FlixChatter Review – JUMANJI: The Next Level (2019)

When I first reviewed Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle back in 2017, I said that director Jake Kasdan closed the door to the idea of there being another sequel. Yet, here we are; two years and millions of dollars later, Welcome to the Jungle became a critical and commercial success and was just begging for another sequel. So Kasdan, along with his co-writers Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, decided to capitalize of the success they saw from Welcome to the Jungle, with great actors and a compelling story, to make Jumanji: The Next Level. As you can probably guess, the sequel offers many of the same characters from the first movie; the four main characters are back: Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) and Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner).

Also returning are their avatars; Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a very rugged and muscular explorer who is also an archaeologist, Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), a short in height zoologist, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a commando, martial artist, and dance fighter and Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), cartographer, cryptographer, archaeologist and paleontologist. In Welcome to the Jungle, the game Jumanji let the humans choose who they their avatars to be and see what happens to them when they get to be someone else inside a video game. This isn’t necessarily the case this time around…more on that later. This time around, the movie opens with the friends returning home from college on winter break. We are introduced to Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) who’s staying with family due to his deteriorating health. Also we meet Eddie’s long-lost friend and business partner Milo (Danny Glover).

One night when Spencer goes missing, Martha (Turner), Bethany and Fridge (Blaine) discover that he’s actually gone back inside Jumanji. They decide to go back inside the game and seemingly one by one, they are transported inside. But what they don’t realize is that they’ve accidentally brought Eddie and Milo with them inside the game. This is where it takes a while to realize which avatar belongs to which real human. It turns out that this time Fridge ends up in Jack Black’s avatar, Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon. Also, Eddie and Milo find themselves in the form of the strapping Dr. Bravestone (Johnson) and the tiny zoologist Finbar (Hart), respectively. While Bethany is not taken inside the game, Martha is back as Ruby Roundhouse (with extra humor from Gillan). At first, they start inside a jungle terrain, much like the first sequel. But soon thereafter, they are transported into a desert wilderness where they are being chased by a pack of ostriches.

Dwayne Johnson is hilariously on point with DeVito’s somewhat signature northern New Jersey accent and Kevin Hart also is pretty funny with Glover’s elderly, more serious and statesmanlike accent. The avatars soon learn that they must snatch the jewel called “the Falcon’s Heart” from a ruthless warlord named Jurgen The Brutal (Game of Throne’s Rory McCann), who’s responsible for the deaths of Dr. Bravestone’s parents. Also returning in The Next Level are Nick Jonas as Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough: the real world Alex (Colin Hanks)’s avatar who is a young aircraft pilot we know from the first sequel and Cyclone, a black Pegasus (horse) who is actually SPOILER alert (highlight to read): Bethany’s avatar. The players have to free the Falcon’s Heart jewel to escape the game once and for all, but they must do so in only three given lives (as in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) or forever be lost inside the game.

In The Next Level, director Jake Kasdan doubles down on the audience not knowing which real player is playing which avatar and finds a way (through some magical waters) to be able to switch the avatars (and characters’ voices) midway through the movie. This gives each actor the ability to show off their abilities to embody the different characters; the overly confident jock, a jittery nerd, a prissy cheerleader, and a cantankerous elderly persona. It is not right away that is revealed where Spenser is this whole time. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) In Jumanji: The Next Level, Spencer is in the avatar of Ming Fleetfoot, who specializes in burglary, pickpocketing, and lock-picking. This avatar is masterfully played by Awkwafina.

In my opinion, it isn’t Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart or Jack Black that are the standouts of Jumanji: The Next Level, – it is Awkwafina! Kasdan even finds a way for Awkwafina to take on Danny DeVito’s signature accent – and she does so brilliantly. There are many impressive video game-esque CGI scenes, including floating bridges, aggressive and menacing mandrills, and an absolutely amazing ostrich herd vs dune buggy race (it’s worth every penny!)

But if there aren’t the impromptu moments between Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Awkwafina, then Jumanji: The Next Level won’t have the same commercial and critical success that the first sequel saw. Luckily for us, these moments are absolutely there with this movie and they are an absolute treat. What Kasdan and his team do next with Jumanji is anyone’s guess, but he does leave the door open for yet another sequel. So don’t rush out the door before you’ve seen the very last ostrich exit stage left!

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen JUMANJI: The Next Level? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: DUMBO (2019)

It seems that every year now we’ll be treated to a live action of Disney’s animated movies. Now, I actually quite like Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast, Jungle Book, and I’m curiously anticipating Aladdin. As for Dumbo, I actually don’t remember much of the original. I only watched a scene of Dumbo and his mother in the Baby, Mine sequence. As for Tim Burton, I haven’t seen the last few films he’s done, including Alice in Wonderland which doesn’t appeal to me at all.

This movie doesn’t have talking animals nor musical numbers. The screenplay by Ehren Kruger is an expanded version of the 1941 animated version that’s now told from the human characters. The circus is intact of course, this time it’s called Medici Circus, owned by Max Medici (Danny DeVito). Soon we see Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) coming back from the war. Once a circus star, he’s now missing an arm and his wife (also a former circus star) has died of Spanish Flu, leaving him with his two kids Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). Holt gets demoted to caring for the upcoming baby elephant, which later becomes known as Dumbo.

One thing the movie gets right is the titular little elephant itself. Dumbo is utterly adorable – from the moment we saw him buried under a pile of hay, the large-eared CGI elephant immediately won my heart. A ‘face only a mother could love,’ Max Medici said, he couldn’t be more wrong. Milly and Joe were immediately taken by Dumbo as well, even more so when his mother was sold off to recoup a loss of a tragic incident. The devastating separation scene pierced my heart. I have similar experience when I was sent to a boarding school at the age of 7 and had to be separated from my own mother whom I didn’t see until two weeks later.

The villain of the movie comes in the form of Michael Keaton‘s Vandevere who buys Medici Circus upon learning of the flying elephant. His Disneyland-type, vas amusement park called Dreamland, with attractions like Nightmare Island, Wonders of Science, etc. It’s no surprise that the huge park is filled with dark secrets. Keaton is especially hammy here, but his character wasn’t given much to do. In fact, DeVito, Keaton and Alan Arkin‘s characters are basically just stock characters. They have no real arc at all, basically just caricatures of a circus owner, an opportunistic entrepreneur and a powerful banker, respectively. I have to say the timing for this movie is quite interesting. Its blatant message against corporate conglomeration/industry domination coming out just a week after the announcement of Disney buying out 20th Century Fox isn’t lost on me.

I feel like Colin Farrell‘s Holt is the only character resembling a real person and is someone actually worth rooting for. Eva Green is perfectly cast as trapeze artist Colette, offering her usual sexy mystique but this time with motherly touches. Nico Parker‘s young scientist aspiring to be Marie Curie message of feminism is quite on-the-nose, but she is pretty good role model for young girls. There’s also a fine message about not relying on certain ‘crutches’ to achieve big things, as Dumbo couldn’t fly initially without the prompting of a feather.

Burton’s visual flair and his imaginative mind seems perfect to helm this live-action adaptation. Aided by his longtime Burton-collaborators Danny Elfman (music) and Colleen Atwood (costume design), it’s indeed a gorgeous movie. I’d say the darker stuff is to be expected, but it’s nothing that would really scare off young children. Ultimately, in order for the movie to work, it has to convince us that an elephant can fly. The movie delivers in that regard. I enjoy all the flying sequences, especially towards the end when Dumbo flies over Cooney Island. I also love the scene where the little elephant was in a trance watching a circus act making giant balloon bubbles.

Just like its protagonist that keeps stumbling on its large ears, the movie doesn’t always get every step right either. The first half hour feels a bit sluggish, while the fiery finale seems too grandiose for its own good. I think Burton fans might complain that the movie isn’t weird or bizarre enough. I’d say for a Tim Burton movie about circuses that inherently celebrates eccentricities, this is a pretty safe one. But as a feel-good family film, I think it’s still pretty enjoyable. Is this movie necessary? Well no, but neither is any of the live action adaptations Disney’s been making. I personally would rather see more original stories being made, but judging this for what it is, I’d say it still merits a recommendation.


Have you seen DUMBO? I’d love to hear what you think!

Merry Christmas! Reminiscing on the alternative Christmas classic: Batman Returns

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It’s December 25 and I thought I’d take the time to wish you all a wonderful Christmas… wherever you are. It’s not quite a White Christmas here in Minnesota. The snow that’s supposed to hit us today seems to have shift to Friday, which is a bummer as for once I don’t mind having a snowy Christmas day as I don’t have to travel anywhere. It’s been a while since we actually have a truly mellow Christmas where we get to relax at home, eat home-cooked meal and watch movies in the comfort of our own home.

After church on Christmas eve, we wanted to see a Christmas-themed movie. At first we’re going to see Bill Murray’s Scrooged, but ended up rewatching Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns, as this TOR.com blog cleverly dubbed …‘Twas the Dark Knight Before Christmas...

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Hey, even Alfred’s getting into the Christmas spirit putting up the Christmas tree in the Wayne Mansion whilst Bruce snuggles up by the fire. It’s the calm before the storm, as it were. The real action begins as soon as miss Selina Kyle enters the picture…

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(although a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it…)

I had seen it ages ago but I couldn’t remember much of the details other than Michelle Pfeiffer‘s stunning and iconic portrayal as Catwoman. She still is one of the best things about this film, and I don’t think anyone’s topped her performance yet in that role [sorry Anne Hathaway, you’re good but not THAT good].

The Christmas setting in Gotham City is gorgeous to look at and definitely got me a bit nostalgic of spending time in New York City last year.

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The festive Christmas lighting ceremony in Gotham Plaza is basically modeled after the giant tree in Rockeffeler Center, and there’s even that lavish holiday masked ball where Bruce Wayne gets to slow dance with Selina Kyle and discovering who their real identities are.

Keaton and Pfeiffer had quite a scorching chemistry, more so than Christian Bale did with any of his female co-stars. It’s a complicated and ultimately doomed relationship that’s beguiling and surprisingly emotional.

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“Does this mean we have to start fighting?”

Tons of great performances too, Danny Devito is effectively creepy yet funny as Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, and Christopher Walken is always fun to watch as the slimy businessman Max Shreck. Danny Elfman‘s score is absolutely terrific, too, I should feature it in the next Music Break 😉

Though I’ve come to love Nolan’s Batman’s trilogy that’s more solemn and realistic, I have to admit I enjoyed Burton’s decidedly more circus-y and theatrical approach. Glad I rewatched this tonight, Batman Returns is definitely a fun albeit bizarre alternative Christmas flick if you’re not in the mood to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for the zillionth time. Though the story may be dark and even tragic, I wouldn’t call it an anti-Christmas movie. In fact, the finale ends on a hopeful note, with a subtle hint that the Christmas spirit isn’t entirely lost on them …

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Good will toward men… and women.


So folks, once again I wish you a MERRY & BLESSED CHRISTMAS.
What’ll you be watching this Christmas break?