Quick Movie Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

pride prejudice zombies

Most people are probably thinking, “If they pull this off, it could really be great!” And they’re right. The unfortunate part is that it’s fairly difficult.

My only true frame of reference is the 2005 film version of the Jane Austen classic. And while it’s not my favorite film of all time, I can’t deny its technical achievements.

This one has completely different achievements. If you’re talking about special effects and makeup, then Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is accomplished, sure. But the problems lie in the story itself.

The film starts out as a true black comedy. Taking place in the early 1800s, you see quaint young English women preparing their weapons for battling the undead. But first they must brush each other’s hair. It’s that sort of humor that runs rampant throughout much of the first act of this film. And it’s much appreciated. It’s not two stories at once, but the classic Austen story featuring a zombie subtext.

Though, the irony is only entertaining for so long. Then it reaches a point where everything seems forced, and then the dialogue becomes rushed. It just goes through the motions in order to execute both ideas. The long runtime works for the 2005 version, but this one just tries to cover way too much ground in about 30 minutes less.

And it’s as though the filmmakers realize that too. So they change it up a bit. 45 minutes into the film we finally get more of the zombie action that we’ve been wanting. It starts getting good, but then the whole love story suffers because of it. If you can look past the massively uneven tone, you’ll tend to enjoy what makes this story unique.

The casting here is pretty good. The chemistry between all the lovers isn’t quite there, but Lily James is more than acceptable as Elizabeth Bennet. Although, it’s almost humorous to believe that she’s supposed to be the less beautiful daughter between herself and Jane.

If you’ve never been exposed to the original Jane Austen story before, then you may not even get the humor or, better yet, the story in this one. However, the adjustments made to the classic tale in order to fit into this zombie adaptation actually cause parts of the story to make more sense.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t a bad movie. It’s actually quite entertaining at times. And It’s not that they failed in what they set out to do, I just simply think it’s not possible to accomplish the daunting task of combining the two stories. Perhaps it merely has too much to handle in order to have the freedom to be its own movie.

Twizard Rating: 72

Quick Movie Review: Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday (2016)

pee wees big holiday

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is one of my all-time favorites, so I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile.

From the very opening of the film, we already get a sense that this will take place in a similar realm of surrealism that was used in the 1985 classic. It’s a different film universe from Big Adventure, but it gives us the same tone. From Pee-Wee’s love for Rube Goldberg-style housing, to the utopian town that he lives in–Fairville–which is populated by less than 1000 residents. It all hearkens back to Tim Burton’s vision from the original. But the comparisons don’t end in Fairville. The whole film tries to mimic what worked so well in the first movie–which is a good thing.

Pee-Wee has never left Fairville before. In fact, I’m not sure anyone really has. So, much like Big Adventure, Pee-Wee sets out on a cross-country road trip with inspiration from Joe Manganiello–playing a fictionalized version of himself who just so happens to be the cool-guy version of Pee-Wee. You wish for more scenes with the two of them because they oddly have great chemistry with each other.

There may not be as many iconic scenes as there are in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but the ride is just as entertaining. The silliness is still there, even if the lines aren’t quite as memorable. But that’s what Pee-Wee’s all about. His world is meant for us to lose ourselves in. To find that place of innocence and imagination that many of us left with our childhood.

In 2016, Paul Reubens’ vision for Pee-Wee still holds up. Not much has changed. There are points in the film where you forget that this is a new project.

This is truly amazing day for Pee-Wee fans. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of him for another 25 years. He was a big part of my childhood and it’s great to see a new generation getting to know the world’s most beloved man-child.

Twizard Rating: 96

Quick Movie Review: The Great Escape (1963)

great escape

If you’ve never seen a Steve McQueen movie before, this is a good one to start with. It was my first, and the only one I needed in order for me to be hooked. You somehow know it’s going to be alright when he’s on screen. Always ahead of his time with his colloquial demeanor, McQueen helps bridge the gap between old and new Hollywood, making the classics more accessible to younger audiences.

But The Great Escape is entertaining even when McQueen isn’t present. The 1963 classic mixes suspense and levity brilliantly as it follows a group of allied prisoners in a German camp attempting their biggest escape yet during World War II.

The Great Escape is plot buildup at its finest. Writer-director, John Sturges, has an impeccable sense of narrative. From start to finish its tone never wavers. And even with its juggernaut of a runtime clocking in at nearly 3 hours, you’re never checking your watch.

Although in this day and age it helps to know the history–seeing as World War II was still fairly fresh in everyone’s minds back in 1963. But setting aside, you can still appreciate the general storyline. Even a younger audience should be able to follow along easily and still enjoy this movie’s timely humor.

Elmer Bernstein’s score helps to drive this film with strong motifs. It echoes The Bridge on the River Kwai, but has a feel all of its own.

The Great Escape is a phenomenal film. It’s consistent and thoroughly engaging, and the type of movie that just puts a smile on your face. With a little help from McQueen, it holds up very well. He’s at his best here, like always. And the rest of the cast is so strong that this film is great even when he’s absent–he’s just the cherry on top.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Rocky (1976)

rocky

What most people don’t realize is that Rocky isn’t so much of a boxing movie as it is a love story. Well, that’s what I got from it, anyway. The boxing is a big part of it, but we don’t even get to the real meat of that story until about an hour in. And without even realizing it, we’re getting a whole lot of character depth during the first half of the film.

Forget the creepy way that Rocky forces Adrian to give him that first kiss. The story as a whole is sweet. She’s a true diamond in the rough. It’s almost not even believable at first, but the two have so much chemistry that it works.

But like most of the movie, their relationship is without much conflict. Rocky doesn’t overcome any crazy obstacles. He’s a lazy boxer who hasn’t made anything of his life, and when some freak opportunity presents itself, he finally works hard and gets what he wants. There isn’t anything really standing in his way. Perhaps if they threw some conflict in there it may come off as contrived, but how it is now, it seems too easy. Maybe that’s the point. I don’t know.

Undefeated heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) needs a new opponent for the title fight after his current one drops out. But he wants this new competitor to be a no name amateur, so that the public will get into the underdog story.

And it’s a good underdog story at that. You root for Rocky undeniably. But there could just be a little more in terms of a struggle. The biggest risk he takes is handed to him. And what does he have to lose, anyway?

Much of the film is dated with the fake punches and the already antiquated dialogue. There are points where the patter is so rhythmic that it sounds like it’s from the ’40s or ’50s. It’s a slow moving film, and some scenes just drag on for way too long. It helps add to the character development, but it does a number on our attention span.

Then there’s predictability. The end result is telegraphed from a mile away. We can guess what’s going to happen for most of the film. And we are usually proven right–another side effect of there not being any unexpected drama.

Nowadays, we have a quixotical view of Rocky, the all-American hero. Even the Academy was lost in its gaze with this film winning Best Picture back in 1977. But sadly, it’s not as good as we want it to be. But that’s not to say it’s not good. It’s still a cool underdog story, albeit not paying off as well as its predictability wants it to. However, corniness aside, this film set the pace for countless stories that came after it. And most of all, it has a lot of heart. You can’t knock it for that.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)

whiskey tango foxtrot

I’m not sure I’ve seen a military comedy since Sgt. Bilko. Or maybe it was Operation Dumbo Drop. Nonetheless, this is a post-9/11 world. We just don’t have the same levity with war like we used to. Especially when it comes to the war in Afghanistan. It’s just something we don’t do. But maybe it’s time. Apparently it’s time.

And who better for the role than Tina Fey? She plays Kim Baker, an American war correspondent who is sent to Afghanistan for a few months. A few months turn into a few years and she becomes an expert on everything Middle East. But as her life back in the states fades further into the past, she’s realizing that Afghanistan is now her new home. We see her make this transition. It’s one that’s subtle, but felt by the end.

Fey is perfect for the lead. I honestly can’t imagine anyone else who can just be as funny without being over-the-top and unrealistic. She gives us her same quirky and witty humor, but the film carries a much darker David Fincher-type of tone.

The jokes are never rapid fire, but always well-deserved. It makes the film more real. And that realistic tone places us in the mindset of the characters a bit easier.

Not too much about this film is cliche. Predictable, maybe, but not really cliche. Perhaps you can credit the source material which it’s adapted from–an autobiographical novel entitled The Taliban Shuffle.

What I’m most impressed with is the balance of genre. Although it’s a military comedy, it never feels like the film is pushing or pulling for one or the other. It’s symbiotically both.

There’s nothing obviously wrong with this film, in my opinion. I guess it may have failed to solve that “so what?” question for me, but it’s still an entertaining watch. Maybe not one I would want to necessarily own on DVD. But that’s not to say I wouldn’t watch it again.

Twizard Rating: 84

Quick Movie Review: The Jungle Book (1967)

jungle book

The Jungle Book is one of those movies that we seem to remember in glimpses. We know the musical numbers and all the characters, but unless we’ve seen it as an adult, we can’t quite remember exactly what happens.

But we know it’s iconic. We know it’s a Disney classic. However, this film may have benefitted from being a tad bit longer. There are too many characters we’d love to see more of and so many chances to build up the depths of our leads.

Although I do like this movie a great deal for nostalgia’s sake, I wouldn’t constitute it as one of Disney’s best. The songs are top notch, and the characters are memorable, but it’s missing a lot of heart compared to the studio’s gems of the same era.

When Mowgli leaves his wolf family at the beginning of the film, there is no heartfelt goodbye. These are the creatures who raised him, and he barely bats an eye as Bagheera leads him on his way to the “man village” to escape the tiger, Shere Khan, who’s trying to kill him. And without giving anything away, there are also a couple of key scenes towards the end that should have given us a little more sentiment.

Which leads me to the voice of Mowgli. The kid playing him has no feel or emotion. It sounds as though he’s simply reading the lines (or having them read to him) straight off the paper. It’s our main character, and his voice lacks any true conviction.

Granted, this was released in 1967, a year that marks, for many, the beginning of Disney’s “dark period”. It’s still a beloved movie, and rightfully so. It’s filled with some iconic scenes. The one with King Louie, for example. It’s so good, you wish you had been treated with just a few more glimpses of the antihero.

It’s the darker, more twisted, tone that drives this film the most between the catchy musical sequences. It encompasses the jungle-feel very precisely, and transcends through from Rudyard Kipling’s original source material, despite Walt trying to prevent it. Everywhere Mowgli turns, there’s someone out to kill him.

I know it sounds like I’m berating this film a lot, but I actually love The Jungle Book. It’s one that I watched often as a kid and one that still makes me smile as I watch it as an adult. Luckily, this film won’t face many new critics as mostly everyone has seen it by the time they are old enough to care. That’s one of the beautiful things about these old epitomes of animation.

Twizard Rating: 90

Quick Movie Review: Zootopia (2016)

zootopia

Who says family films only have children to preach to? Well, actually I’m not entirely sure if anyone’s ever said that, but it sure sounds like they would though, huh? That debate aside, Disney gets it with its newest installment. Without sounding cliche and trite, Zootopia is literally fun for the whole family.

It takes place in a world where animals, both predator and prey, live together in harmony–except not really. Although things have seemed to change, all the animals still have their reservations and fears about one another. Obviously mirroring a place where our own society is right now, as far as race and religion.

The whole movie features various species facing intolerance, while digging into and showcasing possible responses to the prejudices against them–perhaps containing the true depth within this film. The themes are obvious to the adults, but subliminal to the kids. Which is a good thing. It deals with a dark subject matter, and the filmmakers aren’t afraid to give us that respective tone either.

The main character is Officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a bunny rabbit who is finally living her dream of being a police officer in the big city. But she faces adversity since the job is usually held by rhinos or elephants. She’s given a case where she has to find an otter who’s gone missing–a mystery that adds another fun feature to an already interesting concept. However, it doesn’t come until about 35 minutes in–right when you’re starting to wonder to yourself what the setup is for.

In a refreshing fashion, the writers aren’t talking down to their younger audience. It’s funny without being over-the-top and irreverent. When the jokes don’t work as well, it’s never in an embarrassing way. In fact, there may even be more jokes for the adults in this one. However, there are plenty of aesthetic visuals to keep the children entertained for the full runtime

Animation alone, Zootopia is beautifully detailed. There’s so much of it that it’s not even possible to see it all in one sitting. And while you’re watching it, you wish there were a place just like it where you could visit as soon as the movie finishes.

Twizard Rating: 99