Quick Movie Review: Escape From New York (1981)

escape from new york

It’s a ballsy move making Escape From New York take place a mere 16 years into the future. In the film, the world has changed so much. Even by today’s standards. The United States government has turned Manhattan into a maximum security prison surrounded by giant 50-foot walls, due to a 400% increase in crime. There are no guards in the prison. The prisoners inside are left to the world they’ve created.

Air Force One has been hijacked, and the President’s escape pod crash lands inside the Manhattan prison, so the government hires one of its inmates, Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russell), to rescue the President in exchange for his pardoning.

Snake is pretty dry, and at one point we fear that we’re going to have to suffer through 90 minutes of his surliness. We watch a Kurt Russell movie because we want Kurt Russell. But this is like watching a Will Ferrell movie and getting Taylor Lautner with better acting.

Not only is he pretty void of emotion, but we get hardly any backstory on him or any of the other interesting characters. Just murmurings here and there, which ends up sounding like gibberish amidst the context of the film.

The way Russell says things should make them corny, but it never does. Early on we start forgetting that he sounds like Batman playing Clint Eastwood. Partially due to Russell’s acting, but also because the dialogue is so crisp.

A year early, this one feels like Blade Runner, but less brooding. It’s weird and deceptively goofy. Like the type of weird straight-to-video VHS tape that would have developed a cult following 30 years later. Only this was a mainstream hit.

The film isn’t as dated as it appears. Though some of the character decisions definitely are. I mean, you can’t get away with “forgetting the gun” as easily these days. But its unvarnished look is what gives it character. It feels more real than the likes of Blade Runner. Maybe it doesn’t have as much to say, but it definitely still says something.

The main bad guy within the prison, Duke (Isaac Hayes), is a crime boss who desperately wants to leverage the President for his own escape from prison. The hype around Duke is far more sinister than the character himself. They give him sinister things to say, but Hayes is just too cool to make them convincing.

Escape From New York is not quite as epic as it wants to be, but it’s not due to a fault in the impressively constructed universe. The sets are believable and you get a great feel for the suffocation of this prison. But it’s just a little dated and slow for an action film.

Twizard Rating: 82

Advertisements

Quick Movie Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

disaster artist

If you’ve ever seen The Room, you know it’s bad. Even after witnessing its atrocity it’s hard to believe what you just watched. Yet what makes it so much more unbelievable is knowing that there was actually somebody in this world who was capable of making something so terrible and so addictingly enjoyable at the same time.

The Disaster Artist is a love story, not only to The Room, but to its creator, Tommy Wisseau. It details the relationship between Wisseau and actor Greg Sestero. From how they met all the way to the premiere of The Room five years later.

James Franco plays Wisseau, giving us one of the best impersonations we’ve ever seen of anyone. Playing alongside him is his brother Dave Franco as Sestero. The two are so disguised in their roles that you never even think about the fact that they’re brothers.

Tommy is this guy who has stereotyped, in his head, the ideal celebrity as Milli Vanilli, essentially. He’s romanticized the idea of being a celebrity but hasn’t ever realistically conceived how he’s going to become one, because he thinks being a celebrity just means being cocky about how good you are. This conflicts with his genuine desire to be loved, even if it’s not for the right reasons. In the end, that’s exactly what happens. There’s this ego that is very obviously masking insecurity.

While it’s largely supposed to be an in-depth study of Wisseau himself, we already get that in a way, with his film The Room. But I think it’s Sestero who is slightly more compelling as his character develops so seamlessly over the course of the film–much to the credit of Dave Franco.

Greg, like Tommy, is obsessed with this romanticized idea of being an actor. He’s an aspiring actor and isn’t very good, but wants it anyway. When he faces career struggles, he perseveres due to his desire to see himself in the same likeness as his heroes, like James Dean.

If La La Land is about chasing the dream, The Disaster Artist is more focused on what you want out of that dream. For Greg it doesn’t matter how good the project is, he just wants to see himself in it–to be able to say he was in a movie just like the icons he looks up to. For Tommy it’s about being able to put his name on something, have people see his vision, and to be accepted by society.

The Disaster Artist does something excellent in that it makes us truly die of laughter while simultaneously never wavering from its vision of offering us a deep insight on the complex dynamic between two people and their individual issues. It’s probably some of the most fun you will have at the movies in recent years. Perhaps even more fun than the film that inspired it in the first place–however impossible that may seem. While The Room is never realized by its creators, The Disaster Artist is fully realized. And that dichotomy is what makes it even more brilliant.

Twizard Rating: 100

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

neverending story 2

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: The Shining (1980)

shining

At times it’s hard to tell if Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is unnecessarily vague, or if there is some sort of symbolism that we are missing. It’s so simple that it’s hard to believe there is more to it than what we’re watching, but knowing the filmmaker tells us that perhaps there is something more.

The Shining is an experience in hallucinations, so that we’re unsure of what’s real and what’s fake. It’s powerful, but can also be frustrating for the audience. We want answers, and the film not only fails to give them to us, but doesn’t even address that there needs to be any. Yet these ambiguities add the mystique of it all. There’s often beauty in things that aren’t merely black and white.

Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, who temporarily moves to the Overlook Hotel in snowy Colorado to become its caretaker during the offseason when the hotel has no guests. There, he hopes to cure his writer’s block and work on a new project. His son, Danny, has “the shining”, which allows him to speak telekinetically with others who have the ability, and also to see the past and future.

Unsuccessful, Jack starts getting agitated with his family and becomes influenced by the spirits of the hotel’s past.

It’s a horror movie, and remains very scary despite not really having any jumpy moments. The amazing musical score and Kubrick’s brilliant direction help the film maintain its tension throughout by not allowing us to have the relief that would usually follow any scares.

However, while Nicholson is believable when he’s going crazy, its his performance during the beginning when he’s supposed to be normal that I wasn’t a fan of. You can read in his face that he thinks he knows something we don’t. He makes it too obvious that he knows he’s gonna snap later on in the movie. From the beginning his character is slightly off-putting and creepy, so the transition doesn’t feel as drastic and his psychopathy later on isn’t necessarily startling to us.

We don’t quite get enough of a relationship beforehand of Jack with his family, so there’s no chemistry established and no emotional heartbreak when he does finally go crazy. The film is very deep with its themes, but not as much with its characters.

But it’s still effective as a whole. It looks amazing and every shot is just so perfect that we can feel ourselves in the hotel, while simultaneously suffocating from the confusion of its labyrinthine atmosphere.

The Shining not only holds up well, but it probably gets even better with age. The pacing is slow, even for 1980, but now it’s a welcomed change from the slashers we’ve seen over the years–even if this one helped define those as well. It’s not just a horror film, but an artful piece of cinema.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Ready Player One (2018)

ready player one

Steven Spielberg may seem like an odd choice to direct the feature film adaptation of the acclaimed Ernest Cline novel, Ready Player One. First of all, it’s not quite on the same wavelength as recent Spielberg offerings (e.g. The Post or Lincoln). Secondly, the director helped define the exact era being obsessed about in the story.

If you’re an achingly nostalgic person, then this is the movie for you. The film’s protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), is obsessed with ’80s pop culture. It’s the year 2045 and everyone is. In this version of earth, there is a virtual reality world/game called the OASIS, which almost everyone takes part in. They just put on these goggles and enter into their avatar’s body. The world is flooded with references from old video games and movies. Wade’s avatar drives Doc Brown’s DeLorean from Back to the Future.

But Ready Player One has something bigger to say. Touching upon the risks of becoming so detached with the real world that we forget what it’s really like. However, this threat never feels like a reality check in the movie. To the point where perhaps it doesn’t even have an opinion on which is better, one way or another. But that a balance of the two is what should be strived for.

In fact, watching the film may have us dreaming about how cool it would be if a place like this really existed. We can see the baggage that comes with it, but still, wouldn’t it be kinda worth it? To those of us who truly appreciate its purpose, it definitely would.

After the creator of the OASIS dies, he poses a challenge to all the users to find an Easter Egg that will give the finder complete control over the OASIS. So we follow Wade and his friends from inside the game, in a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory sort of way, as they embark on this mission to find the Egg.

The movie takes us back and forth from the OASIS to reality so seamlessly that we almost have to remind ourselves which is which–intentionally, no doubt. Credit to the special effects team as well, but this detail also helps show how close the two worlds actually are.

Spielberg definitely has his hands full, but does well with the highly involved plot. He’s always known how to take a complicated story and trim the fat. In Ready Player One, the story does tend to get confusing a couple of times, but we end up getting back on track each time.

Just about the only thing he doesn’t do well is give us entertaining battle scenes. The nonsensical, Michael Bay-type action is the only aspect that can stifle the momentum a bit and cause our minds to wander–the one thing we don’t want to happen in this movie.

But that isn’t enough to make you dislike Ready Player One even in the slightest, since, unlike Michael Bay, there isn’t an hour’s worth of it.

While Ready Player One is very much inspired by–some would say derivative of–countless films before it, it’s an amalgamation of it all.

It’s the type of film where you should leave your critic’s badge at the door, because the things that it does wrong don’t matter. If you obsess about it, then you’re missing the point. It should be viewed as pure entertainment. It’s a much better experience that way.

Twizard Rating: 96

Quick Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

tomb raider2018.jpg

If you look at the first two Tomb Raider films from 2001 and 2003, and then look at this one, you’d never guess they’re from the same franchise unless you take note of the names of the movies or characters.

But this new installment is an origins story. Instead of Angelina Jolie in the role of Lara Croft, we get Alicia Vikander. Vikander is much better for this vulnerable version of Croft, as opposed to Jolie’s smooth arrogance. Here we see her coming to learn her identity as the tomb raider, whereas before, we jump right in and her identity has already been established.

This film serves as an origins story, but is the fan base large enough for anyone to care about an origins story? I suppose it doesn’t really matter these days.

Here, Croft is an aspiring kick boxer who’s in debt to her gym and is barely making ends meet as a bike courier. Her father, Richard (Dominic West), has been missing for 7 years. She refuses to sign the inheritance papers that would guarantee her over a billion dollars, because that would mean that he’s really dead. I guess I can empathize with that sentiment, but it still doesn’t make much logical sense for someone as smart as Croft apparently is.

Her father was obsessed with the supernatural and the hereafter. And Lara finds a clue left behind that sends her on a hunt to find out how he died. And now, apparently she has money to fly to Hong Kong to investigate. (One example of the small details that go lazily overlooked in this new movie.)

As well as a script hits its marks in a macro sense, it needs to hit them in the micro sense, too. That’s where Tomb Raider falters. Overall, the script gives us an extremely intriguing story with a lot of fun twists and turns, but it’s these little things that keep it from being better.

However, it’s not all the script’s fault. Director Roar Uthaug has issues handling emotions properly. In an early scene, Lara is seen watching a video that her dad has left her, speaking to her in a “If you’re watching this, I must be dead” type of way. There are no welled up tears, or bittersweet smile–just an apathetic look on Vikander’s face like she was expecting to hear all this. This great opportunity to evoke emotion out of the audience never gets taken advantage of, and we’re left wanting more from it, as well as our lead. If that doesn’t make our hero cry, what will? And do we want to invest our emotions in someone who seems void of them, herself?

But here’s the biggest issue of all: As entertaining as the Vikander Tomb Raider is, her version of Croft isn’t Lara Croft at all. She shares the same name, sure, but nowhere in this film does she show the same passion in digging up and collecting old artifacts, a la Indiana Jones. This version of Croft desperately wants to find her father, but expresses zero interest in historical relics or tombs at all. So what makes her a tomb raider? Nothing. Her dad was. But she is not. It’s hard to say that it does is source material proud.

In a standalone movie of a different name, half of these mistakes would be non-existent, but simply because it calls itself “Tomb Raider” they become irritants. Like, for this review, I’m not even going to go into detail on the legend discussed in this film, because Lara Croft doesn’t care, so why should it matter?

The film is actually highly entertaining with impressive–albeit unrealistic–action scenes, but it just doesn’t feel like a Tomb Raider movie.

Twizard Rating: 79

Quick Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003)

tomb raider 2.jpg

Compared to its 2001 predecessor, The Cradle of Life is much more along the lines of the films (Indiana Jones) it’s trying to emulate. It’s sleeker, more engaging, and has a much better villain, among other things.

Rather than wasting time in the beginning with contrived banter to set up character, this one jumps right into it. It gives less backstory, yet somehow provides us with more depth.

In The Cradle of Life, Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) is on a mission to find Pandora’s Box before an evil bio-terrorist finds it and unleashes its contents, killing millions of people.

This one actually does have the potential to be a really good film in the traditional sense, but unfortunately most people will compare it to the action movies of today and standards will be too high.

It’s not only highly entertaining, but knows how to stray away from formulaic beats when it counts the most.

The film also tries to fill in much of the dead space with a love story between Croft and a character played by a then-unknown Gerard Butler. But this actually serves a purpose other than just a desperate attempt to grasp for more depth.

Jolie seems even more comfortable with the character the second time around, and this director actually knows what to do with her. He doesn’t try as hard to manufacture her coolness–which actually makes her even more cool. It allows her persona to speak more for itself.

While the first Tomb Raider was decently entertaining, this sequel is a large step above. The humor is more organic and appropriate. And less forced.

The story just moves along a lot more fluidly here too. It doesn’t just complete the story with a paint-by-numbers storyboard. You can tell the filmmakers are having fun, which helps the audience join in on that.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

tomb raider.jpg

Watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, it’s very evident how different humor in action films was in 2001 compared to now. This is before Iron Man. Before having refreshing levity in your movies was an obligation. Back then you could make a dry, self-indulgent blockbuster that takes itself too seriously and still doubles its budget at the box office. In 2018, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider would be a flop. It tries to be funny a couple times, but it never succeeds. Luckily it’s fairly entertaining regardless.

Lara Croft, played by Angelina Jolie, is an expert collector of ancient artifacts. In this adventure, her deceased father (played by Jon Voight–seriously) leaves her a key that will help reunite two halves of a triangle that will allow whoever posses it to travel through time. She must find the two pieces before the Illuminati do. The Illuminati want to misuse the triangle’s power.

Despite some unclear motives, the premise is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. Yet, everything happens with convenient punctuality. And it feels like the director is merely completing mandatory steps to further the plot rather than letting it all move along fluidly.

Jolie does a pretty good job with her role, but the movie is short on supporting talent to offset Croft’s brooding demeanor. The villain is lackluster and Croft’s goofy sidekicks aren’t necessarily C-3PO and R2-D2.

Everything about this movie tells you that the filmmakers aren’t comfortable with any sort of humor they’re given or supposed to include.

And based on the unnecessary shower scenes and the skintight clothes that Jolie wears, you’d think that Tomb Raider was directed by a 13-year-old boy. It’s just way too cool for itself.

I don’t really have any problems with the unrealistic Fast and Furious-type action, but here it’s mostly uninspired. Not quite as slick or original.

I can see people in 2001 viewing this film as below them, but we can watch it now and enjoy it as a product of its time. If nothing else, it’s fairly entertaining.

Twizard Rating: 72

Quick Movie Review: Road House (1989)

road house.jpg

Often times, the hero of an action movie is broodingly void of any human emotion. Too cool to laugh or smile. But Patrick Swayze knows just how to make his character realistic so that we can actually relate. He doesn’t just make himself a cookie cutter of every other action hero before him.

Swayze’s charisma carries the somewhat uninspired dialogue that tries to sound deeper than it is. And maybe it is a little deep. Surprisingly. Perhaps even philosophical. Some lines come off as cheesy, but you hardly notice when it’s Swayze saying them. But most other actors can’t handle them quite the same.

James Dalton, played by Swayze, is a famous bouncer, who is hired by the owner of a notorious bar in small-town Missouri to help clean up the bar and eliminate all the fighting. Along the way, he develops relationships with people in this town, attempting to protect them from a corrupt businessman who is the de facto town dictator.

Road House is the very definition of a guilty pleasure movie. It’s a movie about bar fights. Yet somehow it manages to take it one step further than that. It actually makes a lot of nice artistic choices, which is interesting considering that, on the surface, it’s a cheap action flick.

And at times it’s obvious. Even losing itself for a minute, nearly becoming unraveled about halfway through. It realizes that there haven’t been any fights for awhile, so it throws in a couple in vain, even though we stop needing them. As it turns out, we actually become genuinely invested in these characters and the story around them.

The fight scenes are actually amazing. They’re well-choreographed and very realistic. But what keeps the film afloat is still Swayze himself. His demeanor helps the movie not take itself too seriously, even when you know it probably wants to.

Twizard Rating: 85

Quick Movie Review: Thelma & Louise (1991)

thelma louise

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film that so beautifully depicts the great American road while also showing it’s unforgivingness at the same time. A dichotomy that’s a consistent theme in Thelma & Louise.

Two best friends fed-up with the men in their lives and looking for a weekend away, set out on a road trip to exercise their freedom. But along the way they realize that exercising their freedom may also cost them their freedom as well.

Thelma (Geena Davis), a somewhat naive young woman with a neglectful and unappreciative husband, is looking to let her hair down and live a little, while Louise (Susan Sarandon), a brash waitress who sits around impatiently waiting for her boyfriend to commit, is sort of the adult in the room with Thelma. However, both women are constantly looking out for each other, reinforcing each other’s bad decisions.

While it’s not usually too preachy, there are very obvious feminist overtones. Although it takes some subtle, and perhaps unaware, stances on whether putting a gun to a cop’s head and locking him in the trunk is not as bad as a truck driver making suggestive gestures at women from his cab. It’s not as black or white as the characters make it seem. And while men might relate to the characters otherwise, these types of quasi-contradictions may keep some of them distanced still–aware that perhaps the filmmakers’ personal opinions might be getting in the way of the integrity of the story.

But the true key to appreciating Thelma & Louise is to not quite put its characters on a pedestal. Instead accepting that they, too, make horrible mistakes. Maybe the characters have black or white opinions, but the film wants the audience to question them. Coincidentally, that’s the conflict that often happens when you’re out on the open road learning about yourself and about life.

Towards the beginning, not long into their trip, the characters find themselves in a honky tonk bar in their home state of Arkansas. Thelma finds herself dancing closely to a man, who later attempts to rape her, which eventually leads to Louise killing him. Fearing that the cops won’t believe their story, their road trip turns into a run from the law.

With the seal of crime now broken, Thelma and Louise now find it easier to commit even more felonies. So badly that they cause it to escalate into something much bigger than they had originally anticipated, unearthing aggressions that they previously kept tame.

Opposed to other road films where the events that take place on the road feel outlaw-ish and unregulated, this one features a manhunt for the two women, led by Detective Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel).

At one point, Detective Slocumb states that eventually Thelma and Louise’s luck will run out. It’s funny to think that they’re lucky, when it’s a lack of luck that gets them here in the first place.

A road movie is far from an original concept, however Thelma & Louise manages to add just enough to it so that it stands on its own–putting it towards the top of the list. While candid and gritty as road films most often are, this story also has heart. Not in a sappy way, but in a way that lets you connect with these characters who find themselves down a rabbit hole.

Much of the emotion stems from Keitel’s character, who has empathy for these women and understands that it isn’t, in fact, black or white. While every cop in a 3-state radius is looking for them, Keitel is begging the girls to come in for questioning. Not like a normal movie cop would, but like he’s sincerely invested in their wellbeing. And he is. He grounds the film and shows that at least the screenwriter knows that not all men are bad.

Callie Khouri’s script is refreshing. The humor is so organic and the scenes never feel contrived.

And how the two leads manage the script is what makes the film take off. Both Sarandon and Davis are convincing. They feel real and you forget that they’re acting. Davis is transformed here, and her character continues to do so seamlessly over the course of the movie.

The film creates such a cool vibe that lets us know we’re still holding onto the 1980s. It was released in 1991, but most everything about it screams “’80s”. Proving that the ’90s didn’t fully kick into gear until ’92 or ’93.

It was a time with real maps and no cell phones. For this and less obvious reasons, Thelma & Louise simply couldn’t be made these days with the same clamor or spirit.

My biggest gripe is that it doesn’t quite give us the ending we want. Instead, giving us one that doesn’t make as much sense, and that doesn’t properly justify some of the events leading up to it.

But Director Ridley Scott does an excellent job, otherwise, of making a film that will evoke any memory of an amazing road trip through the United States. Which is interesting, considering how the story is somewhat about misfortune. But it’s also a little about the personal growth that comes out of that misfortune. A bittersweet lesson that the road won’t ever let us forget.

Twizard Rating: 100