of him, whether you like his character or not.

This is a great effort by Ron Howard and not a film that most people will hate, as it also gives us solid character development--especially with Winkler's character. The script is acceptable and the music is a great mark of the times. While the characters in this film are very often stressed out and distraught, Night Shift brings you back to a much simpler decade.

Twizard Rating: 81

Quick Movie Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014)

As probably the best installment in the series--slightly passing up the first film--Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb gives us much of what we desired from its predecessors--a long awaited clarification of the tablets "rules". It's as though the filmmakers listened to and abided by the critics' recommendations. And while having its fair share of minor plot holes also, this new movie clears up a lot of gaping ones from the first two films.

While not perfect, it's even funnier than the first and even makes you tear up. They also give Larry a new obstacle to face--growing tensions with his dependence-seeking son.

This film includes much of what we were lacking in the mediocre 2nd movie--an element of surprise and wonder, a good twist, less characters, and an acceptable inner-conflict for the main protagonist.

But unless I'm misunderstand something, I'm still wondering why some of the characters weren't affected by the corroding tablet during the battle of the nine-headed snake.

Twizard Rating: 91

Quick Movie Review: The Kings of Summer (2013)

I wish The Kings of Summer had been around when I was in high school--not because I had a bad relationship with my parents, but because it would have been awesome to be inspired to build a house in the woods. I really like this movie. The acting is impressive, the characters are fun to watch grow, and it's really funny. The humor is very unique and a bit surrealist, which is right down my alley.

When it comes down to it, this is a very simple film. It succeeds at inspiring and entertaining all at once--an objective that is usually just aspired to, compromised by one of the two elements. Although their time in the woods isn't terribly eventful, the character development and dialogue is fun to experience.

The pacing is a little irregular, but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts uses it as an advantage. Usually I'm not a huge fan of uneven tone, but in this situation it brings so much charm to the film. However, I do wish that there was a better sense of location. The whole time I wondered where this takes place--I must have blinked once.

The movie does a good job of keeping you on the edge of your seat while using it's uneven tone to its advantage--keeping you thinking that anything can happen next.

There's not a lot about The Kings of Summer that I don't like, except for the fact that it ended too soon.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

While not as organized as the first film, Night At the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is still a funny and entertaining movie for all ages. The humor for the parents is better, however there is a larger drop off of jokes from adult to child, whereas the first film blended them together better. Here, we see a lot more juvenile jokes that are taken overboard at times.

And I know that the kids don't see the plot holes, but you would think that there wouldn't be so many more in this sequel. The whole movie you find yourself asking question after question for clarification of the character's decisions, but they never end up making sense. While in some films you can find "good enough" answers for many of these questions, this movie will leave you concluding that the writing was just lazy. For instance, where are all the other night guards? And couldn't Larry have just turned the middle tile on the tablet to freeze the characters when things got too chaotic? And what is the tablet's range of magic? Does it go beyond the museum it's being kept in, or is it city-wide?

While lacking the element of surprise of its predecessor, it also blows the opportunity to answer some lingering questions about the rules of the film universe--things usually dug into deeper in a sequel. However, we aren't just not given answers, but the conscious lack of information is exploited in order to make the premise work. And then towards the middle of the second act things get a little chaotic and the plot holes open even wider. The chaos may be attributed to the thinly stretched plot.

Then we realize that there are issues with the character development. Larry's character goes back to where he started at the beginning of the first movie and has to figure out the same issues to get him to where he had finished. He's solving the same exact personal issues that were already solved in the previous film--a tactic that is a result of lazy character development.

On positive notes, the cast gets even stronger here. While we don't get the pleasure of Robin Williams on screen for all that much, Hank Azaria is amazing as the main antagonist.

Although this film is still entertaining for the easily amused, the poor script and the character depth issues still hinder it from becoming on par with the first film. But like I said before, it's a movie made for kids after all.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Night at the Museum (2006)

If you look at this movie as your kids do then you will like it just as much as they. It's a great family film, full of laughs for the adults as well. It's a little silly and ridiculous, but that's also what makes it so uniquely intriguing.

While there are a lot of plot holes and conveniently manipulated details, it's a really funny movie. Ben Stiller is a perfect fit for this role as he uses his unconfident demeanor to his advantage with his character, Larry. There is enough good talent in this film to hold it upright. One or two jokes can be juvenile, but we have to remember that it's a movie for kids also. And we get a nice twist to go along with the humor.

Night at the Museum never tries to be something it's not. Maybe at the time of the release it seemed like a movie we shouldn't like, but I think it's held up well over these last 9 years.

Twizard Rating: 88

Quick Movie Review: Foxcatcher (2014)

The only problem with Foxcatcher is that Bennett Miller deliberately creates such a gloomy ambiance that the film has a hard time getting away from it enough to give it any energy. With all the slow building throughout the film, the climax manages to still feel unwarranted. The direction surpasses the script in many ways. You can see Miller wanting to make this film bigger than it is, and more meaningful. But there is just not a whole lot to work with. There are scenes that seem important, but ultimately lead to nowhere. Then finally, after 2 hours, you have a murder.

While the film may be long, it's not poorly made. We see a brilliant comparison between two types of people who long for the same thing--camaraderie. The acting of the three leads is fantastic--especially Steve Carell, who channels nodes of Michael Scott here and there.

You also have to appreciate very deliberate and conscious direction and pacing. Miller does this thing in the film where he likes to keep certain things out of sight (the tops of character's heads or significant objects being referred to)--almost to draw comparisons to the fact that with these characters there is more than meets the eye.

Just don't go into this movie expecting a story about wrestling, because while it touches upon the basic routines, it's not what Hoosiers is to basketball. The sport of wrestling isn't used as a metaphor for anything really. The film is a character study.

Twizard Rating: 84

Quick Movie Review: Big Eyes (2014)

Big Eyes will be seen as one of Tim Burton's best achievements--not because it's such a different film than anything he's made before, but because he doesn't lose his signature style in the process. It's all there. Excellently paced and well-acted, this movie offers us a unique and weird story. It makes us laugh out loud and also feel for the characters. The ending is redeeming and well worth the journey.

The writers don't do anything fancy with the dialogue, but the stage direction is terrific. Burton works so well with all of his collaborators here and as a result gives us a movie to smile at. The art and set designs capture the era in a way that makes you forget that our world no longer looks like that.

At its core this film is about art and expression. Although artists share their work, they still create it and need credit where it is due--not just for their pride or their egos, but because they need reassurance that what they are doing means something.

Burton outdoes himself with Big Eyes. Their aren't any mistakes in this film that are distracting and it all flows together very evenly. A great watch!

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Into the Woods (2014)

With having no familiarity with the stage version of this musical, you will find no comparisons here.

The bulk of the enjoyment of this film lies within the first 2 acts. It's paced swiftly, it's really funny, and the cast is fun to watch. It may have been short on surprises and alarming conflicts, but it's enjoyable.

While ending on a satisfying note at the end of the 2nd act with a false victory, you begin thinking to yourself that it was almost too easy--there has to be more. There is.

This is where the film goes down hill a little. Although providing us with a lot more drama, the conflict doesn't really match up with the first part of the movie.

If the characters weren't already not set in stone in the first 2/3s of the film, it becomes confirmed in the 3rd act. Heading that opinion is the fact that the Baker's wife (who is 1/2 of the main protagonist) and Cinderella's husband have an affair with each other--a tidbit that Cinderella doesn't seem all that phased with. We grow to like their characters, only to have it all thrown out the window in one scene towards the end of the movie. Although many may think that frolicking around with someone other than your spouse is humorous, it tends to make me uncomfortable.

In fact, the whole film sort of revolves around and makes light of materialism and superficiality. Every character's motivation is driven by directly obtaining materialistic goods--except for the Baker, who just has to obtain materialistic goods in order for he and his wife to have a child. His wife, however, seems to enjoy the hunt more than the ultimate ends. These nuances are subliminal, but evident enough to question the film's motives.

Then something finally happens that leads me to believe that this film has some sort of conscience. The remaining characters discuss the idea of not actually killing the giant. But then they decided to do so anyway, when in fact the giants were never in the wrong at all. It would be like if some kid robbed my house and I went chasing after him while the town helped him kill me and my wife. Something's wrong with that.

After a bunch of characters die, you get to see how the film is probably going to conclude. And although I can appreciate the intent of the last 3 minutes of this movie, it is very jarringly uneven from the first half. The 3rd act just seems thrown together and scatterbrained, when it should have been more purposeful.

Another note: the Baker never finds out that Rapunzel is his sister. Weird.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: The Graduate (1967)

I understand the social commentary of The Graduate, and I can even relate to Ben's state of confusion after graduating college, but I can't say that the events following are appropriate enough given the context.

This film's biggest mistake isn't a mistake really at all. It is the fact that it's extremely dated. Perhaps The Graduate is historically significant, but it just doesn't hold up well at all. While deeply analyzing this film you can't deny that it's pretty smart, but that analysis must only come after understanding the perspective of the times--that is, the generation gap and the confusion of growing up in the '60s. And it's even unsure as to whether that acuity is intentional or not. The Graduate may have been relevant and sensible in 1967, but in this day and age it doesn't seem so.

Another fault, which is a bit more tangible, lies within the characters. Their rationales don't make much sense. The film is made up of a cacophony of decisions that should be labeled as farce, but are taken way too seriously to even be considered as such. Elaine has to be the most annoying character. While she isn't a terrible person, it doesn't make any sense why she's in love with Ben and why she's so understanding towards him after thinking that he raped her mother. And apparently Ben and Elaine are in love with each other after one date--and not even a very good one at that. There is no affable character in this entire film. They all make you feel uncomfortable. And I have a hard time enjoying a film that gives me nobody to like or sympathize with.

This is an example of a movie that isn't a sum of its parts. There are many good scenes, but together they don't add up to an enjoyable experience. It doesn't feel like a story so much as a series of events that don't fit together seamlessly. Although stylistically even, the tone seems to be unset.

There just simply isn't any redeeming value to this film whatsoever, and I can't say that I like it. Not to mention, he keeps driving on the Bay Bridge for no reason.

Twizard Rating: 64

Quick Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

While the first Hobbit film doesn't feel like a story stretched too thin, the second film does a little bit. But the third film lets us figure out on our own how it could have been combined with the previous installment. However, it's a fairly entertaining stretched story. Even though the battle scenes were at ridiculous durations, I enjoyed watching them.

Smaug is a highlight. The movie's opening with him attacking the city is fantastic, but we don't see nearly enough of him. As someone who has not read the book, I wasn't aware that Golum wouldn't make an appearance--a realization that bummed me out because he's such a great character.

The last film of any series is exciting by nature, because we are anxious to see how they will conclude. However, for a small chunk of this film, between the two battles, we are bored. There is a lot of pre-battle setup which is easy to follow, but not easy to stay awake through. We are given a film that is sandwiched between two big battles. But at least they are both coherent and not just a big shaky-cam fest.

I wish to see a little more character depth--besides the internal conflict that Thorin goes through, which means nothing to the audience unless they strongly remember the events of the first two films.

At the end, I had to be reminded what all this was for. And once I remembered, I laughed--mostly because it seems like a whole lot of hassle for something that's not that big of a deal.

Realistically, I could watch these films over and over again without paying attention to the story because the visuals and the scenery are so amazing. You get lost in its world--an accomplishment in its own right.

Twizard Rating: 91

Quick Movie Review: Annie (2014)

While most kids will enjoy this modern take on the 1977 broadway musical, adults will cringe at the painful cliches throughout. The audience no longer has any sympathy or desire for these kids to "move on up" since their lives are seemingly not that bad. It fails to capture the distress of the original.

Almost everyone is caught acting, except for Jamie Foxx, who is the only entertaining part of this movie. Cameron Diaz may be the lowlight, as it feels like at any moment she's going to stop yelling, smile, and say "Just kidding!"

While the music is catchy, most of the new songs don't fit in with the originals. And none of them are upbeat, which helps mesh them all together as unmemorable for the audience.

Although we get to see the pleasing development of Foxx's character, we can no longer take the exploited cloyingness of Quvenzhane Wallis.

Even though I can't say that I hate this movie, I don't want something that's too easy to like either.

Twizard Rating: 62

Quick Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

When a movie starts, especially an epic like this, you want an opening that will draw you in. Peter Jackson has mastered that with his Lord of the Rings film series. And although Ridley Scott is capable of doing that with his films, he provides us with a somewhat dry opening sequence. At the start of this movie you see a long dialogue between Moses, Ramses, and the Pharaoh. Then there's a battle scene immediately after, which is great for fans of shaky cam, but otherwise feels like a shameful way of making a boring first act "more entertaining".

Although this new take on the Passover story is pretty secular, it keeps itself respectful. However, I would have liked to see it have stronger religious themes. Without them, the point of the story is lost. And aside from reading the story in the Bible, there is no evidence that Ridley Scott actually understands the significance. In fact, the tone and style are unestablished altogether.

The film may have been more effective and less confusing if it had actually opened with Moses being found in the water as an infant. The tone would have felt more complete and we would have known right away what this film is about. Instead, we're torn between a story about the relationship between Moses and Ramses, and a story about freedom--with no commitment to either.

The film is somewhat saved by the time the 3rd act hits, when we get to see the plagues, along with a fun chase out of town and across the Red Sea.

The biggest problem with this film is the reliance of the audience already knowing the story. Little is explained and significant events become downgraded to superfluous as they feel like they're just thrown in there without any reason other than the fact that they're written in the original text. But while we are treated like we already know the story, the filmmakers take certain liberties with the original story as if they think we don't know the story at all.

The visuals are breathtaking and the acting is superb, but with a dumbed down script and a slow and confusing first act, this film loses some credibility. 

Twizard Rating: 72

Quick Movie Review: Top Five (2014)

Chris Rock shows the world that his humor is slightly evolved and still very much relevant. Top Five is very well thought-out. It's beauty is in its simplicity. Although it takes place all in one day, it feels more like a saga of the main character. The movie is also very conversation-based, which allows Rock to thrive.

Rock and Rosario Dawson, his opposite lead, have great chemistry and play off of each other very well. It's a comedy, but also mixes in drama perfectly, without spending too much time on either one.

You know the two leads are going to end up with each other, but the film never becomes formulaic. The back and forth narrative, which is seamless, is a nice change of pace and paints a complete picture of the story. They throw in the "top five best rappers" element to the story, and it makes the movie that much more fun! My biggest complaint is that Jay-Z was included in everyone's top five list simply because he had a producer credit.

Among its many strengths, Top Five also satirizes reality TV and the idiocy that surrounds it. For a fan of scripted entertainment, it made me like this movie even more. The cameos in this film are another highlight as they are all utilized to their maximum potential.

A lot of the humor is subtle, which will be even more appreciated through multiple viewings. I have long been deciding whether or not I wanted to pursue stand-up comedy and if I ever have success I will attribute this film as what gave me the push.

Twizard Rating: 93

Quick Movie Review: The Theory of Everthing (2014)

Biopics are tough. They're tough to review and they're tough to present in a proper fashion. You don't want to blatantly glorify a human being and not show their flaws, and you also don't want to just display a bunch of events. The events have to all tie together for a common purpose--to show growth or to make the audience think or to prove a point. While this movie definitely makes us think, I don't think it fully utilizes its other desired purposes.

One of my main criticisms of this film is that we don't see enough of Stephen's personal transitions. We obviously see his adaptations to his increasing situation, but internally we don't really see him grow. And it's not that there isn't growth of character, but it just isn't pointed to. We see him just as human in the end as we do in the beginning. But what has he learned? This leads me to my next criticism, which is that the thematic conclusions were left open-ended and ambiguous. For instance, the religious theme is way too prominent throughout the film to just be left up to our imagination. If he is unsure in the end, then let us know--but sadly it doesn't make it clear.

The acting is the most noticeable thing about this film. And Eddie Redmayne's performance as Stephen Hawking is going to go down as one of the great acting achievements in cinema. Besides its acting, the most impressive accomplishment of this film is its direction. No decision that director James Marsh leaves you scratching your head. This provides us with a distraction-less viewing of the film to appreciate it for what it is. While it's a love story, it's completely depressing. Marsh does a great job of putting us into Stephen Hawking's shoes and making us really feel for him. It shows inside the mind of someone who you don't expect to be able to relate. And through limited facial expressions, he displays such complex internal conflicts.

While the acting was phenomenal, I do wish for a more believable initial chemistry between Redmayne and Felicity Jones (Jane). It would have helped the audience relate to their relationship a bit more, since it's already a rare circumstance.

Although it might not be a film that I would watch over again, there's no denying that it's really well done--especially on the technical front. It's a strange effect to see the character that many people may find unlikeable in the beginning become the most likable character in the whole film.

Twizard Rating: 89