Quick Movie Review: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter (1991)

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One of the things that makes the first NeverEnding Story so amazing is its unique storytelling. It follows Bastian’s journey of reading Atreyu’s adventure in the storybook, while at the same time placing Bastian in the mind of Atreyu, eventually summoning him into the book itself.

The NeverEnding Story II takes place a few years after the events from the first film. Bastian, this time played by Jonathan Brandis, discovers that words from the NeverEnding Story book are missing from its pages. Summoned inside again, he must face a new threat to the land of Fantasia.

While taking place in the same world, the version created for this sequel is confusing and often times suffocating. Whereas the Fantasia in the original film feels like a place you would actually want to visit. Here, it’s a much more lazily created world, relying mostly on what’s already been established in our minds by its predecessor.

This time, Bastian must save Fantasia from the evil sorceress Xayide. We’re never quite sure what threat she poses to the universe, but we do know that she doesn’t want Bastian there to stop her.

And in order to do so, she creates a machine that strips Bastian of one of his memories each time he makes a wish with his magical necklace. But since he’s unaware of this machine, he continues to make wishes. And the film finds absolutely every opportunity for him to keep making more wishes.

There are few things more frustrating in a movie than when the audience knows of a threat to the protagonist that the protagonist won’t figure out for almost the entire film. Watching him fall into the same trap repeatedly, not knowing that it’s harming him, makes us want to rip our hair out.

The film relies on the protagonist’s cluelessness to move the story along. Which isn’t usually a good thing unless we’re watching a comedy. Though this movie almost becomes one. But since the first film is so beloved, those normally-laughable moments are more disappointing than anything.

The sequel also gives the evil more of a face and personality–an insult to the original, whose evil is a malevolent force rather than an actual character–punctuating and emphasizing its truly deep themes.

The NeverEnding Story II never seems to know what it’s trying to say. All it wants to do is be appealing to young kids, while its predecessor is aimed at the kid in all of us.

It just tries to be too appealing, bringing a type of sitcom-y humor to the franchise. Instead of being the wide-eyed, innocent Bastian, they’ve made him a sarcastic smart aleck. He’s basically not even the same character. And neither is Atreyu. Here, he is a vulnerable child with an ego. Before, he was a strong and humble warrior inside the body of a child.

In the first NeverEnding Story, you couldn’t wait to get back inside of Fantasia. While most of the highlights in the sequel take place in the real world.

There’s an intriguing subplot involving the relationship between Bastian and his father. The entire film should have been grounded in this, but instead tries to conjure up forced depth through other means. But even those are never fully realized either.

By the end of the film, we still never quite figure out what Bastian’s purpose in Fantasia is.

It’s not exactly unwatchable, but it’s pretty poor. The lore of Fantasia itself–where it’s found–is still enough to make it externally appealing. But every time you get sucked in, the bad acting and atrocious dialogue take you right out.

Twizard Rating: 50


Quick Movie Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

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Hunger Games is, hands down, the most famous post-apocalyptic YA film series. And it’s ironic that only half of the series is good. The first two Hunger Games are fantastic, but the last two are pretty bad, with the 3rd film being borderline unwatchable. Maze Runner should be the real star of the genre. And while this final installment is a slight step below the previous two, it’s entertaining at the very least.

Even that aside, the series has a lot going for it. The characters are way more likable. We can relate to them more since they don’t just spend hours of the film brooding. I know it’s probably more realistic in these dire circumstances, but it’s just not very entertaining to watch someone mope about on screen for that long. In Maze Runner, we also don’t get some forced love triangle that turns out to have an even more forced resolution. Hunger Games may be filled way more with edgy political commentary and a grand philosophical meaning, but Maze Runner has stuff to say itself. Hunger Games began as a cool concept but didn’t know where to go from there. It almost wanted too badly to be artsy, which just made it seem self-indulgent. While the Maze Runner films know how to be entertaining and never really try to be pretentious.

With that said, the impact of this film, as well as the driving purpose for the characters in it, will only seem worth it to those of us who are fans of, and have an invested interest in the previous two movies.

Minho has been captured by WCKD so they can torture and run tests on him, so Thomas and his crew attempt to break him out of their headquarters. Pretty much the whole movie is based on this premise–including an elaborate and action-packed scene at the beginning where they steal a train car, hoping that Minho is inside. But it turns out it’s all for naught since they got the wrong train.

It’s an event that’s created to justify a nearly two and a half hour movie, but at least what follows is entertaining and gives us nice closure to the series. Even if it wouldn’t have happened at all if they hadn’t stolen the wrong train car.

It does get a little frustrating and confusing at times because you have the tendency to over think it. When reality is, there’s not much to think about. It’s a basic plot that takes 142 minutes to be accomplished. And while much of it turns out to be unnecessary and in vain, it never actually feels that long. Mostly because it’s really entertaining all the way through.

The only derailment of that enjoyment is when we get confused or lost due to the film relying too much on the audience remembering details from its predecessor. But even if you do remember, it gets slightly convoluted with the plot holes that keep popping up.

There’s nothing countering the tension–not enough at stake. Or at least, you don’t realize what’s at stake until the very end. It’s not quite as poetic and masterful as its predecessor, but that’s a really hard act to follow.

With the first movie being a great jump-off point for the series, creating mystery and intrigue, and the second movie being a near-perfect follow-up that not only improves on its predecessor, but becomes an amazing standalone film in its own right, this finale may not quite be the one we’ve been waiting for. However, they could have done the unthinkable and tried to separate it into two terrible films and it could have been much, much worse.

Twizard Rating: 79

Quick Movie Review: Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise (1987)

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1984’s Revenge of the Nerds didn’t need a sequel. Everything gets accomplished in that movie. It could have stood alone as a piece of history. A treasured work of art that we could look back on and admire. In making a followup film, you risk losing the quality and integrity of the predecessor.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Before sequels typically had any chance of being good, the filmmakers of Revenge of the Nerds decided to take this risk. While critics back then may have been less than pleased, true fans probably enjoyed seeing more nerds.

What makes Revenge of the Nerds so great isn’t only its goofy premise, but mostly its incredible characters. And when you like the characters, it makes an unnecessary sequel more justifiable.

However, these characters don’t always live up to their full potential in the sequel. Some fan-favorites from the first film are missing, and that messes with the dynamics a little.

Lewis and the rest of the nerds in the Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity head to Florida for a national fraternity convention. They’re met with harsh adversity when their rivals in the jock fraternity get offended by how the nerds are ruining the cool vibe of the convention.

Their incentives aren’t exactly crystal-clear, but neither are they in previous film.

Fortunately, you can make a case that it’s even funnier than its predecessor. There are some bits that are even more clever, and less focus on sexcapades.

And in an unexpected twist, the film holds up just as well.

Twizard Rating: 82

Quick Movie Review: Wind River (2017)

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People forget how great an actor Jeremy Renner is. He seemed to get recruited to blockbuster action movies way too early on in his budding career, and hadn’t established quite enough credible roles first. They forget about his phenomenal performance in The Town, or his humble role in Hurt Locker. He got a chance last year in Arrival, and now here in Wind River, Renner gets to flex his chops again.

In this film he plays Cory, a guy whose job it is to track down and kill intrusive wildlife on an Indian Reservation in Wyoming. In the dead of winter, Cory stumbles upon the dead body of 18-year-old Natalie Hanson. It’s unclear how she died, and it resurfaces old wounds of the death of Cory’s own daughter a few years prior. His daughter and Natalie were best friends, and his daughter’s death, too, is a mystery.

We get a somewhat-inside look at the very elusive Native American culture. Even though the story is fronted by a white man, we grow to better understand their mindset and way of life–at least this particular tribe’s. The land is desolate and these people are tormented by the loneliness and isolation. In these circumstances, there is no luck, there is only will to live.

Without saying much, Renner lets us inside his plight every step of the way. It’s not so much about his life as a tracker–an unusual profession–but him dealing with his grief amidst a unique backdrop. One that already comes with sorrow and dismality.

It helps that the script and the direction by Taylor Sheridan are so accomplished as well. He has his grasp around the film as a whole. Not in an auteuristic way, but in a way that lets his performers have a certain type of freedom, molding the film around themselves also.

Renner’s supporting cast is pretty good. Elizabeth Olsen, who plays FBI agent, Jane Banner, transforms her character so well over the course of the film. And Graham Greene plays a modest, yet confident police chief. He seems so real that you would almost expect it to be one of those cases where an actual Native American police chief plays the part. But no, Greene’s credits range from Dances With Wolves to Die Hard 3.

I love films that get much of the tension and suspense from the musical score. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who also partnered with Sheridan for last years’ Hell or High Water have added another masterpiece to their résumé.

Wind River is not just a murder mystery, but a sort of Neo-Western. There’s a certain lawless sense you get in this modern town–made all the more clear by the dichotomy of the city girl FBI agent who is culture-shocked by everything that’s going on, and appalled at why there are only six policemen to patrol a land the size of Rhode Island with people who are unhinged.

It very adequately contrasts the mindsets of isolated peoples with worldly city folk. It’s not on the nose, but the themes are obvious if you’re looking. And since they’re not overplayed messages in cinema, they’re welcome with open arms. It helps, too, that they’re presented so beautifully.

Twizard Rating: 99

Quick Movie Review: xXx (2002)


Has action changed all that much since 2002? Because action in movies has. Back before about 10 years ago, characters were much less jokey, things blew up a lot more, and bad guys had terrible aim.

While dated as can be, xXx is an enjoyable watch. The film’s inspiration is questionable, but Vin Diesel plays the title role exactly how you’d expect him to. There is no shortage of platitudinous quips, but he delivers them in a way that makes you forget that the dialogue is terribly written.

Diesel plays Xander Cage, aka Triple X, a criminal stunt man hired by the US government to infiltrate the international mercenary group, Anarchy 99. There’s not a whole lot more to it than that, yet the film seems to be able to stretch itself to nearly 120 minutes (132 in the director’s cut).

xXx is so 2002 that, at times, you can’t differentiate it from a early 2000s Disney Channel Original Movie. It sacrifices practicality for spectacle whenever it gets the chance. But considering its action-based modus operandi, the film still tends to drag at times.

Ultimately xXx does nothing new. At all. The only reason why anyone would watch this film is to experience Vin Diesel’s charisma and charm. Because that’s really the only unique aspect brought to the otherwise trite premise.

But it’s entertaining. Mindless, but entertaining. Despite the hackneyed script, you have to commend the movie for not taking itself too seriously, ultimately not making it a chore to watch. It’s actually quite fun and ridiculous in all its glory.

Twizard Rating: 72

Quick Movie Review: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

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Strangely enough Zac Efron was in 3 comedy films in 2016, when the man lacks any sort of comedic conviction whatsoever. It’s a good thing he has Adam DeVine to compensate for him in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

The film follows Mike and Dave (DeVine and Efron), brothers who are always screwing up family parties with their wild sensibilities and attempts to snag women. So for their sister’s wedding in Hawaii, their parents give them an ultimatum–either they bring nice girls as dates or they don’t show up at all.

Right away you think to yourself, “Well they probably have a couple of female friends that are parent approved.” Whether or not this would work for the characters’ dilemma, this simple solution is never addressed. Mike and Dave jump straight to placing an ad on Craigslist, advertising a free trip to Hawaii, because that’s the easiest way to get strange women to go on vacation with you. The unrealistic thought process of the characters not only insults the audience’s intelligence, but lets us know that the film is just a means to an end, uninterested in actual logic.

Situations within a ridiculous premise still have to be cohesive to that ridiculous premise. Writers can’t just do anything they want just because they’ve established a impractical scenario.

After placing the ad, the guys get thousands of responses but inexplicably can’t find girls who are acceptable enough for their parents’ standards. Eventually, a pair of trashy girls (Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick) decide they want a free vacation and put on a nice-girl front so the guys will want to take them.

There are plot holes galore in this setup, but it’s also the time in the movie with the best comedy. The rest of the way includes some funny isolated moments, but for the most part it tapers off. Then when it tries to stretch the already-thinning plot, things get weird and unnecessary.

With that said, I laughed more than I probably should have. DeVine has a true knack for comedy, which only serves to outshine his costars, constantly creating a juxtaposition of how poor the rest of them are.

Besides the initial archetypes set for the characters, their personalities are constantly wavering. We’re made to like and dislike certain characters on a whim based on what’s convenient to the story at any given moment. I do applaud, however, that the film doesn’t really waste time trying to create conflict and develop a relationship between the two girls. Whether this was inadvertent or intentional, it works in favor of the overall product.

At one point in the story the film Wedding Crashers is mentioned, which only reminds us of what we could be watching instead.

Twizard Rating: 60

Quick Movie Review: La La Land (2016)


I’ve always said Ryan Gosling was meant to do comedy. I think very highly of the guy, but I hold the unpopular opinion that he’s not necessarily the best dramatic actor in the world. In La La Land he gets a chance to utilize some dramatic-acting skills, but strays away from his usual angst-filled characters as he showcases his humor chops.

It helps that he and Emma Stone have such great chemistry. With their third feature together (Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad) the pair demonstrate why they may be our generation’s Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers–two actors that are paid homage to in this film.

La La Land is about a struggling actress, Mia (Stone), who is constantly being rejected at every audition she has, and a mercurial jazz pianist, Sebastian (Gosling), who dreams of opening his own jazz club. He is a talented musician but often finds himself going against his own integrity playing pop music and simple lounge standards. The two meet in a way that would make any classic cinephile proud, and over time develop a relationship, each dealing with his and her own floundering careers is the process.

The film acts as a love letter to Los Angeles. It’s not necessarily a nice letter, but it’s not a breakup letter either. More like a letter to an abusive partner who you keep coming back to for some inexplicable reason, only for them to spit on you and tell you you’re worthless.

It pokes fun at the city, constantly saying out loud the things most of us would be tried for treason for ever thinking. But they’ve all been actual thoughts lingering in our minds at one point or another.

It’s a quixotical view of what LA is supposed to be–or used to be. The two characters are old souls adamantly romanticizing what they view their ideal careers to be, only to realize that they view this city in an antiquated way that no longer really exists in today’s world. Things such as technology and loss of nostalgia are ruining it, and they struggle to find the balance between the new and the old without wanting to compromise much.

The film, on the other hand, compromises the new and the old very well in its every moment. The songs don’t feel modern, but they don’t feel dated either. They’re not necessarily poppy and affable at first–fitting well into the film’s jazz theme.

Gosling and Stone are not fantastic singers, but they’re not bad either, which makes their performances all the more appealing–they’re one of us.

Much like a non-New Yorker can empathize with a film that pays homage (or lack thereof) to New York, one doesn’t have to be from Los Angeles to get what the film is trying to say. Viewers can see where the movie comes from. LA is everywhere. We experience it in almost every movie we watch in one way or another.

La La Land isn’t just for Los Angeleans. It’s for dreamers and people with big visions. For people who have been rejected over and over and over again, told they’re not good enough, and still, for some reason, keep going back at it. But like anything we love, it takes a lot of work. La La Land makes you believe in your dreams again.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Neighbors 2 (2016)


If you want to talk about consistency between the two Neighbors films, they do a great job. Unfortunately, the first film isn’t good. And its sequel is perhaps slightly more enjoyable than its predecessor, but suffers from so many of the same fundamental issues (see Neighbors).

I didn’t need to revisit the first film in order to prep for this one. All I had to remember was how much I hated it.

This one features the same unbelievable amount of plot holes, the same immature and derivative humor, yet lacks the somewhat “relatable” theme. However, I can probably say that I laughed a bit more this time around (twice is still more than once, right?).

In Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, husband and wife duo, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, sell their house, which is now in escrow. So the new owners have 30 days to back out if anything seems fishy about the situation. It just so happens that a new sorority, headed by Chloe Grace Moretz, moves in next door. Apparently sororities in America have a strict “no party rule,” but THIS sorority vows to ignore that rule and throws one every night of the week.

One of the things I hate about the first film is repeated once more here. The filmmakers want us to root for both sides, trying to make us empathize with both Rogen/Byrne AND the sorority sisters. But reality is, Moretz and her gang are really terrible people. What halfway-decent person would throw bloody tampons at a window with a 2-year-old on the other side watching? I’m literally not exaggerating.

Then, in comes Zac Efron reprising his frat-guy role from the first film. But he’s not just featured in the film–he becomes a third protagonist. We go into his whole story of being kicked out of his apartment after his roommate gets engaged. Now he feels all alone and is unsure of where his life is going.

So the film is jumping around all three stories and winds up covering zero ground because of it. And Rogen, who’s the only funny person out of the leads, is featured the least. Moretz and Efron are great and all, but they’re not funny. This is a comedy.

Pretty much the whole film consists of the married couple and the sorority going back and forth pranking each other. Rogen and Byrne report them to the university’s administration, so to get back at them, the sorority steals all of their belongings and sells them (?). The filmmakers obviously assume that no one watching this is trying to solve any of these elementary conflicts themselves. Instead, they just keep piling on a series of unrealistic events where nobody is rational at all, and we’re supposed to laugh about it.

The movies boasts a couple of nice cameos, which go underutilized for the most part. And the comedy scenes have no real structure or pacing–the takes are all just thrown in there in a seemingly unorganized way.

So if you loved the first film, you’ll probably love this Neighbors 2. If you hated the first film, you probably won’t even consider watching this one. It’s a win-win!

Twizard Rating: 54

Quick Movie Review: Jerry Maguire (1996)

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

Quick Movie Review: Moana (2016)


In recent years it seems like digital animation is becoming more and more advanced with each movie being released. But the changes are gradual and often expected. We talk about how the scenery looks just like a photograph, or how animals look like they could be real. However, actual humanity is the one thing that seems to be taking the longest to become lifelike. This is where Moana comes in.

While still maintaining that cartoon-like feel, this is the first time where actual human characters’ emotions look real. In the past, expressions take on very on-the-nose cliches. Not necessarily over-the-top, but just very obvious. Here, we get facial expressions that look just like yours and mine. It’s eerie. It helps us feel for the characters more–especially when it comes to our title character.

Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is a teenager growing up on the Polynesian island of Motunui and longs to explore the ocean. However, her father, Chief Tui, forbids her to leave. The one rule they have on the island is that they cannot go beyond the reef. But Moana is stubborn. Even as the island’s resources are running out, she resiliently tries to persuade her father, but to no avail.

Her grandmother gives her a small magical stone known as the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. A thousand years prior, demigod, Maui (Dwayne Johnson), stole the heart, which is causing each island, one by one, to dry up. Moana sets out to find Maui so he can return the heart to the goddess.

Disney churns out a solid formula piece with Moana. This is a criticism in some respect. But it can also work to its advantage. The general storyline doesn’t really give us any sort of new beats. A girl sets off to do something that we all know she will probably end up accomplishing. We foresee each false victory before it occurs. It starts out predictable and pulls from countless of its Disney predecessors. But it does one thing that’s very unusual for a Disney film–it lacks romance of any kind. The two protagonists–of opposite sex–have a strictly platonic relationship. Love isn’t the point of the film at all. It’s so ingrained in our expectations that it catches us off guard and we are constantly reminding ourselves that the movie isn’t about that.

Moana is a captivating protagonist. Whether or not the writing makes her that way. The animation is just that good. There is one musical sequence where they backdrop the characters against a relatively primitive animated background, which has become an ordinary device used in countless films before. But upon looking at the canvas, it almost seems like it has been thrown into a live-action film. In past instances, there wasn’t as much of a discrepancy, but now the juxtaposition shows just how far we’ve come with animation.

I could gush for paragraphs about the visuals of this movie. But that would only end up overshadowing the film’s other strength–its music.

Lin-Manuel Miranda writes some brilliantly catchy songs–perhaps the best, pound-for-pound, in recent Disney musical history. From the refreshingly bright islandy “Where You Are” to the macabre Bowie-inspired “Shiny”, each track hits hard and becomes addicting. All except for Maui’s solo piece, “You’re Welcome.” It’s Dwayne Johnson’s only song and is marginal at best. The others are creative and take melodic turns that you never expect, but this one falls into the basic realm of uninspired, perhaps best appreciated by your toddler child. It merely goes through the motions, and only appears worse amidst its brilliant companions.

The songs may be fantastic, but the dialogue is curiously weak, and unfortunately separates Moana from the past Disney bunch. At times it feels like it was written by a teenager–or perhaps someone who wanted to sound like one. The comedy gets childish in a couple of instances, though, to its credit, quickly snaps back. Then there’s Maui’s character, who can grate on you a bit. His shtick is a little too colloquial and his jokes often fall flat.

But the film heads in the right direction overall. Often times going one step back and two steps forward. It nicely sticks to its narrative with Moana’s perspective, and never seems to be challenged by it.

The story could have been merely a device to flex its aesthetic guns (it’s not), but it would have all been worth it just to experience the beauty of what’s on screen. Here, the movie isn’t just telling a story, but creating a full experience–something unexpectedly rare these days.

Twizard Rating: 92