Quick Movie Review: Snow Day (2000)

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Originally intended to be a feature film version of the Nickelodeon show, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Snow Day has its roots buried well.

Living in California, we never had snow days, but I was luckily able to live vicariously through this movie.

Snow Day follows a group of young kids who celebrate the year’s first school closure and try to stop the “evil” snow-plowman (Chris Elliott) from clearing the roads. Meanwhile, high schooler Hal (Mark Webber) tries to woo the popular Claire Bonner (Emmanuelle Chriqui) after she breaks up with her boyfriend. The film’s moniker is that anything can happen on a snow day.

Just like Pete & Pete, it’s way smarter than it needs to be or should be. Much like childhood, it’s often bittersweet. It glorifies the simple things because that’s what it’s like when we’re kids. These little pleasures are such a big deal to us, and it’s nice to see a movie that understands that.

For a children’s movie it’s fully aware of itself and stays entertaining throughout without having to throw in any cheap action sequences.

Though it’s still a product of its time, so it’s not without a couple of sappy moments–only one or two.

Hal’s dad is played by Chevy Chase, who’s a perfect fit. And Josh Peck is a wonder here in his debut. It’s apparent early on that he has great instincts. The cast is very good all around with some solid performances that really get the job done. There really aren’t any weaknesses.

Hal’s sister, Natalie, is the ring leader of the anti-plowman kids. A lesser film would have found cliches to fill out her relationship with her brother, but this one knows how to hit the nail perfectly on the head.

This movie just gets it, embellishing small moments and memories as we do in our minds when we’re young, and keeping them that way even into adulthood, so we can look back at them the best way possible. Snow Day basically magnifies that sentiment and perfectly empathizes with it by making the mundane magical.

Twizard Rating: 92

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Quick Movie Review: Coco (2017)

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Pixar has never shied away from death in their movie, but Coco makes you more okay with it, touching upon something that is close to all of us.

Aside from the underwhelming–and long–Frozen short prefacing this film, Coco is easily the studio’s best release since 2010’s Toy Story 3, ending a long streak of sub-par entries.

Even the “beloved” Inside Out felt like somewhat of a forced concept which sounded better on paper.

For the first time we get a narrative that doesn’t just show us the way. It almost acts as a mystery of sorts, revealing itself slowly, keeping us at the edge of our seats. It’s a film that’s very aware of itself in that way, becoming one of the smartest animated movies you’ll ever see.

Coco follows a young boy, Miguel, who dreams of becoming a famous musician. Up until now, he’s had to practice in secret due to his family’s ban on music, which was implemented when his great-grandmother was a child. Her father was a guitar player who left her and her mother to pursue his dreams.

Miguel rebels against these restrictions. And after a series of events, he winds up in the Land of the Dead during Dia de Muertos–a Mexican holiday where the living celebrate their deceased ancestors by inviting them back to the Land of the Living for one night.

Just like most of their films, the comedy is never in your face, counting on the story to carry it–which should be most people’s preference.

But the humor in Coco is even more reserved than usual. The tone is a lot more serious. Perhaps due to its darker subject matter.

We also don’t really get the same kind of marketability as usual, which is interesting. Similar to Pixar’s Brave, it’s a movie that relies on its intricate plot rather than cheap laughs or unnecessary characters. It’s mature.

And the scenery and beautiful colors are enough for younger kids to latch on to, if nothing else. Pixar has created their most impressive world since Monsters, Inc. in 2001.

Coco does an excellent job painting the picture of how souls go back and forth between the Lands of the Dead and the Living. However, the film does have some porous logic involving the details of how a soul survives in the spirit world. Once a soul is forgotten about by the living, it ceases to exist in the Land of the Dead. We’re unsure what happens to them afterwards, which is a nice touch. But there’s also some overlap in how it happens to begin with. Maybe I’m just missing something.

In the end, those aren’t the details that matter as much to this film. It’s a near-perfect execution of a concept that’s yet to be touched by Pixar. Hopefully, this sparks another nice run from them. I miss the old Pixar.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Justice League (2017)

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2016’s Batman v Superman is possibly the most criticized film of the last 5–maybe 10–years, and director Zack Snyder knew he had some work to do on the highly-anticipated followup, Justice League–which was already in production by then.

The premise for Batman v Superman sounded cool on paper, but couldn’t possibly be executed without creating an unrealistic series of events. Coupled with Snyder’s tendency to take his films way too seriously, the project just didn’t work. Some would say it was a such a good concept that the filmmakers simply tried too hard to bring it to fruition. But it was inherently flawed from the start. Justice League has no excuse.

When a film desperately tries to fix what was wrong with its predecessor, becoming solely what it thinks people want, it’s a recipe for disaster. The tone has a tendency to get weird because it becomes a paint-by-numbers.

I’m not sure if any film in recent memory has had the amount of skepticism as Justice League prior to its release. Christopher Nolan has all but spoiled our expectations for another good Batman film. Honestly though, we’re not going to get that kind of movie again. And no one is even gong to try.

For those of you who don’t know, Justice League is a film which teams up several of the superheroes from DC Comics, including Batman, Wonder Woman, and Flash. Following the death of Superman, the world faces some alien invasion or something. I dunno. It’s unclear.

This villain is completely CGI and uncompelling, keeping us properly distanced from the situation entirely. Which is a trend throughout this movie. Depth is always either forced or nonexistent.

There’s a scene towards the beginning which has Lois Lane talking to Superman’s mother about how bad Lois misses Superman and griping about her job at the Daily Planet. But why do we even care?? And why is this scene even in the movie?? I immediately tried imagining this film being in a Marvel movie and realized that I couldn’t. It’s more like something out of Grey’s Anatomy.

It’s almost as though the filmmakers are unaware of which direction they’re supposed to be going (we’re with them). They’re so concerned with having cliched drama that they’re fishing for humanity amidst a world that lacks it.

I’ve heard people ask time and again why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a better reputation than the DC Universe. Simply put, they’re better films. Marvel has snappy dialogue, good acting, and they’re a lot more fun. They’re smarter and more self aware. They feature camaraderie between characters. There’s banter and you actually feel like you’re in on some cool exclusive club.

DC lacks personability. They’re also more concerned with finding actors who look the part rather than good charismatic talents. Marvel has Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, and Chris Hemsworth. DC has Ben Affleck and a bunch of previously unknown actors.

But boy, does it try to be charismatic with Justice League.

Just like the Wonder Woman movie, Justice League relies on one character to give it most of its levity–in this case, Ezra Miller as Flash. That’s not how this works. It’s like when Lil Wayne thought he could make a rock album simply by having all of his songs be about teenage angst. Just like how that was a misperception of the genre, this is a sore misunderstanding of how movies get to be funny and enjoyable.

The humor is even more cringy because you know why it’s there. I’d rather have two really good jokes than fifty throwaway ones. Especially jokes that are derivative and uninspired. The worst is when Batman (Affleck) tries to get in on the action with his modern straight-man delivery. It’s so odd hearing Batman try to be funny with the bat suit on. To the point where it feels like Affleck is actually performing a parody of Batman instead.

The action is much of the same as its predecessor–mostly boring and confusing. There’s a true sense of contrived intensity.

Batman v Superman had one thing going for it: The mystique of what’s to come. It teases us with cryptic introductions to characters possibly featured in the future (Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman). Of those, we get one origins story–this year’s Wonder Woman. As for the others–they’re all introduced here.

I kinda get why they rushed past all the other origins movies. The studio probably knew that if they didn’t get straight to this film then it may not have gotten made at all.

But there’s no true establishment of these characters in this movie either. If I was sitting in the theater and had no idea who Aquaman was, I wouldn’t care that he’s in this movie because they make no attempt to make you care. i’m not even sure they mention Flash by name.

DC films have a long way to go if they want to compete with Marvel. This year’s Wonder Woman was good. But it also had the luxury of having a different director and not suffering from panicky reshoots following the bombing of Batman v Superman.

There will be people who like Justice League. There are also people who like unoriginal rom-coms that merely go through the motions. Not everyone needs the movie to actually be good.

At first glance, Justice League is better than Batman v Superman. It makes all the obligatory changes. However, it also loses its identity in the process. It doesn’t seem possible, but in reality, Justice League is actually much worse. It’s a film of corrections–empty and uninspired ones. It tries to be self-aware, but ends up being the opposite. I’d be curious to see what Snyder would’ve done with the film if he hadn’t been merely trying to fix what was wrong with the first one. It may not have been great, but at least it would’ve been what he wanted from the beginning. And at least it would’ve been true to itself. Maybe then it would’ve been better.

Twizard Rating: 59

Quick Movie Review: Rocky V (1990)

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So apparently Rocky V is considered the worst in the franchise. I’m not sure why. To be honest, the things people say it does wrong Rocky films have been doing since the beginning. Like contrived plot points, or innocuous plot holes, or tragic things happening due to Rocky’s lack of self-awareness. Maybe it’s just that now people are finally noticing it. But truthfully, I enjoyed it because it’s NOT like all the others.

Released in 1990, it’s perhaps the smartest Rocky film up to this point. The depth has never been more nuanced than it is here. It’s deep without being corny. Deeper than the others because it doesn’t try too hard to be. It finally breaks away from the tired formula, so for once you’re not sure where the story’s going.

Amidst all the improvements, it still has the feel of a Rocky movie, doing well to go along with the trend of each film being a different phase in the boxer’s life. Immediately after the bout with Ivan Drago from the previous film, Rocky is suffering some noticeable brain damage. A Don King parody, promoter George Washington Duke, is trying to get him back into the ring for a title fight. But Rocky keeps deflecting, finally retiring from the sport.

A young, promising fighter, Tommy Gunn, approaches Rocky in hopes that the former boxer will coach him so he can get to the championship level. Tensions rise when Rocky’s own 14 year old son, Robert, is getting less and less attention from his father during a time when he should be retired and at home with his family. Robert feels like he’s being replaced by Tommy and what results is an actual realistic depiction of what would happen between father and son.

Something about this subplot hits home for any guy. Whether it’s happened to you or not, you truly feel for Robert. However, it’s not presented in a cliched fashion. It’s not as black and white as most movies would have made it be. Subtly, we also realize that his dad isn’t as bad as he could be, either.

This installment has a brilliant way of connecting everything inside of itself. Of the original 5 films, this one has, by far, the best script. The narrative, alone, is an obvious improvement from its two predecessors at least. Although it’s a little longer, it’s a lot more fluid in its storytelling.

Sylvester Stallone does his best job not overacting in the title role–something he tends to do intermittently throughout this series. He’s getting better.

Unlike the past films, the events in this one are a direct result of realistic situations Rocky has been put in. If anything, Rocky seems to have actual sincere motives this time. Ones that we can actually relate to or empathize with. For once, Rocky seems to have his back against the wall the way it should have felt–and wanted to be–in previous films. And no matter what your opinion is on these films up to this point, Rocky V is the perfect bookend to the original quintilogy.

Twizard Rating: 92

Quick Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

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As the credits roll, my wife turns and asks me the obligatory, “Did you like it?” All I can say is, “It’s a beautiful film.”

And it is. Goodbye Christopher Robin is about many things, but, at the same time, just one thing, as it’s all tied together perfectly. It’s about living in the moment and appreciating things as they happen. I know, you’re thinking that this theme has been done a million times. But I assure you, never like this. Not with these dynamics. And that’s always the key to a movie going from good to great.

The film tells the story of how Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne came to be. It’s told from the perspective of Milne, played by Domhnall Gleeson, but also particularly from that of his six year old son, Christopher Robin Milne (Will Tilston).

It takes place in England and bridges the gap between both World Wars, showing some before and after for perspective. The father suffers from terrible post traumatic stress disorder from World War I and it affects his writing. He and his family move out of London to the countryside so he can recover. He ends up not writing much there, either–instead, playing with his son. The adventures they go on in the woods surrounding their property inspire in Milne the concept for Winnie the Pooh. His anxiety seems to go away once the fictional bear comes into the picture. And it seems to have the same effect on the rest of the country.

Milne’s wife, Daphne, is played by Margot Robbie in perhaps her most impressive performance yet. Daphne acts selfishly most of the time. Instead of encouraging her husband’s creativity for his own sanity, she does it for herself. So she can have a better life. She punishes him for his own writer’s block. Robbie plays an unlikable woman so well. But instead of putting her into a specific character archetype, the filmmakers make her much more complex than that. She resents her son for the pain he caused her at birth, but at other times displays a genuine sense of love for him. We feel it, but we also see through her eyes, recognizing resentment still in there, deep down.

And that complexity goes for the rest of the film. Nothing is so outrightly obvious. Even the dialogue is free of proverbs and truisms. And the facial expressions are subtly expository. It’s a film that trusts its audience. The nuances run deep. You can watch it again and have the same takeaway, yet notice the different ways its depicted.

A lesser film would have been about how the real life Christopher Robin’s parents were bad parents. But that would be too easy. There is no black and white. His parents are less than decent most of the time, sure, but there’s an awareness of it–at least by his father. And at times it’s like he’s trying to fight it, but just can’t. He goes along with his wife in order to gain her approval.

Gleeson lets you into his psyche every step of the way without holding your hand through it. You have to look carefully at times, but it’s always there.

Director Simon Curtis seamlessly connects the movie’s several interwoven themes. The effects of war, being a child, unintentional fame, loss, regret–or lack thereof.

This film connects with our emotions in a way that most other films don’t. Or can’t. It doesn’t use cheap techniques or cliched scenarios. It’s honest and real. Like life. Maybe even a little more than that.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: The NeverEnding Story (1984)

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Director Wolfgang Petersen sure had an ambitious task on his hands when he decided to take on creating the spectacular world that is Fantasia. And it sure paid off.

I watched NeverEnding Story often as a child, though hadn’t seen it in almost 20 years. But images like these stick in your brain indelibly.

Based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Michael Ende, it follows a young boy, Bastian, as he happens upon a mysterious book that bridges the gap between what’s real and what’s fantasy.

Filled with unique and visionary characters and set pieces, it’s such an attractive film. The vision is executed so imaginatively that when we see the world of Fantasia, we never for a second feel like it’s the same world–the real world–that Bastian is living in.

You can tell it enjoys showing off its effects. And it should–they’re amazing! But the film isn’t just a “look what we can do” effects spectacle. No, it’s very deep and has some important things to say. It’s mainly about hope and imagination, with subtle religious undertones as well.

It’s a fairly short movie, but the adventure never feels rushed, building momentum evenly and moving along at an almost-perfect pace.

Often times, filmmakers know that if they just throw a bunch of fancy effects and weird-looking characters into their children’s movie that the details of the story don’t matter. This isn’t the case here. For a fantasy film, the details aren’t convoluted at all. It’s easy for kids to understand, but adults won’t feel talked down to, either. In fact, they’ll likely relate to it too.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Baywatch (2017)

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There’s proof out there that it doesn’t take comedians to make great comedies. The Baywatch movie isn’t a great comedy. It’s a comedy in intent, and actually has some bits that are really funny, but it’s doesn’t break enough new ground in that department. All of its jokes are derivative and mostly uninspired. It’s never sure what type of comedy it wants to be. The humor is never grounded in anything. It’s just recklessly random insertions into the script.

The film is more concerned with how the characters look rather than actually having a consistent tone and coherent plot–just like the TV show, except this one tries to be funny. But not in a so-bad-it’s-good way that helped make the show so popular in its heyday. There’s more intention here.

The ’90s show was known for its campiness. Fans could only hope that the movie either replicates that tone or parodies it. Unfortunately, it does neither.

Take the 21 Jump Street movie, for example. It’s fully aware at all times of its self-parody. Baywatch may make a joke or two at its own expense, but, considering its flippant style of humor, should be making way more.

Baywatch follows Dwayne Johnson as Mitch Buchannon, the head lifeguard of Emerald Bay, Florida, and his attempt to bring down a local drug lord, much to the chagrin of his boss and the local police.

Amidst all this, a new recruit, Matt Brody (Zac Efron), shows up. He’s an Olympic gold-medalist who’s turned into an entitled slacker. He’s constantly butting heads with Mitch, making for more subplots.

It goes back and forth between taking itself too seriously to not taking itself seriously at all. And it’s at its best when it doesn’t try to be witty and acts like an actual action film. The issue is, it never wants to stay that way.

Never quite set in stone, the characters are all over the place, too. One minute they handle a situation one way, then the other it’s totally different.

The script is so uneven, it’s like David Hasselhoff wrote it himself. The dialogue is completely illogical and unrealistic–not in a good way. And it’s full of foreshadowing, which makes it predictable. At times it even seems to conveniently forget about some of its major characters.

It’s pretty easy to shoot holes in the plot. And the main premise involving the drug dealers is convoluted. But honestly, it doesn’t matter because you just accept everything it’s spewing at you.

Some of the best scenes come from Yahya Abdul-Mateen, who plays a local beat cop on the beach. He’s the only actor who seems to always fully grasp what’s supposed to be going on in the script. He’s great.

Baywatch isn’t an unenjoyable movie. It’s longer than it needs to be, but makes itself easy to watch. And fortunately has enough cheap thrills for it not to be a complete waste of time. Yet, as evident with the Fast and Furious films, it could’ve also been so much more.

As an aside, isn’t it weird that Dwayne Johnson never has to cover up his tattoos for any of his roles?

Twizard Rating: 68

Quick Movie Review: Suburbicon (2017)

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Suburbicon is a film consisting of two plots. More like a plot and a subplot. These two exist in the same world, but barely ever intersect. In fact, one could make the case that they aren’t even necessary for each other’s survival. Although, they serve a subtle symbiotic purpose, however contrived it may seem.

The subplot happens first. We arrive in a utopian town in the 1950s, called Suburbicon. News gets around that a black family has moved into the community, and the people there begin protesting. The white people are scared that their “perfect” little town will now become disturbed by the presence of black people.

Across the street from the black family is where our main plot begins. A home invasion kills a woman (Julianne Moore), and nearly kills her husband (Matt Damon), son (Noah Jupe), and twin sister (also Julianne Moore). We’re not sure why it’s happening, but we know we’re about to find out.

There seems to be a lot going on, but the film carefully picks out what’s important in order to drive the plot and build tension. Careful sense is made out of all the chaos.

Amidst a slew of films that attempt to create commentary on racial issues by shoving it in your face, this one tries to keep it in the background. However, it’s not all that subliminal.

Many viewers will no doubt feel a sense of pride for figuring out what statements this film is trying to make. But the truth is, it’s pretty on-the-nose and not hard to analyze properly.

The events with the black family and the protesters outside their house serve no real purpose other than to show irony of ignorant racists becoming the actual source of all the disruptions in their peaceful lives. The crazy people are actually the white Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, and the white townsfolk are violently protesting the normal people who happen to be black. The white people are really the ones we should hate; they’re really the ones causing all the problems–we get it.

If you were previously unaware that racism exists–especially in the 1950s–then this film is for you. Except this film takes that trope to new heights. No new ground is covered in this area, and it isn’t like it’s a true story that needs to be told. At times it seems like the filmmakers (George Clooney, the Coen Brothers, et al) are merely trying to pass off this moral that all white people are bigots.

I probably shouldn’t like this movie, but I do and I can’t quite figure it out. Maybe I just like seeing Matt Damon play a terrible person. Maybe the two likable people in the whole film are actually worth all the trouble. The truth is, it contains a pretty cool murder mystery and I’m a sucker for utopian settings. Suburbicon does a lot of things wrong, but it’s actually still very entertaining as a whole.

Twizard Rating: 87

Quick Movie Review: Clueless (1995)

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Clueless does something interesting. It’s a complete social satire, but director Amy Heckerling makes it so that the jokes can also be taken at face value. On one hand it begs you to notice the commentary it’s making on society, while on the other hand relishes in the idea that the jokes may be all on you. In fact, that’s what makes Clueless so great. It’s a film that makes fun of people who take themselves too seriously, but also accepts the fact that those same people will take IT too seriously. Some satires are too transparent, but what makes this one brilliant is the fact that it’s not.

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Quick Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok (2017)

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Marvel has just completed their best year ever, by far. And if you continue their current run back a little further, to 2016’s Doctor Strange, it’s even more impressive (still technically within 365 days of this release).

I really struggled with the 2nd Thor film back in 2013. Sure, it was entertaining, but it was completely forgettable and uninspired.

Thor Ragnarok fixes what’s broken. Barely set on Earth at all, it moves past the fish-out-of-water schtick that runs stale in the last film. This one’s light on its feet and incredibly fun.

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