Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – The Most Fun You Will Have This Year (Review)

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a reimagining of the 1995 film starring Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst and Jonathan Hyde. Jake Kasdan (Sex Tape, Bad Teacher), gives us an updated version of the Chris Van Allsburg short story. This time around the film is populated by Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson and Nick Jonas. The move to base the whole thing on a video game world results in perhaps the most fun you will have this year.

The movie may not be Shakespeare and its message may just be the most simplistic one offered up in 2017, but, damn it, this is gut bustlingly fun. The audience laughs out loud with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle not at it.

Reworking the 1995 version is not a hit or miss prospect, nor is it rocket science. The opening sequence explains quite neatly how the “evil” game transforms itself from a passé board game into a “state of the art” 1996 video game. In the beginning, the plot may feel a tad like a millennials  “The Breakfast Club” (there is even a red-head female to round out the group) but the sitting, in an old junk room at the local high school takes us right out of that motif immediately.

Taking a note from Stay Alive, the film transports the small quartet of teens into the video world of Jumanji and they must survive the game, save the jungle world and then shout the name in order to go home. Like the first film, there is a character who was sucked into the world 20 years previously (Nick Jonas as Alex Freeke – whose dad is played by the brilliant Tim Matheson).

The cast all knock this one out of the comedic park. Johnson, with his “smoldering” and wishy-washy bravery, Jack Black as the teen girl in a middle aged man’s body,  Hart as the “little big-man” and Gillan as the smart wall-flower in the Lara Croft body each bring more than enough to the table to make this fun-filled action romp seem more believable than it has any right to be.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle does not go out of its way to bludgeon the audience with its video game premise. It is, obviously, aimed at the “gamer” in the theatre. The character’s mention the NPC (video-game speak for “non player character) and in this case there are several. The Brit driver and “guide” a lad in the bazaar and two guards outside the transportation hut. We are given a brief explanation of what these characters do, for those non-gamers in the audience, and then leaves the subject alone.

There is direct referencing to “respawning” and each character taken over by the teens has only three lives. In this telling of Jumanji, the animals never cross over into the real world and we have a somewhat more satisfactory ending with no apparent chance of another sequel.

The film works very well, despite having no less than four writers credit with the screenplay. Some stereotypes are used to “sell” the characters but this does not distract from the obvious enjoyment factor attached to this movie.

Bobby Cannavale is splendid as big boss Van Pelt and fans of Missi Pyle will be delighted with her tiny cameo in the film. Nick Jonas is more than capable as “Alex Freeke” the young man lost in the game since 1996 and sharp-eyed viewers will spot Colin Hanks (son of Tom) in another splendid but short cameo. 

The scenery, CGI and stunts all come together to give us a movie that feels like a video game in its presentation and structure. This all works perfectly and adds to the overall fun factor of the film.

Kasden has given us a film that entertains enormously. Any movie that ends with the viewer immediately wanting to see it again is a “win.” Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a full 5 star piece. It a glorious bit of adventure that tickles the funny bone and engages the viewer throughout. See this one at the cinema now for a full quotient of entertainment. The audience reactions are almost as fun as the film.

Justice League (2017): A Step in the Right Direction (Review)

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Justice League, the latest DC superhero film to grace the screen, almost has the mixture down pat. Perhaps a tad too much as the film does feel a bit formulaic. Still, this latest comic book hero adaptation is huge step in the right direction. There is just enough comedy to make things enjoyable and enough action to keep even the most jaded fan happy. The film is not, however, perfect.

The decision to make Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller) not only gormless but slightly nebbish as well, reeked of Marvel’s inclusion of an overawed Spider-Boy in the latest installment of that universe. However, if one takes away that annoying element of the film, Justice League manages to entertain thoroughly.

Directed by Zack Snyder, the film had a screenplay written by Chris Terrio with later input from Joss Whedon. The story came from Snyder and Terrio together and it features the “origins” of the Justice League.

The film begins with the death of Superman, something that  directly results in the return of Steppenwolf. The angry entity is ready to wreck havoc on the denizens of planet Earth and it is his actions that cause Bruce Wayne to start the Justice League.

Diane Lane reprises her role as Martha Kent and Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane, Superman’s other half, and  Connie Nielson comes back as the Amazon Queen.

The story is fairly straight forward. There are three boxes of power (the DC version of the tesseract, if you will) that, when combined, will allow Steppenwolf to destroy earth. Batman begins to recruit his league members and the usual problems surface. These superheroes do not, as a rule, play well with others so a number of teething pains are encountered before they lose the “i” in team.

Jeremy Irons is back as Alfred. (Another mild annoyance as Michael Caine is almost the definitive Wayne butler – on the big screen but on the small screen it is personal favorite Sean Pertwee who has managed to perfectly fill Alfred’s patent leather shoes…) The butler is a major supporter of Wayne and he aids the new group in their battle with Steppenwolf.

Jason Momoa as Aquaman is good value for money as is Ray Fisher as Cyborg. J.K. Simmons is a tired Commissioner Gordon and Amber Heard has a blink and you will miss her turn as Mera.

There are things that irritate about the film however. The tendency to use Gadot’s bum as the focal point of many camera angles, for example. As the camera zooms up and in on the male protagonists, Gadot’s bottom is used almost like a fulcrum for far too many scenes on screen.

It also does not help that Justice League shows all too clearly the DC versions of Marvel heroes, and vice versa. That said, the film works well and it entertains in all the right places, despite the closeness to its Marvel counterparts.

The only thing that does not really work is the Barry Allen character but that may well be down to personal preference to the TV actor who plays The Flash on CW.

Justice League  looks brilliant and the pacing is spot on (the film runs for two hours and never once lags). The fact that personal tragedy kept Snyder from finishing his directorial duties is not obvious in the film. Joss Whedon took over the reins and managed to seamlessly carry out Snyder’s vision.

The film earns a full five stars, despite a somewhat meandering plot line, as it keeps on giving throughout. Catch it at your local cinema, grab some popcorn and enjoy this latest DC offering.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017): Comic Book Genius

Co-written by director Matthew Vaughn (who shares authorship with Jane Goldman) and based, again, on the comic series written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbon, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the remake that Kick-Ass 2 should have been.

In short it is catchy, uber-violent, on-point and, despite the brilliant wire-work violence and gun play, damned funny. It is, of course, somewhat topical in places but it works for all that.

Vaughn cheekily has two of his leads, Merlin (Mark Strong) and Eggsy (Taron Egerton) make a joke so topical that unless you are English you won’t get it.  After the organization is blown to smithereens by baddie Julianne Moore (who plays Poppie) Merlin and Eggsy perform the “Doomsday Protocol.” 

This involves drinking almost an entire bottle of Kentucky bourbon. Eggsy realizes that the bottle itself is a clue and tells a sozzled Merlin that they will have journey to Kentucky. Merlin replies “Kentucky? I love fried chicken!”

It was, in the ’80’s anyway, the way the local denizens referred to the Colonel’s eatery, aka KFC in the UK. “You fancy a Kentucky?” was how one suggested eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, “back in the day.”

This “in-joke” set up the rest of the film beautifully and Vaughn managed to include stereotypical jokes about Americans, aka “Yanks” and the English “stiff upper lipped-ness” along with other bits of irreverent humor. The comedic moments mixed nicely with the oh so over the top violence and “Bond-ian”gadgets that filled the movie.

Anyone who has seen the trailers already knows that Colin Firth is back as the original “Galahad” and Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Narcos star Pedro Pascal, who manages to look a bit like Burt Reynolds and sound like Nathan Fillion, all make up the American Contingent. 

Strong reprises his role as Merlin, Roxy “Lancelot” reappears, albeit briefly and the brilliant Michael Gambon is Michael Caine’s replacement for a short while.

Kingman: The Golden Circle is adrenaline pumped, glorious escapism at its finest. Like “Kick-Ass” (Vaughn’s first uber-violent film based on a comic.) this sequel combines the best of all worlds. A certain grim humour combined with spectacular wire-work, cracking CG and stunts that match almost anything done on a real Bond film.

Sir Elton John has a splendid cameo and proves that, given the right conditions, he can act his little cotton socks off.  Moore makes a better villain than Samuel L. Jackson’s weak-stomached bad-guy, who actually seemed to kill Galahad in the first film.

(Sadly, this film marks the last appearance of the excellent Swedish actor Björn Granath.)

The cinematography by George Richmond, who worked on the first film, is seamless and practically perfect.  Everything snaps, crackles and pops in the fast paced sequel and it nearly takes your breath away with a pace that makes the two hour and 21 minute film speed by.

(On a side note: The keen eyed viewer will notice something very familiar about the Kingsman tailor flag outside the shop. Think Kick-Ass and you will get it immediately.)

Halle Berry makes a great American counterpart to Strong’s Merlin and it was nice to see Eggsy’s mum, played by Samantha Womack turn up again. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is enough of a treat that one can forgive his miscalculation with Kick-Ass 2. All is forgiven Mr. Vaughn and we await a third installment in this franchise.

“Kingsman 2” is a full five star bit of entertainment that enthralls and captivates throughout. It is well worth sitting through and proves that Vaughn’s films are fun and clever.

As the film is rated ‘R’ the language is a tad coarse as is some of the humour. We strongly urge you to see this in the cinema, although it is a bit loud, to get the full impact of this outstanding sequel.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017): Trying Too Hard (Review)

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-2-Main-CastDirected and written by James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (which uses a whole slew of characters created by other folks from Marvel) is entertaining but it does seem to be trying a tad too hard to keep up with the first volume in the franchise.  The music from the mix tape is not as catchy as the first film’s and Baby Groot is used far too much when things get slow.

(In the instance of Groot, the character feels like a Marvel version of Lassie, or the kangaroo with a heart from Down Under, Skippy. “I am Groot” is now understood as a language all its own. Sort of like Skippy making kissing noises or Lassie barking. “What’s that Skippy/Lassie? Old Mrs. Wilson has fallen down the well?” Or…in the parlance of this setting, a myriad of meanings is derived from the twig’s single utterances.)

The film does entertain. It was always, however, going to have a hard time living up to the first GotG. In 2014 when the movie about lesser known Marvel  characters opened, one left the cinema in a state of joyous euphoria. In 2017, the film is slower, although somewhat grandiose in plot – Kurt Russell does play a seed implanting planet, after all – but it loses something betwixt the first film’s fun open.

Chris Pratt’s character is less precocious and Zoe Zaldana’s Gamora is less everything. Dave Bautista’s Drax is funnier but less literal and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket comes across much calmer than before. Michael Rooker stays pretty much the same as the blue skinned Yondu and Kurt Russell, as the omnipotent daddy figure has apparently had a lift and a tuck after working on Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful Eight.

The plot, in volume two of Guardians of the Galaxy allows a family reunion between Peter Quill and his daddy; Ego. Rocket annoys the heck out of the Creel (a group of genetically engineered gold skinned people) by stealing some their batteries. This places a death sentence on all the guardians and they must flee/fight their former clients while  dealing with Ego.

While the film does appear to be trying too hard to please, it does still entertain. There were a number of laughs, a few teary moments and a clever bit of plot interweaving going on. Karen Gillan reprises her role as Nebula to fine effect and Elizabeth Debicki is splendid as Ayesha, the leader of the Creel.

Stan Lee appears on a rock talking to some Watchers, Sylvester Stallone has a cameo as does Michelle Yeo and Ving Rhames.  At the start of the film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 utilizes some “Tron-like” CG to rejuvenate Russell into a younger version of himself. This would have been more impressive had Russell not had his wrinkles ironed out to play the immortal Ego.

Essentially, Volume Two of the franchise is a bit of a rehash of the first film.  There is an overwhelming enemy hoard to deal with and a big bad that almost kills everyone. In terms of trying too hard, there are a slew of cameos in this second film.

The first movie had John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz, along with Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro to fill out the cameos. (Nathan Fillion voiced a character in the prison scenes and this go around Miley Cyrus was the celebrity VO artist.)

Perhaps the only real “sin” committed here was that in terms of originality and freshness, Volume Two was always going to have an uphill struggle after the magical open of “Volume One.” Peter Quill is less funny this time around and Drax laughs far too much.

Still…the film is great fun and while it drags just enough to notice things like how big and beautiful Zaldana’s hands are, compared to Pratt’s, and observing how intricate Gillan’s Nebula make up is, Gunn’s effort is still worthy of the big screen Marvel-verse.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is a cracking ride, despite its overall tone of trying too hard the film earns a full 4.5 stars. It is still playing in a cinema near you and even with a few loud people in the audience, it is well worth the price of a ticket and the two hours and 16 minute length is acceptable.

(Note: Stick around for the end credits to completely play out. There are a number of teasers at the end.)

Attack on Titan: Part 1 & 2 (2015): Battle Royale Meets Giants (Review)

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It may sound a bit dismissive to label Attack on Titan (part one and two) as “Battle Royale” meets giants” but it is not intended to be a slur on the manga based film. Both films do deliver messages on a government determined to control its denizens at all costs (although the 1999 Kashun Takami novel was much more political than the Kinji Fukasaku film released in 2000) and each features young protagonists.

Certainly BR has heroes who are yet to finish puberty, but the youngsters who battle the Titan’s in these films are not too far removed from that time span themselves. The other thing both films have in common is the “childhood interrupted” theme. Each set of players are yanked from their everyday lives and placed in situations that require them to fight.

Having not seen, or indeed read, the manga, it was easy to just take the film on its face value. The story; a world where giant’s attack and eat the general population, is interesting and the breech in the outer wall, that starts the whole two film journey, is impressive and well done.

A “giant” Titan kicks a hole in the wall and a horde of smaller creatures enter. They destroy a small town and most of the surrounding areas in the outer districts. The inner wall, full of the rulers and elite class of the nation, has not been destroyed and the heroes of both films fight to keep the Titan’s out.

The action takes place behind walls and the attacks of the giant man-eating creatures veer between hilarity and good old fashioned “King Kong” type horror. (Or even Jurassic Park, where the solicitor/lawyer gets his head crunched off by a T-Rex…) Plot wise there is nothing all that new here. It is revealed, partway through the first film, that the Titan’s were “man-made” and that their lack of genitals is a mystery, even to the creators of the things.

Still, this curious lack of reproductive equipment apparently kept the Japanese censors happy and made the film a little less “difficult” to watch.  While the female Titans did have breast, there were no offending nipples anywhere to be seen, or other genitalia to deal with.

(One character voices her interest at just how these gigantic humanoid creatures manage to procreate – there are some incredibly ugly “baby” Titans running around – but that is the only time it is mentioned.)

There are some comic moments: An enlisted man throws a Titan over his head, a young heroine eats constantly (potatoes) and her stomach is incredibly noisy when empty.

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no kyojin) is entertaining, even if one is not familiar with the original manga material by Hajime Isayama. Director Shinji Higuchi capably directs this live action adaptation of a popular Manga series. There are a number of writers connected to these two films and, according to IMDb, a few characters have been dropped, merged or changed totally.

Overall, the feel of the film is not too far removed from fantasy and/or science fiction.  The soldiers have new weapons that resemble samurai swords, “on call” and gas jets that propel the fighters through the air while powering anchors to structures. These enable the soldiers to “fly” through the air in order to attack the seemingly un-defeatable creatures.

Jun Kunimura, who played mob boss Ikemoto in Outrage   (who dies an almost comic death) and featured in “Kill Bill” volume’s one and two and the iconic cult classic Audition along with another 163 credits to his name, is, for all intents and purposes, the big bad in the film. 

His mostly understated performance helps nudge the plot points along and Kunimura is the only real “grown up” in the film. He is also easily the most despicable although Capt. Shikishima (played by Hiroki Hasegawa) comes a close second in terms of dislikable characters. 

Attack on Titan features a newer cast of young actors. None of these performers are of the Battle Royale time period. They are, however, quite capable of filling out their limited characters and look pretty good in the fight sequences. The wire work, in the film, is top notch and the combination of obvious green screen backdrops and the practical wire stunts is stimulating and impressive.

These films are not made to be taken seriously and apparently, according to the number of “dislikes” on IMDb (which go over a 1000) not really made for the discerning fans of the original Manga series or book. The Titan’s themselves are not overly frightening to look at, their faces look more like variations on the local village idiot rather than a Grimm’s Fairy Tale type Giant.

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over on YouTube, where this trailer aired in 2015, about how far the film had deviated from its source material.  Still, this is a solid 3.5 star effort that deserves a look, or two. Both are available to stream, via Amazon, or to be rented or purchased in DVD.

Fans of Japanese cinema will enjoy this offering perhaps a bit more than the annoyed fans of the manga. There is a lot of violence, a bit of low-key no-genital nudity and no cursing to be seen in the subtitles.

Check out the trailer below: