Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Dwayne Johnson

Kevin Hart

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarstar

 

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

starstarstar

 

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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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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Hacksaw Ridge

Andrew Garfield

Vince Vaughn

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarstar

The problem with most faith-based movies, speaking as a fellow believer, is that they don’t add up to a real experience in the real world. Afraid to offend its narrow target viewers, e.g. frequenters of places of worship, those who don’t use vulgar language, at least on their respective Sabbath, and those who squirm at said bad language, violence, or sex scenes, the filmmakers give a rose-colored depiction of a ever-so-slightly flawed world easily surmounted by simple adherence to faith-based principles. Once detractors easily fall into line at the efforts of the sinless main characters to appeal to their shared humanity, it all usually ends in an “Awww, shucks, you’re right, man” contrived conclusion. Folks who aren’t particularly religious find the whole rose-colored plot implausible and this stokes the flames of their believers=weirdos/idiots idea further. Certain political parties and attempts at “educational” reform further stoke the flames. In 2004, Director Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ and the faithful finally got to see their Savior whipped, beaten, crowned with a thorny crown, staked through hands and feet, and hung up high to suffer a long painful death by asphyxiation and blood loss to be finally impaled by a spear. This was a major breakthrough in faith-based movies which always considered the delicate sensibilities of the faithful.

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Ghostbusters (2016)

Kristen Wiig

Melissa McCarthy

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstar

 

The hype for the new Ghostbusters film was epic. There were leaked pictures of Chris Hemsworth, set footage. And let’s not forget the preemptive haters and lovers who argued furiously online about everything from the casting to what may or not happen. Remakes seem the coin of the realm these days with great ones, weird ones, and horrible cringe-inducing ones. Let’s step back and remember the original film for a moment. It was great. A perfect mix of comedy, horror, weirdness, and fun scientific speeches by Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Ramis which was balanced by the pseudo-scientist Bill Murray who was just in it for the girls and cash. His everyman stance put us in the screen powered up by Eddie Hudson’s even more practical and pure everyman “I have seen shit which would turn you white!” Let’s not forget Annie Potts as the underworked (at first) and overworked secretary with the most memorable accent ever and Rick Moranis as the overbearing neighbor with an obvious crush on Sigourney Weaver. Somehow it all worked. I remember when HBO was free and it showed this movie over and over again. Even me, the crybaby of the family could handle its scares eventually except for the skeletal taxi driver. That dude still freaks me out.

The newest Ghostbusters film opens interestingly enough, not a library this time but a supposedly haunted home of an old rich New York family with an insane murderess among its colorful history. It passes on the tradition of not jumping the shark but instead showing us the terror in the face of the witness of the supernatural. The scene changes to Kristen Wiig’s character Erin Gilbert attempting to impress Charles Dance, who makes as convincing a University Dean as a Lannister in his quietly intimidating way. Events lead her to seek out Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon playing Abby Yates and Jillian Holtzmann respectively. Unfortunately this is where the film takes a tip for the worst. I keep imagining some idiotic brainstorming session in which writers, worried about the naysaying stupid white males of the world, decide in a burst of inspiration, “Hey let’s put in some fart jokes and make fun of a guy by saying he pooped his pants. Yeah, that’ll appease the masses.” It takes amazing writing skills to reinvent the fart and poop joke and unfortunately, it ain’t here, folks. It’s a shame, really. McKinnon is super great as Jillian with her off-beat comments and googly eyes through big round glasses. She at least has her character down. Wiig and McCarthy are all over the place with no discernible pattern of their characters other than a past friendship which isn’t really well fleshed out.

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Birdman

Michael Keaton

Edward Norton

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstar

With every passing year, I wonder what really is behind the choosing of movies as Best Picture. Films like Birdman, The Artist, Chicago, and La La Land (which “won” for all of 4 minutes before the fallacy was explained) make me feel as if it is “the movie that speaks to the voters” rather than actual cinematic quality of the movies themselves that clinches the win. The struggle of actors and actresses who make it big will never ever be a foil for the American dream for me. Making travel plans to California doesn’t ensure anything will go well and the starlet/star waiting to be born is a tired tale told way too often and too poorly especially considering how close the makers are to the source material.

      Swingers executed it well without the glamour or glitz but rather with down and out actors commiserating with one another for getting turned down to play even Goofy at Disneyland. The doubt and self questioning there were universal to any job and not the main point of the movie. It’s a testament to our age of perceived entitlement in which films star people who expect to arrive fresh off the bus and then to be sent to the head of the line at auditions and lauded as the best actor ever, much, interestingly enough as the gullible ginger chump in the Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Red-Headed League. The inevitable whining and navel gazing afterwards always gets my blood up. “I’m the main character in this movie, everyone should do what I want.” Continue reading