1.18.2018

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

It's back to the magic/cursed game Jumanji in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.  This movie has teens transported to a video game jungle -- in new bodies.

The movie starts in 1996, when some kids find the Jumanji board game and one says no one plays board games anymore, returning to his video game.  The game magically transforms into a game cartridge, and the boy disappears.

Jump to the present, and four teens have gotten detention.  Spencer (Alex Wolff) is a thoughtful student and nervous hypochondriac who got busted for writing papers for Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), a football player who used to be good friends with Spencer.  Bethany (Madison Iseman) is a high school popular beauty who couldn't stay off her iPhone.  And Martha (Morgan Turner) is a quiet thinker who speaks out against gym class.  While the four are stuck cleaning a room, they find the Jumanji game (now a video game console) and find themselves zapped into the world of the game.
The teens are now the video game characters, with their skills and weaknesses.  Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) is the muscular leader with no weaknesses.  Fridge (Kevin Hart) is a zoologist who's slower and weaker, plus he carries everyone's stuff in his backpack.  Bethany (Jack Black) is now a pudgy male -- but she still can't deal with not having a phone.  And Martha (Karen Gillan) is a beautiful martial artist in a skimpy outfit.  Their mission: Find the magic gem stolen by evil explorer Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale, who has little to do but look menacing) and return it to its place in a giant statue.  Each teen has three lives, and when they die they fall from the sky to continue the game.  NPCs show up, with limited reactions and often repeating the same lines over and over.  And the four run into Alex (Nick Jonas), the teenager who got sucked into the game back in 1996 and has been trying to get out ever since.
Despite enough cursing to get this movie a PG-13 rating, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle feels a lot like a kids' movie.  The teens start as strangers or former friends who grow to be good friends, and their characters' skills let them work together to complete the game.  A lot of the humor comes from the stars acting atypically (Dwayne Johnson constantly scared, Jack Black effeminately) or video game cliches brought to life, and the movie doesn't give any surprised or take any real chances.  This is a cute movie, but not terribly funny or exciting.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.07.2018

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Given the flamboyant and grandiose nature of P.T. Barnum's circus, it makes perfect sense that The Greatest Showman, about his life and creation, is a musical.  And with impressive musical numbers, fine acting, and a compelling story, it works very well.

Phineas Barnum had a rough childhood as a dreamer and the poor son of a tailor -- and that didn't make his romantic interest in the upper-class Charity any easier.  As an adult, Phineas (Hugh Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) got married and had two little girls.  While they are poor and Phineas has trouble holding down a job, Phineas wants to give her and his family something more,
With a bit of fraud, Phineas opens up a shop of oddities, hoping to attract customers to seeing the unusual.  On his daughter's advice he changes the museum to a live show, advertising for the unusual and outcasts of society.  He gets quite a lot, from Tom Thumb and the singing bearded lady to acrobatic brother and sister Anne and W.D. Wheeler (Zendaya, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).  The show proves to be a popular hit, and now P.T. Barnum buys his family a huge mansion while acting as the host for the performances.  But the show generates controversy, from both the upper class (and a newspaper critic who thinks it's all trickery) and the lower class (who resent the so-called "freaks").
Barnum brings in playwright Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron) to expand the circus' appeal to the upper classes.  He's interested in Anne, though she's concerned about how they could be together when society frowns on mixed-race couples.  Meanwhile Barnum gets distracted from his circus by Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), an European opera singer who appeals to Barnum as a genuine talent (and possible threat to his marriage).  And the other issues haven't vanished either...

There is so much to enjoy about The Greatest Showman.  The musical numbers are catchy, visually stunning, and engaging, and they fit in perfectly with the story.  Hugh Jackman plays Barnum perfectly, as a grandiose promoter and dreamer who's fine bucking society but who gets tripped up by actual success.  Zac Efron and Zendaya provide both a romantic subplot and a look at the racism of the time, and the rest of the cast is terrific.  The Greatest Showman embodies the best of the musical spectacle.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.01.2018

X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time!

After Showtime's documentary on the greatest adult movies of all time, it makes sense that they'd follow it up with a documentary on the adult industry's biggest stars.  X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time! does better than the original documentary, as this one provides more structure and information.

Hosted by Mr. Skin, this documentary is a mix of talking heads (from the adult movie industry, plus Whoopi Goldberg, Rob Zombie, and Steven Soderbergh), and movie clips of the featured star.  Hosted by Mr. Skin, X-Rated 2 is divided into several sections, each with their reason for what makes their subjects the greatest: popularity, longevity in the industry, men (though males appeared in the other categories as well), colored/minority performers, alternative/kinky performers, dramatic actors, those who crossed over into mainstream/pop culture, and the two biggest stars of all time from porn.
In addition to the people commenting on the choices, each "greatest adult star" also appears, either interviewed for the documentary or in archival footage.  Most are positive about the work, though several are quite candid about the problems in the industry, such as when Misty Rain talks about how white actors get paid more than minority actors.  We get the years each performer appeared in adult films, and the clips of the stars are accompanies by the name of the feature.

Such a listing is fairly subjective, and there are plenty of stars who were left off that should have been here.  (For me, the big absence is Asia Carrera.)  This is acknowledged by Mr. Skin: "It's fair to say that the list is far from complete."  That said, X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time! is a fine documentary.  It makes a case for every person who made the list, it gives some good behind-the-scenes information, from the classic era to those still performing, and the simply providing the information on the stars and clips provides the curious with some movies to look for.  Best-of lists are tricky, but X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time! handles it quite well.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch