Film Review: “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black
Directed By: Jake Kasdan
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 119 minutes
Sony Pictures Entertainment

In 2015 there was a collective gasp by 90’s kids after Sony confirmed long held rumors that the studio would be making a sequel to the much-beloved “Jumanji.” The 1995 film is just one of the many reasons Millennials fondly remember Robin Williams, so creating a sequel for it over two decades later for a new generation is no easy task, even if their the goal is to cash in on nostalgia.s

The new film picks up in 1996, where an unnamed boy is given the classic Jumanji board game by his father. He tosses it aside and proceeds to play a video game instead. Sensing its expiration date, the board game creates a video game cartridge for the unnamed boy to pop in. Tripping ahead 20 years later, we meet four teenagers, stuck in detention with a mundane task, and looking for an escape. That’s when the Jumanji video game rears its ugly head, with those iconic jungle drums, entrancing the high schoolers to plug it in.

Whereas the original brought the jungle to our realm, the new Jumanji transplants it’s victims into its realm. The teenagers take the form of video game avatars, played by the surprisingly charismatic and charming hodgepodge of Johnson, Gillan, Hart and Black. Their comedic strengths (except Gillan) are somewhat subdued so that there’s a lot more group improvisation and camaraderie so that no one overwhelms or steals a scene.

With five screenwriters, there are moments where “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” seems to understand video game clichés and utilizes them while at other times it seems to be written by a middle-aged man who believes video games are the death of creativity. In some ways you could say this movie suffers from the pitfalls of other video game movies where there’s not enough time to flesh out exposition and the action sequences suffer from rushed conflict resolution. But when the movie embraces video game tropes, it genuinely excels as popcorn entertainment and parody.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” benefits from a fun cast, willing to embody their absurd characters and the even more ridiculous plot. But that doesn’t mean the film isn’t without its flaws. The third act is weak, sometimes neglecting established plot points and making little use of the actual jungle. I’m also curious as to how well it’ll be received and understood by those who grew up without the film or are unaware of the previous flick. For those looking for a healthy dose of nostalgia, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a passable film, but it doesn’t make the case for a potential franchise or another sequel.

2017 Holiday Film Preview

If you’re reading this, then Thanksgiving is mere days away (or has past, considering WHEN you’re reading this). Turkey. Stuffing. Popcorn. Raisinets.

Yes, the holidays do mean goodies on the dining room table. But they also mean goodies at the local multiplex. Here is a list of some of the films we’re looking forward to. Please note that release dates are subject to change at the whim of the studios. Some synopsis information courtesy of our friends at IMDB.

I hope this year we get more presents then lumps of coal.

November 22

“Coco”
Starring the voices of: Anthony Gonzalez and Benjamin Bratt
Directed by: Lee Unkrich

The latest from the folks at Pixar. Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to work out the mystery.

Oscar Chances: With over 20 Academy Awards to its name, including six for Best Animated Feature, the chances are good.

“Darkest Hour”
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by: Joe Wright

During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.

Oscar Chances: Look for Oldman to earn his 2nd nomination.

“The Man Who Invented Christmas”
Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce
Directed by: Bharat Nalluri

The backstory to how author Charles Dickens came to write “A Christmas Carol.”

Oscar Chances: Maybe Plummer but I’m thinking this film will get Scrooged.

“Chappaquiddick”
Starring: Kate Mara and Clancy Brown
Directed by: John Curran

The film recounts the tragic events of the 1969 car accident involving U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy and a young, female campaign worker who died at the scene. Kennedy left the scene of the accident and didn’t alert authorities for ten hours. I’ve actually driven across that bridge and it wasn’t easy to traverse in the middle of a bright, sunny day. Just saying.

Oscar Chances: Would love to see Clancy Brown get a nod.   PLEASE NOTE THIS FILM HAS BEEN MOVED TO APRIL 2018

November 24

“Call Me by Your Name”
Starring: Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet
Directed by: Luca Guadagino

In Northern Italy in 1983, 17-year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father’s research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.

Oscar Chances: Hammer has been getting good festival buzz.

December 1

“24 Hours to Live”
Starring: Ethan Hawke and Rutger Hauer
Directed by: Brian Smrz

An assassin seeks redemption after being given a second chance at life.

Oscar Chances: No.

“The Disaster Artist”
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco and Seth Rogen
Directed by: James Franco

The behind-the-scenes story of the making of the cult film “The Room,” with James Franco playing the film’s star/writer/director/jack-of-all-trades Tommy Wiseau.

Oscar Chances: I personally find James Franco to be a fine filmmaker. If you haven’t seen “In Dubious Battle,” a film from earlier this year, I highly recommend it. It’s easily on my Top 10 List of 2017.

“Wonder Wheel”
Starring: Jim Belushi, Juno Temple and Kate Winslet
Directed by: Woody Allen

On Coney Island in the 1950s, a lifeguard tells the story of a middle-aged carousel operator and his beleaguered wife.

Oscar Chances: With 24 Academy Award nominations, and four Oscars, you can never count the Woodman out.

December 8

“Arthur Miller: Writer”
Directed by: Rebecca Miller.

A profile of the great playwright Arthur Miller, directed by his daughter.

Oscar Chances: A possible Best Documentary nod.

“Bullet Head”
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Adrien Brody and John Malkovich
Directed by: Paul Solet

The three leads play criminals holed up in a warehouse. Or at least that is what I assume from what I can find. There is no synopsis on IMDB!

Oscar Chances: Like the synopsis, non-existent.

“I, Tonya”
Starring: Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan
Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Surely I’m not the only man in America who had a crush on Tonya Harding? When I woke up one day to find she had married a man named Michael Smith and it WASN’T me I was devastated. Apparently here Tonya wants to win the Olympics and her husband gives her a little help.

Oscar Chances: Worth one just to see Tonya Harding at the Oscars. It would be as memorable as the year Woody Harrelson brought Larry Flynt.

“Just Getting Started”
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Renee Russo
Directed by: Ron Shelton

A two-hander action comedy in the vein of “Midnight Run” about an ex-FBI agent (Jones) and an ex-mob lawyer in the witness protection program (Freeman) having to put aside their petty rivalry on the golf course to fend off a mob hit.

Oscar Chances: Lots of talent here but the word “comedy” usually scares the Academy.

“The Shape of Water”
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon and Doug Jones
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and a co-worker discover a secret classified experiment.

Oscar Chances: del Toro is one of the great visionaries of our time.

December 15

“Ferdinand”
Starring the voices of: John Cena and Kate McKinnon
Directed by: Carlos Saldanha

After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.

OSCAR CHANCES: Possible Best Animated Feature nod.

“Gotti”
Starring: John Travolta and Kelly Preston
Directed by: Kevin Connolly

The story of renowned mob boss John Gotti and his son.

Oscar Chances: 40 years after “Saturday Night Fever” Travolta is still a star.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Starring: Mark Hamill, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley
Directed by: Rian Johnson

Episode VIII begins where VII ended, with Rey finally tracking down the elusive Luke Skywalker. Bring your Kleenex as we say goodbye to the great Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia.

Oscar Chances: Lots of technical nods.

December 20

“The Greatest Showman”
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams and Zac Efron
Directed by: Michael Gracey

Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, “The Greatest Showman” is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Oscar Chances: Hollywood loves Jackman, who got an Oscar nod the last time he sang on screen.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black
Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they chose.

Oscar Chances: Technical maybe.

December 22

“All the Money in the World”
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer
Directed by: Ridley Scott

The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom. This film was already completed with Kevin Spacey playing grandpa Getty. In an unprecedented move, after Spacey’s recent scandals came to light, director Scott re-cast the role with Christopher Plummer and re-shot all of Spacey’s scenes. In six weeks.

Oscar Chances: Ridley Scott should get TWO Oscars if he pulls this off.

“Bright”
Starring: Will Smith, Noomi Rapace and Joel Edgerton
Directed by: David Ayer

Set in a world where mystical creatures live side by side with humans. A human cop is forced to work with an Orc to find a weapon everyone is prepared to kill for.

Oscar Chances: Nope. Sounds too much like “Alien Nation” to me.

“Downsizing”
Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz and Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Alexander Payne

A social satire in which a guy realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself.

Oscar Chances: Payne is an Academy favorite.

“Hangman”
Starring: Karl Urban and Al Pacino
Directed by: Johnny Martin

A homicide detective teams up with a criminal profiler to catch a serial killer whose crimes are inspired by the children’s game Hangman.

Oscar Chances: Don’t see it happening.

“Happy End”
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert
Directed by: Michael Haneke

A drama about a family set in Calais with the European refugee crisis as the backdrop.

Oscar Chances: Very good. Writer/director Haneke gave us “Amour”

“Hostiles”
Starring: Christian Bale, Wes Studi and Rosamund Pike
Directed by: Scott Cooper

In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.

Oscar Chances: Some acting nods possible.

“Pitch Perfect 3”
Starring: Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson
Directed by: Trish Sie

Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices.

Oscar Chances: Nothing I can imagine.

“The Post”
Starring: Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep
Directed by: Steven Spielberg

A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government. Inspired by true events.

Oscar Chances: Duh!!! You think? Hanks, Streep and Spielberg share over 40 nominations, with Streep leading the way with 20 of her own.

December 25

“Molly’s Game”
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Kevin Costner and Idris Elba
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin

The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target. This is the Oscar-winning writer Sorkin’s directorial debut.

Oscar Chances: Many.

“Phantom Thread”
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Oscar Chances: Again, many. Day-Lewis won one of his three Oscars for Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.”

December 27

“In the Fade”
Starring: Diane Kruger
Directed by: Faith Akin

Katja’s life collapses after the death of her husband and son in a bomb attack. After a time of mourning and injustice, Katja seeks revenge.

Oscar Chances: Kruger won the best-actress prize at Cannes.

December 29

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”
Starring: Annette Bening and Jamie Bell
Directed by: Paul McGuigan

A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady.

Oscar Chances: Bening is SO overdue. Wake up Academy!