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 stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Sorry this is late as I am on vacation.   There will also be no video for the time being.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and baby Grout (voiced by Vin Diesel) successfully prevent an inter-dimensional monster from stealing extremely powerful batteries from a race called the Sovereign.  In exchange, the Sovereign turn over Nebula (Karen Gillan) who was captured while trying to steal the batteries.  When it is discovered Rocket took some batteries the Sovereign launch remotely controlled fighters to destroy the Guardians’ ship.  On the verge of destruction, their ship is saved by an egg-shaped craft that appears to have a man riding on top of it destroying all the Sovereign’s fighters.  The Guardian’s ship crashes on a planet and the egg-shaped craft lands nearby.  The occupant calls himself Ego (Kurt Russell) and says he is Peter Quill’s father.  Ego is accompanied by Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who is an empath Ego found orphaned on a world in his travels.  Meanwhile the leader of the Sovereign meets with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and hires him to capture Quill and the others and deliver them to her for execution.  Quill, Gamora and Drax travel with Ego and Mantis back to his planet so he and his son can establish a relationship; but Yondu and the Ravagers capture Rocket and Groot.  Yondu’s crew mutinies when their captain appears to be trying to protect Peter while discussing what to do next and a Ravager named Taserface (Chris Sullivan) takes over after Nebula, who managed to convince Groot to let her go to help Rocket, shoots Yondu.  On Ego’s planet, Gamora has a bad feeling about the situation but Quill is entranced with his father’s abilities and his own latent talents that Ego is bringing out in him.  Is there something going on under the surface that Quill doesn’t want to see?  Will Yondu manage to extricate himself from the angry clutches of his former crew?  Will Rocket ever not be mean to his friends?  Will Groot ever get bigger?

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” managed to do something many other recent blockbusters have failed at:  Not giving away their entire story in the trailers.  We get a few tidbits and a look at a few new characters but otherwise seeing the movie isn’t ruined by watching the trailers.  I have to commend James Gunn and Marvel for managing to keep their trailers entertaining without showing all their cards.  Having now seen “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” I can confidently state there are many surprises as well as a few scenes that might cause a tear to roll down your cheek.  This installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has more heart, more emotion and some of the most powerful reveals of any film for any hero in the series.

There is a great deal going on in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”  There are several surprises, cameos, mentions and possible future films suggested along the way.  I don’t want to spoil anything so I will speak in only the vaguest of terms but to fully enjoy all the Easter eggs make sure you stay to the end of the credits.  True Marvel Comics fans will be dissecting every frame of the film for all the clues they can.

While I do really enjoy the movie and think it may be one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in some time, there are some issues I had with the pacing and story.  First, the movie, while it rarely slows down, does feel a bit too long.  With a running time of 136 minutes, the movie is overstuffed with battle scenes that drag at times.  Watching Peter and Rocket argue over who’s the better pilot while they are being chased by what seems to be thousands of fighters and performing wild maneuvers is cute for about 10 seconds.  After that the movie begins to enter the territory of beating a dead horse.  The climactic fight scene also feels repetitive with mini-conclusions.

While the movie is a bit too long, the story feels hurried.  Gunn and his team appear to be more concerned with giving all the big effects sequences plenty of room to breathe while rushing the story to get out of the way.  A few emotional beats are short changed and hence feel unearned.  The section involving Peter and his dad’s growing relationship is severely under developed.  Of course, no one goes to see a movie like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” looking for a deep and emotional story; however one is there that could have really packed a punch.

Despite the movie’s shortcomings it is a very good time at the theatre.  Both Drax and Groot steal the movie out from under everyone with whom they share the screen.  Both characters get the biggest laughs and both manage to provide some emotional moments as well.

Visually, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a technicolor wonder to behold.  A vivid color palate with an apparent prohibition against muted shades and greys rocks the eyeballs along with some wondrous digital creatures.  The big monster that kicks things off may cause a few nightmares while the amazing aliens created by makeup and digital manipulation rival anything seen before.  It is mind boggling how such a production, using hundreds if not thousands of technicians in various locations and in numerous fields, could come together in such a visually cohesive way.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.  Energy weapons are fired frequently and a great deal of stuff blows up violently.  Yondu’s whistle-controlled flying arrow is used to kill several people.  We see it passing all the way through victim’s bodies.  One character is shown severely burned.  Many characters are shown being thrown around violently and slamming into trees and the ground without any apparent injury while may encourage children to try to mimic the action.  Yondu is shown after an encounter with what appears to be a robot prostitute.  Foul language is scattered and mild.

There are several references to TV shows and actors that were very popular in the 1980’s.  “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has a very 80’s vibe to it.  From its vibrant colors to the “will they or won’t they” nature of Peter and Gamora’s relationship, many things in the movie have a nostalgic feel.  I think that works for “Guardians” since Peter is kind of stuck in his adolescence from when Yondu abducted him.  That 1980’s feel is what sets these films apart from the rest of the MCU…that and the setting in outer space.  The dayglo colors and the “anything can happen” attitude allow this part of the franchise to take more chances and that’s something comic book movies in general can learn from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” just as long as everyone understands the story must be given as much consideration as the special effects.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” gets four stars out of five.

This week I’ll be reviewing “King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword” for WIMZ.com and “Snatched” for stanthemovieman.com.

King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword–

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SX9y5JPuRHY

Snatched–

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sY6NpLrbtbM

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.