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: JUMANJI: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

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Review by: Vitali Gueron

When people utter the word Jumanji, they can’t help but think of the 1995 fantasy adventure movie Jumanji, starring the late Robin Williams, and adapted from the 1981 children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. The film stars Williams as Alan Parrish, a man who is trapped in a board game for 26 years, until 1995 when the brother/sister pair of Peter and Judy find the dusty old board game in their attic. When they start playing it, they inadvertently release a swarm of giant mosquitoes, some monkeys, a lion and a 26-years-older Alan who has been surviving the animals and jungle of Jumanji. While Alan, Peter and Judy all survive, so does the game and we last see it on a beach as it lies partially buried in the sand.

Fast forward twenty-two years, we are introduced to the direct sequel of Jumanji called Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The movie starts off in 1996, a year after the events in the original movie, when a father discovers the same half buried board game while jogging along the beach. He removes it from the sand and bring it home for his teenage son Alex Vreeke to play with. But Alex, being the mid-90’s teenager that he is, is not interested in board games but rather video games and heavy metal music. As he throws the game aside, the game morphed into a video game cartridge – the kind that fits right in his video game console which is hooked up to his bedroom television. The game is now all but daring Alex to play it and having no choice, Alex begins to play it and gets sucked inside the video game.

We jump to present day, now twenty years later, where we are introduced to four delinquent high school students, all given detention for various infractions throughout the day. Nerdy gamer Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) is caught writing essays for his former friend and football jock Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), self-centered cheerleader Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) is all-but-glued to her cell phone and does not want to stop using it during class, and Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) is a shy bookworm who refuses to participate in physical education. All four teenagers are sent to clear out the junk from the school’s basement, and soon-there-after the four find Jumanji, now a five-player action-adventure console game.

The teens decide to start the game, choosing the four remaining video game characters, as one is already in play. Spencer chooses the avatar of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a very rugged and muscular explorer who is also an archaeologist. Fridge chooses the avatar of Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), a short in height zoologist and weapons specialist, when Fridge mistakenly reads the character’s nickname as “Moose”. Martha chooses the avatar of Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a commando, martial artist, and dance fighter and Bethany is left with no choice but to pick the avatar of Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), cartographer, cryptographer, archaeologist and paleontologist. Bethany originally believes that her avatar “Shelly” is female but as soon as they find themselves in a jungle, she realizes that Professor Sheldon Oberon is actually an overweight, middle-aged man. She also has an amusing stint at first as she discovers her avatar’s male genitalia.

The teenagers, now avatars in the game, soon learn that each of their avatars also comes with special skills and weaknesses (some are quite hilarious and provide for the adult humor in the movie). Each avatar has three lives and if they lose all three, the teens will actually die in real life. Professor Oberon is almost immediately eaten by a hippo (a well-made CGI creature) and as his next avatar comes into the game from the skies above, he conveniently lands upon Franklin Finbar, who breaks his fall with his who body. This is where the trio of Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson make Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle an absolute blast to watch. We are soon introduced to the film’s villain, Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), who has developed the ability to control the dark and creepy creatures of Jumanji.

An encounter with a snake – which the avatar initially try to outwit in a staring contest – makes for an absolutely hysterical scene with Black, Hart, Johnson and Karen Gillian all screaming for their lives as the CGI snake after them. They soon meet Seaplane McDonough (Nick Jonas), the avatar of Alex Vreeke (the fifth player) whose’s a skilled pilot. They also learn that Alex has survived for twenty years in the game but is down to his very last life. With Alex’s help, the group now has the chance to escape the game, but first the players must return a jewel (captured by Van Pelt) to an enormous jaguar statue and call out “Jumanji”. While I will not reveal how the film ends, I will just say that all’s well that ends well and we do see teenagers back in the real world again, along with a now-adult Alex.

The best part of the sequel is the humor that the avatars portrayed by Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillian gave to the plot of the movie. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle becomes a more refined Central Intelligence (the 2016 Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson action comedy) meet Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (the 1984 Steven Spielberg classic). The combination of actors, storyline and CGI actually work pretty well in this movie and the high school aspect makes it empathetic and relatable to the target audience.

While director Jake Kasdan closes the door to the idea of there being another sequel, it thankfully doesn’t mean that Jumanji will forever disappear as it has managed to survive in various forms for many years, both as a game inside the movie and as the real life movie, watched again and again by the next generation of kids and teenagers. The sequel to Jumanji is worth a revisit to the jungle, and would make Robin Williams proud, but above all, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle makes for one heck of a good time!


Have you seen ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle‘? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

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The moment I saw the trailer for this months ago I was immediately sold. Anyone who’s ever owned a pet would likely be drawn to this as well, and given the popularity of cat (and dog) videos on social media, this is no doubt a winning concept for an animated movie. The movie started off well enough on the premise of pets shenanigans whilst the owner is away, seen from the life of the movie’s protagonist, a terrier dog named Max (Louis C.K.). The opening scene, set to Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York, with Max propped on a bike as his owner Katie strolls through Central Park with the city’s metropolitan backdrop is fun and vibrant. Life seems perfect for Max, that is until Katie arrives one day with a huge, hairy dog from the pound. Max takes an instant dislike to Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and it’s easy to see why.

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At first the story seems to revolve around the households of Max as well as his NYC neighbors. There’s the obese gray cat Chloe (Lake Bell), bulldog Mel (Bobby Moynihan), dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress), parakeet Sweet Pea (Tara Strong) and a white Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) who has a crush on Max. I enjoy the intro to each of these fun characters, some of which has been revealed in the trailer. I still laughed when we see Chloe resisting temptation of eating all the food on the fridge and fail miserably, and when Buddy enjoying a delightful massage courtesy of an electric mixer. But the plot then takes us into more of a riotous adventure involving pets being taken in by Animal Control, and ends up being kind of a rescue and ‘great escape’ type of plot that is neither inventive or original. I feel like I’ve seen this type of plot before in other animal movies, most recently Shaun the Sheep.


The whole bit in the sewer with an anti-human gang Flushed Pets, led by a militant white bunny Snowball (the petite firecracker Kevin Hart) has some hilarious moments, but it feels too mean-spirited for a kids movie. Unlike the far superior talking-animal animated feature Zootopia, there’s not much emotional resonance nor depth in The Secret Life of Pets, which is a bummer as I think the concept has so much potential. The moment Duke finds out about what happens to his owner provides one of the very few emotional moments in the movie, but for the most part we get one slapstick gag after another. It also includes a rather silly musical number involving dancing sausages that seems rather pointless.

The movie is directed by Chris Renaud & Yarrow Chenney who have worked on previous Illumination animated movies in the past. I quite like the score too, which I realize from the credits is by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat. The funniest bits to me are in the simpler moments. There’s one when Max is trying to channel his inner wolf instinct but then concludes that perhaps the ‘myth’ comes from a dog mistaking its parent saying ‘woof’ with ‘wolf.’ You have to watch it to get the full impact of the joke. I also find the aloof & sarcastic Chloe hilarious, she’s what you’d imagine a cat would be and the moment she gets her head in a tube is absolutely hysterical. I wish there were more moments like this, that is the simple shenanigans these pets get into in a normal day, instead of the grandiose escape-from-peril plan that is too busy for its own good. The simple day-to-day stuff is more of what I expect from a movie titled ‘the secret life of pets.’

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That said, I think the fun personality of the pets, thanks to a talented ensemble of voice cast, makes this movie enjoyable despite the flaws. Louis C.K. is perfect as Max, a good ol’ loyal dog who’s self-deprecating and cynical. The standout for me is Lake Bell‘s Chloe, Albert Brooks‘ hawk Tiberius and of course Hart’s hysterically-psychotic white bunny. I find the massively popular comedian hilarious in real life, his high-pitched voice, ultra-confident persona and antics are a hoot. But I can see how he might irritate some people, as comedy is so subjective. Jenny Slate‘s raspy voice as Gidget is funny too, though her Pomeranian’s character transformation is just downright preposterous. I get it that we can’t complain about things being nonsensical about a cartoon of talking animals, but I feel that the plot could’ve been much more engaging. Comparing this to other works by Illumination Entertainment, this is more akin to Minions than Despicable Me in terms of substance. There are touches of Toy Story as well, though it obviously doesn’t hold a candle to the Pixar masterpiece trilogy.

If you’re on the fence though, I think this is still well worth a watch. I don’t think it’s worth the 3D price however and I think it’d be ok to just wait for rental. I saw one reviewer say this is more humor than heart and I guess that is perfectly adequate for a kids movie. As an adult though, I kind of expect more given what Pixar, Disney and even Dreamworks have delivered lately.

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What do you think of ‘The Secret Life of Pets’?

FlixChatter Review: Grudge Match

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De Niro and Stallone seems to have a new movie opening every month lately don’t they? Both are their 70s and still going strong, while most of their piers either doing TV shows or take a supporting role in other big films. For example, all of Harrison Ford’s films this year, he played a secondary character, not the lead.

In this new boxing comedy, De Niro and Stallone stars as rival boxers, you can say it’s Rocky vs. La Motta. The film starts out with a flashback of the boxers in their prime, Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) and Henry “Razor” Sharp are two of the best boxers in the world back in the early 80s. They’ve both fought one another and hate each other’s guts. After their last fight, which Sharp defeated McDonnen, Sharp decided to walk away from boxing. McDonnen wants a rematch but Sharp refuse to fight him again. BTW, these flashback scenes included another bad CGI effects of making the actors look younger, think of the “young” Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy, Hollywood should stop doing this because it looks weird and fake. Flash forward to present day, Sharp is now working at a factory in Pittsburg, he lives in a crappy house and doesn’t have any family, he just takes care of his trainer Lightning (Alan Arkin), who’s living in the home for the elders. McDonnen on the other hand, he’s more successful, he owns a bar and runs a couple of car dealerships in the city. He also still living like a bachelor, he drinks and sleeps with women more than half his age.

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One day the son of Sharp’s former promoter, Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), shows up at Sharp’s home and tells him he found a way for both of them to make big money. Dante’s not doing well either and wants to be a boxing promoter like his father. Apparently a video game company wants to create a new boxing game and wants Sharp’s to be part of it. Knowing he needs money to pay for the bills that he’s way behind on, he agreed. When he showed up at the video game company to have his body captured for the game, McDonnen was also invited to be part of the game. Of course since these two don’t like one another, they ended up throwing punches and a bunch of people recorded the fight and it went viral online. It received millions of views on YouTube and made the news on Sports Center. Taking advantage of their new found fame, Slate Jr. convinced both of them pick up their gloves and go in the ring for a rematch. After the announcement that these two aging boxers are going back to the ring made national news, Sharp’s ex-girlfriend, Sally Rose (Kim Basinger), shows up and wants to rekindle their relationship. But Sharp’s not interested in seeing her, she slept with McDonnen years ago and got pregnant. At the same time, a young man named B.J., (Jon Bernthal, Shane from The Walking Dead), showed up at a gym where McDonnen was training and tells McDodden that he’s his son. Since he’s never been a father, McDonnen didn’t really know how to act but B.J. told him he didn’t want anything from him, just wanted him to know that he exists.

I know the marketing for this movie made it look like it’s all about De Niro’s and Stallone’s character training for the big fight. But it’s really about the redemption for these two men who’ve made mistakes in their younger years and now they’re trying to right what they did wrong. Of course there are scenes of them training and getting ready for the rematch, there were some nods to their classic films Rocky and Raging Bull.

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I thought the performances by the actors were pretty good, De Niro looked like he had a blast playing the reckless fighter and Stallone was surprisingly effective in his role, yeah he’s pretty much playing Rocky again but he’s Rocky to many people so that’s fine by me. Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin provided the humor in the film, in fact I though Arkin stole every scenes he appeared in. Basinger did a good job of playing the “love interest” in the movie and Jon Burnthal was very good in his role. If he gets to do more films, he could be someone to watch out for, I know he’s done mostly TV work.

Director Peter Segal kept everything light, nothing was over the top and the pacing was good. I’m sure it wasn’t easy making a movie where there’s no villain and have people cheering for both of the leads. The final climatic fight scene was well staged, although De Niro looked way too out of shape but again he’s in his 70s so he did the best he could.

I don’t really have anything negative to say about this movie, it’s a heartwarming story that will entertain fans of the leads and you’ll have some good laughs. The movie never took itself too seriously and as long as you don’t go into it with huge expectations, you’ll have a good time.

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What do you think of Grudge Match and the pairing of Sly and De Niro?