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

Jumanji-Welcome-to-the-Jungle-cast

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.

Special Correspondents (2016): Ricky Gervais Does a Remake (Review)

Eric Bana, Ricky Gervais Netflix Special Correspondents

Written and directed by Ricky Gervais “Special Correspondents” is a Netflix Original remake of the 2009 French comedy “Envoyés très spéciaux” (So not quite too original after all.).  Starring Gervais, Eric BanaVera FarmigaAmerica Ferrera,  Kelly Macdonald and Kevin Pollak (with a cameo by Benjamin Brat) the film retells the tale of two radio journalists who miss their flight to cover a war (insurgence) in Ecuador.  They decide to hide in New York, their port of origin, and cover the conflict from the loft of a friend’s house. 

Bana is Frank, a local radio “newsman” who is a legend in his own mind and has a mini following of fans in his neighborhood. Gervais is the radio sound engineer, and Englishman aboard, Ian Finch. Farmiga is Eleanor, Ian’s wife and natural self promoter and MacDonald’s character Claire has a thing for co-worker Ian.  Pollack is the man in charge of the radio station.

Finch’s wife kicks him out of the house after sleeping with  Frank and in his misery Ian inadvertently throws away the tickets, expense money and passports needed for the journey to Ecuador.

Hiding out at Brigida and Domingo’s house, the men set up and begin transmitting from the location across the street from their offices at the news station.  This allows for some funny interaction between Brigida (Ferrera) and  Domingo (Raúl Castillo) as the journalist and his technician report on a conflict they are half a world away from. 

Perhaps the only real complaint is the focus on radio news. (Although there are several instances where broadcasts are referred to as podcasts, presumably in an attempt to bring the film’s plot up to more modern times.) In this day and age of Internet coverage, even from major networks, it seems that the radio angle is a bit outdated.

While this movie is based upon the two men, Bana and Gervais, it is the women who steal the show here. Farmiga’s opportunistic and enterprising wife who writes a song about her husband’s captivity “A Dollar for a Hero,” is brilliantly funny and is a favorite character.  The other female to yank this film from under the feet of the male co-stars is “Ugly Betty/Superstore” star America Ferrera.

Ferrera is hysterically funny as the rather simplistic cafe owner who delivers her lines with an impeccable honesty that just kills comically.  Whether commiserating over Finch’s wife selling his “dollies” (his superhero collectables) or shouting out Tío Miguel (because he is deaf) America is one of the most amusing characters on the screen.

Both Gervais and Bana do well in their roles but lack the naturalistic comedy emitted by both Farmiga and Ferrara.  Bana wisely plays his role straighter than straight as does Gervais. The two work well together as reluctant colleagues in their unplanned subterfuge.

Not having watched the original French version, set against a conflict in Iraq, it is hard to compare the two films.  The American iteration includes a shootout and an escape. It is a funny sort of scene and no one appears to die.

Cinematographer Terry Stacey makes the film look brilliant.

There are moments in the feature where Gervais pokes fun at Fox News, specifically Bill O’Reilly, and clearly Benjamin Brat’s character was meant to be Brian Williams. There is also a segment where the rebel leader, made up by Frank, undergoes a sort of news anchor Chinese whispers. The last one in the chain is clearly O’Reilly and it was funny.

“Special Correspondents” is not a parody of global news coverage, although it does jab a few “American news institutions” and pokes fun at the need for “instant” news regardless of sources or verification.

Fans of Gervais will appreciate the film and his wearing of three hats for the production.  At 100 minutes the movie is not overly long and the pacing works very well. At no point does one get bored or reach for the remote to fast forward the events on screen.

As a straight to Netflix production; “Special Correspondents” garners a full 4 stars. It is funny, fast paced and while Farmiga and Ferrera almost steal the film, everyone delivers a performance that lacks nothing.  Watch this one for a giggle or two and some outright guffaws at America’s portrayal of Brigida.

13 Sins (2014): Blackly Comic Puppet Theatre

Film Poster for 13 Sins

The 2014 film 13 Sins is a remake of the 2006 Thailand comedy/horror film 13 game sayawng, aka 13:Beloved. This blackly comic variation of extreme puppet theatre, where someone else is pulling the strings, is just this side of brilliant; the plot twists and turns and the ending is clever.

Directed and partially adapted by Daniel Stamm (Necessary Death, The Last Exorcism), 13 Sins stars Mark Webber (Laggies, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Tom Bower (The Hills Have Eyes, Crazy Heart), Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Drive), Devon Graye (Husk, Legendary) and Rutina Wesley (True Blood, The Perfect Guy) and follows Webber’s character through his trials and tribulations.

The plot, like the original film, is about a salesman, Elliot Brindle; a Wilbur Milquetoast type of chap, who is fired from his insurance sales job for not being ruthless enough. His job helps him to support his mentally challenged brother and was allowing him to help pay for his wedding to Shelby (Wesley). His aging father is in poor health and on the day Brindle is fired, he learns that the bank means to foreclose on his dad’s house.

Elliot’s life is in meltdown. His father (Bower) is a racist and miserable old curmudgeon who despises both his sons. As Brindle is trying to pull everything together he gets a cell phone call offering him $1,000 if he kills the annoying fly in his car. Elliot swats the fly and is told that the money has been deposited into his bank account and that a larger amount will be deposited if he eats the dead fly.

Rushing home Brindle checks his account online and sees the money there. He immediately swallows the fly and another amount is instantly put in his account. Hooked, the desperate man agrees to play a game that has 13 challenges; each more horrific than the last. At the end of the game if Elliot wins he gets millions of dollars and his “crimes” are covered up so he will face no charges or jail time.

If he loses, or forfeits a challenge the money he has already won is taken away and he will be arrested…or worse. Part of the rules are that he cannot tell anyone about the game, try to discover who is running the game, or attempt to learn the origins of the game. Another rule that becomes apparent later is that he is not the only player. This means he must complete all his challenges before the other contestant or he loses.

Without seeing the Thai original it is difficult to compare the two films. Looking at 13 Sins “on its own” reveals a movie that uses black comedy to brilliant effect. There is also a good dose of irony and a certain tongue-in-cheek quality to Stamm’s film. The German director did a brilliant job on his 2010 combination “found footage” and “mockumentary” film The Last Exorcism and it is nice to see that he can step up his game, even if it is for a remake.

13 Sins is an entertaining fast-paced film. The action goes quickly enough that there is almost not have enough time to finish wincing, or doing that horrified giggle reaction to some incident, before the next challenge is introduced and completed. Webber owns this film and his increased character growth makes the movie work brilliantly.

This is a real 4 out of 5 stars, a whole star is lost because it is, after all, a remake. It is streaming on US Netflix at the moment and definitely worth watching. The original can be seen on Amazon which is where this reviewer will be heading shortly.

Gracepoint Season One Finale…Seriously? (Review)

Gracepoint Season One Finale…Seriously? (Review)

It has been a long time coming, longer than it took for the series that Gracepoint was based upon, but at last the finale has aired and the “real” killer (Suspect everyone? Come on Fox, seriously?) For those who saw the original seaside murder mystery, Broadchurch, either when it aired in the United Kingdom on ITV or later on BBC America, this slightly homogenized and pasteurized American version never really felt as good or as devastating as the shorter series starring, David Tennant, Olivia Colman and Jodie Whittaker. The former Dr. Who played the same role in both shows.