Tag Archives: Karen Gillan

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.

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.





Valley Dogs

In A Valley of Violence

by Cat McAlpine

Paul (Ethan Hawke) just wants to make it to Mexico, and freedom. Unfortunately, a random and heart-wrenching act of violence detours him down a bloody path to revenge. Writer/director Ti West brings his experience in the horror genre to the Wild West, with surprising but refreshing reserve.

In a Valley of Violence benefits from West’s time in horror. The build is steady and slow. Paul transforms from quiet stranger to calculating killer, but all the blood is earned. The shootouts aren’t elaborate but they are grisly and realistic.

The first note I wrote down was “color”. (The second note I wrote down was “His dog wears a bandana.”) West has colorized an homage to old westerns, bright and yellow. At the turning point, though, his roots show.

The camera work changes with Paul. A flashback is handled with a shaky cam and a flashlight. It feels like found footage, and though it’s a jarring stylistic change, it’s not unwelcome.

Another scene is shot from a single vantage point that makes the view feel like a security camera. The small room almost gets that fisheye quality, as Paul sneaks up behind an unsuspecting bather. These touches gently meld the horror and western genres, using cues from both to shape the viewers’ journey.

The performances are as realistic as West’s measured use of bullets and blood. Hawke is brooding and dangerous, but soft, too. His dog is an excellent device to extrapolate the way PTSD can function. Paul confidently banters with his dog, makes her promises, plots with her… but when he’s faced with people he keeps his mouth shut and his eyes low.

As the sheriff, John Travolta plays with equal restraint and mastery. He’s quiet but commanding, a good match to Hawke. As he devolves into panic, Travolta becomes funnier and more terrifying.

These performances from the two veterans balance out a younger cast of characters who are spoiling for adventure.

Karen Gillan shines with absurdity and humor, and she’s hard not to watch, even sprinting across the back of a shot. Taissa Farmiga is all wide-eyed wonder, but carries enough grit to make her character arc as compelling as Paul’s.

Most of the absurdity comes from a truly excellent Burn Gorman, as the priest. His drunken ramblings about sinners are bizarre, and showcase some of the best writing in the film. The priest’s appearances divide the film into three distinct parts, highlighted by Paul’s changing interaction with him each time. He serves as a beautiful device and a welcome, though momentary, release of pressure.

In a Valley of Violence is an homage to the traditional western with updates from the horror genre, not with blood, but with tension. Paired with a fantastic score from Jeff Grace and a cast that delivers, West has avoided the trappings of the modern shoot-em-ups and rejoined the classics with some fresh perspective.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ek8cjysuvJ4