Tag Archives: Danny DeVito

Extra Life

Jumanji: The Next Level

by George Wolf

Recent box office totals have sent a pretty clear message: if you want a butts-in-seats reboot, you gotta come with a strong new hook.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle got it right two years ago, and now most of that gang is back for The Next Level, which is smart enough to add a few new wrinkles (plus some trusty old ones) for freshness.

We catch up with our four young heroes a year removed from high school and trying hard to keep in touch. Over Christmas break from college, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) make plans for a meetup, but Spencer doesn’t show.

Hearing those familiar drums, the other three quickly figure out he’s been sucked back into Jumanji, and decide to go after him. I mean, they beat it once, right?

New game, new rules, brand new hook.

Bethany is left behind, but two new players aren’t: Spencer’s grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie’s ex-best friend Milo (Danny Glover). Know what else? Everyone gets a new avatar.

Well, not Martha, she’s still badass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). But this time, it’s Eddie who gets the smoldering heroic intensity of Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), while Fridge is portly Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), Milo is diminutive zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart) and Spencer is newly-added cat burglar Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina).

The next level mission: free Jumanji from the evil clutches of Jurgen the Brutal (GOT‘s Rory McCann), or die trying. Game on!

Watching the four adult stars channel teenagers in the first film was a blast, but the avatar switches here are the smart plays, and the body swaps don’t stop once the game begins. Some of the gags do settle for low hanging fruit (i.e. old people are easily confused) but plenty others are clever and inspired.

The film itself even gets in on the switcheroo spirit, with fewer solid laughs but a markedly better adventure. Welcome to the Jungle’s riffs on The Breakfast Club make way for director Jake Kasdan’s set piece homages to Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones, Kingsman and even Peter Jackson’s King Kong in a thrilling escape from angry mandrills.

Writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers do not return, which I’m guessing is a major reason the life lesson feels don’t land as smoothly this time. But Kasdan and his team hit the big shots. They give us a reason to be interested in a return to Jumanji, and plenty of fun once we get there.

Mythbuster

Smallfoot

by George Wolf

So, while we’re down here debating the existence of Sasquatch/Yeti/Bigfoot, an entire community of them lives above the clouds, wondering the same about us shorter, wee-footed folk.

That’s a cute and clever conceit for a family tale that might look a lot like Pixar’s Monsters, Inc., which makes it even more surprising when WB’s Smallfoot instead flirts with becoming the most ballsy, subversive animated film since Zootopia. It’s a film with big ideas, some generic and some risky, but just too many to juggle into a truly memorable takeaway.

Channing Tatum leads the voice cast as Migo, an affable Yeti who has always bought in to everything his village’s “Stonekeeper” (Common) was selling, including the fact that the legendary Smallfoot wasn’t real. But then Migo sees one, which raises some questions, and questions themselves are a problem.

Migo, like all the Yeti, has been taught to suppress any questions he may have about the stones the Stonekeeper is keeping. Those stones guide the beliefs of the Yeti through the various statements written on each. You might even call them…commandments.

Woah.

Smallfoot raises eyebrows early, but once Migo manages to bring smallfooted Percy (James Corden) back to his village, it settles into a pleasantly entertaining mix of messages, music, and Looney Tunes-worthy pratfalls.

Tatum gives our hero a fine voice (though his singing is a bit thin), Corden is always fun and the support cast (including Zendaya, Danny DeVito, Gina Rodriguez and LeBron James) is capably unique, but co-directors Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig chase too many snowtrails.

Some moments, like the Stonekeeper telling Migo about the ease of deception, find their mark, while others such as Percy’s struggles with reality TV become overly familiar distractions.

The driving theme here is truth, and how very hard it can be to find. Question, be brave, explore science as well as faith. Maybe sing a song. Though Smallfoot doesn’t deliver on its radical beginnings, it finds a comfort zone less likely to spark partisan rancor in the aisle.





Funny How?

The Comedian

by George Wolf

Let me just admit something right now. I’m the guy who thought Robert DeNiro had some funny moments as the Dirty Grandpa.

Now DeNiro is The Comedian and..anybody seen Grandpa?

One of the curious aspects of the film is that even though it’s more of a character study than an outright comedy, that character is a legendary comic who’s not really that funny.

DeNiro stars as Jackie Burke, an insult comedian who hit it big back in the day with a smash TV sitcom. Nowadays, he chides his manager (Edie Falco) for the meager gigs while resenting fans who just want to hear him repeat his old TV catch phrase. An encounter with an aggressive heckler goes viral, and suddenly Jackie is hot again..while serving 30 days for assault.

He meets Harmony (Leslie Mann) while fulfilling community service hours, and director Taylor Hackford dutifully kicks off a series of situations in search of greater cohesion.

As Jackie and Harmony go to comedy clubs, weddings, and dinner, Jackie is always cajoled into doing a quick routine that isn’t nearly as impressive and everyone tells him it is. By the time Jackie goes viral again with a retirement home performance of a parody song about “making poopie,” the antics are more embarrassing than amusing.

An old school comic facing the truth that “being funny isn’t enough anymore” could have been fertile ground for a more layered, meaningful character. The Comedian isn’t interested. Veteran standup comics are among the film’s writers, comedy consultants, and cameo stars, but the script never gives Hackford the ammo to dig any more than surface deep.

What Hackford does have is a talented cast (including Danny DeVito, Harvey Keitel, Patti LuPone and Cloris Leachman), and he keeps all the actors engaged enough to deliver terrific performances, regardless of screen time. That’s about the best reason to see The Comedian, a film that seems content to put off getting its act together in favor of just wandering around backstage.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 

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





Wagging the Dog

Wiener-Dog

by George Wolf

So Todd Solondz’s new film is called Wiener-Dog?

Is this a sequel to Welcome to the Dollhouse? Do we catch up with Dawn Wiener and see how her life has turned out?

Well, no, and…sort of.

Dawn (now played by Greta Gerwig) is just one of the perfectly odd owners of the titular dachshund. From an introverted boy, to Dawn, to a young brother and sister, to a sad sack film school professor (Danny DeVito), and finally to a sick old woman (Ellen Burstyn), the sweet pooch connects vignettes full of Solondz’s bleak, darkly comic worldview.

During the film school segment, DeVito’s Professor Schmerz speaks wistfully of wanting to write his great screenplay, one full of memories, pain, and dreams. And, he says, “I wanted it to be funny.”

That sounds an awful lot like Solondz refusing to apologize for his challenging approach, and good for him. Wiener-Dog is funny, sometimes very funny, and early on you wonder if this film might herald a more hopeful, optimistic Todd.

No, same Todd. Ruminations on death and regret permeate each segment, punctuated by painfully harsh situations and coal black, wince-inducing humor. As the incredibly sweet wiener-dog moves from owner to owner, Solondz reminds us to appreciate all the souls (pets included) that come in and out of our lives, and the effect they each have on our mutually shared journey…because, you know, we’re all headed for the same fate anyway.

Solondz is not for every appetite, but his vision is unique, and this may actually be his most accessible film to date.  With its old school intermission and two musical odes to a canine hero, Wiener-Dog feels almost light-hearted…until it brings you back to a universe full of comic despair.

So enjoy, and good luck getting “The Ballad of Wiener-Dog” out of your head.

Verdict-3-5-Stars