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

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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

Quick Movie Review: The Big Sick (2017)

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Just as 2009’s 500 Days of Summer shows us what can come out of an unsuccessful relationship, and 1989’s Say Anything leaves the story unfinished, 2017’s The Big Sick deals with how to fight through adversity in a relationship to make it work. While taking three different angles of relationships, what these films have in common, however, is they are realistic romantic comedies that people will be talking about (or have talked about) for a long time.

Comedian Kumail Nanjiani writes and stars in The Big Sick, where he plays himself in a semi-autobiographical story of how he and his wife, Emily, first meet.

It details Nanjiani’s courtship with Emily. Except he’s from Pakistan and Emily is a white American girl. In Kumail’s culture, people have arranged marriages, and his parents have been tying to set him up for a long time, but he doesn’t tell Emily. Kumail feels distant from his culture, and is very attuned to American life. Emily finds out what Kumail’s been hiding and that he hasn’t even told his parents about her. She immediately breaks up with him.

This part may be the only negative of this film. It feels slightly forced. Why would Kumail give up the girl he loves for ideals he doesn’t believe in? He says it’s so he doesn’t get cast out of the family, but we’re never truly convinced that he enjoys being a part of his family in the first place. However, it’s padded with so much good stuff on either side that it’s forgivable.

A little while later, it’s discovered that Emily has some sort of mysterious infection in her lungs and is put in a medically induced coma. Kumail still loves her and stays by her side, and meets her parents for the first time in the hospital. With the tension of their breakup, they’re unsure what to think of Kumail.

The result is one of the most real romantic comedies you will ever see. Not in the events themselves, necessarily, but in the lack of emphasis on them. There isn’t some groundbreaking event that leads to Emily’s mom getting past her reservations about Kumail, but it’s still one of the relationships that helps form this film.

The Big Sick tends to avoid cliches and stereotypes. Probably the only thing it stereotypes is comedians, but that’s because it’s written by one.

Ray Romano and Holly Hunter play Emily’s parents. Both are incredible. Hunter is commendable for her character’s seamless evolution, and Romano’s compassion and always-comforting humor ground the film.

The Big Sick’s major strength is that it’s much smarter than it appears to be. At one point, Emily’s parents want to move her to a “better” hospital while she’s in a coma, which goes against the advice of the hospital and Kumail, who both stress the dangers of doing so. Kumail aggressively tries to stop them, but Emily’s mother says that they are her parents and know what’s best for her. While Kumail’s parents are claiming that he’s being selfish for wanting to be with a white woman for their own reasons, he sees Emily’s parents doing the same thing, despite what’s actually best for Emily.

In the film, and in real life, Kumail is a stand-up comedian. The Big Sick takes us into the mind of a comedian and how he tries to find humor in everything–even the most depressing things. It’s a way of coping that some–including this film’s audience–may be put off by. It may seem like it never truly tries to grasp onto its melancholy.

Comedy is absolutely everywhere in this movie. And at times it’s relentless. It may feel like it’s parodying the events that take place, but it’s actually serving to show us something. The comedy is there to provide laughs and to establish a certain atmosphere, but it’s also used as a theming device. The movie isn’t just about this relationship between two people, but it’s about comedy itself and how ubiquitous it is in Kumail’s life. It’s made him who he is, and even allowed him to meet his wife.

While Emily is in her coma, Kumail spends almost all of his time with her parents, getting to know them. He witnesses their love for each other, while also getting to learn about their major issues. He sees that every couple has their problems and that if you truly love someone, you work them out and fight for your relationship.

The Big Sick is one of the best romantic comedies you will ever see in that it doesn’t feel like one, while at the same time dissecting for us the things that make relationships work. Things that you can’t always put into words.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Escape From L.A. (1996)

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In 1996, 15 years was a long time between sequels. The ’90s saw a lot more smoothing out of narratives, which is one reason why many movies from that decade don’t seem so dated. In the ’80s and before, everything was a bit looser and contained a lot more visual exposition in genres where now, we’re not at all used to–like action films.

1981’s Escape From New York is a good movie, but it feels dry and disjointed at times. Escape From L.A. is just a lot more fun and easier to follow. We get more depth from Snake Plissken and see him actually care about something and someone.

Just like New York, Los Angeles has now turned into an autonomous prison where the inmates are left to fend for themselves. It’s 2013 and the president’s daughter steals her father’s doomsday device, which can rid any nation or region of the world of their technology at the press of a button. She takes it into the prison and gets it to a mastermind criminal who intends to use this device to threaten the US government if they try to stop him from taking over the country. The government hires Snake (Kurt Russell) to retrieve this device.

The president believes that anyone who is convicted of performing an immoral act must be banished to L.A. Which is basically how real life prison works–except in this movie, he puts people away for eating red meat or not having the same religious beliefs as he does.

Basically, as rough as it is inside the walls of the L.A. prison, at least they have true freedom–unlike life outside the prison walls. This gives Escape From L.A. more of a wild west feel.

At one point, the villain says, “This city can kill anybody.” I can’t help but feel like this is also a parallel to the real life Los Angeles. People come here to become something and fulfill their dreams, usually to find out that it doesn’t happen as easily as they thought, or may never happen at all. It defeats them and eats them alive.

But depth of story is nothing without depth of character. Plissken actually seems vulnerable, and even has a hopeless look on his face at times. He’s given someone to care about other than himself for once, and his own personal philosophies and growth are more realized.

The film gives us a lot of information at first, but doesn’t take long to become engaging. The action scenes are entertainingly ridiculous. There’s an actual sequence where Snake is surfing a 40-foot wave next to a cliff, and then jumps from the wave onto the back of a car that’s driving on the cliff. It’s cartoony and silly, but intentionally. Another scene that takes place inside a pseudo-replica of Disneyland is another charm.

Just like the first film, it creates this whole world within the city walls, yet this one expands on that and even makes it a little more fun and mysterious. Making us feel like there’s so much more we haven’t even seen yet.

Escape From L.A. is an improvement on its predecessor. The themes are much more relatable and timeless. Escape From New York acts as commentary on the Watergate scandal, whereas Escape From L.A. talks about the state that this country has always been in. It has an epic feel and an extremely memorable and rewarding finish.

Twizard Rating: 96

Quick Movie Review: Chopping Mall (1986)

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Chopping Mall isn’t really scary and it doesn’t get you with a bunch of visually disturbing images, which is part of the reason why it didn’t really have any kind of traction until it was released on VHS.

Nowadays it’s developed a cult following mostly because it’s dripping with 1980s nostalgia. That, mixed with an odd concept and an epic finish, and it’s a recipe for tape-heads all over the world.

Chopping Mall takes place entirely inside of a multi-story shopping mall that “hires” three crime fighting robots to protect the mall after hours. But after a thunder storm, the robots go haywire and connive to kill everyone.

Meanwhile, eight teenage employees decide to throw a make-out party inside one of the department stores after it closes. They soon realize they must fight for their lives until the morning.

We almost wish that there were more backstory behind the killer robots. Then again, it’s not completely unacceptable for there not to be. They were struck by lightning. That’s it.

The dialogue isn’t award-winning, though it’s riddled with quotes akin to the kind you’d expect a movie titled Chopping Mall to have. The acting starts off way better than we expect. It’s somewhat disappointing. And maybe the filmmakers realized that too, because in the 2nd half we get some insanely delivered lines.

You can put Chopping Mall in the horror genre, but it’s more of a sci-fi exploitation film with horror elements. In reality, it’s a more PG-13 interpretation of its title, with no real “chopping” happening at all. But it’s still entertaining. Definitely good for rewatching and having a good laugh here and there. It’s not perfect, but at 76 minutes, who cares?

Twizard Rating: 78