After its World Premiere at the 2019 SXSW, Jeremy Teicher’s movie Olympic Dreams made its Minnesota premiere at TCFF. The movie stars Nick Kroll as Ezra, a dentist who’s come to volunteer his dentistry skills at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. It also stars Alexi Pappas as Penelope, an American cross-country skier who has qualified to complete at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games but doesn’t know any of the other athletes in the athlete village and also feels awkward around most of them anyways. Penelope is disappointed after a less than desirable finish in her competition and meets Ezra in the cafeteria of the athletes village and a friendship starts to develop between the athlete and dentist, who is more than ten years her elder.
When Penelope tries to pursue Ezra as something more than a friend at first, Ezra rejects her pursuit, telling her that he has a sort-of girlfriend at home. This leads Penelope and Ezra down a rocky path, filled with spending some time apart, and Penelope meeting another athlete — real life free style skier Gus Kenworthy, who makes sure to quickly inform Penelope that he is not interested in being more than friends with her since he is gay. Gus helps Penelope and Ezra reconnect and they end up going outside the Olympic Village on a tour of the local culture, sights and restaurants of PyeongChang. But will they ever become anything more than friends? To find out, you’ll have to catch the movie from IFC Films when it come out early next year.
Olympic Dreams is the first narrative film ever shot in a real Olympic Athlete Village — the entire film was shot on location during the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. The director, Jeremy Teicher, also acted as the movie’s cinematographer, and sound recorder in addition to directing the movie, according to his website. It is charming, funny at time and beautifully-shot. It reminded me of why I love the Olympics and makes me think that anything is possible when attending the Olympic Games, including starting a physical relationship with someone. Gus Kenworthy shares in the movie (*unclear if this was real or not) that one of his buddies lost his virginity at the last Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. I had a blast watching this movie and came out of it with a huge smile.
The movie was written by the trio of Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher, and Nick Kroll; and mostly succeeded in guiding this gentle love story in the backdrop of one of the most well know world-wide sporting events we have in the history of sports.
– Review by Vitali Gueron
Have you seen OLYMPIC DREAMS? Well, what did you think?
After Margot Robbie pitched the idea of a Harley Quinn film featuring the Birds of Prey team to Warner Bros. Studios in 2015, she spent three years developing the project under her production company. Directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, the Harley Quinn film would end up being called Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and co-produced by Robbie, who would reprise her role as Harley Quinn after the 2016 DC Extended Universe film Suicide Squad. Speaking of Suicide Squad – which ended up being the tenth highest-grossing film of 2016 – it received mixed to negative reviews (including this blog’s founder) from critics. What was generally praised from Suicide Squad was Robbie’s performance and her makeup as Harley Quinn. So, in Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn is the one who takes center stage and everyone hates after her break up with Joker, whom she affectionately calls “Mr. J.”
In Birds of Prey, Harley is still a mess after her breakup, but gets her own apartment, and goes out clubbing where she spends the night at a club owned by Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Sionis likes to masquerades as a bubbly nightclub owner, while he is actually a sadistic gangster with cruel tendencies and the movie’s main antagonist – Black Mask. While at the club, Harley meets Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a burlesque singer who works for Sionis. She ends up saving Harley’s life after some of Sionis’ thugs drag Harley outside and beat her up as a consequence of her drunken and disorderly behavior. Sionis sees Dinah’s skills as a fighter and appoints her as his new driver, after Harley broke the previous driver’s legs, back inside the club.
We spend some more time with Harley as she goes to adopt a hyena from an exotic pet shop and names Bruce (after Bruce Wayne/Batman). Harley also destroys Ace Chemicals, the place where she had pledged herself to Joker before truly becoming Harley Quinn. The movie turns to Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who is investigating the aftermath of the Ace Chemicals explosion and is after Harley Quinn for previous criminal acts. Meanwhile, we are back with Dinah and Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), a henchman of Sionis and deranged serial killer who carves a tally mark on his skin for each victim he claims. Sionis sends them to pick up a diamond which has very important information to him, but while they’re on their way back to the car, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young orphan and pickpocket steals the diamond from Zsasz and ends up swallowing it to keep it safe, before being arrested by the GCPD.
Harley is captured by Sionis’ men and brought to his club, while Zsasz and Dinah tell him about Cassandra’s status in prison. Sionis forces Harley to get Cassandra and the diamond so Harley disguises herself and breaks into the GCPD to retrieve the diamond thief. Sionis, not trusting Harley to bring Cassandra back puts out a large bounty for her head, and this bounty also attracts Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a vigilante known as the “crossbow killer” who calls herself Huntress. After Harley decides that she actually wants to save Cassandra, she finds out about the bounty Sionis put on her head. She plots revenge and calls him and agrees to turn the girl over in exchange for protection from the bounty. Cut to the chase, Sionis sends his henchmen after Harley Quinn and Cassandra, who are also joined by Dinah Lance, Renee Montoya and Huntress. The climactic finale involves a major fight scene and car chase by Harley Quinn and Sionis, only to end up at a nearby Gotham City a pier.
Spoiler Alert (highlight to read):Once Harley catches up with them, Cassandra puts a grenade in Roman’s suit, killing him. In the aftermath of destroying Roman’s empire, Montoya, Dinah and Helena start the Birds of Prey with the money from the accounts of the diamond while Harley and Cassandra pawn it and start their own business together. We end with Harley and Cassandra driving in a car and enjoying a previously mentioned breakfast sandwich, while Bruce, Harley’s hyena, rides in the back seat.
I think that the cast of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is stellar with Margot Robbie successfully helming this eighth film in the DC Extended Universe. Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez and Ella Jay Basco are all wonderful as part of the Birds of Prey squad. It’s a refreshing change from those forgettable characters in Suicide Squad (minus Harley Quinn and The Joker). Where the movie does run amuck is when it tries to over-tell the story of Harley Quinn. Robbie is seen breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience in several scenes, just as Deadpool does in the Marvel Comics Universe movies. This sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t for Harley Quinn. Perhaps the biggest misstep of the film is that it doesn’t really answer the question whether Harley is truly and really emancipated from Joker.
Overall, the film is quite the ride as Birds of Prey goes at 100+ miles per hour, with Robbie as Harley Quinn at the helm of a swerving/speeding car. The movie moves from scene to scene with little explanation, albeit some narration by Harley, and sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. The new characters add a great deal to the movie and do wonders for the DC Extended Universe, focusing on women’s right and female empowerment. There is so much color in this film that I often felt like I was inside a glitter bomb explosion. However, I did enjoy Harley’s humor, and fashion sense and abilities to beat up the bad guys while holding her own. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed McGregor’scharacter – the antagonist Black Mask – and think that it was one of best decisions made for the film. The success of Birds of Prey will ultimately propel Margot Robbie and the rest of the cast to a possible sequel, but how that factors into the DC Extended Universe remains to be seen.
– Review by Vitali Gueron
Have you seen BIRDS OF PREY? Well, what did you think?
In 2017, prior to its acquisition by The Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox was in production of a Sci-Fi/Horror genre film Underwater, with actress Kristen Stewart taking the leading role. Now a part of much larger studio and release schedule, the film, directed by William Eubank, would not get a release date until the start of 2020. Having a release date in the second weekend of January, it usually means that the film can face stiff completion from other films released during the 2019 holidays and still attracting moviegoers weeks later, such as Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker and Jumanji: The Next Level. There is also the competition for viewers from Oscar contenders, such as 1917 and Parasite. But with a Sci-Fi/Horror genre, Underwater could have potentially gained viewers who were just seeking some fun thrills and chills.
Unfortunately, Underwater has neither thrills nor chills that amount to much of anything. The premise is quite simple; Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) works deep underwater at a drill seven miles to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. As what seems like a massive earthquake hits, a section of the Kepler 822 Station where Price is stationed starts to suffer a catastrophic breach from the pressure. One moment Price is brushing her teeth and the next moment, there is water coming from all directions. Price is able to locate a fellow mechanical engineer Rodrigo Nagenda (Mamoudou Athie) and the two of them prevent a larger breach from happening, escape the area and rescue another crewman Paul Abel (T.J. Miller). The three try to locate escape pods but find them all deployed already, and they must search go to another section of the station where there are more escape pods located.
The trio runs into Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), who takes them to a control base where they find biologist Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick) and engineer Liam Smith (John Gallagher Jr.). The group decides to put on pressurized suits and walk one mile across the ocean floor to the Roebuck Station 641. This is where things start going all wrong and slowly but surely, we start losing the minor characters that Norah Price found along the way. First, Rodrigo’s helmet is faulty and cracks from the pressure, killing him instantly. Next they find a menacing hatchling creature, which does quick work of Paul by dragging him underwater before being ripping his suit out and killing him.
The remaining four survivors continue their journey by walking across the ocean floor (I mean what could possibly go wrong???), but another human-looking creature appears, and drags Smith into a cave. Captain Lucien manages to pull Smith out, but tries foolishly goes for Smith’s bolt gun, giving the creature the chance to drag Lucien quickly up through the water and away from the other three. Price manages to locate Captain Lucien, but when the mysterious creature begins ascending, Captain Lucien sacrifices himself so that Price may escape the increasing change in pressure, killing him in the process.
Price is a now alone, without knowing what happened to Smith and Haversham. She manages to reach the abandoned Shepard Station, replaces her used up pressurized suit and leaves the Shepard Station, continuing toward another even deeper station called the Roebuck. Price conveniently runs into Smith and Haversham as she approaches the Roebuck, but also notices a nest of the humanoid creatures hanging from the ceiling and they try to sneak by to no avail. A tiny pressure suit noise causes one of them to wake up and attack Price. She gets partially swallowed but is able to kill the creature and break free, and Haversham rescues Price as they continue their way into the Roebuck.
They realize that the previous earthquake was no earthquake (duh!!!) and enormous creature reveals itself and causes an explosion, which starts to damage the Roebuck. The gigantic alpha creature, which had destroyed their rig earlier, emerges from around the Roebuck surrounded by even more of the humanoid creatures. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read): The three survivors are able to reach the escape pod bay, but Price discovers that only two work, with a third being damaged and unusable. Price gives up her spot so that Smith and Haversham could take the last two working escape pods, and she stays behind. Knowing she is already going to die, Price raises the energy levels of the core engines so that they explode, killing the creatures and allowing the escape pods to reach the surface.
The Price character has many resemblances to Sigourney Weaver‘s Alien character Ripley. She seems to always have the upper hand on those humanoid creatures, and isn’t even afraid to take on the gigantic alpha creature, much like Ripley went toe to toe with the alien creature in Ridley Scott‘s 1979 sci-fi/horror thriller. The difference here is that Ripley used quite a bit of strength and her own smarts to out-power and outwit the alien creature. On the other hand, Norah Price is just a throwaway character and Kristen Stewart plays her role with more trauma and distraught, which makes you think that she is getting incredibly lucky with her decision making more than having any extraordinary abilities.
The bottom line is I’d rather watch Ridley Scott’s Alien for a billionth time rather than watch even a few more minutes of Underwater. I think it was a mistake for 20th Century Fox/ The Walt Disney Studios to finance it and release it in theaters. Perhaps they should have left it for streaming on their platform Disney+ or found another streaming partner, such as Netflix. While it would be alright to see this film sitting at home, I wouldn’t recommend anyone waste their time/money by seeing it on the big screen. Especially if you’re hoping to make any sense of the ending, its best you just go along with the ride and hope to make it out alright on the other side.
– Review by Vitali Gueron
Have you seen UNDERWATER? Well, what did you think?
When I heard that Sam Mendes, the Oscar winning director of American Beauty and one of my favorite “James Bond” films, Skyfall, was releasing a World War I film, I was beyond intrigued. Centered around the spring of 1917 during the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich, Mendes wanted to incorporate a story his grandfather Alfred Mendes told him about a messenger and his heroic task during the war. The film, appropriately titled 1917, is takes place on the front lines in northern France, as the British 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment is planning to mount an attack on the retreating German forces. The Germans have mounted a retreat to the Hindenburg Line, but are planning to ambush the 2nd Battalion, a company battalion of 1,600 men, in hopes of catching the British forces by surprise.
The movie opens on two young British soldiers, Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) napping underneath a tree at the edge of the British trenches in northern France. Suddenly, Lance Corporal Blake is awaked by his commanding officer, telling him to pick a partner and report for further instructions from British General Erinmore (Colin Firth). General Erinmore tasks the two Lance Corporals to deliver a message to halt a British force of the 2nd Battalion before they walk into a trap laid by the German army. The General informs Blake and Schofield that among the 1,600 men of the 2nd Battalion is also Blake’s own brother, Lieutenant Joseph Blake (Richard Madden), and that they must to do the impossible: cross over No Man’s Land, evade enemy forces, and stay alive long enough to deliver a message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) at the front line that his 2nd Battalion is walking into a trap, set by the German Army.
After Blake and Schofield cross into No Man’s Land, with some careful instruction from a Lieutenant Leslie (Andrew Scott), they reach the original German front, finding the trenches abandoned. Their worst feelings come true, as they find that the abandoned trenches turn out to be booby-trapped by the Germans in hopes of killing as many British soldiers as possible. Thanks to some (extremely large) rats who set off one of the booby-traps, the ensuing explosion almost kills Schofield. Thankfully, Blake is there to help Schofield out and they manage to run out of the collapsing bunkers just in time. Having to take shelter in ruined buildings, and sidestepping over unseen obstacles, Blake and Schofield arrive at an abandoned farmhouse and witness a dogfight between British and German planes nearby. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) – As a German pilot is shot down and crash lands near them, Blake and Schofield try to rescue the pilot from the burning wreckage, but the German soldier turns his knife on Blake and mortally wounds him.
As Schofield is now tasked to deliver the message to Colonel Mackenzie alone, he is picked up by a passing British contingent and dropped off near the bombed-out village of Écoust-Saint-Mein. Dodging snipers and climbing over collapsed bridges, Schofield is injured and gets knocked out by a ricocheting bullet. As he wakes up hours later, it is nightfall and Schofield tries to navigate the bombed out and collapsed buildings of Écoust-Saint-Mein, as the German soldiers set fire to large building, creating a giant blaze in the middle of the night and helping Schofield light the way around the town. Unfortunately, he also becomes the target of numerous German snipers, managing to evade them before he finds shelter in an abandoned basement, where he stumbles into the hiding place of a French woman and an infant. He leaves them some canned food and milk he had found at the abandoned farmhouse that he and Blake had found.
Bound by completing his mission, Schofield leaves the woman and infant, but not before learning that the place he is looking for is just down river from the village he was in. He runs past more German soldiers and snipers, and ends up jumping into the river, going over a waterfall and finding more dead bodies of soldiers from both sides. In the morning, he comes across a part of the British 2nd Battalion, as they wait and prepare to go into battle.
From them, he learns that they are actually a part of the second wave, and that while attack has already begun and Blake’s brother is among the first wave to go over the top, he still has time to reach Colonel Mackenzie before it’s too late. He sprints across the trenches and actually climbs onto the battlefield to reach Colonel Mackenzie, who is at first reluctant to call off the attack, but ends up relenting and follows General Erinmore and British Command’s instructions. Schofield is left to find Lieutenant Joseph Blake, SPOILER (highlight to read): and to inform him of his brother’s death. Lieutenant Blake thanks Schofield for his efforts and leaves Schofield to sit by a tree, finally able to rest after successfully completing his mission.
For 1917, Mendes collaborates again with award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, award-winning composer Thomas Newman and co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Mendes and Deakins decided to shoot the movie as one long take, without cutting between scenes. Since it’s told from the point of view of Blake and Schofield, Mendes and Deakins rely on lead actors George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman to take the audience from the trenches, to the battlefields and abandoned farmhouses and other building. Both MacKay and Chapman tackle this challenge with much success, but it is really MacKay that makes the emotional connection needed to make his character relatable yet resilient. Chapman plays on the youth and inexperience of Lance Corporal Blake to make it seem like he needs Lance Corporal Schofield to succeed.
Even though we don’t see much of Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden or Colin Firth, they each fulfill their roles to advance the plot line and bring the notion of familiarity and comfort to the audience, who has been carrying along with the two relatively-unknown lead actors. Not knowing the fates of the two lead British soldiers was a clever tactic used by Mendes, and losing one or both soldiers in battle would not be as big of a setback to the viewers if their message would somehow end up reaching its destination. Had Mendes cast household recognizable actors in those roles, it would have been much harder for the story to develop in the direction that it did. Thomas Newman’s score is also very memorable and fits perfectly into the wartime arc of the movie.
This is one my top-10 movies of the year and I’d be surprised if it didn’t get nominated for multiple Academy Awards. It just won the Golden Globe Award for Best Drama this past Sunday, and Sam Mendes won theGolden Globe for Best Director. I’d also like to see nominations for Thomas Newman’s score, Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ screenplay and perhaps most of all, Roger Deakins’ cinematography.
This is a deeply memorable film that will be remembered as one of the best World War I movies of all time, and it ranks as perhaps one of the best war movies ever made. It is not to be missed, especially in an IMAX theater and I give it my wholehearted, unabridged endorsement.
Having seen the brothers Josh and Ben Safdie‘s 2017 crime thriller Good Time, I was more than excited to see their next feature film, Uncut Gems, starring Adam Sandler, with Martin Scorsese serving as an executive producer. Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, who is a gambling addict and narcissist in New York City’s Diamond District. The idea for the film was inspired by Safdie brothers’ own father and his time working in the same Manhattan Diamond District and the script was co-written by the brothers and their friend Ronald Bronstein. Ratner, a Jewish jewelry shop owner and profiteer, is already over his head taking out loans to feed his gambling habits and constantly dealing with loan sharks who chasing after him.
The film starts with Ethiopian miners finding a fantastic gem, an uncut opal that has numerous sparking and shining properties. This uncut gem finds its way to Howard Ratner, just as he is opening his shop for NBA superstar Kevin Garnett, who isin the middle of a title run with the Boston Celtics. Garnett and his posse come in to shop for some unique jewelry pieces and Ratner offers them various different things such as diamond watches and a diamond-covered animal creature with creepily moving eyes. Garnett doesn’t seem interested and is ready to leave, so while Howard’s assistant Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) distracts Garnett with some small talk, Ratner and his assistant/girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox) open up a freshly delivered package containing the shiny uncut opal.
Not having the ability to contain himself, Ratner shows Garnett the opal and Garnett instantly wants to buy it. Refusing to sell it, Ratner makes a deal with Garnett to let him hold onto it for good luck at his game that night, putting up his Celtics championship diamond ring as collateral. While being pursued by his own brother-in-law loan shark Arno (Eric Bogosian) and his goons, Ratner immediately runs off to a pawn shop to pawn Garnett’s ring in exchange for some quick cash he can gamble with. More specifically, Ratner plans to bet it all on Garnet having a personal best night at the basketball game he is playing in that night, scoring a personal best and helping the Celtics win the game.
In his personal life, Howard is dealing with his estranged wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel), who intends to divorce him after Passover (but doesn’t want to confront him in front of their kids) and his assistant/girlfriend/mistress Julia. Howard gets jealous when he finds Julia at a concert with The Weekend (plays himself) making out in the bathroom. Howard kicks Julia out of the apartment he is renting for her, without his wife’s knowledge. Things get worse for Howard when Demany tells him that even though Garnett won his game the previous night and Howard made some money, Garnett now wants to keep the opal for a considerable time longer. This is a problem for Howard as he intends to sell the opal at a high-end auction that is mere days away.
Howard gets jumped at his daughter’s school play by Arno and his bodyguards Phil (Keith Williams Richards) and Nico (Tommy Kominik), who strip Howard naked and lock him in the trunk of his own car, forcing him to call Dinah to unlock it for him. Prior to locking Howard in the car trunk, Arno tells Howard that he placed a stop on the bet that Howard had made on Garnett’s game, as the bet was made with money owed to him. Garnett contacts Howard prior to the auction and offers him $175,000 to purchase the opal but Howard refuses, thinking that it would make more money at the auction. Howard convinces his father-in-law Gooey (Judd Hirsch) to bid against Garnett at the auction, but Garnett senses something is off and bows out before the opal reaching Howard’s minimum price of $200,000, forcing Gooey to purchase it with Howards own money. Arno, Phil and Nico confront Howard in front of the auction and end up punching him in the nose as Howard falls into the nearby fountain in front of the building.
Kevin Garnett, still wanting the opal, reaches out to Howard to try one more time to purchase the opal for $175,000, and this time Howard agrees. But instead of paying back Arno, Phil and Nico the money he owes them, Howard tells his recently reconciled with assistant/girlfriend Julia to take the money and place a bet on Garnett’s basketball game at a nearby casino. Howard locks Arno, Phil and Nico in his jewelry shop’s security area between doors and watches Garnett’s basketball game from inside his shop.
SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read)Howard wins big (over one million dollars) and when he releases Arno, Phil and Nico from in-between the doors to his jewelry shop, Phil shoots Howard in the head at point-blank range, also shoots and kills Arno, and Phil and Nico rob Howard’s shop. The camera zooms inside Howard’s bullet hole.
Adam Sandler gave a tour-de-force performance. Not only does he deliver on of his best dramatic performances ever, Sandler also delivers a one of a kind equally impressive comedic performance that makes his audience squirm and laugh nervously in their seats, not knowing when a punch would be thrown his away making the situation time times more uncomfortable. Additionally, Kevin Garnett is realistic and believable, playing the NBA Basketball Champion, looking for a lucky gem that would help him win his next championship. The interaction between Sandler and Garnet is at times scripted but often improvised. Sander finds a way to make the crazy compulsive gambler and jewelry salesman character relatable and somewhat compassionate but also someone Garnett could go toe-to-toe with and still be fearful of him.
The other supporting cast Eric Bogosian, Lakeith Stanfield and Idina Menzel all pull their weight in their respective scenes, but it is newcomer Julia Fox who stands out as Howard’s assistant and on-and-off again girlfriend. Fox, who is making her first feature film appearance in Uncut Gems, is a standout in the film, making a perfect partner for Howard and Julia’s toxic and yet very, very hyper-romantic relationship (at least according to co-director, co-writer Josh Safdie). I can see both Sandler and Fox being recognized for the originality as well as their codependency in making their onscreen relationship work.
Uncut Gems is one of best films I’ve seen this year, in what has been an overall fantastic year for cinema and original storytelling. This Safdie Brothers crime thriller is definitely in my top-ten list and I can see it winning multiple awards in the next month or two (Sandler is already getting heavy Oscar buzz).
– Review by Vitali Gueron
Have you seen UNCUT GEMS? Well, what did you think?
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?
When most adults hear the name The Addams Family, they’ll likely think back to the 1991 Barry Sonnenfeld live action movie, starring Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia and Christina Ricci. The film was based on the The Addams Family cartoon created by cartoonist Charles Addams and the 1964 TV series produced by David Levy. While The Addams Family existed as a cartoon, TV series and live action movie, there was never the existence of an animated feature movie, until 2019 when the directors of Sausage Party, Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan teamed up with screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler to make the computer animated feature, with the thought of making the heavy source subject of death and darkness much more kid-friendly with likable characters and a snappy tune.
The story is similar but also it deviates from the live action version. Gomez Addams (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia Addams (Charlize Theron) are on the hunt for a suitable mansion after tying the know before being chanced out of town by an angry mob of villagers, when they stumble upon Lurch (Conrad Vernon), a former inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. He leads them to the abandoned mansion/asylum in (of all places) New Jersey and becomes the Addams Family’s butler. There they raise two kids — Wednesday Addams (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsley Addams (Stanger Things’ Finn Wolfhard) – and live at the mansion on a hill for years in comfort and peace, in isolation from the outside world. Thirteen years later, the Addams kids are now teenagers and have to start acting like adults. Gomez starts to prepare Pugsley for his upcoming Mazurka, a rite of passage every Addams family member takes, and they invite the whole extended family for the special celebration.
Wednesday finds a red balloon (insert murderous clown joke here, which they do) and confetti that make their way to mansion and begins to wonder what’s in the outside world. Speaking of, in a town that has formed down in the valley, and a TV show host and interior decorator Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) has discovered the less than pleasing Addams family mansion on a hill, and is hell bent on making it over and getting rid of its inhabitants. She spies on her neighbors though hidden cameras and an online app, which can easily be manipulated for maximum gossip and rumors to run wild in the town. Margaux’s daughter Parker Needler (Elsie Fisher) befriends Wednesday and they borrow styling tips from each other, with Wednesday adding some flashes of pink to her wardrobe and Parker going completely Goth.
The story finishes all too familiarly, with the townspeople and the extended Addams family coming together after Margaux tries to make them hate each other. There are good morals to be learned for those 13-and-under in the crowd, such as accepting others for who they are and saying that differences are what make us unique. There is a cute moment when Cousin It (rapper Snoop Dogg) rolls to the mansion with Snoop’s 2004 single Drop It Like Its Hot blaring loudly (well, at least the “G version” of the song) and we first hear Cousin It’s voice, which sounds like nothing but garbled words. Another song in the movie called My Family (Migos, Snoop Dogg, Karol G, and producer Rock Mafia) incorporates the famous The Addams Family tune and finger snaps, and talks about how “if you mess with me, you’re messing with my family.” The tune also features Spanish lyrics from Columbian singer Karol G, making this a multicultural tune, well in line with the massage of the animated movie.
Theron & Isaac as Morticia and Gomez
Snoop Dog as Cousin It
While this version of The Addams Family is nothing new and different for adults, this animated version is a terrific introduction for younger audiences (esp. those under 13) into the horror-themed genre. It should prepare them for the much scarier and darker versions of the franchise they might watch in the next few years. Both adults and kids can enjoy the soundtrack, the wonderful voices of Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac and Allison Janney. You’ll probably snap your fingers once or twice out the theater as you hum The Addams Family tune that gets stuck in your head — like a great earworm that it is.
– Review by Vitali Gueron
Have you seen The Addams Family? Well, what did you think?