Career Opportunities Review

Career Opportunities movie posterSynopsis
Jim Dodge (Frank Whaley) has a hard time holding down a job and an even harder time holding back his wild imagination. As a last option, Jim is hired as the night janitor at the local Target. During his first night on the job, he discovers Josie McClellan (Jennifer Connelly), daughter of a local wealthy businessman, also inside the store. As the night goes on, they learn more and more about each other.

Review
I didn’t know anything about Career Opportunities besides the famous shot of Jennifer Connelly riding the penny horse. When I eventually learned what movie that scene was from, and learning it was from a film written by John Hughes no less, I quickly sought it out. That excitement had died down by the time the credits rolled. If I hadn’t known it was written by Hughes going into the film, I would not have believed it if I had learned that piece of information after watching it. Career Opportunities lacks the charm I have come to expect from his scripts. The set up is pretty standard fare for a Hughes’ coming-of-age film: a young man and a young woman who appear to be complete opposites of each other come together and form a bond. However, if this is a story you want to watch from Hughes, there are plenty of his other films that do it better. I will say that Frank Whaley as the fast talking Jim Dodge is a highlight of the movie and has the charisma needed to carry such an intimate movie. On the other hand, Jennifer Connelly, as beautiful as she is, is flat and not very expressive. Whaley and Connelly together are the driving force of Career Opportunities, so to have their chemistry be less than perfect becomes a liability to the film.

I thought Career Opportunities was OK 😐 There’s a standard expected from a film penned by a writer of John Hughes’ caliber. Unfortunately, this film does not fulfill those expectations. While Frank Whaley carries this movie the best that he can, the script and his co-stars don’t quite rise to his level. It’s no surprise that this film has barely been re-released on home video compared to Hughes’ more notable films. There are many movies in his filmography where any one aspect of this film is done better, so if you’re itching for a Hughes’ teen comedy, go watch one of those films instead.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bryan Gordon – Director
John Hughes – Writer
Thomas Newman – Composer

Frank Whaley – Jim Dodge
Jennifer Connelly – Jose McClellan
Dermot Mulroney – Nester Pyle
Kieran Mulroney – Gil Kinney
John M. Jackson – Bud Dodge
Jenny O’Hara – Dotty Dodge
Noble Willingham – Roger Roy McClellan
Barry Corbin – Officer Don
Andrew Winton – Boy #1
Andy Greenway – Boy #2
RonReaco Lee – Boy #3
William Forsythe – Custodian
John Candy – CD Marsh

Mulan (2020) Review

Mulan movie posterSynopsis
Mulan (Yifei Liu) disguises herself as a man to join the royal army when the Emperor (Jet Li) decrees that every family must send one man to enlist after China is attacked by BΓΆri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and his army.

Review
The live-action Disney remake train just keeps on rolling. This time it’s Mulan’s turn, following in the footsteps of remakes of other Disney Renaissance films such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. The animated Mulan film is one of the favorites in my family, so we watched Mulan together. We’ve had mixed opinions about the recent live-action remakes but we went into this film hopeful that one of our favorites would be just as enjoyable as the original. But like Disney’s other attempts to translate beloved animated classics to live-action, Mulan fell short.

Before I get into what I didn’t like, I’ll talk about what I did like. Mulan looks beautiful. The color palette is very vivid and bright. The fight sequences were well choreographed, taking inspiration from classic Kung Fu movies with characters performing acrobatic feats. During the fight sequences, the action was mostly in-frame without much shaky cam, one of my personal pet peeves. So to summarize, everything looked nice.

However, a movie is not going to stand on visuals alone and unfortunately, that’s about all this film had going for it. From a characters perspective, there was little to no growth for any of the characters but particularly for Mulan (Yifei Liu). From the opening scene, she is shown to be someone with extraordinary ability and talent, possessing a large amount of β€œchi.” Since she started out with immense power, she didn’t have anywhere to grow. For example, in the animated original, Mulan learned to use her intelligence to overcome obstacles. There was none of that learning here. In the animated original, we could see Mulan wasn’t that strong, but through hard work we saw her grow into a formidable warrior. There was none of that growth here. When Mulan wanted to do something, she was just able to do it. This type of character who can do everything naturally has been a favorite of Disney’s lately but it is not the correct way portray characters who are supposed to be role models for younger audiences.

Another great part of the 1998 Mulan is the abundance of different and memorable characters. Characters like Yao, Po, and Ling each have their own personalities and different aspects that make them unforgettable. And I can’t say enough about Eddie Murphy’s Mushu, who single handedly carries the movie with his charm, charisma, and humor. The 2020 Mulan has none of these fun characters. In fact, it was very hard for me to tell Yao, Po, Ling, and Cricket (who is a human character now instead of an actual cricket) apart from each other. During their introductions it was easier because they quoted lines from their animated counterparts but after that, I couldn’t tell you who was who. Even Mulan’s love interest blends in with these characters and doesn’t stand out in any way. All the supporting characters simply felt the same.

A large part due to the fun characters mentioned above, the animated classic, despite its setting of war and some dark moments, is still a light and joyous film. This film, on the other hand, is the exact opposite, which I guess isn’t that surprising given it lacks any kind of entertaining characters and Yifei Liu gives a mostly wooden performance, making it difficult to tell any emotion she is feeling. This film takes itself way too seriously and completely misses what made its animated predecessor so endearing.

I thought Mulan was OK 😐 This film’s biggest fault is that it doesn’t understand what made the original work so well and become a beloved instant classic. It’s a pretty wrapping surrounding a humorless, lifeless husk inside that is stuck going through the motions. There’s no fun, there’s no drama, and there’s no reason to like or care for any of these characters. Years ago when Disney announced plans for live-action remakes of many of their films, I was cautiously optimistic. Now, after several films that haven’t lived up to the legacy of the originals and failed to bring anything new to their stories or characters, I think it’s safe to say I am no longer excited for many of the upcoming live-action remakes. Now I’m just scared.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Niki Caro – Director
Rick Jaffa – Screenplay
Amanda Silver – Screenplay
Elizabeth Martin – Screenplay
Lauren Hynek – Screenplay
Harry Gregson-Williams – Composer

Yifei Liu – Mulan
Jason Scott Lee – BΓΆri Khan
Li Gong – Xianniang
Donnie Yen – Commander Tung
Yoson An – Honghui
Tzi Ma – Zhou
Rosalind Chao – Li
Pe=Pei Cheng – Matchmaker
Xana Tang – Xiu
Ron Yuan – Sergeant Qiang
Jun Yu – Cricket
Chen Tang – Yao
Doua Moua – Po
Jimmy Wong – Ling
Jet Li – Emperor
Nelson Lee – Chancellor

Tenet Review

Tenet movie posterSynopsis
A CIA agent (John David Washington) is recruited into a secret organization known as β€œTenet,” who are trying to prevent a catastrophe worse than Armageddon.

Review
Over the years, Christopher Nolan has made a name for himself with his high-concept films, containing multiple levels, where nothing is exactly what it seems, and often require several rewatches to fully grasp the nuances and details of the story. With Tenet, Christopher Nolan might have made the most Christopher Nolan film to date. From the explosive opening scene to the mind-bending final scene, Tenet continuously leaves you feeling one step behind as you try to put the pieces together before realizing you aren’t even working on the same puzzle as Nolan is working with.

One thing I really appreciate in Nolan’s style of film making is his commitment to practical effects. Zero green screens were used during the production of this movie, which is an impressive feat given the idea that people and objects can move backwards in time or the scale of some of the action pieces. Nolan’s sincerity in wanting to keep everything in-camera creates a level of authenticity in Tenet that very few action films these days have. We’ve seen directors more and more in recent years move away from CGI back towards practical effects and I for one could not be happier. While there have been some really great worlds created with computer special effects, nothing beats feeling like what you’re watching on screen is real. Hopefully with this film, Nolan has inspired more directors to do more of the same.

In today’s world of remakes and reboots, Nolan has stood out as a director and writer who regularly brings original concepts to cinema. While Tenet does take inspiration from espionage thrillers of the past, and time travel movies have been done numerous times in Hollywood, there is still something that feels fresh and unique about the film. As I said, one of Nolan’s trademarks is a multi-layered story filled with details easily missed in the initial viewing and that is no less true in Tenet, which given the way the film uses time-travel, multiple watches are almost a necessity.

But with this film’s complexity comes a slow start. As exciting as the opening scene was, it took some time to get going. In order to properly get the idea of inversion across required a bit of exposition. Also, not much is given on what the organization of Tenet is or what exactly they are doing. As a result, a fair chunk of the beginning I felt lost as to what John David Washington’s character was doing and working towards. I don’t think the character knew exactly either and by keeping the audience in the dark as well, Nolan was trying to put us in the same boat as the character. While this can work, taking too long to get to the payoff can become frustrating and remove the audience member from the film. Once I really got into the idea of inversion and at least some idea of the plans of Washington’s character then I was able to settle into the film more. However, there was still a lot left unrevealed until the final act, and sometimes even the final minutes. The same can be said for the characters themselves, who receive very little in terms of development. Even though much is disclosed in the end, it does little to help their development.

Of course, what might have contributed to my confusion was the fact that it was very difficult to hear what the characters were saying half of the time. Another signature of a Nolan film is a boisterous score. And while such a score can work, the sound mixing in Tenet made it more of a burden than an enhancement. It’s hard to understand what is happening when you cannot hear the exposition.

I thought Tenet was GOOD πŸ™‚ In classic Christopher Nolan fashion, this film has an ambitious concept with a very intricate plot that will certainly require multiple viewings to fully catch all of the details. As a fan of great action sequences, this film is chock full of amazing set pieces all done using practical effects for an absolutely stunning experience. However, the beautiful wrapping covers up a lack of any character development and the score is the most in-your-face and obtrusive of any of Nolan’s films. Nonetheless, Tenet’s originality and creativity is refreshing in today’s landscape of remakes and reboots.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Christopher Nolan – Director / Writer
Ludwig GΓΆransson – Composer

John David Washington – The Protagonist
Robert Pattinson – Neil
Elizabeth Debicki – Kat
Kenneth Branagh – Andrei Sator
Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Ives
Himesh Patel – Mahir
ClΓ©mence PoΓ©sy – Barbara
Michael Cain – Michael Crosby
Dimple Kapadia – Priya
Martin Donovan – Victor
Fiona Dourif – Wheeler

Vacation Review

Vacation (2015) movie posterSynopsis
In effort to reconnect with his wife and kids, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) takes his family on a cross-country trip to Walley World like his family did thirty years ago.

Review
One of Hollywood’s go-to moves lately has been revisiting franchises that have been dormant for 20 or 30 years and making sequels or remakes or reboots. Often, these attempts are not received well. Movies like Dumb and Dumber To orΒ Total Recall fail to capture that certain something that made the original films so popular and beloved in the first place, attempting to cash in on nostalgia rather than make a film that is worth its legacy. Vacation, more of a sequel than reboot, falls into this category. And like all the others, it’s a pale comparison to the films that came before it.

I will admit that this film did make me laugh. In the same way the 1983 Vacation was a good fit for Chevy Chase’s style of humor, this Vacation highlights Ed Helms’ comedic talents. The types of jokes and gags it has are a bit juvenile at times and what I call β€œstupid funny” but honestly, it makes me laugh. If you’ve seen Helms’ films like Cedar Rapids or The Hangover then you’ll have a sense of what to expect from him. The dynamic between the two Griswold kids, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins), was unexpected and created for some humorous moments. Chris Hemsworth continues to prove that he can do comedy as well as he does action. His timing and delivery are spot-on. If the Vacation franchise somehow manages to continue, he should be the Cousin Eddie of the β€œreboot.”

In movies like this one, there is an extra emphasize on homages that try to cash in on the nostalgia of the franchise. Sometimes the filmmakers go overboard with the callbacks that feels like they are pandering to the audience. Luckily, Vacation doesn’t fall into that trap; it has just the right amount of references to the previous films, particularly the original Vacation, that it doesn’t feel heavy-handed or too much.

I think the what I was most disappointed about was the portrayal of Rusty. I know it’s around thirty years after the original Vacation but this Rusty seems like more of a push-over than what was portrayed in the other films. As much as I like Helms, his personality doesn’t match the Rusty we’ve seen in the four previous films. Maybe it’s just me but that’s how I felt. I think it was less of how Helms portrayed Rusty and more of how the part was written.

Another problem with making a film simply to cash in on nostalgia is that often it lacks the charisma or charm of the first one and Vacation unfortunately does not buck that trend. The characters lack the appeal of Clark and Ellen, and the Griswold kids even less so. The actors also don’t have the same chemistry as the original cast. It’s not like this brand of comedy cannot be full of heart, plenty of other movies have proven that it can happen, but this film is more focused on trying to capture the magic of its inspiration that it forgets what made it memorable in the first place.

I thought Vacation was OK 😐 It’s simply another attempt to ride the nostalgia wave popular in Hollywood right now and it falls way short of capturing the magic of the original Vacation. Maybe this film might have fared better if it wasn’t attached to a franchise like the Vacation franchise. But then again, if it tried that, I imagine it probably would have been compared to the original Vacation and then still would have been looked at in a less than positive light. Moral of the story is let’s stop trying to remake or reboot beloved and popular franchises simply because it can be done. If you want to watch a great film like Vacation, simply watch Vacation.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
John Francis Daley – Director / Writer
Jonathan Goldstein – Director / Writer
Mark Mothersbaugh – Composer

Ed Helms – Rusty Griswold
Christina Applegate – Debbie Griswold
Skyler Gisondo – James Griswold
Steele Stebbins – Kevin Griswold
Leslie Mann – Audrey Crandall
Chris Hemsworth – Stone Crandall
Chevy Chase – Clark Griswold
Beverly D’Angelo – Ellen Griswold
Catherine Missal – Adena
Charlie Day – Chad
Ron Livingston – Ethan
Norman Reedus – Trucker

Vegas Vacation Review

Vegas Vacation movie posterSynopsis
When Clark (Chevy Chase) receives a bonus from work, he takes his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), son Rusty (Ethen Embry), and daughter Audrey (Marisol Nichols) on a family vacation to Las Vegas.

Review
I know that Vegas Vacation, the fourth film in the Vacation franchise, is the most maligned of the series but I have a confession to make: I enjoy it quite a bit. Admittedly, I might be a little bit biased as this was one of the first films I owned on DVD and therefore watched it much more than any other film in the series (except maybe Christmas Vacation). Vegas Vacation is the first film in the Vacation franchise to not carry the National Lampoon moniker, as well as the first not penned by John Hughes. Despite this, Vegas Vacation still packs plenty of laughs and good times.

Early on, it is obvious Hughes was uninvolved with the script because it lacks the heart of the previous films. Also, the script is nowhere near as strong as previous outings. However, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo remain true to form and carry the film as best they can. Unsurprisingly, some of the best scenes of the film are when Chase and D’Angelo are together. What else can I say that I haven’t said about them in my other reviews? They are simply a fantastic duo.

For a good portion of the film, the Griswolds split up and each explore Las Vegas on their own, giving Chase, D’Angelo, Ethan Embry, and Marisol Nichols plenty of screen time. The strength of each of these four subplots varies but my personal favorites are Embry’s Rusty becoming a high roller despite being underage, and Chase’s Clark going around Las Vegas with Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) trying to regain the money he lost. Although I would be lying if I consider Clark’s portion my favorite parts because Quaid is at his best in the entire series. Quaid has always been one of the highlights of the franchise for me so seeing him in such a central role and rivaling Clark for my favorite character of the film is an impressive feat.

Ellen’s (D’Angello) and Audrey’s (Nichols) subplots don’t feel like they add much to the story. Ellen gets wooed by Wayne Newton which has some laughs but also just feels uncomfortable at times. Meanwhile, Audrey, encouraged by her cousin Vicki (Shae D’lyn), becomes a dancer in a Las Vegas club. Honestly, it’s during these scenes that I just wait patiently for Rusty’s or Clark’s scenes or for the entire group to be together again since they are far more interesting.

I thought Vegas Vacation was GOOD πŸ™‚ It’s far from the best in the series but I still find it highly enjoyable. Chase and D’Angelo are fantastic together as you’ve come to expect over the franchise and the latest round of Rusty and Audrey, Ethan Embry and Marisol Nichols respectively, do fine against their movie parents. And once again, Audrey’s story feels the weakest while Rusty’s is one of the most entertaining of the film. Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie continues to be a stand-out supporting character, being the best appearance of him of all the Vacation movies. While it doesn’t close out the franchise with the strength it started with, Vegas Vacation is still an entertaining trip with the Griswolds.

Favorite Quote
Hoover Dam Guide: Welcome everyone. I am your dam guide, Arnie. Now I’m about to take you through a fully functional power plant, so please, no one wander off the dam tour and please take all the dam pictures you want. Now are there any dam questions?
Cousin Eddie: Yeah, where can I get some dam bait?

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Stephen Kessler – Director
Elisa Bell – Story / Screenplay
Bob Ducsay – Story
Joel McNeely – Composer

Chevy Chase – Clark Griswold
Beverly D’Angelo – Ellen Griswold
Ethan Embry – Rusty Griswold
Marisol Nichols – Audrey Griswold
Randy Quaid – Cousin Eddie
Mariiam Flynn – Cousin Catherine
Shae D’lyn – Cousin Vicki
Wayne Newton – Wayne Newton
Wallace Shawn – Marty
Sid Caesar – Old Guy

National Lampoon’s European Vacation Review

National Lampoon's European Vacation movie posterSynopsis
The Griswolds, Clark (Chevy Chase), Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Rusty (Jason Lively), and Audrey (Dana Hill), take a vacation across Europe.

Review
Sequels are tricky to pull off but comedy sequels are even more so. The audience expects a certain sense of humor but that does not mean that the film can repeat the same jokes. Since the Griswold’s toured much of the United States in the last film, they are sent to Europe this time to give them a new playground to cause havoc in. This setting opens up plenty of new joke and gag possibilities while still maintaining the sense of humor that made Vacation so enjoyable. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo return with the same fantastic chemistry they had in the previous film. John Hughes once again pens the script, this time with Robert Klane assisting with the screenplay, which highlights Chase’s and D’Angelo’s comedic talents. The two of them together makes the entire franchise so endearing and fun to return to.

The Griswold kids have been recast in this film due to Anthony Micheal Hall’s involvement with Weird Science, another Hughes movie filming around the same time. Jason Lively now plays Rusty and Dana Hill portrays Audrey. Lively does a good job picking up the reins of Rusty from Hall and Hill’s Audrey feels more relevant to the story but they don’t quite fill the shoes of Hall and Dana Barron from Vacation. The story takes place during a two week period and it tries to fit as many locations in as possible. As a result, the movie moves along pretty quickly and with a relatively short run time, around an hour and a half, European Vacation is over before you know it.

I thought National Lampoon’s European Vacation was GOOD πŸ™‚ Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo are yet again the shining stars. Expect much of the same type of humor as the last film but in a new setting. This film hits all the same notes that made Vacation entertaining and lovable but it doesn’t have the same highs and even has lower lows than its predecessor. It’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice but European Vacation tries its hardest.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Amy Heckerling – Director
John Hughes – Story / Screenplay
Robert Klane – Screenplay
Charles Fox – Composer

Chevy Chase – Clark Griswold
Beverly D’Angelo – Ellen Griswold
Jason Lively – Rusty Griswold
Dana Hill – Audrey Griswold