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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Metropolitan

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Metropolitan  (A-).  Well, your reviewer was feeling a bit under the weather, so I wanted something light and cheery.  I had fond memories of this 1990 indie flick but hadn’t seen it in years, so I pulled down my unwatched Criterion Collection DVD and gave it a spin.  Suffice to say, it was as good as I remembered it being.  It is about eight young people—four girls and four guys, early college-age, as best I can tell—who gather almost every night in Manhattan over one Christmas break to go to various debutante parties or balls or whatever they are.  We don’t see too much of the parties themselves—the focus is on the after-parties, where the youngsters earnestly discuss all sorts of things you might not expect, like Jane Austen, the existence of God, and the relative merits of the bourgeoisie.  Hm, I’m not really selling the movie very well.  There are plenty of romantic complications too as sweet and inexperienced Audrey gets a crush on group newcomer and professed socialist Tom, who is still hung up on his ex-girlfriend Serena, who was last known to be dating the repellent Rick Von Sloneker.  And the dialogue really is very funny, at least if you think it’s funny to hear lines like “Ours is probably the worst generation since the Protestant Reformation” delivered by very young people with drop-dead seriousness.

Writer-director-producer Whit Stillman went on to make two other excellent films in the 1990s, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, (starring Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale).  Enough people took notice of his work to result in the 2002 publication of a book called Doomed Bourgeois in Love: Essays on the Films of Whit Stillman.  Stillman then went quiet for a long time.  Then in 2011 he released Damsels in Distress, which I thought was good but not as good as his prior work, and then in 2016 he released the better Love & Friendship.  IMDB.com doesn’t show that he has anything new in the works, but I’m holding out hope.  If you are new to his work I recommend you start at the beginning and give Metropolitan a try!

The Greatest Showman

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Greatest Showman  (B).  This musical has done only so-so with the critics (Metacritic.com score 45/100 last time I checked), but I must say that I was entertained.  The versatile and (to me) eminently likable Hugh Jackman (Logan) stars as P.T. Barnum in a film that is apparently very loosely based on the real Barnum’s life.  It is exceptionally sentimental, setting up all sorts of underdogs for us to root for—the impoverished child Barnum in love with the daughter of a rich meanie, the slightly less impoverished adult Barnum hatching his first scheme to entertain the masses, the gaggle of differently abled people (unkindly called “freaks” by some characters) Barnum recruits for his show, and even an inter-racial potential couple.  There are lots of songs, and I must say they mostly sounded kind of the same to me.  And the big song-and-dance numbers featuring Barnum’s performers resemble the big song-and-dance numbers you might see on “Dancing with the Stars,” and the lights and noise pretty well bludgeon you into submission.  Michelle Williams (Oz the Great and Powerful) isn’t given much to do as Barnum’s wife, but Zac Efron (Neighbors) and the formerly unknown to me Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) have nice supporting roles and a nice musical number together.  If you don’t mind a little sap and a little schmaltz, I say give The Greatest Showman a chance.

The Best Movies I Saw in 2017, by The Movie Snob

Welcome to the Movie Snob’s Best of 2017 column!  Alas, circumstances conspired against me this year, and I saw a paltry 39 movies in the theater last year.  And, sadly, I haven’t yet seen some lauded late releases like Darkest Hour and Molly’s Game.  Still, I will give you my opinions, and you can take them for what they are worth!

Best Movie of the Year.   Can the year’s best really be a comic-book movie??  Yes, but not a typically flippant Marvel creation or gloomy DC downer.  My top honor goes to Logan, in which Hugh Jackman shines as an aging and ailing Wolverine.  Maybe the gory violence and R rating should knock it out of my top spot, but if you can see past that, this movie had as much heart as anything I saw this year.  Wolverine’s relationships with the broken-down Professor X and a mysterious little girl mutant are really wonderful.

Runner-Up.  My runner-up is usually something completely different from my top pick, and 2017 is no exception.  I’ll award the silver medal to Lady Bird, starring the incomparable Saoirse Ronan as a misfit high-school senior trying to find her way.  Laurie Metcalf also shines as the hard-working mother who loves her daughter ferociously but just can’t avoid butting heads with her.  Expect Ronan and Metcalf to contend for Oscars™!

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  The aforementioned Logan would win this category hands-down this year.  After that . . . let’s go with War for the Planet of the Apes.  This film wraps up a trilogy that is of consistently high quality.  Be warned that it’s pretty dark—Woody Harrelson is excellent as a sadistic military commander who actually has some logic behind his madness.  And Steve Zahn shines with a few moments of much-needed comic relief as Bad Ape.

Best Animated Movie.  Sorry, but I’ve got nothing in this category this year.  The LEGO Batman Movie left me cold, and Coco was only slightly better.  Thanks to my goddaughter, I saw 2016’s Moana several more times, and it has gone way up in my estimation.  Check it out!

Best Comedy or Musical.  Amazing—a comedy that actually made me laugh out loud!  And what’s even weirder, it’s based on a true story!  Yes, I’m talking about The Disaster Artist, a quasi-biopic about an eccentric amateur film-maker named Tommy Wiseau and the making of his amazingly, incredibly bad movie called The Room.  Can you enjoy The Disaster Artist even if you haven’t seen The Room?  My wager is yes, but I’m unsure.  James Franco and the movie have picked up Golden Globe© nominations, so I say take your chances and give it a watch.

Best Documentary.  I didn’t see any really great documentaries this year, but I’ll go ahead and give a shout-out to Disney’s nature special Born in China.  Who doesn’t love pandas?  The only other documentary I saw in 2017 was California Typewriter, and I’m sorry to say it was pretty mediocre.

Best Drama.  Maybe this one really belongs in the Action/Adventure category, but at any rate Dunkirk is certainly among the very best movies I saw this year.  Kind of like Fury did a couple of years ago, Dunkirk drops you right into the action and (I’m speculating) gives you a little taste of what it might be like to be lost in the terrifying fog of war.  By coincidence I also want to heap some praise on another WWII drama, Their Finest, about some brave Brits trying to keep morale high on the home front.  Too bad I didn’t make it out to see Darkest Hour, or this could have been a WWII trifecta!

Best Foreign Film.  If we include English-language foreign films, this category goes to Their Finest, mentioned just above under Best Drama.  But let’s set that one aside for a moment.  I’ll give a mention to The Salesman, an Iranian/French production directed by Asghar Farhadi.  But I must say, I liked his previous films A Separation and The Past noticeably more.  I also liked a 2014 release I just saw this year, the black-and-white vampire pic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.  IMDB lists its country as USA, but the movie is in Farsi, so I’m calling it a foreign film.

Best Science-Fiction Film.  This was a 2016 release, and the critics generally didn’t love it (Metacritic score 41), but I rather liked Passengers—probably because it starred the generally awesome Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.  (Let’s don’t talk about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.)  I can understand the folks who didn’t like Passengers, but I say give it a chance.

Honorable Mentions.  Here’s a handful of other 2017 (and 2016) releases that I would say are worth your time and attention.  First, how about a Nicole Kidman double-header?  She got an Oscar® nomination for the tear-jerking drama Lion, and she also starred in a decent little Civil War drama called The Beguiled.  DC did manage to give us an above-average comic-book movie with Wonder Woman.  Or maybe just a far-above-average movie star named Gal Gadot?  For a romantic dramedy, you could do much worse than The Big Sick.  I may just be predisposed to like anything by Kenneth Branagh, but I enjoyed his take on Murder on the Orient Express.  And I also liked the quirky independent flick Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, although not as much as its 86 Metacritic score and six Golden Globe™ nominations might suggest.  I’ll wrap this section with soft shout-outs to The Edge of Seventeen, The Hero, Baby Driver, Brad’s Status, Thor: Ragnarok, and a little movie called The Last Jedi.

And one classic.  I saw Gaslight (1942) as part of a local theater’s ongoing classic film series, and I quite enjoyed it.  Ingrid Bergman shines as a sweet young woman who thinks she’s slipping into madness after she marries a fellow who seems to be the man of her dreams.  Definitely worth looking up!

That’s a wrap!  Happy movie-going in 2018!

That Thing You Do!

The Movie Snob goes back in time.

That Thing You Do!  (A-).  Today was way too cold to venture out and do anything, so I decided to revisit this old favorite.  I could hardly believe it was released in 1996!  Anyway, if you like feel-good movies, you should keep this one within arm’s reach at all times.  Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King) wrote, directed, and starred in this rags-to-riches story about an Erie, PA garage band that hits it big circa 1964, with the help of a mostly benevolent manager (Hanks).  Tom Everett Scott (Hallmark TV’s Christmas Connection) plays the band’s drummer, a good-natured jazz-lover; Steve Zahn (Sahara) is the goofy guitarist; and cute little Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) plays the girlfriend of the band’s moody leader Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech, Flight 7500).  The film also features Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde) in a very early role as the drummer’s girlfriend.  Bryan Cranston (Argo) also pops up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role (as astronaut Gus Grissom!).  The DVD also contains a short making-of featurette, two trailers, several commercials, and two music videos of songs from the movie.  This movie is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, so get yourself a copy!

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?

Coco

Merry Christmas from The Movie Snob!

Coco  (C+).  This new Pixar feature is getting a lot of critical acclaim, but I must say it left me fairly cold.  The setting is interesting: Mexico on the Day of the Dead.  A boy named Miguel comes from a long line of successful shoemakers, but he yearns to become a musician.  Unfortunately, his great-great-grandpa was a musician who walked out on his wife and small daughter to pursue his dream, and the family has banned all music ever since.  But Miguel persists in pursing his dream on the sly, and through a series of unlikely events he gets catapulted into the land of the dead.  He then rushes from place to place, meeting various deceased ancestors and trying to get back to the real world before the sun rises again.  The visuals are pretty cool, but I thought the songs were unmemorable and the plot was tiresome.  I didn’t recognize any of the voice actors, but they included Gael García Bernal (Letters to Juliet) and Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner 2049).