Quick Movie Review: Rocky V (1990)

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So apparently Rocky V is considered the worst in the franchise. I’m not sure why. To be honest, the things people say it does wrong Rocky films have been doing since the beginning. Like contrived plot points, or innocuous plot holes, or tragic things happening due to Rocky’s lack of self-awareness. Maybe it’s just that now people are finally noticing it. But truthfully, I enjoyed it because it’s NOT like all the others.

Released in 1990, it’s perhaps the smartest Rocky film up to this point. The depth has never been more nuanced than it is here. It’s deep without being corny. Deeper than the others because it doesn’t try too hard to be. It finally breaks away from the tired formula, so for once you’re not sure where the story’s going.

Amidst all the improvements, it still has the feel of a Rocky movie, doing well to go along with the trend of each film being a different phase in the boxer’s life. Immediately after the bout with Ivan Drago from the previous film, Rocky is suffering some noticeable brain damage. A Don King parody, promoter George Washington Duke, is trying to get him back into the ring for a title fight. But Rocky keeps deflecting, finally retiring from the sport.

A young, promising fighter, Tommy Gunn, approaches Rocky in hopes that the former boxer will coach him so he can get to the championship level. Tensions rise when Rocky’s own 14 year old son, Robert, is getting less and less attention from his father during a time when he should be retired and at home with his family. Robert feels like he’s being replaced by Tommy and what results is an actual realistic depiction of what would happen between father and son.

Something about this subplot hits home for any guy. Whether it’s happened to you or not, you truly feel for Robert. However, it’s not presented in a cliched fashion. It’s not as black and white as most movies would have made it be. Subtly, we also realize that his dad isn’t as bad as he could be, either.

This installment has a brilliant way of connecting everything inside of itself. Of the original 5 films, this one has, by far, the best script. The narrative, alone, is an obvious improvement from its two predecessors at least. Although it’s a little longer, it’s a lot more fluid in its storytelling.

Sylvester Stallone does his best job not overacting in the title role–something he tends to do intermittently throughout this series. He’s getting better.

Unlike the past films, the events in this one are a direct result of realistic situations Rocky has been put in. If anything, Rocky seems to have actual sincere motives this time. Ones that we can actually relate to or empathize with. For once, Rocky seems to have his back against the wall the way it should have felt–and wanted to be–in previous films. And no matter what your opinion is on these films up to this point, Rocky V is the perfect bookend to the original quintilogy.

Twizard Rating: 92

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Quick Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

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As the credits roll, my wife turns and asks me the obligatory, “Did you like it?” All I can say is, “It’s a beautiful film.”

And it is. Goodbye Christopher Robin is about many things, but, at the same time, just one thing, as it’s all tied together perfectly. It’s about living in the moment and appreciating things as they happen. I know, you’re thinking that this theme has been done a million times. But I assure you, never like this. Not with these dynamics. And that’s always the key to a movie going from good to great.

The film tells the story of how Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne came to be. It’s told from the perspective of Milne, played by Domhnall Gleeson, but also particularly from that of his six year old son, Christopher Robin Milne (Will Tilston).

It takes place in England and bridges the gap between both World Wars, showing some before and after for perspective. The father suffers from terrible post traumatic stress disorder from World War I and it affects his writing. He and his family move out of London to the countryside so he can recover. He ends up not writing much there, either–instead, playing with his son. The adventures they go on in the woods surrounding their property inspire in Milne the concept for Winnie the Pooh. His anxiety seems to go away once the fictional bear comes into the picture. And it seems to have the same effect on the rest of the country.

Milne’s wife, Daphne, is played by Margot Robbie in perhaps her most impressive performance yet. Daphne acts selfishly most of the time. Instead of encouraging her husband’s creativity for his own sanity, she does it for herself. So she can have a better life. She punishes him for his own writer’s block. Robbie plays an unlikable woman so well. But instead of putting her into a specific character archetype, the filmmakers make her much more complex than that. She resents her son for the pain he caused her at birth, but at other times displays a genuine sense of love for him. We feel it, but we also see through her eyes, recognizing resentment still in there, deep down.

And that complexity goes for the rest of the film. Nothing is so outrightly obvious. Even the dialogue is free of proverbs and truisms. And the facial expressions are subtly expository. It’s a film that trusts its audience. The nuances run deep. You can watch it again and have the same takeaway, yet notice the different ways its depicted.

A lesser film would have been about how the real life Christopher Robin’s parents were bad parents. But that would be too easy. There is no black and white. His parents are less than decent most of the time, sure, but there’s an awareness of it–at least by his father. And at times it’s like he’s trying to fight it, but just can’t. He goes along with his wife in order to gain her approval.

Gleeson lets you into his psyche every step of the way without holding your hand through it. You have to look carefully at times, but it’s always there.

Director Simon Curtis seamlessly connects the movie’s several interwoven themes. The effects of war, being a child, unintentional fame, loss, regret–or lack thereof.

This film connects with our emotions in a way that most other films don’t. Or can’t. It doesn’t use cheap techniques or cliched scenarios. It’s honest and real. Like life. Maybe even a little more than that.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: The NeverEnding Story (1984)

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Director Wolfgang Petersen sure had an ambitious task on his hands when he decided to take on creating the spectacular world that is Fantasia. And it sure paid off.

I watched NeverEnding Story often as a child, though hadn’t seen it in almost 20 years. But images like these stick in your brain indelibly.

Based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Michael Ende, it follows a young boy, Bastian, as he happens upon a mysterious book that bridges the gap between what’s real and what’s fantasy.

Filled with unique and visionary characters and set pieces, it’s such an attractive film. The vision is executed so imaginatively that when we see the world of Fantasia, we never for a second feel like it’s the same world–the real world–that Bastian is living in.

You can tell it enjoys showing off its effects. And it should–they’re amazing! But the film isn’t just a “look what we can do” effects spectacle. No, it’s very deep and has some important things to say. It’s mainly about hope and imagination, with subtle religious undertones as well.

It’s a fairly short movie, but the adventure never feels rushed, building momentum evenly and moving along at an almost-perfect pace.

Often times, filmmakers know that if they just throw a bunch of fancy effects and weird-looking characters into their children’s movie that the details of the story don’t matter. This isn’t the case here. For a fantasy film, the details aren’t convoluted at all. It’s easy for kids to understand, but adults won’t feel talked down to, either. In fact, they’ll likely relate to it too.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Baywatch (2017)

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There’s proof out there that it doesn’t take comedians to make great comedies. The Baywatch movie isn’t a great comedy. It’s a comedy in intent, and actually has some bits that are really funny, but it’s doesn’t break enough new ground in that department. All of its jokes are derivative and mostly uninspired. It’s never sure what type of comedy it wants to be. The humor is never grounded in anything. It’s just recklessly random insertions into the script.

The film is more concerned with how the characters look rather than actually having a consistent tone and coherent plot–just like the TV show, except this one tries to be funny. But not in a so-bad-it’s-good way that helped make the show so popular in its heyday. There’s more intention here.

The ’90s show was known for its campiness. Fans could only hope that the movie either replicates that tone or parodies it. Unfortunately, it does neither.

Take the 21 Jump Street movie, for example. It’s fully aware at all times of its self-parody. Baywatch may make a joke or two at its own expense, but, considering its flippant style of humor, should be making way more.

Baywatch follows Dwayne Johnson as Mitch Buchannon, the head lifeguard of Emerald Bay, Florida, and his attempt to bring down a local drug lord, much to the chagrin of his boss and the local police.

Amidst all this, a new recruit, Matt Brody (Zac Efron), shows up. He’s an Olympic gold-medalist who’s turned into an entitled slacker. He’s constantly butting heads with Mitch, making for more subplots.

It goes back and forth between taking itself too seriously to not taking itself seriously at all. And it’s at its best when it doesn’t try to be witty and acts like an actual action film. The issue is, it never wants to stay that way.

Never quite set in stone, the characters are all over the place, too. One minute they handle a situation one way, then the other it’s totally different.

The script is so uneven, it’s like David Hasselhoff wrote it himself. The dialogue is completely illogical and unrealistic–not in a good way. And it’s full of foreshadowing, which makes it predictable. At times it even seems to conveniently forget about some of its major characters.

It’s pretty easy to shoot holes in the plot. And the main premise involving the drug dealers is convoluted. But honestly, it doesn’t matter because you just accept everything it’s spewing at you.

Some of the best scenes come from Yahya Abdul-Mateen, who plays a local beat cop on the beach. He’s the only actor who seems to always fully grasp what’s supposed to be going on in the script. He’s great.

Baywatch isn’t an unenjoyable movie. It’s longer than it needs to be, but makes itself easy to watch. And fortunately has enough cheap thrills for it not to be a complete waste of time. Yet, as evident with the Fast and Furious films, it could’ve also been so much more.

As an aside, isn’t it weird that Dwayne Johnson never has to cover up his tattoos for any of his roles?

Twizard Rating: 68

Quick Movie Review: Suburbicon (2017)

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Suburbicon is a film consisting of two plots. More like a plot and a subplot. These two exist in the same world, but barely ever intersect. In fact, one could make the case that they aren’t even necessary for each other’s survival. Although, they serve a subtle symbiotic purpose, however contrived it may seem.

The subplot happens first. We arrive in a utopian town in the 1950s, called Suburbicon. News gets around that a black family has moved into the community, and the people there begin protesting. The white people are scared that their “perfect” little town will now become disturbed by the presence of black people.

Across the street from the black family is where our main plot begins. A home invasion kills a woman (Julianne Moore), and nearly kills her husband (Matt Damon), son (Noah Jupe), and twin sister (also Julianne Moore). We’re not sure why it’s happening, but we know we’re about to find out.

There seems to be a lot going on, but the film carefully picks out what’s important in order to drive the plot and build tension. Careful sense is made out of all the chaos.

Amidst a slew of films that attempt to create commentary on racial issues by shoving it in your face, this one tries to keep it in the background. However, it’s not all that subliminal.

Many viewers will no doubt feel a sense of pride for figuring out what statements this film is trying to make. But the truth is, it’s pretty on-the-nose and not hard to analyze properly.

The events with the black family and the protesters outside their house serve no real purpose other than to show irony of ignorant racists becoming the actual source of all the disruptions in their peaceful lives. The crazy people are actually the white Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, and the white townsfolk are violently protesting the normal people who happen to be black. The white people are really the ones we should hate; they’re really the ones causing all the problems–we get it.

If you were previously unaware that racism exists–especially in the 1950s–then this film is for you. Except this film takes that trope to new heights. No new ground is covered in this area, and it isn’t like it’s a true story that needs to be told. At times it seems like the filmmakers (George Clooney, the Coen Brothers, et al) are merely trying to pass off this moral that all white people are bigots.

I probably shouldn’t like this movie, but I do and I can’t quite figure it out. Maybe I just like seeing Matt Damon play a terrible person. Maybe the two likable people in the whole film are actually worth all the trouble. The truth is, it contains a pretty cool murder mystery and I’m a sucker for utopian settings. Suburbicon does a lot of things wrong, but it’s actually still very entertaining as a whole.

Twizard Rating: 87

Quick Movie Review: Clueless (1995)

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Clueless does something interesting. It’s a complete social satire, but director Amy Heckerling makes it so that the jokes can also be taken at face value. On one hand it begs you to notice the commentary it’s making on society, while on the other hand relishes in the idea that the jokes may be all on you. In fact, that’s what makes Clueless so great. It’s a film that makes fun of people who take themselves too seriously, but also accepts the fact that those same people will take IT too seriously. Some satires are too transparent, but what makes this one brilliant is the fact that it’s not.

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Quick Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok (2017)

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Marvel has just completed their best year ever, by far. And if you continue their current run back a little further, to 2016’s Doctor Strange, it’s even more impressive (still technically within 365 days of this release).

I really struggled with the 2nd Thor film back in 2013. Sure, it was entertaining, but it was completely forgettable and uninspired.

Thor Ragnarok fixes what’s broken. Barely set on Earth at all, it moves past the fish-out-of-water schtick that runs stale in the last film. This one’s light on its feet and incredibly fun.

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Quick Movie Review: Kenan & Kel – Two Heads Are Better Than None (2000)

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Often times, longer episodes–or specials–of a half-hour sitcom series don’t work. The pacing is all thrown off and the lack of a laugh track makes the jokes fall flat.

And while Two Heads Are Better Than None is a little odd at first without the studio audience, any fan of Kenan and Kel will enjoy this made-for-TV movie. It’s the same humor, minus the scheming by Kenan.

This one lets the boys get into trouble all without having to scheme anything at all. Kel crashes Kenan’s family’s cross-country road trip vacation. Along the way, they encounter the ghost of a headless knight who is looking for a living soul to give him a new head.

The details tend to get a little foggy, but it’s not a far cry from the usual flippancy of the half-hour episodes. Continue reading

Quick Movie Review: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

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The amazing imagery of Little Shop of Horrors is enough to make an indelible impression in our brains. Though it never becomes complacent in knowing this.

Rick Moranis plays a nerdy florist who discovers an evil giant talking plant who helps him get the fame he’s always wanted and may lead to his ticket out of the sleazy part of town. He’s also in love with a woman named Audrey (Ellen Greene), who he thinks is out of his league.

The depth of the film runs much deeper than you’d think. The themes are thought-provoking. Mainly, the one regarding Audrey being physically abused by her boyfriend. Greene is able to showcase the severity of her issue while still bringing humor and sincere levity to the production. In fact, Audrey is perhaps the real main character of the film. She’s the one who’s mind we see inside of the most.

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Quick Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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On the surface, Blade Runner 2049 appears to be yet another action blockbuster. But for those who are familiar with the first movie, you know this is a wrong.

The original 1982 film takes place in 2019 Los Angeles, starring Harrison Ford as a blade runner–a cop who is in charge of tracking down and killing bioengineered beings known as “replicants”. The replicants look and act exactly like humans and were sent to an off-world colony to become slaves. But a small group of them have violently come back to Earth to kill their creators.

Although deep, the first film wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s slow, boring, and had no relatable characters.

The sequel is still set in the same dystopian universe, but 30 years later. For the fans’ sake, it’s very much in the same vein as its predecessor. It’s just as slow, and much longer. But here, it’s much more tolerable. In fact, it’s extremely entertaining, which goes to show that maybe it isn’t even the pacing of the original that makes it so boring.

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