Quick Movie Review: American Ultra (2015)

american ultra

American Ultra is about a stoner, Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), whose only concern in life is when to propose to his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). Then one day he discovers that he may be of pretty significant importance to the CIA, as they attempt to assassinate him. But then his previously unrealized skills kick in and the government gets more than they bargained for as Mike is singlehandedly dismantling their entire strategy.

The acting is decent for the most part. While the director gets the right amount of laughs out of the jokes, he could have inspired some of his actors a little more. Eisenberg is just fine, but at times Stewart seems as if she’s just going through the motions–regardless of the exuding chemistry between her and Eisenberg.

American Ultra keeps us guessing and you’re never sure what’s really going on–which isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually exciting. It doesn’t waste too much time with background stories or the world outside of the 3-day-period shown in the film, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The dialogue is really well thought out and realistic. The fusion of the black comedy and action genres is fun. Any time someone gets a product that they believe is too different they automatically degrade it. But with American Ultra, it’s refreshing.

This movie works on so many levels, with a tone that is very unique–especially compared to most films we get nowadays. And clocking in at a mere 96 minutes, it’s the perfect change up from the typical 2 and a half hour vanity projects that seem to keep projecting on our screens as of late.

Twizard Rating: 92

Advertisements

Quick Movie Review: Spy (2015)

spy

Many of us aren’t yet sure about Melissa McCarthy. But one thing we all know is that she shines gloriously in any film directed by Paul Feig (a la “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat”). He knows her strengths and weaknesses, and allows her to play the straight-man.

In Spy, she plays Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who spends all of her time behind a computer monitor, acting as the eye-in-the-sky for lead agent, Bradley Fine (Jude Law), as he goes out in the field. But after Fine is compromised and a terrorist group hacks into a list of the CIA’s agents, Cooper’s director (Allison Janney) assigns her to go out into the field since she is unrecognizable.

Susan is an overweight, bubbly, cat-lady-looking lady with no fieldwork experience, and everyone doubts her abilities–including agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time as he provides us with some of the film’s best scenes.

Of course, one of the main themes here is “proving everyone wrong”–a subtext that comes off as a little too forceful at times. Everyone in the film mocks McCarthy’s character and makes fun of her weight and her looks. This is effective to an extent if done properly, but the characters exploit every chance they have to belittle her, and the constant defamation really starts to get old about halfway through the movie.

But this film gives us an almost perfect blend of comedy and action, and doesn’t sacrifice one for the other. There seems to be so much effort placed in making sure that the action sequences are well-done, and it shows.

On the comedy side of things, Feig often seems to go for a little more disorder that it comes off as inconsistent, but it’s just evident of his range.

And as seamless as the film is, perhaps its biggest downfall is that every time a protagonist is about to die, someone on their team conveniently shows up to save them. It’s expected to happen, but not to the extent that it is in this film.

It’s not a perfect film, but it’s just about there. It may not break into new territory, however it’s a very solid movie in both genres. The cast is excellent. McCarthy is superb. Spy has definitely moved into her top 3 films. And guess what the other two are.

Twizard Rating: 88

Quick Movie Review: Me and Earl and The Dying Girl (2015)

me earl

Much like the film’s main protagonist, it marches to the beat of its own drum. It’s weird, irreverent, touching, subtle, but it’s never without focus. It knows exactly what it’s doing at all times and even goes so far as to tell you. It reads the audience’s mind, while also partially satirizing similar films in the genre, thus creating a little path just for itself.

Based on the novel of the same name, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is pretty self-explanatory. The main character, Greg (Thomas Mann) is just trying to continue to survive the end of high school by being acquaintances with everyone without being friends with any of them. But once he is forced by his mom to spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl sick with leukemia, everything changes. He realizes the good and the bad that come with having people in your life. Before her, the one peer that he could count on was Earl (RJ Cyler). But Greg never refers to him as a friend, rather as a coworker. Their 12 year friendship consists mostly of hanging out in their teacher’s office during lunch and making parody films after school–a plot point that is extremely fun in its own right.

Regardless of the whole overarching premise, the characters themselves are really interesting. The teens are never written in a way that makes them appear to be wise beyond their years. No overly conscious prose that make them seem like grandparents teaching their grandchildren the meaning of life. Everything said is realistic and organic–as if written by a 17-year-old itself.

The writing and acting aren’t the only achievements of this film. Brian Eno’s score is very pertinent to the tone of the movie and blends in nicely with its surroundings. Also, the camera work is so conscious and never feels like it’s being experimental merely for the sake of art. Like when a character feels suffocated or claustrophobic, the camera gets extremely close at a slight worm’s angle so the audience can sympathize with them.

Despite being about terminal illness and death, it’s never depressing. It’s one of the few sickness films that hits the nail on the head. Without dwelling on the suffering and going for the cheap reaction from the audience, it enters into our souls and teaches us that death might change the people surrounding the sick person just as much as it does the sick person themselves.

Personally, watching this film didn’t make me cry. Not because I wasn’t sad, but because the characters and the script prepared me well for what was to come. It serves its purpose. It’s heartfelt and meaningful without being a tearjerker, but I really think that’s the point.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: The Unauthorized Full House Story (2015)

full house story

Full House is one of my favorite television shows of all time. The nostalgia that exudes from the screen every time I watch it is almost unparalleled. But when making a Lifetime movie about all that happened behind-the-scenes, you have to expect a below average product.

Honestly, I didn’t hate it. The made-for-TV-movie happens to hit on what Full House was all about for their audience–escaping our lives temporarily to watch a family that we knew would make it all work out in the end. Full House was far from a technically superb show, but America loved it for some strange reason. It spoke to us, and it had it’s own distinct character to it.

But other than fans watching their childhood being made significant with the production of a “biopic”, this film is poorly made, thus written off as laughable.

While hardly scratching the surface, The Unauthorized Full House Story gives little depth to what happened off-camera. It provides necessary details of what occurred over a 10 year period for nearly a dozen characters, but doesn’t make the conflicts mean anything.

But honestly, I don’t think that’s what is making people write this one off. I think it’s the fact that every little missed detail is annoyingly distracting us from becoming convinced of this world that the filmmakers have created. We want to get sucked in and experience all the happenings of the people we so fondly grew up with. And that’s what a biopic is all about–being convinced. But the main actors–other than the girl who played the young Candice Cameron–were ever so inaccurate with their portrayals. Bob Saget comes off as whiny, John Stamos appears to be a prude, and the Olsen twins aren’t nearly as precocious as they were famously known to be. We have a hard time imagining the actors playing the characters, therefore taking away from the “magic” that is supposed to be present here. In fact, after lines were delivered, I spent a lot of time stopping to imagine the actual person saying them.

Also, almost nothing about this film feels like it’s set in the ’80s or ’90s. From the first scene, when we see a pre-fame Saget delivering jokes in a comedy club, the camera flashes to the audience who is dressed as if it were 2015. At least make us FEEL like we’re there!

But let’s face it, most likely we’re not going to get a feature film biopic directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring a handful of household names. This is pretty much as good as we’re going to get outside of an actual documentary or the followup series being delivered sometime in 2016.

Twizard Rating: 54

Quick Movie Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

man from uncle

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is based on the 1964 television series of the same name. In the film version, Henry Cavill plays Napoleon Solo–a former thief who now works for the CIA. He must save Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) from KGB operative, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). After reporting to his supervisor, Solo discovers that he must work together WITH Kuryakin in order to steal plans for a nuclear weapon designed by Teller’s father for the Nazis.

Despite such intriguing background stories for both Solo and Kuryakin, none of that is shown–only told. The film is intended to act as an origin story, but we only get the latter portion of the origin–the arguably more pedestrian one.

But the part that’s shown isn’t boring by nature. The plot is really creative with a few twists thrown in. However, the dialogue attempts to explain things in a slick “Guy Ritchie” manner, but instead comes off as more confusing than it needs to be.

At times, it’s hard to follow and difficult to understand who everyone is, but if you can figure it out, it’s an entertaining film.

The comedy is kept subtle in an Ocean’s Eleven kind of way, and Solo and Kuryakin’s relationship is fun to watch develop. But besides that, there isn’t much depth to it either.

The set pieces are nice to look at. We’re really immersed into the era–something that is on the list of director, Guy Ritchie’s “pros” list.

Throw in a couple of highly creative action sequences — the only ones in the movie — and you get a fairly entertaining couple of hours. But other than that, and a pretty good plot, nothing truly sets it apart from the rest of the movies you’ll see this summer–the film’s true downfall. And in a year filled with a more-than-usual helping of spy movies, this one is going to end up coming in around 4th or 5th on the list.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton (2015)

straight outta compton

If you’ve been waiting for a good biopic “epic” to pop up, you can put Gandhi back on the shelves, because, rest assured, Straight Outta Compton will do the trick.

The film chronicles the careers of the members of rap group N.W.A. Known for songs such as “Straight Outta Compton” and “F*** the Police”, they were the voice of the people living in the inner-city and popularized the genre of gangsta rap. Love them or hate them, they played a pivotal role in censorship and free speech in music.

In case you didn’t realize, N.W.A. is one of the most significant and influential hip-hop acts of all time. They helped bring to light a lot of issues going on in the inner-city with a frustrated outlook rather than a stereotypical one. Before N.W.A. most people sorta kinda knew about the hood. They knew to stay away and that it wasn’t safe, but that’s about as far as it went. These guys shoved their issues in society’s face and told them, “Look, these problems are just as significant to us as yours are to you.” People were afraid and didn’t know how to handle their blunt honesty.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and these sentiments are becoming real for the general public again. With media attention towards a high volume of immensely disturbing videos, this past year has garnered its own frustrations. But the one thing that this film does exceptionally well is not exploiting this. It touches upon those issues, but it doesn’t obsess over them. It stays focussed and sees the bigger picture.

What I found most powerful about this film is the depiction of the rise and fall of the rap legend, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright–one of the group’s core members. It romanticizes his relationship with the rest of the group and his relationship with life in general–giving us a brilliant character arc while remaining unbiased.

While it may put some of its characters on a pedestal, the events that ARE shown are done so as honest as possible, considering that 2 of the people portrayed in the film are executive producers. There is some controversy revolving certain events that should have been showed, but I think they chose against releasing a 6 hour film for a reason.

In the end, what we get is a well-written biopic that offends as little people as possible, considering the subject matter, and it reminds us of how far our nation has come, even during times when we feel like it hasn’t.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: The Gift (2015)

the gift

You may look at the premise for The Gift and think that you’ve seen this before. Creepy guy who stalks married couple. But it’s not exactly about what happens–more so, why.

Joel Edgerton has outdone himself with his directorial debut.The film has a lot to say and gets its points across well.

The Gift begins with a couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who has just moved back to California. Simon runs into an old high school acquaintance, Gordo (Edgerton), who seems a bit odd. He keeps giving them unwarranted gifts and needs to be needed a little bit too much. The couple’s new life becomes dominated and overrun by Gordo’s existence.

The film starts out as a complete thriller. It’s filled with all the cliches–not necessarily in a bad way. Paranoia runs rampant in the mind of Robyn, who works from home, as well as the audience’s. Simon seems collected and just chocks it up to Gordo being a weirdo, since he’s always been weird.

But thriller turns into mystery when Robyn starts investigating exactly why Gordo is torturing them and what lies in his past.

The acting is truly amazing. Each of the three leads has conviction in their roles and, along with Edgerton’s direction, bring amazing depth to each of them.

With most psycho-thrillers, it doesn’t come without its share of head scratchers, but they’re not terribly debilitating to the film and you enjoy the rush so much that they don’t really matter.

Without giving too much away, The Gift is definitely worth the watch. It’s one of the best psycho-thrillers to come along in awhile.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

rogue nation

There is something to be said about Tom Cruise. Why he has the best track record with blockbuster films, why he’s as good now as he was 20 years ago, or why we want to keep seeing him in movies. To be honest, he doesn’t have the likability of a Will Smith, or the brooding persona of a Harrison Ford, and it makes no sense, but we can’t take our eyes off of the screen when he’s there. He doesn’t beg for our attention, but he gets it. Maybe it isn’t that certain zeal or infectious energy. Maybe it’s that ability NOT to monopolize the screen. This allows others around him to shine. He doesn’t ask for our approval, so we’re more willing to give it to him. He’s seldom your favorite character in a given movie, but at the same time he carries every film that he’s in. And he’s been doing it for over three decades now.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is no different. The supporting cast is great in this film, but without Cruise, it would just waste away.

As the CIA has disintegrated the IMF (Impossible Missions Force), Ethan (Cruise) and his team attempt to eradicate the Syndicate–an international organization lead by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) whose agenda is to acquire enough money to colonize their own rogue nation.

There aren’t any real callbacks to the previous films–something that they may be doing in attempts to be more Bond-esque, but for fans hoping to get more of what they love in the previous 2 films, they’re in for a treat. The action and fight sequences are jaw dropping, and the premise is so well-conceived that you won’t ever know what’s coming next.

It can get a little heavy in the details, but you just accept everything and follow along, and it all makes sense in the end. Jeremy Renner (Williams Brandt) and Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn) return, and so does Ving Rhames (Luther) after his absence from the last film (not including a brief cameo). Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust) is a great addition to the franchise, and I hope that her mysterious character is developed more in future installments.

It may not reinvent the wheel, but its non-stop action never makes you realize that it’s nearly two and a half hours long. Christopher McQuarrie acts as both director and screenwriter for this film–a feat that I feel does wonders for a project. And he now has a great addition for his CV.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Vacation (2015)

vacation2015

Playing out as a reworked version of the original, Vacation might disappoint some diehard fans of 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation. Not because they don’t think it’s funny, and not because Chevy Chase is all but absent from this film, but because it uses the formula from the original and places its own events within that formula. But honestly, that’s a stupid reason not to like a movie. If they had changed it to make is completely different, fans would’ve hated that too.

Instead of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) at the helm of the madness, it’s his son, Rusty (Ed Helms), who tries to relive his childhood vacation across the country to the amusement park, Wally World. While the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Helms brings his own unique flair to the screen. He’s optimistic like his father, but he also lacks a lot of the confidence and cojones.

Rusty’s wife, Debbie, played by Christina Applegate provides a good counter-act to Rusty’s ridiculousness, but where the film waivers is when we realize that Rusty and Debbie’s relationship doesn’t have the sweetness and loyalty that Clark and Ellen have with each other. But it’s a Griswold couple for the new generation.

And so is the humor. It mixes the tone from the old films while keeping the comedy at a more modern and relatable level. The jokes don’t hold back at all, which gives Vacation that edge of today’s comedies.

The framework of the story may be recycled, but the scenes within are really well-written, and the jokes are borderline genius. In one of my favorite bits of the past few years, Rusty and Debbie have the bright idea to make love on the four corners monument (the marking where four states come together at a single point). They get cited for indecent exposure, but four police officers–one from each state–argue their jurisdiction. It turns into a warfare of pride between the officers–as the two leads sneak away. Another highlight is the Griswold’s blue Albanian minivan that provides some of the best laughs of the movie.

But the real strength here lies within the direction. They get the best performances out of each of their actors, and it’s the subtle reactions from them that get some of the biggest laughs. I guess that’s what happens when you hire the screenwriters to direct the film as well.

The laughs literally don’t stop throughout the film’s entirety. The writers have constructed such a well-paced romp that the audience is eating from the palms of their hands. Vacation is one of the most consistent comedies that I’ve seen in awhile–another improvement on the original.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Vegas Vacation (1997)

vegas vacation

It’s tough to have a Vacation film without that John Hughes flair. But screenwriter, Elisa Bell, has the right idea comedically and stays fairly true to the vibe of the first three films. The only issue with Vegas Vacation is that there’s no bigger picture within the plot. Or the one that’s present feels overly contrived.

In this installment, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) takes his family to Las Vegas for vacation. There, Clark turns into a gambling addict and becomes estranged from his family. His wife (Beverly D’Angelo) and kids get upset at him and decide to go off and have their own pleasures fulfilled.

Honestly, Clark’s behavior isn’t all that bad from what his family can see, so I don’t understand where their bitterness is coming from. They’re unaware that he’s losing money, and the times that he gets separated from the family usually aren’t his fault.

I get the whole “you’ve become selfish, so become unselfish again” concept, but the conflict feels forced for the mere sake of having conflict. Even Clark’s epiphanic moment is sudden and without a believable catalyst. Just as there is no real reason for Clark’s family to be mad at him, there is no real reason why they reconcile in the end either.

The best part of this film is its humor. Although over-the-top at times, there’s nothing too out of the ordinary for a Vacation film. The most inventive bit is when Clark finds a casino full of made-up games, such as “Rock-Paper-Scissors” or “Pick a Number Between 1 and 10”.

Overall, it’s not a bad watch. It’s at least good for some cheap laughs and some ’90s Vegas nostalgia. And I get that the audience may want to see more from the Griswolds, but at least give them something more rewarding to make the trip worth while.

Twizard Rating: 69