It’s Not Just a Jungle Out There (Jumanji: The Next Level, 2019)

Jumanji_Next_Level_PosterAlex, Martha, Fridge and Bethany have all moved forward in life, but college life has been disappointing for Alex and he has become distant from the others.

When everyone returns home for Christmas, Alex decides maybe what he really needs is to recapture the confidence he gained from the last time they went through Jumanji. When he never shows up for a planned breakfast, Fridge, Bethany and Martha find themselves forced to enter the game.  But due to damage to the console, the group find themselves lost in a new part of the game and in the wrong avatars (well, except Martha).  To make matters worse, the game has pulled in Spencer’s grandfather and his old business partner Milo.

The Next Level faced a challenge.  How to convincingly argue the kids would re-enter the game and how not to lose the magic of the interplay of the last film.  The previous film was one of those rare films that did not depend on Johnson basically being himself.  The cast was convincing and fun playing the roles of teens trapped in a video game.

Kasdan ups the ante with this one. Gillan, Black, Hart and Johnson all get to play multiple inhabitants of their avatars (with Hart and Johnson doing fun takes on Glover and Devito for much of the film).

This was a real fun follow up that manages to carry over the character growth of the last film while still capturing what made the previous so much fun. The cast is great and the action is fun.

Modern Problems (Sorry to Bother You, 2018)

Sorry_To_Bother_You_PosterCassious (Cash to his friends) Green is just hoping to get a job, though he fears his life will never amount to anything at all. He wants his life to mean something. He rises up to be a top telemarketer and then is faced with the choice of staying with his co-workers as they fight for better pay and benefits…or accepting a promotion that will solve all his financial problems.

Sorry to Bother you explores Cash and his temptations in a ever so slightly heightened reality. There is a top program called “I Got the S#!t Kicked out of Me” where people go on to be beat up and humiliated (this bit actually reminded me of the film Idiocracy where a hit show in the future was “Ouch! My Balls!”). A new trend in the country is a company called WorryFree which signs people to work contracts and provides for their living expenses. Which sounds great until you realize people are sharing a room full of bunk beds as their home and are forced to do menial task work.

The film skewers working and upper class dynamics as well as race and culture with precision. Writer and director Boots Riley infuses the film with terrific over the top visuals, such as when ever Cash is calling a customer, his desk drops into their house. As his life improves, his old furniture and appliances break open as newer things unfold.

The film has a gag about the black cast using “white voices” and in a stroke of hilarity, Riley has employed white comedians like David Cross and Patton Oswalt who are then dubbed over the voices of stars Lakeith Stanfield, Omari Hardwick and Tessa Thompson.

The cast is terrific. Stanfield was memorable in Get Out, but he carries the moves on his shoulders and does so memorably. Tessa Thompson is just golden as she disappears into the role of Detroit, Cash’s artist and activist fiancee. They are supported by a great cast including Terry Crews, Jermaine Fowler, Kate Berlant and Steve Yeun to name but a few.

Boots Riley and his cast and crew have made a terrific film that is socially tough and biting, hilarious and downright unpredictable. Nothing really had me prepared for the film, and it was rewarding to watch.

 

Beat the Devil (Diablo, 2015)

Diablo_PosterI gotta say…if you were going to make a western about young Bill Munny, Scott Eastwood would be the guy you would hire to play him.

Jackson is a veteran of the Civil War whose young wife is kidnapped by Mexicans (the film is intentionally vague on this…other than they are Mexican).  He sets out to find her.  Along the journey he crosses paths with the cruel Ezra.  Ezra keeps showing up at the worst times, leaving a path of bodies.

Diablo takes what could be an impediment, Scott Eastwood looks remarkably like his father Clint, and uses it to it’s advantage.  The audience fills in the rather loose sketch of a character with what we expect from his father’s westerns. Jackson is a loose sketch of a character until about the last half hour of the film.

Eastwood does not quite have his father’s charisma (at least not yet), and so it benefits him that the film allows the viewer to fill in the blanks.  Walton Goggins plays the mysterious Ezra with a real undercurrent of menace.  Why is he following Jackson? Why is he so quick to kill with no remorse?

There is a moment late in the film that saves it from being a generic imitation of old Clint Eastwood films.  Diablo is not perfect, but it is a decent western that seeks to subvert the expectations they audience brings with them.

 

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