Movie review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Another reboot/sequel of a beloved childhood classic has hit theatres, but, this time around, it’s surprisingly good?! This is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle! (That title is awful, though.)

IMDb summary: Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they chose.

Only last year, a 1980s classic, Which was near and dear to a lot of people during their childhood, was remade and the Internet went nuts. However, that Ghostbusters debacle did not stop Hollywood from remaking/attempting to continue another classic property, this time around, from the 1990s. And it looks like the LA suits were right to try: I haven’t seen much hate (barely any) towards the 2017’s a Jumanji. Why is this reboot more acceptable than the Ghostbusters one? Is it the Rock? The Rock and Hart proven combo? The ‘correct’ genders of the characters (mixed cast rather than an all-something reboot)? Or maybe nobody liked Jumanji in the first place as much as I thought they did? I certainly remember the film quite fondly from my childhood.

Writing

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (the duo behind Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Lego Batman), the director Jake Kasdan, and Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner (the writers of the upcoming Venom movie which is currently being filmed). In general, I enjoyed quite a lot of elements of the writing of this film.

To begin with, I thought that the idea to update Jumanji from a board game to a video game was a clever one. However, the way the script went about doing that – just sort of allowing the game to morph by itself – was a bit weird. Also, if they were giving the game an update, why not do a completely contemporary take on it? Make it into a Nintendo Switch type of a thing rather than a very 90s cassette game. What I did like about the video game concept in relation to this film was the fact that the movie overtly and unapologetically used the video game tropes, like the cutscenes, the numbered lives, the strengths/weakness idea, and the different levels. Jumanji might actually be the best video game movie without technically being one

The new characters of Jumanji weren’t bad either. The teenagers/real-life characters got some brief but neat development during the setup, which was nicely built upon during the following adventure. The relationship moments that the characters shared actually provided the picture with some opportunities to explore the ideas of friendship and teamwork. Some nice messages about bravery, self-confidence as well as one’s ability to change were also expressed. The interactions between the characters also resulted in some great humorous moments. The flirting school and the peeing scene were stupid but also hilarious. The switch-ups with the bodies (the nerds becoming athletic and cool; the popular kids being degraded to sidekicks and the comic relief) was another source of jokes for the film.

My main and the only actual critique of the movie was its plot or the set up of it. The game narrative itself was fine and it worked well as an adventure story. However, the way it just came out of nowhere seemed a bit odd. That whole explanation about the stone, the villain, and the curse seemed a bit heavy-handed and too highly fabricated. At least the format of that explanation/set-up (the cutscene) was somewhat meta (explicit in its usage of a trope) and, thus, a bit more interesting.

Lastly, while this film appeared to have been a direct continuation of the original Jumanji with the game itself being found on the beach, where it was last seen, I question whether the people behind-the-scenes are planning to make any further sequels, in case this one is successful. The last scene, which showed the characters breaking the game, suggests that we won’t see any sequels, which is, quite frankly, a shocking thing in today’s mainstream filmmaking business.

Directing

2017’s Jumanji was directed by Jake Kasdan (his last two films were both mediocre Cameron Diaz comedies) and I thought that he crafted quite an entertaining action adventure flick that was so much better constructed that I thought it’d be. The action was inventive enough and energetic. The CGI of the animals could have been a bit better. The pacing was fine for the most part, though the film did slow down a bit towards the end of the second half. Lastly, I’ve noticed (or imagined) some callbacks to other movies in this feature, which seemed like quite neat additions to me: the creepy house and the yellow raincoat reminded me of It, while the biker gang inside the game seemed Mad Max-esque.

Acting

Jumanji’s two casts were both really good. The teenagers/young adult actors – Alex Wolf (Patriot’s Day), Ser’Darius BlainMorgan Turner, and Madison Iseman – were believable and relatable. However, the majority of the film was carried by the video game versions of these characters, played by Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, FF8, Moana, San Andreas), Kevin Hart (The Secret Life of Pets), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, The Circle), and Jack Black, respectively. Johnson’s and Hart’s chemistry, which blossomed in Central Intelligence, was back in full force in this movie. All of the scenes with the Rock discovering his muscles were incredible and I also appreciated the fact that the film poked fun at his inherent charisma with that ‘smoldering look’ skill. Kevin Hart was amazing and funny too, while Karen Gillan was a complete badass (both as a character and as an actress). Jack Black also surprised me. I have never been much of a fan of his but I highly enjoy seeing him acting as the ‘it’ girl in this film.

A few other characters, worth the mention, were played by Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man). Jonas was okay in the picture but his character was intended to be somewhat of a replacement for Robin Williams character of the original (a person who gets stuck in the game) and, no offense to Nick Jonas, but he could never replace Williams. Cannavale played the villain and he was the worst of the cast, in my mind. I think he went a bit too cartoonish with his performance – yes, there is such a thing as too cartoonish even in a live-action cartoon.

In short, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a surprisingly entertaining adventure movie. It would be the perfect holiday film for the whole family if it wasn’t competing with Star Wars 8.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle trailer

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Movie review: Baywatch

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of one of the first comedies of this summer’s movie season – Baywatch! Even though the online discussion around this movie has died down before it even started (the film flopped at the US box office), I still decided to see it because of the cast and the brand-recognition! Also, I’m almost 3 weeks late to the aforementioned discussion cause the movie only came out today, where I’m currently staying (the joys of international release schedules!).

IMDb summary: Devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchannon butts heads with a brash new recruit, as they uncover a criminal plot that threatens the future of the bay.

I vaguely remember watching some episodes of the original Baywatch TV series at least a decade ago. Besides, I have always wanted to be a lifeguard myself (especially during the summer), so seeing the shenanigans of the lifeguards had a personal appeal.

Writing

Baywatch’s screenplay was a mixed bag, like so many blockbuster scripts nowadays. What is for sure – the movie definitely did not need 6 screenwriters. The screenplay credits were awarded to Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, while Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon, and Robert Ben Garant supposedly contributed to the story. Bear in mind, neither of these writers are proven or trustworthy (they haven’t had any big hits yet).

The narrative that these 6 gentlemen crafted for the film was fine. It didn’t make the most sense but I didn’t expect it too. The opening sequence worked (technically) – cause it set up the whole plot neatly (literally, every scene either introduced a character or a plotline – everything happened super mechanically and by the numbers – there was no breathing room) but it wasn’t the most interesting thing to watch. All the different plotlines – the drug smuggling, the lifeguard investigation, the lifeguard v police fight, Efron’s character’s redemption, Johnson’s character’s personal arc, the two (three?) romantic duos – did not really gel at times. The ending was also cheesy and illogical but since it was kinda entertaining and mostly funny rather than cringe-y, I could forget the storytelling flaws.

Another important aspect of the film, of course, this being a comedy, was the humour. Like the story, it was a mixed bag. Some jokes landed and seemed organic enough, while the others made the impression that the filmmakers were just trying too hard. My favourite moment, by far, was the scene where Johnson shouted to Efron: ‘Hey, High School Musical’. Actually, a lot of the nicknames by Johnson worked. The lunch table gag with the salad was good as well as the moment where Efron calls outs their plan for sounding like a plot of a TV show. Nice, 4th wall breaking wink, there. The pop culture references were mostly fine too. However, the whole arc of Ronnie (played by Jon Bass) was too awkwardly painful to watch. I really dislike cheap comic relief within a comedic movie.

The writing for characters was okay too, even if quite scarce. One thing that stuck out to me was the fact that Efron’s character – a swimmer – messed up in the Rio Olympics. That seemed like a jab at the actual real life US swimmer Ryan Lochte, who also got into a scandal in Rio. I might have been reading to much into it, though.

Directing

Horrible Bosses’ director and Pixels‘ executive producer (doesn’t sound too good, huh?) Seth Gordon directed Baywatch and was fine. The pacing was quite wonky – the film really slowed down before the third act, but the third act itself was entertaining enough. The other action sequences worked too – the nursery fight was fun and the lifeguard tryouts were cool – but the CGI could have been way better, the fire especially – it seemed so fake. The slow-mo – a staple of the Baywatch brand – was used extensively, but, in this case, I could let that slide. The final slow-mo shot with all of them running by the beach was actually quite cute, even if we have seen it in the trailers. The bloopers during the credits were also adorable – way more organic and fun than some of the actual jokes.

Acting

Baywatch had a really good cast. Dwayne Johnson (San Andres, Moana, Fast and Furious) basically played himself – a charming, likeable, and super fit man. Zac Efron also played a familiar role – he is always ‘less than clever but sweet guy that needs redemption’ in every comedy ever (Mike and Dave, Neighbours, We Are Your Friends). Efron’s and Johnson’s chemistry was okay but it was not as good as Johnson’s and Kevin Hart’s chemistry in Central Intelligence last year. Next for Johnson –  the Jumanji remake/sequel, while Efron is going back to his musical roots with The Greatest Showman.

Other supporting characters were played by Alexandra Daddario (also from San Andreas), a model Kelly Rohrbach (she was good as a replacement for Pamela Anderson – more natural looking too), Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra in one of her first Hollywood roles (she was fine but I could have done without so many lines stating that ‘oh, she is a woman’), Jon Bass (from Loving), Ilfenesh Hadera, and The Get Down’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (he is also gonna be in The Greatest Showman and also will have a role in Aquaman).

The two main cameos in 2017’s Baywatch were given to the two most important Baywatch TV series alumni – David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. Hasselhoff’s cameo was better – he was written into the story, while Anderson’s appearance was just tacked on. Weirdly, Hasselhoff already had a cameo in a summer movie this year – he showed up in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

In short, Baywatch is an okay summer comedy. It is not the funniest thing but not the worst either.

Rate: 2.75/5

Trailer: Baywatch trailer

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Movie review: The Secret Life of Pets

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

The animated movies have been really dominating the box office this summer, so, let’s review one of the latest additions to the genre – The Secret Life of Pets.

IMDb summary: The quiet life of a terrier named Max is upended when his owner takes in Duke, a stray whom Max instantly dislikes.

Recently, there has been quite a few animated pictures about talking animals – we just had Zootopia and the new animated musical SING also has animals as its characters. This concept has always been popular and it is definitely not going anywhere. While the idea to show how animals act when the humans are not around is cool and clever, it is not the most original. Another recent animation that kinda did the same thing was Bolt. So, since the TSLOP can count on originality, it is all about the execution.

Writing: story and ideas

The Secret Life of Pets’ script was written by Brian LynchCinco Paul, and Ken Daurio. This trio has previously worked on other Illumination Entertainment projects like the Despicable Me films and Minions. I’m a fan of the main Despicable Me franchise but can’t really stand its spin-off. I feel like with TSLOP movie, the screenwriters mixed everything I loved about the first property with the things that annoyed me about the second brand.

The positives: 

  1. I liked how the animal characters had both animalistic and human-like features and manners. I also enjoyed how the various stereotypes were played up. Sometimes, human stereotypes were used on animals as a joke: for example, in the scene with the white Pomeranian and the telenovela. In other instances, these stereotypes were subverted and made for an even funnier moment: the poodle who likes rock music was a nice idea and the main antagonist of the film – the anarchist bunny – was also an unexpected and subversive addition to the picture.
  2. I loved the little relatable moments like the scene with the cat and the turkey. That tiny inside competition between the cats and the dogs was also a great real-world tie-in. The inclusion of concepts like the cat videos on YouTube and the vacuum cleaner to be used to get rid of the pets was neat as well.
  3. The idea to make the barking of dogs their language was obvious but still nice and super funny when showed visually on screen.

The negatives:

  1. The film didn’t have the most original narrative – it was a basic save and avenge storyline. It was still an enjoyable adventure to watch but the viewer might feel that he/she has seen it before numerous times.
  2. The picture really got dark at times and I don’t know if those ideas had a place in the film. The picture wasn’t really that sophisticated and it was definitely on a more simplistic side and aimed at the younger audiences, so I don’t think that it was a good idea to show the suffering animals like the tattooed pig or the magician’s rabbit and talk about killing the owners. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to talk about the first thing – that people are not always the nicest to the animals – but I don’t think that a mainstream kids’ movie was a place to do that, maybe if it had a more serious tone, I would have had a different opinion.

Directing: visuals and animation

TSLOP was directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney. Renaud has previously directed the Despicable Me films and has created the voice of the Minions, who he voices in all of the movies that they appear. Cheeny has only directed a few shorts up until now but he has been a production designer on the Illumination Entertainment pictures. I really enjoyed the directing of the film for the most part. I really liked the montages at the beginning which set up the independent world of pets nicely and it was also a great idea to end the movie with corresponding montages – it tied everything together perfectly. The actual animation was also spectacular – the fur of the animals looked excellent and the NY skyline was also realized beautifully – it is so iconic and recognizable even in animated form. The actual character design of the animals was cool and cute too. TSLOP also had a good complimentary soundtrack, I liked the inclusion of the Welcome to New York song. The only sequence of the film that I disliked was that Sausage World – I felt that it was too childish even for a light children’s film and, moreover, those sausages reminded me of Minions too much.

Voice Work

The actors who voiced the animals did a good job. The stand-out for me was Kevin Hart (he voiced the rabbit) – I could instantly recognize his voice and really loved the way he delivered the lines and the one-liners. His character was definitely the funniest and I think that that was because of Hart’s involvement. I’m definitely starting to become a fan of him after this film and Central Intelligence. The great comedian  Louis C.K. voiced the main character – a Jack Russell terrier, while Eric Stonestreet really fit the voice of his character – the large and furry mongrel. Steve Coogan was great as a Sphynx cat – the British accent was somehow appropriate. Lastly, Jenny Slate was a great choice to bring the Pomeranian to life. Slate has recently voiced another animal – a sheep – in Zootopia.

In short, The Secret Life of Pets was an okay film. It was as subversive or adult-friendly as Zootopia but it did make me laugh more than a couple of times and I’m sure that the kids would have a blast watching it.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: The Secret Life of Pets trailer

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Movie review: Central Intelligence

Movie reviews

Good day!

The second (or third) buddy cop comedy of this summer has reached the theaters, so let’s review it!

IMDb summary: After he reconnects with an awkward pal from high school through Facebook, a mild-mannered accountant is lured into the world of international espionage.

Movie suggestions

The first buddy cop comedy that I had in mind is The Nice Guys, which is basically the retro version of Central Intelligence. Also, we could definitely count Zootopia as a crime comedy. Central Intelligence and Zootopia have a similar humor style – very contemporary, pop-culture based.

Minor Spoilers Ahead

Writing

Central Intelligence’s script was written by a trio of screenwriters Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and the director Rawson Marshall Thurber. I’m not familiar with their previous writings projects but I did enjoy the story that they created for this film. I liked the overall message of being one’s own hero and being oneself, although, that last inspirational speech might have been a bit too much. Nevertheless, dealing with life after highs school and the scars that bullying leaves on one’s mind were good topics for the film since so many people, myself included, can relate to them. The crime aspects of the film – not knowing who the bad guys were and all the double crossings – also worked. The comedy was also fine – I enjoyed the pop culture references. The film 16 candles was mentioned a lot and the line ‘See You On The Other Side’ also received a few repeats. Although it did not originate in the Fast and Furious films, I took it as a reference to that franchise, especially the Fast Five film, in which Dwayne Johnson first appeared. Vin Diesel was also name-dropped a couple of times. The line ‘You’re like a snack-sized Denzel’ also made me chuckle.

Directing

Rawson Marshall Thurber, who directed We’re The Millers, did a good job directing Central Intelligence. The action was cool, although, he could have used a bit less of the shaky cam. The CGI to make the actors look younger also worked. The pacing could have been better – the movie was a bit slow to start – but wasn’t that bad to ruin the film. I also liked the fact that they included the bloopers before the credits, like the older comedies used to do – it seemed like all the actors had so much fun on set and that made me like the film even more.

Acting

  • Dwayne Johnson as Bob Stone/Robbie Weirdicht was a good lead. His character seemed to have a multiple personality disorder and was just a tiny bit obsessed with Hart’s character. Johnson first appeared on my radar because of his involvement in the Fast and Furious films, but since then, he has really built himself an exciting acting career. Last year’s San Andreas was a surprising hit and later this year he is voicing a major character in Moana. In 2017, Baywatch is coming out, which Dwayne has also produced.
  • Kevin Hart as Calvin Joyner was also amazing. I’m not really familiar with Hart’s work, I haven’t seen neither the Ride Along films, nor Think Like A Man films, nor last year’s Get Hard (I don’t like Will Ferrel that much), so I don’t have a strong opinion on him. I did, however, really enjoy his performance on Top Five as well as in this film, so I might  eventually check out those other movies I’ve mentioned too.

I really liked the contrast between Johnson and Hart. Their chemistry was also on-point.

  • The supporting cast consisted of Amy Ryan as Agent Pamela HarrisAaron Paul as Phil and Danielle Nicolet as Maggie Joyner. I was pleasantly surprised to see Paul appear in the film since I really like him as an actor. I have reviewed a bunch of his films: Need for Speed, A Long Way Down, Triple 9 and Eye in the Sky. Bridge of Spies’s Ryan was fine in her role and I also enjoyed the performance of Nicolet.
  • Melissa McCarthy had a small cameo in the film that came out of nowhere but somehow worked. I laughed out loud when she appeared alongside Johnson. While I have mixed feelings about her solo comedies, I definitely like her in small, cameo-sized quantities.

In short, while I don’t usually watch comedies at the cinema, I’m happy that I’ve made an exception for Central Intelligence – it was an entertaining and funny buddy film with great acting and nice message. Not a must see, but a definite recommendation.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Central Intelligence trailer

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