Reviews of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “The Shape of Water”

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Four high school students are sentenced to detention for various infractions. Their punishment includes cleaning out an old storage room. There they find an old video game system with one cartridge of a game called Jumanji. The four plug in the game and select their characters. When they push start the game begins to glow and the students are sucked inside. When they arrive they find themselves in the bodies of their avatars: Dr. Xander Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart) and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillen). Each has a unique set of skills, strengths and weaknesses and each has three lives. A non-playable character named Nigel (Rhys Darby) tells the players about how the land of Jumanji is under a terrible curse after an explorer named Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) stole the Jaguar’s Eye from a statue giving him control of all the animals in the land. The players must put the Eye back where it belongs in order to win the game and exit. They must also do so without losing all three of their lives otherwise they will really die.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a perfectly decent action/fantasy/comedy. Its appealing cast delivers high-octane performances in a video game scenario with plenty of stunts and special effects to keep the story, if you want to call it that, moving. The two hour run time of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” goes by quickly and the film has little in the way of slow spots. So why don’t I care more about the characters or the outcome of the film? Maybe because I know there’s going to be a happy ending with no surprises (there is and there aren’t). Perhaps it has something to do with cynically slapping “Jumanji” on a movie that has very little to do with the original film. Whatever the reason, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a perfectly fine diversion from life but it doesn’t really have a reason to exist.

I suppose it could be argued the movie does encourage the viewer to accept one’s self, including your strengths and your flaws, and live life without fear and regret. It’s a simplistic message but one that younger viewers should hear; but it seems unlikely they will pick up on this message when the movie is much more focused on the wish fulfillment of its primary character going from weak nerd to super buff hero. He does still have the fears and lack of confidence of his real world counterpart but that falls to the wayside as he gains more experience in the game.

All the avatars retain their real world personalities; but the big and strong high school football star and the pretty and popular girl both become weaker and less attractive characters while the nerd and the social outcast gain strengths and abilities they lack. The weak become the strong and the leaders become followers. The transition is difficult for them all but through living life on the other side of the physical and emotional equation all the characters learn how to accept others for what they are. With a bit more focus on the characters and their journey the film might have had a bit more impact. With the spotlight on the action and the humor the movie packs less of a punch.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is rated PG-13 for some language, adventure action and suggestive content. Various faceless minions are killed in numerous ways including exploding boomerangs, beaten to death and being kicked off motorcycles. The main characters die from being eaten by a hippopotamus, run over by a herd of rhinoceroses, pushed off a cliff, bitten by a snake, eating a piece of cake, shot in the chest and attacked by a jaguar. One character is killed when a scorpion crawls out of the mouth of the bad guy and stings him. The suggestive content is limited to a brief reference to touching a woman’s breast and an attempt to distract some guards with sexy dancing. Foul language is limited and mid.

I didn’t hate “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” despite what it might sound like. The movie has some funny moments and a cast that puts their all into their roles. Younger viewers will probably like it just as the young kids behind me seemed to. They were verbally reacting to the events on screen and one youngster was kicking the back of my seat during the more stressful moments (not so much that I had to ask him to stop, but occasionally). The film clearly has an audience and it is well made. It suffers in my eyes for being so utterly vapid.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” gets four unenthusiastic stars.

The Shape of Water

It’s 1962 and the Cold War is at its peak. Eliza and Zelda (Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer) work in a government research facility as part of the maintenance crew. Eliza is mute. She has scars on both sides of her neck and was found as a child on the banks of a river and raised in an orphanage. Eliza speaks via sign language and Zelda is her interpreter at work. Her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) also speaks sign language. He is a graphic artist and works from home. A new project begins at the lab lead by Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) involving an amphibian creature referred to as the Asset (Doug Jones). Strickland considers the Asset to be an abomination and treats it cruelly. Eliza sneaks into the lab when no one else is around and visits with the creature, feeding him hard boiled eggs and playing him music. Eliza even teaches the Asset a few words of sign language. Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) is the lead scientist on the project but he is also a Russian agent. Strickland and the government want to see if they can figure out the Asset’s anatomy by dissecting it and somehow apply that to helping astronauts breathe. Hoffstetler’s Soviet handlers instruct him to kill the creature and dispose of it to prevent the Americans from getting an upper hand in the space race. Eliza knows of the Asset’s impending death at the hands of the Americans and hatches a plan to break him out of the facility with the help of Giles.

“The Shape of Water” is filled with little moments. Some are important to the story while others are like spackle: They fill in the holes and provide a full and complete canvas for director and co-writer (with Vanessa Taylor) Guillermo del Toro to create a beautiful piece of art. That is what “The Shape of Water” is: A moving portrait of moments that tell a compelling story with a unique visual style.

The little moments that build “The Shape of Water” are both beautiful and ugly: Moments of poetry and pornography. Visions of music, dance and love along with racism, sexism and homophobia, all combining to create a stew of sweet and sour that becomes a satisfying meal of beauty and emotion. It is amazing that a movie about a mythical creature living in the rivers of South America and dragged into the dingy world of the Cold War United States can evoke such powerful emotions and be presented so beautifully. It is an amazing piece of filmmaking by a director hitting his prime right before our eyes.

The performances in “The Shape of Water” are equally beautiful. Sally Hawkins is mesmerizing as Eliza. She is able to convey more with a look than most actors can with pages of monologue. Some might consider playing a mute to be confining but Hawkins is able to express more emotion and thought with an expression than you might think possible. Her use of sign language is subtle and beautiful until she becomes emotional; then her movements become emphatic and almost violent. Hawkins expresses her feelings and thoughts through movement in a kind of ballet that holds the eye and demands the viewer pay attention. It is an amazing performance.

Equally amazing is the work of Doug Jones as the Asset. Encased in a full-body latex suit and head gear, the only way Jones can perform is with his body and movements. He, like Hawkins, is able to express a great deal with just a slight nod or the way he breathes. Jones has been the go-to creature guy for del Toro in several of his films including “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Crimson Peak” and both “Hellboy” movies. Seeing his performance in “The Shape of Water” makes clear why Jones is so popular with del Toro and other directors looking for the perfect actor to bury under tons of makeup and prosthetics. According to his Wikipedia page, Jones has studied mime and is a contortionist with both of those skill sets coming in handy in his creature career. It’s a tribute to just how good Jones’ performance is that at a certain point you no longer consider the Asset a creature. Jones is able to show you he is more of a child lost in a world he cannot understand. That is the mark of a great performance.

There are so many wonderful actors doing amazing work in “The Shape of Water” it is difficult to give them all their due credit. Michael Shannon is a scary but sympathetic villain. Richard Jenkins will break your heart with the more we learn about him and how he is just looking for love and a place to fit in. Octavia Spencer is the best friend struggling with a difficult marriage and having to deal with the prejudice of 1960’s America. Michael Stuhlbarg is the enemy but is more of a hero than anyone working for the government. There are more great performances in this movie than you usually find in three films.

“The Shape of Water” is rated R for language, graphic nudity, sexual content and violence. We see Eliza nude on a couple of occasions. We also see her masturbating a couple of times. A character has two fingers bitten off by the Asset and there is a great deal of blood. We also see a couple of characters shot, one is shot in the face and another in the head. We see one of those shot characters tortured for information. Foul language is fairly common but not overwhelming.

I couldn’t stop thinking of “The Shape of Water” for hours after I saw it. A song used in the film, “You’ll Never Know,” would play in my head and I would be close to tears as memories of what I’d just seen would flash in my mind. I can think of no movie that has affected me so profoundly in my entire life. It may sound silly but I thing “The Shape of Water” has made me a better person. See it and allow the film to make a change in you as well.

“The Shape of Water” gets five stars.

It’s the end of the year and the release schedule is a bit thin so I’ll be seeing and reviewing at least one of the following films that are in limited release:

Darkest Hour—

Molly’s Game—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast for the latest movie and streaming news. Our next episode will be available on January 8, 2018. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “The Bye Bye Man”

College is a time of experimentation. A time to spread wings and test limits. You are in between childhood and adulthood. You can vote, go off to war, own property, legally drink alcohol (if you’re old enough, illegally otherwise), find your true love and get your heart broken…several times. It can be a wondrous, clarifying and confusing time. And if you’re not careful it can also be when you get an evil entity attached to you that leads to the deaths of everyone around you. They don’t mention that in the university catalogs.

Elliot, Sasha and John (Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas and Lucien Laviscount) are college buddies looking to get out of the dorms and live off campus. Elliot and Sasha are dating and John has been his best friend since they were children. They look at an old house for rent that Sasha finds creepy but Elliot and John think is perfect. After moving in and getting all the furniture out of the basement, Elliot finds a large coin on the floor near a night table. When he puts the coin back in the drawer it immediately hits the floor again. When he takes the drawer out of the table to look for holes he finds writing on the paper covering the bottom that says “Don’t Think It. Don’t Say It” over and over again. Pulling the paper out of the drawer he sees words scratched into the bottom that read “The Bye Bye Man.” Thinking nothing of it, he goes downstairs. Sasha’s friend Kim (Jenna Kanell) claims to be sensitive to the spirit world and the four have a séance. Kim says something dark is coming and Elliot says “The Bye Bye Man” causing the candle in the middle of the table to go out and Kim to fall to the floor. That night, Elliot sees images in the dark and hears strange scratching noises. He also begins to suspect John and Sasha are having an affair behind his back. John starts to become more aggressive and Sasha gets sick. With all the strange things going on Elliot decides to investigate what the Bye Bye Man is and what he discovers will change the course of everyone’s life.

While “The Bye Bye Man” sounds like an interesting concept for a film (say the bad guy’s name and he invades your thoughts, making you lose your mind and become a killer) the way it is pulled off takes any promise of scares and grinds them under the heel of a poorly written script, bad acting and a villain limited in just how evil he can be by pure numbers.

If you give any horror movie much thought there is a theoretical limit as to how much damage an evil creature can do. That is made blatantly apparent in “The Bye Bye Man.” The only way his evil can spread is if you hear or say his name and with one possible exception the only people killed in the film are those that said or heard the name. That means if everyone that says the name is killed or kills themselves the Bye Bye Man has no power as he feeds off the fears of the infected. At the beginning of the film we see he hasn’t been active since 1969 for that very reason. It’s the same numerical flaw that affects vampire movies: If everyone is turned into a vampire from whom do the vampires feed? If the entire world is infected by the Bye Bye Man and they all kill each other off then he has no fears on which to feed. The character of the Bye Bye Man is a victim of his own effectiveness and a poorly thought out design.

That could be forgiven if the rest of the movie wasn’t such a train wreck. All the actors, including in small roles Carrie-Anne Moss and the legendary Faye Dunaway, appear to be flailing away without a real clue of how they are supposed to behave. Cressida Bonas is particularly painful to watch as she looks like she was plucked from a recent high school production of “Our Town.” Even her fake cough is poorly done. The only person who does a decent job is Doug Jones in the title role. Wearing what looks like a couple of pounds of plastic on his face, Jones is menacing in his limited screen time including providing the only decent scare of the entire film that happens fairly early on. He has no lines which makes him the most fortunate of all the actors.

The script written by three-time “Survivor” contestant Jonathon Penner is clunky and filled with far too much exposition and not enough scares. A past appearance of the Bye Bye Man gets rehashed throughout the film as we see bits and pieces of his prior mayhem. No one says anything in the film that I believe would ever come out of the mouths of real people.

The whole film looks amateurish like it was made as a favor and was never planned as a wide release. There is some particularly bad CGI of a burning house near the conclusion of the film as well as a very cheap looking CGI demon dog. It feels like no one was quite sure what they were doing while making the movie and this is the result.

“The Bye Bye Man” is rated PG-13 for terror, horror violence, bloody images, teen drinking, partial nudity, thematic elements, sexual content and some language. I think putting “terror” in the list is a bit of an overstatement but there it is. We see a woman hit by a car causing a roll-over accident, several people are shot but only one could be considered the least bit gory and a few people are shown in pools of blood. We see a body dropped from the upstairs and land at the foot of the stairs. There’s a fantasy image of a badly beaten woman who has come back to life and is chasing a character. There’s a brief scene of a person who has been burned in a fire. There are two brief moments of sexuality with sounds coming through a door and an oddly shot scene near the end. There is no graphic nudity. Foul language is scattered and limited to the “s-word.”

While I’m not sure how, “The Bye Bye Man” looks like it will double its listed production budget of $7.4-million in its first weekend of release. The horror community must be desperate for something, anything to watch in theatres. It could have been more entertaining with a better thought out villain, a better script and better actors. In other words, if they had made a completely different movie with a totally different cast it might have been better. Since they didn’t we are stuck with this hairball of a movie. Don’t waste your time and never say hello to “The Bye Bye Man.”

“The Bye Bye Man” gets one guitar out of five.

It’s a busy week for new films and I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

20th Century Women—

The Founder—

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone—


XXX: The Return of Xander Cage—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to