Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle


Going to the market is a little different in Jumanji.

(2017) Adventure (Columbia) Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Rhys Darby, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Sean Buxton, Mason Guccione, Marin Hinkle, Tracy Bonner, Najah Jackson, Natasha Charles Parker, Kat Altman, Maribeth Monroe, Missi Pyle. Directed by Jake Kasdan

 

There’s no doubt about it; there are pitfalls involved when making a sequel to a beloved and iconic family film 22 years after the fact. The original 1996 film Jumanji starring the late and equally beloved Robin Williams was based on a Chris van Allsburg-penned children’s book about a board game that had a bit of magic to it, bringing the jungle world of Jumanji into a small town complete with mischievous monkeys, scary spiders, rampaging herds of animals and a sadistic hunter named Van Pelt.

The sequel is a little bit updated. It starts with a young teen in 1996 being sucked into a mysterious console video game much as Alan Parrish was back in the day. Somehow the console with the videogame still in it made its way to a high school audio-video room which a group of disparate teens on detention have been tasked with cleaning up. The game is discovered and videogame nut Spencer (Wolff) is keen on playing it. Fridge (Blain), the football star in trouble because he’d enlisted Spencer to write a term paper for him reluctantly accedes as does Martha (Turner), a shy nerd and Bethany (Iseman), a Queen Bee of the school.

Of course the four teens are sucked inside the game and re-materialize as the avatars they’ve chosen; Spencer becomes the muscular and heroic Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Fridge the manic but diminutive zoologist Mouse Finbar (Hart), Martha the sultry martial artist Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan) and most amusing of all, Bethany the middle aged and out-of-shape cartographer Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Black). It is the star power of these four that truly makes the film work.

In any case, they are given unique and special powers as well as weaknesses, some of which are amusing – for example, eating cake will make Mouse Finbar explode. Each of the avatars have three lives available; when they use them all up, they are gone from the game permanently and maybe out of real life as well. They are given the mission of retrieving a magic emerald from villainous Van Pelt (Cannavale) – very different than the one in the original – and restoring it into a gigantic panther statue in order to restore balance to the land of Jumanji. Along the way they’ll battle poisonous snakes, voracious hippos, a herd of rampaging rhinos and not-too-bright but vicious henchmen.

One of the big criticisms of the original Jumanji – best articulated by the late, great Roger Ebert – was that the children in the film were often in realistic peril, perhaps much too much for a film aimed at children. Kasdan solves this dilemma by having the young teens morphed into adult avatars which although being in peril throughout can at least say they weren’t children in peril. Parents concerned about this aspect of the original can rest easy.

As I said, the four leads are really the reason to see the movie. Kasdan wisely plays to the strengths of the actors; the rapid-fire delivery of Hart, the easygoing charm of Johnson, Black’s ability to be absolutely uninhibited and Gillan’s lustrous physicality. Fans may recognize her as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy but Doctor Who fans may not recognize anything of Amy Pond in Ruby Roundhouse.

The present-day sequences with the actors playing the teens (not all of whom are juveniles – Blain is thirty years old at the time of release – are less compelling but then again how would you expect even veteran young actors like Wolff to compete with some of the biggest stars in the business? I suppose it’s not really fair but then again it is noticeable that the charm drops precipitously during the bookending sequences of pre-game and post-game.

I have to admit that despite the star power of the cast that I didn’t hold very high hopes for this one. I knew that inevitably it would be compared to the 1996 original and I was pretty sure that it would come out getting the short end of the stick but actually that wasn’t the case. In some ways, the more recent version is better than the original – certainly in the CGI and while Williams delivered a terrific performance along with Bonnie Hunt, the fab four of Johnson, Hart, Black and Gillan all were just as good if not better. I was pleasantly surprised by this and it might just end up in our permanent video collection when the time comes. The fact that the film did some marvelous box office numbers and has already had a sequel greenlit just confirms that the movie-going public agrees.

REASONS TO GO: The adult actors are smashing. This is much better than I expected it to be.
REASONS TO STAY: The actors playing the juveniles are pretty meh.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of action violence, some suggestive content and brief mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Johnson and Hart previously starred together in Central Intelligence.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/18/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Big
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Casting JonBenet

New Releases for the Week of December 22, 2017


JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

(Columbia) Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Rhys Darby, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Missi Pyle.  Directed by Jake Kasdan

A group of four bored teenagers discover an old video console and while fooling around with it are somehow transported into the game’s jungle setting, becoming the avatars they chose. They discover their strengths and weaknesses (don’t give Fridge any cake) and must work together if they are to survive the game and make it home. Based on the Robin Williams classic movie Jumanji.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG-13 (for adventure action, suggestive content and some language)

All the Money in the World

(Tri-Star) Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction; in the 70s, the heir to a billion-dollar oil fortune was kidnapped and held for ransom. His grandfather, the richest man on Earth, refused to pay it despite having his grandson’s ear sliced off as proof the kidnappers meant business, leaving his mom to rescue her boy on her own. Also stranger than fiction, disgraced actor Kevin Spacey was originally cast as oil baron J. Paul Getty. After being accused of sexual misconduct and only weeks before the release date, director Ridley Scott decided to erase Spacey from the film and digitally insert Christopher Plummer instead. Like I said, stranger than fiction.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release (opens Monday)

Rating: R (for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content)

Darkest Hour

(Focus) Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James. Early in World War II, the United Kingdom must replace their Prime Minister with a compromise candidate that nobody really wanted; Winston Churchill. He is given a nation to lead on the brink of complete military collapse; their army is trapped in Dunkirk and their navy and air force have taken a pounding. Somehow this unpopular Prime Minister must summon the will to lead his country through the darkest hour in their history.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material)

Downsizing

(Paramount) Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis. A middle class couple makes the decision that a new shrinking technique will make their lives better. When the wife backs out at the last moment, the husband is left to begin a new life in a new world and rediscovers wonder and purpose.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use)

Father Figures

(Warner Brothers) Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, Glenn Close, J.K. Simmons. Two twin brothers discover that their father, whom they were told was dead, was in fact possibly very much alive – but their mother wasn’t sure which man out of several possibilities their actual dad is. They decide to go on a road trip to find out for certain.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and sexual references throughout)

The Greatest Showman

(20th Century Fox) Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya. The story of the legendary P.T. Barnum whose circus and museum of oddities became known as the Greatest Show on Earth is set to music from the team that gave us La La Land.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including a brawl)

Molly’s Game

(STX) Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera. Here is the incredible but true story of former Olympic-class skier Molly Bloom who following her athletic career ran a high-stakes poker game that made her an FBI target when it turned out some very dangerous Russian Mafia types were part of her clientele. Remember the whole truth is stranger than fiction thing?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village (opens Monday)

Rating: R (for language, drug content and some violence)

Pitch Perfect 3

(Universal) Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp. The publicity is touting that this is the final chapter in the Glee-rip-off series. We can only pray they’re not lying.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, language and some action)

The Shape of Water

(Fox Searchlight) Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins. In a secret laboratory in the 1960s, a mute janitor discovers that the scientists are experimenting on a strange aquatic creature they took from the Amazon. She is determined to stop their cruel experiments on the creature when she discovers that not only is the being intelligent but an emotional attachment is developing between them. This film led all movies this year in total Golden Globe nominations with seven.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater, Wide Release

Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language)

Tiger Zinda Hai

(Yash Raj) Katrina Kaif, Salman Khan, Anupriya Goenka, Paresh Rawal. Superspies Tiger and Zoya are pressed back into service eight years later when India is threatened by a potential despot. This is the sequel to the massive Indian hit Ek the Tiger.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Crooked House
Hello!
Kaleidoscope
MCA – Middle Class Abbay

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Call Me by Your Name
Hello!
MCA – Middle Class Abbay
The Trace We Leave Behind

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Hello!
MCA – Middle Class Abbay
Velaikkaran

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Hello!
MCA – Middle Class Abbay

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

All the Money in the World
Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour
Downsizing
Father Figures
The Greatest Showman
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Molly’s Game
The Shape of Water

Hunt for the Wilderpeople


An odder couple you will not find.

An odder couple you will not find.

(2016) Comedy (The Orchard) Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Oscar Kightley, Stan Walker, Mike Minogue, Cohen Holloway, Rhys Darby, Troy Kingi, Taika Waititi, Hamish Parkinson, Stu Giles, Lloyd Scott, Selina Woulfe, Mabelle Dennison, Timothy Herbert, Sonia Spyve. Directed by Taika Waititi

Florida Film Festival 2016

Kids aren’t always easy fits. They aren’t always little darlings. Some have had a tough go of things and they don’t always behave like angels. They act out. They lash out. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad kids though.

Ricky Baker (Dennison) is a kid just like that. After his mom gave him away, he has been shuttled from foster home to foster home. Each time he ends up back in the hands of child services and Paula (House), his exasperated case officer. Ricky has one more shot – out in the sticks with Bella (Wiata), a kind-hearted woman living on the edge of the bush with her husband, curmudgeon Hec (Neill) who clearly wants nothing to do with Ricky – and for whom the feeling is mutual.

Circumstances arise that force Ricky and Hec to go fleeing into the bush with the incorrect assumption that Hec has somehow abused Ricky (mainly due to the surprisingly naive Ricky himself) and that due to circumstances, Ricky will be remanded to juvenile jail until he turns 18 as he has used up all of his foster care opportunities. The two become the object of a massive manhunt, becoming a major news story in New Zealand and the two become folk heroes.

With the relentless Paula chasing them and bounty hunters on their tail, it will take all of Hec’s bush knowledge to keep the city-bred hip-hop loving Ricky safe. And all of New Zealand seems hell bent on capturing the two and sending them both to their respective jails.

From the co-director of the wonderful What We Do in the Shadows, this is one of those movies that either the humor will appeal to you or it won’t. For me and Da Queen, it definitely did. There’s a scene early on of Bella killing a wild boar which won’t sound funny on paper, but had me in stitches. Comedy gold, I tell you.

Sam Neill, who has been around for quite awhile, puts in what just might be his best performance ever here. It’s not that Hec is just grouchy; he has to deal with all sorts of emotions, including some tender ones, during the course of the film. I’ve always liked Neill, going back to his turn as an adult Damian in The Omen III to his work in Jurassic Park and one of my favorites, The Hunt for Red October. This is the movie that fans of this actor should make a point of seeing.

Also, mention must be made of Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker. This is a young actor who has amazing comedy chops. He is blessed with a script that doesn’t descend into chintz or shtick, nor does it unduly play off of Dennison’s size (he’s overweight as you can see from the picture). Yet they don’t make him a laughingstock, as the movies often do with portly kids. That’s a good thing to see, but as well, Dennison nails his role and makes Ricky Baker a memorable character. That’s not an easy thing to do in a film like this.

The scenery is beautiful – New Zealand came by its reputation as one of the most beautiful places on Earth honestly. The soundtrack is also chock full of some terrific Kiwi pop songs that will keep your toes tapping throughout. There literally is nothing not to like about this movie.

Okay, maybe one thing. Some of the humor might be a little more over the top than some American audiences are used to. There’s a character played by @Midnight favorite Rhys Darby named Psycho Sam who lives up to his name. His presence derails the movie a little bit even though Darby does a fine job. It just feels like the character came in from another movie.

Otherwise, this movie rocks from beginning to end. It’s funny, sweet and like Ricky himself has a heart of gold under all the bluster. Definitely one of the finer movies to be screened at the Florida Film Festival this year. It’s out and about the country right now, doing a walkabout of its on in American theaters. Catch it at one while you still can.

REASONS TO GO: Much funnier than I was led to believe it was. The soundtrack is abso-bloody-lutely terrific. Majestical scenery.
REASONS TO STAY: May be a little too out there for some.
FAMILY VALUES: A bit of foul language and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the birthday scene, ten takes were filmed of the cast singing “Happy Birthday” to Ricky until someone realized that they didn’t have the rights to use the song. Therefore, the actors made up a new song on the spot, the one which appears in the film (and also partially in the trailer).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/1/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Buddymoon
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: The American Experience begins!

Love Birds (2011)


If it looks like a duck...

If it looks like a duck…

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Freestyle) Rhys Darby, Sally Hawkins, Emily Barclay, Craig Hall, Bryan Brown, Dave Fane, Faye Smith, Wesley Dowdell, Alvin Maharaj, Mia Pistorius, Sonia Gray, Hannah Matthews, John Callen, Alan Harris, Michaela Rooney, Beck Taylor, Tane Cullen, Eryn Watson, Matthew Metcalfe, Bronwyn Bradley, Stacey Leilua, Sara Wiseman. Directed by Paul Murphy

The Bee Gees once wondered “How can you mend a broken heart?” There is no single way to do it. Some say that time heals all wounds. Others recommend getting right back in the saddle again. Still others say that you need a hobby to take your mind off of things.

Doug (Darby) needs to find his own answer. His girlfriend Susan (Smith) – who is a spectacular beauty for what it’s worth – has dumped him on his rear end, leaving his world upside down and inside out. He is moping around his house when he hears a thump on his roof and upon further investigation discovers a wounded duck who is incapable of flying. Doug, being a good-hearted soul, takes the bird in but it soon becomes more trouble than it’s worth – keeping him awake nights, refusing to let him bathe alone, and pooping, pooping, everywhere.

Most of us would be making ourselves a nice Duck a l’orange right about then but as I said Doug is a good-hearted soul so he consults with Holly (Hawkins), the local vet. Her assistant Brenda (Barclay) immediately realizes that her boss should be with this guy but Holly, a single mum, is cool towards him so Brenda takes matters into her own hands.

The two eventually fall in love despite the hostility of Holly’s son Taylor (Taylor) towards his mom’s new beau but the more time Holly and Doug spend together, the better things get. Then Susan decides that she wants Doug back.

This is fairly pedestrian rom-com stuff with predictable plot points but what elevates it slightly above the rest is the charming and affable Darby, a fairly big name in New Zealand as a standup comic and occasional comic actor. His  chemistry with Hawkins as Holly is actually quite natural and charming. The cast is also buoyed by Watkins as Doug’s best friend who’s an absolute rotter and his buddies Gurneesh (Maharaj), Kanga (Fane) and Brent (Dowdell) who provide much of the physical comedy.

Another big plus is the addition of Queen to the soundtrack. Doug has become a huge Queen fan so we hear their music pretty much throughout the movie and it is utilized quite well, actually. Quite frankly, I have to say you can’t go wrong with Queen on your soundtrack (Da Queen will bear me out on that one).

You’ll see the plot points coming a mile off and you’ll know how the movie ends even before you stream it onto your computer (a DVD edition has yet to be released in the States) but you have to admire a movie that tries this hard to be charming and still manages to pull it off.

WHY RENT THIS: Darby is very likable. Laid back and gently humorous.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks big laughs. Doesn’t add anything to the genre.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a smattering of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Former international cricket stars Alan Border and Ian Smith make cameo appearances.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Danny Deckchair

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: 10,000 B.C.