Quick Movie Review: Revenge of the Nerds (1984)


Forget the low-brow title. Revenge of the Nerds is not your typical low brow comedy. It hits all the marks that its contemporaries hit (e.g. Porky’s or Fast Times at Ridgemont High), but does a couple other things that those films don’t. The premise is thin, but within that thinness, there is a different kind of appeal.

A lot of these ’80s teen comedies don’t have much of a plot, instead relying on their antics. And most of the time, that severely dates the film. But Revenge of the Nerds holds up despite all this. It’s because the characters are unique and individual from each other. Their personalities are well-stated and they’re not just carbon copies of each other.

And within the diversity, the characters are genuinely funny–not just filled with well-conceived ideas executed poorly.

The film follows a group of nerdy friends during their first year of college. Due to a series of events that are not only unrealistic, but illegal, they are forced out of their dorms and end up forming their own fraternity in order to have a place to live.

The nerds are constantly being picked on by the football fraternity, and vow to have their revenge in order to be taken seriously.

The writing is way better than it needs to be, creating its own formula out of its looseness and avoiding most cliches. There’s never any forced drama between allies, and we don’t feel completely manipulated by events in the script in order to fulfill its final agenda. Though somehow it finds a way to be poignant in the end.

There aren’t a ton of plot points or big laughs, but even when it’s not funny, it’s fun. And many of the scenes find themselves burning a place in our memories.

Revenge of the Nerds is never boring, and not nearly as dated as it probably should be. The dialogue holds up, and so does its powerful ending.

Twizard Rating: 90


Quick Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)


1995’s Jumanji is one of my favorite movies of all time. So, naturally, I was excited AND worried about the new film. Excited because I love the source material, but obviously worried that it would be bad. There was no more Robin Williams, so how could it even be comparable? I was also skeptical after finding out it was going to revolve around a video game rather than a board game. But the fact that it’s such a different concept actually prevents us from making any unfair comparisons. Luckily, nothing about this new installment feels forced or unnecessary.

In the film, four very different high school students wind up in detention. They’re forced to clean up a storage room, where they find an old video game system and begin playing the game inside, Jumanji. Seconds after selecting their avatars, they get transported into the game, becoming the adult avatars they’ve chosen.

The writers make it so the non-gaming teenagers have the weakest avatars in the game, brilliantly mimicking the frustrations of actual non-gamers all over the world.

It’s a mix of comedy and intensity, with the former being the priority. Though, the humor never undermines the action or insults the other things the story is trying to accomplish.

Many of the jokes stem from Jack Black’s character being played by a stuck-up teenage girl. So, everything he says is appropriate to that. Black is so good that you actually feel like there is a girl underneath it all.

In fact, most of the actors do a good job at this. Dwayne Johnson’s character has a timid nerdy boy inside. And Kevin Hart’s diminutive avatar is controlled by a football jock.

Jumanji is Hart and Johnson’s funniest film, individually and together. Usually movies rely on Hart to be the main focus and source of the humor, but there are other characters here to distract you from him, so when he pipes in it doesn’t feel like overkill. And seeing Johnson take on a different persona is refreshing.

This Jumanji sequel is a comedy more than anything else, and is very fresh compared to some of its contemporaries. It doesn’t break any new ground within its genre, but also never tries to become more than it actually is. Even if it’s not the perfect movie, it’s amazing entertainment.

Twizard Rating: 94

Quick Movie Review: The Room (2003)

the room

It’s a thing for filmmakers to intentionally create something poor in quality just for laughs, but writer/director Tommy Wiseau generally thinks he’s created a masterpiece. And, in a way, he does. He and the film have so much conviction every step of the way.

It takes a certain type of person to make something as entertainingly bad as The Room. As evident here, Wiseau doesn’t quite understand things the way most people do. Maybe it has to do with the fact that he’s ambiguously foreign. Or maybe it’s just his odd way of looking at things. Or maybe it’s a combination of the two. Either way, it makes for ridiculous results.

The movie’s premise is pretty simple. A man, played by Wiseau, and his “future wife”, Lisa, experience trouble when she becomes interested in his best friend, Mark.

The fact that Wiseau plays the main character makes it even better. He’s a terrible actor. But it’s bad even when he’s not on screen because the script is so terrible, too.

It feels like it’s written by someone with a 5th grade understanding of relationships. Perhaps even a 5th grade understanding of life in general–filled with cliches that don’t even make sense within the context of the film.

It’s the type of movie where, if a character needs to buy flowers, you get to watch an unnecessary dialogue-filled scene where he actually goes to the store to buy them.

There are so many instances where you’re not quite sure what the characters are feeling–which is weird since the script literally tells you everything going on in their heads. But the characters are constantly contradicting themselves that you can’t keep anything straight.

I think it’s because, when writing the script, Tommy kept verbalizing what the audience was thinking rather than what the characters were thinking. There is so much stream-of-consciousness throughout the entire thing.

There’s no sense of time or character consistencies. It’s like the lines of dialogue are never paying any attention to the ones before them. The characters keep referring to things that they don’t even know about yet.

You probably don’t need to read this review to know The Room is bad. It’s one of the most famous bad movies of all time.

But there are two things it does really well. It makes you laugh and it really does make you interested in how it’s going to resolve. Both of these things keep you wanting more.

Most bad movies have no business being bad. But The Room has every right to be.

Twizard Rating: 64

Quick Movie Review: The Greatest Showman (2017)


The best musicals are the ones where the songs never seem out of place. Where we don’t, for a second, think to ourselves how weird it is for the characters to break into song at any given moment–however inherently strange it is anyway, if we stop to think about it. However, The Greatest Showman has several moments where you almost wait for everyone in the audience to laugh, as the musical numbers feel comedically forced. Almost as if it’s parodying a musical, itself.

When I go into a biopic, I want to get a sense that I’m being educated on the subject at hand. Making it a musical automatically takes me out of the realism of it all. But then again, that’s the spirit of P.T. Barnum. You don’t leave the theater feeling like you know a great deal more about him–even though you sorta do–because you keep feeling like you just watched a work of fiction.

It follows Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, as he starts from nothing to practically creating the circus as we know it today.

Controversy never leaves Barnum’s side as his show is rooted in exaggerating truths. He hires a 7-foot-tall man and puts him on stilts to make him even taller. He takes a 500-pound man and tells people he’s 750-pounds. He often gets his motivations confused, sacrificing his integrity because of his love for the money and the fame.

The movie takes some great liberties with its subject matter as well. Much like Barnum, it thinks that the real-life people aren’t nearly as intriguing as the audience wants them to be. Although Barnum’s actual life may be far more intriguing than the version of him in this film.

It does do a good job at presenting the man’s flaws. With protagonists, these things often show signs of acquiescence or hesitation. But the filmmakers here don’t shy away from showing Barnum at all angles. Though he comes from humble beginnings, he tends to forget where he comes from, enjoying the high-life a little too much and letting his ego separate himself from his outcast performers.

But the character arcs are often abrupt and not gradual enough. One minute he’s doing one thing, and then all of a sudden, he’s acting like a jerk.

In his directorial debut, Michael Gracey does a lot of things right. For one, he keeps the Zendaya dialogue at a minimum. But he also does a lot of things wrong.

There are two elements that practically carry this film–the music and the era, itself–even if they’re both working against each other.

The songs are intentionally anachronistic. They’re strictly rooted in modern pop music. The movie takes place in the early-to-mid 19th century, and while pop music doesn’t quite exist then, it could have used styles of early 20th century and most people wouldn’t have known the difference. Movies convincingly do it all the time.

As a society, we’ve always been fascinated with the circus. And early circus culture has a sort of mystique to us, as many of the exhibits would never and could never happen in today’s world. But the modern music in the film practically rips us out of the time period.

So not only is the fact that it’s a musical, alone, enough to make us feel like it’s a work of fiction, but the type of music used furthers us from any sense of fact that the movie tries to establish–constantly reminding us that it cares very little about presenting a good, true story. It’s almost as if the filmmakers don’t even see this as an opportunity to educate the audience. I think they just want to entertain.

It just could have been so much better if it hadn’t concerned itself with mass appeal–just like Barnum, himself.

“A sucker is born every minute.” -P.T. Barnum

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

last jedi.jpg

Fans may be frustrated with the lack of twists and big reveals in the new Star Wars movie. But personally, I’m glad there isn’t anything big. We don’t want these films to merely become fan pandering. Vehicles for countless Easter Eggs with the stories becoming second fiddle.

This is the middle act of a trilogy. It’s meant to keep the story going while presenting the perfect amount of conflict and resolution, balancing both. If it tries to do too much, it risks losing its identity and any cohesiveness developed so far.

Although J.J. Abrams directed Episode 7, and is slated to direct Episode 9, it was a good choice to get Rian Johnson on board to direct this installment.

While Abrams is a lover of popcorn entertainment that’s big and full of audience-craved plot points, Johnson isn’t as concerned with that. He’s focused more on giving us what we actually need. He builds up momentum slowly and knows how to give us the proper climax.

Johnson also directed last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which I’m not a huge fan of, but can still appreciate. Rogue One is poetic, but doesn’t really come together until the end.

This was my fear with The Last Jedi. But since it utilizes The Force Awakens to help set up much of the story, it doesn’t have to focus on that as much here. And the poeticism works well for this one as the middle act. Though I wouldn’t want all of the films to be like this. I like my Star Wars a bit more popcorny–just like J.J. Abrams.

The Last Jedi starts off pretty slow. It takes place immediately after the events of the last film, and noticeably struggles to pick up the well-built momentum of its predecessor as well. Much of the first half is spent with Leia and the Resistance trying to survive attacks from the First Order. It’s interspersed with Rey trying to convince Luke to train her to become a Jedi Master.

This film is also much darker than the last. We’ve seen now that Johnson is also a big fan of the theme of finding hope amidst despair, yet constantly reminding us of that despair. Certain moments are very potent. Use the end of Rogue One for reference.

A truly bright spot in this film is the introduction of Benicio Del Toro’s computer hacker character, DJ. His moral compass points to neither good nor bad. He plays for himself and adjusts accordingly. And they brilliantly utilize him to parallel Kilo Ren–albeit a less monstrous version. Both men are capable of being empathetic and selfish at the same time. Del Toro’s existence in this movie is absolutely no throwaway.

As much as The Last Jedi will pride itself on staying true to its goal of telling a solid and important story first, it still has it’s fair share of surprises. Naturally though, there aren’t as many. We have to remember that these new stories must stand on their own at some point too.

As far as major plot points go, this film makes all the right decisions. It may not feel like a Star Wars film in the traditional sense, but it’s a really amazing story executed at the highest mark.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Santa With Muscles (1996)


It’s no surprise that Hulk Hogan’s film career never really took off. The only lines he can deliver convincingly are the ones that don’t require any eyebrow movement. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger was able to make good comedies.

But sad to say, I’m not sure Schwarzenegger could have saved this one either. Though, he would have made it a little bit more funny.

The film is doomed from the start. The script is awful. There are plot holes you can drive a train through, and the dialogue is cringy–containing unique lines such as, “See ya! Wouldn’t wanna be ya!” and “‘Never turn your back on someone in need.’ A friend of mine once told me that.” Also, it builds up speed slower than my ’88 Volvo on the freeway. You start looking at your watch a mere 15 minutes into it. Luckily though, if you stick around long enough it gets slightly better I suppose.

The movie follows Blake (Hogan), a rich and selfish millionaire who gets hit on the head and wakes up thinking he’s Santa Claus. He has a sudden urge to help out an orphanage in danger of being closed down illegally.

It’s a clever concept full of potential, and actually has some glimpses of brightness shining through. But it fumbles most opportunities it has to be better, often choosing silliness over quality.

It’s one of those films where they give the strong protagonist all kinds of unrealistic powers, like the ability to throw a grown man over a 7-foot fence. It’s so ridiculous. I guess we have to remember it’s a movie targeted at children.

But then, why are there cops shooting RPGs at a car during a high-speed chase?

Also, what was the artistic decision to have it set in California rather than a snowy city? That simple change would have made it a lot more Christmasy.

Still, it has a touch of unexpected science fiction and some interesting twists that have pretty much no business in a film this poor, making it end up being way better than it starts out. Unfortunately, before these things come into the story, most viewers will have likely stopped watching already.

Twizard Rating: 48

Quick Movie Review: A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)


While sequels to movies like Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey take 25 years to get greenlit, 2016’s Bad Moms begins principal photography on its followup just 10 months after its release.

In a sequel more rushed than Porky’s 2, Bad Moms Christmas must’ve had some sort of high demand. I know I was very surprised with the first film, but in no way did I need a sequel a year later. Especially if I knew it was going to look like this.

The premise revolves around the three main characters from last time–played by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn–having issues with their own mothers as they visit during Christmastime.

Of course, it wouldn’t be hilarious unless their moms had putrid flaws. And the writers know this as well, which is why we get cookie cutter maternal stereotypes: the over-bearing mother who never gives her daughter any space (Cheryl Hines), the mother who neglects her daughter and only comes around to ask for money (Susan Sarandon), and the high expectations mother whose daughter can never do anything right (Christine Baranski)–all three played way over the top in the most annoying and unrealistic way possible.

But that’s pretty much the whole movie. Everything the characters do or say to each other is unrealistic. The hijinks always ensues because of this. In fact, it NEEDS character responses to be impractical in order for it to exist. It merely serves to further the plot and allow the story to keep going.

Which it barely even does. Up until the last 10 minutes, nothing develops between the beginning and end of this movie. There’s just scenario after scenario of the mothers doing things to upset or annoy their daughters. It’s the final straw about eleven different times, yet there are no changes in the outcome or how the characters deal with it either way, because no one possesses any real self-awareness. The characters just keep getting angry, and so do we.

And it’s not just the lack of development that keeps it running at snail’s pace. The humor is juvenile and unfunny. So many scenes are halted by verbose dialogue that’s supposed to make us laugh. We don’t. When a film draws out comedic scenes for too long–which is a trend these days–it suspends any momentum that the narrative has built. But when it happens over and over again, there becomes almost no momentum to be suspended in the first place.

On paper, this movie should be good. But this proves that a film is so much more than its actors. A Bad Moms Christmas is a complete waste of its talents.

There are countless comedies that are forgettable, yet still give us one or two memorable moments. They won’t ever be considered classics, but they were never trying to be. You have to take them at face value. However, even at face value, this one is way below par.

Twizard Rating: 41

Quick Movie Review: Murder On the Orient Express (2017)


There aren’t nearly enough murder mysteries made these days. They’re fun, but I get how they’re difficult to execute. In these kinds of films, you have only the facts to look at. Whereas, in real life, you can look at if someone seems like they’re lying. In a movie, everyone is lying because they’re all actors. You can’t solve it from that. So the clues are all given in what the audience–and, in this case, the detective–knows, and nothing else.

Fortunately, we’re all on the same page in this one. Often times, the filmmakers have to give the on-screen detective some bit of information that we don’t get to know, in fear that we might solve it before we’re supposed to. But here, it’s not a crap shoot because we can still figure it out if we really think about it. Yet, we still don’t–unless we already know the story.

I suppose, however, that in these instances, the film is most enjoyable for those who haven’t read the book or watched any previous adaptations. Because the best part, still, is the mystery and the conclusion, itself. If one already knows the outcome, then they are looking at other things. For me, I didn’t know the story, so with fresh eyes, I thought it was truly well-executed. Though, by others’ standards, maybe it won’t quite live up to its predecessors. Taking on a project of this nature, you can’t please everyone.

The movie starts off a little slow as our main character, detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), is being established. We get to see him solve a case, meet with some friends, and then eventually get a telegram requesting his help solving a case in London. His friend gets him the last room left on his train, the Orient Express.

The murder on the train doesn’t occur until almost the 40 minute mark, but then it significantly picks up the pace from there without losing its identity or tone established before.

Details pile up, but the dialogue is so fluid that it’s pretty easy to follow unless you’re not a fan of movies with a lot of talking.

Where it gets the most confusing, no matter what you like, is when the dialogue relies too heavily on the characters’ names to let us know what’s going on. There are about a dozen other passengers on the train that help make up this ensemble cast–which includes Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, and Judi Dench, to name a few–and it gets hard to keep them all straight at first. But eventually we catch on.

When watching a whodunit, there is always this inherent fear that the conclusion won’t be worth the time you spend waiting for it. However, this story is one of the most famous mysteries for a reason. It’s really clever. And as someone who has had no exposure to any Poirot in his life, this film has made me a fan. Now I want to see more. This is my own benchmark.

Twizard Rating: 98

Quick Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

three billboards

I sure wish writer-director Martin McDonagh would make more movies. He only has three, but they’re all highly regarded. His 2012 film, Seven Psychopaths, is one of my all-time favorites.

His newest movie revolves around Frances McDormand’s character, Mildred, renting three billboards outside of town in order to put a message on them criticizing the local police chief, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), for not solving the case of her daughter’s rape and murder.

This plays with our own gut reactions, as we quickly shake our heads assuming that this must be another result of a corrupt system. It’s not. Willoughby actually becomes the film’s best character, grounding it and providing the one true conscience amidst everyone else’s anger and lack of forgiveness. You could make a case that he’s the real protagonist.

Much like in Seven Psychopaths, Three Billboards is character driven, but in a way that incorporates their actions as well as their given depth. They all have faults and make terrible decisions, but their peer’s counter-decisions is what changes them–even if their peers aren’t doing great things either.

Most of the characters are neither good nor bad. Much like most of us, they have their vices AND their virtues. McDonagh could have followed this sentiment with showing them, at the end of the day, being completely changed in every aspect. But he doesn’t. Because it’s never that easy in real life. It’s never that black and white.

The key to fully appreciating this movie is knowing when Mildred is wrong even when it’s portrayed that she isn’t. She’s always talking all high and mighty. It’s like arguing with a guy who thinks that just because he’s yelling, using big words, and sounds intelligent that he’s right.

The reason why Three Billboards is such a brilliant film is because McDonagh understands film formula so much that he knows how to perfectly subvert it without alienating his audience. It allows so much more to happen in a smaller amount of time. Much like Hitchcock used to do, he prevents everything from being streamlined or foreseeable, while at the same time not letting it become jarring. The abrupt tonal shifts are completely intentional and meant to be a simile for real life.

Sam Rockwell plays an extreme cop who handles situations with violence because he thinks he can always get away with it. Rockwell’s mercurial demeanor that he brings to many of his characters fits so perfectly with McDonagh’s style–which draws comparisons to the Coen Brothers (but with more warmth and realistic endings).

McDonagh has a love for the politically incorrect. He likes to draw humor out of situations that shouldn’t ever be funny. You might not laugh at first if you’re in a room with others because you’re unsure if you’re supposed to. Often times the joke is surrounded by very serious context. It’s because he knows that the best humor is rarely in the well-scripted dialogue, but in scenarios that are true to life.

McDonagh does well to keep his own ideals and agendas out of the movie. Though he slips up once in allowing his anger to enter in through Mildred when she rants about how priests should have culpability like the Blood and Crip gangs have in Los Angeles. It’s an odd choice for a person of power in this industry to promote culpability laws in his movies–especially at a time like this in Hollywood.

With that said, Three Billboards is truly a brilliant film, and another reminder of why McDonagh should have more than just three movies.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Snow Day (2000)


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