Quick Movie Review: Escape From L.A. (1996)

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In 1996, 15 years was a long time between sequels. The ’90s saw a lot more smoothing out of narratives, which is one reason why many movies from that decade don’t seem so dated. In the ’80s and before, everything was a bit looser and contained a lot more visual exposition in genres where now, we’re not at all used to–like action films.

1981’s Escape From New York is a good movie, but it feels dry and disjointed at times. Escape From L.A. is just a lot more fun and easier to follow. We get more depth from Snake Plissken and see him actually care about something and someone.

Just like New York, Los Angeles has now turned into an autonomous prison where the inmates are left to fend for themselves. It’s 2013 and the president’s daughter steals her father’s doomsday device, which can rid any nation or region of the world of their technology at the press of a button. She takes it into the prison and gets it to a mastermind criminal who intends to use this device to threaten the US government if they try to stop him from taking over the country. The government hires Snake (Kurt Russell) to retrieve this device.

The president believes that anyone who is convicted of performing an immoral act must be banished to L.A. Which is basically how real life prison works–except in this movie, he puts people away for eating red meat or not having the same religious beliefs as he does.

Basically, as rough as it is inside the walls of the L.A. prison, at least they have true freedom–unlike life outside the prison walls. This gives Escape From L.A. more of a wild west feel.

At one point, the villain says, “This city can kill anybody.” I can’t help but feel like this is also a parallel to the real life Los Angeles. People come here to become something and fulfill their dreams, usually to find out that it doesn’t happen as easily as they thought, or may never happen at all. It defeats them and eats them alive.

But depth of story is nothing without depth of character. Plissken actually seems vulnerable, and even has a hopeless look on his face at times. He’s given someone to care about other than himself for once, and his own personal philosophies and growth are more realized.

The film gives us a lot of information at first, but doesn’t take long to become engaging. The action scenes are entertainingly ridiculous. There’s an actual sequence where Snake is surfing a 40-foot wave next to a cliff, and then jumps from the wave onto the back of a car that’s driving on the cliff. It’s cartoony and silly, but intentionally. Another scene that takes place inside a pseudo-replica of Disneyland is another charm.

Just like the first film, it creates this whole world within the city walls, yet this one expands on that and even makes it a little more fun and mysterious. Making us feel like there’s so much more we haven’t even seen yet.

Escape From L.A. is an improvement on its predecessor. The themes are much more relatable and timeless. Escape From New York acts as commentary on the Watergate scandal, whereas Escape From L.A. talks about the state that this country has always been in. It has an epic feel and an extremely memorable and rewarding finish.

Twizard Rating: 96

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Quick Movie Review: Santa With Muscles (1996)

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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: Jerry Maguire (1996)

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I love movies that can’t necessarily be classified by a single genre. Jerry Maguire isn’t a chick flick, but it’s not a sports film either. Nor is it a traditional comedy. It’s possibly all three, but never just one. That’s what makes it great. It appeals to both genders equally without alienating either of them.

The title character is played by Tom Cruise in one of his best performances. He’s a slimy sports agent who, one day, has an epiphany, realizing he no longer wants to sell lies to his clients, but real relationships. The only problem is he doesn’t even know how to have a real relationship in his personal life. At work, he sends out a mission statement that lauds the idea of having less clients to improve quality. This sudden life-changing notion wins over the approval of his cohorts, but his high-level agency disapproves and fires him.

Starting from the ground up, Jerry has nothing and no one to work with. The only people that follow him are a low-level employee, Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.).

The chemistry between Cruise and both of his costars is natural that you can’t imagine anyone else in those roles. You see him seamlessly transform over the course of the film, only taking notice of it in the end. Honestly, it’s very much reminiscent of Pacino in the Godfather–only backwards.

Jerry Maguire equally covers the depth of multiple characters brilliantly. The film not only goes inside the mind of a scuzzbag-turned-nice-guy, but of an athlete. Gooding plays a talented football player with a chip on his shoulder. He’s not on his way out of the league, but he’s no Jerry Rice either. He’s on a middling NFL team and thinks he deserves a bigger paycheck than he gets. He knows he’s good, but no one else sees it. The film brings very relatable themes to seemingly unrelatable people. There is more to the movie than demand for money. It’s about friendship and knowing what’s important in life amidst all the menagerie.

Writer-director Cameron Crowe has a knack for storytelling–already evident by his previous work–but he outdoes himself with this one. Nothing is ever truly predictable, which is an impressive accomplishment considering the type of film. Never is there a dull moment, and the dialogue is so effortlessly perfect without ever feeling contrived. The sappy moments are never that, when any other writer would know no other way. It’s a rom-com for the ages and may even be the pinpoint for redefining the genre.

It has aged so well and is still a great watch to this day. Highly recommended for those of you who haven’t seen it and are arguing with your other half about what to watch on movie night. I promise you’ll both enjoy it.

Twizard Rating: 100

Ranking Every ‘Boy Meets World’ Episode Ever!

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Boy Meets World is a show that each fan grew up on differently. Some caught it during its original TGIF Friday Night Lineup. Others saw it for the first time on Disney Channel in the early ’00s during its 2nd run syndication. I even know some people that literally only know the show for its college seasons. But this discrepancy is the reason why the show is beloved by fans of a wide age range. It’s just as relatable now as it was back then. And unlike a lot of ’90s sitcoms, the humor holds up incredibly well.

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Quick Movie Review: Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

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In 1996, we didn’t have a whole lot of alien invasion movies. In fact, Independence Day was, by far, the biggest one ever in existence. It prided itself on it. And you could say it started an avalanche of similar genre films in the 20 years since its release. So, naturally, the sequel needed to be much much bigger. Luckily, it delivers.

The new alien ship spans an entire continent, and Earth’s existence is much more threatened this time around. It turns out that the same aliens from the last movie are back to annihilate our planet.

Like the first film, there are a handful of story lines. Many people banning together for a common cause. While not helping fix the depth issue of these movies, that’s how we would need to do it in real life. Especially for an attack of this magnitude.

But what helps continue the original realism from the first film is slightly negated by the futuristic feel from the get-go. Drones hover around an ultramodern Washington D.C. and there is an entire group of military personnel living on the Moon. While 1996 felt like 1996, 2016 is more along the lines of Back to the Future Part 2.

While the action is big, the CGI feels very unoriginal and uninspired.

But that’s all forgivable. What’s not is the convoluted premise. It may not seem to matter. We get, more or less, that there’s a big alien trying to wipe out our race, but we’re unsure why it’s happening, how it’s different from the first film, and why anyone in the movie knows what they know.

Oh, and the acting is horrendous. Will Smith’s stepson, Dylan, from the original is all grown up now, following in Smith’s footsteps as a military pilot, and someone must’ve informed him to utilize his entire face when delivering each line. He gives his own version of the Bill Pullman speech from 1996. It’s awful. He’s not the actor who played the role in the original. But at this point, they might as well have just hired the same guy. This current actor has no obvious benefit over the first. Maybe it’s because he’s good-looking? Yeah, that’s important.

The rest of his cohorts are almost just as bad. They’re obviously hired for their appearances, rather than their acting abilities. And the dialogue is already dumbed-down way before they get their fidgety little hands on it. The depth created for these characters is contrived just to reel in the kids. But the acting is just unacceptable–even for such a large scale movie.

Will Smith isn’t in this one. Don’t even bother expecting him to make a surprise appearance. You may think, “He’s too integral to the enjoyment of the first film not to be in this one.” And you’d be right. It’s like Chris Tucker not being in Next Friday.

Luckily, Judd Hirsch and Jeff Goldblum reprise their roles.

Hirsch brings some much needed life to this film. His storyline is the least important, but the most engaging out of the whole thing.

The film’s faults fortunately give it a really corny ’90s feel, which, at the very least, makes this film fun. And the momentum builds well, so we can actually enjoy ourselves.

The individual pieces in this film shouldn’t make up an impressive project. But somehow, the small instances of light shine through and are just good enough to make this movie watchable. But ultimately, this film shouldn’t depend on a few scenes by two actors to make it so.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Independence Day (1996)

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Roland Emmerich has his hands all over this film–which isn’t a bad thing. Up until July of 1996, the best special effects we’d seen were still from Jurassic Park. But Independence Day came out one year before Titanic, so it held the title that whole time.

And for good reason. It’s so visually stunning that 20 years later, we’re still in awe of what we’re looking at. It sure helps make this film feel less dated.

Less dated. 20 years is long enough that we can say that, right?

Unfortunately, the schmaltzy dialogue doesn’t help its case. It may seem that most of the cast can’t act, but that’s just a result of a marginal script (besides Vivica A. Fox, who, in fact, can’t act).

Taking place around the fourth of July, a worldwide alien invasion is imminent, and the country is in a true panic. Amidst the many eventually-connecting subplots, the film concerns itself most with that of pilot Steve Hiller (Will Smith) and computer-wiz David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). Both carry the film well and help provide levity to lighten an otherwise dry-by-today’s-standards action movie.

Judd Hirsch plays Goldblum’s father and has some truly brilliant scenes. Harry Connick Jr. and Randy Quaid give us a little something as well.

All of these attributes allow this film to hold up well. And it’s even more impressive despite its several pitfalls. It’s a true product of the ’90s, and even where it seems dated, it’s just enough to make us nostalgic.

Watching ID4 again reminds us how amazing Will Smith’s whole underachiever schtick is, making us want it back again. Hopefully he’ll step away from his Oscar-worthy performances and give us a well-deserved comedy one of these days.

Twizard Rating: 93

Quick Movie Review: Swingers (1996)

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The movie that made us know Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn will surely not disappoint. It’s humor is unique to the two leads, and is organic in the sense that it hits home for them. They believe what’s happening because they lived it.

Written by Favreau and loosely based on he and Vaughn’s life and friendship, Swingers is about a group of struggling actors who are involved in the ’90s Hollywood swing revival. It follows Mike (Favreau), a New York native who can’t get over his ex-girlfriend. But his friends, most notably Trent (Vaughn), try getting him out of his depression by forcing him back out onto the playing field.

Both leads are fantastic. Vaughn wows the audience with his unique brand of fast-talking humor. And Favreau is so convincing as a wallowing sad sack that you genuinely feel bad for the guy.

The scene towards the beginning where the pair of friends go to Las Vegas sets the tone for the entire movie. It establishes a style that is vehemently consistent throughout.

Swingers has everything that will make you want to drive to Los Angeles and Las Vegas right this second. It ties together the glitz and glamour of both cities, seamlessly connecting the two. But I think what captures the neon vibe of the film’s locations is the juxtaposition of failing to make it. This failure, of course, isn’t stressed. It’s still opportunity. It’s optimism.

Neither Mike nor Trent have had much success in the industry, but Trent is still having the time of his life, while Mike’s only reason to be down on himself is his breakup. The film paints a perfect portrait of confident mediocrity, and being complacent with it.

The story’s exposition takes its time, but in a perfect way. Every scene has a sincere purpose and contributes to establishing the depth of its characters. But it’s beyond just the characters. A movie is refreshingly good if even the circumstances have depth. In fact, that’s when it’s great.

Twizard Rating: 97