Friday, February 27, 2015

Quick Movie Review: Sex Drive (2008)

Acquired taste is a perfect term for this niche market film. As far as sex comedies go, this is one of the better ones of the last 15 years or so. It combines a little American Pie with John Hughes-like characters.

Ian (Josh Zuckerman) is a nice boy who longs for a girl to like him. He finally finds one on the internet and travels halfway across the country with his best friends Lance (Clark Duke) and Felicia (Amanda Crew) to meet up with her. Of course, along the way he rediscovers himself and comes to grips with his own identity. It's not the most original story, but what road movie is? It's all about the incidences that take place along the way.

James Marsden often steals the scenes with his hilarious antics and dead-on portrayal of Ian's bullying pseudo-redneck brother, Rex, whose prized 1969 GTO Ian steals for his trip.

As aware as the script and the direction is, it isn't perfect. Is Felicia really dumb enough to believe that Ian is really driving across the country just to see his grandma? If you intend to go on an 18 hour drive you don't just accept badly done lying. But it makes her presence on the road trip work and we ignore it.

It never crosses the line of being too offensive--like many sex comedies try to be these days in order to separate themselves from the pack. It's amazing how we've entered into a new era of teen comedies in the last 5 years where most of them try so hard to be original that it ruins its natural charm. This one was made right around those turning-point years, but manages to remain mostly unfazed.

I'm not usually a huge fan of this genre, but I enjoyed it's 80s/90s feel and great characters. I'd watch it again.

Twizard Rating: 82

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Quick Movie Review: What Happens In Vegas (2008)

When a film is titled "What Happens in Vegas" one would assume that the majority of the movie is set it Las Vegas. As for this film, it spends about 13 minutes in Sin City, while the rest of it is set in New York City. This annoyed me early on, as Las Vegas can make even Showgirls seem glamorous. But after awhile I forgot about my feelings and could enjoy the movie.

Joy (Cameron Diaz) and Jack (Ashton Kutcher) are two people who meet in Vegas, get drunk, and get married. They wake up and start disliking each other for reasons unknown. Then Jack hits a $3 million jackpot and the judge orders them to serve 6 months trying to make their marriage work.

Spoiler alert: they fall in love. You see it coming from a mile away. In fact, the entire movie is full of cliches, but that's pretty much the only reason you'll have for hating this movie. If you can see past that you might end up liking it. The charm of the leads and the dialogue make for a painless viewing.

It also helps that the supporting cast includes Rob Corddry, Zach Galifianakis, and an underused Jason Sudeikis.

Despite my initial disappointment, I had a surprisingly good time watching this movie. I just wish they had picked a different title.

Twizard Rating: 82

Quick Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (2015)

When talking about time travel sequels, I have to bring up my two favorites: "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" and "Back to the Future 2". Both of these films build upon the previous film, don't differ in tone, and although to some not quite as good as the first, they find a way to get it done so that it's just as satisfying to the viewer. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 fails at all of those attributes. Instead it makes us dislike the characters, grosses us out beyond belief, and makes us want it to end.

Part of the first movie's charm is that it takes place in the 1980s. It has that nostalgia element to it. It's fun and adventurous. Here, we go into the future where it's dark and gloomy and makes us want to look away. I'm not saying that they couldn't have made it work by going to the future. Back to the Future 2 made it work--but we were genuinely invested in what happened and there was some sort of reverence and consistency in the film universe.

But within the setting of Hot Tub Time Machine, I think I can safely say that most people would have rather seen the murder mystery plot take place in the past--somewhere that the audience would like to see the characters adapt to. The future setting just doesn't work.

Sure, it provides us with a good murder mystery, but at what expense? Lou (Rob Corddry) learns a lot about himself and grows as a person, but then kills himself off because he feels like his demeanor gets too reasonable and nice.

Not to say that this movie doesn't have its moments, because it does. Adam Scott is a great addition to the film and probably the highlight. I laughed a few times--mostly towards the beginning--but its grossness outdoes its humor, and that's never a good place for a comedy to be.

Although I do give it points for a creative and unpredictable premise, I have to dock it for having too many scenes that drag out for eternities at a time.

I'm not going to mention the film's time travel paradoxes, because I don't think the filmmakers care all that much.

If you like gross out humor, the I guess you'd think this movie is funny. But for most of the people in the world, you'll see it as a huge drop off from the first.

Twizard Rating: 59

Monday, February 23, 2015

Quick Movie Review: The To Do List (2013)

Aubrey Plaza may have a unique comedic style, but it's not one that I particularly like. I gave her a chance with The To Do List, but less than 5 minutes into the movie I not only thought she was unfunny, but I also realized that she can't act. Her most sincere lines were delivered with such awkwardness and feigner. And even in a film with this level of flippancy you need that genuineness in order to care about the character.

Plaza plays Brandy, a goodie-two-shoes high school graduate who is constantly made fun of for being a virgin. She throws all her morals out the window when she sees a guy that she wishes to sleep with. She then compiles a list of experiences she wants to have to better prepare herself for her rendezvous with this guy.

The To Do List is insensitive and so is everyone in it. No one is nice to each other and everyone is too self-righteous to learn any type of lesson. Throughout her "journey" Brandy learns next-to-nothing. She hurts those closest to her on several occasions and ignores the reasons why after they each confront her. These friends just all end up forgiving her without actually discussing their individual issues with her actions.

Bill Hader can't even save this film. It's unfunny and the dialogue is painfully bad. The only saving grace of this movie is that it takes place in 1993, which provides for a great soundtrack. But with an unappealing cast with an even more unappealing lead I can't recommend this film to even the biggest American Pie fans.

Twizard Rating: 44

Friday, February 20, 2015

Quick Movie Review: Selma (2014)

While watching Selma you forget that Martin Luther King Jr. is no longer with us. David Oyelowo absolutely comes alive in this role. Selma accurately helps us understand King's impact and paints him as the larger-than-life man that he was. However, you feel his struggles--his fear that this may all be for nothing. But he convinces himself that it won't happen--and it doesn't.

While the director, Ava DuVernay, is superb in her ability to paint this fear along with the fear of the people, she fails to capture the grandiose of the turning points. She handles the buildups of emotions and tensions with great subtlety, but with this not being a story seen through to King's assassination she must give us climactic intensity through other means. Not to say that this movie isn't intense, but the build up keeps escalating to reach--not an explosion--but just a peak. And then the film ends. Oyelowo's performance gives us chills, but nothing else does. LBJ's speech leaves us wanting more, and the southern segregationists don't seem as disappointed as we would like them to be.

But I applaud Selma for not taking the cliched easy route by depicting King's assassination. Instead, it leaves you hoping and, just like me, allowing the image of the man living on.

Much like 2012's Lincoln, it's a film that helps us understand the politics behind the politics. However, unlike Lincoln, which gives a lot of detail without a lot of relatable intensity, Selma portrays events that happened right around the corner from where we are right now. We can still imagine that time. Not that that's bad in Lincoln's case, it just might make this movie more appealing to more of the younger demographic.

Now in a movie that's as great of a watch as Selma, it's hard to write a review that has criticisms. So note that my criticisms don't mean that it's still not a great film. It's a really really great film and one that moves us. And it might be earth shattering for many, but a few of us will find it not outstanding from other civil rights films. I mean, it tells a terrific story, but just doesn't exactly have that finishing oomph that we crave the whole time.

Twizard Rating: 96

Quick Movie Review: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

Anyone who knows me is well aware that Bill & Ted is my favorite movie. I've been quoting it since I was 10. It's a film whose sole purpose is to bring joy to the world. It's a comedy-adventure of the best variety--and that's my favorite genre. Throw in some time travel and it's perfect. It's created to make us laugh and to buy into the normally-ridiculous scenario that one band can bring harmony to the world through the power of their music alone. And the script is so well-written that you believe it, too.

Sure, it has a couple of minor time travel paradoxes, but you just don't care because it's such an awesome ride that you won't want it to end! It snubs it's nose at overcomplicated time travel movies by making itself one that is very matter-of-factly presented, and it has some fun with causality loops while winking at the audience. It calls attention to the notion that when you have a time machine you can literally go back and fix anything you want--or even PLAN to go back and do it later so that you can help yourself out in the present (it makes sense if you watch it).

But this movie is so self-aware and so silly and innocuous that you can't help but love it. Everyone has that film in their life that they feel like it was made for them. Mine is Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Twizard Rating: 98

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Quick Movie Review: City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold

We have a sequel to 1991's amazing City Slickers. While this movie is just as enjoyable as the first, it's not necessarily at the same level technically. But we have a treasure hunt that the characters go on, and who can complain about that? The themes are a little more buried, but the story about brotherhood is what this film is really about.

Jon Lovitz is a great addition to the cast as he provides another banana to Billy Crystal's smiling straight-man. And we're always glad they figured out a way to bring back Jack Palance--but this time as Curly's twin brother, Duke.

The film is never predictable, although it borrows some from previous westerns. But that just adds to the partial satire that this movie is.

It may not make you weep a little like the first one, and there isn't as much at stake, but with a fantastic cast, you could be entertained watching them fly a kite.

Twizard Rating: 88

Quick Movie Review: Bad Johnson (2014)

I'm never against a film that has a ridiculous and unique premise. That's not what makes Bad Johnson somewhat unfavorable. There's a lot more to it.

For one, you dislike the film's antagonist too much. It gets to a point where his wronging exceeds what we would consider fair for the protagonist. We can't laugh at it. Much similar to my feelings towards Neighbors.

There is hardly an established setting. I figured out that we were in Chicago after awhile, but the film doesn't lend us a hand at all. The jokes are almost never reflexively funny and there's too much use of narrative obstructions to keep us interested. It's only employed as a cheap technique to keep the audience interested during slow-movie scenes.

The film is about Rich (Cam Gigandet) who finds himself ruining every relationship he's in because of his sex addiction. He wishes that his genitals would leave him alone, so the next morning he wakes up without them. There is no reason behind this phenomenon. No fountain with a coin thrown into. No shooting star. No wishbone. It's just accepted information that's handed to us. And if that's not ridiculous enough, Rich's penis now takes on a human form, of who we ever-so-creatively refer to as "RP".

Rich's love interest, Lindsay (Katherine Cunningham), has a good head on her shoulders--that's why Rich likes her so much. She's sure of herself and sees past all the BS that life throws her way. But then why is she so easily tricked by RP's so very transparent lies? There also seems to be no concern for the fact that Rich lied to her about his past, and in fact cheated on several of his ex-girlfriends. Instead, she just accepts that he will "be good" and waves off all hesitation. Because when you think about it, she doesn't even really know him that well either. They went on like, 3 dates.

But this movie isn't completely terrible. It has some decent dialogue and isn't at a "so bad it's good" level. The quality of the film isn't what we're used to, but that can't affect our overall enjoyment. For a sex comedy, it's never grotesque. And it's actually so ludicrous that we can't look away.

A lot of times films of this nature have trouble giving us characters to like. In this case, there are a couple. The only problem is that I grew not to like Lindsay anymore. So why would I want Rich to end up with her? It doesn't make sense why he would want to either!

Oh well. He'll probably end up cheating on her anyway.

Twizard Rating: 54

Quick Movie Review: A Most Violent (2014)

While "A Most Violent Year" is a really well done, entertaining movie, and I liked it a lot, it's just not necessarily my style. Which isn't a bad thing, just a matter of taste. But with that in mind, there are still pretty much only positives to talk about.

I enjoyed the tension between the anti-gun husband and his gang-raised wife. It's a portrayal of marriage as being a partnership, even to a fault--that even the biggest differences can be worked through and superseded.

It's slow, but never boring. It keeps you in the moment while letting you anticipate Abel's (Oscar Isaac) next move. You love this character and admire his strength and integrity. So then when we see him finally at his most vulnerable, we feel close to him. We feel privileged that he shared with us a moment of weakness, much similar to how we feel the first time we watch our dad cry. Jessica Chastain, as his wife Anna, is a magnificent juxtaposition to her husband. She sells the role so well. You don't want to like her, but you do anyway out of respect for Abel.

It's one of those movies that is really well done, but will probably be overlooked for all the awards. It's good but it just doesn't sweep you off your feet like you're hoping it does.

Twizard Rating: 92

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Quick Movie Review: Clear History (2013)

Larry David proves once again that his humor is still relevant and that he can still retain our attention on screen regardless of his age. After his character, Nathan Fromm, gets into a tiff with his boss and sells back his 10% share of a soon-to-be multibillion dollar company, he moves to Martha's Vineyard to start a new life under a new name, Rolly DaVore, to escape the nationwide humiliation that this ordeal turned out to be. We fast forward 10 years. No one knows of his past and a once cynical nihilist can now be loved and enamored as well as we all hope to be.

Regardless of its irreverent and politically incorrect nature, Clear History carries quite a lot of depth.

In life many of us have to chose between being smart and being lovable. While most of Nathan's life he has chosen the former, he now realizes that being loved feels pretty good. He's made great friends and relationships that he doesn't want to lose. He started over fresh.

Then, all of a sudden, his former boss, Will (Jon Hamm), moves into town. Rolly/Nathan starts reverting to his old ways again and old attitudes start coming out. Even some of his biggest admirers begin realizing that he's really just a dick. However, we feel for Rolly. We realize that sometimes it's hard to stay sane when everyone around you is so mindlessly blissful.

But is it really worth it to be truly pliable just so you can be a billionaire? If all it takes is a little smiling and nodding and just going along with everyone else who has rose colored glasses in order to be rich, would you? You'd have to chose between your own sanity and riches. Nathan chose sanity.

It speaks as an ode to the arrogant. This movie makes you feel for them, while demonstrating what happens if you continue down that road.

Honestly, I think the only thing I would have liked more about this movie is if it had Will give the money to Rolly regardless. I mean, it's not terribly unfathomable that he would want to blow up his former boss' house. I mean, many people kill themselves in the situation he went through. Will can just build a new house, while Rolly watched his whole life disappear. We want that redeeming value. After all, we like Rolly. Perhaps that's the point though. Or perhaps it just serves the film's irreverence.

Either way, it's about as intriguing and unique of a story that you'll find. It's even better than much of the stuff you'll see in theaters. And it's sprinkled with the perfect amount of goofy to make it feel right at home with you.

Twizard Rating: 92

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Quick Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending (2015)

As hopeful as I was about Jupiter Ascending prior to its release, I was still prepared for a let down. However, I didn't think it would be this catastrophic.

I love when movies have an opening scene that's really big and draws the audience in right away. And this film did it right. Although I questioned why the unborn baby's father would risk his and his family's life over a telescope, I figured it would be of importance later.

I was wrong.

Before we go to the theater, we trust movies that feature actors that we've grown to rely on. We trust that they made a movie that's worth our money. Actors put our butts in the seats. And being a pretty big fan of Channing Tatum, I stayed optimistic about this one--despite it being a sci-fi action movie being released in early February. I mean, I loved John Carter and I didn't even see that one based on any acting merit.

But with Jupiter Ascending, the plot is so convoluted that we grow frustrated trying to grasp what's really happening. We get story lines that begin, but don't end--as if a 10 year old was giving the "and then…" approach to telling the story. Characters (and even entire subplots) come in and out with no conclusions to their story arc. The dialogue is painfully unnatural, and the acting isn't even bad enough to laugh at. For a movie that's about preserving life's greatest asset--time--at 127 minutes, I've had plenty.

With all the movies based on books, it's nice to finally have one that's original. I just wish that it had been executed better. The unique concept is highly intriguing and the film presents some thought provoking themes, but hardly anyone will be able to lock down on them.

But ultimately we grow annoyed and antsy. We never find out who killed Jupiter's dad and why, and what reason he had for trying to save his telescope while simultaneously jeopardizing his whole family. And did anyone else notice that every time Jupiter (Mila Kunis) gets into trouble and we think, "this is it for her," Caine (Tatum) arrives perfectly on time and saves the day (this happens about 8 times). This eliminates any suspense from the audience as we become assured that this will happen each subsequent time, thus making us not nervous about the character's fate. Not that we care a whole lot at this point anyway.

Just about the only things this movie has going for it are the attractive set pieces and deeply veiled virtues. I had no idea what was going on at any given time, but somehow I know what happened.

I can't recommend this movie to anyone just based on the fact that it's terrible. If you're curious, just rent it when it comes out on DVD.

I'm pretty easily entertained and I really didn't like this movie.

Twizard Rating: 44

Monday, February 9, 2015

Quick Movie Review: Hercules (2014)

How many times can we see the same story? Probably not as many times as we will see it in the future. But we still watch it for different, and hopefully unique takes on the classic story.

This version, directed by Brett Ratner, is a typical summer blockbuster. It's action-packed, there are big effects, grand set pieces, and mindless entertainment. The details aren't what's important--just that you're entertained. And it's never more evident than in 2014's Hercules.

But what works is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's fun rather than overly self-important.

Ratner's techniques may be cliche and predictable (everyone always shows up perfectly on time to save the day), but it may work to his advantage as the characters aren't as dry as many ancient action-dramas. He keeps the tone surprisingly consistent and seems to bring great charisma out of his actors. Ian McShane, who plays one of Hercules' men, is a highlight here as he gives us great comic relief without it sounding too forced, and Dwayne Johnson (Hercules) provides much depth to a character who is somewhat thought of as a mega stoic. The rest of the ensemble have distinct personalities and refrain from becoming lost in the crowd as most secondary characters do in films of this nature.

The fodder is immensely modernized and you tend to forget that you're in ancient Greece, but there are hardly any holes in the smarter-than-it-looks script. The humor is very natural and it doesn't ever risk becoming too light when it's not supposed to be. Instead of bringing us more Clash of the Titans, it gives us more The Mummy.

Going into this I wasn't sure what to expect, but I enjoyed every last bit of this film as this unique take on Hercules has incredible charisma of its own.

Twizard Rating: 85

Quick Movie Review: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015)

Although I was a bit older than the target demographic when SpongeBob SquarePants was in its heyday on TV, I did tend to watch it a lot, as it was on my favorite channel at the time--Nickelodeon. I never swore by the show, but I have to admit that it really was funny. And I've watched most of the episodes in the first several seasons. But when you take a show that you're pretty familiar with and used to seeing as 11 or 22 minute story arcs, there's something in your brain that wants to keep it that way. About 30 minutes into this film you start feeling antsy--even by the slightest languor in the narrative.

This is the same issue that The Simpsons Movie had. At a certain point we're ready for the next story, but an hour in, it's still the same unresolved issues. Not to mention, television writers are also used to the 11-22 page script--not the 90 page one. They're filling spaces. Sometimes with dragged out scenes, and sometimes with non sequitur filler jokes (the latter luckily being SpongeBob's cup of tea anyway). But despite this adversity, the screenwriters do a decent job of mixing in a lot of subplots to keep the audience awake. A lot happens--almost as though there are several 11 minute episodes happening all at once. The only problem lies with the trailer (which I try to avoid watching too many times, but when you go to the movies a lot it's inevitable). The trailer had us thinking that the whole film was set "out of water". So the entire time I was anxiously awaiting to see our characters on land in our world.

Nonetheless it keeps you laughing if you're a fan of SpongeBob. A couple of jokes miss, but there's always one that hits immediately after. It stays true to its original style of irreverence. If you aren't familiar with SpongeBob, you probably won't like this movie all too much. Fortunately for the people at Nickelodeon, many people (especially 20-30 year olds) like SpongeBob and will want to see this movie. And the younger kids will probably end up dragging their parents to see it anyway--if they don't already fall into the previous demographic.

While they could have done a couple of things slightly better in this movie, it's a big step forward in the "TV Cartoon on Film" genre and keeps you pretty well entertained.

Twizard Rating: 82

Quick Movie Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

My thing is, you can't bash a movie that's original and experimental in nature. Especially one that provides such deep commentary as this one does. Look past narrative and character depth and acting--which are all on point here anyway--and realize that you will rarely watch anything like this in your lifetime. There's nothing commercial about this. Much could be said about the equally innovative Boyhood.

But in Birdman's case, the long takes adds to the complexity of the story and the palpability of it. You know there's no BS because you're seeing everything--and it all makes sense. And while the film seems to mostly be one single shot, it still has so many stories intertwined that all relate to one another as though the characters are apart of the same plain--and they can't avoid each other.

It's a commentary of show business, but it isn't preachy, and it doesn't blatantly take sides. It shows things for what they are.

To me it's impossible to criticize something that's as honest as this. You watch this film an then you go and watch the next Nicholas Sparks film and compare their integrities. One of those you feel like you're a customer at somebody's business, and the other you feel like you're staring at a masterpiece at an art gallery. A masterpiece of film is greater than the sum of it's parts. Birdman doesn't fall apart at the seams if something is out of line. It isn't dependent on one aspect of the film. Even with mediocre acting this film would be incredible.

Twizard Rating: 99

Quick Movie Review: Project Almanac (2015)

There's absolutely no denying that this movie is full of fun. It's gripping and keeps you at the edge of your seat. However, by about the same time that the movie really takes off half way through the 2nd act, plot holes start showing up. Unlike the ones in 2013's About Time, they're not so annoying at first, but you'll soon find yourself saying, "…I would have liked this movie way more if that didn't happen."

While most of the holes come from breaking all kinds of time travel rules (David, played by Jonny Weston, apparently doesn't run into his past self when attempting to redo his mistake with Jessie at Lollapalooza), there are even a couple of them in there that have nothing to do with time travel at all (the camera picks up the sound of two people having a conversation 30 feet away during a concert as though they were right next to them in a library).

The laziness in the script may not work for some, although I feel like the movie did an okay job of masking its mistakes. Why don't they go back in time to fix the wrong number in the lottery, but they're willing to go back to do comparatively superfluous things.

Although it's not bothersome to me, the shaky found footage camerawork is a little too much in this movie. But it doesn't turn out to be an unnecessary detail.

You just want to see more of the group's adventures into the past as they live it up. In fact, I would've been willing to watch a whole 2 hours of them just dong that stuff. But this film becomes more about the problems of traveling through time rather than actually accomplishing anything by traveling through time.

The ending of this movie makes up for a lot and has a pretty nice grandiose finish to it. I would definitely watch this film again. As it's not the best addition to the time travel genre, it doesn't necessarily harm it either. In fact, I really liked it.

Twizard Rating: 83