Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
By Khaleel Herbert
Jumanji is reincarnated into a video game in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
While in detention, four teens with opposite personalities discover a Super Nintendo-esque game cartridge and system. They ponder: What do we do with this dinosaur? A TV sits over yonder. After setting up (because when kids and teens see something, they can’t help but go over to it like flies to a bug zapper. There’s something wrong with their heads) and choosing their avatars, they’re plugged in…literally plugged in to the world of Jumanji.
Spencer (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) gets a stellar body and is the leader of the group. Fridge (Kevin Hart) is a pint-sized zoologist and Spencer’s backpack-lugging sidekick. Martha (Karen Gillan) plays a karate master in short-shorts and Bethany (Jack Black) is an overweight cartologist who navigates the team.
In order for the teens to get home and into their normal bodies, they must return a magical crystal to the eye of a stone jungle cat in the middle of the woods…and avoid Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), the man who originally had the crystal to control the animals of Jumanji.
Welcome to the Jungle is the sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams classic. It picks up right where Jumanji left off. The board game was found on a beach and brought back to the states. It takes the form of a video game when its next victim sets it on top of a video game console. It answers the question: What was it like for Robin Williams to be stuck in the Jumanji jungle for 26 years?
The shenanigans and goofiness of Robin Williams and jungle animals let loose on the streets of New Hampshire was a fun time. Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce were little tykesand Bonnie Hunt almost had a heart attack when Williams tricked her into rolling the dice. Good times, good times.
Asking me if I like Welcome to the Jungle or Jumanji is like asking me which set of Star Wars movies I like, George Lucas’ original trilogy or the ones Disney made. They’re bothgood in their own right but preferably, I like the George Lucas originals where every one is still young and Darth Vader rules the First Order with an iron fist. (Call me old-fashioned if you like. I don’t care!).
There are some positives to Welcome to the Jungle. Kevin Hart and The Rock are back together again, although their relationship isn’t a bromance like 2016’s Central Intelligence. The Rock keeps his swagger, and in practically every movie I’ve seen with The Rock, he punches someone’s lights out. Welcome to the Jungle is no exception and I would not want it any other way (he’s more worthy here than in that God-awful Baywatch that came out this summer).
Karen Gillan (she’s almost abnormal without her Nebula-robotic flesh and black eyes from the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks) delivers butt-whoopings through awkward flirting and dance-fighting (don’t ask). It’s a hoot to see Jack Black act as a female throughout the whole thing, a rare and different performance for Black from the adorable Kung-Fu panda, Po. This team has a good chemistry and drive to get everyone home, including long-time resident, Alex (Nick Jonas), which is admirable and funny. Spoiler alert: Jack Black and Nick Jonas kiss. There. Now you have something to look forward to.
Welcome to the Jungle is no substitute for Jumanji and I don’t believe it wants to be. Think of it as Jumanji’s younger brother who wants to be his own, but still has respect for his older brother.
Roman J. Israel Esq.
By Khaleel Herbert
Veteran actor Denzel Washington plays the thoughtful, outspoken and somewhat goofy Roman J. Israel Esq.
Roman J. Israel Esq. (Esq. is the proper designation for someone who is an attorney), follows the self-titled character diligently working as an experienced ethical lawyer of some odd decades. Roman’s world shifts when he discovers that his partner of the legal law firm he owns is critically ill after suffering a heart attack.
With his partner on the verge of death, Roman is forced to find work elsewhere. No family. No car. Roman travels the streets of LA with his two feet, trusty briefcase and headphones to his iPod on his ears. George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a lawyer Roman despises because he only works for dollar signs, offers him clients from his law firm. Roman needs the money and Colin needs Roman.
Roman’s beliefs in the human condition steadily slant. One decision for survival gets him a front row seat to the glamor life (no more Jif peanut butter sandwiches or records for him!) with a brand new apartment, new suits, and a slick new hairstyle (losing his signature afro). But his decision spews unintended consequences.
Roman J. Israel Esq. puts Washington in a goofy position–from hislooks, to his gestures. He’s not the man seeking justice by any means like Man on Fire, The Equalizer, or The Magnificent Seven. He somewhat returns to his friendly spirit from The Preacher’s Wife and political fire from Malcolm X. Instead of fighting goons or tyrants, he has to fight himself. He has to battle with the fact that he crossed the line and he can’t go back.
It takes a true actor to dive into different roles. Washington is brilliant and his slight romantic chemistry with Maya (Carmen Ejogo) is a delight to watch. His ability to speak his mind on things that aren’t right is moving.
I have to ding some pointsoff this film for a few things. First, this story is about a lawyer fighting himself and court cases. We only see him in the courtroom once (and he was held in contempt for upsetting the judge). I would have liked to see him actually win some court cases (at least two or three).
Seeing Roman and his partner in some shape or form, even if it was a photo of them side by side would not have been a bad idea either. Roman respected and looked up to his partner as a role-model for his profession. To not even get a glimpse of the man’s face ruins certain scenes for me, especially as the film wraps up. Columbia could have at least slipped in a flashback or two of him giving some ultimate words of wisdom like Uncle Ben did to Peter Parker.
Roman J. Israel Esq., with its imperfections, breaks Washington out of his usual shell keeping him relevant and fresh in 2017 Hollywood.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
By Laurence Washington
OK, let’s get the big question out of the way. The Last Jedi is not as good as The Empire Strikes Back (‘80), and it’s light years better than The Force Awakens (’15). Empire set the bar for other Star Wars movies. So it goes without saying, everything else falls short.
However, The Last Jedi strives to be as dark as Empire, and in many respects, it achieves that end. Baddie Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is determined to fill Darth Vader’s shoes, er… make that helmet, and doesn’t care who gets in his way for galactic conquest.
Needless to say, a lot of victims meet the business end of Kylo Ren’slight saber, Jedi’s, Siths, Storm Troopers – he makes no distinction. He’s a bad mutha clucka,’ but he’s also conflicted, which is his weakness – a problem that Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) senses.
Last Jedi picks up where Awakens leaves off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finding Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a planet deep in the regions of space. You might recall cheering toward the end of Awakens, as Rey hands Luke a lightsaber. The anticipation during the past two years is, Luke will pick up the lightsaber and once again lead the fight against the forces of evil.
But whoa! Hold your phasers…I mean blasters. It is not to be. Taking a page out of A New Hope (’77), Luke is now an old man who wants to live out his days in self-imposed exile. He wants nothing to do with lightsabers, Jedi’s or the Dark Side. Like a young Luke Skywalker, Rey wants the reluctant Luke to train her in the ways of the Jedi, so they both can join the resistance and fight the New Order.
But, ah, there’s the rub. At the sametime Rey is trying desperately to recruit Luke, Kylo Ren is using the Dark Side to seduce her to the New Order. Director Rian Johnson does a terrific job directing the traffic through Jedi’s three storylines that seamlessly come together during the film’s third act. There are twist and turns that the casual Star Wars fan might not see coming. At least I didn’t.
It is a nice surprise that the late Carrie Fisher received a lot of screen time, as Director Johnson must have shot a lot of footage, or completed primary filming before her untimely death. To the film’s credit, and to the anticipation of fans, The Last Jedi checks all the boxes from Imperial Walkers to Star Destroyers. Chewy is back, ex-storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) and his new found love interest, mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) visit a Star Wars bar punctuated with a host of interesting extraterrestrials, and of course each planet has cute and cuddly creatures. But unlike Return of the Jedi (‘83), thankfully we don’t get an overdose on those damn Muppets.
The Last Jedi also has the distinction of being the longest running Star Wars movie with 152 minutes. So you might want to hit the potty before the film starts. In the end, The Last Jedi is a pretty good movie that could have been edited by 30 minutes for the sake of time and plot development. But it’s a good movie nonetheless.
A word of caution: Marvel films have usprogramed to wait for an after credit scenes in these blockbuster films. Since this is a Disney film, don’t bother.
Idris Elba: Molly’s Game is About Gender Balance and Power
By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Photo credit Michael Gibson
By all accounts, Idris Elba has had an incredibly good year. First, he played the heroic Roland Deschain in Nikolaj Arcel’s The Dark Tower and reprised his role of Heimdall in Thor: Ragnarok. Then, the actor took on his first lead romantic role in Hany Abu-Assad’s The Mountain Between Us, starring opposite Kate Winslet, and it’s duringfilming of the movie in Vancouver he met his current girlfriend, 29-year-old former Miss Vancouver, Sabrina Dhowre. And to cap off a great 2017, he stars alongside Jessica Chastain in the thriller Molly’s Game.
“It has been a rather good year,” agrees the Golden Globe award-winning actor who since his breakout role as Stringer Bell, the lieutenant of a Baltimore drug empire on the HBO series “The Wire,” has appeared in well over 40 films and television projects. There has also been directing stints with just four years ago, Elba made his directorial debut with his own teleplay, The Pavement Psychologist and he also created, directed and starred in the music video Lover of Light by Mumford and Sons, which has received more than nine million YouTube views. Adding, his company, Green Door Pictures, is developing a comedy titled In The Long Run, which set in 1985 London and is about a West African family he says is loosely based on his childhood.
But despite starring in some major films from Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, Star Trek Beyond, to Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, which earned him a SAG award, Elba admits that he doesn’t have a systematic way of approaching roles.
“It really depends on the director. The Dark Tower was very much an action led film so there was some physical training. For Ben in The Mountain Between Us, there was a lot of talking about the characters with Kate and me, but in Molly’s Game, I had to memorize every single word and punctuation that was written and I don’t like to memorize words. I am more of a guy that sort of feels it and says it.”
A film based on the true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target, Elba plays her defense lawyer who discovers that there’s much more to Molly than the salacious tabloid stories reveal.
“What attracted me to the role is that I play a lawyer that judges her and then decided to go against that and goes one step further and takes on thelaw system,” shares Elba. “Charlie is this very polished sort of seen-it-all hotshot lawyer, but I think he’s really intrigued by Molly because there is so much more complexity to her than how she initially presents. He thinks he has her figured out the minute she walks in the door and then she really challenges him with her intellect and the strength of her character and personality and I think that really draws him in.”
The directorial debut of playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), poker drives the plot of this story, which follows an athlete who was in the qualifying trials for freestyle skiing when an accident sent her down a very different path of hosting illegal high-stakes poker games. She ends up getting raided by the FBI, and writing a book about the whole affair.
“This isn’t awhistle blowing film,” Elba continues. “It’s actually about integrity and it’s about gender balance and it’s about power.”
In the film, Sorkin brilliantly cuts between Molly’s rise to power in the backrooms of Los Angeles following her fall from grace as an Olympic skier and her meetings with her lawyer. It’s a neatly done rise-and-fall story as Molly’s brush with Hollywood royalty, sports stars and business titans give her a decade of glitzy and glamorous success, but she soon attracts the wrong kind of attention when she inadvertently engages members of the Russian mob.There’s money, power and sexism in this indelible story about a woman competing in an all-male world and it’s the kind of gritty tale Hollywood gravitates to.
“Hollywood has a lot of hanging fruit for stories and there are so many different personality types in this industry. There is the glamour of course, but thereis the real underbelly and the uglier side, which we are all seeing come up now in what is happening in Hollywood,” says Elba, who starred as Nelson Mandela in The Weinstein Company biopic Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom, a performance which earned him a Golden Globe nomination.