Quick Movie Review: Tower of Terror (1997)

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Fun Fact: This is the first film based on a Disney theme park ride.

I remember watching this movie on TV as a kid and loving it. But I’ve discovered, upon recently rewatching other Halloween movies from my childhood, that many times they’re not as good as I used to think. So naturally, I had the same concerns with 1997’s made-for-TV movie Tower of Terror.

And at first, I thought my worries were coming true. The film does a poor job when trying to force character depth. The dialogue gets clunky and self-aggrandizing. The film doesn’t truly shine until it happens organically.

Steve Guttenberg plays Buzzy, a former newspaper writer, who has lost all his credibility after a story he published turned out to be fake. So he turns to writing tabloid stories instead. He’s approached by Abigail Gregory, an old lady who claims to know how child actress Sally Shine (Lindsay Ridgeway), and others, disappeared one night back in 1939 at the Hollywood Tower Hotel. She claims that Shine’s nanny used dark magic to trap the young starlet’s soul in limbo. Guttenberg thinks he might have a story on his hands and visits the abandoned hotel to investigate.

Guttenberg lacks a convincing performance, but he still gives us some nice wit. As the movie’s lead, he’s affable enough. But it’s the others around him that shine a little more. Kirsten Dunst as his niece, Anna, provides solid support, but the five actors who play the hotel’s ghosts give us some of the film’s best moments.

What the movie does best is craft a fine mystery surrounding the strange 1939 accident and makes us care about its victims–who are all minor-to-supporting characters–but it just fails to keep us interested in its actual leads.

However, it’s truly a fun Halloween movie. One of my favorites for this time of year. Kids will love it. It’s not too scary, but eerie enough to pique their interest. And it holds up pretty well, giving adults a very cool story to follow with blindsiding twists. It’s definitely as entertaining as I remember.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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I feel like I’m dreaming each time I watch this movie. It’s one of my favorites and has meant a lot to me in my life.

Definitely one of a kind, due to it’s adamant surrealism, it appeals to both kids and adults.

The elusive Wonka chocolate factory is holding a worldwide contest so that 5 lucky winners can finally get a glimpse inside the factory walls and win a lifetime supply of chocolate.

It’s supposed to take place in America, but maintains an industrial European feel. Charlie Bucket, our protagonist, lives with his mother and 4 grandparents. They’re very poor, and rely on Charlie’s paper route money to get by. Which is why Charlie wants, more than anything, to win this contest.

Anyone who’s ever known they wanted something more than anyone else in the world can relate to Charlie’s childlike desire to win Wonka’s contest. It may seem frivolous, but that only highlights Charlie’s desperation. He can only imagine luxurious things. And that ingenuous mindset is what just may give him what he needs.

The film enraptures you within the first 35 minutes, before we even get inside the magical factory. And once we’re in, the film ascends to a whole new level. So full of unique ideas and concepts. Set pieces that made people depressed about the movie’s fictionality long before Avatar’s ever did.

And Willy Wonka, himself, portrayed by Gene Wilder, is a marvel. No other man could have given us such a brilliant performance. He’s sweet, he’s creepy, he’s sincere, and he’s mischievous. Roald Dahl’s original 1964 novel could be adapted for film one thousand times over, yet Wilder will always remain exclusively synonymous with the role.

Oh yeah, and the music is phenomenally perfect.

For being a “flop” from 1971, this film holds up better than most, if not all, of its contemporaries.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Sully (2016)

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I was initially wondering how they would make a 30 minute event into a full-length feature. But then I remember, this is Hollywood–they can do whatever they want.

Sully is based on the true story of 2009’s “Miracle on the Hudson” where Captain Chesley Sullenberger had to safely land a plane after a flock of geese flew into both engines, causing them to fail.

The event was traumatic enough, but this film mostly details the airline investigation following the incident. Director Clint Eastwood wisely circles the narrative around, sprinkling the action amidst the drama, keeping the pacing up and saving us from having to experience a long, uninterrupted National Transportation Safety Board hearing.

Throughout the film, Sullenberger is seen interacting with his wife, played by Laura Linney, on the phone. It’s an interesting choice not to have them face to face in person. I’ve struggled to find a good reason why. Perhaps keeping them apart is to emphasize the film’s “delay is better than disaster” theme. Or maybe it’s to distance Sully from his family and show how he just longs to be home, creating irony around how he was nearly never to be home again. Or it might just be an interesting quirk that Eastwood decided to include. Whatever it is, it’s unique and adds to the film’s appeal.

Perhaps the only thing that’s distracting, though, is Linney’s acting. It might seem like it’s good on the surface. She shows a lot of emotion, yet is strong when she needs to be, but her delivery is just so off much of the time. It’s not believable. It feels like she knows she’s acting and is trying her best to sell it. Maybe it’s because she was acting into a phone the whole time.

But that’s a minor setback. The film is uplifting, just like the 2009 event itself. It gives us a glimpse inside the mind of an American hero. A normal, everyman who lifted our country’s spirits during a time when we really needed it. The film doesn’t ruffle any feathers (believe it or not, pun actually not intended). Nor does it ever really make you ever second-guess our protagonist–which is for the best, I think, in this situation. But it takes what it has and does its very best turning the material into one heck of an ode to a memorable person and event of the early 21st century.

Twizard Rating: 98