Quick Movie Review: Barbershop 2 (2004)

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2002’s Barbershop didn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel of comedy, but it’s something quite unique. Hearkening back to Ice Cube’s 1995 hit, Friday, the film tries to make use of the non-story. Instead, thriving on its characters and slow plot exposition.

In Barbershop 2, they try to duplicate the first one, but it doesn’t quite work as fluidly–albeit almost. Whereas the writers in the first film seem to be on their own level, making their own rules, Barbershop 2 seems to channel a bit too much Tyler Perry and a little less Friday. It’s slightly more predictable and silly and transparent, and tries to please the audience too much.

An exception is the return of Cedric the Entertainer as the old barber, Eddie, who never cuts hair, but will tell you every last thing that’s on his mind. He’s still got the edgy dialogue that would make today’s PC crowd shiver in their organic Uggs, but the rest of the film plays it safe.

In Barbershop 2, Calvin (Ice Cube) learns of a Supercuts-esque barbershop opening up across the street. The word around town is buzzing because this place is supposed to be like the country club of barbershops. Eventually, he finds out that the whole community is getting a facelift, which forces out all of the businesses that have worked hard establishing themselves as mainstays in the neighborhood.

The pacing is about the same, but feels much slower–mostly due to the reduction of sub-stories. There are so many different characters, but each one’s significance is lessened in order to better focus on the premise as a whole.

It’s funny, because as the film tries to be deeper, the characters become less so. They’re all just as likable, but the dynamics aren’t as strong.

As a stand alone film, Barbershop 2 isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s quite enjoyable. The jokes won’t really leave you rolling in the aisles, but there is plenty of smile-worthy dialogue. While both films focus on integrity and doing the right thing, this one says it a bit differently. The content means well and provides us with a similar warmth that the first one gives us. A little less cool, Barbershop 2 can pride itself on at least giving us another taste of what made the first one so special without tarnishing anything in the process.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Rocky II (1979)

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I didn’t hide the fact that I was a bit disappointed with the first Rocky film. It won Best Picture, but I wasn’t terribly impressed. I wanted goosebumps, but didn’t really get any as the film climaxed. So needless to say, I was far from thrilled about facing SIX MORE installments of this thing. But I figured, datedness–which plagued the introductory chapter so much–will eventually stop being a factor as the movies become newer.

And rightly so, Rocky II is better than Rocky I. There’s conflict. There’s struggle. There’s adversity. And everything that happens–every plot point–is well-deserved this time.

However, Rocky II isn’t a perfect movie by any means. Much of the first act is disjointed, but sets up everything that follows well. Picking up right where we leave off in the first film, Rocky is fresh off his fight with Apollo Creed. And although Apollo technically won by decision, the champ is facing scrutiny from the public saying the fight was rigged or that he shouldn’t have won.

Rocky, on the other hand, has moved on. Or at least it seems that way. He and Adrian get married and start their lives together. But Creed is taunting Rocky to get back into the ring again for a rematch.

Not that Rocky wasn’t already an affable character, but here, we learn more about him, which makes him even more likable.

In this one, the themes are also much more interesting. Much of this film is about Rocky becoming famous and recognizable–automatically bringing more meaning to the first film–but then also shows how easily the public forgets about him and what he accomplished.

One of the great scenes is when he tries to read the lines for a commercial he’s doing, but can’t get any of them correct. Stallone just plays dumb so well.

Unlike the first, Rocky actually has his back up against the wall. He’s being laughed at by his peers, and his relationship with Adrian actually has some issues. It’s nowhere near as easy this time around for Rocky. And by now, we know the characters well enough to appreciate it all. After watching this one, I finally got goosebumps–along with a few tears.

Twizard Rating: 92

Quick Movie Review: Money Monster (2016)

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It’s a common theme in films that Wall Street is largely corrupt. We’ve seen it played out countless times. Especially lately. And many of these films mesh together to become indistinguishable from each other. Money Monster may feel different. But is it maybe due to the ridiculously large ad campaign or because it says things that the others don’t?

The former is most likely true, but it doesn’t mean this film should be tossed aside. There’s a lot to like about it.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, the host of a stock market show where he advises people on what to stocks to buy and sell. In one situation, he advises everyone to buy shares of a specific company, saying it’s a surefire bet. So many viewers do, but when the company’s stock plummets, costing investors $800 million, everyone wants answers.

Most specifically, a young man named Kyle (Jack O’Connell), who sneaks onto the show’s set and threatens everyone. Flailing a gun around and strapping a bomb around Gates’ chest, he goes into a rant about losing his entire $60,000 life savings on the company because of Gates’ advice.

Kyle and the script have a lot to say, but never quite hit the nail on the head in a grand way. It’s well thought out, but doesn’t play as so, instead giving us popcorn thrills and adrenaline rushes. Which, by no means, is a bad thing.

Bordering on transparent and cheesy a few times, its wittiness jumps back out of it quickly–and fortunately.

At a little over 90 minutes, the film is paced well. It keeps us awake on the edge of our seats pretty much the whole time, which is interesting considering almost the whole thing takes place on a television set with just a couple of people.

This may have to do with the fact that the point of view is all over the place–an odd decision for a thriller. We see what the filmmakers conveniently need us to see–not always what makes sense for us to.

Though not as big or impactful as it wants to be, it stands as a microcosm of the financial stresses most of the country is constantly going through. It’s an important movie, but there are others that are slightly more important. Although, it doesn’t hurt to watch this one and be thoroughly entertained in the process.

Twizard Rating: 85

Quick Movie Review: The Nice Guys (2016)

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So, I guess I’ve found my favorite movie of the year–so far, at least. The Nice Guys did so many things right and so little wrong, it’s a shame its release will not garner the recognition it should.

Russell Crowe plays an underground enforcer who’s helping out a young girl, Amelia, trying to shake the private investigator, Ryan Gosling, who keeps following her. Crowe beats up Gosling, but soon realizes Amelia may be in danger of getting killed, and Gosling might be the man needed to assist him in protecting her. Little do they know, they’re about to get involved in a large-scale conspiracy and a string of connected murders.

The Nice Guys commits to its quirkiness and loves taking advantage of its irony. Gosling’s character won’t drive after he’s been drinking, so he makes his 13-year-old daughter drive him around instead so he won’t get in trouble.

It’s really hilarious. Not in an over-the-top Will Ferrell sense of the word, but in a very clever and cool Oceans Eleven-y type of way–with a little goofball thrown in, too. Each joke is ingeniously thought-out, but still feels very organic. While credit partially goes to director and co-writer Shane Black, we also have to praise the two leads for their brilliant delivery and conviction.

Gosling is on another level and proves he deserves to be considered a comedic actor with the best of them. Crowe, who may not get to say most of the jokes, is just as important in playing Gosling’s straight man–maybe the coolest and most realistic one we’ve seen in awhile. Their chemistry is undeniable.

Amidst all the humor is a really brilliant script in its own right. We get an enthralling mystery that unfolds perfectly as the film does. There’s a lot going on, but it’s never confusing or overelaborate. It’s old school, but new school just the same.

The only thing you might say, is that there’s some underutilized depth. But then again, not really. Both main characters are deep and complicated and interesting in their own ways. There’s more than meets the eye and not a lot is laid out for us that easily.

Black likes to make us figure things out on our own, but doesn’t ever totally abandon us. Instead of flat out stating what year it is, he drops hints, forcing us to pay attention.

Another marvel is the young actress, Angourie Rice, who plays Gosling’s daughter. She has the talent of someone twice her age, while still maintaining a healthy amount of precocity.

Based on the trailer, I knew I was going to really like this movie, save for a possible overwrought premise. But I was surprised even beyond those expectations. This is truly one of my favorite comedies in a long time. Definitely my favorite, so far, for 2016.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Captain America: Civl War (2016)

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If we’re being honest with each other, I can’t say I’ve enjoyed too many installments in the Avengers series since 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. I mean, REALLY enjoyed them. I liked most of them, but not to the point of needing to rewatch them. The first Avengers film was very enjoyable. And so was last year’s Ant-Man. But other than that, it’s been growing a bit tiresome.

And within the first ten minutes of Captain America: Civil War, I thought it wasn’t boding well for this one either. There was a random action scene, which felt more like action for action’s sake. We weren’t sure why things were happening. It was more self-aggrandizing than anything else.

But soon after, we realize it was supposed to be somewhat unimportant. Merely setting up the theme for the rest of the movie.

The Avengers are trying to stop some bad guys in Nigeria, but kill some civilians in the process.

Afterwards, the superhero team faces a lot of adversity across the entire world. The United Nations issues an act that will oversee and control the Avengers’ missions. This divides everyone in the group. Some feel that not fighting every battle they hear of is a waste of their abilities, while others are affected more by the death toll of the innocent.

I wasn’t expecting the “civil war” to be much more than a verbal conflict, but it escalates pretty badly. You know something really catastrophehic is going to happen as a result of this.

Halfway through this movie, I’ve already realized that it’s better than most that came before it.

Here’s why I like it: More than almost any Avengers film, there’s no convoluted premise or overuse of impenetrable fanboy references. Everything here is clearcut. There are no alien races trying to takeover the planet. Nothing here feels like it’s beating a dead horse.

This film also contains the best cast yet. Chadwick Boseman ups the ante playing Black Panther, as his acting abilities almost seem too good for this franchise. We also get some great character surprises, as well as a few minutes of Marisa Tomei.

It’s a refreshing mix of each character’s personality and wit, without it sacrificing the film’s intent or them stepping on each other’s toes.

Like any of Marvel’s Avengers movie, this one has tons of charisma. But it’s different this time, because it isn’t forced. It makes you think philosophically–and morally–even if you don’t realize you are.

If you think about it for too long, you may realize the results in the movie are completely wrong compared to how it would (and perhaps, should) resolve, but that shouldn’t allow you to not enjoy it.

It becomes top tier in this glorified franchise, and moves into my top 3 favorite Marvel films since the series was launched in 2008–along with Iron Man and the aforementioned Captain America: The First Avenger.

It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty close as far as superhero movies go.

It’s also important to note that you should probably know some background on the whole Bucky-Captain America relationship or you might be a little lost. Also, for those of you who’ve never seen ANY Avengers film, this will probably all be lost on you.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

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Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is in a category all of its own. Disney’s spectacular vision and range is showcased in his 13th animated feature. With a little help from the Lewis Carroll series for which it was adapted from, this film’s surrealism makes for a completely unique entry in the Disney pantheon. It’s like the black sheep. To this day, they haven’t made another one like it.

The story isn’t one in the linear sense, but more of a compendium of unrelated series of events. But they all lead to a common goal.

Alice, herself, has some radical ideals when it comes to the world around her, and faces hostility from the adults in her life. But she learns her imagination is mild in comparison to the oddities of Wonderland. She ventures off to this magical world, only to discover she isn’t very welcome. She has a terrible time and no one wants her to be there. And at moments, she finds herself questioning the silliness of the realm, appropriating her mindset to that of her closed-minded mother back home.

The depth of Alice is deeper than most realize. It’s subtle, but her attitude is brilliant commentary on contrasting our own independent philosophies with those that we’re raised on.

Surprisingly, the film is not as dated as you would think. Some of the humor holds up well compared to today’s standards.

Considering the very short runtime, the songs are in abundance and create a high ratio to the non-singing scenes. And naturally, there are one or two weaker tunes, but most of them are ear-worm classics.

At 75 minutes, we spend enough time in Wonderland to warrant a complete story. Or collection of events. Alice in Wonderland is meant to be episodic. And it’s very dark and deranged at times, too. While many people find that those things make the movie harder to warm up to, it’s actually part of what makes it one of my favorite Disney films from the Walt era. An underrated piece of cinema.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

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The imagery of Wonderland is one that’s notably psychedelic–almost notoriously–to the point where it’s become a well-known pseudo-fact that author Lewis Carroll used drugs while penning his famous novel. This isn’t true. But countless tellings of the story carry such traits.

Tim Burton’s is no different. Although, while being adamant about his version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory not straying away from the original source material, his take on Wonderland differs quite a bit. But not in a bad way. In fact, this version is a refreshing new take on the classic story we all know. It would have been so easy to merely duplicate it, but Burton had something else in mind.

Unlike the other adaptations, especially including the 1951 Disney version, Burton tries to create an emotional connection between Alice and the characters she encounters. Instead of Alice going through Wonderland and experiencing a sequence of disjointed events, her journey is all connected, giving the film an actual sense of cohesion.

Starting off in the real world, 19-year-old Alice is on the verge of being forced into marrying some guy she doesn’t love. The people around her parallel traits of the characters we already know from Wonderland, foreshadowing what’s about to happen–in a sort of Wizard of Oz type of way.

Then, right when it’s convenient, she follows an anthropomorphic white rabbit down a hole into Wonderland. Did I say Wonderland? I mean “Underland”. “Wonderland” is the name she gives it when she’s a little girl. Apparently this isn’t Alice’s first time here. But now that she’s older, she insists it’s always just been a dream. In fact, she says this about 10 times, and never seems to accept the reality of it all.

But the characters all seem to know her, insisting that she is prophesied to defeat the Red Queen’s Jabberwocky.

The film takes awhile to get anywhere, and the dialogue does a lot of rambling. However, we still seem to enjoy Alice’s adventures as though we are unfamiliar with the story ourselves.

Because, in a way, we are. But it’s Burton’s auteurism that draws us in the most. His actualized vision is what draws us in and gives this film its unique thumbprint.

Indeed dreamlike, Underland is a world all of its own. It’s much like Wonderland, except many of the bright colors are gone.  This is a “Wonderland” that doesn’t juxtapose brightness with dystopian imagination. Because it’s completely dark and dystopian in almost every way–which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although, it may disappoint those hoping for a quintessential live-action adaptation.

What prevents this film from being great is its tendency to meander. Seeming to be more focused on its impenetrable lexicon and non-sequiturs, it feels, at times, like the filmmakers don’t want us to know what’s going on. And feeling like an outsider when a movie should be enveloping you in its highly intricate world can be a frustrating experience.

Filled with made-up words that even the most insane context clues won’t help us with, it never lets up. As though it’s proud of being cryptic. Or perhaps you can just credit it for its consistency. Whatever it is, at least it brings us closer to the title character in her own bemusement.

All is forgiven during the last 25 minutes when everything finally makes sense and we realize that the film actually does have some great ideas. But, it turns out, all it had to do was simply explain what itself.

The cast is all very good in their respective roles. Helena Bonham Carter is a marvel as the Red Queen, who acts as a spoiled child trapped in an insecure and manipulative dictator. Her head is oddly shaped, so her minions wear prosthetic noses and ears to make her feel more comfortable with her own distortions.

I’m glad there’s a sequel about to come out, because I’ve always felt this film was more of a setup movie. And a good one, at that–just getting us accustomed to the world that’s been created. A world that feels very real.

The film’s occasional off-kilter humor is noticed and appreciated. It adds to the oddness of it all–much in line with the spirit of Lewis Carroll and his sober-self.

Twizard Rating: 77

Quick Movie Review: Keanu (2016)

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If you’ve ever wished there were a movie filled with songs by both George Michael and Future, then this is the one for you.

Keanu is engaging right from the opening scene, where two shadowy figures craftily shoot up an entire drug operation inside of an old church.

And so it begins. After wrapping up their eponymous sketch comedy show, Keegan-MIchael Key and Jordan Peele embark on their first film together. Written by Peele and starring both of them, Keanu follows Rell (Peele), who has just suffered a major breakup. And on the verge of of a downward spiral, he discovers a kitten on his doorstep. This kitten is Keanu. Immediately falling in love–like anyone would with a kitten–it fills the void that his ex-girlfriend left. This is pretty much the first and last time his breakup is mentioned in the whole movie.

Within days, Keanu is stolen. And Rell, along with his cousin, Clarence (Key), ventures into the depths of an underground drug circle, infiltrating a gang called the Blips (a combination of the Bloods and the Crips). They pretend to be drug lords as well, forcing them to talk more aggressively and “gangster”, fearing their “white-washed personas” will get them caught immediately.

There are some very funny bits in this movie. Sure, many jokes go on for too long, while others awkwardly flop, but with Key and Peele, it’s the awkwardness that makes them funny.

Even when the two of them aren’t making you laugh, you can’t stop watching them try to be funny. You might even catch yourself smiling at it a few times.

Some details about the plot are unclear, but nothing too frustrating. From the earliest scenes, there are a handful of holes in the logic of this film. A main one being: how would any experienced gangster not be able to snuff out two obvious phonies? But it’s a comedy that prides itself on silliness, so we shouldn’t care too much.

Like any good comedy, there are more hits than misses. It narrowly undershoots the mark of being the next 21 Jump Street. It’s consistent, but it’s never groundbreaking. With less formulaic beats, maybe it could’ve been just that. Though I’m convinced formula is what they are going for, taking references from old buddy action films of yesteryear.

Plus, there’s a subtle Bill & Ted reference, giving it extra points from me.

For those of you who are fans of Key & Peele’s show, you’ll enjoy the humor. But not to fear, it’s not just one long drawn-out sketch. It’s a solid action-comedy, but with a familiar brand of humor. As for others, you may be slightly caught off guard. You might leave the theater feeling like you’ve accidentally stumbled into an arcane universe that somehow you never knew existed until now. But the movie’s feel is familiar enough that you’ll still enjoy yourself. I guess their plan worked.

Twizard Rating: 84