Quick Movie Review: Friday the 13th (1980)

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Summer camp, teenagers, murder. Friday the 13th wasn’t quite the first film to carry these traits, but it definitely popularized them, along with the slasher film sub-genre as a whole.

The movie follows a group of young adults who are fixing up an old abandoned summer camp, when they soon become stalked by an unknown killer.

All throughout, it does well to take your mind off of the fact that it’s a horror film, striking when you least expect it. Almost as though it’s not fully aware that it’s a horror film itself–both a good and bad consequence of helping set a genre’s formula. Good because it gives you a better element of surprise, but bad because it tends to meander and lollygag. In fact, no one is even aware that there is a murderer on the loose until the final third of the film.

Unlike 1983’s Sleepaway Camp–which many accuse of being a Friday the 13th imitator–this film doesn’t really give its villain a personality until the very end.

While most of the movie is campy when not suspenseful, the last 15 minutes are truly chilling. But even during this part, it’s convenient stupidity of the characters that elongates the film an extra ten minutes or so.

Director Sean S. Cunningham does a pretty good job building the suspense when needed, but isn’t so competent with the young actors’ performances, often times overlooking a misdelivered line or two.

Actually, I think the suspense should be mostly credited to the fantastic score by Harry Manfredini, which is on a totally different level than the rest of the film. The music gives the movie integrity where it’s otherwise trying to find its footing.

This first Friday the 13th installment is definitely dated, and some of the copycat movies actually turn out better, but there’s something intangibly refreshing about a film that isn’t trying to replicate a formula beat by beat. Since there hadn’t quite been a proven formula yet at this time, Friday the 13th gets to certain spots on accident. The events happen organically instead of the filmmakers trying to hit all the marks of successful slashers before this one. Not that some aspects aren’t inspired, but it’s less shameless than what was to come following this film.

Twizard Rating: 74

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Quick Movie Review: Ready Player One (2018)

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Steven Spielberg may seem like an odd choice to direct the feature film adaptation of the acclaimed Ernest Cline novel, Ready Player One. First of all, it’s not quite on the same wavelength as recent Spielberg offerings (e.g. The Post or Lincoln). Secondly, the director helped define the exact era being obsessed about in the story.

If you’re an achingly nostalgic person, then this is the movie for you. The film’s protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), is obsessed with ’80s pop culture. It’s the year 2045 and everyone is. In this version of earth, there is a virtual reality world/game called the OASIS, which almost everyone takes part in. They just put on these goggles and enter into their avatar’s body. The world is flooded with references from old video games and movies. Wade’s avatar drives Doc Brown’s DeLorean from Back to the Future.

But Ready Player One has something bigger to say. Touching upon the risks of becoming so detached with the real world that we forget what it’s really like. However, this threat never feels like a reality check in the movie. To the point where perhaps it doesn’t even have an opinion on which is better, one way or another. But that a balance of the two is what should be strived for.

In fact, watching the film may have us dreaming about how cool it would be if a place like this really existed. We can see the baggage that comes with it, but still, wouldn’t it be kinda worth it? To those of us who truly appreciate its purpose, it definitely would.

After the creator of the OASIS dies, he poses a challenge to all the users to find an Easter Egg that will give the finder complete control over the OASIS. So we follow Wade and his friends from inside the game, in a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory sort of way, as they embark on this mission to find the Egg.

The movie takes us back and forth from the OASIS to reality so seamlessly that we almost have to remind ourselves which is which–intentionally, no doubt. Credit to the special effects team as well, but this detail also helps show how close the two worlds actually are.

Spielberg definitely has his hands full, but does well with the highly involved plot. He’s always known how to take a complicated story and trim the fat. In Ready Player One, the story does tend to get confusing a couple of times, but we end up getting back on track each time.

Just about the only thing he doesn’t do well is give us entertaining battle scenes. The nonsensical, Michael Bay-type action is the only aspect that can stifle the momentum a bit and cause our minds to wander–the one thing we don’t want to happen in this movie.

But that isn’t enough to make you dislike Ready Player One even in the slightest, since, unlike Michael Bay, there isn’t an hour’s worth of it.

While Ready Player One is very much inspired by–some would say derivative of–countless films before it, it’s an amalgamation of it all.

It’s the type of film where you should leave your critic’s badge at the door, because the things that it does wrong don’t matter. If you obsess about it, then you’re missing the point. It should be viewed as pure entertainment. It’s a much better experience that way.

Twizard Rating: 96

Ranking Every ‘Salute Your Shorts’ Episode Ever!

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Salute Your Shorts is easily my favorite ’90s Nickelodeon show. It became synonymous with the summers of my childhood. Watching Nick In the Afternoon and hoping that Stick Stickly would announce it up next was perhaps the most anxious my life got at such a young age.

It ran from 1991 to 1992, but Nickelodeon syndicated it well until 1998, to where it was even among the top 15 highest-rated regularly scheduled basic-cable series in 1996, according to Nielsen, despite not having aired a new episode in four years.

The show wasn’t necessarily the most flashy or slick, but it was definitely one of the most unique. Down to the often-odd camerawork and perhaps the best opening credits/theme song of the entire decade. When the writers weren’t using unique story lines, they were at least throwing twists into old sitcom tropes to give them fresh perspectives.

Salute Your Shorts is the benchmark for all summer camp shows. It gives us characters who feel real, to the point where we imagine them now, some 25+ years later, grown up somewhere in life, having learned from their experiences at Camp Anawanna. It gives us characters who go beyond the cliched archetypes–but never unrealistically. As someone who grew up at camp myself, there were always kids who fit the personalities of the ones in the show.

Michael was my favorite character growing up. The everyman who’s friends with everyone, but never stands out too much on his own amongst this group of kids with unusual idiosyncrasies. I related to him the most. But what made the show so great is that I could also see a little bit of myself in every character. As an only child, little-kid Me saw them as my friends whom I could hang out with every summer afternoon. I’d go back to school in the fall and then join them again in June. There weren’t a lot of episodes, but I probably never even noticed. Either way, we didn’t get tired of each other. And I learned at camp as they did.

For a show with only 26 episodes, it feels so big. The show ushered in the ’90s with fart jokes, flannel shirts, and ghost stories about plumbers. It covered so much ground with its characters that we felt like we got to know them for 100 episodes.

Sure, there are some weaker episodes, but even in those ones there are some bright spots.

I’ve taken the time to diligently rank each episode in the series. I didn’t really use any specific criteria. Mostly what felt right. Taking into account entertainment value, character depth, humor, maturity, and a variety of other things.

If you haven’t checked out this show, please do so. If you’re a fan of it already, then you probably skipped my little intro here.

So, without further ado, I give you my ranking of every Salute Your Shorts episode ever:

 

26. Dina and the Rock Star (Season 2, Episode 4)

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Dina lies to everyone at camp when she says she can get rock superstar Jamie Mallot Jr. to play at their dance. Jamie does end up getting to camp, but then everyone there acts like fools when he shows up. The only person who doesn’t get starstruck is Pinsky. It’s the first episode that really shows his likability. As literally no one else is likable in this episode. The premise is catalyzed by a lame motive and propelled even further by the unrealistic behavior of its characters.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: Hey, where’s Jamie?? I wanna give him this demo tape! I got 5 songs with the word “tongue” in the title.

 

25. The Cursed Skull (Season 2, Episode 5)

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Budnick finds an animal skull in the Sacred Caves that Z.Z. says is the infamous Cursed Skull. “Bad things” start happening at camp–like people spilling their drinks on themselves, or getting dirt accidentally tossed onto their shirts. It’s a forced concept that ends up with a corny resolution. And even though this episode captures the essence of camp and embraces that experience, it fails to entertain us.

Favorite Line:

N/A

 

24. The Environmental Party (Season 1, Episode 13)

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While its message is noble, its preachiness is a little out of character for Salute Your Shorts. Z.Z wants to get the camp to recycle more and be more aware of the environment, but no one is interested so she tries to think of ways to motivate them. It’s kind of all over the place. And there aren’t as many laughs as normal. It’s also Michael’s last episode and he doesn’t get any sort of sendoff, which has always irritated me.

Favorite Line:

Sponge: Hey guys, there’s nothing in here except a bunch of dirty old magazines!

Budnick: Dirty OLD magazines, or old DIRTY magazines??

 

23. Cinderella Play (Season 1, Episode 10)

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It’s the obligatory camp play episode. Dina gets the lead role in Cinderella and initially lets it get to her head, but then soon realizes she has stage fright. It’s good for its relationship building between Dina and Sponge–an unlikely pair–but it’s a little more silly and cliche than we’ve come to expect–albeit with a Salute Your Shorts flair.

Favorite Line:

Ug: I’m very proud of you, Dina. That shows initiative and stick-to-it-edness

 

22. Telly and the Tennis Match (Season 2, Episode 1)

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When Telly can’t beat Scotty Rex with her old tennis racket, she tries everything to get a new one. Budnick, in homage to The Godfather, gifts her a top-of-the-line racket in exchange for a favor to be named later. After taking in bets for the tennis rematch, Budnick realizes that he’ll be unable to pay anyone back if Telly wins, so he asks her to throw the match. It takes a somewhat boring premise and makes it entertaining, even when the humor isn’t quite as prominent. .

Favorite Line:

Ug: Geez, you should join Abba-Zaba anonymous.

 

21. Bunk Chief Elections (Season 1, Episode 5)

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Most famous for its pie fight scene, this episode’s main plot surrounds Telly and Dina competing to get elected chief of their bunk…of three people. The best part of this one is the subplot with the boys getting punished for putting a goat in Ug’s bunk. Overall, it’s a middle of the road episode that gets a little too sappy at times.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: Ug is such a Gomer.

 

20. Ellen Comes to Camp (Season 2, Episode 12)

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Dr. Kahn’s niece, Ellen, comes to visit camp and is a complete brat. She destroys all the campers’ belongings and even attempts to injure some of them. Her mindset is that she can do whatever she wants and get away with it since her uncle is Dr. Kahn. The whole episode is spent trying to get revenge on Ellen. Budnick even empathizes with her hostility and attempts to clean her up a bit, but to no avail. It’s great seeing the whole gang get together for the same cause, but Ellen is just too obnoxious and never truly gets what she deserves in the end.

Favorite Line:

Ug: Boy, getting a raise is costing me a fortune.

 

19. Anawanna, Inc. (Season 2, Episode 13)

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This one’s kind of an odd episode, even down to the way it’s shot in a couple of scenes. The kids have an idea to start a company making birdhouses. It’s a silly concept and makes you wonder why they think birdhouses will make them all rich, but it ends on a good note. One of the best moments is Ug stealing people’s stuff right out of their hands for the time capsule that he and Sponge are making.

Favorite Line:

Ug: Hey! *steals hat from kid* Confiscated for the time capsule!

 

18. Goodbye Michael, Hello Pinsky (Season 1, Episode 2)

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We finally get a sendoff for Michael. After he leaves camp with the chickenpox, Pinsky comes to take his place. Budnick is obviously not happy. He’s sad about the departure of Michael, who’s become his only true friend at camp. And he doesn’t like how Pinsky’s charisma makes him liked by everyone else even though he’s just as rebellious as Budnick. As an audience, we feel for Budnick. It’s a subtle, but profound closure to his and Michael’s relationship. We miss Michael too. Pinsky isn’t as likable as Michael, even though Blake Soper’s performance as Pinsky is impressive. Plot-wise, nothing really happens in this episode, but it’s more of what the episode represents in the development of the series. It’s not a great episode due to what they tried to make Pinsky become. Michael was the everyman. The assumed protagonist. Was Pinsky now the protagonist? In fact, with this episode he seems like more of an antagonist. He doesn’t have that adolescent awkwardness like the others–he’s almost too adult. Too savvy. This episode makes us not only miss Michael more, but miss the dynamic that he helped create.

Favorite Line:

Donkeylips: How come you got a jockstrap on your face?

Ug: Protection.

Donkeylips: I guess I don’t understand how jockstraps work.

 

17. Budnick Loves Dina – Part 2 (Season 2, Episode 7)

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In this followup episode, Budnick and Dina are now dating, and Budnick has changed his image from the camp bully to an overly-polite old man. Dina becomes annoyed, wanting the old Budnick back. We don’t blame her. But instead of just telling him this, she believes the only possible solution is that they have to break up. It’s a shame because you could actually see the two of them working as a couple if this situation was handled with more maturity and practicality. The episode is pretty memorable, but its annoying plot hole keeps it from becoming a better conclusion to the first episode–even with its nice final moment.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: I brought you the paper, but I kept the business section for me to read. That way I can have conversations with your dad about the bear and bull markets. You know, before we met, the only time I used the word “bull” was followed by another word.

 

16. Mail Carrier Mona (Season 1, Episode 12)

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This is a pretty memorable episode for Salute Your Shorts fans. It introduces Mona and begins her relationship with Ug after his long-distance girlfriend breaks up with him. It’s entertaining with great lines, but doesn’t necessarily set the world ablaze, so it sits here on the list.

Favorite Line:

Dr. Kahn: This is Dr. Kahn. Due to Ug’s sudden “sickness”, all activities for the day have been cancelled.

 

15. Sponge Goes to the Movies (Season 2, Episode 8)

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Pinsky acquiescently joins Sponge’s computer club and discovers that it allows for them to contact the “outside world”. He then sets up a double date for himself and Sponge with two girls at a neighboring camp. It goes about at a fairly even pace the whole time, with a pretty famous final scene featuring the gang avoiding Ug at the movie theater. However, its memorability might be greater than its entertainment value. Though it’s nice seeing the kids in an environment outside of camp for once.

Favorite Line:

Ug: Where am I gonna take Mona? A two-for-one at Salad City! She likes croutons!

 

14. The Pinsky-Sponge Gazette (Season 2, Episode 9)

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For a Pinsky-centered episode, this one’s pretty good. Sponge starts a newspaper, but no one is reading it because the stories are boring. Until Pinsky comes on board and turns it into a tabloid of sorts, making up stories about kids at camp and exaggerating the truth. It makes you detest Pinsky, and it’s frustrating that if this were Budnick doing the same egregious acts, no one would be able to forgive him. But it’s still very entertaining and fast-paced, and doesn’t talk down to its audience when an episode like this easily could have. .

Favorite Line:

Donkeylips: I wanna be the opinion editor.

Pinsky: Do you have any opinions?

Donkeylips: Yes. I think waffles are great. And red is my favorite color. And pollution–bad news if you ask me.

 

13. Park Ranger Mona (Season 2, Episode 11)

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Ug’s girlfriend, Mona, gets a new job as the park ranger. But when she comes to camp, she starts taking her job too seriously and writing up Camp Anawanna for every violation possible. Tension rises between Ug and Mona, and the kids try to figure out ways to fix their relationship. Any episode that revolves around Ug is a pretty good one, plus Mona is always so well-written and such a great character. This one feels like a 1st season episode as far as tone and character dynamics. The story flows so fluidly. Even the montage is entertaining. And it still has the more even pacing of the 2nd season.

Favorite Line:

Sponge: Anawanna has to meet the forest service standards for summer camps.

Budnick: Are you kidding?? This place won’t even pass the government standards for a gym locker.

 

12. Toilet Seat Basketball (Season 1, Episode 6)

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It’s not as engaging as other stories, but it’s actually pretty funny. Telly, the team captain, is trying to get her team to take the basketball tournament seriously, but they’re unrealistically cocky and think they don’t have to practice because they’re going to win anyway. The basketball scenes are ridiculous, but Telly has some great moments.

Favorite Line:

Ug: If you wanna be a winner, you hafta learn the four F’s of leadership: fearlessness, fairness, firmness, and control.

Telly: Control isn’t an “F”.

Ug: Well then it’s three F’s and a C.

Telly: Sounds like Donkeylips’ report card.

 

11. Budnick Loves Dina – Part 1 (Season 2, Episode 6)

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In one of the funniest episodes of the second season, Budnick realizes that he likes Dina. It starts off as a sort of satire on how, at that age, we don’t ever have good reasons for liking the people we like. It’s witty and entertaining. But it eventually, though briefly, falls into the trap of painful corniness. Fortunately, it gets saved by other things going on. One by one, everyone at camp is needing crutches after hurting themselves. Also, Sponge and Donkeylips’ friendship continues to grow as one of the best duos at camp.

Favorite Line:

Dr. Kahn: This is Doctor Kahn. Will whoever took the bingo balls I-16 and O-42 please return them to the lodge. Thank you.

 

10. The Treasure of Sara Madre (Season 1, Episode 3)

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The Treasure of Sara Madre plays on a fun concept where the gang tries to find the buried treasure of a deceased dance counselor. The uniquely elaborate plot turns into convolution, and the episode relies too much on unrealistic gullibility of the characters and perhaps too many montages, but the payoff is great. The punchline ending with Ug caps it off brilliantly and is the undeniable highlight of the entire story.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: I’ll file him under “D” for “Dead Donkey”.

 

9. Capture the Flag (Season 2, Episode 10)

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Any episode with Donkeylips as the main storyline is going to be pretty good. He aspires to be an attacker in camp’s epic capture the flag game. He’s usually a flag defender–a role typically given to the weakest members. His story here is inspiring and you’re rooting for him all the way. It’s not typically as funny as this show can get, but you also love the extremes that Ug and the campers take the capture the flag game to–reminiscent of how we perceived these activities as a kid. The ending always gives me goosebumps.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: Hey! It’s the Rhinestone Chowboy!

 

8. Counselor Budnick (Season 2, Episode 3)

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It’s the classic role-reversal sitcom trope. In this version, Budnick and Ug switch roles at camp. Budnick acts as counselor for the weekend, making a bet with Ug that the campers are going to think he does a better job at it. In the meantime Ug becomes one of the campers, which is a lot of fun to see because he is having such a great time doing it. It’s the best episode of the 2nd season. It’s really funny and entertaining, and the final outcome is satisfying.

Favorite Line:

Dina: But Budnick why don’t you just go swim in the lake??

Budnick: Because fish fart in it!

 

7. Donkeylips’ Crush on Dina (Season 1, Episode 11)

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After a series of miscommunications, Donkeylips thinks that he’s Dina’s secret admirer. It shows a nice turn for Dina as a character, and proves that Donkeylips is one of the true stars of this show. He’s magnetic every time we see him on screen, and his subtleties are golden. The dichotomy between the two characters makes for amazing television.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: You don’t wanna seem too anxious…but you don’t wanna be aloof either.

Donkeylips: What’s aloof?

Budnick: A loof is a cross between a loser and a doof.

Donkeylips: I definitely don’t wanna be a loof.

 

6. Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In (Season 1, Episode 8)

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This is the first episode where Donkeylips is at the center, delving into him as a person. Giving him depth without ever feeling too forced. He and Sponge are both trying to get into their weight class for wrestling, but both are just outside of the qualifying weight. Like many Salute Your Shorts episodes, it’s a simple premise, but takes you on a journey. Sponge and Donkeylips become closer as friends here. They are two very opposite people, but realize that they may be more similar than they think. It’s funny and surprisingly suspenseful.

Favorite Line:

Dina: Either this is a type of sauce, or my bratwurst is sweating.

 

5. Zeke the Plumber (Season 1, Episode 2)

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Every kid who grew up with ’90s Nickelodeon may still shudder at the name Zeke the Plumber. Enhanced by a chilling musical score, this episode is just as scary as most Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes. It really showcases Danny Cooksey’s talents as Bobby Budnick while giving his character well-rounded depth in such a short amount of time. Even amidst the few obvious plot holes, Zeke the Plumber is perhaps still the most memorable Nickelodeon episode of that era.

Favorite Line:

Donkeylips: Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a pizza in my mouth.

 

4. Brownies for Thud Mackie (Season 1, Episode 4)

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This is the first time we get solid camaraderie from everyone. After Michael accidentally squishes the camp bully’s brownies, said bully, Thud Mackie, threatens to beat him up if he doesn’t get him two dozen brownies by the end of the week. Since snacks are prohibited at camp, Michael has to find a way to sneak them in. The scenario brings Michael and his friends–and enemies–closer together, and we get our first taste of how well Salute Your Shorts handles these dramatic and sentimental moments. Also, the episode has some really fun subplots. It confirms Michael as our de facto protagonist and gives him the quasi-sendoff that he should have gotten at the end of season 1.

Favorite Line:

Michael: And Donkeylips, you can have half this candy bar. It melted in my pocket, but it should taste pretty good.

Donkeylips: Thanks. See ya dude.

 

3. Michael Comes to Camp (Season 1, Episode 1)

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This is the perfect first episode. It’s funny, smartly written and establishes setting and characters without coming off as forced. The title is self-explanatory. Michael has his first couple days at camp and is building relationships while learning how to handle his new bullies, Budnick and Donkeylips. It gives us a great idea of what to expect from the rest of the series. And it introduces Awful Waffle into ’90s lexicon.

Favorite Line:

Dr. Kahn: This is Doctor Kahn. There’s no reason to run to breakfast. I’ve already taken the prizes out of all the cereal.

 

2. The Radio Call-In Contest (Season 1, Episode 7)

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Sponge competes in a radio trivia contest for a chance to win $1000, but realizes that as smart as he is, he may not know everything. The episode really deals with the psyche of a character while developing the relationship between Sponge and Michael. Ug has some truly great moments, and the humor as a whole is very self-aware and mature. It also speaks to the usefulness of trivial information versus scholastic information. Showing that perhaps they’re both important in one way or another. It’s a great premise and a lot of fun to watch.

Favorite Line:

Ug: From this moment on, you are all on Double Permanent Confinement until I find out who hung up on my girlfriend!

 

1. Budnick and Michael Fake Being Sick (Season 1, Episode 9)

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Budnick and Michael pretend to vomit in order to get out of instructional swim with Ug, but it turns out that Ug took the rest of the campers to the beach instead. Meanwhile, the aforementioned have to stay in the nurses office all day. After the nurse leaves for arbitrary reasons, the two of them turn a bad situation into something beautiful. It breaks down the psychology of Budnick’s aggression and shows him at his most vulnerable. A side saved only for this very moment in the entire series. Since Michael arrived at camp, he’s been the target of Budnick’s rage, but now we see Budnick confiding in him. The episode is more than just emotionally moving. It’s also chock full of amazing lines, showing how well-rounded this show truly is, and how rawly human it was compared to anything else on Nickelodeon at the time.

Favorite Line:

Ug: Ay, I hear lips flapping, Gelfen! Give me 20!

Donkeylips: But I can only do 8.

Ug: Make it 50!

 

There you have it! I tend to favor season 1 episodes more. The 2nd season has better paced episodes, which might make some of them seem better, but the 1st season is much more funny and entertaining. And it contains Michael (my favorite character).

Parts of the list may change over time, but the top 4 or 5 are probably set in stone.

Let me know in the comments what your own favorite and least favorite episodes are!

Quick Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

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If you look at the first two Tomb Raider films from 2001 and 2003, and then look at this one, you’d never guess they’re from the same franchise unless you take note of the names of the movies or characters.

But this new installment is an origins story. Instead of Angelina Jolie in the role of Lara Croft, we get Alicia Vikander. Vikander is much better for this vulnerable version of Croft, as opposed to Jolie’s smooth arrogance. Here we see her coming to learn her identity as the tomb raider, whereas before, we jump right in and her identity has already been established.

This film serves as an origins story, but is the fan base large enough for anyone to care about an origins story? I suppose it doesn’t really matter these days.

Here, Croft is an aspiring kick boxer who’s in debt to her gym and is barely making ends meet as a bike courier. Her father, Richard (Dominic West), has been missing for 7 years. She refuses to sign the inheritance papers that would guarantee her over a billion dollars, because that would mean that he’s really dead. I guess I can empathize with that sentiment, but it still doesn’t make much logical sense for someone as smart as Croft apparently is.

Her father was obsessed with the supernatural and the hereafter. And Lara finds a clue left behind that sends her on a hunt to find out how he died. And now, apparently she has money to fly to Hong Kong to investigate. (One example of the small details that go lazily overlooked in this new movie.)

As well as a script hits its marks in a macro sense, it needs to hit them in the micro sense, too. That’s where Tomb Raider falters. Overall, the script gives us an extremely intriguing story with a lot of fun twists and turns, but it’s these little things that keep it from being better.

However, it’s not all the script’s fault. Director Roar Uthaug has issues handling emotions properly. In an early scene, Lara is seen watching a video that her dad has left her, speaking to her in a “If you’re watching this, I must be dead” type of way. There are no welled up tears, or bittersweet smile–just an apathetic look on Vikander’s face like she was expecting to hear all this. This great opportunity to evoke emotion out of the audience never gets taken advantage of, and we’re left wanting more from it, as well as our lead. If that doesn’t make our hero cry, what will? And do we want to invest our emotions in someone who seems void of them, herself?

But here’s the biggest issue of all: As entertaining as the Vikander Tomb Raider is, her version of Croft isn’t Lara Croft at all. She shares the same name, sure, but nowhere in this film does she show the same passion in digging up and collecting old artifacts, a la Indiana Jones. This version of Croft desperately wants to find her father, but expresses zero interest in historical relics or tombs at all. So what makes her a tomb raider? Nothing. Her dad was. But she is not. It’s hard to say that it does is source material proud.

In a standalone movie of a different name, half of these mistakes would be non-existent, but simply because it calls itself “Tomb Raider” they become irritants. Like, for this review, I’m not even going to go into detail on the legend discussed in this film, because Lara Croft doesn’t care, so why should it matter?

The film is actually highly entertaining with impressive–albeit unrealistic–action scenes, but it just doesn’t feel like a Tomb Raider movie.

Twizard Rating: 79

Quick Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003)

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Compared to its 2001 predecessor, The Cradle of Life is much more along the lines of the films (Indiana Jones) it’s trying to emulate. It’s sleeker, more engaging, and has a much better villain, among other things.

Rather than wasting time in the beginning with contrived banter to set up character, this one jumps right into it. It gives less backstory, yet somehow provides us with more depth.

In The Cradle of Life, Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) is on a mission to find Pandora’s Box before an evil bio-terrorist finds it and unleashes its contents, killing millions of people.

This one actually does have the potential to be a really good film in the traditional sense, but unfortunately most people will compare it to the action movies of today and standards will be too high.

It’s not only highly entertaining, but knows how to stray away from formulaic beats when it counts the most.

The film also tries to fill in much of the dead space with a love story between Croft and a character played by a then-unknown Gerard Butler. But this actually serves a purpose other than just a desperate attempt to grasp for more depth.

Jolie seems even more comfortable with the character the second time around, and this director actually knows what to do with her. He doesn’t try as hard to manufacture her coolness–which actually makes her even more cool. It allows her persona to speak more for itself.

While the first Tomb Raider was decently entertaining, this sequel is a large step above. The humor is more organic and appropriate. And less forced.

The story just moves along a lot more fluidly here too. It doesn’t just complete the story with a paint-by-numbers storyboard. You can tell the filmmakers are having fun, which helps the audience join in on that.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

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Watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, it’s very evident how different humor in action films was in 2001 compared to now. This is before Iron Man. Before having refreshing levity in your movies was an obligation. Back then you could make a dry, self-indulgent blockbuster that takes itself too seriously and still doubles its budget at the box office. In 2018, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider would be a flop. It tries to be funny a couple times, but it never succeeds. Luckily it’s fairly entertaining regardless.

Lara Croft, played by Angelina Jolie, is an expert collector of ancient artifacts. In this adventure, her deceased father (played by Jon Voight–seriously) leaves her a key that will help reunite two halves of a triangle that will allow whoever posses it to travel through time. She must find the two pieces before the Illuminati do. The Illuminati want to misuse the triangle’s power.

Despite some unclear motives, the premise is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. Yet, everything happens with convenient punctuality. And it feels like the director is merely completing mandatory steps to further the plot rather than letting it all move along fluidly.

Jolie does a pretty good job with her role, but the movie is short on supporting talent to offset Croft’s brooding demeanor. The villain is lackluster and Croft’s goofy sidekicks aren’t necessarily C-3PO and R2-D2.

Everything about this movie tells you that the filmmakers aren’t comfortable with any sort of humor they’re given or supposed to include.

And based on the unnecessary shower scenes and the skintight clothes that Jolie wears, you’d think that Tomb Raider was directed by a 13-year-old boy. It’s just way too cool for itself.

I don’t really have any problems with the unrealistic Fast and Furious-type action, but here it’s mostly uninspired. Not quite as slick or original.

I can see people in 2001 viewing this film as below them, but we can watch it now and enjoy it as a product of its time. If nothing else, it’s fairly entertaining.

Twizard Rating: 72

Quick Movie Review: Road House (1989)

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Often times, the hero of an action movie is broodingly void of any human emotion. Too cool to laugh or smile. But Patrick Swayze knows just how to make his character realistic so that we can actually relate. He doesn’t just make himself a cookie cutter of every other action hero before him.

Swayze’s charisma carries the somewhat uninspired dialogue that tries to sound deeper than it is. And maybe it is a little deep. Surprisingly. Perhaps even philosophical. Some lines come off as cheesy, but you hardly notice when it’s Swayze saying them. But most other actors can’t handle them quite the same.

James Dalton, played by Swayze, is a famous bouncer, who is hired by the owner of a notorious bar in small-town Missouri to help clean up the bar and eliminate all the fighting. Along the way, he develops relationships with people in this town, attempting to protect them from a corrupt businessman who is the de facto town dictator.

Road House is the very definition of a guilty pleasure movie. It’s a movie about bar fights. Yet somehow it manages to take it one step further than that. It actually makes a lot of nice artistic choices, which is interesting considering that, on the surface, it’s a cheap action flick.

And at times it’s obvious. Even losing itself for a minute, nearly becoming unraveled about halfway through. It realizes that there haven’t been any fights for awhile, so it throws in a couple in vain, even though we stop needing them. As it turns out, we actually become genuinely invested in these characters and the story around them.

The fight scenes are actually amazing. They’re well-choreographed and very realistic. But what keeps the film afloat is still Swayze himself. His demeanor helps the movie not take itself too seriously, even when you know it probably wants to.

Twizard Rating: 85

Quick Movie Review: A Wrinkle In Time (2018)

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There’s a reason why Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel hasn’t been adapted into a feature film before. (There was a forgettable 2003 mini-series, but that’s it.) The story just doesn’t translate to the screen well.

In this most recent version, director Ava DuVernay tries to show us the abstract concept, yet attempts to market the film towards teenagers–succeeding at neither. It’s likely that the powers-that-be had conflicting opinions about which direction the film should go.

From early on, you can tell that A Wrinkle In Time tries to be too cool. But it’s not nearly as cool or fun as it thinks it is. It finds itself stumbling when trying too hard to appeal to a younger audience, and seems awkwardly out of place when it tries to pontificate. It tries to do so much that it’s unable to retain any distinct personality.

The premise seems promising, but never really takes off. And while there are a lot of fun time travel concepts introduced, the filmmakers fail to capitalize on this intrigue.

Thirteen-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) deals with the four year anniversary of her father, Dr. Alexander Murry’s mysterious disappearance. Because of the opening scene, we know that he’s some sort of scientist who’s into time travel and inter-world teleportation. He was apparently looking for the key to allow himself to do so.

So for the whole film, Meg, her brother, and her friend travel from world to world searching for her father.

The story forces this mystique that’s fun at first, but gets old. It never fully explains itself or feels worth it. Disney is trying to put together a narrative version of a concept. An interesting one, but not one that can afford to lack any integrity–or else you get an end product like this one.

But the truth is, even if the novel could be executed well in narrative form, this version of A Wrinkle In Time doesn’t have the other ingredients that typically make a film good, either.

The whole movie is disjointed, from the aimless directing to the convoluted script–which gives us plot points that merely serve as functional to the overall story. There’s no forgetting why everything is happening. We’re hardly ever able to get lost in the movie itself.

Then there’s the acting. It’s pretty bad considering the talents involved. Most of the performances (e.g. Reese Witherspoon, Levi Miller) are reminiscent of overacted children’s theater, while the ones with more potential (e.g. Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis) go underutilized.

The visual effects don’t quite look as up-to-date as they should. But the art design is impressive, so it’s visually pleasing. You might ask how such a beautiful film can be so underwhelming. It’s because it’s more into itself than it should be. And we’re not nearly as impressed with it as it is with itself.

A Wrinkle In Time is a story about the abstract nature of the universe, and to its credit, the film editing is just as abstract. But at times it’s just too much. Once again: It’s a narrative version of a concept and it just doesn’t work.

There are glimpses where we can see it resisting the urge to give into typical cinematic formula. Yet there are other instances where we’re reminded that this is a movie made by Disney, trying to sell tickets and not much more.

So then we’re suddenly not surprised that such a bad movie can somehow manage to make us invested enough to feel for its characters (I’m giving credit to the musical score).

A Wrinkle In Time is a movie conflicted with itself. Subtle details become vague and unexplained, while the filmmakers belabor the obvious through redundant and boring sequences. Its point is that darkness is the only thing that moves faster than light. But the way it interprets that darkness is much more subjective than a moral compass would have it be.

And now I’m belaboring my own point. But at least mine doesn’t take 2 hours to do so.

If you want a similar, more watchable movie, check out 1984’s The NeverEnding Story. It covers much of the same ground but with much less of an agenda.

Twizard Rating: 54

Quick Movie Review: Thelma & Louise (1991)

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I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film that so beautifully depicts the great American road while also showing it’s unforgivingness at the same time. A dichotomy that’s a consistent theme in Thelma & Louise.

Two best friends fed-up with the men in their lives and looking for a weekend away, set out on a road trip to exercise their freedom. But along the way they realize that exercising their freedom may also cost them their freedom as well.

Thelma (Geena Davis), a somewhat naive young woman with a neglectful and unappreciative husband, is looking to let her hair down and live a little, while Louise (Susan Sarandon), a brash waitress who sits around impatiently waiting for her boyfriend to commit, is sort of the adult in the room with Thelma. However, both women are constantly looking out for each other, reinforcing each other’s bad decisions.

While it’s not usually too preachy, there are very obvious feminist overtones. Although it takes some subtle, and perhaps unaware, stances on whether putting a gun to a cop’s head and locking him in the trunk is not as bad as a truck driver making suggestive gestures at women from his cab. It’s not as black or white as the characters make it seem. And while men might relate to the characters otherwise, these types of quasi-contradictions may keep some of them distanced still–aware that perhaps the filmmakers’ personal opinions might be getting in the way of the integrity of the story.

But the true key to appreciating Thelma & Louise is to not quite put its characters on a pedestal. Instead accepting that they, too, make horrible mistakes. Maybe the characters have black or white opinions, but the film wants the audience to question them. Coincidentally, that’s the conflict that often happens when you’re out on the open road learning about yourself and about life.

Towards the beginning, not long into their trip, the characters find themselves in a honky tonk bar in their home state of Arkansas. Thelma finds herself dancing closely to a man, who later attempts to rape her, which eventually leads to Louise killing him. Fearing that the cops won’t believe their story, their road trip turns into a run from the law.

With the seal of crime now broken, Thelma and Louise now find it easier to commit even more felonies. So badly that they cause it to escalate into something much bigger than they had originally anticipated, unearthing aggressions that they previously kept tame.

Opposed to other road films where the events that take place on the road feel outlaw-ish and unregulated, this one features a manhunt for the two women, led by Detective Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel).

At one point, Detective Slocumb states that eventually Thelma and Louise’s luck will run out. It’s funny to think that they’re lucky, when it’s a lack of luck that gets them here in the first place.

A road movie is far from an original concept, however Thelma & Louise manages to add just enough to it so that it stands on its own–putting it towards the top of the list. While candid and gritty as road films most often are, this story also has heart. Not in a sappy way, but in a way that lets you connect with these characters who find themselves down a rabbit hole.

Much of the emotion stems from Keitel’s character, who has empathy for these women and understands that it isn’t, in fact, black or white. While every cop in a 3-state radius is looking for them, Keitel is begging the girls to come in for questioning. Not like a normal movie cop would, but like he’s sincerely invested in their wellbeing. And he is. He grounds the film and shows that at least the screenwriter knows that not all men are bad.

Callie Khouri’s script is refreshing. The humor is so organic and the scenes never feel contrived.

And how the two leads manage the script is what makes the film take off. Both Sarandon and Davis are convincing. They feel real and you forget that they’re acting. Davis is transformed here, and her character continues to do so seamlessly over the course of the movie.

The film creates such a cool vibe that lets us know we’re still holding onto the 1980s. It was released in 1991, but most everything about it screams “’80s”. Proving that the ’90s didn’t fully kick into gear until ’92 or ’93.

It was a time with real maps and no cell phones. For this and less obvious reasons, Thelma & Louise simply couldn’t be made these days with the same clamor or spirit.

My biggest gripe is that it doesn’t quite give us the ending we want. Instead, giving us one that doesn’t make as much sense, and that doesn’t properly justify some of the events leading up to it.

But Director Ridley Scott does an excellent job, otherwise, of making a film that will evoke any memory of an amazing road trip through the United States. Which is interesting, considering how the story is somewhat about misfortune. But it’s also a little about the personal growth that comes out of that misfortune. A bittersweet lesson that the road won’t ever let us forget.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Game Night (2018)

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Rachel McAdams is a really good actress, but she’s never been in straight-up comedies. In fact, if you think about it, she hasn’t really been in one since 2004’s Mean Girls–the movie that catalyzed her stardom. So putting her opposite Jason Bateman in Game Night is a smart choice. The two of them have great chemistry. In fact, it’s so good that it nearly overshadows the rest of the film. Luckily, the well-crafted script helps to keep it together.

The comedy often falls apart when they aren’t on screen. And while McAdams does a superb job on her own, it’s Bateman who is the thread holding it together with everyone else. He changes the dynamic of their jokes. Others are funnier when Bateman is in the scene merely because of his presence–the anticipation of how we expect him to react. That tension is what makes him one of the best straight-men in this era of comedy.

Bateman plays Max, who has inferiority issues with his brother, Brooks, played by Kyle Chandler. Everyone loves Brooks and is constantly affirming Max’s insecurities. And from early on, we get a sense that the whole film is going to be one of those spit-on-the-protagonist stories.

But it’s not. Brooks is very obviously not a nice person, yet everyone is still blinded by his apparent coolness. However, Max’s wife, Annie (Rachel McAdams), sees right through Brooks’ nonsense and the film wisely never pins her against her husband.

Every week Max and Annie host a game night at their house. Usually it consists of charades or Pictionary, but this time Brooks puts together an elaborate murder-mystery game for them to play. However, they don’t realize that they’ve embarked on a real-life mission to solve an actual kidnapping.

It’s not that the other actors in the film aren’t funny, it’s that they’re just given too many one-liners, making them one-dimensional. One of the characters, Ryan (Billy Magnussen), is the stereotypical dumb guy. In the movie he’s funny, but tragically overused. Almost as though they had too many jokes for him and just couldn’t decide which ones they liked best. Many of them fall flat. Not because they aren’t funny, but because the audience doesn’t know they’re funny.

But on the plus side, the characters’ jokes always fit the characters, and there was obviously some sort of archetypal distinction between each one.

Game Night has some nice deep moments. The sentimentality isn’t forced or cliched or obviously pointed to. It’s well-written.

And I would be remiss not to mention the always-great Jesse Plemons as Max and Annie’s creepy neighbor, Gary, who always tries to invite himself to their game nights. He’s featured in the film a perfect amount and it’s always a treat when he’s included in the scene.

Twizard Rating: 89