Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the megaplex.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle  (C).  Ugh!  I’m on Day 10 of a cold.  So I looked for some cinematic comfort food, and I settled on this sleeper hit that’s still hanging on from the Christmas season.  According to IMDB, it has grossed about $370 million domestically on a $90 million budget, so not bad.  I didn’t see the 1995 Robin Williams version, so I had no expectations (except that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would be likable, which he of course was).  It was a mediocre experience—utterly predictable, but with a few amusing scenes here and there.  Four high schoolers get sucked into a video game, where they are given new bodies reflecting their in-game avatars.  It’s somewhat entertaining that they are cast against type: the nerd becomes beefy Johnson (Moana), the jock becomes diminutive Kevin Hart (The Five-Year Engagement), the awkward loner girl becomes Lara-Croft-esque Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), and in the oddest twist the beautiful social-media queen becomes . . . Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels).  They have to complete a quest to “win the game” and escape back into the real world.  The suspense is less than minimal, but as I mentioned there are a few laughs here and there.  And Gillan is very attractive, so there’s that.  Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language (most of the latter two arising, I believe, from the situation of a high-school girl’s consciousness getting stuck inside a middle-aged guy’s body).

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Movie Snob heads for a galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi  (B-).  Okay, Episode VIII in the ongoing space/soap opera about the Skywalker family is here, and the critics are generally loving it.  Put me down with the small band of dissenting critics.  On the plus side, it is better than the last installment, The Force Awakens, if only because it is not a slavish remake of an earlier movie.  On the down side, it is still somewhat derivative of its predecessor The Empire Strikes Back, with an evil empire on the march, a rebellion on the run, and a would-be Jedi seeking training from a wise mentor.  Worse still, it is a solid two-and-a-half hours long, with as many false endings as The Return of the King from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Still, I appreciated that writer–director Rian Johnson did try to throw some new wrinkles at us.  Mark Hamill (Star Wars: A New Hope) is a surprisingly crotchety Luke Skywalker.  The late Carrie Fisher (When Harry Met Sally) presents a stoic Rebel leader but doesn’t really have that much to do.  And our quartet of new main characters (Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and Poe Dameron) gets split up for most of the movie, which means a lot of jumping back and forth.  I think the movie would have been much better if the first half had been trimmed a bunch, and the exciting stuff at the end stretched out a bit.  But it’s already made almost a billion dollars worldwide, so what do I know?

Justice League

The Movie Snob checks in.

Justice League  (C).  Yep, even the presence of the beauteous Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) couldn’t save this piece of cinematic bombast from dull mediocrity.  As we recall from the last movie, Superman is dead.  This makes everybody sad, which somehow summons up yet another cosmic CGI super-villain bent on global domination.  Although said villain has the unlikely name of Steppenwolf, this movie is neither Born to be Wild nor a Magic Carpet Ride.  Instead it’s mostly about Batman (Ben Affleck, Gone Girl) looking for new super-recruits like Aquaman (Jason Momoa, TV’s Baywatch) and The Flash (Ezra Miller, City Island) to help him and Wonder Woman beat the bad guy.  Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane, Six Pack) drop in for a few seconds.  And the gorgeous ex-Mrs. Johnny Depp, Amber Heard (3 Days to Kill), has maybe a minute of screen time, as some relative of Aquaman I think.  Ultimately, of course, there’s a humongous battle that’s about as exciting as watching your little brother play a video game for forty-five minutes.  This is a yawner.

Thor: Ragnarok

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Thor: Ragnarok  (B-).  Of the making of comic-book movies, there is no end.  But, if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, you could do worse than seeing the third movie focused on second-tier Marvel hero Thor of Asgard (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman).  The story is the usual fare—a rising supervillain threatens massive destruction unless the heroic guy and his sidekicks can somehow save the day.  And the fight scenes, spaceships, and explosions are also the usual dull, video-game-looking affairs.

So what’s to like?  In a nutshell, it’s the comedy.  I laughed out loud more times during this movie than in any number of straight-up “comedies” I could name.  Fanboys may not appreciate the meta-jokes that poke fun at the silliness of the whole enterprise (like an offhanded joke about Loki’s goofy headgear), but I laughed every time.  Weaselly Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island) is back and always fun to watch.  Jeff Goldblum (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) is a hoot as the flamboyant impresario of a planet that looks like a giant garbage dump.  As the villainous Hela, Cate Blanchett—a two-time Oscar®-winning actress for Blue Jasmine and The Aviator, don’t you know—chews the CGI with a vengeance and sprouts some mighty impressive antlers whenever she gets ready to kill a bunch of people.  Plus there are fun cameos to watch for, and some other Avengers put in small or not-so-small appearances.  This movie was directed by Taika Waititi, a New Zealander who also directed and starred in the vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows.  This movie was even funnier.

Atomic Blonde

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Atomic Blonde  (D).  So I was shooting the breeze with a couple of guys at work, and we were talking about movies.  Expecting no contradiction, I offered the opinion that Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot is probably the most beautiful movie star working today.  To my amazement, one of my colleagues demurred.  “Have you seen Atomic Blonde?” he asked.  Recalling that this was a poorly performing spy movie starring the admittedly gorgeous Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), I resolved to check it out.

Theron is gorgeous, but the movie is a mess.  During the last few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, a British super-spy-assassin (Theron) is sent to Berlin to find and recover a list of a bunch of spies from a KGB guy gone rogue.  Her connection there, the local British spy chief, is a squirrelly guy played by James McAvoy (Atonement).  A cute French spy played by Sophia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond) engages in some inappropriate spygames with Theron.  Oh, and the whole thing is told by Theron’s character in flashback, so we’re constantly getting yanked back into a boring room in London where she swaps supposedly hard-boiled dialogue with John Goodman (Kong: Skull Island) and Toby Jones (Morgan).  The highlights are the exquisitely choreographed fight scenes, and I must admit they are better filmed and more entertaining than the incomprehensibly cut gibberish you see in most action movies these days.  But I had problems even with the fight scenes.  I could suspend disbelief long enough to accept that Charlize Theron is such a supernaturally fast and agile fighter that she can defeat thugs two or three times her size simply because they can’t land a punch on her.  But I can’t accept that she can actually absorb full-on body-blows from the same thugs and still keep up the fight.  She may be a ninja, but come on, a supermodel-skinny woman is not going to get up after some of the punches she takes in this movie, no matter how much of a ninja she is.

War for the Planet of the Apes

New review from The Movie Snob.

War for the Planet of the Apes  (B).  And so the new Apes trilogy comes to an end.  (Spoilers of the first two films follow.)

My favorite was the first one, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in which we see how a medical experiment gone wrong makes apes superintelligent and kills most of humanity.  The middle installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, was a solid if grim movie in which the apes and the surviving humans try to co-exist, with middling-at-best results.

The finale turns the grimness up to 11 as a human military band led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson, The Edge of Seventeen) seems to be intent on wiping out the apes.  Ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis, Inkheart) decides to send most of his “people” on a quest for a safe haven while he and few trusted lieutenants set out to find and distract the Colonel.  Along the way they pick up a sweet mute human girl, whom they dub Nova (Amiah Miller, Lights Out), and then another talking ape, a not entirely sane chimpanzee who calls himself “Bad Ape” because that’s what his human captors called him before the plague.  As voiced by Steve Zahn (Sunshine Cleaning), Bad Ape provides some much-needed comic relief, because this War is dark dark dark.  But it’s well-made, on the whole.  (I did roll my eyes a little in the middle part when the Colonel momentarily turns into a James Bond villain and gives Caesar a massive lecture/monologue to explain why he’s doing what he’s doing and what’s going to happen for the rest of the movie.)

Dunkirk

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Dunkirk  (B+).  Having recently read a newish history of WWII, I definitely wanted to see Christopher Nolan’s movie about the 1940 evacuation of 338,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France.  It’s a pretty effective ground-and-ocean-eye view (except for a few scenes involving a heroic RAF fighter pilot played by Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road) of those events.  Much of the movie follows a nameless British soldier who is desperate to escape back to England and is not entirely scrupulous about how to do it.  860 civilian vessels took part in the evacuation, and so we also get to follow one of them, a smallish boat called Moonstone captained by an older gent named Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies).  Things get tense fast when Dawson picks up a lone soldier from a wrecked ship, and the shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy, The Dark Knight) freaks out when he realizes the boat is heading towards Dunkirk instead of England.  Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn) pops up in a few scenes as a high-ranking British guy stuck on the beach with his army.  I enjoyed it.  For another view, calling it an “astonishing filmmaking achievement and an epic narrative failure,” you can click here.