Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Dwayne Johnson

Kevin Hart

reviewed by Tom-Tom

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We’ve all seen the original Jumanji based on the story by Chris Van Allsburg who continued his love of board games coming to life in Zathura (also optioned for a film). Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt are joined by a super young Kirsten Dunst and some kid in a fun, family friendly adventure. Now memes and gifs of Robin Williams in his 30 years in the jungle attire asking what year it is are widely used. Well, in this film, we would finally get to see this fabled jungle with our own eyes. Despite this,I was not looking forward to seeing the sequel which had something to do with video games. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson seems either to be in very great or very terrible movies these days and I didn’t want to risk the high Japanese ticket fee (about 20 bucks USD) to find out. So I waited for the video release and I am glad I did. The classy, quiet movie theater would have been torn apart by my raucous ugly American guffawing. At least for Thor 3 and Deadpool 2 there were explosions and bone cracking close combat to stifle my loud laughter. In Jumanji, most of the comedy comes from the quieter scenes. This is one of the few films I’ve seen where I feel everyone except for the closeted torture porn addicts would like even though I think those dear troglodytes would contort their moist yet cold hands into a thumbs up as well.

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The Dark Tower

Idris Elba

Matthew McConaughey

starstarstarhalf star

It seems everyone has a series these days. You can’t go to the theater without finding the newest chapter in a seemingly unending expanse of superheroes, space operas, or young adult directed post apocalyptic fare. Universal even tried to start a “Dark Universe” series with the universally panned The Mummy. Stephen King, who needs no introduction, started his own series in the 80’s for his even then burgeoning horde of fans. He was lightly hoping to bridge a few of the worlds he had created. He kept up with them, though finishing the series in what can now be called the early 21st Century. He started without much of a plan and so had to do lots of backpedaling in post-series publications. He himself makes an appearance in the series and a beloved character sacrifices himself by getting hit by the vehicle that struck King in real life. In the book, King’s character muses about how to finish the series. If that’s not a sign of writer’s block, I don’t know what is. The contradictions in the unevenly published series and built up anticipation from fans on how the series should end brought not a little disappointment at what really happens. King even tells the readers directly not to venture past the point where Roland eventually enters the Dark Tower. I doubt anyone heeded his warning. I also doubt it is much more of a spoiler than the identity of Luke Skywalker’s father but if it is for you, then go to the next paragraph. Roland, after all his trouble, gets sent back to the beginning of the first book. “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

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Star Wars: Episode VIII-The Last Jedi

Daisy Ridley

Mark Hamill

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I’ve been dreading writing this article. I think it is safe to say that The Last Jedi was one of the most divisive films of 2017. Major critics were lauding it as the best Star Wars movie ever. Fans were in two schools of worst Star Wars film ever and confusion about where the series will go next. I can understand the confusion. I’ve found that as I get older, I’m no longer able to catch everything in one viewing anymore or rather, I understand that I can’t catch everything in one viewing of certain films. The Last Jedi was no different. Post-movie discussions with my pals turned to typical queries of who liked it or not. I found I couldn’t answer. I mean, I liked how they took the Force out of the restraints of the Skywalker family and gave it to everyone. I liked how Luke Skywalker appealed to his own humanity not attempting to be the hero who saves everything…again. But it was a lot to chew on. With all these things to like, why is it, I couldn’t bring myself to answer in the positive? Perhaps because everything I thought I knew about Star Wars had been thrown up in the air and I didn’t have any idea where it would land and whether I would like it when it did. The Last Jedi takes the Star Wars franchise in a different direction and it is not for everyone.

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Molly’s Game

Jessica Chastain

Idris Elba

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarhalf star

 

Aaron Sorkin, now there’s a guy who knows how to start a story. Whether it’s the breathless first 20 minutes of The Social Network or the heart-stopping and brilliant opening to the HBO show The Newsroom, Sorkin is a wordsmith, able to make rapid fire dialogue with a fierce intensity but calculated intelligence spew out of the mouths of the world’s best actors. Molly’s Game is no different although this time, Sorkin himself is director. If you’re expecting what usually happens when a dialogue heavy writer becomes director, (ahem, recent QT films) fear not. He has learned much from the red carpet parade of directors whom have took on his screenplays: Danny Boyle, David Fincher, Rob Reiner, etc. His editing is just as sharp as his dialogue  feeding us well balanced pieces of the backstory and current story effortlessly but clearly eschewing the turgid mess a lesser writer or director could make of it all. Molly Bloom’s story is actually pretty simple the way Steve Jobs’ story was simple in the eponymous film directed by Danny Boyle. She was headed towards a law degree after failing to qualify for the Winter Olympics and learned how to set up and run poker games for which she is currently (in the film’s “present” timeline) standing trial. While the Jobs film relied more on dialogue and linear recounting of events leaving the viewer with a bit of emptiness at the end despite the high-paced build up and slight emotional payoff at the end, (“Did this really need to be filmed?” I remember recounting. Its passionate speeches would have been better served at the theater than on the big screen”), Molly’s Game doesn’t suffer from overfocus on dialogue as there are loads of things to keep our minds and eyes busy while Jessica Chastain laconically does voiceover for her past.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand

Sam Rockwell

reviewed by Tom-Tom

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I always keep an eye out for Academy Award nominated films. More often than not, there are some true originals which almost never actually win any of the big prizes. The terrible title of this film, which beats the likes of “Shawshank Redemption” for filmmakers trying to scare away anyone who might actually want to see the film, intrigued me. Plus it had Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell who always offer their own personal styles to pictures.

The premise is strong and we aren’t baby-fed the story. McDormand shows all in her dark and dour expressions as vivid as Willem Dafoe’s but much more subtly. We learn that her daughter was raped while dying and burned alive. We learn this because she rents the eponymous three billboards and lights them up in red with black letters tersely advising the Sheriff to make arrests and see her daughter gets some justice. Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) has got his own problems. He’s been terminally diagnosed with cancer. When he confides this tender detail to the grieving albeit no-nonsense Mildred Hayes (McDormand), she fires back, “I know. Everyone knows. That’s why I need your help now. You’re useless to me dead.” or something to that effect. Mildred is full of terse, potty mouthed one liners about the police and its treatment of the African American and LGBT community. There is comedy in the film but it is more a sad way of dealing with grief and one’s own death so I wouldn’t recommend going in with a “haha” comedy mentality. This is a much deeper film.

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Get Out

Daniel Kaluuya

Catherine Keener

reviewed by Tom-Tom

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In early 2017, Jordan Peele shocked everyone. Not only was he releasing his directorial debut film but it was to be a horror film. Everyone knows of Key & Peele, of course. Who hasn’t seen the various sketches in which Peele portrays former President Barack Obama with more vocal than visual accuracy along with partner Key “interpreting” what he “really” means to say to great peals of laughter from the audience?

Masters of comedy and horror do have common ground, though. They both require techniques of suspending the disbelief of the audience while guiding them along a yarn towards a hilarious punchline or a horrifying set piece. Lesser artists in either genre rely solely on throwaway gags or jump scares respectively. They’re ostensibly aiming for a cumulative effect that creates a whole which is greater than the terrible parts but the results are almost always just terrible.

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Split

James McAvoy

Anya Taylor-Joy

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarhalf star

We had just about given up on M. Night Shyamalan. He started strong with The Sixth Sense which, while an imperfect film, had strong performances by Haley Joel Osment, Bruce Willis, and Donnie Wahlberg. I didn’t really like Unbreakable much thinking the twist contrived and implausible, even for a Shyamalan movie. The direction seemed clunky with the family drama scenes almost unbearable to watch despite then collaborator James Newton Howard’s beautiful score. Later it was hit (Signs) or miss (Lady in the Water) until, like director Robert Rodriguez, he entered the “making movies for the kids in my life” phase of his career with the panned The Last Airbender, and After Earth rankling in the memory of the those who didn’t hate the films for being bad but because of the lost chances, the casting choices of Airbender, and not making good enough use of the Smith family in Earth. Suddenly with The Visit, Shyamalan returned to his low-budget roots not exactly reinventing the shaky camera footage genre but giving the audience a few new refreshing scares and a really nice twist for once. If only his child actors were up to the Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin standard as in Signs but low budget is low budget. Now, with Split, M. Night Shyamalan is back and he has talented actors, the cinematographer from It Follows, and even a different composer for the soundtrack. I have to say, it’s a nice fit.

The opening credits themselves are creepy in their bare, generic, presentation. A name is presented and then split into 16, 32 small square copies within the background like some power point effect between slides from the 90’s. The bare bones feel is supported by a percussive score like a slightly upbeat version of Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta which Stanley Kubrick used to great effect in The Shining. This version has the same random crashing of cymbals, anyway. I’m only a casual viewer of movies, but I have to say, the editing in Shyamalan films has gotten better as well as the general direction. Even in his best films, the awkward reactions of characters, the overlong footage of them turning around to notice something on the wall, and then saying there is something on the wall took away from the suspense or the drama of the moments. There was little of that in The Visit (the amateur rapper scenes were a bit awkward), and very little of that here in Split. Editing, direction, and the performances are all smooth. Even the always notorious director cameo goes off without much of a hitch. You can tell it’s a good cameo if you don’t notice him, if he doesn’t stick out in the scene the way he did in The Village despite not even showing his face so much.

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