Quick Movie Review: True Story (2015)

true story

Jonah Hill plays Michael Finkel–a journalist who has just been fired from the New York Times due to a flub in one of his stories. Meanwhile Christian Longo, played by James Franco, is accused of murdering his wife and kids. And although the two haven’t met, Longo tells the police that he is Michael Finkel of the New York Times. Finkel hears of this and writes to Longo to request that the two meet. For the span of the movie, we–along with Finkel–are trying to figure out if Longo is guilty or innocent.

At the core of every film based on a true story is the reason for making it. Some want to tell the life events of a notable person. Others want to tell of a unique and interesting real-life scenario. But the story of True Story really isn’t that unique. The most interesting part is the identity-claiming of Longo, but that is forgotten about one-third of the way through the film.

At the heart of True Story are filmmakers who wish to paint a picture of Finkel and Longo’s relationship. It keeps us in the dark to maintain its mystery, but there is definitely second agenda.

One thing that doesn’t really work is that the writers try too hard not to stray from Finkel’s book, which the film is based on. Finkel doesn’t find out how the murders happen by the time he finishes his book, so neither do we. We keep feeling like we are kept in the dark and soon realize that the film is stretching very few events into a full-length feature. At times, the filmmakers try so hard to be true to the source that they forget the film’s purpose.

And possibly the biggest issue is the acting. You have three Academy Award nominees and none of them bring any character to the film. Two of the three (Hill and Felicity Jones who plays Finkel’s wife) might give their worst career performances. Franco does a decent job as Longo, but is caught acting a lot. And every time Franco and Hill interact it feels like one of them is about to break character and crack a joke.

What works is the relationship between the two leads. It makes for good character study and provides a nice subplot to the murder mystery.

Regardless of everything bad you have to say about this film, it was creepy enough and mysterious enough to make me to like it. The entertainment value is high. It’s just that the necessity of the film is low.

Twizard Rating: 83


Quick Movie Review: Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015)

paul blart 2

As a whole this film fails at reaching the very low mark of its predecessor in almost every way possible. This Die Hard-inspired comedy “franchise” has now just added a very pointless sequel.

Taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 stars Kevin James as Paul–a bumbling mall cop who takes his job way too seriously. Now he’s in Vegas for a security convention where he must stop a heist of the casino.

The entire film takes place within the confines of the Wynn Resort and Casino. There is no galavanting around the strip or hopping from casino to casino–so the should-be glamorous Vegas element is very glamourless.

As flippant as the first film is, this one adds insensitivity to the equation. The movie starts out by picking up where we left Blart last in his life–when he gets married. But we find out that his wife leaves him after 6 days. This is a character we really grow to like in the previous film and love the fact that she seems to adore Paul regardless of his clumsy ways. And then Paul’s mom–whom he lives with–dies by getting run over by a milk truck. This is all supposed to be funny, but instead it’s a jarring beginning for the few fans of the first film.

Overall, it’s much of the same criticisms from the its predecessor, except more. There are maybe 3 solid laughs in the whole movie–but the rest of the jokes fall flat and are yawn-worthy. However, those 3 laughs may be bigger than the biggest laughs from the first film. Although in the first film there were way more of them. In this one, the highlight may be the bird-attack scene–which is played off to its brightest potential and gets the biggest laugh. One of Paul’s cohorts is a security guard named Khan (Shelly Desai) who had most of the other laughs, but was grossly underutilized in this movie.

At least, in the end, there is a redeeming value to all of this. But then again, we could’ve just watched the first film twice.

Twizard Rating: 59

Quick Movie Review: Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)

paul blart

We’ve seen this movie plenty of times before, but somehow it doesn’t seem as bad as the others. It’s harmless and aims simply to make us laugh. A big issue may be that it’s not quite a family film, yet it’s nowhere near the level of an adult comedy. And with that limbo area covered, many folks try and make sense of it, but they can’t. They have to just boil it down to the fact that it’s a harmless movie that has been made–albeit maybe 10 to 15 years too late–and it exists.

Paul Blart is a bumbling mall cop who takes his job way too seriously while also trying to win over the woman of his dreams.

While James is funny, the script is terrible in the strictest sense. There are pretty much no jokes. All the humor comes from our lead’s goofy responses to different scenarios or his ridiculously clumsy actions. Some may not find this type of humor funny in the slightest, but I have a soft spot for slapstick.

The film doesn’t dumb itself down too much, but when it does it’s painful. For instance, in one scene, Blart is held at gunpoint and relies on flicking a drop of hot sauce 15 feet into the bad guy’s eye, but then once it hits the guy, our protagonist fails to capitalize on his success by taking down the perpetrator. Blart then jokes about how he doesn’t follow up–which is funny, but also a cheap way for the filmmakers to extend the plot, as the antagonist gets away with two victims.

The premise is stretched thin, but the movie never seems to get too boring for the more easily entertained.

But it helps that we like the main character. He’s truly a great guy to root for and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. We just really want him to win.

It’s predictable, cliche, and ridiculous, but Paul Blart: Mall Cop can be a pretty decent watch with a group of friends.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)


During a time where sequels were, more often than not, much worse than the original, we get a rare helping that improves on its predecessor. It fixes itself in all the necessary areas. We’re given the background that was missing from the first film, the struggle for oil is more obvious, and the premise is more clear.

In Mad Max 2, Max (Mel Gibson) wanders along the empty highway when he hears of a small community that is an oasis of oil. He infiltrates their gates and helps them ward off the heathenish biker gang that is attempting to take everything they own.

Many times in a sequel the characters have hit a wall as far as development. They learn all they have to learn in the first film, and the second film just shows them facing a new adventure with nothing new to be taken from it. But here, Max continues to develop as he realizes that he’s not the only one with a loss and that there may actually be a purpose for him other than serving himself. Even though he still leaves his friends despite this realization, this forced predicament is needed in order for him to learn a valuable life lesson.

While the first film feels really anticlimactic, this one knows where it’s going and we are more invested because of it. In the broad spectrum of things these movies don’t have much reliability to our own lives, but watching a respectable hero can be motivating alone.

The action is even better-choreographed and the effects are more impressive, but there is still that same issue that the first film had of trying to stretch its script too thin. The dragged out fight scenes, where the characters cumulatively fire an average of one shot per minute, not only lower each party’s chance of winning, but increase our anxiety.

Although I wished that the filmmakers had connected the events in this film to the first, I have to say that it’s significantly more entertaining and much less disorganized.

Twizard Rating: 83

Quick Movie Review: Mad Max (1979)

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As far as ’70s movies go, this one isn’t as dated as it may appear to the untrained eye. The visuals are pretty realistic, the camerawork is comparable to today’s cinematography, and you seem to forget that it was made over 30 years ago.

Max (Mel Gibson) is a law enforcer in a dystopian future who engages in a war with a motorcycle gang as each party is trying to avenge the tragedies within their own group.

The acting’s great too. Gibson humanizes the hero and gives him a natural depth beyond just being a tough guy.

While Mad Max may have been ahead of its time in the technical departments, it doesn’t make up for it’s script issues. It’s not that I dislike this film, but it’s that it annoys me. Mainly due to Max’s wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel), who keeps wandering off in this world that’s proven to be egregiously dangerous. She gets several outs, but always seems to not use them. The script keeps manipulating her actions in unrealistic ways just to create conflict. And the couple has a son, but they keep leaving him behind in order for the filmmakers to play out this “new love” theme that they want to force into the film so badly.

The premise is stretched thin, and the movie also fails to give us enough background in the beginning. It feels like we are playing catchup for the first 45 minutes.

The movie is cool to look at, but it falls short of the hype that time has built for it.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: 21 (2008)


Ben (Jim Sturgess) is trying to get into Harvard Medical School but doesn’t have the money. He is told that chances are slim that he will get the full scholarship that is given to one student each year. He realizes that his life has been too easy and that he has no story to tell.

Then his professor (Kevin Spacey) recruits him into his card counting blackjack club. They go to Vegas and try to bring down a few casinos to make loads of money.

As an avid blackjack player it’s easy for me to understand what’s happening in this movie. They give us insight on card counting strategy. However, if I had never picked up a deck of cards I would have been totally lost watching this movie. It dumbs down the dialogue too much, but then doesn’t explain enough details.

That brings me to the ridiculous plot holes in this film. Why are they only hitting up 3 different casinos when they can lessen their chance of getting caught if they do a different casino each time? Also, why are they flying from Boston to Las Vegas each week when Atlantic City is over 2000 miles closer? And there wasn’t enough detail explained behind the secret identity concept. Overall, there were too many questions left on the table, so to speak.

But the entertainment value is definitely there. It’s suspenseful, it’s funny, and it’s enjoyable. We like the protagonists and are rooting for them. Except for after we realize that the characters’ personalities waver a little too much.

The biggest downfall here is the script and the directing. Both were sloppy. These characters are attempting a heist of sorts–yet they are constantly looking indiscreetly at each other throughout the jobs–perhaps to let the audience in on what’s happening. But instead it just feels contrived. And the actors aren’t directed to their best potential–besides Spacey who has enough experience to override certain suggestions. But the script needed one or two more rewrites and it would have been tight enough to really work.

With a heist movie we expect it to be slick–which this film failed to do on a couple of occasions. But besides that, it’s a fun watch.

Twizard Rating: 75

Quick Movie Review: Furious 7 (2015)

furious 7

What bad things can you say about these movies? Looking at the corniness that it started from, you can’t expect anything more. You go into it knowing what you’re gonna get. You’ve known for 6 movies already.

Furious 7 picks up a little bit after where Fast & Furious 6 left off–but also subsequent to the events of Tokyo Drift. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is trying to pick off members of Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) crew one by one. He wants revenge for the critical state they left his brother, Owen (Luke Evans). His methods seem a little extreme, given that his brother wasn’t actually killed. But nonetheless, that’s the catalyst for our story.

With the huge hype behind this film we all want something big. It definitely serves us well in that respect. The actions sequences are impressive and the story is intricate. While the gang isn’t helping save the world or anything, the personal repercussions will be catastrophic if they don’t end Shaw before he ends them. That’s the major theme in this movie–protecting family.

You don’t find out anything new about the characters’ depths besides their individual reactions to the impending fate of Paul Walker’s character.

From start to finish this film has tons of energy. It’s long, but never drags. And being a big fan of the franchise, I didn’t want it to end. There are a lot of subplots going on at once, but the narrative doesn’t make it confusing at all.

These films aim to entertain. That’s what they’ve always been about and that’s why we love them so much. And as long as they continue to do this we’ll be coming back for more.

Walker’s face is seen as computer generated in several scenes of the film. CGI versions of an actual human have never been perfect, but this is perhaps the best attempt I have seen to date. The first time it happened, it took me a second to realize that it wasn’t really him.

The film deals with the death of Walker in a very emotional way. Many wished to see his character die as a proper closure, but I think that may hit too close to home for the people involved with the movie.  But we get a nice tribute to everyone’s favorite street racer.

Twizard Rating: 95