‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ is Worth It Mostly for the Actor-Persona Swapping

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CREDIT: Frank Masi/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Starring: Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Colin Hanks, Rhys Darby, Rory McCann, Marin Hinkle

Director: Jake Kadan

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense CGI Animal Attacks

Release Date: December 13, 2019

Let’s be real: the biggest joy of 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle wasn’t the game itself, but how it was played. I’m talking about the actors who played the video game avatars and how the conceit demanded that they depart so far from their typical personas. Dwayne Johnson had to act like a scrawny kid with allergies, Kevin Hart got to wonder why he wasn’t a foot taller, Karen Gillan was allowed to question the wisdom of midriff-baring in action scenarios, and Jack Black fulfilled his destiny by getting to play a superficial teenage girl. So if The Next Level, the third movie in this series (although let’s be real: this feels like the second movie, since the actual first movie is so far removed from these latter two, though I’ll do my best to call it the third. Also, side note: there’s a cameo of someone from the original film, but I didn’t even remember that she was in the original, so take from that what you will) wants to succeed, it ought to double down on that performance-with-a-performance framework, right? Definitely, although there’s also a hullabaloo about a plot and some frenetic action set pieces.

The Next Level, naturally enough, is about the next level in the video game, so it’s a little harder now for the gamers to successfully complete their mission of saving Jumanji. For us, that means a lot of the film is like watching someone else playing a video game, which can be enjoyable, but it usually doesn’t deliver the transcendence that cinema is designed to achieve. Maybe some viewers will really dig all this flying through the air and slamming into the scenery, but for me, it feels like an exhausting visual onslaught. Although, I must admit that the CGI-rendered ostriches and mandrills do look genuinely scary.

But back to the main attraction, as it behooves me to mention that Dannys DeVito and Glover have joined the Jumanji gang, and they have major parts, even when we don’t get to see their familiar faces. Glover plays Milo, former business partner to DeVito’s Eddie, grandfather to Spencer (Alex Wolff), whose lingering insecurity about life in general has led him to venture back into the game. His friends follow behind to rescue him, but since everything is a little haywire, Milo and Eddie are dragged in as well, and nobody gets to choose their avatars, though they also get some opportunities to switch around who’s playing whom. In Welcome to the Jungle, the young actors were not too well-known, so the actors playing the video game characters were playing types more than they were doing impressions. But now with the presence of some more familiar names, the routine gets to lean more toward impressions, which Hart, Johnson, and newcomer Awkwafina take full advantage of. Honestly, in this day and age of strife and division, the world would be a lot better if we all spent some time pretending to be Danny DeVito. So, in that sense, The Next Level is a net good.

Jumanji: The Next Level is Recommended If You Like: Watching other people play video games, Danny DeVito impressions, Danny Glover impressions

Grade: 3 out of 5 Life Bars

Movie Review: ‘The Dead Don’t Die,’ And Neither Does the Droll Energy in Jim Jarmusch’s Zombie Goof-Off

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CREDIT: Abbot Genser/Focus Features

Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits, Austin Butler, Eszter Balint, Luka Sabbat, Larry Fessenden

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Ironic, But Visceral Zombie Violence

Release Date: June 14, 2019 (Limited)

Sometime around 2010, it was determined that it was every filmmaker’s God-given right to make their very own zombie movie. In the case of Jim Jarmusch, he was divinely matched with The Dead Don’t Die, a droll, occasionally fourth wall-breaking portrait of ravaged-by-the-undead small town life patrolled by Police Officers Bill Murray and Adam Driver. In a post-Shaun of the Dead world, The Dead Don’t Die is far from necessary, but it is sufficiently diverting. It adds an environmental wrinkle to the zombie mythos, as fracking is implied to be the culprit behind the upending of nature. If Jarmusch is crying out for us to protect the Earth, that warning is perhaps a little too late, considering how disastrous climate change has already become. But that’s no big deal (for the movie, that is – the planet is screwed), as he seems to have more goofball ideas on his mind anyway.

The zombie blood and guts are sufficiently hardcore, with the bodily fluids as wet and unleashed as the dialogue is dry and bottled-up. But the main attraction are not the ghouls so much as the characters and their unique ways of being human and/or inhuman. That is to say, while Tilda Swinton has badass sword skills as the town’s new undertaker, it’s more amusing that she gets to lean into a hardcore Scottish persona. This is the type of movie in which Selena Gomez tells Caleb Landry Jones, “Your film knowledge is impressive,” after he mentions some pretty basic info about George Romero, and then Larry Fessenden refers to Gomez and her friends who are passing through town as “hipsters from the city” and “hipsters with their irony” (the odds seem to be that they’re from Cleveland). If that sounds hilarious to you, you know who you are, and you can expect to mostly be satisfied, though you may (or may not) have issues with the shaggy, shambling plot structure.

The Dead Don’t Die is Recommended If You Like: Remaining at an ironic remove, but not being too-cool-for-school about it

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Diner Coffee Pots

Movie Review: ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ Proves That There Are Still New Ways to Make a Movie

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CREDIT: A24

Starring: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock

Director: Joe Talbot

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for A Mild Mix of Profanity, Brief Nudity, and Drug Use

Release Date: June 7, 2019 (Limited)

The Last Black Man in San Francisco has one of the most (if not THE MOST) valuable qualities in cinema, and art in general, insofar as it truly feels unlike anything else that has come before it. It’s about lifelong pals Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), who have a sort-of-magical journey living in the title city while squatting in the house that Jimmie claims his grandfather built years ago. The story is based on Fails’ own life, and I greatly appreciate the visionary perspective he provides along with director Joe Talbot.

This isn’t a movie I loved right away, but it’s one that I want to keep in mind to see how it sticks with me months, years, or even decades from now. It is one that I can imagine expanding in my mind as I digest more of its unique flavors. I saw it about a month ago, and I haven’t thought about it too much unprompted since then. For now, as I’m purposefully reflecting upon it, I must make sure to note my love of an early scene in which Jimmie and Montgomery skateboard through the city to the tune of a Philip Glass-esque composition, and I must also mention that former Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra plays a dorky tour guide. So that’s where we are in 2019.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is Recommended If You Like: San Francisco Geography and Architecture, Discovering a New Voice, Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Squatters

This Is a Movie Review: The Old Man & the Gun

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CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox

Some people cannot help themselves, incorrigibly escaping from prison and robbing banks forevermore. Well, at least one person was like that. Actually, there have been plenty of career criminals in human history. But “incorrigible” usually isn’t the right word to describe most of them. It is, however, a perfect fit for Forrest Tucker, who was known for charming the heck out of bank tellers as he flashed his gun at them.

There are the singular characters like Tucker, and then there are the weavers of tales like David Lowery, who writes and directs Tucker’s story in The Old Man & the Gun. He wisely casts Robert Redford as the ultimate Robert Redford-type and commissions Daniel Hart to craft a breezy, jazzy score, and it all makes for a perfectly fine way to transport yourself for an afternoon.

I give The Old Man & the Gun 20 Diner Dates out of 25 Prison Escapes.

This Is a Movie Review: Sorry to Bother You

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CREDIT: Annapurna Pictures

I give Sorry to Bother You 5 out of 5 Hybrids: https://uinterview.com/reviews/movies/sorry-to-bother-you-movie-review-boots-rileys-mind-blowingly-original-debut-is-one-of-2018s-best-films/

This Is a Movie Review: Monster Trucks

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This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2017.

Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Barry Pepper, Thomas Lennon, Danny Glover, Rob Lowe

Director: Chris Wedge

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG for Mild Supernatural Danger

Release Date: January 13, 2017

Have you guys seen the poster for Monster Trucks? I mean, have you seen it?!

A quiet squid-like creature from the bottom of a lake wanders into a junkyard, where he practically becomes an automobile-fish hybrid as he finds shelter in the monster truck built by high school senior Tripp (Lucas Till). This could very easily be the setup for a horror movie in the vein of Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the character design of the squid-thing (dubbed “Creech” by Tripp) is kind of disturbing: long gooey tentacles and a full set of sharp, ever-present teeth. Plus, he subsists on oil, which suggests a sort of Chekhov’s Flammability that is commented upon but never delivered.

But this is indeed a Nickelodeon movie and not a classic Universal monster movie, and it bears the hallmarks of many a kids movie. There are the adults playing teenagers (Till is 26 and could pass for 30, while his tutor/love interest Jane Levy actually makes for a convincing high schooler even though she’s a year older), which is especially exacerbated by all the age-appropriate extras. There is the evil corporation whose actions set the creature loose in the first place and practically owns the whole town. There is the absentee father, plus an authority figure (Barry Pepper as Sheriff Rick) serving as Mom’s (Amy Ryan) new boyfriend. And of course there is the whole “boy and his pet” vibe between Tripp and Creech, with E.T. as a clear supernatural precedent.

Monster Trucks is worth watching if you ironically or genuinely appreciate all entries in this genre, and this particular example is due to spark unusual enthusiasm because that poster image of CreechTruck is just so striking. Does the film live up to that promise? Yes, but only in fits and starts. This is basically Fast and the Furious, Jr., and thus there are a few transcendently gravity-defying moments of Creech and his crew flying through the air. But there is weirdly little time spent freaking out over how strange this whole situation is. Most characters accept Creech’s existence remarkably quickly, which is frankly a sign of maturity. And in fact this movie is rather adult in a lot of ways. That is true in terms of the good (the acting is strong across the board – Levy is her typical delightful self, half of Thomas Lennon’s career is as a ringer in assembly line crap, and Rob Lowe is perfect, though underutilized, as the face of corporate evil), the bad (Creech has as much of a knack for collateral structural damage as any superhero), and the underwhelming, which this not-bizarre-enough head-scratcher all too often is.

Monster Trucks is Recommended If You Like: The Fast and Furious series but wish it were more kid-friendly, Mac and Me, the Evil Dead remake

Grade: 2.5 out 5 Twentysomethings Playing Teenagers