Quick Movie Review: I, Robot (2004)

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2004 was an interesting time for special effects. Sci-fi films had just really started to use CGI for mostly everything. And while the effects stopped looking as cheap, they still didn’t look as realistic as they could have been. To the point where, in some instances, you could make the case that practical effects would have been a better option (e.g. Yoda in the Star Wars prequels).

But in 2004, the effects in I, Robot were cool and probably pretty necessary. It’s a film about robots turning against humans. And in this scenario, the antiquated (by today’s standards) technology works in its favor. The robots look more creepy because of it. Watching it now, you never question how real the robots are. Instead you just think about how eerie they appear on screen.

The film is set in Chicago in 2035. Will Smith plays a cop who hates new technology, and loves the “old” way of living. He’s hired to investigate the apparent suicide of the founder of the leading robotics company in the world. But Smith doesn’t think it’s a suicide. He suspects that one of the company’s robots killed him.

Pretty much no one has charisma like Will Smith. Even when he doesn’t try to be funny and affable. You just can’t look away. You’re on the edge of your seat waiting for him to say something cool–which is almost always. He’s the perfect actor for this role. He’s completely convincing and his humor never undermines the weight of the story.

I, Robot has a quasi-noir vibe. It could have easily been just a mindless action flick charged by Smith’s charisma, but it’s cleverly written and deceptively deep. Director Alex Proyas really makes sure that the audience feels a certain way about this movie. That it’s not just another blockbuster that the studio has thrown millions of dollars at.

After nearly 15 years, I, Robot holds up incredibly well. It still feels futuristic and fresh. Especially for relying so much on its special effects. In the post-practical effects world, that’s almost unheard of.

Twizard Rating: 100

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Quick Movie Review: Man Down (2015)

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If you’ve seen a lot of war films and are watching Man Down solely for this purpose, then it may not be the movie for you. It’s not just about war, but about the effects of war and the relationship between a soldier and his child. There is very little actual battle action. Most of the story takes place before and after, but somehow it still retains the feel of a war film.

It follows U.S. Marine Gabriel Drummer, played by Shia LaBeouf, and jumps around non-linearly as he goes through basic training, battles in Afghanistan, and dealing with PTSD after returning home.

It’s obvious that the writers had a great idea for this unique macro concept, but felt required to fill in the gaps with typical war-movie plot points–even feeling a bit by-the-numbers during those parts.

But the reality is this film has a lot to say. And it says a lot without actually saying anything. A victory in itself.

It’s not preachy, which a lesser film would have been. Sure, if it wasn’t for a commanding presence like LaBeouf, this movie would be a little more bland as it finds its way to the good parts. But as ordinary as the plot can get, the writing is never phoned in.

A film like this could have easily been confusing with its unusual narrative, but it’s easy to follow.

Shia’s transformation as Drummer throughout the movie is even more impressive as we can see evidence of it juxtaposed through the jumps in the timeline.

Nothing about Man Down feels like a bad movie. It’s really well acted, it’s deep, it’s technically satisfactory. Perhaps it’s a bit plodding at first. It just feels like an ordinary story about a guy in the military. You expect something big to happen, but it takes awhile. And then it grabs you in hard about halfway through.

I remember Shia saying a couple years back that he felt this was the best movie he’d done so far. And I can see why. It’s purposefully artistic, but also heartwarming and intense.

It’s definitely not a film for those who want a quick thrill. And if you’re the type of person who glances at Rotten Tomatoes scores ahead of time, then you’re going to be looking for something wrong with it. But in reality, it’s a movie that’s worth watching. Especially if you can relate. And especially if you go in with an open mind. Some people may still become impatient, but then they should probably just go watch another movie entirely.

Twizard Rating: 96

Quick Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

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It’s difficult to judge a movie with expectations as high as those for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Han Solo’s story is one of the most well-known fictional sagas of all time. There are points that this movie needs to hit. Like how he meets Chewbacca, or his history with Lando Calrissian. The former doesn’t disappoint, and the latter is satisfying enough, leaving room for growth.

The film sets up Solo’s story for sequels and even prequels–a frustrating reality, since we would love to have learned about Han’s childhood, or his dealings with Jabba the Hutt.

But Solo picks a story in Han’s life to talk about. One that begins with him (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) trying to escape a planet in which they are essentially enslaved by an evil gang. At the time of their flee, Han and Qi-ra are separated with Han vowing to come back for her.

Three years later, Solo makes his way onto a team of outlaws, featuring characters played by Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton, who are about to pull off a big heist. Both actors do a great job, and Harrelson might actually be the real star of this movie. His character gives Han so much of his depth and provides reasons for his personality that can be accounted for in the rest of the series.

Along the way some things happen and there are some fun twists. Though it still seems like something’s missing. Perhaps it’s the fact that director, Ron Howard, came aboard halfway through production, so the directorial identity is almost non-existent. However, it could have been so much worse. It’s Star Wars, so somehow it still entertains us.

It’s an instant letdown not to see Harrison Ford as Han Solo. It almost feels blasphemous. Deep down, we’ve always questioned whether it was really the character who was great, or simply Ford himself. We might find ourselves closer to an answer after this installment. Although it’s hard to say Han isn’t interesting. And that’s what still propels this film. Because the character still feels similar enough even with a new actor portraying him.

It’s easy not to be sold on Ehrenreich’s performance as a young Han Solo, but it’s easier not to be sold on Donald Glover’s performance as a young Lando Calrissian. Parts of Ehrenreich’s portrayal feels off. After he delivers a line, you close your eyes and try to imagine Ford saying the same thing. Yet other times, it’s oddly close. Ehrenreich would have been fine if we weren’t so familiar with Ford. Billy Dee Williams’ performance in the original trilogy is so effortless, whereas Glover is caught acting a little. Regardless of our familiarity with Williams, Glover just doesn’t seem to fit as well (no pun intended).

But character/actor resemblances shouldn’t be the thing you take away from this movie. It should be about the story itself. And that part it executes decently well.

In the beginning, we’re unsure where this movie is taking us, since it doesn’t feel like an origins story. It just feels like a one-off. But the deeper we get into it and the more recognizable characters we see (e.g. Chewbacca, The Millennium Falcon), we’re reminded that it’s still the same series.

If you’re a fan of the franchise, this will likely get you excited about the possibilities for future installments–whether that speaks to what this film has established or how it’s left us wanting more, is still up in the air. Either way, if it was bad, I’m sure no one would care about getting anything more. Or maybe they would, because, you know, that’s the magic of Star Wars.

Twizard Rating: 87

Quick Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

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It’s really unclear why Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets such a bad rap. It has all the makings of a classic Indiana Jones film. Iconic scenes, fun action, a good mystery, and Harrison Ford.

Ford fits the title role just as good as ever. Never seeming like he’s trying to keep up. Balancing him out well is the new character, Mutt Williams, played by Shia LaBeouf. The two actors compliment each other and LaBeouf, like always, makes the film a lot more affable.

Taking place in 1957, Mutt seeks the help of Jones to find the legendary Crystal Skull of Akator–an alien artifact containing telepathic powers.

It takes place only 19 years after the events of the previous trilogy, but it feels like more. Things changed dramatically from the late-’30s to the late-’50s. The original Indiana Jones films act as an homage to the serials of the ’30s. We’re past that here. Pop culture is in full swing and mass media is just beginning. It’s fun finally seeing Indy in a new era.

Amidst the Cold War and Americans truly feeling like they were lost and in the dark, the ’50s is often depicted as a more innocent time. Perhaps the last purely “innocent” decade. Yet the dichotomy between innocence and fear is captured nicely here.

Director Steven Spielberg gives us an intentional ’80s aesthetic in order to match the quality of the original. But perhaps he underestimated that quality. The original movies looked great for that time. I’d be interested to see what this film would’ve looked like with a more 2008 look.

It utilizes the comical aspects of the 3rd film, but takes it even further to some people’s dismay. The humor borders on campy a couple of times, but so it does in The Last Crusade, and I’m not so sure people were complaining back then. In a series where all three of the original films had completely different tones, Crystal Skull is no different. This one is another welcome change. That disparity helps to round out our main character. Showing him in different ways helps give him depth.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has a great story and takes us on an amazing adventure. When people think of Indiana Jones, they think of the type of things that happen in this film. People love to romanticize Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the truth is that movie is dated. Crystal Skull gives us an Indy to fit in with modern times without making it feel too modern.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

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Sometimes we enjoy the latter films in a series simply because we like the characters and we’ve become invested in their lives. And I wondered if that was the case for The Last Crusade. Because it resembles Raiders of the Lost Ark. Perhaps in an attempt to right all of the wrongs from that movie.

And it does. It takes the first film and improves upon it immensely. Other than the iconic opening scene, Raiders of the Lost Ark drags and doesn’t hold up incredibly well. But Last Crusade is easy to follow and has some really well-constructed action sequences–including a fun scene on a tank that feels like something out of Mad Max.

At the start of the film we get a pseudo-origins story for Indiana Jones, which is pretty cool. Set in 1912, Young Indy is played by River Phoenix. It’s not terribly relevant to the rest of the film, but it’s definitely fun for fans.

Years later, in 1938, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) finds out that his father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) has gone missing in pursuit of the Holy Grail. Now Indy must find him and get to the Grail before Hitler’s Nazis do.

The journey there is far better than the one to the Ark of the Covenant. It doesn’t give away the mystery right away, which keeps the audience along for the ride.

It’s more of a Western compared to the first two. It’s not dark like Temple of Doom. It’s pretty light. In fact, it borders on farce on a couple occasions–even poking fun at itself. It has some genuinely great comedic instincts, with Connery’s character providing good opportunities for humor.

He and Ford have solid chemistry, but the film doesn’t try to say too much about their characters’ relationship. Even though implications arise that they’re close, it’s unclear if this is even intentional, since these ideas are contradicted a few times. For most of the film, Henry, Sr. acts like a bumbling old man who hasn’t yet caught up with the changing times. But he never settles into that role convincingly enough. At first they have him acting like a strict and neglectful father, having us assume that Indy resents his dad. But that’s soon abandoned and forgotten about. There are some other more innocuous plot holes and convoluted details, but they all get fleshed out in the end.

The camerawork here is really impressive. I know the first two films have their fair share of iconic shots, but honestly, overall this movie might have even more well-deserving ones than the previous two.

Raiders of the Lost Ark has a memorable ending, but the ending in The Last Crusade is just really cool and mystical. In a way, representing the type of reward that Indiana Jones wishes to get out of all of his expeditions. We, as an audience, feel it too. A perfect way to wrap up the original trilogy.

Twizard Rating: 99

Quick Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

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As a kid, I probably saw Temple of Doom much younger than I should have. At times it’s borderline a horror movie. It was the first thing I had seen above a PG rating and it left such an impact on me. Certain parts I obsessed over. I became enthralled with exotic foods and the weird and creepy. I may have been 8 or 9, but I remember scenes from this film just as clearly as if I had watched them yesterday.

And it makes a lot of sense, considering that, unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark–which has a few great scenes surrounded by some pedestrian, yet obligatory, transition ones–Temple of Doom is one memorable scene after another.

It’s much more free-flowing and organic. We don’t feel like it’s merely a product of a story or a script. It transcends that and we truly get lost in the film. Director Steven Spielberg definitely ups the ante with Temple of Doom.

In 1935, a year before Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones finds himself in India, where a local village asks him for his help recovering a mystical stone that was stolen from them by an ancient underground cult, who’s also enslaved all of the children from the village.

There’s much more mystery in this film than its predecessor. In Raiders, they tell everyone how to find the Ark of the Covenant within the first 20 minutes. But here, Indy is figuring it out on his own as he goes along. And so are we. Discovering hidden passage ways and secret societies.

Really, the only bad part is the main female character, Willie, played by Kate Capshaw, who the actress describes as “not much more than a dumb screaming blonde.” That’s pretty accurate, as she’s nearly unbearable–especially early on as she just keeps complaining about breaking a nail. It’s not funny, nor is it realistic. But the movie is so good that we can overlook this.

Temple of Doom is all that you wanted from the last film. An archaeologist and lover of the occult should be exploring underground temples or caves, not becoming trapped on a boat in the middle of the ocean. This is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s left an impression on me my whole life, and watching it again as an adult, it definitely holds up.

Twizard Rating: 98

Quick Movie Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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It’s difficult to review Indiana Jones with fresh eyes. It’s one of those iconic movies that almost everyone grew up watching over and over again. Once being the freshest movie of it’s time, it now has that classic cinema feel. When that transition happened is unclear, but watching it now it’s obvious that the iconic scenes seem to make us all forget that the movie is not exactly perfect.

While it gets more and more dated as time goes on, its faults also stand out more. For one, it drags a lot, continuing on longer than it probably needs to.

Perhaps its biggest issue is that the rest of the film is just trying to live up to that amazing first scene. In one of the most iconic openings in movie history, Indiana Jones is going through some booby-trapped temple in Peru to retrieve a golden idol. It’s exciting, it keeps us on the edge of our seats, and is still one of the most exhilarating sequences in any action film ever. Plot-wise, it has little-to-nothing to do with the rest of the story. It merely sets up who Indiana Jones is. Yet, throughout the film we never get anything really close to this type of scene again.

Luckily, it’s carried by a cool story and concept. As a society, we’re fascinated with the occult, so that aspect still holds up.

Set in 1936, Raiders of the Lost Ark follows Jones, played by Harrison Ford, as he’s hired by the US government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis can get to it and utilize its suspected powers.

As much as we try, we just can’t ever imagine anyone else playing Indiana Jones. His dry humor and make-it-up-as-he-goes demeanor have always been able to make any dialogue sound cool, but give him a good script and he’s simply one-of-a-kind.

John Williams’ epic score matches the grandeur of what director Steven Spielberg had in mind. So even when things are a little slow, we’re able to forget it a little.

There’s no denying that Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most important movies of the New Hollywood era as its impact is still very much seen all over today’s cinema. Maybe it’s a good thing we only remember the good parts. Most of us have seen it so many times, we can just fast forward to them anyway.

Twizard Rating: 91

Quick Movie Review: The Founder (2016)

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Like many well-known brands, McDonald’s was catapulted to the top of the fast-food chain by a not-so-nice person, Ray Kroc.

In The Founder, Kroc, portrayed by Michael Keaton, is a struggling traveling salesman who discovers McDonald’s, a burger restaurant in San Bernradino, CA, owned by Dick and Mac McDonald. He convinces them to bring him on board so that he can successfully franchise their brand all over the country, promising to keep the integrity of their name.

And he does at first. Kroc is obsessed with maintaing the family-friendly environment that the McDonald brothers had finally established. He romanticizes the idea of family and wholesomeness. Like many Americans, Kroc is a dreamer. But it’s how he achieves his dreams–destructing everyone around him–that are unfortunate.

Just like The Founder is a lesson on how to succeed in business, it also shows the inherently flawed nature of the business world in America. To where Kroc has a flourishing business, yet is still drowning in debt and about to lose his house–forcing his hand to be greedy and dishonest and even more aggressive in order to survive. Combined with the success and fame getting to his head, it turns him into a monster. It’s a seamless transformation over the course of the film, to where we almost forget that he wasn’t like that in the beginning.

The Founder starts off as a nice period piece of the 1950s, throwing at us a ton of zeitgeist from that era. It’s about how the McDonald brothers were able to think outside of the box in order to push their popularity ahead of all their competition. It’s fun, loose, and nostalgic. But then it does something a little odd. 30 minutes in, it begins to introduce personal drama in Kroc’s life. Tension with his wife when there was none before. It feels forced, but since it happens early on and is present throughout the rest of the movie, we soon forget about how out of place it was. It just wouldn’t have been so jarring if they had started out the film with some of this drama. Because then we wouldn’t feel like a movie about McDonald’s has turned into a movie about Ray Kroc.

Taking some subtle pages from The Social Network, The Founder really makes Kroc comparable to Mark Zuckerberg. We like him much of the time–especially in the beginning–but then eventually we can’t stand him. But since we liked him at some point, there’s part of us that still has an affinity for him. Although, unlike Zuckerberg, Kroc’s opposition are extremely likable. We’re rooting for them the whole time. Kroc actually becomes the true antagonist of this story.

The brothers’ forward thinking gets them the successful restaurant in the first place, but then they set themselves in their ways and are eventually afraid to change at all when Kroc tries to make them. Kroc adapted much better to the rapidly growing capitalist America. The McDonald brothers wanted fame over fortune–to see their name all over the country–and got it. But that’s about all they got.

It’s really a sad film. It’s depressing. McDonald’s has always been one of those establishments that’s represented America–especially in the 20th century. Luckily this movie won’t tarnish those feelings. Because Super Size Me already did that.

Twizard Rating: 93

Ranking Every ‘Goosebumps’ Book in the Original Series!

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Like most kids growing up in the ’90s, I collected Goosebumps books more than I read them. In fact, I probably only read a handful of them when I was young. But that didn’t stop me from wanting and collecting them. I loved the covers and the concepts–and even the titles. As kids, I think many of us loved the idea of Goosebumps more than anything else. Its popularity went beyond the just books themselves. I still have my Goosebumps bed spread from when I was a kid. And once again, I only read a handful of these books. That’s what Goosebumps does to us.

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Quick Movie Review: The Goonies (1985)

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Unlike most people my age, I didn’t grow up with The Goonies. I would’ve loved this movie as a kid, but wasn’t allowed to watch it. Not surprising since there’s a lot of mature sexual humor and some surprisingly graphic imagery considering its target audience. Which is unfortunate, because much of these things are unnecessary to the enjoyment of the film. Other than that, it’s one of the best ’80s kids movies I’ve seen–albeit that sample size is somewhat diminutive compared to the next decade. And as enjoyable as the movie is, its biggest issue is that it’s completely unsure of who its target audience is in the first place.

A group of adolescents growing up in a seaport town are facing a threat to their friendship as a property development company is forcing them out of their homes in order to build a country club.

The leader of these oddball kids is Mikey (Sean Astin), who discovers an old treasure map and is convinced that if they find this treasure they can save their homes. Unfortunately, a group of escaped convicts are on their trail, racing them to the treasure.

Since the movie does contain some intense and graphic scenes, the filmmakers might as well have made these villains actually scary, instead of bumbling Home Alone-type idiots. Nothing about them is terribly threatening.

Some parts get a little too wacky and juvenile, while simultaneously having other scenes that are almost too intense and mature for younger viewers.

As an adult, it’s the latter that makes this movie so good, but it’s the former that will alienate us a little. In Home Alone, the villains Harry and Marv are silly, but it fits the childlike and fun nature of the movie. However, The Goonies is much more intense overall, so we need the villains to match that.

Astin does a great job with the lead role, and his costars know how to stand out too, but director Richard Donner gives them a little too much freedom at times, and the result is chaotic.

The only reason why I gripe here is because, otherwise, it was very enjoyable.

The adventure aspect of this film is very well thought out. It’s so much fun as Mikey and his friends trek through this underground Indiana Jones-esque tunnel trying to find the treasure. Scene after scene is filled with well-crafted detail, never making us feel like it’s merely filler.

The bad part about such a fluid story like this is that the climax can potentially drag. And here, it meanders while trying to find the perfect result.

Steven Spielberg is credited as producer and with coming up with the story on this film, but it would have been so much better if he had actually directed it himself. Then these sloppy little mistakes and oversights here and there wouldn’t have been so prominent.

The Goonies is actually a good movie, and I should probably be emphasizing that more. It probably would’ve been one of my favorites as a child. But as an adult with no real nostalgic ties to it, it’s easy to see how much better it could have been.

Twizard Rating: 89