Quick Movie Review: The NeverEnding Story (1984)

neverending story

Director Wolfgang Petersen sure had an ambitious task on his hands when he decided to take on creating the spectacular world that is Fantasia. And it sure paid off.

I watched NeverEnding Story often as a child, though hadn’t seen it in almost 20 years. But images like these stick in your brain indelibly.

Based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Michael Ende, it follows a young boy, Bastian, as he happens upon a mysterious book that bridges the gap between what’s real and what’s fantasy.

Filled with unique and visionary characters and set pieces, it’s such an attractive film. The vision is executed so imaginatively that when we see the world of Fantasia, we never for a second feel like it’s the same world–the real world–that Bastian is living in.

You can tell it enjoys showing off its effects. And it should–they’re amazing! But the film isn’t just a “look what we can do” effects spectacle. No, it’s very deep and has some important things to say. It’s mainly about hope and imagination, with subtle religious undertones as well.

It’s a fairly short movie, but the adventure never feels rushed, building momentum evenly and moving along at an almost-perfect pace.

Often times, filmmakers know that if they just throw a bunch of fancy effects and weird-looking characters into their children’s movie that the details of the story don’t matter. This isn’t the case here. For a fantasy film, the details aren’t convoluted at all. It’s easy for kids to understand, but adults won’t feel talked down to, either. In fact, they’ll likely relate to it too.

Twizard Rating: 100

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Quick Movie Review: Don’t Think Twice (2016)

don't think twice

Like a lot of improv comedy, this film will be understood by few, and will be waved off by many. If you like comedies, you may not necessarily be into this movie. But if you appreciate comedy, you will.

Writer-director Mike Birbiglia, who also plays Miles in the film, constructs a story that will speak to artists everywhere who truly have a passion for what they do. The struggle with sacrificing the art’s purity to make money. Choosing between making it a career or keeping it just a passion. Or even being afraid to “make it” because it would mean stepping away from what’s comfortable.

Miles is one of six members of an improv comedy troupe. He’s the leader, in a sense, but the film tries to make all of them the main protagonists.

When one of the members, Jack, played by Keegan-Michael Key, makes it onto Weekend Live (the film universe’s equivalent to Saturday Night Live), tensions flare up. Miles is bitter that he’s never made it, while Jack’s girlfriend, Samantha, has a shot at making it, but doesn’t want it. It’s all very American Graffiti-esque. These people are all in the same situation wanting a different end result. But not really, if you look closely.

It’s a conflict most of us are familiar with, yet probably not on this level. It’s masked well, since the subject matter is so esoteric, but anyone who’s ever felt some sort of fear of change or jealousy based on entitlement should be able to relate.

The whole film has a very fresh feel to it. The camera moves in a way where it seems as though we’re watching a documentary or a reality show. But this also says a lot about the brilliant performances of the entire cast.

Although there are six leads, it creates depth right away without making it seem rushed. And it saves some for the remainder of the movie.

At times, the film slows down to take in the emotion of what’s going on. About halfway through, it starts shying away from the uninhibited humor of the first act. But the cast and script are good enough to keep us into it. However, the real genius comes from Birbiglia’s direction and choosing which things to use for the final cut. The subtle jokes here and there are what make this film so likable.

Go into this film expecting something a bit different. But be open to relating to it. Pound for pound, it’s one of the best of the year so far.

Twizard Rating: 97

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Quick Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

kung fu panda 3

Everything happens so fast in this new Kung Fu Panda installment, just like it did for the previous two. Though hardly necessary, the people seem to respond well to continuing this franchise, so here it is.

When kung fu warrior, Po (Jack Black), meets his long lost father, he gets invited to follow him to the secret land of pandas. Meanwhile, the evil spirit warrior, Kai (J.K. Simmons), is trying to defeat every kung fu master, stealing their powers.

While none of this is connected to the first two movies, the tone definitely is. We’re still given that animated slapstick comedy that these films excel at so well. But there’s way too much happening at once, and the jokes are always amidst the action, hardly ever giving us a chance to breathe.

Overstimulation aside, the aesthetics are really what carry us through to the end. Without them, this movie would feel very void of any character at all. Every bit of scenery is beautiful and you wish there was a secret panda land that you, too, could visit.

Getting through the by-the-numbers first act is probably the biggest challenge here. Scenes seem added only for the purpose of entertainment without actually enhancing the script. And a dozen new characters get introduced, raising the head count, but dropping any depth that gives us a reason to be invested.

For a family movie, it’s very heavy on the details. But Po is stupid enough that he has to ask questions so that we, the audience, can understand things–you know, just in case we don’t.

Kung Fu Panda is cheesy and silly, but still entertaining. It’s also a movie for kids, and based on the box office results, I’d say they hit their mark.

Twizard Rating: 76

Quick Movie Review: Goosebumps (2015)

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I’ve never really been quiet when it comes to the lack of live-action family films these days. Growing up in the ’90s there were a plethora of them. Over the past decade or so there has been a steep decline in this sub genre with studios opting to make animated films instead. It’s somewhat understandable since they’re more reliable when it comes to making a profit, as seen by the success that Pixar and Dreamworks have had. But there’s just something to be said about watching actual people on screen deal with their problems. Especially as children, it kindles our imaginations because if we see it happening to them, it could happen to us too, right? And when done correctly they can really be memorable.

While this film is only partially animated, it takes place in the real world with live-action humans. In Goosebumps, the motion picture based on R.L. Stine’s enormously successful children’s book series of the same name, Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mother move to the suburban town of Madison, Delaware. Zach gripes a lot about there being nothing to do in his new city until the mysterious homeschooled neighbor girl (Odeya Rush) befriends him and he develops an interest in her. One night he’s led to believe that she may be imprisoned by her own father, a fictionalized version of R.L. Stine himself (Jack Black), and sneaks into her house. He discovers a bookshelf full of Goosebumps manuscripts which he decides to explore. Opening the first story releases a 10-foot tall abominable snowman who starts wreaking havoc throughout the town. Eventually, one by one, each story gets opened up with the books’ respective monsters coming to life trying to kill their creator, Stine.

Some may consider it a bad thing, but this movie does a great job of not holding back any scares. Adults shouldn’t have too hard of a time–although certain monsters may tap into your own personal phobias–but it will definitely haunt many children. But that’s what makes Goosebumps so appealing. It keeps the visuals acceptable, but never tones itself down. When I was little we had the anthology television show Are You Afraid of the Dark? which still creeps me out as an adult. Goosebumps is frightening, but it’s a harmless scare. It provides us with the same macabre tone of the novels–probably much to the dismay of some of the parents.

It gets most of the character background out of the way early on in the first third of the film, which gives itself room to run free for the last hour or so. However, it lets most of that information sit idle for the rest of the film–some of which never really gets revisited.

The movie hits its stride about 20 minutes in when we start witnessing Stine’s creepiness first hand and the books start coming to life. We are dying to know why it’s happening and how to stop it, and that information may be given away a bit too easily. But not to worry because, in true R.L. Stine fashion, we still get our fill of twists throughout.

What this film does really well, albeit stylistically inconsistent at times, is make us laugh. The humor works well on both adult and kid levels. It’s really a funny movie and it does so without becoming too irreverent. We still feel like something’s at stake, but the jokes help to lighten to the tone on the scarier elements of the film. I think one reason why live-action family films have failed in recent years is because filmmakers have lost touch with what makes kids laugh. They know kids want to see something really outrageous that they would only be able to see in animation, but I think this film may be on to something by aiming the jokes back up to the grownups and not dumbing them down. It doesn’t fall back on cheap slapstick or fart jokes to get laughs–it’s gets them with some pretty solid comedic timing and by finding cleaner versions of the humor that’s popular in recent R-rated comedies.

Goosebumps may not be a Best Picture nominee, but it’s extremely enjoyable and acts as a great tribute to R.L. Stine’s famed franchise. It elicits our imagination and does so through the medium of literature. And there is also a nod to Steve McQueen’s The Blob, which is one of my favorites.

Although I would have liked to have seen just a handful of stories explored in depth rather than all the stories being briefly touched upon with highlights on maybe 3 or 4, I’m sure the future sequels will do a better job focusing in on one or two stories. Despite the slightly rocky pacing and the minor, yet sloppy, plot holes, Goosebumps will please fans of the book series and will bring adults back to the days when their imaginations weren’t so jaded. Hopefully the success of this film will help set the trend for a return of live-action family films.

Twizard Rating: 87

**Review can also be found at Mxdwn Movies**