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