Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Jumanji (1995)

Jumanji (1995)

Directed by: Joe Johnston   Rated: PG   Runtime: 1 hr. 44 mins.

Studio: TriStar Pictures   Based on: Book by Chris Van Allsburg

Screenwriter: Jonathan Hensleigh, Greg Taylor, Jim Strain

Cast: Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, David Alan Grier, Bebe Neuwirth, Jonathan Hyde

Jumanji. “For those who seek to find a way to leave their world behind.” This ominous inscription on a magical wooden board game is the introduction to a wonderfully twisted story concept. This isn’t like accidentally finding ones way into a magical wardrobe with another land on the other side while playing hide-and-seek. No, no. Jumanji calls to you, a potential player. With a sound that is as intense as it is ominous. The beating of drums beckons its would-be player into opening it. A sound only the young can hear. 

Sony Pictures Trailer for ‘Jumanji’ Credit: Sony via YouTube

The movie starts in 1869 with two boys frantically trying to bury “it,” some item in a bag with inexplicable drum beats. Move forward a century to 1969, to a dig site outside a shoe factory, the drumming is heard again by young Alan Parrish, son of the shoe factory owner. He takes his find home with him. After a schoolmate comes over, he convinces her to play with him.

While they play, the dark and twisted magical tones of the game emerge as they play on. The special effects of 1995 make this part of the film look freaky, still, after all these years. While the results didn’t age well for this film with time, it almost helps it, despite that fact. It instills this disturbing quality that is quintessential to “Jumanji’s” lore. Nevertheless, it causes Alan’s friend, Sarah, to turn tail and run, screaming from the house. 

Fast-forward 26-years later. 

Bradley Pierce, Bonnie Hunt, Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst in ‘Jumanji’
Credit: TriStar Pictures via Common Sense Media

Peter (Pierce) and Judy (Dunst) move into Alan’s old house after their aunt (Neuwirth) buys it, intending to turn it into a bed and breakfast. The drums call to them intensely. After they locate the game, they decide to play. Only it’s not their game. It’s the one that was started decades ago. To be plagued by the things from this game for years, or a lifetime, just because you couldn’t find the other player anymore… that’s messed up! 

Some of the jungle creatures that emerge while they play are creepy. It’s hard to figure if the filmmakers were using what they had available at the time for such film components or if they wanted it all to look evil-like. There’s a lion that looks like a poorly CGI’ed taxidermy head in a few shots. The vines with man-eating flower pods use and appearance makeup for it. It’s pretty cool. 

Then comes a plot twist that introduces ‘the jungle man’ (Williams). With his help, Judy and Peter can stay alive and outwit the hurdles the game is literally throwing out at them. Ideally, to finish the game and be free of it. 

‘Jumanji’ still of Yellow flower attack. Credit: TriStar Pictures via

The performances by the actors are well done for a family film that involves lots of running and screaming. Because of the excellent material, the story’s pace moves flawlessly from one part to the next. The tone of imminent danger and being hunted is counterbalanced wonderfully by the jokes, quips, and Home Alone-like sequences that fit right in. Kids and adults will enjoy it. 

Jumanji is an exciting, well-told adventure story crafted (originally) by someone with a dark sense of humor. It’s an excellent film to add to your watchlist for movie night or on a lazy weekend.

Would you play Jumanji?

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

The Mummy (1999)

The Mummy (1999)

Directed by: Stephen Sommers  Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs. 4 mins.

Studio: Universal Pictures   Screenwriter: Stephen Sommers

Cast:  Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Arnold Vosloo, Oded Fehr, John Hannah, Patricia Velásquez

Movies often hold up a pair of their characters, in the most trying of circumstances, and get them to the point of asking, ‘Is our love worth dying for?’ Well, that setup applies to stories in general, but let’s stick with cinema here. In Stephen Sommers The Mummy, that is the introductory sequence. The actions of High Priest Imhotep(Vosloo) and his love, Anck Su Namun (Velásquez), set a solid foundation for the plot. Less than five minutes in, and you’re hooked.

Universal Pictures trailer for ‘The Mummy’ via YouTube channel The Trailer Guy

The Mummy has a strong plot and story about, well, a mummy who won’t stay dead and aims to bring his lost loves soul back from the underworld. To that end, there is action, mystery, light comedic touches, and suspense. It’s not a horror film, though kids 10-12 may find certain scenes momentarily graphic (it’s a movie about a mummy and not the bandaged groaning kind).

American Rick O’Connell (Fraser) is a French Legionnaire who is wrangled into taking Evelyn Carnahan (Weisz) and her brother Johnathan (Hannah) to a lost Egyptian city. A city guarded by the Medjai, decedents of the pharaoh’s guards, led by Ardeth Bay (Fehr). The trio has a map to this fabled city, and they’re not the only ones searching for it. Evelyn wants to prove herself to her fellow scholars; everyone else is in it for treasure. 

This is the project that introduced me to Arnold Vosloo, Oded Fehr, and Rachel Weisz. Despite his small role in this film, Fehr displayed a believable presence and talent as Ardeth. 

Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep/Mummy in Universal Pictures ‘The Mummy’ via Screenrant

Vosloo’s portrayal as Imhotep/The Mummy is fantastic! He has very few lines and none in English (there are subtitles), so his role is mostly hitting his mark. That is, being where he needs to be at the right time. Special effects took a giant leap forward in 1999 after this film came out. So props to Vosloo for pretending to be all that’s required of an actor that will later become a gooey mummy who unhinges his jaw in post-production. 

The Mummy is the only film that I like with Brendan Fraser in it. His character isn’t a tomb raider or archeologist and yet comes off like a watered-down Indian Jones. Done poorly, it could have ruined the movie, yet it works. The same can be said for Weisz’s character, Evelyn. 

Erick Avari, Oded Fehr, Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah in Universal Pictures ‘The Mummy’ via Netflix

Evelyn is a bookworm. A librarian in a museum. She scurries off on an adventure with no experience and no team. Rachel Weisz is a wonderfully talented actress, and she takes this character and makes her likable. Weisz explains things to the novice characters, as an actual museum worker might. Therefore Evelyn’s lines in many places come off as natural instead of condescending. Weisz depicts her in a way that doesn’t have me groaning at the glaring, unbelievably of the whole situation. 

As moviegoers, we expect movies to be logical enough that we can see it happening or working out. Perhaps, even so, we could picture ourselves as specific characters. The Mummy doesn’t have all the logical bits to fill in the gaps, but it’s okay. It’s a lasting example of what movies were designed to do, entertain and distract.

Kevin O’Connor in Universal Pictures ‘The Mummy’ via Looper

In the decades since its release, this movie still holds up as a good story with watchability. I viewed this film digitally on a 4K TV with HDR. WOW! Some scenes don’t upconvert as nicely as others, but I was really pleased with the viewing quality. I expected the whole thing to be grainy (noisy) and the fact that it’s not made rewatching this so much better than pre-Blu Ray. 

The Mummy is a great film to see and worth a place on your watchlist. Don’t forget the popcorn! 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Knives Out (2019)

Knives Out (2019)

Directed by: Rian Johnson  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 2 hrs 10 mins.

Studio: Lionsgate  Screenwriter: Rian Johnson

Cast:  Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon,  

Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Kathrine Langford, Christopher Plummer

When the patriarch of an eccentric, privileged family’s death triggers an investigation, no one is above suspicion in Knives Out. The film aims to be an ode to classic whodunit stories. 

Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) works with local police to investigate the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). His estate is reminiscent of something from an Agatha Christie novel, with its distinctive and eclectic presence. Its grandeur can only be matched by the robust and self-centered family members. 

‘Knives Out’ trailer from Lionsgate via YouTube

Whether it’s the interviews with suspects to the story moving along in general, there is enough information to establish each character. To flesh out what makes them tick, and perhaps what would give them motive, is this effortless display of character development. The group is dysfunctional, what family isn’t, and yet they all have presence. Each respective role is depicted well, and that’s what a viewer wants from an actor; to do a good job. To be believable. The cast is layered, funny at times, and portrays a level of family tension that absolutely rings true. 

Ringing true is Rian Johnson’s ability to create such a script. Movies are not made like this typically; they just aren’t and that’s a travesty. I’d take a great story with a pinch of violence and a dash of language over the way the majority of films are made in America any day. Really, who needs wanton violence, skin, and language if the story is fantastic and well-acted? 

Kathrine Langford, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Riki Lindhome & Jaden Martell in ‘Knives Out’ Image: Lionsgate

The details that went into ensuring the audience doesn’t figure out what really happened is pure genius. It was jarring to hear Daniel Craig with a Southern accent, and I personally hope to never hear again. Mr. Blanc needed an accent, or he would have come across as a hard investigating cop. Craig’s performance was reminiscent of Hercule Poirot at the end, with his break down of events and clues, with the accent, but Poirot is far superior. 

At the mid-way point of the film, I was like, okay, I have all this information, and there’s an hour left in the movie. It felt like the pace needed to quicken to keep my interest, and I was not disappointed. From there, the story shifts gears, the viewer is equipped with all the details they think they need, yet the plot dives deeper still. The plot twists and creates new perspectives and questions that all weave together to strengthen the suspense of determining how Harlan died. 

Ana de Armas in ‘Knives Out’ Image: Lionsgate

While this all-star cast gives good performances, Ana de Armas and Chris Evans really sell the later part of the story with Daniel Craig. It’s got laughs and begs you to try and solve it before the end. 

Knives Out is a fantastic homage to classic whodunit stories for the modern age. With suspense, family drama, laughs, a compelling story that will leave you engaged from beginning to end, and an ending… Knives Out should unequivocally be on your watchlist! You won’t be disappointed carving out time in your schedule to see it. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 1 hr. 58 min. 

Studio: Warner Bros. & Legendary Entertainment  

Screenwriter: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman

Kong: Skull Island is a reinvention of how the story of King Kong has been told before. Set at the end of the Vietnam war, a group of soldiers is tasked to babysit a collection of William Randa’s scientists (Goodman). They work for a secret government organization named Monarch. The rationale for this expedition is up there with the idea that the world is flat. Fact, the world is round, but to give you a sense of how nutty these scientists are to the government. Nevertheless, they go, not sure of what they’ll find. 

At specific points, I thought, “adventure is out there!” as the line from the movie UP proclaims. Or “Welcome to Jumanji” if the cast got sucked into the board game with Alan Parish from the 1995 film Jumanji. Other points had me thinking of “Welcome to Jurassic Park” because my mind is a bizarre place to be at times. Then again, so is Skull Island. 

‘Kong: Skull Island’ Official Trailer from Warner Bros. via YouTube

As bizarre as things on Skull Island are, it is also visually beautiful in terms of the things that live there. The sound editing was spot on for all the screaming, crushing, smashing, and gorilla noises that bellow from Kong’s behemoth lungs. Kong himself is well designed and looks, sounds, and moves without speculating that he’s CGI. 

The film’s pace moves well between the dialogue of the cast and interaction with the island or the other things they encounter that call the island their home. Kong himself is never far away and shows up early in the film and sticks around till the end. The film is named after him! Still, the story goes beyond a rock em’ sock em’ game of who can bash who first. There is meaning to the story, and that thread gives pace to the action. There is a lot of action. 

Maybe it’s because America has begun to leave Vietnam finally; that took a toll on Lt. Col. Packard (Jackson). Perhaps it’s because he’s naturally an asshole. Maybe he just cracked—you decide. Either way, Packards’ encounter with Kong gives the story a side agenda that reeks of American mentality of power, loyalty, and dominance. 

Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson in Warner Bros. film ‘Kong: Skull Island’ Image Credit: Chuck Zlotnick via Miami Herald

Other characters are WWII fighter pilot Hank Marlow (Reilly), who is the opposite of Packard. Mason Weaver (Larson), an anti-war photographer, and James Conrad (Hiddleston), a former British Special Air Service Captain. He’s the guide, on an island never been discovered before. While there is interaction with them and a sense of who they are, it’s not really important. Character development isn’t the focus in a movie designed to focus on the literal big guy, so it’s forgivable. There are many secondary characters, but remember I said this film reminded me of Jurassic Park, so that’s not worth focusing on. For such a large cast, everyone performs well given the locations and working against various things not in front of them to respond to. I give props to realistic emotions for that any day. 

Monster movies like Kong, any of them, or Godzilla have never been my idea of good movie watching. I will sometimes, but they don’t do it for me usually. With Kong: Skull Island, however, I was interested in the retelling of the story that didn’t involve him carrying a screaming blonde to the top of the highest building. I guess that’s a spoiler of sorts… whatever. The reimagined plot sets up Kong for other cinematic adventures. If the story for those is as decent as this one, then okay. For that, I’d give it a go. So, if monster films haven’t done it for you in the past, this one might. If you already love this type of film, you won’t be disappointed. 

Kong: Skull Island can go on your watchlist and is best viewed on a larger screen, ideally with more to offer than just your TV speakers. Also, stick around after the credits!

—a pen lady