Quick Movie Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

talented mr ripley

We all know Matt Damon can act. But if someone were to disagree, you’d have to show them this film. His, along with every single performance in The Talented Mr. Ripley, is top notch. Everything he does is so subtle, yet so calculated, that you believe it all. Or you’re not sure what to believe. You see the brood amidst the confidence.

Here, he plays Tom Ripley, a brilliant sociopath who uses his deception skills to fake his wealth. But the thing is, we the audience see every move he makes. It’s the other characters who are being tricked.

In fact, Damon is so convincing that it’s not until after the film is over when you realize there’s nothing to like about his character at all.

Beautifully shot with authentic set design, The Talented Mr. Ripley leads us in the direction of a truly Hitchcockian feature in every way–the experimentation of narrative, the pseudo-protagonist, and even the signature blonde.

You have to applaud this film for keeping the audience on their toes. The story is constantly changing. Resetting its goals. Much like when our brains shift a bit when Janet Leigh dies half way through Psycho. We feel like it should end there. Wouldn’t most movies?

Leaving us sitting up in our chairs, it becomes reminiscent of The Master of Suspense, himself. But then, all of a sudden, things change, and it no longer seems that way at all. You realize it keeps avoiding some sort of conclusion. Dancing around it, actually. And usually when films continue on like this, you expect a redeeming ending. However, without giving anything away, we don’t get one.

When the movie is constantly showing us its hand, we are left wondering why. Maybe something bigger and better is around the corner. Maybe they’re saving the real twist for the very end. The story has so many chances to give us something grand, but they all fall by the wayside.

Director, Anthony Minghella, definitely has the creepy and suspenseful tone down. And he pulls the best performances from his actors. He does a very good job, given the source material. But his the biggest impression he’s left here may be how he gets us to look at Damon in a much different way.

Twizard Rating: 82

Quick Movie Review: Risen (2016)

risen

To provide a totally new point of view for an extremely well known story is not only unique, but incredibly welcomed. It sure serves this Biblical-themed film well, as we get an entirely different perspective of the resurrection of Christ.

Pontius Pilate’s right hand man, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), must oversee the death of Jesus (Cliff Curtis) on the cross, as well as his rumored rising from the dead. The latter of which is insisted upon out of fear from the Jewish high priest.

In most Christian-influenced films, these antagonists-turned-protagonists already have a good-guy demeanor about them from the very start. You know he’s going to have a change of heart, and it’s just not believable that he would be that bad of a person. Fiennes totally bashes all of those stereotypes. His adamance is true in the beginning, and so is his conversion.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, or are really bad at figuring out what’s going to happen, then stop reading. But what Risen does best is not making everything so black and white. Clavius isn’t 100% gung-ho with this whole discipleship by the end. He’s heading that direction, but he’s still processing things. He just saw a guy come back from the dead, for Heaven’s sake! (Pun intended).

While most faith-based films are very serious–often times taking themselves a little too serious–Risen has a bit more levity. Not too much as to alienate its truest followers, but just enough to grab the attention of the more indifferent. And the jokes aren’t corny at all. In fact, they’re always very much deserved each time.

If you think this film will be boring, you are mistaken. It’s spiritual with good moral direction, but also comes fully equipped with chase scenes and gumshoe tropes. After all, Clavius is doing all that he can find a dead body that’s gone missing.

Risen hearkens back to the classic Biblical epics of Hollywood’s golden age–in a positive way only–without ever losing its fresh sensibilities. But unlike those old movies, this film knows what it’s doing at all times–even when it comes down to the race of each character. It doesn’t just throw a bunch of stereotypes at you. Everything is happening for a purpose.

The filmmakers know that most of its audience isn’t going to be so credulous–and don’t want them to be–so what we get is a brilliant reification of historical events to the point that even the most doubtful viewer may stop and reconsider.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Ghostbusters II (1989)

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Before about 15 years ago, it was hard to accept any sequel as serious–give or take a select few. And I’m sure there were many who didn’t take the Ghostbusters sequel too seriously either. But who could blame them back in 1989.

Sure it has its issues. The villain’s modus operandi has devastating effects, but his method of using a baby’s body as a vessel to come back from the dead is played off as silly. Although it doesn’t intend to be, it can’t help it. The levity of the film is that strong.

In this one, all the guys are back and they have to stop the evil Vigo the Carpathian–who is trapped in a painting–from coming back from the dead and ruling the earth. Weird things start happening all over town, as the ghostbusters discover that all of New York City’s negative energy has been compiled into slime in the sewer system and is acting as a portal to bring back evil spirits.

It isn’t easy for them, as they are faced with adversity that doesn’t make much sense. They go from being the popular saviors of the city, to all of a sudden no one believing in ghosts anymore.

Ultimately, the film lacks any real depth. Character issues are heavily introduced but never resolved in the end. It gets a little lost in that department, sure.

But there is a charm that carries over from the original. In fact, I find this one just as funny. The talents are far better utilized here, other than Bill Murray, who is just as good as he is in the last. Peter MacNicol is an especially great addition as the oft-confused foreigner, Dr. Janosz Poha, who curates the art museum where the evil painting is being kept.

The first Ghostbusters movie is fantastic. It’s legendary. But it shows its age quite a bit. Ghostbusters II may not be as iconic, but it holds up a little better. And although we don’t feel as threatened by our villain, the threat is still very much there.

Twizard Rating: 87

Quick Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

kung fu panda 3

Everything happens so fast in this new Kung Fu Panda installment, just like it did for the previous two. Though hardly necessary, the people seem to respond well to continuing this franchise, so here it is.

When kung fu warrior, Po (Jack Black), meets his long lost father, he gets invited to follow him to the secret land of pandas. Meanwhile, the evil spirit warrior, Kai (J.K. Simmons), is trying to defeat every kung fu master, stealing their powers.

While none of this is connected to the first two movies, the tone definitely is. We’re still given that animated slapstick comedy that these films excel at so well. But there’s way too much happening at once, and the jokes are always amidst the action, hardly ever giving us a chance to breathe.

Overstimulation aside, the aesthetics are really what carry us through to the end. Without them, this movie would feel very void of any character at all. Every bit of scenery is beautiful and you wish there was a secret panda land that you, too, could visit.

Getting through the by-the-numbers first act is probably the biggest challenge here. Scenes seem added only for the purpose of entertainment without actually enhancing the script. And a dozen new characters get introduced, raising the head count, but dropping any depth that gives us a reason to be invested.

For a family movie, it’s very heavy on the details. But Po is stupid enough that he has to ask questions so that we, the audience, can understand things–you know, just in case we don’t.

Kung Fu Panda is cheesy and silly, but still entertaining. It’s also a movie for kids, and based on the box office results, I’d say they hit their mark.

Twizard Rating: 76

Quick Movie Review: Pride & Prejudice (2005)

pride prejudice

It’s a well-known tale from Jane Austen back in the early 19th century. In a society where the only thing anybody seems to think about is finding a good suitor for his or her children, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are busy with five daughters to stress about. Lucky for them, one of their five, Lizzie (Keira Knightley), has a good enough grasp on her own independence to figure things out for herself.

If you can understand the British lilt accompanying the archaic repartee used throughout much of this film, then more power to you. Luckily, it doesn’t hinder my ability to comprehend the main story, but the problem lies in the lighthearted banter that picks up the mood between dramatic ambits. Some things may get lost in translation, but it gets its point across.

Matthew MacFadyen does well as the famed Mr. Darcy. When you first see him on screen, he’s so cold that you have no idea how that man is capable of love of any kind. He and Knightley’s chemistry grows as their characters’ does.

Lizzie, being from a more middle-class family, and Mr. Darcy, a wealthy personage of significance, have unspoken tensions and reservations about each other regarding financial status. And obviously, the point is that we should look past superficial attraction and at true character. However, this is derailed a bit as director Joe Wright’s order of things gives us some reason to believe that Lizzie could, in fact, be falling in love with Mr. Darcy for those exact reasons. I assure you, this is far from Austen’s original intent.

Nonetheless, this 2005 adaptation means well and is a classic piece of modern cinema. It may not be my first choice of drama to watch on any given day, but the impressive performances by the whole cast, along with the very consistent pacing make for an enjoyable watch. The beautiful scenery and set pieces are a plus, providing a pleasurable watch all the way to the end.

Twizard Rating: 96

Quick Movie Review: Zoolander 2 (2016)

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Back in 2001, when the first Zoolander came out, people wrote it off as tired and juvenile. How the tables have turned in 2016, so that same exact humor is exactly what we don’t get enough of. It’s not Hangover cool, or 21 Jump Street silly. An acquired taste, sure, but in a way it’s a little more brilliant than those other comedies. It’s completely stupid, but in the most well thought out way possible.

Zoolander 2 doesn’t skip a beat in giving us that same exact charm that made the first one so great. In certain ways it’s funnier than the original. The world around Derek Zoolander has changed, but he definitely hasn’t. Ben Stiller, who writes, directs, and stars in the film, gives us plenty of new lines to quote and a gang of new characters who are just as weird and off-kilter as the originals. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but at the same time, it doesn’t exploit every chance it gets to make an innocuous joke. If you take this film too seriously, it will go over your head.

From the opening scene, you realize you’re in for the same unwieldy satire that made the first one so great. Justin Bieber–one of a few dozen cameos–takes an Instagram selfie after being shot to death.

Someone is killing pop stars, and Interpol agent, Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz), is trying to figure out why. She hires Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and his former rival-turned-friend Hansel (Owen Wilson) to help crack the case. Derek has been living as a “hermit crab” recluse since his wife died and his son was taken into protective custody. And Hansel, after suffering a career-ending facial scar, is living somewhere in the desert in an 11-person marriage.

About 45 minutes in or so, as the plot really starts to develop, the humor doesn’t quite keep up, since the characters are at their best when they’re just bantering back and forth. But nonetheless there are plenty of things to keep us entertained.

And then Will Ferrell, as Zoolander’s arch-nemesis Mugatu, shows up in the movie, just as crazy as he was in the original. Then things turn zany and a little darker than they already are. Amidst the action-packed 2nd act, there’s a great dialogue sequence between Derek and Mugatu where the villain tries to trick Derek into switching places with him in prison. Seeing the two of them on screen together is something to behold.

The plot gets a little convoluted here and there, but many things in this movie don’t make sense. That’s the genius of it.

Surrealistic comedy has somewhat gone by the wayside these days, but Stiller is still helping to keep it alive. He recruits another young talent in Kyle Mooney, who is trying to do the same thing. Mooney, doing a take on one of his own popular characters, plays a young model who talks in his own incomprehensible lingo and makes retro shirts from phrases that were said just 15 minutes ago. Perhaps he was chosen for this role because Stiller sees a little bit of himself in Mooney–the ability to not care if anyone else thinks he’s funny, as long as he can make himself laugh. That’s something to admire.

Twizard Rating: 81

Quick Movie Review: Deadpool (2016)

deadpool

This is not your family superhero movie. Don’t be taking your mom and dad–or kids–to go see this. It’s perhaps the uninhibited superhero film we’ve been waiting for, if you’re into that sorta thing. It’s not even really a superhero movie, so much as it’s a comedy in a leotard.

Ryan Reynolds plays the title character, Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool), a mercenary who undergoes a special procedure to help cure him of his terminal cancer. This ends up giving him special powers of self-healing, but also makes him look like a freak–hence the mask. Meanwhile, he’s afraid to see the love of his life, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), because of what she might think of his new face.

The film plays around with the timeline a bit, jumping back and forth between post-superpower Wade and everyday guy Wade–most likely to avoid any boredom or anxiety built up by superhero origins.

At it’s best, it’s very very funny. Reynolds’ timing is excellent as the snarky, insouciant rascal. From the beginning, the jokes are rapid-fire. It looks as though we’re in for a Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man type of film. But this goes way beyond that. It breaks the fourth wall about a dozen times, and occasionally has the star self-deprecating himself. At one point, Reynolds makes a quip about the film not having a big enough budget to feature any other X-Men characters.

The comedy can eventually get tiring for some. Not so much tiring, actually, just numbing. But luckily, the jokes come fewer and far between at about that point in the movie. Then we get the big action sequences and all that.

Deadpool is definitely something new in this world of belabored superhero films, and that’s probably the most refreshing part about the movie. It never takes itself too seriously.

It doesn’t give us some ridiculous villain who unstoppably giving a shot at world domination. Instead, Deadpool spends much of the film just trying to hunt down the man who turned him into a freak, killing anyone standing in his way–which is made to be funny until we realize there’s no real reason for any of these people to die. In fact, maybe Deadpool is the villain after all.

But if looked at as a superhero action film, it will evoke distaste in many. However, if you see it as a comedy, then it all makes more sense and you can sit back and enjoy it.

It toys with this whole “beauty is only skin deep” theme, but never really capitalizes on its impact. Instead, the film cares more about its irreverence. If this movie were to be amazing, it would have found a perfect balance between heart and gall. But honestly, I don’t even think it tried to.

Twizard Rating: 83

Quick Movie Review: How to Be Single (2016)

how to be single

Here’s how I summarize the first 45 minutes or so of this film. You’re getting into the story. Trying to laugh at the funny parts, but really only laughing when Rebel Wilson is part of the scene because she’s hilarious. You’re following well, but haven’t fully bought in to the storyline. You’re waiting for her to come back so you can laugh again, because that’s mostly why you paid money to sit in a theater and watch a comedy movie.

The film plods along with intermittent and proportionally large laughs when Wilson is on screen, but then something strange happens. The movie actually starts to be enjoyable. More characters are introduced. The setups are actually paying off now. Dakota Johnson is actually doing things that are funny. We’ve learned all the characters and all the stories the filmmakers have tried to weave together, but now we’re starting to get invested.

How to Be Single is pretty self-explanatory. Johnson plays a girl who breaks up with her boyfriend of four years because she feels that she needs to learn more about herself alone. She meets Wilson, a wild spirit, who tries teaching her how to get the most out of her single life.

Johnson feels out of place comedically at times, but she is the main driving force of any emotion evoked by this film.

The events take place over the course of about a year or so. It recognizes that these things take time and never rushes through stages in a breakup and the self-discovery that comes along with independence.

It’s nothing crazy that we haven’t really seen before, but in some ways it is. It’s suprisingly not very predictable and its humor plays on self-awareness. Just get past the first act and it’s pretty much smooth sailing from then on out.

And guys should enjoy it too. The film never becomes too self-righteous or alienates the idea of relationships at all. What this movie does best is finding the balance between uninhibited humor and benevolence. It acts as a good intentioned allegory on loving yourself before being able to love someone else.

On another note, Wilson is flat out funny. She does her usual competent-slacker schtick here, and continues to help prove her case as the funniest woman in Hollywood right now.

Twizard Rating: 82

Quick Movie Review: Ghostbusters (1984)

ghostbusters

We all know the theme song. Society has long been ingraining it into our heads since forever. And no matter where you stand on the Ray Parker Jr./Huey Lewis debate, we can all say that, when it comes to Ghostbusters, the good looks don’t outweigh what’s on the inside. The film, even today, is as fun a movie as ever. It’s a microcosm of the era–perhaps not as much as Back to the Future was a year later, but in 1984, the decade was just about forming into itself.

The film follows a group of perverse scientists who have long been trying to uncover the world of the supernatural. After ominous events start happening and their radical ideas get them fired from the University which they work at, they form their own business as ghostbusters.

Even though it works, Dan Aykroyd is slightly underutilized here. He and Harold Ramis serve very little purpose as either straight man or top banana. But Bill Murray and Rick Moranis prove to play the funny guys well enough.

Murray was the king back then. He could say or do whatever he wanted without outshining any of his costars or commandeering a film. What he does so well is give the audience both broad and subtle humor, letting them chose for themselves. And he’s at his best here. Moranis is phenomenal as well–although he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. He and Murray stay comedically brilliant without ever having to step on each other’s toes.

It doesn’t hold up quite as well as some of its contemporaries, but it gets better with every watch.

It can be slow intermittently, but that’s just a sign of the times. Slightly dated, sure, but Ghostbusters still gets the job done.

Twizard Rating: 93

Quick Movie Review: Hail, Caesar (2016)

hail caesar

The classic studio era of Hollywood was really a glamorous time–full of movie magic and larger-than-life stars. But the man who was very much responsible for that image we’ve acquired over time was Hollywood fixer, Eddie Mannix. He kept the public from seeing the slime and dirt that went on behind the scenes.

As history goes, Mannix really existed, but for the sake of this film, the people and events around him are very much fictitious.

Taking place in the early 1950s, big time movie star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped amidst starring in the studio film Hail, Caesar! But that’s just the main conflict. The overlying focus is on Mannix (Josh Brolin) and his responsibility in making sure he does his job right. From an illegitimately pregnant movie star to a homosexual rumor to a Communist threat, Mannix must keep the gossip columns away and put up a facade for the rest of society.

The film really is a great inside look at the backside of the film industry in those days. But it may only be appreciated if you know the context of the events taking place. The feel is authentic as it mimics classic cinema in its own right.

The sets may be impressive, but the film tries to cover too much ground in one sitting. Just like a typical Coen Brothers film, Hail, Caesar! will leave audiences sitting there debating the point. They tend to dance around what they want to say and get there very indirectly. It’s filled with small comedic bits and a lot of extra stuff to help establish the universe.

Perhaps the most impressive sequence is during one of the several films-in-a-film where Channing Tatum’s character stars in a Gene Kelly-type picture, and there’s a 5 minute tap-dance musical number. You’d almost wish you could watch an entire movie of just these types of moments. However, in this day and age, we’ll have to settle for Hail, Caesar!

Twizard Rating: 87