Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Cinema Review)

12A – 119mins – 2017 – 3D


 

… WE’VE GOT FUN AND BOARD GAMES

Based upon a children’s picture book from the 80s by Chris Van Allsburg, 1995’s Joe Johnston-directed adventure-fantasy film is fondly remembered by people of a certain age as being a much-watched childhood favourite. It also starred the late, great Robin Williams, which is perhaps one reason why a return to Jumanji was initially greeted with scepticism from the masses. However, Welcome to the Jungle is NOT a modern day reboot which tries to erase the charm of the first film, but a sequel which respectfully nods to and continues the story, expanding upon the world of the mysterious magical game.

… Keep Scuttling!

Kung Fu Panda 3 (DVD Review)

PG – 91mins – 2016


 

WINGS OF… HILARITY!

“Sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons.”

After three seasons of Nickelodeon’s Legends of Awesomeness spin-off series, an extended production schedule and the inclusion of a supernatural element into this computer animated martial arts adventure, I was dubious that this third theatrical chapter in the furry-ous fighting franchise might be stretching the concept one step too far – especially with the reveal that the title was the down-right lazy Kung Fu Panda 3. Original(!)

… Keep Scuttling!

Goosebumps (Cinema Review)

<p>Dylan Minnette, Jack Black, Odeya Rush and&nbsp;Ryan Lee star in <em>Goosebumps,&nbsp;</em>based on the books by R.L. Stine,<span style="font-family: proxima-nova-n4, proxima-nova, 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 18px; line-height: 28px;">&nbsp;the story of how the monsters from his books escape into the world, wreak havoc, and the attempts that are made to get them back onto the pages where they belong.</span></p>
PG – 103mins – 2015


FROM PAGE TO SCREAM

As a child of the 80s schooled through the 90s, R.L. Stine’s seemingly endless library of short, sharp supernatural stories for young audiences made for regular bedtime reading. Titles such as Say Cheese And Die! and Stay Out of the Basement were often swapped between myself and my classmates so to maximise our consumption because owning them ALL was surely impossible.

Published by Scholastic, Goosebumps books are the perfect concoction of creepy adventures with a cool, rebel streak but a moral core – not to mention a fittingly ghoulish twist – to encourage even the most book-adverse scamp to pick up a copy. Likewise, the accompanying anthology TV series was must-watch after school viewing on CBBC from 1995-8 which I happily revisited and binged on gluttonously when the boxset received a belated region 2 release a couple of years ago.

For these reasons, when I first heard a big screen adaptation/spin-off/reboot was in the works, my gut reaction was an amalgam of nostalgic delight and cautious pessimism – the latter exacerbated when it was revealed that R. L. Stine was to somehow appear as a main character played by funnyman Jack Black (Bad Bromance), who was reteaming with director Rob Letterman, of the deplorable Gulliver’s Travels (2010) ‘fame’.

Having now – eventually – seen the Goosebumps motion picture (which was already out on DVD in America before it hit UK cinemas last month), I am relieved to inform you that Letterman and Black have not desecrated another literary source. Phew. The script – by Darren Lemke, from a story by Scott Anderson and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, 1408) – does a fine job of crafting a meta-skirting universe where Stine is a bestselling author who must lock away his manuscripts to stop his monstrous creations from escaping into the real world.

Escape, of course, they do, spilling out a horde of nefarious gnomes, giant insects, crazed clowns, hungry werewolves and marauding zombies onto the quiet streets of Madison, Delaware, with deranged ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Black) pulling the strings in a plot to ruin his imprisoning “Papa”. It’s like a “Who’s Who and From Which Book?” from Goosebumps’ illustrious back catalogue, and while some popular characters are given short shrift, this self-aware ensemble narrative is definitely the best approach to delivering an uproarious and fan-servicing one-off adventure.

Dylan Minnette and Ryan Lee play the teenage every-lads whisked along on this wild ride, with Lee’s dumbfounded expression and verbal diarrhoea regularly infuriating Black’s cantankerous and reclusive writer, while Minnette has his sight set on wooing Stine’s home schooled daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush) – but is there more to her than meets the eye…? Well there had to be twist!

Not every joke lands. One particularly awkward and wholly un-kid friendly line has an inexperienced cop wildly misinterpret Stine’s ‘confession’ of being an audiophile, but there’s a lot of witty parent-pleasing stuff elsewhere (Stine’s rage at Stephen King’s success is a highlight), plus the zippy nature of the busy narrative means you don’t dwell on the missteps for long before you’re distracted by another vivid and impressive set-piece.

Younger children may be genuinely spooked by some of the grislier creature effects. The zombies roaming the graveyard – which the characters jokingly remark they just have to walk through to reach their destination – were certainly lacking any horror-softening humour, but this is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable family friendly romp profuse in magic, charm and self-aware spirit. Viewer prepare, you’re in for a… treat!

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

Bad Bromance (DVD Review)


15 – 101mins – 2015


‘D’ FOR DISASTER

Straight-to-DVD titles hold a certain mystique for me. Maybe I’m just a sucker for baaaad films, but part of me holds out dim hope that I will fall in love with the underdog and find a much-maligned gem to advocate to the uninformed.

Sadly for its surprisingly high profile stars Jack Black and James Marsden (both of whom should have known better), Bad Bromance is no gem. In fact, the studio were so desperate to bury this horrendously poor taste high school reunion “comedy” that they changed its name! Originally released in the US as The D Train (a name which still lingers in the end credits – testament to the lack of effort employed for this quiet release), promoters clearly thought Twitter buzz-words and Lady Gaga references would help shift a few more discs.

I certainly fell for it – but thankfully only as a free rental, as I would never want to watch this depressingly sordid mess again, whatever name they decide to slap on the cover!

Speaking of the cover, don’t let the zany box-art fool you, this is no typical Jack Black comedy. In fact, things start on a gentle note, with Black’s high school nerd, Dan ‘The D Train’ Landsman, still an invisible and down-trodden shell of a man 20 years later. There are shades of Napoleon Dynamite about his ignorant, try-hard approach – albeit without the quirky humour and likeability – but as an adult it is just pathetic.

In a desperate attempt to gain popularity amongst his bullish peers on the high school reunion committee, Dan jets off to LA on the pretence of a work meeting to convince high school hunk turned commercial actor Oliver Lawless (Marsden) to be guest of honour at the event. While Lawless does (eventually) agree to attend, it is the shockingly hedonistic events of their first evening together that shape – and sully – the rest of the film.

So – spoiler alert – during a drink ‘n’ drugs fuelled night on the town, bisexual Oliver has sex with straight, married Dan. You heard that right. In a comedy. Are we expected to laugh at homosexuality?! Poor taste doesn’t even begin to cover it and I was seriously expecting a third act twist that it only took place in Dan’s drunken dreams… but no.

Worryingly, there is no allusion to how rapey this sordid act of broken trust and infidelity is, given how tee-total Dan was vulnerable and without inhibitions. Instead, the “lucky” recipient develops an unhealthy obsession with wannabe star Oliver which shatters Dan’s whole world.

Is anyone still laughing?!

To make matters worse, this depressingly dark drama stumbles further downhill by having Dan’s boss (Jeffrey Arrested Development Tambor) openly highlight Dan’s inept logic in fabricating a business trip which all but destroys their company! He proceeds to point out how the whole situation – and thus, set-up of the film – could easily have been averted, as if the screenwriters realised they had written themselves into a corner, but rather than correct it they mentioned it so to make it appear intentionally farcical and less contrived! Major fail.

As Oliver flies in for the reunion and shares an awkward few nights in Dan’s spare room (giving wholly inappropriate sex ed. to Dan’s 14 year old son along the way *cringe*), characterisation begins to crumble as people act entirely out of character and the so-called Bad Bromance reaches a tense and uncomfortable crescendo in front of their reunited classmates. The final exchanges attempt heartfelt life-lessons and a sense of closure, but it’s too little too late for this shamefully vile D-Train wreck which – dare I say it – ends on a real bum note.

Now that is comedy!

CR@B Verdict: 1 star