Quick Movie Review: Escape From New York (1981)

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It’s a ballsy move making Escape From New York take place a mere 16 years into the future. In the film, the world has changed so much. Even by today’s standards. The United States government has turned Manhattan into a maximum security prison surrounded by giant 50-foot walls, due to a 400% increase in crime. There are no guards in the prison. The prisoners inside are left to the world they’ve created.

Air Force One has been hijacked, and the President’s escape pod crash lands inside the Manhattan prison, so the government hires one of its inmates, Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russell), to rescue the President in exchange for his pardoning.

Snake is pretty dry, and at one point we fear that we’re going to have to suffer through 90 minutes of his surliness. We watch a Kurt Russell movie because we want Kurt Russell. But this is like watching a Will Ferrell movie and getting Taylor Lautner with better acting.

Not only is he pretty void of emotion, but we get hardly any backstory on him or any of the other interesting characters. Just murmurings here and there, which ends up sounding like gibberish amidst the context of the film.

The way Russell says things should make them corny, but it never does. Early on we start forgetting that he sounds like Batman playing Clint Eastwood. Partially due to Russell’s acting, but also because the dialogue is so crisp.

A year early, this one feels like Blade Runner, but less brooding. It’s weird and deceptively goofy. Like the type of weird straight-to-video VHS tape that would have developed a cult following 30 years later. Only this was a mainstream hit.

The film isn’t as dated as it appears. Though some of the character decisions definitely are. I mean, you can’t get away with “forgetting the gun” as easily these days. But its unvarnished look is what gives it character. It feels more real than the likes of Blade Runner. Maybe it doesn’t have as much to say, but it definitely still says something.

The main bad guy within the prison, Duke (Isaac Hayes), is a crime boss who desperately wants to leverage the President for his own escape from prison. The hype around Duke is far more sinister than the character himself. They give him sinister things to say, but Hayes is just too cool to make them convincing.

Escape From New York is not quite as epic as it wants to be, but it’s not due to a fault in the impressively constructed universe. The sets are believable and you get a great feel for the suffocation of this prison. But it’s just a little dated and slow for an action film.

Twizard Rating: 82

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Quick Movie Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

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If you’ve ever seen The Room, you know it’s bad. Even after witnessing its atrocity it’s hard to believe what you just watched. Yet what makes it so much more unbelievable is knowing that there was actually somebody in this world who was capable of making something so terrible and so addictingly enjoyable at the same time.

The Disaster Artist is a love story, not only to The Room, but to its creator, Tommy Wisseau. It details the relationship between Wisseau and actor Greg Sestero. From how they met all the way to the premiere of The Room five years later.

James Franco plays Wisseau, giving us one of the best impersonations we’ve ever seen of anyone. Playing alongside him is his brother Dave Franco as Sestero. The two are so disguised in their roles that you never even think about the fact that they’re brothers.

Tommy is this guy who has stereotyped, in his head, the ideal celebrity as Milli Vanilli, essentially. He’s romanticized the idea of being a celebrity but hasn’t ever realistically conceived how he’s going to become one, because he thinks being a celebrity just means being cocky about how good you are. This conflicts with his genuine desire to be loved, even if it’s not for the right reasons. In the end, that’s exactly what happens. There’s this ego that is very obviously masking insecurity.

While it’s largely supposed to be an in-depth study of Wisseau himself, we already get that in a way, with his film The Room. But I think it’s Sestero who is slightly more compelling as his character develops so seamlessly over the course of the film–much to the credit of Dave Franco.

Greg, like Tommy, is obsessed with this romanticized idea of being an actor. He’s an aspiring actor and isn’t very good, but wants it anyway. When he faces career struggles, he perseveres due to his desire to see himself in the same likeness as his heroes, like James Dean.

If La La Land is about chasing the dream, The Disaster Artist is more focused on what you want out of that dream. For Greg it doesn’t matter how good the project is, he just wants to see himself in it–to be able to say he was in a movie just like the icons he looks up to. For Tommy it’s about being able to put his name on something, have people see his vision, and to be accepted by society.

The Disaster Artist does something excellent in that it makes us truly die of laughter while simultaneously never wavering from its vision of offering us a deep insight on the complex dynamic between two people and their individual issues. It’s probably some of the most fun you will have at the movies in recent years. Perhaps even more fun than the film that inspired it in the first place–however impossible that may seem. While The Room is never realized by its creators, The Disaster Artist is fully realized. And that dichotomy is what makes it even more brilliant.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter (1991)

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One of the things that makes the first NeverEnding Story so amazing is its unique storytelling. It follows Bastian’s journey of reading Atreyu’s adventure in the storybook, while at the same time placing Bastian in the mind of Atreyu, eventually summoning him into the book itself.

The NeverEnding Story II takes place a few years after the events from the first film. Bastian, this time played by Jonathan Brandis, discovers that words from the NeverEnding Story book are missing from its pages. Summoned inside again, he must face a new threat to the land of Fantasia.

While taking place in the same world, the version created for this sequel is confusing and often times suffocating. Whereas the Fantasia in the original film feels like a place you would actually want to visit. Here, it’s a much more lazily created world, relying mostly on what’s already been established in our minds by its predecessor.

This time, Bastian must save Fantasia from the evil sorceress Xayide. We’re never quite sure what threat she poses to the universe, but we do know that she doesn’t want Bastian there to stop her.

And in order to do so, she creates a machine that strips Bastian of one of his memories each time he makes a wish with his magical necklace. But since he’s unaware of this machine, he continues to make wishes. And the film finds absolutely every opportunity for him to keep making more wishes.

There are few things more frustrating in a movie than when the audience knows of a threat to the protagonist that the protagonist won’t figure out for almost the entire film. Watching him fall into the same trap repeatedly, not knowing that it’s harming him, makes us want to rip our hair out.

The film relies on the protagonist’s cluelessness to move the story along. Which isn’t usually a good thing unless we’re watching a comedy. Though this movie almost becomes one. But since the first film is so beloved, those normally-laughable moments are more disappointing than anything.

The sequel also gives the evil more of a face and personality–an insult to the original, whose evil is a malevolent force rather than an actual character–punctuating and emphasizing its truly deep themes.

The NeverEnding Story II never seems to know what it’s trying to say. All it wants to do is be appealing to young kids, while its predecessor is aimed at the kid in all of us.

It just tries to be too appealing, bringing a type of sitcom-y humor to the franchise. Instead of being the wide-eyed, innocent Bastian, they’ve made him a sarcastic smart aleck. He’s basically not even the same character. And neither is Atreyu. Here, he is a vulnerable child with an ego. Before, he was a strong and humble warrior inside the body of a child.

In the first NeverEnding Story, you couldn’t wait to get back inside of Fantasia. While most of the highlights in the sequel take place in the real world.

There’s an intriguing subplot involving the relationship between Bastian and his father. The entire film should have been grounded in this, but instead tries to conjure up forced depth through other means. But even those are never fully realized either.

By the end of the film, we still never quite figure out what Bastian’s purpose in Fantasia is.

It’s not exactly unwatchable, but it’s pretty poor. The lore of Fantasia itself–where it’s found–is still enough to make it externally appealing. But every time you get sucked in, the bad acting and atrocious dialogue take you right out.

Twizard Rating: 50

Quick Movie Review: The Shining (1980)

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At times it’s hard to tell if Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is unnecessarily vague, or if there is some sort of symbolism that we are missing. It’s so simple that it’s hard to believe there is more to it than what we’re watching, but knowing the filmmaker tells us that perhaps there is something more.

The Shining is an experience in hallucinations, so that we’re unsure of what’s real and what’s fake. It’s powerful, but can also be frustrating for the audience. We want answers, and the film not only fails to give them to us, but doesn’t even address that there needs to be any. Yet these ambiguities add the mystique of it all. There’s often beauty in things that aren’t merely black and white.

Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, who temporarily moves to the Overlook Hotel in snowy Colorado to become its caretaker during the offseason when the hotel has no guests. There, he hopes to cure his writer’s block and work on a new project. His son, Danny, has “the shining”, which allows him to speak telekinetically with others who have the ability, and also to see the past and future.

Unsuccessful, Jack starts getting agitated with his family and becomes influenced by the spirits of the hotel’s past.

It’s a horror movie, and remains very scary despite not really having any jumpy moments. The amazing musical score and Kubrick’s brilliant direction help the film maintain its tension throughout by not allowing us to have the relief that would usually follow any scares.

However, while Nicholson is believable when he’s going crazy, its his performance during the beginning when he’s supposed to be normal that I wasn’t a fan of. You can read in his face that he thinks he knows something we don’t. He makes it too obvious that he knows he’s gonna snap later on in the movie. From the beginning his character is slightly off-putting and creepy, so the transition doesn’t feel as drastic and his psychopathy later on isn’t necessarily startling to us.

We don’t quite get enough of a relationship beforehand of Jack with his family, so there’s no chemistry established and no emotional heartbreak when he does finally go crazy. The film is very deep with its themes, but not as much with its characters.

But it’s still effective as a whole. It looks amazing and every shot is just so perfect that we can feel ourselves in the hotel, while simultaneously suffocating from the confusion of its labyrinthine atmosphere.

The Shining not only holds up well, but it probably gets even better with age. The pacing is slow, even for 1980, but now it’s a welcomed change from the slashers we’ve seen over the years–even if this one helped define those as well. It’s not just a horror film, but an artful piece of cinema.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Friday the 13th (1980)

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Summer camp, teenagers, murder. Friday the 13th wasn’t quite the first film to carry these traits, but it definitely popularized them, along with the slasher film sub-genre as a whole.

The movie follows a group of young adults who are fixing up an old abandoned summer camp, when they soon become stalked by an unknown killer.

All throughout, it does well to take your mind off of the fact that it’s a horror film, striking when you least expect it. Almost as though it’s not fully aware that it’s a horror film itself–both a good and bad consequence of helping set a genre’s formula. Good because it gives you a better element of surprise, but bad because it tends to meander and lollygag. In fact, no one is even aware that there is a murderer on the loose until the final third of the film.

Unlike 1983’s Sleepaway Camp–which many accuse of being a Friday the 13th imitator–this film doesn’t really give its villain a personality until the very end.

While most of the movie is campy when not suspenseful, the last 15 minutes are truly chilling. But even during this part, it’s convenient stupidity of the characters that elongates the film an extra ten minutes or so.

Director Sean S. Cunningham does a pretty good job building the suspense when needed, but isn’t so competent with the young actors’ performances, often times overlooking a misdelivered line or two.

Actually, I think the suspense should be mostly credited to the fantastic score by Harry Manfredini, which is on a totally different level than the rest of the film. The music gives the movie integrity where it’s otherwise trying to find its footing.

This first Friday the 13th installment is definitely dated, and some of the copycat movies actually turn out better, but there’s something intangibly refreshing about a film that isn’t trying to replicate a formula beat by beat. Since there hadn’t quite been a proven formula yet at this time, Friday the 13th gets to certain spots on accident. The events happen organically instead of the filmmakers trying to hit all the marks of successful slashers before this one. Not that some aspects aren’t inspired, but it’s less shameless than what was to come following this film.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Ready Player One (2018)

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Steven Spielberg may seem like an odd choice to direct the feature film adaptation of the acclaimed Ernest Cline novel, Ready Player One. First of all, it’s not quite on the same wavelength as recent Spielberg offerings (e.g. The Post or Lincoln). Secondly, the director helped define the exact era being obsessed about in the story.

If you’re an achingly nostalgic person, then this is the movie for you. The film’s protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), is obsessed with ’80s pop culture. It’s the year 2045 and everyone is. In this version of earth, there is a virtual reality world/game called the OASIS, which almost everyone takes part in. They just put on these goggles and enter into their avatar’s body. The world is flooded with references from old video games and movies. Wade’s avatar drives Doc Brown’s DeLorean from Back to the Future.

But Ready Player One has something bigger to say. Touching upon the risks of becoming so detached with the real world that we forget what it’s really like. However, this threat never feels like a reality check in the movie. To the point where perhaps it doesn’t even have an opinion on which is better, one way or another. But that a balance of the two is what should be strived for.

In fact, watching the film may have us dreaming about how cool it would be if a place like this really existed. We can see the baggage that comes with it, but still, wouldn’t it be kinda worth it? To those of us who truly appreciate its purpose, it definitely would.

After the creator of the OASIS dies, he poses a challenge to all the users to find an Easter Egg that will give the finder complete control over the OASIS. So we follow Wade and his friends from inside the game, in a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory sort of way, as they embark on this mission to find the Egg.

The movie takes us back and forth from the OASIS to reality so seamlessly that we almost have to remind ourselves which is which–intentionally, no doubt. Credit to the special effects team as well, but this detail also helps show how close the two worlds actually are.

Spielberg definitely has his hands full, but does well with the highly involved plot. He’s always known how to take a complicated story and trim the fat. In Ready Player One, the story does tend to get confusing a couple of times, but we end up getting back on track each time.

Just about the only thing he doesn’t do well is give us entertaining battle scenes. The nonsensical, Michael Bay-type action is the only aspect that can stifle the momentum a bit and cause our minds to wander–the one thing we don’t want to happen in this movie.

But that isn’t enough to make you dislike Ready Player One even in the slightest, since, unlike Michael Bay, there isn’t an hour’s worth of it.

While Ready Player One is very much inspired by–some would say derivative of–countless films before it, it’s an amalgamation of it all.

It’s the type of film where you should leave your critic’s badge at the door, because the things that it does wrong don’t matter. If you obsess about it, then you’re missing the point. It should be viewed as pure entertainment. It’s a much better experience that way.

Twizard Rating: 96

Ranking Every ‘Salute Your Shorts’ Episode Ever!

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Salute Your Shorts is easily my favorite ’90s Nickelodeon show. It became synonymous with the summers of my childhood. Watching Nick In the Afternoon and hoping that Stick Stickly would announce it up next was perhaps the most anxious my life got at such a young age.

It ran from 1991 to 1992, but Nickelodeon syndicated it well until 1998, to where it was even among the top 15 highest-rated regularly scheduled basic-cable series in 1996, according to Nielsen, despite not having aired a new episode in four years.

The show wasn’t necessarily the most flashy or slick, but it was definitely one of the most unique. Down to the often-odd camerawork and perhaps the best opening credits/theme song of the entire decade. When the writers weren’t using unique story lines, they were at least throwing twists into old sitcom tropes to give them fresh perspectives.

Salute Your Shorts is the benchmark for all summer camp shows. It gives us characters who feel real, to the point where we imagine them now, some 25+ years later, grown up somewhere in life, having learned from their experiences at Camp Anawanna. It gives us characters who go beyond the cliched archetypes–but never unrealistically. As someone who grew up at camp myself, there were always kids who fit the personalities of the ones in the show.

Michael was my favorite character growing up. The everyman who’s friends with everyone, but never stands out too much on his own amongst this group of kids with unusual idiosyncrasies. I related to him the most. But what made the show so great is that I could also see a little bit of myself in every character. As an only child, little-kid Me saw them as my friends whom I could hang out with every summer afternoon. I’d go back to school in the fall and then join them again in June. There weren’t a lot of episodes, but I probably never even noticed. Either way, we didn’t get tired of each other. And I learned at camp as they did.

For a show with only 26 episodes, it feels so big. The show ushered in the ’90s with fart jokes, flannel shirts, and ghost stories about plumbers. It covered so much ground with its characters that we felt like we got to know them for 100 episodes.

Sure, there are some weaker episodes, but even in those ones there are some bright spots.

I’ve taken the time to diligently rank each episode in the series. I didn’t really use any specific criteria. Mostly what felt right. Taking into account entertainment value, character depth, humor, maturity, and a variety of other things.

If you haven’t checked out this show, please do so. If you’re a fan of it already, then you probably skipped my little intro here.

So, without further ado, I give you my ranking of every Salute Your Shorts episode ever:

 

26. Dina and the Rock Star (Season 2, Episode 4)

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Dina lies to everyone at camp when she says she can get rock superstar Jamie Mallot Jr. to play at their dance. Jamie does end up getting to camp, but then everyone there acts like fools when he shows up. The only person who doesn’t get starstruck is Pinsky. It’s the first episode that really shows his likability. As literally no one else is likable in this episode. The premise is catalyzed by a lame motive and propelled even further by the unrealistic behavior of its characters.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: Hey, where’s Jamie?? I wanna give him this demo tape! I got 5 songs with the word “tongue” in the title.

 

25. The Cursed Skull (Season 2, Episode 5)

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Budnick finds an animal skull in the Sacred Caves that Z.Z. says is the infamous Cursed Skull. “Bad things” start happening at camp–like people spilling their drinks on themselves, or getting dirt accidentally tossed onto their shirts. It’s a forced concept that ends up with a corny resolution. And even though this episode captures the essence of camp and embraces that experience, it fails to entertain us.

Favorite Line:

N/A

 

24. The Environmental Party (Season 1, Episode 13)

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While its message is noble, its preachiness is a little out of character for Salute Your Shorts. Z.Z wants to get the camp to recycle more and be more aware of the environment, but no one is interested so she tries to think of ways to motivate them. It’s kind of all over the place. And there aren’t as many laughs as normal. It’s also Michael’s last episode and he doesn’t get any sort of sendoff, which has always irritated me.

Favorite Line:

Sponge: Hey guys, there’s nothing in here except a bunch of dirty old magazines!

Budnick: Dirty OLD magazines, or old DIRTY magazines??

 

23. Cinderella Play (Season 1, Episode 10)

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It’s the obligatory camp play episode. Dina gets the lead role in Cinderella and initially lets it get to her head, but then soon realizes she has stage fright. It’s good for its relationship building between Dina and Sponge–an unlikely pair–but it’s a little more silly and cliche than we’ve come to expect–albeit with a Salute Your Shorts flair.

Favorite Line:

Ug: I’m very proud of you, Dina. That shows initiative and stick-to-it-edness

 

22. Telly and the Tennis Match (Season 2, Episode 1)

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When Telly can’t beat Scotty Rex with her old tennis racket, she tries everything to get a new one. Budnick, in homage to The Godfather, gifts her a top-of-the-line racket in exchange for a favor to be named later. After taking in bets for the tennis rematch, Budnick realizes that he’ll be unable to pay anyone back if Telly wins, so he asks her to throw the match. It takes a somewhat boring premise and makes it entertaining, even when the humor isn’t quite as prominent. .

Favorite Line:

Ug: Geez, you should join Abba-Zaba anonymous.

 

21. Bunk Chief Elections (Season 1, Episode 5)

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Most famous for its pie fight scene, this episode’s main plot surrounds Telly and Dina competing to get elected chief of their bunk…of three people. The best part of this one is the subplot with the boys getting punished for putting a goat in Ug’s bunk. Overall, it’s a middle of the road episode that gets a little too sappy at times.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: Ug is such a Gomer.

 

20. Ellen Comes to Camp (Season 2, Episode 12)

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Dr. Kahn’s niece, Ellen, comes to visit camp and is a complete brat. She destroys all the campers’ belongings and even attempts to injure some of them. Her mindset is that she can do whatever she wants and get away with it since her uncle is Dr. Kahn. The whole episode is spent trying to get revenge on Ellen. Budnick even empathizes with her hostility and attempts to clean her up a bit, but to no avail. It’s great seeing the whole gang get together for the same cause, but Ellen is just too obnoxious and never truly gets what she deserves in the end.

Favorite Line:

Ug: Boy, getting a raise is costing me a fortune.

 

19. Anawanna, Inc. (Season 2, Episode 13)

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This one’s kind of an odd episode, even down to the way it’s shot in a couple of scenes. The kids have an idea to start a company making birdhouses. It’s a silly concept and makes you wonder why they think birdhouses will make them all rich, but it ends on a good note. One of the best moments is Ug stealing people’s stuff right out of their hands for the time capsule that he and Sponge are making.

Favorite Line:

Ug: Hey! *steals hat from kid* Confiscated for the time capsule!

 

18. Goodbye Michael, Hello Pinsky (Season 1, Episode 2)

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We finally get a sendoff for Michael. After he leaves camp with the chickenpox, Pinsky comes to take his place. Budnick is obviously not happy. He’s sad about the departure of Michael, who’s become his only true friend at camp. And he doesn’t like how Pinsky’s charisma makes him liked by everyone else even though he’s just as rebellious as Budnick. As an audience, we feel for Budnick. It’s a subtle, but profound closure to his and Michael’s relationship. We miss Michael too. Pinsky isn’t as likable as Michael, even though Blake Soper’s performance as Pinsky is impressive. Plot-wise, nothing really happens in this episode, but it’s more of what the episode represents in the development of the series. It’s not a great episode due to what they tried to make Pinsky become. Michael was the everyman. The assumed protagonist. Was Pinsky now the protagonist? In fact, with this episode he seems like more of an antagonist. He doesn’t have that adolescent awkwardness like the others–he’s almost too adult. Too savvy. This episode makes us not only miss Michael more, but miss the dynamic that he helped create.

Favorite Line:

Donkeylips: How come you got a jockstrap on your face?

Ug: Protection.

Donkeylips: I guess I don’t understand how jockstraps work.

 

17. Budnick Loves Dina – Part 2 (Season 2, Episode 7)

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In this followup episode, Budnick and Dina are now dating, and Budnick has changed his image from the camp bully to an overly-polite old man. Dina becomes annoyed, wanting the old Budnick back. We don’t blame her. But instead of just telling him this, she believes the only possible solution is that they have to break up. It’s a shame because you could actually see the two of them working as a couple if this situation was handled with more maturity and practicality. The episode is pretty memorable, but its annoying plot hole keeps it from becoming a better conclusion to the first episode–even with its nice final moment.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: I brought you the paper, but I kept the business section for me to read. That way I can have conversations with your dad about the bear and bull markets. You know, before we met, the only time I used the word “bull” was followed by another word.

 

16. Mail Carrier Mona (Season 1, Episode 12)

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This is a pretty memorable episode for Salute Your Shorts fans. It introduces Mona and begins her relationship with Ug after his long-distance girlfriend breaks up with him. It’s entertaining with great lines, but doesn’t necessarily set the world ablaze, so it sits here on the list.

Favorite Line:

Dr. Kahn: This is Dr. Kahn. Due to Ug’s sudden “sickness”, all activities for the day have been cancelled.

 

15. Sponge Goes to the Movies (Season 2, Episode 8)

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Pinsky acquiescently joins Sponge’s computer club and discovers that it allows for them to contact the “outside world”. He then sets up a double date for himself and Sponge with two girls at a neighboring camp. It goes about at a fairly even pace the whole time, with a pretty famous final scene featuring the gang avoiding Ug at the movie theater. However, its memorability might be greater than its entertainment value. Though it’s nice seeing the kids in an environment outside of camp for once.

Favorite Line:

Ug: Where am I gonna take Mona? A two-for-one at Salad City! She likes croutons!

 

14. The Pinsky-Sponge Gazette (Season 2, Episode 9)

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For a Pinsky-centered episode, this one’s pretty good. Sponge starts a newspaper, but no one is reading it because the stories are boring. Until Pinsky comes on board and turns it into a tabloid of sorts, making up stories about kids at camp and exaggerating the truth. It makes you detest Pinsky, and it’s frustrating that if this were Budnick doing the same egregious acts, no one would be able to forgive him. But it’s still very entertaining and fast-paced, and doesn’t talk down to its audience when an episode like this easily could have. .

Favorite Line:

Donkeylips: I wanna be the opinion editor.

Pinsky: Do you have any opinions?

Donkeylips: Yes. I think waffles are great. And red is my favorite color. And pollution–bad news if you ask me.

 

13. Park Ranger Mona (Season 2, Episode 11)

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Ug’s girlfriend, Mona, gets a new job as the park ranger. But when she comes to camp, she starts taking her job too seriously and writing up Camp Anawanna for every violation possible. Tension rises between Ug and Mona, and the kids try to figure out ways to fix their relationship. Any episode that revolves around Ug is a pretty good one, plus Mona is always so well-written and such a great character. This one feels like a 1st season episode as far as tone and character dynamics. The story flows so fluidly. Even the montage is entertaining. And it still has the more even pacing of the 2nd season.

Favorite Line:

Sponge: Anawanna has to meet the forest service standards for summer camps.

Budnick: Are you kidding?? This place won’t even pass the government standards for a gym locker.

 

12. Toilet Seat Basketball (Season 1, Episode 6)

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It’s not as engaging as other stories, but it’s actually pretty funny. Telly, the team captain, is trying to get her team to take the basketball tournament seriously, but they’re unrealistically cocky and think they don’t have to practice because they’re going to win anyway. The basketball scenes are ridiculous, but Telly has some great moments.

Favorite Line:

Ug: If you wanna be a winner, you hafta learn the four F’s of leadership: fearlessness, fairness, firmness, and control.

Telly: Control isn’t an “F”.

Ug: Well then it’s three F’s and a C.

Telly: Sounds like Donkeylips’ report card.

 

11. Budnick Loves Dina – Part 1 (Season 2, Episode 6)

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In one of the funniest episodes of the second season, Budnick realizes that he likes Dina. It starts off as a sort of satire on how, at that age, we don’t ever have good reasons for liking the people we like. It’s witty and entertaining. But it eventually, though briefly, falls into the trap of painful corniness. Fortunately, it gets saved by other things going on. One by one, everyone at camp is needing crutches after hurting themselves. Also, Sponge and Donkeylips’ friendship continues to grow as one of the best duos at camp.

Favorite Line:

Dr. Kahn: This is Doctor Kahn. Will whoever took the bingo balls I-16 and O-42 please return them to the lodge. Thank you.

 

10. The Treasure of Sara Madre (Season 1, Episode 3)

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The Treasure of Sara Madre plays on a fun concept where the gang tries to find the buried treasure of a deceased dance counselor. The uniquely elaborate plot turns into convolution, and the episode relies too much on unrealistic gullibility of the characters and perhaps too many montages, but the payoff is great. The punchline ending with Ug caps it off brilliantly and is the undeniable highlight of the entire story.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: I’ll file him under “D” for “Dead Donkey”.

 

9. Capture the Flag (Season 2, Episode 10)

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Any episode with Donkeylips as the main storyline is going to be pretty good. He aspires to be an attacker in camp’s epic capture the flag game. He’s usually a flag defender–a role typically given to the weakest members. His story here is inspiring and you’re rooting for him all the way. It’s not typically as funny as this show can get, but you also love the extremes that Ug and the campers take the capture the flag game to–reminiscent of how we perceived these activities as a kid. The ending always gives me goosebumps.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: Hey! It’s the Rhinestone Chowboy!

 

8. Counselor Budnick (Season 2, Episode 3)

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It’s the classic role-reversal sitcom trope. In this version, Budnick and Ug switch roles at camp. Budnick acts as counselor for the weekend, making a bet with Ug that the campers are going to think he does a better job at it. In the meantime Ug becomes one of the campers, which is a lot of fun to see because he is having such a great time doing it. It’s the best episode of the 2nd season. It’s really funny and entertaining, and the final outcome is satisfying.

Favorite Line:

Dina: But Budnick why don’t you just go swim in the lake??

Budnick: Because fish fart in it!

 

7. Donkeylips’ Crush on Dina (Season 1, Episode 11)

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After a series of miscommunications, Donkeylips thinks that he’s Dina’s secret admirer. It shows a nice turn for Dina as a character, and proves that Donkeylips is one of the true stars of this show. He’s magnetic every time we see him on screen, and his subtleties are golden. The dichotomy between the two characters makes for amazing television.

Favorite Line:

Budnick: You don’t wanna seem too anxious…but you don’t wanna be aloof either.

Donkeylips: What’s aloof?

Budnick: A loof is a cross between a loser and a doof.

Donkeylips: I definitely don’t wanna be a loof.

 

6. Donkeylips and Sponge Weigh In (Season 1, Episode 8)

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This is the first episode where Donkeylips is at the center, delving into him as a person. Giving him depth without ever feeling too forced. He and Sponge are both trying to get into their weight class for wrestling, but both are just outside of the qualifying weight. Like many Salute Your Shorts episodes, it’s a simple premise, but takes you on a journey. Sponge and Donkeylips become closer as friends here. They are two very opposite people, but realize that they may be more similar than they think. It’s funny and surprisingly suspenseful.

Favorite Line:

Dina: Either this is a type of sauce, or my bratwurst is sweating.

 

5. Zeke the Plumber (Season 1, Episode 2)

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Every kid who grew up with ’90s Nickelodeon may still shudder at the name Zeke the Plumber. Enhanced by a chilling musical score, this episode is just as scary as most Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes. It really showcases Danny Cooksey’s talents as Bobby Budnick while giving his character well-rounded depth in such a short amount of time. Even amidst the few obvious plot holes, Zeke the Plumber is perhaps still the most memorable Nickelodeon episode of that era.

Favorite Line:

Donkeylips: Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a pizza in my mouth.

 

4. Brownies for Thud Mackie (Season 1, Episode 4)

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This is the first time we get solid camaraderie from everyone. After Michael accidentally squishes the camp bully’s brownies, said bully, Thud Mackie, threatens to beat him up if he doesn’t get him two dozen brownies by the end of the week. Since snacks are prohibited at camp, Michael has to find a way to sneak them in. The scenario brings Michael and his friends–and enemies–closer together, and we get our first taste of how well Salute Your Shorts handles these dramatic and sentimental moments. Also, the episode has some really fun subplots. It confirms Michael as our de facto protagonist and gives him the quasi-sendoff that he should have gotten at the end of season 1.

Favorite Line:

Michael: And Donkeylips, you can have half this candy bar. It melted in my pocket, but it should taste pretty good.

Donkeylips: Thanks. See ya dude.

 

3. Michael Comes to Camp (Season 1, Episode 1)

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This is the perfect first episode. It’s funny, smartly written and establishes setting and characters without coming off as forced. The title is self-explanatory. Michael has his first couple days at camp and is building relationships while learning how to handle his new bullies, Budnick and Donkeylips. It gives us a great idea of what to expect from the rest of the series. And it introduces Awful Waffle into ’90s lexicon.

Favorite Line:

Dr. Kahn: This is Doctor Kahn. There’s no reason to run to breakfast. I’ve already taken the prizes out of all the cereal.

 

2. The Radio Call-In Contest (Season 1, Episode 7)

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Sponge competes in a radio trivia contest for a chance to win $1000, but realizes that as smart as he is, he may not know everything. The episode really deals with the psyche of a character while developing the relationship between Sponge and Michael. Ug has some truly great moments, and the humor as a whole is very self-aware and mature. It also speaks to the usefulness of trivial information versus scholastic information. Showing that perhaps they’re both important in one way or another. It’s a great premise and a lot of fun to watch.

Favorite Line:

Ug: From this moment on, you are all on Double Permanent Confinement until I find out who hung up on my girlfriend!

 

1. Budnick and Michael Fake Being Sick (Season 1, Episode 9)

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Budnick and Michael pretend to vomit in order to get out of instructional swim with Ug, but it turns out that Ug took the rest of the campers to the beach instead. Meanwhile, the aforementioned have to stay in the nurses office all day. After the nurse leaves for arbitrary reasons, the two of them turn a bad situation into something beautiful. It breaks down the psychology of Budnick’s aggression and shows him at his most vulnerable. A side saved only for this very moment in the entire series. Since Michael arrived at camp, he’s been the target of Budnick’s rage, but now we see Budnick confiding in him. The episode is more than just emotionally moving. It’s also chock full of amazing lines, showing how well-rounded this show truly is, and how rawly human it was compared to anything else on Nickelodeon at the time.

Favorite Line:

Ug: Ay, I hear lips flapping, Gelfen! Give me 20!

Donkeylips: But I can only do 8.

Ug: Make it 50!

 

There you have it! I tend to favor season 1 episodes more. The 2nd season has better paced episodes, which might make some of them seem better, but the 1st season is much more funny and entertaining. And it contains Michael (my favorite character).

Parts of the list may change over time, but the top 4 or 5 are probably set in stone.

Let me know in the comments what your own favorite and least favorite episodes are!

Quick Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

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If you look at the first two Tomb Raider films from 2001 and 2003, and then look at this one, you’d never guess they’re from the same franchise unless you take note of the names of the movies or characters.

But this new installment is an origins story. Instead of Angelina Jolie in the role of Lara Croft, we get Alicia Vikander. Vikander is much better for this vulnerable version of Croft, as opposed to Jolie’s smooth arrogance. Here we see her coming to learn her identity as the tomb raider, whereas before, we jump right in and her identity has already been established.

This film serves as an origins story, but is the fan base large enough for anyone to care about an origins story? I suppose it doesn’t really matter these days.

Here, Croft is an aspiring kick boxer who’s in debt to her gym and is barely making ends meet as a bike courier. Her father, Richard (Dominic West), has been missing for 7 years. She refuses to sign the inheritance papers that would guarantee her over a billion dollars, because that would mean that he’s really dead. I guess I can empathize with that sentiment, but it still doesn’t make much logical sense for someone as smart as Croft apparently is.

Her father was obsessed with the supernatural and the hereafter. And Lara finds a clue left behind that sends her on a hunt to find out how he died. And now, apparently she has money to fly to Hong Kong to investigate. (One example of the small details that go lazily overlooked in this new movie.)

As well as a script hits its marks in a macro sense, it needs to hit them in the micro sense, too. That’s where Tomb Raider falters. Overall, the script gives us an extremely intriguing story with a lot of fun twists and turns, but it’s these little things that keep it from being better.

However, it’s not all the script’s fault. Director Roar Uthaug has issues handling emotions properly. In an early scene, Lara is seen watching a video that her dad has left her, speaking to her in a “If you’re watching this, I must be dead” type of way. There are no welled up tears, or bittersweet smile–just an apathetic look on Vikander’s face like she was expecting to hear all this. This great opportunity to evoke emotion out of the audience never gets taken advantage of, and we’re left wanting more from it, as well as our lead. If that doesn’t make our hero cry, what will? And do we want to invest our emotions in someone who seems void of them, herself?

But here’s the biggest issue of all: As entertaining as the Vikander Tomb Raider is, her version of Croft isn’t Lara Croft at all. She shares the same name, sure, but nowhere in this film does she show the same passion in digging up and collecting old artifacts, a la Indiana Jones. This version of Croft desperately wants to find her father, but expresses zero interest in historical relics or tombs at all. So what makes her a tomb raider? Nothing. Her dad was. But she is not. It’s hard to say that it does is source material proud.

In a standalone movie of a different name, half of these mistakes would be non-existent, but simply because it calls itself “Tomb Raider” they become irritants. Like, for this review, I’m not even going to go into detail on the legend discussed in this film, because Lara Croft doesn’t care, so why should it matter?

The film is actually highly entertaining with impressive–albeit unrealistic–action scenes, but it just doesn’t feel like a Tomb Raider movie.

Twizard Rating: 79

Quick Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003)

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Compared to its 2001 predecessor, The Cradle of Life is much more along the lines of the films (Indiana Jones) it’s trying to emulate. It’s sleeker, more engaging, and has a much better villain, among other things.

Rather than wasting time in the beginning with contrived banter to set up character, this one jumps right into it. It gives less backstory, yet somehow provides us with more depth.

In The Cradle of Life, Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) is on a mission to find Pandora’s Box before an evil bio-terrorist finds it and unleashes its contents, killing millions of people.

This one actually does have the potential to be a really good film in the traditional sense, but unfortunately most people will compare it to the action movies of today and standards will be too high.

It’s not only highly entertaining, but knows how to stray away from formulaic beats when it counts the most.

The film also tries to fill in much of the dead space with a love story between Croft and a character played by a then-unknown Gerard Butler. But this actually serves a purpose other than just a desperate attempt to grasp for more depth.

Jolie seems even more comfortable with the character the second time around, and this director actually knows what to do with her. He doesn’t try as hard to manufacture her coolness–which actually makes her even more cool. It allows her persona to speak more for itself.

While the first Tomb Raider was decently entertaining, this sequel is a large step above. The humor is more organic and appropriate. And less forced.

The story just moves along a lot more fluidly here too. It doesn’t just complete the story with a paint-by-numbers storyboard. You can tell the filmmakers are having fun, which helps the audience join in on that.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

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Watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, it’s very evident how different humor in action films was in 2001 compared to now. This is before Iron Man. Before having refreshing levity in your movies was an obligation. Back then you could make a dry, self-indulgent blockbuster that takes itself too seriously and still doubles its budget at the box office. In 2018, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider would be a flop. It tries to be funny a couple times, but it never succeeds. Luckily it’s fairly entertaining regardless.

Lara Croft, played by Angelina Jolie, is an expert collector of ancient artifacts. In this adventure, her deceased father (played by Jon Voight–seriously) leaves her a key that will help reunite two halves of a triangle that will allow whoever posses it to travel through time. She must find the two pieces before the Illuminati do. The Illuminati want to misuse the triangle’s power.

Despite some unclear motives, the premise is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. Yet, everything happens with convenient punctuality. And it feels like the director is merely completing mandatory steps to further the plot rather than letting it all move along fluidly.

Jolie does a pretty good job with her role, but the movie is short on supporting talent to offset Croft’s brooding demeanor. The villain is lackluster and Croft’s goofy sidekicks aren’t necessarily C-3PO and R2-D2.

Everything about this movie tells you that the filmmakers aren’t comfortable with any sort of humor they’re given or supposed to include.

And based on the unnecessary shower scenes and the skintight clothes that Jolie wears, you’d think that Tomb Raider was directed by a 13-year-old boy. It’s just way too cool for itself.

I don’t really have any problems with the unrealistic Fast and Furious-type action, but here it’s mostly uninspired. Not quite as slick or original.

I can see people in 2001 viewing this film as below them, but we can watch it now and enjoy it as a product of its time. If nothing else, it’s fairly entertaining.

Twizard Rating: 72