Saturday, September 14, 2019

Jumanji (1995)

Robin Williams always had a childlike energy that made him perfect for that overly outgoing character that just never grew up.  In Jumanji, he plays the adult version of a child trapped in a board game for 25 years.  One might be forgiven for thinking the part was written for him.  However, the movie is based on a book.  I would think that Williams would at least have been the first choice for the part.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie starts in 1869.  To people are seen burying the titular board game, hoping that no one ever digs it up.  Heaven help whoever does find the game.  That’s how sinister it is.  Cut to 1969 and a young Alan Parrish happens upon the box containing the board game and convinces his friend, Sarah Whittle, to play.  Each move brings about some odd and dangerous event, like bats descending on Sarah.

A few moves in, Alan becomes trapped in the game.  This leads to years of therapy for Sarah.  Alan’s father spends the family fortune trying to find Alan, since no one believes Sarah.  The house is eventually sold to Nora Shepherd, who moves in with her niece and nephew, Judy and Peter.  The two kids find Jumanji in the attic and continue the game, miraculously freeing Alan from the game.

The entire time, Alan was trapped in a jungle.  He’s now an adult (played by Williams, of course) and wants nothing more than to go back to his old life.  Unfortunately, his parents are dead and he has to finish the game, which means finding a now-adult Sarah.  As you might imagine, she’s not eager, but she relents.

Each move made brings another disastrous event, like a stampede or a flood.  The house is all but destroyed, but there’s the promise that it will all return to normal at the completion of the game.  Once the game is completed, Sarah and Alan find themselves back in 1969 as if nothing had ever happened.  They’ll have to wait 26 years for Judy and Peter to be born.  And, of course, they won’t remember anything.

The movie is all mania and no real substance.  My first thought is that it’s odd how sadistic the game is.  How would such a thing come into existence?  If someone created it, how and why?  What purpose does it serve to put people through that?

In the end, it doesn’t seem like anything was learned.  Alan and Sarah grow up to be regular adults with regular lives.  The Parrish shoe factory is still in business.  It’s kind of sad that Alan and Sarah can’t talk about the ordeal with the kids, or anyone else for that matter.  They just have to hide the game and hope no one unleashes the terror again.

It’s also a fairly scary movie.  It’s too childish for most adults, but it’s way too vivid for younger audiences.  Teenagers would be able to handle it, but that age group seems a bit too advanced for a movie like this.  As I said, it seems more like a vehicle for Williams.  (From what I’ve read in IMDb, he had to be told to hold back on the improvisation so as not to throw off the story.)

It’s an entertaining movie, but not a great movie.  Part of the problem is that it tries to do too many things without doing any of them well.  The aunt is away from the children for most of the movie.  The action is silly as many of the animals look fake.  It comes across as an action movie for children as written by someone who had never seen an action movie or an actual child. 

I would love to have been in the meeting to pitch this movie.  So, you have this board game that traps a kid in a jungle and makes another one go crazy.  It throws wild animals at them, although no one really gets hurt.  I mean, everything goes back to normal at the end of the game, so none of it really matters.  But we got Robin Williams to star in it!  That should tell you if it’s a movie you’d want to see.


Monday, September 09, 2019

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Season 1)

There has always been a market for nostalgia.  There are t-shirts for 80s bands and old Nintendo games.  There are even emulators for the Commodore 64.  But to do a prequel series for a movie that’s 37 years old?

My first clue was when Netflix started streaming The Dark Crystal.  I hadn’t watched the movie all the way through in decades.  When I did make the attempt, something else would come up about 30 minutes in.  When I found out that Netflix was going to do a series about the Gelflings, I decided to set aside 90 minutes to watch the whole thing.

Both the movie and the series take place on the planet Thra.  The series would appear to be set well before the events of the movie.  There are seven tribes of Gelfling, all under the rule of the evil Skeksis.  Gelfling view the Skeksis as benevolent, which is just a little ironic if you’ve seen the movie.  The Skeksis have abused the planet for their own evil ends.  They want to live forever and will drain the essence of the Gelfling to get their immortality.

The ten episodes start with the Skeksis draining the essence of one Gelfling, Mira, and blaming her death on another, Rian.  Rian and two other Gelfling, Deet and Princess Brea, come to realize what the Skeksis really are.  This is what starts the Gelfling resistance to the Skeksis.

My one question was how true the series would be to the movie.  Stylistically, it would appear to be the same.  CGI was kept to a minimum, making the visuals look almost identical.  While many of the same characters are still present, very few of the actors have returned.  This is understandable, considering how much time has passed.   (IMDb has a tool to compare the cast and crew of any two productions.)

The story doesn’t drag as much as other series do.  You expect a little bit of padding, since it is a ten-episode arc, but there were very few places where this was evident.  A good deal of this is because we’re tuning in for the visuals.  With the movie, only a small portion of the planet was explored.  The series expands that quite a bit and gives each area a distinct look.  One tribe lives underground.  Another lives in a desert area.  It’s a lot to take in, but it still leaves you hoping to see more if we get a second season.

And it is a somewhat complex narrative.  There are three characters making their way to the same point to unite all seven tribes against a common enemy. Add to this the fact that they have to convince people that the Gelfling are an enemy.  It’s not that easy.  This is, after all, an epic undertaking on more than one level.


Thursday, September 05, 2019

Ready or Not (2019)

It’s bad enough getting yourself into a fight to the death.  To do so without realizing it seems a bit cliché.  “Fight this guy,” they said.  “It will be fun.”  Then you find out that neither contestant leaves until the other one is lying flat on their back.

Strictly speaking, Grace isn’t fighting against her new family, but the result is the same.  The movie starts on her wedding day.  She’s madly in love with Alex Le Domas.  What she doesn’t know is that the Le Domas family has a bit of a tradition.  When someone becomes a member of the family, they draw a card.  She and at least one family member have to play that game.  If it’s a game like checkers, it’s no big deal.  They just play checkers and that’s it.

There’s one card that’s a death sentence.  If you’ve seen the coming attractions, you can guess which game Grace shouldn’t draw.  Alex and his brother try to talk Grace out of the wedding on the off chance that she might get Hide and Seek as her game, but they can’t tell her outright.  Grace insists, not knowing what she’s getting herself into.

Long ago, great-grandfather Victor Le Domas made a deal with a mysterious businessman.  He and his family got rich off of whatever business Victor chose.  The catch was that the family was bound by the machine.  It would spit out a card every wedding night.  If that game was Hide and Seek, the new person has to be sacrificed.

The movie seems a bit excessive.  I wonder if it was meant to be that way.  Grace has to be taken alive, yet the Le Domas family is armed with lethal weapons.  In fact, most of the staff is killed accidentally.  It makes you wonder why they don’t use tranquilizer darts, instead.  (That would be too simple.)

There’s also a legend that everyone in the family will die a horrible death if they don’t make the sacrifice.  They admit that only one other family to make The Deal is rumored to have met this fate, so they can’t be certain that it’s true.  But it might be.  But it might not be.  Maybe it’s better to just catch Grace and sacrifice her.  No one wants to be the guy who gets the entire family killed.  No pressure.  Right?

It seems that satire movies are tending towards the bizarre.  This isn‘t the extreme that Sorry to Bother You gave us.  I mean, I get where they’re going with this, to some extent.  But it does seem excessive.  In fact, Alex is the only one that has any sort of reservations about hunting down Grace.  Everyone else accepts it like it’s paying for your utilities.  Sacrificing Grace is just the cost of business.

There are worse ways to spend 95 minutes.  One could easily read into the movie about how the rich have every advantage.  Grace grew up a foster kid and is enthralled with the idea of a stable home.  If you want to ignore the subtext, the movie is enjoyable.  You wouldn’t think you could make a movie out of Hide and Seek, but here it is.