Monday, August 31, 2015

Quick Movie Review: American Ultra (2015)





American Ultra is about a stoner, Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), whose only concern in life is when to propose to his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). Then one day he discovers that he may be of pretty significant importance to the CIA, as they attempt to assassinate him. But then his previously unrealized skills kick in and the government gets more than they bargained for as Mike is singlehandedly dismantling their entire strategy.

The acting is decent for the most part. While the director gets the right amount of laughs out of the jokes, he could have inspired some of his actors a little more. Eisenberg is just fine, but at times Stewart seems as if she's just going through the motions--regardless of the exuding chemistry between her and Eisenberg.

American Ultra keeps us guessing and you're never sure what's really going on--which isn't a bad thing. It's actually exciting. It doesn't waste too much time with background stories or the world outside of the 3-day-period shown in the film, but in the end, it doesn't really matter. The dialogue is really well thought out and realistic. The fusion of the black comedy and action genres is fun. Any time someone gets a product that they believe is too different they automatically degrade it. But with American Ultra, it's refreshing.

This movie works on so many levels, with a tone that is very unique--especially compared to most films we get nowadays. And clocking in at a mere 96 minutes, it's the perfect change up from the typical 2 and a half hour vanity projects that seem to keep projecting on our screens as of late.

Twizard Rating: 92



Quick Movie Review: Spy (2015)





Many of us aren't yet sure about Melissa McCarthy. But one thing we all know is that she shines gloriously in any film directed by Paul Feig (a la "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat"). He knows her strengths and weaknesses, and allows her to play the straight-man.

In Spy, she plays Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who spends all of her time behind a computer monitor, acting as the eye-in-the-sky for lead agent, Bradley Fine (Jude Law), as he goes out in the field. But after Fine is compromised and a terrorist group hacks into a list of the CIA's agents, Cooper's director (Allison Janney) assigns her to go out into the field since she is unrecognizable.

Susan is an overweight, bubbly, cat-lady-looking lady with no fieldwork experience, and everyone doubts her abilities--including agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who doesn't get nearly enough screen time as he provides us with some of the film's best scenes.

Of course, one of the main themes here is "proving everyone wrong"--a subtext that comes off as a little too forceful at times. Everyone in the film mocks McCarthy's character and makes fun of her weight and her looks. This is effective to an extent if done properly, but the characters exploit every chance they have to belittle her, and the constant defamation really starts to get old about halfway through the movie.

But this film gives us an almost perfect blend of comedy and action, and doesn't sacrifice one for the other. There seems to be so much effort placed in making sure that the action sequences are well-done, and it shows.

On the comedy side of things, Feig often seems to go for a little more disorder that it comes off as inconsistent, but it's just evident of his range.

And as seamless as the film is, perhaps its biggest downfall is that every time a protagonist is about to die, someone on their team conveniently shows up to save them. It's expected to happen, but not to the extent that it is in this film.

It's not a perfect film, but it's just about there. It may not break into new territory, however it's a very solid movie in both genres. The cast is excellent. McCarthy is superb. Spy has definitely moved into her top 3 films. And guess what the other two are.

Twizard Rating: 88

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Quick Movie Review: Me and Earl and The Dying Girl (2015)


Much like the film's main protagonist, it marches to the beat of its own drum. It's weird, irreverent, touching, subtle, but it's never without focus. It knows exactly what it's doing at all times and even goes so far as to tell you. It reads the audience's mind, while also partially satirizing similar films in the genre, thus creating a little path just for itself.

Based on the novel of the same name, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is pretty self-explanatory. The main character, Greg (Thomas Mann) is just trying to continue to survive the end of high school by being acquaintances with everyone without being friends with any of them. But once he is forced by his mom to spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl sick with leukemia, everything changes. He realizes the good and the bad that come with having people in your life. Before her, the one peer that he could count on was Earl (RJ Cyler). But Greg never refers to him as a friend, rather as a coworker. Their 12 year friendship consists mostly of hanging out in their teacher's office during lunch and making parody films after school--a plot point that is extremely fun in its own right.

Regardless of the whole overarching premise, the characters themselves are really interesting. The teens are never written in a way that makes them appear to be wise beyond their years. No overly conscious prose that make them seem like grandparents teaching their grandchildren the meaning of life. Everything said is realistic and organic--as if written by a 17-year-old itself.

The writing and acting aren't the only achievements of this film. Brian Eno's score is very pertinent to the tone of the movie and blends in nicely with its surroundings. Also, the camera work is so conscious and never feels like it's being experimental merely for the sake of art. Like when a character feels suffocated or claustrophobic, the camera gets extremely close at a slight worm's angle so the audience can sympathize with them.

Despite being about terminal illness and death, it's never depressing. It's one of the few sickness films that hits the nail on the head. Without dwelling on the suffering and going for the cheap reaction from the audience, it enters into our souls and teaches us that death might change the people surrounding the sick person just as much as it does the sick person themselves.

Personally, watching this film didn't make me cry. Not because I wasn't sad, but because the characters and the script prepared me well for what was to come. It serves its purpose. It's heartfelt and meaningful without being a tearjerker, but I really think that's the point.

Twizard Rating: 100

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Quick Movie Review: The Unauthorized Full House Story (2015)





Full House is one of my favorite television shows of all time. The nostalgia that exudes from the screen every time I watch it is almost unparalleled. But when making a Lifetime movie about all that happened behind-the-scenes, you have to expect a below average product.

Honestly, I didn't hate it. The made-for-TV-movie happens to hit on what Full House was all about for their audience--escaping our lives temporarily to watch a family that we knew would make it all work out in the end. Full House was far from a technically superb show, but America loved it for some strange reason. It spoke to us, and it had it's own distinct character to it.

But other than fans watching their childhood being made significant with the production of a "biopic", this film is poorly made, thus written off as laughable.

While hardly scratching the surface, The Unauthorized Full House Story gives little depth to what happened off-camera. It provides necessary details of what occurred over a 10 year period for nearly a dozen characters, but doesn't make the conflicts mean anything.

But honestly, I don't think that's what is making people write this one off. I think it's the fact that every little missed detail is annoyingly distracting us from becoming convinced of this world that the filmmakers have created. We want to get sucked in and experience all the happenings of the people we so fondly grew up with. And that's what a biopic is all about--being convinced. But the main actors--other than the girl who played the young Candice Cameron--were ever so inaccurate with their portrayals. Bob Saget comes off as whiny, John Stamos appears to be a prude, and the Olsen twins aren't nearly as precocious as they were famously known to be. We have a hard time imagining the actors playing the characters, therefore taking away from the "magic" that is supposed to be present here. In fact, after lines were delivered, I spent a lot of time stopping to imagine the actual person saying them.

Also, almost nothing about this film feels like it's set in the '80s or '90s. From the first scene, when we see a pre-fame Saget delivering jokes in a comedy club, the camera flashes to the audience who is dressed as if it were 2015. At least make us FEEL like we're there!

But let's face it, most likely we're not going to get a feature film biopic directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring a handful of household names. This is pretty much as good as we're going to get outside of an actual documentary or the followup series being delivered sometime in 2016.

Twizard Rating: 54



Quick Movie Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)







The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is based on the 1964 television series of the same name. In the film version, Henry Cavill plays Napoleon Solo--a former thief who now works for the CIA. He must save Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) from KGB operative, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). After reporting to his supervisor, Solo discovers that he must work together WITH Kuryakin in order to steal plans for a nuclear weapon designed by Teller's father for the Nazis.

Despite such intriguing background stories for both Solo and Kuryakin, none of that is shown--only told. The film is intended to act as an origin story, but we only get the latter portion of the origin--the arguably more pedestrian one.

But the part that's shown isn't boring by nature. The plot is really creative with a few twists thrown in. However, the dialogue attempts to explain things in a slick "Guy Ritchie" manner, but instead comes off as more confusing than it needs to be.

At times, it's hard to follow and difficult to understand who everyone is, but if you can figure it out, it's an entertaining film.

The comedy is kept subtle in an Ocean's Eleven kind of way, and Solo and Kuryakin's relationship is fun to watch develop. But besides that, there isn't much depth to it either.

The set pieces are nice to look at. We're really immersed into the era--something that is on the list of director, Guy Ritchie's "pros" list.

Throw in a couple of highly creative action sequences -- the only ones in the movie -- and you get a fairly entertaining couple of hours. But other than that, and a pretty good plot, nothing truly sets it apart from the rest of the movies you'll see this summer--the film's true downfall. And in a year filled with a more-than-usual helping of spy movies, this one is going to end up coming in around 4th or 5th on the list.

Twizard Rating: 74

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Quick Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton (2015)


If you've been waiting for a good biopic "epic" to pop up, you can put Gandhi back on the shelves, because, rest assured, Straight Outta Compton will do the trick.

The film chronicles the careers of the members of rap group N.W.A. Known for songs such as "Straight Outta Compton" and "F*** the Police", they were the voice of the people living in the inner-city and popularized the genre of gangsta rap. Love them or hate them, they played a pivotal role in censorship and free speech in music.

In case you didn't realize, N.W.A. is one of the most significant and influential hip-hop acts of all time. They helped bring to light a lot of issues going on in the inner-city with a frustrated outlook rather than a stereotypical one. Before N.W.A. most people sorta kinda knew about the hood. They knew to stay away and that it wasn't safe, but that's about as far as it went. These guys shoved their issues in society's face and told them, "Look, these problems are just as significant to us as yours are to you." People were afraid and didn't know how to handle their blunt honesty.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and these sentiments are becoming real for the general public again. With media attention towards a high volume of immensely disturbing videos, this past year has garnered its own frustrations. But the one thing that this film does exceptionally well is not exploiting this. It touches upon those issues, but it doesn't obsess over them. It stays focussed and sees the bigger picture.

What I found most powerful about this film is the depiction of the rise and fall of the rap legend, Eric "Eazy-E" Wright--one of the group's core members. It romanticizes his relationship with the rest of the group and his relationship with life in general--giving us a brilliant character arc while remaining unbiased.

While it may put some of its characters on a pedestal, the events that ARE shown are done so as honest as possible, considering that 2 of the people portrayed in the film are executive producers. There is some controversy revolving certain events that should have been showed, but I think they chose against releasing a 6 hour film for a reason.

In the end, what we get is a well-written biopic that offends as little people as possible, considering the subject matter, and it reminds us of how far our nation has come, even during times when we feel like it hasn't.


Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: The Gift (2015)


You may look at the premise for The Gift and think that you've seen this before. Creepy guy who stalks married couple. But it's not exactly about what happens--more so, why.

Joel Edgerton has outdone himself with his directorial debut.The film has a lot to say and gets its points across well.

The Gift begins with a couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who has just moved back to California. Simon runs into an old high school acquaintance, Gordo (Edgerton), who seems a bit odd. He keeps giving them unwarranted gifts and needs to be needed a little bit too much. The couple's new life becomes dominated and overrun by Gordo's existence.

The film starts out as a complete thriller. It's filled with all the cliches--not necessarily in a bad way. Paranoia runs rampant in the mind of Robyn, who works from home, as well as the audience's. Simon seems collected and just chocks it up to Gordo being a weirdo, since he's always been weird.

But thriller turns into mystery when Robyn starts investigating exactly why Gordo is torturing them and what lies in his past.

The acting is truly amazing. Each of the three leads has conviction in their roles and, along with Edgerton's direction, bring amazing depth to each of them.

With most psycho-thrillers, it doesn't come without its share of head scratchers, but they're not terribly debilitating to the film and you enjoy the rush so much that they don't really matter.

Without giving too much away, The Gift is definitely worth the watch. It's one of the best psycho-thrillers to come along in awhile.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)


There is something to be said about Tom Cruise. Why he has the best track record with blockbuster films, why he's as good now as he was 20 years ago, or why we want to keep seeing him in movies. To be honest, he doesn't have the likability of a Will Smith, or the brooding persona of a Harrison Ford, and it makes no sense, but we can't take our eyes off of the screen when he's there. He doesn't beg for our attention, but he gets it. Maybe it isn't that certain zeal or infectious energy. Maybe it's that ability NOT to monopolize the screen. This allows others around him to shine. He doesn't ask for our approval, so we're more willing to give it to him. He's seldom your favorite character in a given movie, but at the same time he carries every film that he's in. And he's been doing it for over three decades now.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is no different. The supporting cast is great in this film, but without Cruise, it would just waste away.

As the CIA has disintegrated the IMF (Impossible Missions Force), Ethan (Cruise) and his team attempt to eradicate the Syndicate--an international organization lead by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) whose agenda is to acquire enough money to colonize their own rogue nation.

There aren't any real callbacks to the previous films--something that they may be doing in attempts to be more Bond-esque, but for fans hoping to get more of what they love in the previous 2 films, they're in for a treat. The action and fight sequences are jaw dropping, and the premise is so well-conceived that you won't ever know what's coming next.

It can get a little heavy in the details, but you just accept everything and follow along, and it all makes sense in the end. Jeremy Renner (Williams Brandt) and Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn) return, and so does Ving Rhames (Luther) after his absence from the last film (not including a brief cameo). Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust) is a great addition to the franchise, and I hope that her mysterious character is developed more in future installments.

It may not reinvent the wheel, but its non-stop action never makes you realize that it's nearly two and a half hours long. Christopher McQuarrie acts as both director and screenwriter for this film--a feat that I feel does wonders for a project. And he now has a great addition for his CV.
 

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Vacation (2015)





Playing out as a reworked version of the original, Vacation might disappoint some diehard fans of 1983's National Lampoon's Vacation. Not because they don't think it's funny, and not because Chevy Chase is all but absent from this film, but because it uses the formula from the original and places its own events within that formula. But honestly, that's a stupid reason not to like a movie. If they had changed it to make is completely different, fans would've hated that too.

Instead of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) at the helm of the madness, it's his son, Rusty (Ed Helms), who tries to relive his childhood vacation across the country to the amusement park, Wally World. While the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, Helms brings his own unique flair to the screen. He's optimistic like his father, but he also lacks a lot of the confidence and cojones.

Rusty's wife, Debbie, played by Christina Applegate provides a good counter-act to Rusty's ridiculousness, but where the film waivers is when we realize that Rusty and Debbie's relationship doesn't have the sweetness and loyalty that Clark and Ellen have with each other. But it's a Griswold couple for the new generation.

And so is the humor. It mixes the tone from the old films while keeping the comedy at a more modern and relatable level. The jokes don't hold back at all, which gives Vacation that edge of today's comedies.

The framework of the story may be recycled, but the scenes within are really well-written, and the jokes are borderline genius. In one of my favorite bits of the past few years, Rusty and Debbie have the bright idea to make love on the four corners monument (the marking where four states come together at a single point). They get cited for indecent exposure, but four police officers--one from each state--argue their jurisdiction. It turns into a warfare of pride between the officers--as the two leads sneak away. Another highlight is the Griswold's blue Albanian minivan that provides some of the best laughs of the movie.

But the real strength here lies within the direction. They get the best performances out of each of their actors, and it's the subtle reactions from them that get some of the biggest laughs. I guess that's what happens when you hire the screenwriters to direct the film as well.

The laughs literally don't stop throughout the film's entirety. The writers have constructed such a well-paced romp that the audience is eating from the palms of their hands. Vacation is one of the most consistent comedies that I've seen in awhile--another improvement on the original.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Vegas Vacation (1997)





It's tough to have a Vacation film without that John Hughes flair. But screenwriter, Elisa Bell, has the right idea comedically and stays fairly true to the vibe of the first three films. The only issue with Vegas Vacation is that there's no bigger picture within the plot. Or the one that's present feels overly contrived.

In this installment, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) takes his family to Las Vegas for vacation. There, Clark turns into a gambling addict and becomes estranged from his family. His wife (Beverly D'Angelo) and kids get upset at him and decide to go off and have their own pleasures fulfilled.

Honestly, Clark's behavior isn't all that bad from what his family can see, so I don't understand where their bitterness is coming from. They're unaware that he's losing money, and the times that he gets separated from the family usually aren't his fault.

I get the whole "you've become selfish, so become unselfish again" concept, but the conflict feels forced for the mere sake of having conflict. Even Clark's epiphanic moment is sudden and without a believable catalyst. Just as there is no real reason for Clark's family to be mad at him, there is no real reason why they reconcile in the end either.

The best part of this film is its humor. Although over-the-top at times, there's nothing too out of the ordinary for a Vacation film. The most inventive bit is when Clark finds a casino full of made-up games, such as "Rock-Paper-Scissors" or "Pick a Number Between 1 and 10".

Overall, it's not a bad watch. It's at least good for some cheap laughs and some '90s Vegas nostalgia. And I get that the audience may want to see more from the Griswolds, but at least give them something more rewarding to make the trip worth while.

Twizard Rating: 69

Quick Movie Review: Fantastic Four (2015)





Growing up, I never really read comic books, but I did enjoy 2 superhero shows. The first was Super Friends, and the other was Fantastic Four.

I can't stress enough how ridiculous the backlash has been for this film. I made the mistake of accidentally catching the review consensus this time before watching it--something I absolutely hate doing. But I did, and therefore spent the entirety of the film expecting it to be terrible. It's no Godfather, but it's not The Last Airbender either. This movie is entertaining, riveting, visually stunning, and far more inventive with its origin than the previous series.

With a much darker take on the classic comic book series, director Josh Trank has us immersed in a world that's already somewhat dystopian. High school genius, Reed Richards (Miles Teller), gets recruited to a team who is developing a machine that can teleport organic matter to an alternate world. He, along with Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), gets super powers from the energy contrived by this mysterious world.

As filmgoers, we tend to take each adaptation of a film as the definitive version. This doesn't happen in literature. While Frank Miller did catch some flak for darkening Batman in his Dark Knight Returns graphic novels, overall the feedback was positive and today he is credited by many for revamping the series.

This new Fantastic Four isn't perfect by any means. The dialogue is shoddy, the setup takes up 2/3 of the film, and there isn't enough action to satisfy a room full of Comic-Con attendees, but I couldn't stop watching. The first 45 minutes or so feature some of the best cinema I've seen all year--full of mystery and intrigue. While I grew up with the cartoon version of the Fantastic Four, I have an appreciation for the dismal tone of this film. It's something new and edgy.

I did feel, however, that the direction is a little sloppy. As much as I love Miles Teller, I feel like I'm watching some of his bad takes rather than a final cut. Also, there is no purpose for using a CGI monkey over a real one.

But overall, I would watch this film again. It has one of the best Marvel movie villains to date. And although most of this film is a setup, it takes one for the team and provides a solid foundation for future films in this series.

Twizard Rating: 81

Quick Movie Review: Pixels (2015)





At its core, Pixels is very very unique. We start off in 1982 when a young Adam Sandler and a young Kevin James are hanging out at their local arcade. '80s tunes are blaring in the background and everything. It's a great opening. Sandler's character, Sam Brenner, competes in the arcade game world championship. A time capsule with footage of the competition is to be sent into outer space in hopes that alien life will find it and learn about our culture. Flash forward to present-day where James' character, Will Cooper, is now the President of the United States and Sam is just an electronics repair guy. But Earth is in jeopardy as these aliens who found the footage see it as a declaration of war between planets and send in '80s arcade characters to attack Earth. President Cooper must now call upon his arcade-wiz friend to advise him in how to defeat these video games.

Besides its originality, it's deep cast of characters provides us with a lot of laughs and humorous situations. But it remains as exactly that--a comedy. The action sequences are mostly pedestrian, as well as few and far between. Although it's a great break from the over-self-importance of most other action films nowadays, don't expect Mad Max either.

The film's true downfall is the fact that it leaves nothing to mystery. There isn't anything left to be uncovered. Everything that needs to be revealed is done so early on, and the only thing that we have left to question is whether or not Earth will win. But we can obviously predict the answer to that.

Despite its fresh concept, it doesn't do as much as it can with it. With a better script it could have been an instant-classic, but now we see it as merely a comedy that doesn't seem to have a grip on action. It's full of plot holes and sloppy inaccuracies with chronology. And there isn't really any depth or character attachment. We are so far away from worrying about the characters that it just becomes all about the '80s references and jokes.

But it's popcorn entertainment--consistent in its narrative and keeps us laughing the whole way through. It's as harmless as they come.

Twizard Rating: 81

Quick Movie Review: Paper Towns (2015)


Not necessarily as deep as Fault In Our Stars, but just the same way as Aladdin isn't as dirty as the South Park Movie--they're aiming at two different things. Paper Towns intends to be a high school coming-of-age-comedy, and the latter is about dealing with death on a whole other level.

Paper Towns revolves around the geeky and inexperienced Quentin (Nat Wolff) and his neighbor/crush, Margo (Cara Delevingne), who is the most popular girl in school as well as an adventurous rebel. After having the night of his life with her, Quentin realizes that Margo has gone missing and that she has left clues for him to find. He plans on finding her and proving his lifelong love for her.

The overall theme here is experiencing high school for both the first and last time. Quentin realizes how to finally live his life and experience adolescence, but only weeks before he graduates. His best friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), are just like him. The three friends' rapport is so genuine and their banter feels so real and unscripted that it plays as a home movie at times.

The character of Margo is one we've seen before. She's the Dawson's Creek-esque teen who uses big words and impossibly seems to know everything as though she's lived a lifetime full of experiences. She speaks very tritely and pretentiously, yet we're supposed to sympathize with everyone's enchantment with her. She, as a character, is fake. Although she's supposed to be the main focus of the story, sadly she's one of the things that doesn't work with the film. But of course, it's the idea of her that we must focus on while watching the film.

It pulls from many teen coming-of-age comedies. You have the adventure, the romance, the getting-into-trouble. Many of the situations and themes are very obviously inspired by John Hughes films--which isn't necessarily a bad thing. While not seeming to be unique by borrowing from various sources, the writers add their own flair and compile these components into one unique story. 

Paper Towns is really really funny. It also manages to be full of spirit and purpose. However, towards the end of the 2nd act it slows down considerably and the tone shifts. Eventually it turns from mystery to cliched rote without truly giving us an ending worth the buildup. But it needs to happen this way. You'll see when you watch the movie.

But it does give you a sort of romantic feeling about your youth. No matter who you were in high school, it makes you either miss it or wish you did more. It speaks across several generations of teenagers reminding them that no one's got it all figured out.

Twizard Rating: 88

Quick Movie Review: Amy (2015)





We all saw it coming. The emotional train wreck that was Amy Winehouse. We knew it was inevitable. But we also didn't know the whole story. Here, in the brilliant documentary, Amy, we get to see what caused her to get to her life to the stage it was in. It accurately depicts the downward spiral without anything coming across as abrupt or sudden. We know of the pending doom, but we just watch it happen--much like everyone in her life did.

Amy doesn't distract us with the typical documentary-style single-camera interviews from close family and friends. Instead, it shows her life chronologically through home movies, press videos, and pictures, meanwhile the people closest to her hash out the details of her depression and addiction. There is no filter, nor agenda. They celebrate Amy's brilliance while remaining candid about her faults.

One of the main underlying themes throughout the whole documentary is enabling. Her whole life was filled with people who enabled her or gave up on her. Very few people actually tried to forcefully help her--but the opposition was so much stronger that they were left outnumbered.

It's funny because when you're charismatic and popular, everyone wants to win you over and no one wants to tell you what to do for fear of you not liking them. Others may do it because you getting help isn't convenient for them.

It doesn't remain unbiased, but it's honest. Why would it be unbiased? Throughout the whole film it's obvious where the problems lay. It doesn't directly point fingers, but the facts about certain people directly surrounding her are enough to paint Times Square.

This documentary is worth a watch since most of us didn't know the singer for who she was--a person. It addresses the problems surrounding her. And while showing sympathy towards her, it never excuses what happened.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Terminator Genisys (2015)


The 5th installment in the Terminator franchise has to be looked at as its own film. If we compare it to Terminator 2--one of the greatest sci-fi films ever--then we will be in for a let down. But if we acknowledge what it is for today's society, it's a really good movie.

In Terminator Genisys, we are faced with the post-apocalyptic world of 2029, where machines rule and humans attempt to defeat them. John Connor (Jason Clarke) prophetically sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to 1983 in order to save his mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke), from a cyborg assassin. However, when Kyle goes back to 1983, Sarah already knows what's been going on and the world is a lot different than the one that we saw lived out in the first Terminator film.

Even though the dialogue is painful during many scenes, the premise is exciting and well thought-out. For a movie about time travel, plot holes are usually inevitable. But Genisys avoids most of them by covering its tracks along the way. However, it does suffer from the age-old problem of time traveling too close to the time of the catastrophic event--thus making the film more suspenseful, but also making the characters' task much more stressful. There were a few other minor head scratchers, but nothing that we haven't already asked in the first two movies.

And we can't forget about Arnold Schwarzenegger. This film is truly at its best when he's on the screen. We're always waiting for him to do or say something. His presence is just as strong now as it was almost 25 years ago.

As good as this movie is, I'm not sold on Emilia Clarke, who plays Sarah Connor. She's not a bad actress, but she's not a great one either. And that, combined with dialogue that's too wordy and inattentive direction, makes her worse. Jai Courtney is a little better, but still suffers from similar issues.

Alan Taylor's directing is good when it comes to interpreting the events in the script, but not as much with character decision. Sarah lives in 1983, yet she talks like she's straight out of 2015. And the little things, when less would be more, end up making what would be a brilliant film into mere popcorn entertainment.

But popcorn entertainment isn't a bad thing. Some of my favorite films fit into that category. It may not be the sort of movie that hardcore Terminator fans were waiting for, but honestly I think hardly anything would work for them.

Twizard Rating: 86

Quick Movie Review: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)





Finally, a Vacation film that is good all around. It puts together the good qualities of the first and second movies to make a solid third installment.

Maybe I'm just getting used to these characters and the style of these films, but I'm certainly liking them more and more with each one.

In National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the series goes back to being about Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo). And it's never been more evident than by casting a third pair of children to play Rusty (Johnny Galecki) and Audrey (Juliette Lewis)--which has become an in-joke at this point. Clark attempts to have a perfect Christmas at his home, although it's being made very difficult with a house full of rowdy relatives.

This film is far more heartwarming than the previous two films, which are a giant batch of straightforward irreverence. But while that style may turn off some viewers, the well-balanced tone of this third film will have a little bit of both to satisfy everyone.

Possibly the highlight of this series is the brilliant running joke with the Griswold's pretentious neighbors, whose Christmas is getting incidentally ruined as a result of Clark needing to have a perfect one. It speaks of the depth of Clark's character as well as providing the audience with some of the most amazing pratfalls and farce of the franchise.

It's still very John Hughes-ey in its writing, but it definitely doesn't showcase any lack of ideas.

Twizard Rating: 83

Quick Movie Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)





The 4th chapter in the Terminator series, Terminator Salvation, might lose the character of the franchise a bit, but it doesn't lose the spirit, and is a necessary piece in order to continue and expand the film universe.

Here we get a weird hybrid of an origin story set in the future. John Connor (Christian Bale) is faced with Skynet's first attempt at a cyborg with human features, Marcus (Sam Worthington). Now Connor must abandon all he knows in order to see past what Marcus actually is--a weapon constructed by his enemy.

It's completely predictable and cliche, but it's not without its positives. The main theme of second chances looms over our heads the whole film, but it's an important one to say the least.

Salvation is definitely one of the more intriguing films in the series simply because it's the first time we really get to see the future. We already sort of know what's going to happen, but it's that anticipation that makes is more enjoyable and we can finally see the events come to fruition that had only been talked about up until then. Without tiring out the concept, it's necessary to see the Terminator universe in this way.

It's safe to say that the series loses its character quality a little bit in this film. John Connor is much more serious, and so is our terminator protagonist. There's less of the fish-out-of-water humor, as the levity is very few and far between.

But what doesn't work more than anything is the "relationship" between Marcus and Blair (Moon Bloodgood). They share a meet-cute and are supposed to be fond of each other, but we don't actually see any of this. Their initial connection to each other consists of scenes wasted on lusty glances in place of actually building chemistry that would have rationalized a connection between the two characters. Therefore, their relationship doesn't make any sense, nor does it live up to its potential of really being a driving force in this film.

While I actually enjoyed Terminator Salvation, I just wish that it took some slightly different approaches.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985)





As being more of a fan of European Vacation than its predecessor, I still rank the two films equally due to the fact that, although funnier, this sequel is terribly written.

The script is fine in terms of the humor--the jokes are funnier and more well-constructed, and the situations are seen all the way through to the end. But in terms of the plot, nothing is resolved. And in that aspect, it makes the sequel seem much more unnecessary.

In National Lampoon's European Vacation, the Griswold family goes to Europe on a trip that they won on a game show. Antics ensue and the same sort of shenanigans that we see in the first Vacation film happen again.

I find myself laughing out loud more during European Vacation. The anticipation of the farce that we see in the first film makes for a more enjoyable experience all around. The characters handle the situations in much more realistic ways.

But it's far from perfect. The plot is just stretched way too thin. There isn't any end destination. It's a lot of action with no climactic result. The conflict doesn't even start until 2/3 of the way into the film--right about the time when the comedy starts to lose its overall momentum.

The humor is much less dated, and the writers do a great job of not relying on just calling back the jokes from the first film. The children are incorporated a lot more and it feels like much less of a device to showcase Chevy Chase's talent.

It's too bad that the plot is pieced together so terribly, because this would have certainly helped the franchise reach a new level. But at least we still have a lot of laughs.

Twizard Rating: 70

Quick Movie Review: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)





The third installment in the Terminator franchise may seem pointless to some diehard fans, but it's actually a solid movie that furthers the premise of the series.

Following the events of Terminator 2, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines catches us up with John Connor (Nick Stahl) approximately a decade later. It turns out that the judgement day John and his mother thought that they derailed is happening anyway. Two more cyborgs are sent back in time--one to protect John and his future wife, and the other to terminate them.

The movie builds upon our notions of fate and destiny and expands the universe which we grew enamored by in the first two films.

Although it copies the formula from the previous film, it doesn't disappoint. It gives us a solid addition to the franchise without losing the spirit of where it came from.

And believe it or not, it even deepens the Terminator character as well. It gives us some laughs and callbacks to the previous film and aims to please fans.

Sure, certain action sequences are a bit more tiresome and unrealistic, but when you have cyborg warriors I guess anything is possible.

Twizard Rating: 91

Quick Movie Review: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)


The memory of Terminator 2 from my childhood is a foggy one, but I remember, as a child who couldn't have been any older than 10, that I really liked this movie. There were scenes that, to this day, have stuck with me. I remember the ending almost shot-for-shot as I rematch it some 16 years later.

I like the first Terminator film a great deal, but it has that '80s feel to it and it's very dated. But the 1991 sequel is ahead of its time. And 24 years later, It holds up perfectly--just as my memories of it as a child.

In this movie, a cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger), looking exactly like the one who tries to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in the first film, is sent back to the past to protect her son, John Connor (Edward Furlong), who is being hunted down by a more advanced evil cyborg (Robert Patrick) who can morph into any person or metal object.

The plot is more developed and longer. We realize that there is more at stake here. We know the background already and know who must live and who must die. At 2 and a half hours, the movie never seems to overstay its welcome.

Schwarzenegger has never been more perfect for any role he's played. He's truly at his best and even displays his comedic talents. Patrick, playing the main antagonist, creepily stalks Sarah and John throughout the whole movie, evoking true fear from the audience.

This is a near-perfect cinematic experience. It's one of my favorite films and it's even better watching it with more context than when I was a child.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)





Maybe growing up on National Lampoon's Vacation would have helped my appreciation, but the humor is dated and the laughs are few and far between.

Not to say that there aren't any--and the ones that are present are actually quite funny--but when a film decides to be an irreverent comedy, you expect it to be fairly consistent. Many scenes that are meant to be funny aren't even the ones that I laughed at the hardest. Some of the funniest bits are when Chevy Chase is just being Chevy Chase. Like having a prophetic conversation with his son (Anthony Michael Hall) as his glasses are subtly falling off of his face. Or denying his family from visiting the Gateway Arch in St. Louis--rather, going to places like the world's 2nd largest ball of twine instead

There are some clever scenes, but in an early-John-Hughes fashion, they appear underdeveloped and disconnected from each other much of the time. It's a compilation of instances, rather than a story.

The film is about the Griswold family driving from Chicago to Los Angeles to visit a sendup version of Disneyland, called Walley World. On the way, they experience Murphy's Law firsthand, as just about everything on the trip goes haywire. Chevy Chase plays Clark Griswold--the enthusiastic patriarch whose idea it is to drive to California rather than take an airplane.

Watching the movie, I was never bored, but also not really invested in the characters or in anything that was happening. The film isn't bad by any means when compared to other comedies. It's just average. A few memorable scenes, but the rest are throwaways. That is, unless you're nostalgic about the film--then you can probably recite the lines in their entirety.

I can appreciate its impact and place in popular culture. It's just that having not grown up with the movie, it's hard to see past what I'm actually watching.

Twizard Rating: 71

Quick Movie Review: Ant-Man (2015)




As one of the few people who are beginning to get tired of these Marvel Universe movies, Ant-Man was extremely refreshing. It's not that I dislike the movies--it's just beginning to feel like the same stories with different characters. I've also noticed that the first film in each character's "series" has been the standout. Hopefully the same does not bode true of Ant-Man, since I would love to see this be the flagship series of the Avengerverse.

Without giving too much away, Ant-Man is about ex-convict, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who is hired by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to put on a suit that makes him the size of an ant in order to pull of a heist and make the world a better place.

If you're looking for something large-scale and meaningful, you may not completely find it here. But in a way, that's what makes Ant-Man more believable. In the real world, if there were superheroes like this, not every crime would be catastrophically jeopardizing the world as we know it. Some may just be on a personal level.

It lacks a certain depth and big emotion that the other Marvel films give us, but that adds to the uniqueness. The script isn't perfect, but it also changed hands midway through development.

While not perfect, it's exactly what we need. It's fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. The action isn't forced, but is always necessary. The changing of Ant-Man's height back and forth actually makes for some of the most unique fight sequences in cinema. However, we always know what's going on and it doesn't alienate any of its audience. Although it does tend to hurl a lot of information at us all at once, it does so while bridging the gap between the superhero-movie-lovers and the non-fans. It plays as more of a comedy and doesn't fill of our brains with too many made-up substances or secret organizations.

But don't think that this film is dumbed-down by any means. It's filled with thought-provoking themes and blurs the lines between right and wrong--making every character that much more interesting. No one here is the spitting image of morally pure--in a way, much more similar to Iron Man than Captain America.

Rudd does a fantastic job carrying the lead of this film, along with Douglas, who plays the quasi-mysterious mentor with a secret past.

This Marvel film finally gives us a fun scenario to play with. Unlike the other Marvel Universe films, this concept won't wear thin because there is so much you can do with it to continue answering our "what-if" questions. And with the plus side that Scott Lang is a very unique personality, this won't just be blending in with all the other superhero movies.
 

Twizard Rating: 94