Quick Movie Review: The Goonies (1985)

goonies

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

Advertisements

Quick Movie Review: Spaceballs (1987)

spaceballs

As a kid I watched Spaceballs after hearing my friends spew quotes from the film. This was maybe around 2001 or so. I was a lifelong Star Wars fan and understood all of the references, but the jokes just weren’t as funny as I had anticipated. Clever, sure. But not enough to make me laugh out loud. As an adult rewatching it, I acknowledge that there are some creative moments, and can appreciate them a little bit more, but it’s still a far cry from the types of comedies on the market today. As parody films usually are.

It’s interesting though, that the things I found funniest then are different than the things I find funny now. And then there are things that I don’t find funn–neither now nor then.

I recognize that Mel Brooks is a comedic genius, but also realize that this particular film was towards the end of his run, which ultimately ended about 8 years later.

The movie is essentially a Star Wars parody, and although the plot is superfluous, I’ll give you a little bit. A planet, run by a Darth Vader spoof, plans on stealing another planet’s air supply in order to replenish their own, so a Han Solo-type character tries to stop them.

Spaceballs is the type of film that shows how far comedy has come. Though parodies don’t really make the cut anymore, in 1987 there was a market for them.

But still, this film is extremely dated. It’s a wacky, gimmick-filled script that’s mostly not that funny anymore–or at all. The comedy is sort of all over the place. Sometimes it’s reminiscent of some B-roll Monty Python, and other times shows some radiation from Airplane!, but it never quite sticks to one schtick.

Monty Python and Airplane! are funny if you grew up with them, and still find many new fans in today’s culture. Spaceballs doesn’t have as much luck.

But it’s visually and conceptually pleasing, even if the parody premise makes us less invested in the plot. The Star Wars themes and appealing set pieces allow it to be enjoyable anyway.

Rick Moranis is great as Lord Dark Helmet, and even despite antiquated humor, the jokes never fall flat because they’re always delivered with conviction and confidence–credit to Brooks and the talented cast that he’s assembled.

Twizard Rating: 76

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

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: Friday the 13th (1980)

friday the 13th

Summer camp, teenagers, murder. Friday the 13th wasn’t quite the first film to carry these traits, but it definitely popularized them, along with the slasher film sub-genre as a whole.

The movie follows a group of young adults who are fixing up an old abandoned summer camp, when they soon become stalked by an unknown killer.

All throughout, it does well to take your mind off of the fact that it’s a horror film, striking when you least expect it. Almost as though it’s not fully aware that it’s a horror film itself–both a good and bad consequence of helping set a genre’s formula. Good because it gives you a better element of surprise, but bad because it tends to meander and lollygag. In fact, no one is even aware that there is a murderer on the loose until the final third of the film.

Unlike 1983’s Sleepaway Camp–which many accuse of being a Friday the 13th imitator–this film doesn’t really give its villain a personality until the very end.

While most of the movie is campy when not suspenseful, the last 15 minutes are truly chilling. But even during this part, it’s convenient stupidity of the characters that elongates the film an extra ten minutes or so.

Director Sean S. Cunningham does a pretty good job building the suspense when needed, but isn’t so competent with the young actors’ performances, often times overlooking a misdelivered line or two.

Actually, I think the suspense should be mostly credited to the fantastic score by Harry Manfredini, which is on a totally different level than the rest of the film. The music gives the movie integrity where it’s otherwise trying to find its footing.

This first Friday the 13th installment is definitely dated, and some of the copycat movies actually turn out better, but there’s something intangibly refreshing about a film that isn’t trying to replicate a formula beat by beat. Since there hadn’t quite been a proven formula yet at this time, Friday the 13th gets to certain spots on accident. The events happen organically instead of the filmmakers trying to hit all the marks of successful slashers before this one. Not that some aspects aren’t inspired, but it’s less shameless than what was to come following this film.

Twizard Rating: 74

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

Ranking Every ‘Salute Your Shorts’ Episode Ever!

salute your shorts.jpg

Salute Your Shorts is easily my favorite ’90s Nickelodeon show. It became synonymous with the summers of my childhood. Watching Nick In the Afternoon and hoping that Stick Stickly would announce it up next was perhaps the most anxious my life got at such a young age.

It ran from 1991 to 1992, but Nickelodeon syndicated it well until 1998, to where it was even among the top 15 highest-rated regularly scheduled basic-cable series in 1996, according to Nielsen, despite not having aired a new episode in four years.

Continue reading

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