Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

My first thought when going to see this movie was, "It's not rated 'R'??" It's such a dark and macabre film. A superhero movie to change all the rules of superhero movies. And while it almost does, it's difficult to do so when you go for a PG-13 rating. Although, I understand why. Widening your audience means more butts in the seats. And those who would want it to be rated R will probably still think it's rated R.

After the death of Superman, US intelligence agent, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), wants to put together a team of criminals to go on dangerous missions at no risk, since they're seen as expendable.

Of the ensemble cast, the bigger names consist of Will Smith as the hit man, Deadshot, Margot Robbie as The Joker's girlfriend, Harley Quinn, and Jared Leto as The Joker, himself.

I'd like to preface this all by saying I enjoyed the film. It's not terrible. I'd watch it again, and probably even buy it on DVD. It does a lot of things right, but it's not without its fair share of hiccups.

You can't help but notice that the DC cinematic universe is always playing catchup to the Marvel one. And it doesn't have to. This was its chance to do something totally different. And in some ways it does--or at least, sets itself up to in the future. But the random interjections of jokes amidst action scenes don't feel fluid, but forced. DC is supposed to be much darker and less tongue-in-cheek. Less quippy.

DC, in some sense, has far more interesting and unique characters--especially villains--than Marvel. They've grown to be more twisted over the years, and this film tries to use that to its advantage, but it just doesn't always work.

That's not to say it never does. This year's Batman v Superman film uses cheesy filters to make it feel dark. In Suicide Squad it's more convincing. It's dark. Really dark. But you can't help feel like the film is torn between sinister and cartoony. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy succeeds at this perfectly. But Suicide Squad is trying to be both Dark Knight and Avengers at the same time. I'm not so sure that's possible.

It could have benefitted from being more serious. The film starts out comfortably fitting into its own universe, but the random bits of levity are often jarring, making it seem like the film is trying to be as appealing to its more popular contemporary. Yet, it never has to. The material is great on its own. And we won't blame writer-director David Ayer, because apparently, it was the studio who demanded there be more humor scattered throughout.

This is what Marvel does very well. In the Avengers films, entire scenes don't come to a grinding halt whenever Iron Man says something funny. The humor blends into the action. It doesn't combat it. Here, the action scenes were the only times the film was free of jokes.

And we don't mind levity. However, in this scenario, the jokes should have been darker--not cuter. But with Robbie delivering them, that's what you get.

They seem to want her to be the focal point of the laughs, but I just wanted her to stop. You don't always buy in to her jokes, and she just ends up getting annoying. Smith, however, is the unsung comedic talent of the film. His timing is as good as ever and it never feels forced--fitting into the Marvel vibe they're going for.

Leto as The Joker was perfect because he wasn't overexposed. Every time we see him, he's gone moments later, making us want more. Robbie is in almost the entire film. You're supposed to love her antihero, but you never really do. Not enough is given to us. We end up just feeling indifferent.

There's a scene towards the beginning of the film where Davis' character is sitting down at a table, explaining one-by-one the backstory of each character. it takes about 10 minutes and freezes any plot progression that's going on. The normal version of me would have hated this in any other situation, but it may be the best part of this movie. We're being introduced to these interesting, complex, deranged characters. We get get excited about what's to come. The filmmakers want us to fall in love with these antiheroes, but this is the only time it truly lets us.

Despite the lack of action sequences, the pacing's fairly good, and the film is entertaining everywhere else. However, it has a long way to go to be considered great.

I really want these new DC films to be of the best quality, but I fear that they can't. Not as long as they're too preoccupied with trying to be Marvel. Honestly, if I never saw another Marvel film again, I wouldn't be devastated. It's time for something new, and DC can give us that. They almost had it here.

Twizard Rating: 78

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Quick Movie Review: The BFG (2016)

As a fan of Roald Dahl as a child, The BFG has always been one of the books I've most wanted to see adapted for the big screen.

Based on the children's novel of the same name, The BFG is about a giant (Big Friendly Giant) who takes a girl from her orphanage and brings her above the clouds to Giant Country, out of fear that she will tell people about him. Although he's "friendly," his larger contemporaries aren't. They bully him and feast on human beings.

There are some points in the film where you aren't quite sure how the story is progressing. It meanders a bit during the 2nd act and the pacing can get pretty slow, but it's not so much of a bother since there is so much to enjoy visually and the scenes are so dense.

While not quite as dark as the book, the imagery still translates well. The CGI isn't just there. Rather, it's as much a part of the film as the story itself. If the visuals were less impressive, the movie just wouldn't have worked as well.

Part of what makes the film so enjoyable is the charisma of its two leads. Mark Rylance plays the title character, and newcomer, Ruby Barnhill, reminiscent of Drew Barrymore in E.T., plays the little girl, Sophie.

The BFG's job in life is to collect dreams and give them to people. The events in this film feel like a dream from a child's perspective. Having nobody in life and turning to a seemingly-imaginary character for friendship.

Luckily, the last third of the film elevates in a wondrous way. Things begin to happen and the story becomes full and complete. Director, Steven Spielberg, has a way of wrapping things up like no other. While the brief hiccup halfway through the film--though not really his fault--is uncharacteristic of his films, the ending reminds us why he's the best.

The vision of The BFG is magical. There's no other way to put it. It doesn't just offer some fairytale story masking, for children, the harsh realities of the world. Instead, it shows them that there's hope--no matter how impossible it may seem.

Twizard Rating: 98

Quick Movie Review: Swiss Army Man (2016)

If you watched the trailer for this film, you're probably aware that it's going to be pretty weird. Though you never expect it to be this weird.

The uniquely and refreshingly strange tone is established right away. Paul Dano plays Hank, a young man who is stuck on an island about to commit suicide when he sees a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) washed up on shore. Long story short, he discovers that this corpse has special abilities. It can satiate his thirst, chop wood in half, spit bullets out of its mouth, among other things. Soon, the body starts to talk.

For almost the entirety of the movie we're trying to figure out if Dano is simply hallucinating or if the corpse really is coming to life. Many details are left for the imagination. But they don't even really matter.

Much of the film is spent with Dano teaching Radcliffe about the world and how amazing it is. Yet Dano becomes conflicted as this is the same world he was trying to leave. Radcliffe has already left and wants to be back in it. They're passing each other going in opposite directions.

The filmmakers never have an issue keeping the surreal tone of the movie. The only problem comes in the end where it seems as though, unsure of where to wrap things up, it strays a little and becomes slightly disjointed.

Even if you think you know where the story is going, you never do. That's what makes it so great. It gives you what you could never ever expect. There are times it gets almost too weird--even for this film--but then again, there's nothing like it, so what do we really compare it to?

It's never the weirdness that makes you not like the film. If anything, it could be the fact that it never truly says what it means to--or wants to. But in a universe so loose and free, you sort of have to be able to read between the lines.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Viva Las Vegas (1964)

This film would never get made today. At least not with intents this transparent. It serves to glorify Elvis Presley and his embodiment. But back in 1964, these types of B-movies were just accepted. Nowadays teen cinema consists of a post-apocalyptic love triangle. Much more realistic. Not quite as blatant.

Elvis plays Lucky, a race car driver who's in Las Vegas to compete in the Vegas Grand Prix. He needs a new engine but is strapped for cash due to contrived reasons. He falls for Rusty (Ann-Margret) who seems to be abruptly against his racing ways.

This movie is all over the place. About halfway through it becomes disjointed, making it obvious what its purpose is. For a pointless, plotless story, it's way too convoluted.

For an 84 minute film, it takes its sweet time, attempting to thin itself out to cover the short runtime. But then, once it realizes it's home free, the story progresses ridiculously fast and things never get resolved.

Elvis and Ann-Margret have undeniable chemistry, but their depth is almost non-existent. Lucky's motivations are unclear, and Rusty goes from a likable, independent worker woman at the beginning of the film to an incompetent bimbo by the end.

The songs and dance numbers are impressively catchy, but that's all this movie is. The few glamorous Las Vegas shots are nice, but there aren't nearly enough in a movie with the city's name in the title. It almost seems like a blown opportunity to make a cool story about gambling or mobsters. Instead, it's about racing--something few of us think of when talking about Vegas.

It's a dated movie, but that's perhaps the best thing this film has to offer. There are some cool shots of the Vegas of yesteryear. There's one in particular showing the front of the Flamingo as it used to be--alone, with nothing on either side. Contrastingly, we get a shot of Fremont Street in all its garish glory--busy and crowded, sans the 1,500 foot canopy movie screen overhead. While watching this, my fiancée turns to me and says, "You used to be able to drive down Fremont Street???" My, how things have changed.

Twizard Rating: 57

Friday, July 1, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Free State of Jones (2016)

It's an interesting film to come out during the month of June. On the surface, it appears to be Oscar bait. But it has its fair share of issues. However, they shouldn't be enough to hinder any enjoyment of the film.

Amidst the impressive set pieces and Confederate South backdrop, Free State of Jones follows Newton Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey, a deserted soldier who starts an uprising against his former Confederate army. He leads a group of escaped slaves and runaway farm workers under the credo that no man shall be owned, and poor men should not be losing their lives so the rich can get richer.

It's a truly powerful film about freedom and an earnest man who believes in equality--even on a subconscious level. Yet, it's interesting to note that everything between Knight and his comrades is all good. There is a minor spat between him and four of his men, but it lasts all of about ten minutes of screen time. Other than that, there isn't much conflict within his rule.

There is, however, much outside hostility. That's the whole point of the movie. The action scenes are both eye-opening and jaw dropping. About as real as any Civil War film can be. And there are several scenes that are so lifelike that even the snootiest critic must acknowledge its integrity.

The script isn't perfect. Some potential nuances are left on the table. Certain inner struggles that Knight faces are sped through, when they would have significantly benefitted the character's development. We don't catch enough inward glimpses. At times, the circumstances seem overcome too easily. And it's not McConaughey's fault. I'm not sure if I can imagine anyone else playing the part.

But the main story is told the right way. It serves its purpose as we come closer to understanding the struggle of the slaves and impoverished farmers. It's not just a fight for freedom, but for equality--which this movie proves may not always be the same thing.

At 139 minutes, it never feels long. By the end, you still feel like there should have been more.

Twizard Rating: 91

Quick Movie Review: Finding Dory (2016)

Boy, Pixar sure needed this one. After mostly marginal efforts since 2010's Toy Story 3, they had to deliver something to raise our expectations back up. Something undeniable.

This sequel to 2003's Finding Nemo acts as an origins story for everyone's favorite absent-minded fish, Dory. It shows her as a cute little baby, stumbling over her words and innocently gazing into her parents' eyes. Then, one day, her short-term memory loss gets the best of her and she loses her family, unable to remember how.

While most animated films abandon the cute, young version of the main character early on in the film, Finding Dory finds a way to utilize it throughout the whole thing, in the form of of Dory's flashbacks.

It's not necessarily as phenomenal as its predecessor, but Finding Dory is definitely a fantastic movie! We get some new characters who are just as hilarious as the ones from the last--including two British sea lions who won't allow Gerald to sit on their rock.

It's the funniest Pixar film since Toy Story 3. Some jokes had me laughing long after the credits rolled.

The one and only things that really bothers me are the one or two contrived plot devices. In a deus ex machina fashion, the film takes minor liberties with echolocation and features a ridiculous scene where an octopus drives a truck. But I guess, in Pixar's world, where even toys can talk, anything is possible. But the studio has always been good about walking the line between realistic and impossible--even amidst their own well-crafted impossible universes. But the octopus car sequence throws all that out the window. And it's kinda silly. Your kids will get a kick out of it though.

Still, Finding Dory is something to behold. It's so enjoyable and packed with unforced emotion and unique outlooks on mental handicaps, that we can shrug off even the largest of its minor pitfalls. You can only quibble so much before you realize that the pros far outweigh the cons. To the point where you just can't deny how good it is. it's undeniable.

Twizard Rating: 98

Quick Movie Review: Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

In 1996, we didn't have a whole lot of alien invasion movies. In fact, Independence Day was, by far, the biggest one ever in existence. It prided itself on it. And you could say it started an avalanche of similar genre films in the 20 years since its release. So, naturally, the sequel needed to be much much bigger. Luckily, it delivers.

The new alien ship spans an entire continent, and Earth's existence is much more threatened this time around. It turns out that the same aliens from the last movie are back to annihilate our planet.

Like the first film, there are a handful of story lines. Many people banning together for a common cause. While not helping fix the depth issue of these movies, that's how we would need to do it in real life. Especially for an attack of this magnitude.

But what helps continue the original realism from the first film is slightly negated by the futuristic feel from the get-go. Drones hover around an ultramodern Washington D.C. and there is an entire group of military personnel living on the Moon. While 1996 felt like 1996, 2016 is more along the lines of Back to the Future Part 2.

While the action is big, the CGI feels very unoriginal and uninspired.

But that's all forgivable. What's not is the convoluted premise. It may not seem to matter. We get, more or less, that there's a big alien trying to wipe out our race, but we're unsure why it's happening, how it's different from the first film, and why anyone in the movie knows what they know.

Oh, and the acting is horrendous. Will Smith's stepson, Dylan, from the original is all grown up now, following in Smith's footsteps as a military pilot, and someone must've informed him to utilize his entire face when delivering each line. He gives his own version of the Bill Pullman speech from 1996. It's awful. He's not the actor who played the role in the original. But at this point, they might as well have just hired the same guy. This current actor has no obvious benefit over the first. Maybe it's because he's good-looking? Yeah, that's important.

The rest of his cohorts are almost just as bad. They're obviously hired for their appearances, rather than their acting abilities. And the dialogue is already dumbed-down way before they get their fidgety little hands on it. The depth created for these characters is contrived just to reel in the kids. But the acting is just unacceptable--even for such a large scale movie.

Will Smith isn't in this one. Don't even bother expecting him to make a surprise appearance. You may think, "He's too integral to the enjoyment of the first film not to be in this one." And you'd be right. It's like Chris Tucker not being in Next Friday.

Luckily, Judd Hirsch and Jeff Goldblum reprise their roles.

Hirsch brings some much needed life to this film. His storyline is the least important, but the most engaging out of the whole thing.

The film's faults fortunately give it a really corny '90s feel, which, at the very least, makes this film fun. And the momentum builds well, so we can actually enjoy ourselves.

The individual pieces in this film shouldn't make up an impressive project. But somehow, the small instances of light shine through and are just good enough to make this movie watchable. But ultimately, this film shouldn't depend on a few scenes by two actors to make it so.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Varsity Blues (1999)

If you want to witness James Van Der Beek attempt to don a Texan accent for 106 minutes, you may not get another chance. While fun, it has all the signs of a stereotypical late-'90s teen movie. It's cheesy, telegraphed, cliched, crude--yet meaningful.

It follows a successful high school football team coached by Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight)--a man who basically runs the community. The small Texas town has already erected a bronze statue made in his likeness. The guy even controls the police to the point that his players can get away with stealing cop cars. That's how obsessed this community is with their high school football. It's all they have.

Mox (Van Der Beek) doesn't see it that way. He's the 2nd string quarterback and has plans to go to Brown University and put the sport behind him. But as soon as he's forced into the starting role, he enjoys soaking up all the attention.

Varsity Blues doesn't take too many risks--if any--but it has a lot to say. The script is deceptively good. It may be platitudinous in its dialogue and outcomes, but under the surface it makes some seldom-touched upon points.

The football scenes are some of the more realistic we've seen in movies up to this point, and it organically showcases the importance of football in some small towns in this country. It then proceeds to question that very importance, along with the aggrandizing of athletics in our schools altogether.

Subtly juxtaposing these ideals, we see Mox's little brother, who has an obsession with religions and practices a variety of them throughout the movie, much to his parent's disapproval.

It isn't perfect, but Varsity Blues holds up well. Voight gives us a compelling villain to despise and the film more nuanced that meets the eye. It made me nostalgic and I was entertained.

Twizard Rating: 83

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Independence Day (1996)

Roland Emmerich has his hands all over this film--which isn't a bad thing. Up until July of 1996, the best special effects we'd seen were still from Jurassic Park. But Independence Day came out one year before Titanic, so it held the title that whole time.

And for good reason. It's so visually stunning that 20 years later, we're still in awe of what we're looking at. It sure helps make this film feel less dated.

Less dated. 20 years is long enough that we can say that, right?

Unfortunately, the schmaltzy dialogue doesn't help its case. It may seem that most of the cast can't act, but that's just a result of a marginal script (besides Vivica A. Fox, who, in fact, can't act).

Taking place around the fourth of July, a worldwide alien invasion is imminent, and the country is in a true panic. Amidst the many eventually-connecting subplots, the film concerns itself most with that of pilot Steve Hiller (Will Smith) and computer-wiz David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). Both carry the film well and help provide levity to lighten an otherwise dry-by-today's-standards action movie.

Judd Hirsch plays Goldblum's father and has some truly brilliant scenes. Harry Connick Jr. and Randy Quaid give us a little something as well.

All of these attributes allow this film to hold up well. And it's even more impressive despite its several pitfalls. It's a true product of the '90s, and even where it seems dated, it's just enough to make us nostalgic.

Watching ID4 again reminds us how amazing Will Smith's whole underachiever schtick is, making us want it back again. Hopefully he'll step away from his Oscar-worthy performances and give us a well-deserved comedy one of these days.

Twizard Rating: 93

Quick Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

X-Men story lines all pretty much revolve around the same theme: Humans fearing mutants and acting upon it irrationally, causing bad mutants to revolt and good mutants to attempt peace.

We start off in 3600 B.C., with set pieces that showcase ancient Egypt as good as any we've seen since maybe The Mummy in 1999. Here, the first mutant known to man, En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse (though his name doesn't seem to really be important), gets betrayed and trapped underground for centuries. This dude would've given me nightmares if I saw him as a child.

Then we wind up in the 1980s, with some cool zeitgeists of the era. But not too much so that it becomes a nostalgia flick--though that wouldn't be too bad either. We catch up with our X-Men stars ten years after the events in X-Men First Class. We're introduced to a few new mutants and get most of our favorites back. Apocalypse gets awoken from his long sleep and decides to assemble a team to kill off humans--along with any mutant who stands in his way.

The film does a great job of balancing a cornucopia of character's story lines. Everyone is accounted for, but wisely, most of the villains aren't touched upon that much--including Apocalypse. Some may argue that he lacks a unique incentive, but when you're the most powerful mutant ever and thirst for omnipotence, what other incentive do you need? But it does go beyond that. His philosophy is Hitler-esque in that he wants to destroy who he believes to be inferior beings. And he's given a sort of false-charisma that makes the fact that he has followers believable.

The only other villain for which we get sufficient depth established is Magneto--perhaps the most compelling story in the whole X-Men saga--with only Wolverine's giving it a run for its money. Magneto walks the line between good and evil at times in the series, with his fantastic dynamic/friendship with Professor Xavier furthered upon even more in this film.

The action doesn't feel empty and neither does the plot. The characters are enjoyable and we don't feel cheated out of anyone's backstory. But we don't feel forced into one either. The good thing about having multiple movies and prequels is that we trust that, in time, we will know each character's origin.

X-Men: Apocalypse may not have the most radical of premises within the X-Men universe, but its a subject that is still treated with much realism and ongoingness--something other franchises don't do quite as well. The civil war battle thing has been a common theme among superhero movies this year, and X-Men does it best. Something of the grandest proportions is actually at stake. Heroes and civilization as a whole may actually be destroyed.

It all makes this a solid installment in the series and maybe the best superhero movie this year (so far). Plus, its plethora of characters and a creepy antagonist make the movie engaging and not feel quite as long as it is. We needed some redemption after the slap-in-the-face time travel entry, Days of Future Past, nullified the stories in a franchise we've grown to appreciate. That was more of a cool idea in the moment, while this movie is an important idea.

Oh, and we also get an esoteric post-credits scene, whose meaning will most likely be forgotten by the time the next film comes out anyway.

Twizard Rating: 94

Friday, June 17, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Now You See Me 2 (2016)

So it turns out, the things critics complained about in 2013's Now You See Me would've been better off untouched. While not producing a perfect movie in the first installment, the opposite ends up happening here.

On the other hand, much like the first one, Now You See Me 2 has the mind-bending entertainment taken care of. It holds the same charm that was present in its predecessor--perhaps even more. However, there are just a few things that are problematic.

For one, the audience constantly feels like they're missing something--like they're always behind in what's going on. And not because of natural occurrences in the narrative, but because the filmmakers simply want us to be. Which is odd, seeing that this time we're actually in on most of the tricks.

In Now You See Me, we're given the story through the FBI agent's point of view--always on the other side of the magic. In the sequel, we're mostly given the point of view of the four magicians, so we're deeply involved behind the scenes. The former situation was a major complaint of the first film, but now that I'm seeing the alternative, I think I would rather things be back to normal. And even though it's worth it in the end, the whole time prior you just sit there, frustrated, not wanting to be in on the trick, trying to mentally disassemble all the rigmarole in the meantime.

Two years following the events of the first film, the Four Horsemen (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Lizzy Caplan) must remain in hiding for fear of the FBI. But they're growing impatient waiting for further instructions. Caplan replaces Isla Fisher as the female in the group. She's very unfunny--even when she so desperately tries to be--making us wish Fisher was back.

The clan ends up in China where they are forced into working for a rich businessman (Daniel Radcliffe) who faked his own death and is supposed to be dead to the rest of the world. Radcliffe's brilliantly evil persona is far from the paladin, Harry Potter, as this may be his most mainstream role since.

Morgan Freeman also returns with his character still in prison, because, for some reason, he can't seem to prove his innocence yet. Freeman is a key cog because he's what connects Ruffalo's character to his father's death as a child.

Also differing from the first film, the first two acts are the weakest part. Waiting for things to get better towards the end, we sit through a magic trick-less setup that's more confusing than interesting. We do, however, get "treated" to an unnecessary card-flinging scene that just ends up being silly and five minutes too long.

Does a good ending make up for a meandering 90 minutes? I guess it might if those 90 minutes are pertinent to the climax. And in this case, they are. But things may be a little too intricate to be cherished in the long run (something untrue for the first film). Maybe it deserves another watch. Maybe then will things be more clear. Because even after it's all explained to us, things wind up being overly complicated, but I guess you just have to trust that it all makes sense. If you're okay living like that.

Twizard Rating: 73

Quick Movie Review: Now You See Me (2013)

Everyone loves magic tricks. The wonder has been ingrained in us since our childhood. And movies about magic are usually just as enjoyable. This one is no exception.

Four individual magicians--each with a different specialty--get summoned by some mysterious master magician to join together and perform "tricks" to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Meanwhile, a frustrated FBI agent, played by Mark Ruffalo, can't seem to figure out how it's all happening. He teams up with a female Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent) to put a stop to the madness.

The dynamics among the magicians are fun and kept very light. The tricks they perform are, at times, very fascinating to the point that we wish we could go to Vegas to watch their show. We become invested in the lives of these people because the writers let us. But then something happens--our focus is forcibly changed.

For the last 60-90 minutes we are pretty much solely focused on Ruffalo's character. We don't want to be, but we are. And as we travel deeper into the story, the befuddlement steadily increases. Luckily, the film makes itself fairly easy to focus on to somewhat help negate the convolution.

It helps to rewatch this movie. But then again, seeing behind the curtain--which is the ending--may cause you to feel like you've been manipulated. Realizing the filmmakers trick you into seeing what they want you to. And depending on how much you like magic tricks, you may or may not be happy about it.

But see, putting together a movie is different than live magic tricks. Filmmakers can make up their own rules, using cuts and edits to change your perspective--not slight-of-hand--making much of it feel contrived. Personally, I wouldn't say that it bothers me. It just feels too easy here.

We do get a good bang four our buck with plenty of subplots. There is one about Morgan Freeman who plays a magic debunker smugly trying to crack these elaborate tricks. He has a rivalry with Michael Caine, who acts as a financier for the magicians' performances. Caine exits about an hour in, but Freeman has much left to accomplish. And amidst all the action, there is an obvious romance building between Ruffalo and Laurent.

But all of the story-building amongst the characters only helps to thin them all out in the process. There is little depth. And the depth that's established feels forced.

Mind you, none of this changes the fact that this film is wildly entertaining. How can you call it anything but? It's gripping from beginning to end, and the way it's set up, you will probably end up wanting more. Give it huge points for that. Beyond that, though, I can see why people feel slighted.

Twizard Rating: 84

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

Surprisingly content with its 2014 predecessor, I was looking forward to this movie. The first wasn't even near perfect, but it had a kind of nostalgic charm to it and reminded me of something I would've been totally into when I was a kid. I mean, that's what we're looking for here, right?

In this one, our heroes catch news of Shredder escaping from prison with the help of mad scientist, Baxter Stockman, to utilize a technology that will help them stop the turtles and take over the world.

Luckily the filmmakers brought back the writers from the first to keep the dialogue consistent. The repartee is still just as cartoony and the acting is marginal, which give this movie its '90s feel.

But much like the first in this rebooted series, this film is far from perfect. While it keeps the premise contained and doesn't try to over-complicate things, unfortunately, it sort of does anyway. The main plot isn't all that original, and then when it really gets the ball rolling, it becomes a bit convoluted when it shouldn't need to be. In fact, the film's at its strongest and most enjoyable during the first two acts.

The final action sequences are confusing and chaotic. I almost would've preferred to see it done more realistically without the shaky cam. Or maybe even chopsocky style!

The saddest thing is we are more invested in our CGI leads than their human counterparts--who are stiff and seem to be given the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel dialogue. But since the film is about the ninja turtles, I guess it does its job.

We get introduced to Casey Jones--a mainstay amongst earlier adaptations--who continues the trend of forced character development. In an attempt to evoke sympathy for our character, he is heard explaining, in total seriousness, to two different people that it's his childhood dream to be a detective. But then that's it. That's all we get.

Regardless of all the pitfalls, this new series has been enjoyable because it has remained inspired. It's obviously written by folks who are passionate about the source material.

Fairly consistent with, if not better than the first, Out of the Shadows keeps those into the series still invested. And 10-year-old me is enjoying a movie like a little kid again.

Twizard Rating: 76

Monday, June 6, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

You'd think the mockumentary genre was played out by now. If you asked me before I watched this movie, I'd probably think so too. But the humor that the boys of the Lonely Island have concocted is not only completely fresh and well thought-out, but will prove to be ahead of its time some day.

One-third of the comedy team, Andy Samberg, stars as Connor4Real--a Justin Bieber-esque pop icon--who's former hip-hop group broke up when he decided to start his solo career. Experiencing the downward slope of his fame and his slow decline to "has-been" status, his ego is too big to realize or admit it.

Along the way, we get documentary-style interviews from real-life "contemporaries"--such as Usher and Mariah Carey--who give commentary on Connor's career.

The movie is filled with at least a half-dozen songs, which are all catchy enough to be on the radio. But upon further attentiveness to the lyrics, they're laden with totally crude and offensive--yet hilarious--content.

So many jokes are completely off-kilter and have no ounce of necessity, but we're glad they happen. The humor, both subtle and broad, showcases the comedy trio's range. They use the Seth MacFarlane rapid-fire approach, but in a way where the jokes are much more uniform and cohesive. And if one doesn't work--or merely goes over the audience's head--there's another right around the corner to make us laugh and forget about it.

It finds a nice balance between antics and story. But the Lonely Island have made their brand by successfully fusing political incorrectness, awkwardness and silliness. And the trio has taken it to the next level here. They have such a tight grasp on not only what's funny, but what's topical and realistic--making everything that happens in this movie feel like it could actually happen--or is actually happening. It's a great feeling to completely trust your filmmakers.

The movie is directed by, and featuring, the other two members of the Lonely Island, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Together, with Samberg, the three of them have established such perfect chemistry over the years, that they probably don't care if you're not laughing at all because it's obvious they believe in their work and make themselves laugh, all while having a great time doing so.

The humor may seem very easy to think up, but is in fact, pretty inventive. Some jokes may prove to be a bit more esoteric for those not in the industry, but there are plenty that aren't.

Usually a lack of laughter comes from something not being funny. But there's an ode of confidence exuding from this film that you feel like, if you're not laughing, you just don't get the joke.

Ever so slyly, the movie's main theme is a mockery of the self-absorption and self-aggrandizing of today's media and society--especially within the millennial generation. But it's never preachy. In fact, for those most caught up with what's hip, the jokes may not come of as jokes at all.

Samberg has so much conviction in his role. It seems as if he truly believes every naive thing that he says and does. His character is so over-the-top, but Samberg makes him so real that it's never over-exaggerated.

While a tad predictable, that's not the point. Popstar never tries to be any other film. So many times have we seen American comedies give their best shot at shamefully replicating--or reinventing--a Judd Apatow/Adam McKay/Todd Phillips/Seth Rogen style of comedy, and lose their own vision. But these guys take their own vision and have their way with it. Samberg and the Lonely Island have influenced comedy a lot in the past decade or so. And now they're changing the rules all over again.

Twizard Rating: 93

Quick Movie Review: Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

Despite what many may think about this film, I loved it. It's far better than its more meandering predecessor--which wasn't terrible, either.

No longer in the auteuristic grasp of Tim Burton, but just within reach, is a movie which isn't so concerned about contriving a certain tone that it loses what makes it organically appealing. This one is way more fun because we're actually on an adventure, rather than simply sitting through a series of disjointed events. Here, things actually happen.

Alice is summoned back to Underland because the Mad Hatter is dying. He is losing the will to live. He believes his family is still alive, yet everyone is telling him that they've died. After holding on a little longer for Alice to come to his rescue, she also admits that she also believes him to be wrong. The White Queen convinces Alice that there is one way to bring his family back--to go back in time.

Aside from a few minor time travel plot holes, the only big problem, if any, is the abundance underutilized characters. We literally get nothing from the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, among others. They are there so we can say they are. But besides the occasional lark, they serve almost no purpose.

We are, however, introduced to a new character, Time, played by Sacha Baron Cohen. He's the gatekeeper of the past, present, and future, and possesses a device that Alice must steal so she can go back in time. With a Schwarzeneggering accent, Cohen provides us with most of the levity throughout the film. He's not over-the-top and he doesn't overstay his welcome.

Helena Bonham Carter nearly eclipses her performance from the first movie, convincing as the heartless, yet insecure tyrant, even long before revealing further depth in her character.

With dialogue much more fit for following along, Alice Through the Looking Glass is easier to understand than the first film--which is odd since this is the one that features the main protagonist traveling every which way throughout the time circuits. Usually a film with this much time travel would get confusing, but the filmmakers avoid ever making it convoluted.

Even though everything in this movie looks amazingly attractive to the eye, every beat is necessary. Every beat feels necessary. Every time travel. Every place Alice goes and does. There aren't any filler scenes.

To truly appreciate this film, you must first appreciate the relationship between Alice and the Mad Hatter carried over from the first movie--otherwise you may not care all that much.

There is a great vision for this film, and an even better execution. I loved it. Don't let the reviews fool you--it's enjoyable. One of my favorites of this year.

Twizard Rating: 97

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Barbershop 2 (2004)

2002's Barbershop didn't necessarily reinvent the wheel of comedy, but it's something quite unique. Hearkening back to Ice Cube's 1995 hit, Friday, the film tries to make use of the non-story. Instead, thriving on its characters and slow plot exposition.

In Barbershop 2, they try to duplicate the first one, but doesn't quite work as well--albeit almost. Whereas the writers, in the first Barbershop, seem to be on their own level, making their own rules, Barbershop 2 seems to channel a little too much Tyler Perry. It's a slightly more predictable and silly and transparent, and tries to please the audience too much.

An exception is the return of Cedric the Entertainer as the old man barber, Eddie, who never cuts hair, but will tell you every last thing that's on his mind. He's still got the edgy dialogue that would make today's PC crowd shiver in their organic Uggs.

In Barbershop 2, Calvin (Ice Cube) learns of a Supercuts-esque barbershop opening up across the street. The word around town is buzzing because this place is supposed to be like the country club of barbershops. Eventually, he finds out that the whole community is getting a facelift, which forces out all of the businesses who have worked hard establishing themselves as mainstays for the neighborhood.

The pacing is about the same, but feels much slower--mostly due to the reduction of sub-stories and B-plots. There are so many different characters, but each one's significance is lessened in order to better focus on the premise.

Both films are about integrity and doing the right thing, but this one just says it a bit differently.

It's funny, because as the film tries so hard to be deeper, the characters become less so. They're all just as likable, but the dynamics just aren't as strong.

As a stand alone film, Barbershop 2 isn't bad at all. In fact, it's quite enjoyable. The jokes won't really leave you rolling in the aisles, but there is plenty of smile-worthy dialogue. The content means well and provides us with the similar warmth that the first one gives us. A little less cool, Barbershop 2 can pride itself on at least giving us another taste of what made the first one so special without tarnishing anything.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Rocky II (1979)

I didn't hide the fact that I was a bit disappointed with the first Rocky film. It won Best Picture, but I wasn't terribly impressed. I wanted goosebumps, but didn't really get any as the film climaxed. So needless to say, I was far from thrilled about facing SIX MORE installments of this thing. But I figured, datedness--which plagued the introductory chapter so much--will eventually stop being a factor as the movies become newer.

And rightly so, Rocky II is better than Rocky I. There's conflict. There's struggle. There's adversity. And everything that happens--every plot point--is well-deserved this time.

However, Rocky II isn't a perfect movie by any means. Much of the first act is disjointed, but sets up everything that follows well. Picking up right where we leave off in the first film, Rocky is fresh off his fight with Apollo Creed. And although Apollo technically won by decision, the champ is facing scrutiny from the public saying the fight was rigged or that he shouldn't have won.

Rocky, on the other hand, has moved on. Or at least it seems that way. He and Adrian get married and start their lives together. But Creed is taunting Rocky to get back into the ring again for a rematch.

Not that Rocky wasn't already an affable character, but here, we learn more about him, which makes him even more likable.

In this one, the themes are also much more interesting. Much of this film is about Rocky becoming famous and recognizable--automatically bringing more meaning to the first film--but then also shows how easily the public forgets about him and what he accomplished.

One of the great scenes is when he tries to read the lines for a commercial he's doing, but can't get any of them correct. Stallone just plays dumb so well.

Unlike the first, Rocky actually has his back up against the wall. He's being laughed at by his peers, and his relationship with Adrian actually has some issues. It's nowhere near as easy this time around for Rocky. And by now, we know the characters well enough to appreciate it all. After watching this one, I finally got goosebumps--along with a few tears.

Twizard Rating: 92

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Money Monster (2016)

It's a common theme in films that Wall Street is largely corrupt. We've seen it played out countless times. Especially lately. And many of these films mesh together to become indistinguishable from each other. Money Monster may feel different. But is it maybe due to the ridiculously large ad campaign or because it says things that the others don't?

The former is most likely true, but it doesn't mean this film should be tossed aside. There's a lot to like about it.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, the host of a stock market show where he advises people on what to stocks to buy and sell. In one situation, he advises everyone to buy shares of a specific company, saying it's a surefire bet. So many viewers do, but when the company's stock plummets, costing investors $800 million, everyone wants answers.

Most specifically, a young man named Kyle (Jack O'Connell), who sneaks onto the show's set and threatens everyone. Flailing a gun around and strapping a bomb around Gates' chest, he goes into a rant about losing his entire $60,000 life savings on the company because of Gates' advice.

Kyle and the script have a lot to say, but never quite hit the nail on the head in a grand way. It's well thought out, but doesn't play as so, instead giving us popcorn thrills and adrenaline rushes. Which, by no means, is a bad thing.

Bordering on transparent and cheesy a few times, its wittiness jumps back out of it quickly--and fortunately.

At a little over 90 minutes, the film is paced well. It keeps us awake on the edge of our seats pretty much the whole time, which is interesting considering almost the whole thing takes place on a television set with just a couple of people.

This may have to do with the fact that the point of view is all over the place--an odd decision for a thriller. We see what the filmmakers conveniently need us to see--not always what makes sense for us to.

Though not as big or impactful as it wants to be, it stands as a microcosm of the financial stresses most of the country is constantly going through. It's an important movie, but there are others that are slightly more important. Although, it doesn't hurt to watch this one and be thoroughly entertained in the process.

Twizard Rating: 85

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Quick Movie Review: The Nice Guys (2016)

So, I guess I've found my favorite movie of the year--so far, at least. The Nice Guys did so many things right and so little wrong, it's a shame its release will not garner the recognition it should.

Russell Crowe plays an underground enforcer who's helping out a young girl, Amelia, trying to shake the private investigator, Ryan Gosling, who keeps following her. Crowe beats up Gosling, but soon realizes Amelia may be in danger of getting killed, and Gosling might be the man needed to assist him in protecting her. Little do they know, they're about to get involved in a large-scale conspiracy and a string of connected murders.

The Nice Guys commits to its quirkiness and loves taking advantage of its irony. Gosling's character won't drive after he's been drinking, so he makes his 13-year-old daughter drive him around instead so he won't get in trouble.

It's really hilarious. Not in an over-the-top Will Ferrell sense of the word, but in a very clever and cool Oceans Eleven-y type of way--with a little goofball thrown in, too. Each joke is ingeniously thought-out, but still feels very organic. While credit partially goes to director and co-writer Shane Black, we also have to praise the two leads for their brilliant delivery and conviction.

Gosling is on another level and proves he deserves to be considered a comedic actor with the best of them. Crowe, who may not get to say most of the jokes, is just as important in playing Gosling's straight man--maybe the coolest and most realistic one we've seen in awhile. Their chemistry is undeniable.

Amidst all the humor is a really brilliant script in its own right. We get an enthralling mystery that unfolds perfectly as the film does. There's a lot going on, but it's never confusing or overelaborate. It's old school, but new school just the same.

The only thing you might say, is that there's some underutilized depth. But then again, not really. Both main characters are deep and complicated and interesting in their own ways. There's more than meets the eye and not a lot is laid out for us that easily.

Black likes to make us figure things out on our own, but doesn't ever totally abandon us. Instead of flat out stating what year it is, he drops hints, forcing us to pay attention.

Another marvel is the young actress, Angourie Rice, who plays Gosling's daughter. She has the talent of someone twice her age, while still maintaining a healthy amount of precocity.

Based on the trailer, I knew I was going to really like this movie, save for a possible overwrought premise. But I was surprised even beyond those expectations. This is truly one of my favorite comedies in a long time. Definitely my favorite, so far, for 2016.

Twizard Rating: 97

Monday, May 16, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

If we're being honest with each other, I can't say I've enjoyed too many installments in the Avengers series since 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger. I mean, REALLY enjoyed them. I liked most of them, but not to the point of needing to rewatch them. The first Avengers film was very enjoyable. And so was last year's Ant-Man. But other than that, it's been growing a bit tiresome.

And within the first ten minutes of Captain America: Civil War, I thought it wasn't boding well for this one either. There was a random action scene, which felt more like action for action's sake. We weren't sure why things were happening. It was more self-aggrandizing than anything else.

But soon after, we realize it was supposed to be somewhat unimportant. Merely setting up the theme for the rest of the movie.

The Avengers are trying to stop some bad guys in Nigeria, but kill some civilians in the process.

Afterwards, the superhero team faces a lot of adversity across the entire world. The United Nations issues an act that will oversee and control the Avengers' missions. This divides everyone in the group. Some feel that not fighting every battle they hear of is a waste of their abilities, while others are affected more by the death toll of the innocent.

I wasn't expecting the "civil war" to be much more than a verbal conflict, but it escalates pretty badly. You know something really catastrophic is going to happen as a result of this.

Halfway through this movie, I've already realized that it's better than most that came before it.

Here's why I like it: More than almost any Avengers film, there's no convoluted premise or overuse of impenetrable fanboy references. Everything here is clearcut. There are no alien races trying to takeover the planet. Nothing here feels like it's beating a dead horse.

This film also contains the best cast yet. Chadwick Boseman ups the ante playing Black Panther, as his acting abilities almost seem too good for this franchise. We also get some great character surprises, as well as a few minutes of Marisa Tomei.

It's a refreshing mix of each character's personality and wit, without it sacrificing the film's intent or them stepping on each other's toes.

Like any of Marvel's Avengers movie, this one has tons of charisma. But it's different this time, because it isn't forced. It makes you think philosophically--and morally--even if you don't realize you are.

It becomes top tier in this glorified franchise, and moves into my top 3 favorite Marvel films since the series was launched in 2008--along with Iron Man and the aforementioned Captain America: The First Avenger.

It isn't perfect, but it's pretty close as far as superhero movies go.

It's also important to note that you should probably know some background on the whole Bucky-Captain America relationship or you might be a little lost. Also, for those of you who've never seen ANY Avengers film, this will probably all be lost on you.

Twizard Rating: 98

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland is in a category all of its own. Disney's spectacular vision and range is showcased in his 13th animated feature. With a little help from the Lewis Carroll series for which it was adapted from, this film's surrealism makes for a completely unique entry in the Disney pantheon. It's like the black sheep. To this day, they haven't made another one like it.

The story isn't one in the linear sense, but more of a compendium of unrelated series of events. But they all lead to a common goal.

Alice, herself, has some radical ideals when it comes to the world around her, and faces hostility from the adults in her life. But she learns her imagination is mild in comparison to the oddities of Wonderland. She ventures off to this magical world, only to discover she isn't very welcome. She has a terrible time and no one wants her to be there. And at moments, she finds herself questioning the silliness of the realm, appropriating her mindset to that of her closed-minded mother back home.

The depth of Alice is deeper than most realize. It's subtle, but her attitude is brilliant commentary on contrasting our own independent philosophies with those that we're raised on.

Surprisingly, the film is not as dated as you would think. Some of the humor holds up well compared to today's standards.

Considering the very short runtime, the songs are in abundance and create a high ratio to the non-singing scenes. And naturally, there are one or two weaker tunes, but most of them are ear-worm classics.

At 75 minutes, we spend enough time in Wonderland to warrant a complete story. Or collection of events. Alice in Wonderland is meant to be episodic. And it's very dark and deranged at times, too. While many people find that those things make the movie harder to warm up to, it's actually part of what makes it one of my favorite Disney films from the Walt era. An underrated piece of cinema.

Twizard Rating: 95

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

The imagery of Wonderland is one that's notably psychedelic--almost notoriously--to the point where it's become a well-known pseudo-fact that author Lewis Carroll used drugs while penning his famous novel. This isn't true. But countless tellings of the story carry such traits.

Tim Burton's is no different. Although, while being adamant about his version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory not straying away from the original source material, his take on Wonderland differs quite a bit. But not in a bad way. In fact, this version is a refreshing new take on the classic story we all know. It would have been so easy to merely duplicate it, but Burton had something else in mind.

Unlike the other adaptations, especially including the 1951 Disney version, Burton tries to create an emotional connection between Alice and the characters she encounters. Instead of Alice going through Wonderland and experiencing a sequence of disjointed events, her journey is all connected, giving the film an actual sense of cohesion.

Starting off in the real world, 19-year-old Alice is on the verge of being forced into marrying some guy she doesn't love. The people around her parallel traits of the characters we already know from Wonderland, foreshadowing what's about to happen--in a sort of Wizard of Oz type of way.

Then, right when it's convenient, she follows an anthropomorphic white rabbit down a hole into Wonderland. Did I say Wonderland? I mean "Underland". "Wonderland" is the name she gives it when she's a little girl. Apparently this isn't Alice's first time here. But now that she's older, she insists it's always just been a dream. In fact, she says this about 10 times, and never seems to accept the reality of it all.

But the characters all seem to know her, insisting that she is prophesied to defeat the Red Queen's Jabberwocky.

The film takes awhile to get anywhere, and the dialogue does a lot of rambling. However, we still seem to enjoy Alice's adventures as though we are unfamiliar with the story ourselves.

Because, in a way, we are. But it's Burton's auteurism that draws us in the most. His actualized vision is what draws us in and gives this film its unique thumbprint.

Indeed dreamlike, Underland is a world all of its own. It's much like Wonderland, except many of the bright colors are gone.  This is a "Wonderland" that doesn't juxtapose brightness with dystopian imagination. Because it's completely dark and dystopian in almost every way--which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although, it may disappoint those hoping for a quintessential live-action adaptation.

What prevents this film from being great is its tendency to meander. Seeming to be more focused on its impenetrable lexicon and non-sequiturs, it feels, at times, like the filmmakers don't want us to know what's going on. And feeling like an outsider when a movie should be enveloping you in its highly intricate world can be a frustrating experience.

Filled with made-up words that even the most insane context clues won't help us with, it never lets up. As though it's proud of being cryptic. Or perhaps you can just credit it for its consistency. Whatever it is, at least it brings us closer to the title character in her own bemusement.

All is forgiven during the last 25 minutes when everything finally makes sense and we realize that the film actually does have some great ideas. But, it turns out, all it had to do was simply explain what itself.

The cast is all very good in their respective roles. Helena Bonham Carter is a marvel as the Red Queen, who acts as a spoiled child trapped in an insecure and manipulative dictator. Her head is oddly shaped, so her minions wear prosthetic noses and ears to make her feel more comfortable with her own distortions.

I'm glad there's a sequel about to come out, because I've always felt this film was more of a setup movie. And a good one, at that--just getting us accustomed to the world that's been created. A world that feels very real.

The film's occasional off-kilter humor is noticed and appreciated. It adds to the oddness of it all--much in line with the spirit of Lewis Carroll and his sober-self.

Twizard Rating: 77

Monday, May 2, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Keanu (2016)

If you've ever wished there were a movie filled with songs by both George Michael and Future, then this is the one for you.

Keanu is engaging right from the opening scene, where two shadowy figures craftily shoot up an entire drug operation inside of an old church.

And so it begins. After wrapping up their eponymous sketch comedy show, Keegan-MIchael Key and Jordan Peele embark on their first film together. Written by Peele and starring both of them, Keanu follows Rell (Peele), who has just suffered a major breakup. And on the verge of of a downward spiral, he discovers a kitten on his doorstep. This kitten is Keanu. Immediately falling in love--like anyone would with a kitten--it fills the void that his ex-girlfriend left. This is pretty much the first and last time his breakup is mentioned in the whole movie.

Within days, Keanu is stolen. And Rell, along with his cousin, Clarence (Key), ventures into the depths of an underground drug circle, infiltrating a gang called the Blips (a combination of the Bloods and the Crips). They pretend to be drug lords as well, forcing them to talk more aggressively and "gangster", fearing their "white-washed personas" will get them caught immediately.

There are some very funny bits in this movie. Sure, many jokes go on for too long, while others awkwardly flop, but with Key and Peele, it's the awkwardness that makes them funny.

Even when the two of them aren't making you laugh, you can't stop watching them try to be funny. You might even catch yourself smiling at it a few times.

Some details about the plot are unclear, but nothing too frustrating. From the earliest scenes, there are a handful of holes in the logic of this film. A main one being: how would any experienced gangster not be able to snuff out two obvious phonies? But it's a comedy that prides itself on silliness, so we shouldn't care too much.

Like any good comedy, there are more hits than misses. It narrowly undershoots the mark of being the next 21 Jump Street. It's consistent, but it's never groundbreaking. With less formulaic beats, maybe it could've been just that. Though I'm convinced formula is what they are going for, taking references from old buddy action films of yesteryear.

Plus, there's a subtle Bill & Ted reference, giving it extra points from me.

For those of you who are fans of Key & Peele's show, you'll enjoy the humor. But not to fear, it's not just one long drawn-out sketch. It's a solid action-comedy, but with a familiar brand of humor. As for others, you may be slightly caught off guard. You might leave the theater feeling like you've accidentally stumbled into an arcane universe that somehow you never knew existed until now. But the movie's feel is familiar enough that you'll still enjoy yourself. I guess their plan worked.

Twizard Rating: 84

Friday, April 29, 2016

Quick Movie Review: The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016)

If you're one of the people who thought there needed to be a sequel to a film that was already adding nothing really new to the lore of Snow White, then at least you saw the first film. If you didn't see the first film, then you're in luck because you don't have to in order to watch this one. This prequel/sequel is only cosmetically related to 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman.

I mean that in both a good way and a bad way. The two films share some of the same cast--Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Nick Frost--but feels weighed down by the fact that its predecessor wasn't at all as amazing as its trailer lead us to believe.

But let's, for a moment, judge this movie solely on its own being, and not based on how necessary it is or the demerits of its predecessor.

The first installment ends the same way all Snow White adaptations end, except for there being an ambiguous endearment between Snow White and Eric the Huntsman (Hemsworth).

Snow White isn't in this movie. She's mentioned and silhouetted, but basically omitted. Which is fine. She was probably the worst part of the first one anyway.

Even better, we get a couple of cool additions to the cast in Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain--both of whom do a superb job in their respective roles of the Snow Queen and Sara, the huntsman's wife.

When I say this installment acts as a prequel AND a sequel, it means that it shows the origins of how Eric becomes the huntsman and how he meets Sara, but then flashes forward 7 years after she dies (we know this from the first film).

The sequel portion of the story has the huntsman setting out on a journey to find the magic mirror, which Snow White sends away after it starts making her go crazy and homicidal. This is where the plot gets hairy. It's never clear why the mirror is making her mad, nor how she has the consciousness to send it away, nor why the huntsman needs to retrieve it even though Snow White wants it gone to begin with.

The magic mirror is a MacGuffin in the worst sense. Not only do we not need it as a plot device, but we're not even really sure why it's a plot device. There could've been a more sensible reason why Eric and the dwarves set out on their quest.

The action sequences are, at times, ridiculous and silly--over-saturated with shaky cam so you just accept what's happening. But the thing is, we would've been just as fine without the nausea.

There's plenty of levity from the dwarves, played by Frost and Rob Brydon. The jokes are a fairly even mixture of both hits and misses. But it's okay, at least it keeps the movie fun and not too self-aggrandizing. That is, until it wants to be self-aggrandizing. Jarring tonal shifts and an overly jokey Hemsworth all of a sudden make us confused about what feel we're supposed to be getting.

Truth is, I can't think of a good enough reason not to like this movie. I find it entertaining. There's a lot of meandering somewhere in the middle of the story. The journey to the mirror isn't half as exciting as it should be. Nonetheless, The Huntsman tops its predecessor, not on essentiality, but on a unique premise.

Twizard Rating: 79

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Pulp Fiction (1994)

If a piece of art is highly influential, does it make that piece of art good? Yeah, probably--great, even. But it doesn't necessarily mean everyone has to like it.

Intermixing and connecting four stories, the film compares and contrasts all different types of low-level scums of the earth.

In Pulp Fiction, the dialogue is superb--near perfect. Quentin Tarantino's direction is that of ridiculously mind-numbing proportions. The cinematography is truly something else. Not to mention, groundbreaking on so many different levels--replicated infinitely.

But just because it's groundbreaking, doesn't mean it has to be my favorite film.

Perhaps this has something to do with all the hype I've been hearing my whole life about how it's the greatest film of our lifetime--of ALL time. But I wanted to love it. I expected to love it!

And although I didn't love it necessarily. I liked it--a lot. Tarantino might just be my favorite director. I think he's the greatest auteur of our generation. Each film of his I've seen has inspired me even more in my own writing and artistry.

What I like about Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, and even Reservoir Dogs, is the sense of grandeur and importance. They all command your attention with mere dialogue in ways that most mainstream action blockbuster flicks never will.

And Pulp Fiction is engaging in that same way. But it differs from those other Tarantino films in one particular way: It's mostly much ado about nothing. I get that it's supposed to pose as commentary on the state of the film industry and mimic countless classics that have gone before it. But too often does Pulp Fiction take its sweet time getting to the point. That's Tarantino's style with his hard-hitting dialogue--which I find entertaining. But if there is no point (or no point of any substantial value) then all that dialogue gives us just that--entertainment.

Which I'm all for. Some of my favorite films are meaningless is the grand scheme of things. But in those films, I care deeply about the characters. I relate to them. I root for them. Here, I'm not sure who I root for, if anybody. But maybe that's the point, too.

The nonlinear story is cool, and is brought back to popularity with this movie, but definitely not the most interesting I've seen in cinema. On the other hand, watching the stories unfold is. Never knowing what's coming around the corner or which characters to trust or like. Tarantino gets the absolute best performances out of his talent--Samuel L. Jackson above all else.

The best scene is when John Travolta and Uma Thurman venture to a 1950s-themed diner. Every employee there is a caricature of some '50s icon. Which is a curious thing since this film pays homage to countless zeitgeists of yesteryear, but almost none of them are from the 1950s.

Perhaps its groundbreakingness is partially due to massively exposing the world to Tarantino and proving that he wasn't just a one-hit-wonder with Reservoir Dogs. That his style is here to stay.

The movie is exploitation that critics reaffirm as high-quality, while also changing the game for independent films, making it okay for A-listers to appear in these lower budget productions.

But like I said, I also have to credit it to its technical accomplishments. And the fact that it's thoroughly and consistently engaging.

Pulp Fiction is an amazing film. Perhaps Tarantino's greatest artistic accomplishment. But one that I could watch over and over? It's not even my favorite Tarantino film.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Barbershop (2002)

There are a lot of experiences that young men should have growing up. Being exposed to the barbershop culture is one of them. I loved going to get my haircut when I was a teenager. Not just because I felt rejuvenated with my fresh cut, but because I enjoyed the banter, the stories, and even the superfluous arguments. It's something I still look forward to when I go get a trim. And it's captured perfectly in this 2002 Ice Cube comedy.

The story isn't anything too intricate. It surrounds Cube's character, Calvin, trying to decide whether or not he should sell the barbershop passed on to him by his late father. But most of the film is spent filling us in on the happenings of the employees and patrons of the shop, and their own stories. By far the most interesting part, we get a great sense of who these people are and what makes them tick. We feel like we're right there in the shop with them.

It has its fair share of broad comedy, but there aren't a lot of moments of subtle humor. Which is okay, since it does the former so well. While it's rarely hysterical, you can definitely appreciate the repartee. In fact, most of the highlights don't come from the barbershop at all, but from Anthony Anderson and Lahmard Tate's characters stealing and attempting to open an ATM machine. This subplot goes on throughout the entire film.

With an impressive cast and an even more impressive Ice Cube, the beauty of this film is in its characters. They're not all likable, but you get to know them well enough to understand them. It's deceptively deep.

Ultimately, Barbershop turns a very simple premise into something much bigger and more meaningful. And it does it without ever feeling like it's being stretched too thin.

Although it's not perfect, it's perhaps one of the most accurate portrayals of a culture so beloved by American males.

Twizard Rating: 84

Friday, April 22, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Midnight Special (2016)

It's a movie about a father trying to save his son with super powers. Sounds pretty cool, right?

Yeah, I thought so, too. It's not that this movie is complete garbage, because it isn't. It's just misguided. And slow. Really really slow.

In the beginning we see a boy, Alton, who has been kidnapped--or so we are lead to believe. We soon figure out that he's been taken by his biological father (Michael Shannon), away from a Branch Davidian-type cult that's exploiting Alton for his powers.

This is, by far, the best point in the film. We're excited to see what's about to happen. Somebody's got a secret. There's going to be a cool twist somewhere! …Don't hold your breath.

Certain things always remain unclear. At times this feels intentional. Not using contrived means of letting us in on what's happening--instead, revealing it to us slowly throughout the movie. But what seems artistic at first, soon makes you realize that maybe it's just done as a means to fill up its runtime.

The acting is very impressive. Everyone is perfectly believable in their own respective roles. But unfortunately, that technique--the ambiguous exposition one--also contributes to us feeling like we don't really know our characters very well. It's hard to get attached. It's even harder to care.

We're also never really sure what Alton's super powers consist of. He can control electricity and stuff, but what's with his laser eyes?

There's a lot wrong with Midnight Special. And honestly, I can live with those reasonably minor pitfalls. The main problem? This film should be way more fun than it is. It's nowhere near as cool as the concept leads us to believe. The most interesting part is the end, which is all too brief.

The issue is this film commits way too much to the "realism" aspect of its "magic realism" label. We don't get enough of what sets it apart from other movies with similar story lines.

We get mystery, but much of it goes unsolved. Even after the movie ends.

But like I said, this film isn't a total wash. As slow as it is, the dialogue is engaging. And it keeps us in our seats waiting to see what happens. But then, at a particular point in the movie--I can't remember exactly when--we realize it's not going to resolve at all how we want it to. That's when we feel cheated.

I'm still not quite sure why they decided to name it "Midnight Special". It makes me think of some sort of neo-western. But it's not. It's about a boy with unclear super powers.

Twizard Rating: 68

Quick Movie Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016)

They're all older, yet they're all pretty much the same. Maybe that's another Greek stereotype I'm unaware of. But in this sitcomy world that Nia Vardalos has created for us, it makes sense anyway.

From the very first moments, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 comes off as more of a cast reunion or a "Where Are They Now?" special than anything else.

By nature, the title already limits what this film can be about. And it shows. Obvious with every forced plot point, it tries to cover too much ground, but then still finds a way to sneak a wedding into it all.

Amidst trying to be the mediator for her whole family, Toula (Vardalos) must deal with her daughter possibly leaving home for college. She also must try to handle her own suffering relationship with her neglected husband (John Corbett), while trying to plan a wedding for her parents who recently find out that their 50-year marriage was never official.

At one point there are about 3 major story lines competing for the title of "main". Plus several others intermixed. As a result, we get scenes that serve no purpose and film with no direction.

The dialogue is just as sloppy--going for that quirky awkwardness that worked so well in the 2002 original. But here, it plays as unnatural and stiff.

Maybe the cast has lost its chemistry with one another. Or maybe it's missing a little of what made the first one work. That first film was completely organic. The sequel is the exact opposite.

Everything is forced. From the dialogue to the character depth. Trying to squeeze every last bit of emotion out of its audience every chance it gets.

Not to say it doesn't have its moments. I didn't hate it. It just isn't all that good. Certain performances outdo others. Michael Constantine is just as good as Toula's father. But director Kirk Jones just can't extract the same results out of most of the rest of the cast.

It's all just really discombobulated. Directionless. It tries to prove points, but then counters them with opposing points--ultimately saying nothing. Or worse: not knowing what it's saying.

Many jokes fall flat. Luckily the head count is so high that eventually there are a few you end up laughing at.

But as a whole, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is a mess. It means well. Really, it does. It'll even make you smile a few times. But after 14 years, you'd at least hope for a better story.

Twizard Rating: 59

Quick Movie Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

For those of you who haven't seen Walt Disney's animated version of The Jungle Book--or haven't seen it in awhile, anyway--I'm sure you still know the famous songs, and perhaps even some classic scenes. But what you may not realize is that the version we're most familiar with does have some issues of its own.

Not to say that Disney's 1967 adaptation is anything to scoff at. It will definitely slap a smile on your face. But with a runtime that could have used a few more minutes, there's always been some things missing.

Definitely an improvement on the original, 2016's The Jungle Book fills out the classic story in a much more complete way.

With this one, we get answers to a lot of characters' motives, as well as more realistic responses to drastic life changes.

There's backstory provided for why Shere Khan wants to kill Mowgli, along with a more heartfelt goodbye as Mowgli leaves his wolf pack at the beginning of the film.

Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli, passes the cute test. Almost so cute and precocious that he fails to give us the realistic performance we desire. Instead, it's more of what you would see in a Disney Channel show. He's oozing with "my parents made me audition for this." Granted, he does alright considering he's essentially acting with no other humans. And while director Jon Favreau gets the best performance out of him, he's just a little too much Disney and not enough realistic. Which isn't far off from original voice actor in 1967, who lacks the same kind of conviction. Compared to him, Sethi is an improvement.

But the narrative is really what drives this movie the hardest. It's captivating even before the comic relief of Baloo (Bill Murray) shows up. And it has the added benefit of not being too long.

The jungle world created by the filmmakers paints a dark and sinister universe, just as mysterious as the jungle itself. There's nothing peaceful here as long as Shere Khan is around.

King Louie, voiced by Christopher Walken, is just as wicked. He hearkens back to a Marlon Brando Godfather, living in the shadows and attempting to exploit the quid pro quo. This is also where "man's red flower" becomes more of a prominent feature in this version.

The visual effects are an accomplishment alone. Every hair, every movement, without using any live animals. I've never seen anything like it. Truly amazing.

If you romanticize the 1967 original, then you may have a problem accepting this one for all its greatness. But this one is the actuality of what we've been romanticizing. And besides the acting, it's near perfect. It's darker and even more twisted, transcending Rudyard Kipling's original source material to the maximum. It replicates the tone--but better. It's everything good from the original--but better. And even brings back the beloved songs for good measure.

Twizard Rating: 99

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Quick Movie Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

Boy, how well does this film holds up 14 years later. Can we finally admit to its greatness now?

Whatever tropes it derives from the rom-coms of old serve only to make us feel comfortable in its grasp. But don't let the formula fool you. This film is anything but cloying. It opts out of cliche and sappy--instead, giving us rompy situations that we could actually see happening in our own lives.

Toula, played by Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the film, is a 30-year-old woman whose family fears will become an eternal spinster. She doesn't seem to care about her appearance, and she is very awkward when it comes to talking to other people. She is of Greek origin, and her family won't let her forget it. They're the type who only talk to other Greek people. On the other hand, Toula doesn't care.

She meets Ian (John Corbett), who isn't Greek. They fall in love and want to get married, but have to deal with the wrath of her family--mostly her father, played by Michael Constantine.

The cast is perfect--especially Constantine, who we are often times convinced is Vardalos' actual father playing himself.

The humor is mostly made of inside jokes from Greek culture. If you're not savvy on that, you might think you won't understand. But the script does an excellent job of not making us feel like an outsider. And most of us have families with weird traditions and tendencies, too, so we get it.

There are a few lulls in the narrative, but the script always recovers well with something funny around the corner.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is truly funny in the most organic way possible. The scenarios all seem real. Vardalos is believable and hilarious in the lead role. She channels the sort of uninhibitedness that Lucille Ball was known for. Almost like a Kristen Wiig before her time.

But most of all, this film speaks to generations of society who can't see past cultural differences. It was relevant back in 2002, and is still very much that way now. It's a tale we've been seeing, in one way or another, for centuries now, but still can't seem to get us to change our ways. Although no one's life is at stake in this film, we could all learn a thing or two from the story. It's deceptively deep.

Twizard Rating: 94