Tag Archives: Jack Black

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.

Terror of the Blank Page

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

by George Wolf

“Who would write this?”

Any Goosebumps fan knows the answer to that is Bexley native/OSU grad R.L. Stine, but in Goosebumps 2 it’s what Stine didn’t write that unleashes some not-too-scary family fun.

Good buddies Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor from IT) and Sam (Caleel Harris) stumble upon a mysterious book while cleaning out a creepy old house. They turn their backs and a ventriloquist’s dummy makes sure he’s found as well.

“Slappy” (voiced by Jack Black) was born from the book they found, the unfinished manuscript of Stine’s first novel, and he has some magical powers which are all fun and games until they’re not.

See, the dummy wants a real family, and he won’t stop until he brings Halloween to life and makes Sonny’s mom (Wendi McLendon-Covey) his own, which doesn’t sit well with Sonny or his sister Sarah (Madison Iseman).

It will take the whole gang, with a little help from Stine himself (Jack Black) to put Slappy and all he conjures back in the book where they belong.

Director Ari Sandel, who helmed the smarter-than-average teen comedy The Duff, and writer Rob Leiber (Alexander and the…Very Bad Day) take over the Goosebumps film franchise and hit a satisfyingly specific ‘tween target that will give adults some smiles as well.

The humor is silly but not stupid, the frights won’t bring nightmares, the town bully isn’t really that mean, and the town does Halloween like no place you’ve ever seen, led by Holiday enthusiast Mr. Chu (Ken Jeong). It makes for an inviting setting, and once all those costumes and decorations come to life, there is plenty of lower-budget visual pop.

Goosebumps 2 has style, a winning cast, and winking nods to horror classics such as IT and Frankenstein. Plus, it makes books and science seem cool, and gets it all done in under 90 minutes.

That adds up to one “fun-size” Halloween treat that doesn’t disappoint.





Clock Management

The House with a Clock In Its Walls

by Hope Madden

Eli Roth made a family film. That’s weird. Although there is certainly something juvenile about the filmmaker’s work in general.

Yes, the Hostel director (and Cabin Fever, The Green Inferno and any number of other hard-R flicks) indulges a sillier side with his big screen adaptation of John Bellairs’s 1973 novel, The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

Set in a mid-Fifties slice of Americana (New Zebedee, Michigan), the film lazily crosses Spielberg with Tim Burton by way of Nickelodeon.

Orphaned Lewis (Owen Vacarro) finds himself in the charge of weird Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), who is a warlock. The two items most likely to be found in Uncle Jonathan’s big, weird house are his next door neighbor/best friend/fellow witch Mrs. Zimmerman (the always formidable Cate Blanchett), and clocks. Loads of clocks.

Why so many? Jonathan likes the ruckus they create—keeps his mind off that one ticking sound he can’t quite locate…that ominous harbinger of something terrible.

The house also boasts a number of bewitched items, none of which are given much point or presence as Lewis struggles with the loss of his parents, unpopularity at school, and the sudden realization that he might have just triggered the end of days.

Roth and screenwriter Eric Kripke streamline Bellairs’s charming prose. Some updates are sensible, although neutering the novel’s image of powerful women is not one of the more courageous or welcome choices the filmmakers made.

They entirely miss the novel’s tone, amplified with intermittent illustrations by the great Edward Gorey: subdued, wondrous yet melancholy. These are not adjectives used in conjunction with the work of Eli Roth.

What he substitutes instead is colorful, artificial, sloppy fun.

Black—more or less revisiting his role from 2015’s Goosebumps—charms exactly as he always does. Watching the incandescent Blanchett slyly deliver lines and easily steal scenes from Black—and anybody else who happens to be present—is a joy.

Vacarro isn’t given much opportunity. His is a story about grief and loneliness. Or maybe it’s about embracing your inner weirdo. Roth can’t seem to decide, and he’s far too sidetracked by the demonic jack-o-lanterns, topiary Griffin and inexplicable roomful of carnival freakshow dummies to pay attention to the story.

There is utterly forgettable fun here, mainly thanks to Black and Blanchett, but the intended audience is a little tough to gauge. Things are likely a bit too slow-moving and eventually too wicked for the very young, while teens and adults may be bored by the lack of logic or what passes for humor. Still, if you have a 10-year-old who wants a seasonal scare that’s not too scary, here you go.





Hot Wheels

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

by Hope Madden

In case you are missing it, Joaquin Phoenix is having one hell of a year. The inarguable talent is fresh off the relentlessly wonderful You Were Never Really Here (watch it right now!). Later this year we’ll get the chance to see him in Mary Magdalene as well as Jacques Audiard’s Western, The Sisters Brothers—both films boasting extraordinary casts.

Sandwiched in between his turns as gun-for-hire (YWNRH) and Jesus (MM), the clearly versatile actor portrays cartoonist John Callahan in Gus Van Sant’s biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.

Portland-based Callahan used creating cartoons as an outlet for his frustration, creativity and humor following a car accident that left him paralyzed. His simple visual style (both arms and hands were badly compromised by the paralysis) and his dark, taboo-driven humor found favor and protest in his hometown newspaper.

Phoenix charms and breaks hearts in equal measure as Callahan. What the actor conveys in breathtaking fashion is discovery. After Callahan’s accident and through his fleeting moments of clear-headedness, the character affords Phoenix many opportunities to recognize, accomplish or notice things for the first time. His interaction with an adorably saucy sex therapist, for instance, is pure joy.

His is not the only wonderful performance in the film. Jonah Hill effortlessly conveys a wearied tenderness that reminds you how truly talented an actor he is. Jack Black has a small but gloriously Jack Black role, and the AA group (Udo Kier, Beth Ditto, Mark Webber, Kim Gordon and Ronnie Adrian) offer rich and interesting characters regardless of their minimal screen time.

Rooney Mara, on the other hand, seems like she’s acting in an entirely different film. I fully expected her character to be a figment of Callahan’s imagination, pulled intact from another movie.

Van Sant bounces back from a creative lull (The Sea of Trees, anyone?), showing, among other things, his remarkable knack for period detail.

And while the 12-step structure feels both too stifling and too familiar for such an irreverent central figure, Van Sant bursts through that frame with a non-chronological series of vignettes and wild antics. As the film progresses, step by dutiful step, Van Sant fills gaps with quick jumps back and forth through drunken episodes and pivotal moments.

As interesting and entertaining as these flashes are, the chaotic lack of chronology fits so poorly with the rigid timeline of the film around it that the whole feels like an experiment gone wrong.

But so much of the film goes very, very right—thanks in large part to another award-worthy performance by Phoenix.





The Screening Room: A Stocking Full of New Movies

Helping you separate naughty from nice with this weekend’s movie options, The Screening Room looks at Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Pitch Perfect 3, Downsizing, Darkest Hour, The Greatest Showman as well as your new options in home entertainment. Join us!

Listen to the full podcast HERE.





The Safari Club

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

by George Wolf

Do you hear a ruckus?

It’s coming from some easily identifiable high schoolers in detention, but this time they’re in an old storage room filled with everything from old magazines to a gaming system from the 1990s.

Turns out, that’s the same decade the soul-sucking Jumanji morphed from board to video cartridge, so the nerd, the jock, the queen bee and the outcast decide to power up this mystery game and kill some time.

In an instant, Welcome to the Jungle puts them all in the heart of one, playing for their lives as the avatars they chose, which just happen to be the polar opposites of their “real” selves.

Whaaat?

Yes, convenient, but director Jake Kasdan and an extremely likable cast squeeze a fine amount of fun from a colorful adventure that follows its own advice for a healthy self-image.

Nerdy Spencer becomes the muscular hero (Dwayne Johnson), athletic “Fridge” is now the diminutive sidekick (Kevin Hart), and introvert Martha becomes a Lara Croft-y babe (Karen Gillan) while the self-absorbed beauty faces life as Jack Black.

Some solid laughs are landed from the foursome discovering their new gaming strengths (“smoldering intensity”), weaknesses (“cake”) and body parts (“don’t forget to aim!”), with the actors’ willingness to poke fun at their own images only adding to the good vibes.

There are some effective set pieces, but the overall heroics required to get back home are fairly standard, and Kasdan (Bad Teacher, Sex Tape, the under-appreciated Walk Hard) wisely doesn’t overreach. He’s not tasked with one-upping Indiana Jones, and keeps things focused more on the breezy fun to be had with his stars. These moments when the tone hits a frisky groove of self-awareness (no doubt aided by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, two writers from the wonderful Spider-Man: Homecoming) are the film’s high points, making it easier to look past some shaky CGI or an overly cartoonish villain (Bobby Cannavale, in yet another over-the-top waste of his talent).

The teens have to learn something today, so Welcome to the Jungle can’t hold that tone throughout, but it displays enough of a commitment to character-based comedy for a ruckus worth exploring.





Monsters Jump Off the Page

Goosebumps

by Christie Robb

It’s been over 20 years since the publication of R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumps #1: Night of the Living Dummy. And now, a generation who whiled away the nighttime hours gripping paperbacks with white knuckles can bring a new crop of kiddos to experience the thrills of Stine’s monsters, this time on the big screen.

In Goosebumps the movie, teenage hunk Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves with his mom to the ‘burbs. He is lucky in that his next-door neighbor is a quick-witted and gorgeous girl, Hannah (Odeya Rush), who immediately whisks him away to the neighborhood’s abandoned amusement park. However, he is unlucky in that her dad (Jack Black) is a curmudgeon who pops out from windows and in between the slats of fences to warn Zach to stay away or else something bad will happen.

Believing Hannah to be held captive by her overbearing dad, and after overhearing some screaming, Zach lures the dad away and breaks into the house accompanied by his timid, socially awkward friend Champ. In searching for Hannah, they discover a shelf full of Goosebumps manuscripts. And open one. Chaos ensues.

It appears Zach’s prickly neighbor is reclusive author R.L. Stine who, with the help of a magical typewriter, brings his imaginary monsters to life, but traps them inside the pages of his locked manuscripts.

The real trouble begins when Slappy (the antagonist from Night of the Living Dummy) escapes and steals the collection of manuscripts, releasing the full extent of Stine’s imagination upon the town—from the Werewolf of Fever Swamp, to a giant praying mantis, to freeze-ray wielding aliens, to murderous garden gnomes. It’s kind of Cabin in the Woods for tweens.

The movie is relentlessly paced as the crew dashes from one crisis to the next, concocting a zany plan to defeat all the monsters. The scares provided by the monsters and creepy crawlies are balanced by pratfalls, cheeky dialogue (See Zach’s aunt’s description of Stine’s smell: “… like mint and B.O. It works.”), and scene-stealing supporting characters.

Goosebumps is not without its flaws, however. It woefully underutilizes some cast members – Amy Ryan (Birdman) and Ken Marino (Wet Hot American Summer) in particular. Like the book franchise on which it is based, the movie is fairly predictable, at least for the older folks in the audience. There are some logical inconsistencies (for example, the lights are still running in the abandoned amusement park) and a definite lack of diversity in casting. But, nevertheless, it’s a seasonally-appropriate, Danny Elfman-scored thrill that will keep folks entertained without fostering nightmares.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





A Tenacious D

The D Train

by George Wolf

Funny thing about The D Train…it’s not really funny.

In fact, if Jack Black wasn’t the lead, you’d be hard pressed to describe it as a comedy in the first place. It’s awkward, uncomfortable in spots, slightly amusing in others and carries exactly one big laugh out loud moment. But it also has a big heart, an unexpected social conscience, thoughtful writing and fine performances that make it worth a look.

Black stars as Dan, a socially challenged guy in Pittsburgh who keeps inventing nicknames for himself in hopes that one of them will stick. Think George Costanza and his quest to be called T-Bone, but less abrasive.

Dan remains stoic and upbeat, taking his position as chairman of his 20th high school class reunion committee very seriously…even if none of the other members will include him in their after meeting get-togethers. The RSVPs for the reunion are pretty sparse, but then Dan sees old classmate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) in a TV commercial for sunscreen and has an epiphany.

He’ll come up with a bogus reason for an L.A. business trip, track Oliver down and convince the homegrown Hollywood star to come back for the reunion. With that, attendance will skyrocket and Dan will finally be the BMOC of his dreams!

It will come as no surprise that things don’t quite go as planned. What is surprising is how the film turns away from comedic high jinks to embrace a little introspection in today’s complicated times. Writers Andrew Mogul and Jarrad Paul (Yes Man) also make their directing debut with The D Train, displaying a commendable, if not completely successful ambition to bring a classic genre some fresh perspective.

While they cast the always funny Kathryn Hahn as Dan’s wife Stacey, she is asked to do nothing at all comedic. Talent wasted? Maybe. Or maybe her sympathetic turn is another way the film keeps you guessing and consistently entertained despite the lack of hilarity.

Both Black and Marsden are perfect, crafting a nice chemistry as they gradually give Dan and Oliver some layers of insecurity and misconception that may look pretty familiar.

You won’t be quoting many lines from The D Train at your next party, but you won’t be regretting the trip either.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 

 





Best Film of 2014 For Your Queue

The best film of 2014, Boyhood, releases today for home entertainment. See it! Do it! Director Richard Linklater’s meandering auteurism has led him to this culminating effort, a low key slice of life – but a really, really big slice. Filmed over 12 years, Linklater’s work captures something absolutely unique yet entirely recognizable as it journeys through one boy’s entire young life. A master of the small moment and a genius of collaboration, Linklater draws the best from his game cast and reimagines cinema as he does it.

This great American director’s career is littered with underseen gems, but the one you really need to find is Bernie. Jack Black – who was letter perfect in Linklater’s wonderful School of Rock – excels in this true-crime comedy/drama. Black plays the titular Bernie, the nicest, most beloved guy in town, who happens to also be a murderer. Linklater’s laid back approach and liberal use of non-actors gives the film an off kilter likeability that perfectly supports Black’s genius turn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJuhWKcY_6U





Countdown: Proof Positive Matthew McConaughey Has Talent

Aside from the very rare exception, Matthew McConaughey spent the first twenty years of his career proving to us that he looked nice without a shirt. Talent shmalent. Then suddenly, the king of the romantic comedy finally gave up his throne and began acting, and here’s the nutty thing:  he’s damn good. Need proof? Read on, as we list the evidence.

10. Frailty (2001)

Spooky, languid, eerily observant, McConaughey’s performance in this underseen horror gem sets a great tone for the surprises in store.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8oZFkatI_8

9. The Paperboy (2012)

In a film this over-the-top, McConaughey anchors the insanity with an understated turn as a conflicted, good man.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZ_LBiQq8JI

8. Bernie (2011)

Jack Black is the reason to see this incredible film, but McConaughey’s turn as the baffled lawman and the film’s voice of reason is a winner as well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJuhWKcY_6U

7. Lone Star (1996)

Not yet Hollywood’s go-to for rom-com, McConaughey impressed everyone as Buddy Deeds, the legendary lawman-in-flashback in John Sayles’s Texan mystery.

6. Tropic Thunder (2008)

Here was our first reminder in more than a decade that McConaughey could act, not to mention poke fun at himself. With that insane hair and a little lip gloss, his Hollywood agent was the stuff of dreams. “Tivo!”

5. Dazed and Confused (1993)

No matter how much you hated Matthew McConaughey by, say, 2005, you had to admit that you loved him in his early-career turnin Dazed and Confused. That performance as Wooderson, the sleazy older dude still hitting on high school girls, was just about perfect.

4. Mud (2012)

By the time Mud came out, we’d grown used to the new and improved McConaughey, a flexible talent who still managed to put his own stamp on every new and fascinating role. Here he blends childlike wildness with wily survival instincts for a piece of beautiful storytelling.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFBC8ohhVUs

3. Magic Mike (2012)

Yes, this movie blows, but it is so worth watching because of McConaughey’s positively unhinged and magnificent performance as the aging stripper-turned-entrepreneur.

2. Killer Joe (2011)

Holy shit. This movie – a kick-ass comeback for director William Friedkin – is so nuts, so dark, so Texan, that no one could possible shoulder the title role but McConaughey. Huge props to the entire balance of the cast, but just try to take your eyes off McConaughey.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M12DPZgW_E

1. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

McConaughey may finally get the Oscar nomination he deserved at least twice in the last two years for his turn as the hard living Texan who finds himself victim of HIV and the medical industrial complex. A searingly human portrait, the performance is the best of what is becoming – at long last – a monster career.