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Release Date: January 2018

Synopsis: An embittered U.S. Cavalry officer reluctantly agrees to accompany a Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their tribal lands in Montana.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

By: Kevin Jordan

A trophy for trying.

I’m not sure there was any movie in 2017 for which I had lower expectations than Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.  Well, maybe Justice League.  And Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  And Transformers: The Last Knight.  And Kong: Skull Island.  Ok, so there were many movies to be seriously pessimistic about this year and Jumanji was one of them.  I also assumed that Welcome to the Jungle was a remake of the 1995 original and I loved the original.  So, yeah – expectations, meet toilet water.

(Last SPOILER ALERT of the year.)

Five minutes into Welcome to the Jungle, I thought my expectations were going to be fulfilled.  The film literally picks up where the 1995 film left off – the game is half-buried in the sand on a beach somewhere and someone stumbles across it and picks it up.  This person gives the game to seventeen-year old Alex, who opens it, dismisses it with “who plays board games anymore,” sets it on a nearby shelf in his room, and goes back to playing an Atari-like console video game (the console being located on the other side of the room).  During the night, a green glow lights up his room and, the next morning, Alex finds the console and controllers stacked on top of the Jumanji box.  Thinking this is only mildly odd, he opens the Jumanji box and finds there is now a game cartridge for his console.  Without batting an eye at this bizarre occurrence, Alex stuffs the cartridge into the console and is sucked into the game.  Seriously?!  That is how the board game becomes a video game?  You didn’t even try.  Why have the kid open the box at all?  Or why not have him put it under the console himself?  It took me less time to come up with several ridiculously simple ways to fix this scene than it did to write this paragraph.

Things really didn’t get better over the next ten minutes as we jumped to 2017 and met the other four kids (all five kids are teenagers), but at least we got something rational.  For various reasons, nerdy-and-weak-Spencer (Alex Wolff), large-football-player-and-homework-cheat Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), hot-and-self-absorbed Bethany (Madison Iseman), and awkward-and-anti-social Martha (Morgan Turner) end up in detention together.  They are made to clean out an old storage area where they come across the old console, which inexplicably ended up in a high school.  Just…uuuuggghhghh.  They decide to play and are immediately sucked into the world of Jumanji where they are transformed into the characters they chose, which just happen to be the exact opposite of their real selves.  Spencer becomes Dwayne Johnson (hot and huge), Fridge becomes Kevin Hart (short and annoying), Bethany becomes Jack Black (Jack Black), and Martha becomes Karen Gillan (sizzling hot ninja).  Get it?  Uuuuuggggghhhgh.

They really recover from the bad start.

Then, something weird happened.  The film became enjoyable.  One of the things I love about the original is how nothing in the game is skipped over, including each turn.  The rules are followed until the end and everything happens for a reason.  Welcome to the Jungle pulls off the exact same feat, albeit with far less subtlety and cleverness, by showing us the entire game played out on screen.  Sure, there are apparently only three or four levels in this game and the threats they face are far fewer and include Mad Max motorcycle extras (don’t ask), but they never warp forward or cheat their way through the game.  Each player has three lines on their arm, denoting their number of lives within the game.  And we get to see how every one of them is lost.  Just like in the original, our new players must finish the game if they want to escape, though this time they have to actually accomplish something besides not dying (they have to put a MacGuffin in another MacGuffin).  The film even takes the time to define the strengths and weaknesses of each player and utilizes all those things through the course of the game.  I am stunned that the same writers (all six of them) that wrote such an atrocious opening scene also pulled the rest of this script out of their PlayStations.

It works because they can all see the box too.

I was also expecting really flat characters, based on such obvious jokes as their avatars being shoved down our throats, but I was wrong there too.  With the exception of Kevin Hart Kevin-Harting it up, Johnson, Black, and Gillan acted their butts off to do their best impressions of their younger counterparts doing impressions of themselves.  Even more impressive is they kept it up for the entire film (kudos to director Jake Kasdan on this as well), Jack Black really selling being a ditzy girl trapped in a hobo’s body.  Perhaps the best trick of the entire film was Black managing to make a couple dick jokes not come off like, well, dick jokes.  When Bethany has to pee, she asks the guys to explain to her how to use a penis and the result is genius.  Even an obvious boner gag came off as poignant.

She was never the cause of a boner joke and it would have been so easy.

As much as I ended up enjoying the movie, there were some glaring misses.  Nick Jonas (playing adult Alex) has a looooong way to go as an actor, but he wasn’t terrible.  The villain (Bobby Cannavale) was almost non-existent, as well as being exactly what you would expect in a crappy video game.  The tone of the film ditched anything even remotely frightening, which is one of the things that made the original so good.  They remembered to include a cut-scene at the beginning of their adventure in the game (which was brilliant), then forgot to do any more cut scenes.  Fridge had the backpack of weapons as a trait, but they rarely ever pulled anything out of the pack, which was a huge missed nod at what video game characters are able to carry in games.  And, as good a job as they did to close out the characters’ arcs and individual growth, they completely forgot to do the same with Fridge (who never learns his lesson about abusing his friendship with Spencer by having Spencer do all his homework for him).  And, again, Kevin Hart playing himself.  Again.

When we walked out of the theater to give our opinions, mine was “that was alright” (voice inflection rising through the sentence).  The agency rep asked “just alright?” to which I replied “yes, but said in the same tone as – ‘I thought it was going to be garbage’ (voice inflection rising through the sentence).”  And that is all I wanted from this movie.  A mindless two hours of silly entertainment that didn’t insult my intelligence.  That’s worth a trophy accomplishment in my book.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back (I’m as surprised as you).

Darkest Hour

By: Kevin Jordan

Churchill would like his soul back.

(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up.  As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews.  Enjoy!)

Darkest Hour is best described as the deleted scenes from Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.  It’s the Deep Impact to Armageddon, but not moronic.  Darkest Hour takes place during the couple of months from when Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the British Army’s evacuation from Dunkirk (basically, spring of 1940).  It focuses on the politics behind the appointment of Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) as PM and the clashing of ideas between Churchill, Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) with regards to confronting Hitler and the war.  If you have ever wanted a glimpse at what Churchill may have been like, I’m pretty sure Oldman conjured the ghost of Churchill so Churchill could possess Oldman, in order to portray the most accurate version of Churchill possible.  My wife walked into the room mid-movie and her reaction was “that’s Gary Oldman?!”  While Darkest Hour isn’t nearly as compelling as Dunkirk, it will still have you on the edge of your seat wondering if Churchill will make it three months before the King (Ben Mendelsohn) sacks him.  Darkest Hour is also a great example of a movie seemingly designed for its main actor to win an Oscar and Oldman definitely makes his case.  If you love historical, political biopics like Lincoln, you will love Darkest Hour.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, but do ask for Oldman to end the séance.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

By: Kevin Jordan

A tale of two stories.

(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up.  As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews.  Enjoy!)

When I was in high school, I was forced to read Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, only one of which I was able to finish (the former) and neither of which I enjoyed even a single page.  Thus, I have no intention of ever reading A Christmas Carol because I like several of the film versions and the story in general and I don’t want it ruined by nineteenth century English prose.  So, I had mixed feelings going into The Man Who Invented Christmas.  On one hand, I was a little curious to see how the film would display his inspiration.  On the other hand, Dickens sucks.  As GOAT pointed out in his review, The Man Who Invented Christmas features great performances and set pieces, but has flaws.  The big flaw to me is in the writing, specifically in how the film tries to make Dickens (Dan Stevens) his own Scrooge.  For most of the film, Dickens is caring and giving and tolerant.  He takes in his recusant father, lends books to his servant, and gives money to the poor.  If anything, he is the anti-Scrooge.  But, imaginary Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) – all the characters are in his head, but visualized on screen for us (which was very cool) – and other characters keep pointing to him as the one needing the ghostly interventions to deal with his bad childhood.  Not only is this nonsense, but detracts from the good story of the movie (Dickens actually conversing with his creation to create it) while coming across like something Dickens himself would have written.  It probably goes without saying I will continue to not read Dickens in the future.

Rating: Ask for half of your money back unless you are a Dickens fan, in which case bah humbug.

Lady Bird

By: Kevin Jordan

Let it go.

(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up.  As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews.  Enjoy!)

For about eight minutes, some hay was made about Lady Bird breaking a record for the most positive consecutive reviews without a negative review on Rotten Tomatoes.  Then, a single film critic gave it a negative score out of a combination of spite and thinking the film was merely okay and the Internet pooped its collective Pampers.  There is a lot to unpack with this situation, but I’ll save that for another time (*cough* year-end-review *cough*).  After watching Lady Bird myself, I can definitively state that I am not a teenaged girl.  I checked.  Lady Bird is a coming-of-age tale about a high school senior, Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan).  That’s it; that’s the whole movie.  Lady Bird is your stereotypical (or typical) female teenager – she hates her mom (Laurie Metcalf), wants to go to college on the opposite side of the country from her mom, falls in love with different boys, has a falling out with her best friend over stupid teenager shit, and sucks at math.  Since I am not a teenaged girl (I checked again) and am good at math, I can only relate passively with Lady Bird on most of her issues, though I can sympathize because I knew some of those girls.  It reminded me a lot of Napoleon Dynamite, but without the quirkiness of Napoleon Dynamite.  For all those reasons, I couldn’t generate more than mild interest in what was happening on screen (just like with Napoleon Dynamite).  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t mostly bored by this film because it was about a teenaged girl.  I was mostly bored because that teenaged girl was barely interesting.  I’m not saying the movie isn’t good, just that I’m not the intended audience.  But also, what is that smell?

Rating: At the risk of causing another stink (haha), unless you are a teenaged girl, ask for three dollars back.