Quick Movie Review: Snow Day (2000)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twizard Rating: 92

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Quick Movie Review: Vacation (2015)

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Playing out as a reworked version of the original, Vacation might disappoint some diehard fans of 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation. Not because they don’t think it’s funny, and not because Chevy Chase is all but absent from this film, but because it uses the formula from the original and places its own events within that formula. But honestly, that’s a stupid reason not to like a movie. If they had changed it to make is completely different, fans would’ve hated that too.

Instead of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) at the helm of the madness, it’s his son, Rusty (Ed Helms), who tries to relive his childhood vacation across the country to the amusement park, Wally World. While the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Helms brings his own unique flair to the screen. He’s optimistic like his father, but he also lacks a lot of the confidence and cojones.

Rusty’s wife, Debbie, played by Christina Applegate provides a good counter-act to Rusty’s ridiculousness, but where the film waivers is when we realize that Rusty and Debbie’s relationship doesn’t have the sweetness and loyalty that Clark and Ellen have with each other. But it’s a Griswold couple for the new generation.

And so is the humor. It mixes the tone from the old films while keeping the comedy at a more modern and relatable level. The jokes don’t hold back at all, which gives Vacation that edge of today’s comedies.

The framework of the story may be recycled, but the scenes within are really well-written, and the jokes are borderline genius. In one of my favorite bits of the past few years, Rusty and Debbie have the bright idea to make love on the four corners monument (the marking where four states come together at a single point). They get cited for indecent exposure, but four police officers–one from each state–argue their jurisdiction. It turns into a warfare of pride between the officers–as the two leads sneak away. Another highlight is the Griswold’s blue Albanian minivan that provides some of the best laughs of the movie.

But the real strength here lies within the direction. They get the best performances out of each of their actors, and it’s the subtle reactions from them that get some of the biggest laughs. I guess that’s what happens when you hire the screenwriters to direct the film as well.

The laughs literally don’t stop throughout the film’s entirety. The writers have constructed such a well-paced romp that the audience is eating from the palms of their hands. Vacation is one of the most consistent comedies that I’ve seen in awhile–another improvement on the original.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Vegas Vacation (1997)

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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: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

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Finally, a Vacation film that is good all around. It puts together the good qualities of the first and second movies to make a solid third installment.

Maybe I’m just getting used to these characters and the style of these films, but I’m certainly liking them more and more with each one.

In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, the series goes back to being about Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo). And it’s never been more evident than by casting a third pair of children to play Rusty (Johnny Galecki) and Audrey (Juliette Lewis)–which has become an in-joke at this point. Clark attempts to have a perfect Christmas at his home, although it’s being made very difficult with a house full of rowdy relatives.

This film is far more heartwarming than the previous two films, which are a giant batch of straightforward irreverence. But while that style may turn off some viewers, the well-balanced tone of this third film will have a little bit of both to satisfy everyone.

Possibly the highlight of this series is the brilliant running joke with the Griswold’s pretentious neighbors, whose Christmas is getting incidentally ruined as a result of Clark needing to have a perfect one. It speaks of the depth of Clark’s character as well as providing the audience with some of the most amazing pratfalls and farce of the franchise.

It’s still very John Hughes-ey in its writing, but it definitely doesn’t showcase any lack of ideas.

Twizard Rating: 83

Quick Movie Review: National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)

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As being more of a fan of European Vacation than its predecessor, I still rank the two films equally due to the fact that, although funnier, this sequel is terribly written.

The script is fine in terms of the humor–the jokes are funnier and more well-constructed, and the situations are seen all the way through to the end. But in terms of the plot, nothing is resolved. And in that aspect, it makes the sequel seem much more unnecessary.

In National Lampoon’s European Vacation, the Griswold family goes to Europe on a trip that they won on a game show. Antics ensue and the same sort of shenanigans that we see in the first Vacation film happen again.

I find myself laughing out loud more during European Vacation. The anticipation of the farce that we see in the first film makes for a more enjoyable experience all around. The characters handle the situations in much more realistic ways.

But it’s far from perfect. The plot is just stretched way too thin. There isn’t any end destination. It’s a lot of action with no climactic result. The conflict doesn’t even start until 2/3 of the way into the film–right about the time when the comedy starts to lose its overall momentum.

The humor is much less dated, and the writers do a great job of not relying on just calling back the jokes from the first film. The children are incorporated a lot more and it feels like much less of a device to showcase Chevy Chase’s talent.

It’s too bad that the plot is pieced together so terribly, because this would have certainly helped the franchise reach a new level. But at least we still have a lot of laughs.

Twizard Rating: 70

Quick Movie Review: National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

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Maybe growing up on National Lampoon’s Vacation would have helped my appreciation, but the humor is dated and the laughs are few and far between.

Not to say that there aren’t any–and the ones that are present are actually quite funny–but when a film decides to be an irreverent comedy, you expect it to be fairly consistent. Many scenes that are meant to be funny aren’t even the ones that I laughed at the hardest. Some of the funniest bits are when Chevy Chase is just being Chevy Chase. Like having a prophetic conversation with his son (Anthony Michael Hall) as his glasses are subtly falling off of his face. Or denying his family from visiting the Gateway Arch in St. Louis–rather, going to places like the world’s 2nd largest ball of twine instead

There are some clever scenes, but in an early-John-Hughes fashion, they appear underdeveloped and disconnected from each other much of the time. It’s a compilation of instances, rather than a story.

The film is about the Griswold family driving from Chicago to Los Angeles to visit a sendup version of Disneyland, called Walley World. On the way, they experience Murphy’s Law firsthand, as just about everything on the trip goes haywire. Chevy Chase plays Clark Griswold–the enthusiastic patriarch whose idea it is to drive to California rather than take an airplane.

Watching the movie, I was never bored, but also not really invested in the characters or in anything that was happening. The film isn’t bad by any means when compared to other comedies. It’s just average. A few memorable scenes, but the rest are throwaways. That is, unless you’re nostalgic about the film–then you can probably recite the lines in their entirety.

I can appreciate its impact and place in popular culture. It’s just that having not grown up with the movie, it’s hard to see past what I’m actually watching.

Twizard Rating: 71