Film Review: Vacation (2015)

Release Date: July 29th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson, Michael Pena, Hannah Davis Jeter, Colin Hanks, John Francis Daley 

BenderSpink, David Dobkin Productions, New Line Cinema, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I just wanted to sing Seal with my family like normal people.” – Rusty Griswold

Full disclosure, I’m not an Ed Helms fan. I think the main reason for that is due to him making the final season of The Office pretty damn insufferable. I also don’t necessarily blame him for that, I think it was the writing and whoever was calling the shots on that show at the end. But with that, I was burnt out on Ed Helms for several years.

So, as I approached this film, I wanted to go into it with an open mind and without my previous biases. I knew I’d have to eventually get to this, as I was already watching and reviewing all the Vacation movies and didn’t want to simply omit this one just because it didn’t feature Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the leads.

I’m happy to say that I found this to be pretty decent. It does have some laughable moments, features cameos with a lot of people I like and Ed Helms had solid chemistry with Christina Applegate. Also, he played this version of Rusty Griswold pretty straight and not as over the top as his Andy Bernard character from The Office.

Ultimately, though, this is a rehash of what the original film was with the same destination in mind. The adventure on the way to WallyWorld followed similar beats and homaged some classic moments but there was enough original stuff in this to allow it to stand on its own and to not just be a paint-by-numbers remake.

I also like that this did bring back Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in their iconic roles, even if it was just a small part within the larger movie.

I can’t really say that this is all that memorable, though. It’s better than some of the other Vacation movies but that was never really a high bar to begin with.

In the end, this is goofy, mindless escapism and while some jokes don’t land as intended, the movie still has a good, positive spirit about it and I liked the core characters.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

Also known as: Jumanji 3 (alternative title)
Release Date: December 4th, 2019 (Finland, France, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan)
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg
Based on: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Danny Glover, Danny DeVito, Marin Hinkle

Matt Tolmach Productions, Seven Bucks Productions, The Detective Agency, 123 Minutes

Review:

“Getting old is a gift. I forget that sometimes, but it is. What more could a guy possibly want?” – Eddie

To start, this wasn’t as good of a movie as the one before it but it was still an entertaining, lighthearted and fun picture that allowed for real escapism, which seems to be a lost art these days.

I also like that there are minor jabs at modern political correctness. Or it’s possible that the filmmakers just haven’t gotten the memos that the rest of Hollywood has gotten over the last few years.

This film focuses on the same core characters from the previous movie but it also adds in Danny DeVito and Danny Glover and this time, when they all enter the video game world, most of the characters find themselves in different avatars. This is kind of the big gag of this film but it runs out of gas fairly quickly.

It was initially funny seeing The Rock a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson trying to act like Danny DeVito but the joke wore thin pretty fast. Now that’s not a knock against The Rock, it’s a knock against the writers pushing it so hard for too long in the film.

But this was also offset by Kevin Hart playing old man Danny Glover. Hart was actually great at this and he was my favorite character in this chapter of the franchise because he did it so well.

We also get a few new avatars added to the cast, as there are now seven players in the game instead of just the five from the first movie.

The problem with this movie, is that it feels completely unnecessary and it’s just more of the same. Simply switching personalities around in the avatars isn’t going to carry or even justify the story. Like I said, it’s a gag that worked but flattened out quickly.

If you liked the first movie, you’ll still probably like this one. While it just rehashes the whole concept just because it can, a lot of the sequences at least feel creative. I liked the part with the moving bridges and thought that the new mountain setting for the finale was cool.

Still, I didn’t need this movie and I don’t really feel like another film is necessary but we’re probably going to get it anyway because if something makes money, Hollywood will just recycle it with as little effort as possible.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Jumanji films, as well as Zathura.

Film Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Also known as: Jumanji 2 (alternative title)
Release Date: December 5th, 2017 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner
Based on: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Colin Hanks, Rhys Darby, Missi Pyle, Marin Hinkle, Marc Evan Jackson, Tim Matheson

Columbia Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Matt Tolmach Productions, Radar Pictures, 119 Minutes

Review:

“Why am I wearing this outfit in a jungle? Tiny, little shorts and a leather halter top. I mean, what is this?” – Ruby Roundhouse

I’ve got to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it but it delivered on what it was trying to do, which was being a funny, over the top, action-adventure movie.

The cast was pretty good.

I always like Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan, Jack Black is usually enjoyable in most things and Kevin Hart can be grating at times but he does well here, as he isn’t the focal point of the film.

Additionally, I really liked seeing Rhys Darby and Bobby Cannavale in this. I’ve loved Darby since Flight of the Conchords and Cannavale really impressed me when he joined the cast of Mr. Robot.

This is a sequel to the original Robin Williams starring Jumanji but it takes the concept and kind of modernizes it by making it a video game instead of a board game. Here, four teens are sucked into the game and they have to play out the game in a real-life simulation as their avatars, all of which are very different from their real personalities.

It’s a fun, cute movie where the teens are challenged by their situation, their avatars’ roles and having to work together to survive and free themselves from the game. It’s a good coming of age story, even if its pretty predictable and embraces some tropes and cliches.

I thought that the action was solid, the CGI effects were top notch and the environment was rich, lush and beautiful. This had a real Uncharted feel to it, which I think was the intent of the filmmakers, who went the video game route with the story and even put up an Uncharted 4 poster in one of the teen’s bedrooms.

I guess there is a sequel to this coming out in the near future. I’d probably go see it. I’m not sure what they can do to keep the concept fresh but this new take on it worked fine for this chapter in what appears to be a real franchise now.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the original Jumanji and Zathura.

Film Review: King Kong (2005)

Release Date: December 5th, 2005 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Evan Parke, Andy Serkis

WingNut Films, Universal Pictures, 187 Minutes (theatrical), 200 Minutes (extended)

king-kong-2005Review:

What a disappointment this was. I never wanted to watch it but I did in an effort to review it, as I am revisiting all the King Kong films before the new one is released in a few weeks.

I was a big Peter Jackson fan when this came out and I had always loved King Kong movies. However, when seeing the trailer for this in 2005, I just wasn’t interested in it. Watching it now, I found it incredibly hard to sit through the 200 minute mess. Yes!… 200 minutes!

Coming off of the heels of his great adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson had Hollywood in the palm of his hand. His special effects studio also proved that Lucasfilm wasn’t the only kid on the block, anymore.

To put it bluntly, this film is awful. The story is a rehash of what we’ve already seen in two better King Kong films. There really is nothing new to this movie, compared to the previous 1976 remake or the 1933 original, except some characters have altered because even though this is a film that takes place in the 1930s, it has to placate to the overabundance of animal rights activists in the world today.

The character of Ann Darrow had to love Kong, right? She couldn’t just flat out be terrified of the beast like she was in 1933, correct? I mean, the most hardcore animal rights activist would be shitting their pants in the clutches of Kong. But this change in the Darrow character, I guess, somehow justified this movie being well over three hours long. Had she just screamed and Kong just grunted, we would have had another Kong film that ran around two hours. Peter Jackson can’t have that! Hell, he turned each Lord of the Rings book into four hour epics and one Hobbit book into three four hour epics.

I remember not being blown away by the special effects when I saw footage of this in 2005. At this point, they look really outdated. The Lord of the Rings films, which predate this, still look really solid for the most part. King Kong, especially the island stuff, looks terrible. It is a fast-paced visual mess. It looks like a bunch of CGI creatures were thrown into a blender while action figures of our heroes dance in front of the high speed churning concoction.

Most of the action is nonsensical and just stupid. For an example of this, look at the scene where Adrien Brody is covered in bugs and Jamie Bell assists him by firing a machine gun at him. Also, the film completely disregards basic biology and physics. I get that you have to suspend disbelief for a film like this to work but King Kong asks you to completely suspend logic and accept stupidity.

The special effects sequences were too abundant. They all just blend together in a horrid mess. Also, the heroes don’t even get to the island for 45 minutes or so. If they shaved off a lot of unimportant things in the long intro and then scaled back on the action stuff, the film could have reasonably been a two hour movie, which it should have been.

Also, the tribal people in this picture are way too terrifying. They were literally a tribe from a horror movie and were definitely too scary for a movie that should have been family friendly and was marketed as such. The tribe also didn’t have a look and feel consistent with the already well established King Kong mythos.

I also hated Naomi Watts’ screaming. It was awful and never seemed to stop.

There are a few positives, though.

The first was Jack Black. I thought he did a tremendously good job as Carl Denham, my favorite character from the original 1933 version.

Also, Andy Serkis was great as Kong. Then again, when isn’t he stellar at playing motion capture characters? He’s the reason why an Oscar should be created for motion capture acting.

Another positive was the last twenty minutes of the film. The finale was pretty great, even if you had to painfully sit through the first three hours. The sequence of Kong on top of the Empire State Building fighting for his survival was pretty heart-wrenching. In fact, I was surprised that I was so taken aback by it, considering the awfulness of the preceding three hours. I credit that to the greatness that is Andy Serkis.

As bad as 1986’s King Kong Lives is considered to be, I think it is better than this film. Sure, that is a bold statement but it at least felt more plausible and it wasn’t a 200 minute bore.

I really have no urge to ever watch this again, where I revisit the other Kong films every few years.

Rating: 2/10