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

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Quick Movie Review: Vegas Vacation

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It’s tough to have a Vacation film without that John Hughes flair. But screenwriter, Elisa Bell, has the right idea comedically and stays fairly true to the vibe of the first three films. The only issue with Vegas Vacation is that there’s no bigger picture within the plot. Or the one that’s present feels overly contrived.

In this installment, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) takes his family to Las Vegas for vacation. There, Clark turns into a gambling addict and becomes estranged from his family. His wife (Beverly D’Angelo) and kids get upset at him and decide to go off and have their own pleasures fulfilled.

Honestly, Clark’s behavior isn’t all that bad from what his family can see, so I don’t understand where their bitterness is coming from. They’re unaware that he’s losing money, and the times that he gets separated from the family usually aren’t his fault.

I get the whole “you’ve become selfish, so become unselfish again” concept, but the conflict feels forced for the mere sake of having conflict. Even Clark’s epiphanic moment is sudden and without a believable catalyst. Just as there is no real reason for Clark’s family to be mad at him, there is no real reason why they reconcile in the end either.

The best part of this film is its humor. Although over-the-top at times, there’s nothing too out of the ordinary for a Vacation film. The most inventive bit is when Clark finds a casino full of made-up games, such as “Rock-Paper-Scissors” or “Pick a Number Between 1 and 10”.

Overall, it’s not a bad watch. It’s at least good for some cheap laughs and some ’90s Vegas nostalgia. And I get that the audience may want to see more from the Griswolds, but at least give them something more rewarding to make the trip worth while.

Twizard Rating: 69

Quick Movie Review: Boogie Nights

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It’s an authentic capturing of an era so much so that we forget that it was released in 1997. Boogie Nights is not for everybody, but avid cinephiles will be satisfied in knowing that it’s a well-made film.

Telling the story of Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), a young man who enters into the world of pornography in the 1970s and garners instant popularity.

Paul Thomas Anderson does such a great job putting his imprint on everything he releases, and this is no exception. The details of the time period are so unerring.

Although it’s not my cup of tea, that’s about the only complaint I have. Everything from the acting to the energetic script to the brilliant characters make this film a technical masterpiece.

The whole piece is about change and finding yourself. And it’s even present in the most self-assured characters.

One of the standouts in this film is Julianne Moore who plays Amber, a confused-on-the-inside motherly figure for Dirk. She exudes so much confidence to everyone she knows, meanwhile twinkling some of her own confusion out of the corners of her eyes for those that aren’t so wrapped up in their own lives.

It praises hedonism, but at the same time carries a disdain for it. Almost like it believes that one must experience the good and the bad in order to make their own opinion. But is it correct? Or can we learn from the prime examples that are set by the characters in this film?

Twizard Rating: 84

Quick Movie Review: The Lost World: Jurassic Park

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Back before the 2000s, most sequels were pretty bad. But then here comes The Lost World–which may not be on par with it’s legendary predecessor, but can still hold its own as an entertaining action-thriller. A successful sequel considering the time period.

However, it’s not even close to perfect. It has a much slower setup, and the premise doesn’t have that life-altering importance that comes along with it. Many of the sequences feel disjunct from one another. Also, there’s not much character depth or true growth from any of the characters.

And why is everyone so much stupider in this one? I mean, it’s already bad enough that no one is briefed on strategies about surviving a T-Rex, but then you have characters doing things like getting freaked out by a snake which allows man-eating dinosaurs to spot them. In the first film, one of the things I applaud is that there aren’t a lot of stupid character decisions, but here they’re all over the place.

The Lost World still has the mystery of the first one–even though it’s missing the grandiose tone. But we can’t deny that this sequel is just as thrilling and visually impressive as its predecessor.

Twizard Rating: 90