Quick Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Some films try to reboot a classic and fail horribly. Not only did the filmmakers behind Mad Max: Fury Road make an incredible movie, but one that even surpasses the standards set by the originals.

But as much as the franchise owes it to this new movie for giving it life again, Fury Road also owes it to its past. Without those original ideas, we wouldn’t have this film. No one would have had the guts to make this movie this day and age as an original idea. And honestly, if this film didn’t already have an audience, it wouldn’t have been made. It would have gotten a budget similar to Snowpiercer, and then the film wouldn’t have been as effective as it is. Because nowadays in order to get $150 million to make a movie, you need some sort of franchise behind it–or the likes of a David Cameron or a Christopher Nolan. If Fury Road were an original concept, it would be groundbreaking and perhaps the most important action film of the last 20 years. But it turns out studios needed to see that it worked before signing off on this one.

But I’m glad that they did.

This time, Max (Tom Hardy) gets captured by a cult, led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who uses his blood to help a sick warrior, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Along the way, Max crosses paths with one of the cult’s workers, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who rebels against her leader by smuggling his five breeding wives out of the cult in attempts to get them to freedom.

Hardy’s Max is slightly different than Mel Gibson’s from the original trilogy. We are with Gibson’s character from the very beginning of his transformation and see him progress. We don’t see that with Hardy’s. He is animalistic from the very beginning and frankly not as lovable. On the other hand, when Gibson’s character would get into that mode, it wouldn’t be as big of a shock since we know how he usually acts.

The humor in this one is a lot more prevalent. But it’s not like your typical Avengers-like action movie humor with one-liners and clever quips–it’s a lot more dark and subtle, which makes you appreciate it more.

This is the action film that I’ve been waiting for. I had been getting tired of the same old cliched action films of the last few years. With a couple of exceptions, they’re all starting to blend together. But Fury Road is anything but cliche. And in addition to that, it has some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in a very long time. It doesn’t rely on chance or right-place-right-time in order for the heroes to survive. It’s unpredictable and consistently exciting.

While it’s not absolutely necessary to watch the original films before watching this one, it’s definitely worth checking them out first. Mad Max: Fury Road is the best movie of 2015 so far.

Twizard Rating: 100

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Quick Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

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I, like most fans of 2012’s Pitch Perfect, have seen the movie a good handful of times. With that said, it’s hard to compare a movie that you’ve seen once to another which you know so well. But overlooking that fact, Pitch Perfect 2 surpasses the standards set by its predecessor in many ways.

In both films, the Barton Bellas (protagonists) must save their a cappella group from extinction. But while in the first film they have to prove themselves to the world by beating their larger-vocal-ranged male rivals, this one they just have to win a competition in order to fix a problem that they, themselves, created in the first place.

The premise is a little self-constructed and the events feel contrived and less fresh, but it really makes me laugh.

The humor is much of the same self-parody irreverence that makes the first film so appealing. And honestly, I think the jokes in this sequel are better than in the previous film. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins get more exposure as the snarky a cappella commentators. And we’re also introduced to a new character with Keegan-Michael Key playing Beca’s (Anna Kendrick) douchey boss at the record label she’s working for.

In this film the Bellas actually perform the best final set, whereas in the first film they win the big competition when they probably shouldn’t.

Also along the same path as the original movie, there are not a lot of realistic scenarios happening. Obviously, a cappella competitions are nothing like this, and there is a lot more focus on practicing harmonies and actual singing–as opposed to dancing and props. As a music major I could go on for an hour, but let’s face it–we’re not watching this movie for a realistic experience.

But I do find it weird that the entire Barton Bellas group is comprised of seniors who are about to graduate. I mean, don’t they recruit underclassmen to keep their legacy alive?

This movie takes elements from the first film and attempts to repeat them here. And in my opinion, they are all improved versions.

Pitch Perfect 2 is predictable, but mostly shies away from the sappy drama that weighs down its predecessor (with the exception of the retreat camp scenes). If you’re a fan of the first film and can see past the fact that this ISN’T the first film, this one won’t disappoint. Also, if you’re like me and played out the old jokes and one-liners, you’ll find this one refreshing.

Twizard Rating: 88

Quick Movie Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

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1993’s Jurassic Park was groundbreaking on so many levels. It features special effects that, 22 years later, have me saying, “Wow! That’s incredible!” At that time, filmmaking was really reaching a pinnacle in realistic effects. Animatronics and puppetry are way more believalbe than strictly computer generated imagery. And since Hollywood went in the direction of CGI rather than the former, many films have lost their authenticity. There’s a reason why the original Star Wars trilogy has fans’ hearts more than the prequel trilogy–the movies feel more real. It creates a world more believable.

And with the unprecedented effects going into this movie, we really do see the height of that technology used onscreen. The genuineness exceeds that of most current sci-fi action films.

Steven Spielberg and his team create a world so realistic that we forget it doesn’t exist. This is a pure adventure film and a real rush. It’s anything but cliche, and the characters don’t make annoying decisions trying to survive the dinosaurs.

The only thing that may be missing from this film is really solid character development. We get interesting scenarios that question certain characters’ morals. But the written-in subplots in order to show depth, for the most part, feel like they’re just written-in.

But we have a film that we can’t really complain about. We’ll sacrifice a little depth for a story and script that are so gripping that the film doesn’t feel the least bit dated over 2 decades later. Now THAT is incredible!

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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Possibly the 2nd most anticipated movie of the year (behind Star Wars) is Avengers: Age of Ultron. For fans of the series thus far, this movie won’t disappoint, but many might not see it living up to the standards set by its 2012 predecessor.

In Age of Ultron, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) secretly activates an artificial intelligence program called Ultron that he hopes will be able to do the jobs of the Avengers team so that they can retire. Of course, things go wrong as Ultron decides to seek his independence and destroy the world.

The storyline is a little too convoluted to follow and we see small outcomes of Ultron’s huge threats, but it’s never clear why it’s all happening. There’s no sensible reason why Ultron decides to be evil. Much like my issue with Guardians of the Galaxy, the antagonist has no understandable motive. The best villains have a motive that we can empathize with, because it gives him or her more relatability. To hate is to love, right?

That’s really the looming issue over the film. But honestly, this film feels a lot more organic than the first. 2012’s Avengers is the epitome of action entertainment, but focuses more on satisfying the audience’s wants. We were anticipating that movie as though it had all lead up to that point. But while it had the tonal consistency and even pace that this new movie doesn’t, it felt a little too contrived and polished.

A main reason why I think that American Graffiti is the greatest movie ever is because it doesn’t feel scripted. You see the bumps and bruises, and it feels real. Age of Ultron gives us a little more of that with its humor. It’s the story that needs to be told, not the one that we want to be told. It’s filled with effective social relevance and doesn’t have an overload of quippy in-jokes that really aren’t all that funny to the world of people that aren’t up to speed with the Marvel Universe. The humor here feel more organic and less scripted. It’s a little bit more watchable without having seen the previous films.

But there are still some good bits that are a little more involved. We get a brilliant scene where everyone takes a turn trying to lift Thor’s hammer.

We get a small glimpse into Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) life. It adds a little more depth to the film as we see a different side (or any side) to his character.

I don’t really like when movies open up with an action scene. It’s cliche and I’m not quite settled into the movie yet. But the effects are amazing, and so are all the other technicals.

Twizard Rating: 93

Quick Movie Review: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

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The third installment in the Mad Max series has Max (Mel Gibson) getting caught in Bartertown–a desert community powered by pig feces. In order to get his stolen vehicle back, the town’s evil queen, Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), requires him to kill the leader of the feces refinery. When Max refuses to do so, he gets banished from the town. In the second part of this film, Max gets found in the desert almost dead by Savannah (Helen Buday)–a dweller who is part of a small desert tribe of kids that thinks that Max is a savior named Flight Captain whom they’ve learned about over the years.

I know it sounds confusing, but it’s the intricate premise that sets this film apart from the rest of the series. The first two are definitely groundbreaking in terms of cinematography, but this one finally gets a good script that learns how to utilize subplots.

Although we are unclear of the time lapse between films, we know it’s been quite a few years. The filmmakers decide to forget all about Max’s past, as this could very well be a standalone movie. And if it wasn’t for the increasing depth of our lead, it could very well have been.

It’s not quite in the same likeness as the first two films. As the previous installments feel like gritty ’70s films, this one is definitely an ’80s one. Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, it forces the film to take itself less seriously. We get great humorous bits from the tribe of kids.

And while the 2nd film (The Road Warrior) may be my favorite in the trilogy, this one just feels less dated. The action sequences are far more intricate and modern. The vehicle fights in The Road Warrior are much more static than the ones in this film.

But much of Beyond Thunderdome feels like a drawn-out spectacle that makes itself seem more important than it really is. The name of the film itself doesn’t really make much sense after watching the movie. I think they called it “Beyond Thunderdome” because it sounded cool. I guess “Beyond Bartertown” doesn’t really have the same intensity to it.

The thing these films have going for them the most is a likable lead. Gibson carries this series well. It’s going to be interesting seeing the new films without him at the helm.

Twizard Rating: 83

David Letterman Retires: The End of an Era

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After watching David Letterman’s last show after 33 years on late night television, a lot of thoughts have been running through my head. I couldn’t help shedding a few tears as I watched my comedic hero take his final bow. What he has meant to me throughout my lifetime goes far beyond words or even laughter.

You see, ever since I was about 5 years old I can remember watching Dave on TV. My parents would share with me certain funny clips that they had recorded. As I grew a little older I would, on many occasions, pretend to be asleep while listening to Dave’s monologue in the other room (sorry Mom and Dad). I looked forward to Fridays because that meant I could stay up and watch Letterman. Although not getting all of the jokes yet, his goofy cadence and quirky mannerisms transcended age and understanding. Once my parents realized that I was old enough to appreciate all of the humor, I would convince them to tape the shows many nights so I could watch them the next day.

Dave provided me with countless hours of bonding with my parents and my friends. He gave me comfort during times when I felt alone. When I moved to LA, watching his show made it a little easier to cope with living far away. And because I grew up with him, it made my distant location feel a little bit more like home.

In May of 1996, my dad and I were in San Francisco and I was seeing signs all over the city advertising the Late Show coming to the Bay Area to do a few episodes. Being a young fan of Letterman, I asked my dad if we could go to a show to see Dave. My dad informed me that you had to be at least 18 years old to be in the audience of a show. I then told him that when I turned 18 that I wanted to go see Letterman in person.

As I grew up, I never forgot my wish. And while I was getting older, my appreciation for Dave was increasing as well. Living in California my whole life, I assumed that it might be a ridiculous goal, but my parents never thought so. They arranged, months ahead of time, for all of us to fly to New York and see Letterman on the EXACT day of my birthday–June 25, 2007. It was magical! A memory that I will forever cherish.

Do you ever watch something and feel like it was made specifically for you? That was Letterman. Someone had made a show just for me. It was silly and smart at the same time. It was perfect. While the kids in my class were watching Friends or Sabrina the Teenage Witch or whatever–I was watching Dave. It was like my own personal show that I didn’t want anyone else to know about–like I was part of a secret club.

It’s rare for a TV personality to span throughout several generations and eras such as Dave has. And Dave’s retirement signifies the end of an era. Gone is television’s yesteryear–where a simple mug to the camera can make it worth while for the audience at home. Where entertainment was just that. It didn’t have to be taboo or dirty to enjoy it.

Other than my father and my grandfather, Dave is my biggest comedic influence. Before making a joke, I often ask myself how he would phrase it. He’s the king of late night and, to me, the king of comedy.

My whole life I have dreamed of becoming famous and thought of what it would be like the first time I walked across that stage and sat in that chair–what Dave and I would talk about, what stories I would tell, what questions he would ask me. Obviously that will never happen, but if I do ever make it big, being on his show will always be one thing that I will have missed in my career.

Counting down the days to Dave’s final show wasn’t easy, and neither will not having him around anymore. But I guess I couldn’t expect him to be there forever–I just convinced myself that it couldn’t happen.

At times, I must say, that I may have taken the show for granted. Some nights it would be on in the background while I did other things and I would be halfway paying attention. But it was a comfort knowing that he was always there–a fixture in my life. Sadly that fixture has now been removed, but its impact has not. I will forever be grateful for what it’s meant to me in my life.

God bless you, Dave, and have a fantastic retirement!

Thank you for the memories.