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: The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

Release Date: May 14th, 2019 (Cannes)
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Written by: Jim Jarmusch
Music by: SQÜRL
Cast: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits

Animal Kingdom, Film i Väst, Kill the Head, Focus Features, 104 Minutes

Review:

“That girl is half Mexican. I know because I love Mexicans.” – Officer Ronnie Peterson

Jim Jarmusch is really hit or miss for me.

Overall, I’d say this was a miss but it did keep my interest because one thing I usually like about Jarmsuch’s films are the characters and their conversations. However, while that is good and engaging the first time around, it doesn’t necessarily make a film worth revisiting.

The Dead Don’t Die is pretty much what one would expect from a Jarmusch film about zombies.

It’s weird, it’s quirky and there’s not much else there. In fact, the only real glue that holds this flimsy house of cards together is the cast and their interactions.

While Jarmusch can be labeled as weird, this film seems to embrace its weirdness a little too much. In this film, shit is weird just to be weird.

For instance, you have Tilda Swinton’s character who is a female Scottish samurai that you later find out is an alien when a UFO randomly appears to take her home in the middle of a zombie fight. Why? What’s the point? Why was she there? Jarmusch doesn’t care, so why should we?

You also have a moment at the end where the characters break the fourth wall for no reason other than creating a nonsensical plot twist in an effort to maximize on the weird. It actually broke the film for me and made it irreparable where, up to that point, I kind of accepted it in spite of its goofy faults.

Additionally, characters are introduced, relationships are established and not a whole lot comes out of any of it. There isn’t a satisfactory payoff and you’re just left scratching your head for a lot of it. I mean, you want to like characters and you kind of do but none of it matters because we’re all fucked and no one really has a plan, including the cops.

Is this supposed to be a critique on authority or society? I mean, haven’t we gotten that with just about every zombie movie ever made? From Jarmusch, a guy that has made some solid, critically acclaimed films, I guess I expected more than this. For the zombie subgenre of horror, I definitely wanted more than this, as zombies have been done to death, pun intended, and just being weird shouldn’t fly and shouldn’t get you a free pass.

I also feel like this awkward style of comedy dialogue is well past its expiration date.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other Jim Jarmusch films, as well as other zombie comedies.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

Also known as: Lethal 4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 7th, 1998 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Channing Gibson, Jonathan Lemkin, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Based on: characters by Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Kim Chan, Calvin Jung, Eddy Ko, Conan Lee, Richard Riehle, François Chau, Al Leong (uncredited)

Donner/Shuler Productions, Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 127 Minutes

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

Well, I’ve reached the end of my Lethal Weapon reviews. From memory, I thought that the third one was my least favorite but having re-watched them all now, so close together, I’d say that this is the worst.

That being said, I still like Lethal Weapon 4 a lot.

I think that the problem with this one is that we get to check in with characters we’ve grown to love but the Murtaugh-Riggs Family has grown so much that the dynamic between the core characters is kind of watered down and subtracted away from, due to the additions of so many new faces.

This does setup a really sweet ending for the final scene in this, the final film (for now), but the core dynamic worked best when it was just Riggs, Murtaugh and sometimes Getz, when you needed to throw in some comic relief.

Moving past that, I think that this film also suffers from the same thing that the third one did, it lacks the chutzpah of the first two films. Those movies were written by Shane Black, at the top of his game, and even though he is still credited for creating these characters, these last two films don’t have the same girt or energy as their predecessors.

Now Lethal Weapon 4 still boasts some stupendous action sequences. It’s certainly not lacking in that regard, I’m grateful that it still brought the fire and frankly, Richard Donner just knows how to shoot and present action better than most directors.

After analyzing the four films in this series with a sharper eye than I’ve given them, previously, I can see that Donner has a certain style in regards to action. Everything just looks organic and real and it’s edited to maintain a quick, flowing pace but not so quick that it becomes choppy and disorienting like modern action films. In fact, a lot of modern directors should take notes from these pictures.

Speaking of action, I really enjoyed the opening of this film. It’s the second best opener in the series, after Lethal Weapon 2, and it really gets things moving and off to a bang. However, the sequence that immediately follows with the Chinese boat, stifles the momentum.

Additionally, there are too many things that happen within the plot that just seem way too convenient to be real. This was a problem that started in the third film but it’s much more apparent here.

As far as the plot, it’s okay. It’s definitely a bigger scheme on par with the first two movies but it’s not that interesting. I guess it works to shed light on the fact that some Chinese are treated like modern slaves in an effort to buy their way into the United States but it’s presented pretty heavy handedly and also quite cheesily.

There are two saving graces in this film that keep it from sinking too far down in the muck. The first is the great action, which I already mentioned, and the second is the characters. The camaraderie is generally really solid and this movie does generate some real feels, especially towards the end in a scene with Riggs and Getz and then the big finale at the hospital, where two babies are born, expanding the family even more.

In the end, this is a “feel good” movie in how it closes things out for these characters. You kind of hope that you’d get to see them again but for now, this is the conclusion of the series. Granted, the television reboot did fairly well and stayed on TV for three seasons but that version of the characters is different. However, due to the show’s popularity, they have been talking about a Lethal Weapon 5 for the first time in years. So, maybe, just maybe… this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the real Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s/’90s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

Release Date: May 11th, 1992 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Robert Mark Kamen
Based on: characters by Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Kenneth Tigar, Stuart Wilson, Delores Hall, Miguel A. Nunez Jr.

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes, 121 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

This is where the Lethal Weapon franchise started to fall off a bit but it is still a pretty solid movie and it does keep the film series moving forward. This just isn’t as great as the first two but it is hard to be as good as those films were for a third time. In fact, it’s actually incredible that they captured lightning in a bottle twice.

That being said, this is still one of the greatest buddy cop movies of all-time because anytime Riggs and Murtaugh get together, you can almost guarantee that the end result will be a film with a lot of heart, that’s a lot of fun and full of great action sequences.

And it’s the action sequences that make this one great. They’re all pretty solid here, especially the multiple vehicle chases and the big showdown in the housing development that isn’t yet constructed. While burning wood frames in the shape of houses was probably a good way to keep the budget down, it was a great idea, executed well and it made for a good looking and unique finale.

While this one brings Joe Pesci back into the fold, it adds one more permanent member to the family in Rene Russo’s Lorna Cole, an internal affairs cop that starts a romance with Martin Riggs, who has had terrible luck with the previous women in his life.

I think the one thing that makes this film weaker is the villain and the criminal plot. He’s an ex-cop turned property developer that funds his empire by stealing guns from police evidence lockups in order to sell them to street gangs. It’s not very original and it’s pretty topical for the time when this was made. Sure, street gang violence still exists today but it’s not an issue of the magnitude of any of the criminal plots from the three other Lethal Weapon movies. I mean, these guys just took down a South African diplomat.

Anyway, I think this film also loses some steam because it wasn’t written by Shane Black, who penned the first two films. While he may have been busy and Richard Donner may have wanted to give someone else a shot at writing, this film is missing that special touch that Black had in the second half of the ’80s.

Overall, this is still a good outing, it’s just my least favorite of the four.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s/’90s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

Release Date: July 5th, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Shane Black, Warren Murphy
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, Derrick O’Connor, Patsy Kensit, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Jenette Goldstein, Dean Norris, Kenneth Tigar

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 114 Minutes, 108 Minutes (cut), 118 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

This is my favorite Lethal Weapon movie and in fact, it’s pretty close to perfect on every level.

While most people probably see the first film as the best, I enjoy this one slightly more because it builds off of that foundation and makes it better. Also, this is the film that added in Joe Pesci, who had an amazing dynamic with Gibson and Glover and made this power duo a superpowered trio.

I also prefer the criminal plot in this movie and it takes more of a front seat, as the first film was primarily about dealing with Riggs’ personal problems and overcoming them.

That’s not to say that Riggs’ emotions don’t get the better of him in this film, they do, but the story and the context as to why are much more apparent and the tragedy that befalls his character actually happens in front of your eyes in this chapter. It makes more of an emotional impact on the viewer and because of what he’s already overcome, you understand his drive in the third act of the film and you root for him, and Murtaugh, in a way that you didn’t in the first picture.

Additionally, the villains are fucking superb. Joss Ackland is at his all-time best in this movie as the villainous, racist, South African diplomat, hiding behind legal red tape. I also like Derrick O’Connor as the top henchman. He isn’t quite on Busey’s level from the first movie but he is much better than the standard henchman from most action films of a similar style.

Overall, Lethal Weapon 2 takes the formula that was already established and perfects it. It adds to the series without taking anything away while having a swifter pace that doesn’t leave room for unnecessary filler. The characters are developed more in this chapter and all that is done organically as the story progresses. This is a finely written motion picture that understands the balance it needs between the action genre, comedy, drama and character building. It masters this in ways that other similar films have struggled.

There isn’t a bad thing I can say about the movie, really. It’s just awesome, top to bottom. It has everything I want in a Lethal Weapon movie and none of the stuff I don’t.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon (1987)

Release Date: March 6th, 1987
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Ed O’Ross, Al Leong, Jack Thibeau, Renée Estevez (uncredited – Director’s Cut)

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 109 Minutes, 117 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

Since there have been rumblings, once again, about Lethal Weapon 5, I was reminded that I haven’t really watched the original film in quite awhile. So, since I have the DVD box set, I figured that I’d give them all a rewatch and a review.

I actually forgot how dark this first film was in regards to Martin Riggs’ depression and suicidal thoughts. Sure, I remember that part of the story but I see a lot more layers with it now, as an adult that has dealt with depression his entire life and many of the experiences and thoughts that come with it. I can also relate to the loss and grief that Riggs felt over his wife’s death, as I lost someone very close to me, which had me in a similar head space for a few years.

As a kid and a teen, I don’t think I understood the real depth of Riggs’ despair and I also didn’t fully understand how this is a movie about a broken man finding something to live for and that he is essentially adopted by a family that grows to love him as one of their own. And honestly, I’m not sure if Shane Black’s script meant to take it that deep but Mel Gibson and Danny Glover add so much to their roles and this story, emotionally, that lesser actors couldn’t have achieved this on quite the same level with this much human emotion.

That being said, the film is really about a man emerging from absolute darkness and finding his way in the world again. And while this isn’t the main plot thread of the sequels, it helped to establish the bond between Riggs and Murtaugh so well, that the emotions and connections in this film created such a strong foundation that it made the camaraderie in the sequels natural and frankly, easy.

The movie is an action comedy, despite the really heavy emotional stuff, and within that, it has a great balance between the darker stuff and its lighthearted playfulness. It’s also full of badass action and just makes me wish that Hollywood could still make pictures like this that are this good.

Action comedies in the modern era just don’t hit the right notes. You can’t compare any of those Kevin Hart buddy action comedies to the Lethal Weapon films and that’s not a knock against the talented Hart, I think it is just a product of the times we live in and their contrast to what the 1980s (and ’90s) were.

A lot of the credit has to go to Richard Donner, who was on his A-game as a director in the ’80s, as well as producer Joel Silver, a man that was involved with some of the most iconic films of all-time, especially in this era and the action genre.

But it all really comes back to the greatness that is the pairing of Gibson and Glover. They’re bond and their banter is absolute perfection. You buy into what they’re selling and they feel like they’re your friends too. On top of that, Glover’s family is great and they make the scenes they share with the two leads pretty special.

While the actual plot dealing with the crime element in the film is a bit thin, it’s still interesting and it also brings in great performances from Gary Busey, Tom Atkins and the grossly underappreciated Mitchell Ryan. I also love seeing and hearing Al Leong actually speak in this beyond just being a voiceless henchman.

On top of all that, the action sequences are superb, the stunts are fantastic and this is a movie that still packs a punch and is just as exciting as it was over thirty years ago.

Lethal Weapon is a stupendous film. It has the greatest tandem in buddy cop movie history and it has aged tremendously well.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Predator 2 (1990)

Release Date: November 19th, 1990 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
Written by: Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi, Morton Downey Jr., Adam Baldwin, Kent McCord, Calvin Lockhart, Elpidia Carrillo (cameo), Kevin Peter Hall

Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 108 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t see the eyes of the demon, until him come callin’.” – King Willie

I know a lot of people that don’t like Predator 2. Those people are assholes and their opinion doesn’t matter.

Predator 2 isn’t as perfect as its predecessor, which was a true masterpiece of ’80s action filmmaking. It is impossible to follow up perfection with more perfection. Well, not impossible but incredibly hard, especially in Hollywood where chasing the money usually leads to shoddy results.

Still, Predator 2 is a damn fine picture that is true to the spirit of the original while being its own thing, in a different setting and expanding on the Predator mythos in new ways.

Most of what we know about these alien creatures came from this film. It’s the first to really sort of showcase the psychology of the alien. You understand why it is doing what it is doing a bit more, you come to see that it isn’t just a cold blooded killer. The alien has rules and just appreciates a good hunt and going toe to toe with good game. It also shows that they are a society of respect for those they hunt against, if they just so happen to be bested in battle. Plus, it throws in an Easter egg to the Alien franchise, letting us know that these different alien species exist in the same universe.

Like its predecessor, this film also boasts a large cast of really talented people: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi, Morton Downey Jr., Adam Baldwin and Calvin Lockhart, as an evil voodoo drug kingpin that is maybe more chilling than the Predator itself.

I think that doing a sequel in a different environment was a good idea. I also feel as if the film took its cue from the success of Robocop and other ’80s films that took place in a near future urban environment with extreme crime and chaos. This is set in Los Angeles but it very much feels like the Detroit of Robocop 12. Frankly, I love the setting and I love seeing the Predator come between a massive gang war and drawing the attention of the LAPD, most notably the task force led by Danny Glover’s character.

We also get Gary Busey and Adam Baldwin as FBI agents that know about the alien and are trying to capture it alive in an effort to study it and steal its advanced technology. Busey’s group are a real thorn in Glover’s side but the two do get into a really cool sequence where they fight the Predator in a meat packing plant.

Alan Silvestri returned to score this picture, which was fantastic, as he did such an incredible job with the first movie. All of his iconic Predator themes are here but he adds in some new stuff and tweaks some of the other themes and presents them in new ways, which works really well.

I also want to point out that by Bill Paxton being in this, he is the only actor to be killed by both a Predator and a xenomorph from the Alien franchise. That’s a pretty significant honor.

This is just a cool movie. For people that grew up in the ’80s loving the action movies put out by Cannon, this is like a balls to the wall Cannon film but with a much larger budget.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Predator and Predators.