Jumanji: The Next Level

The sequel to 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle that is a reboot of the 1995 movie Jumanji starring Robin Williams, Jumanji: The Next Level is a very entertaining and fun adventure movie that relies on recapturing the magic of the 2017 version of the Jumanji franchise, with its creative plot and funny characters. Like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the same group of now college-age students find themselves sucked into the video game Jumanji after realizing that the nerd in the group Spencer has possibly entered the game by himself. However, some of the characters become different avatars in the video game, as well as the addition of two new characters of Spencer’s grandfather Eddie, played by Danny DeVito, and Eddie’s old friend Milo, played by Danny Glover. Due to all of their hilarious surprise, the grumpy Eddie becomes the strong archaeologist and explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone, played by Dwayne Johnson, the slow talking Milo becomes the scrawny and squeamish zoologist and weapons valet Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, played by the hyperactive comedian Kevin Hart, the popular jock “Fridge” becomes the obese middle-aged archaeologist and cartographer Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, hilariously played by Jack Black, and the shy unpopular girl Martha remains the attractive commando and martial artist Ruby Roundhouse, played by Karen Gillan. While searching for Spencer in the Jumanji world, they are given a new mission that must be completed to return to the real world: retrieve the Falcon’s Heart jewel from the powerful villain Jurgen the Brutal, played by Rory McCann best known as The Hound in the HBO TV series Game of Thrones. Eventually, the very mismatched group reunite with the beautiful popular girl Bethany who was left behind but found her way back into the game as a horse named Cyclone with help from the pilot and adventurer Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough, played by Nick Jonas. They also finally discover Spencer as a new and rather unexpected avatar and says he wanted to re-enter Jumanji because he feels out of place in the real world and estranged from his friends, especially Martha after they started a long-distance romantic relationship. Extremely similar to the previous installment, the film uses the effectively fun formula of creating eccentric characters who find themselves in rather hilarious situations dealing with their new bodies as they embark on a dangerous adventure. Overall, I found it to be a highly entertaining blockbuster movie that may have recycled the same premise as the previous movie but did so in a way that did not lessen the audience’s enjoyment and was helped by the addition of Danny DeVito and Danny Glover.

Ford v Ferrari

Directed by James Mangold best known for 2005’s Walk the Line and 2017’s Logan, Ford v Ferrari is a brilliant car racing movie remarkable for its terrific acting performances, entertaining story, and thrilling race sequences, all adding up to a film that can be enjoyed even by those who do not care for cars or racing. Based on a true story, the plot follows Ford Motor Company’s pursuit of winning their first 24 Hours of Le Mans race and finally overtaking the dominance of Ferrari. Ford Vice President Lee Iacocca, played by Jon Bernthal, pitches the idea in 1963 of creating a competitive racing team to Ford CEO Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts, as a means to appeal to the younger generation of car buyers, and he approaches famed car designer Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon, to help design the car to beat Ferrari. A brilliant yet somewhat eccentric Texan, Shelby is confident that, with the right mechanics and driver, he can optimize a Ford GT40 to compete and eventually win the coveted 24 Hours of Le Mans, which he himself won in 1959 in a different car before he was forced to retire. The only problem Shelby encounters is the complicated bureaucracy of such a large company as Ford, especially as it relates to Shelby’s handpicked driver Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale. Miles is a hot-headed yet excellent British race car driver who is struggling to make a living as a mechanic in Los Angeles with his wife Mollie, played by Caitriona Balfe best known for her role in the TV series Outlander. The Ford Motor Company and its racing division led by Ford Senior Executive Vice President Leo Beebe, played by Josh Lucas, are very much against having such a wild and brash lead driver as Miles and try almost anything to get rid of him, at least in public. Amidst all the dramatic infighting, the movie is filled with truly exciting and realistic racing scenes that show exactly how difficult it is to be an endurance race car driver and the very real dangers of serious injury or death, especially during that era when safety standards were lower than today’s. Eventually, Shelby American and Ford make it to the crucial Le Mans race in 1966 where they will finally have the best chance of taking down Ferrari. Overall, I found it to be one of the best auto racing movies ever made as a result of its extraordinary intense race sequences and surprisedly in-depth character studies of the iconic automotive designer Carroll Shelby and one-of-a-kind daredevil Ken Miles, making for an extremely entertaining cinematic experience for all types of viewers.

Charlie’s Angels

The third film in a franchise that began with the television series of the same name that first premiered in 1976, Charlie’s Angels is a fairly typical action Hollywood Blockbuster with some entertaining moments that is above average at best and did exceed my low expectations. Like the television series and the movies, the story revolves around a group of female spies working for the secret organization known as the Townsend Agency that is comprised of all female agents under the leadership of several individuals referred to as Bosleys. We first meet Angels Sabina, played by Kristen Stewart, and Jane, played by Ella Balinska, on a mission in Rio de Janeiro for the high-level operative John Bosley, played by Patrick Stewart, who is the original Bosley working for Townsend and is about to retire. A year later, they find themselves in London to investigate a new powerful technology developed by a large tech conglomerate owned by billionaire Alexander Brock, played by Sam Claflin, after it is brought to their attention by a brilliant programmer named Elena, played by Naomi Scott. The sometimes wild and terrifically smart Sabina and the beautiful former MI6 agent Jane are told to protect Elena who has knowledge that the technology she helped develop could be used as a deadly weapon if in the wrong hands. Eventually, the agents now working directly under Rebekah Bosley, played by Elizabeth Banks who also directed the film, are led to Istanbul to track down the devices that have been stolen by criminals and people working for Brock. Coming to be trusted by the Angels and Rebekah, Elena is recruited to become a Charlie’s Angel. The movie follows very much the formula of a light-hearted comedy action flick in that it is full of intense fight sequences, lots of plot twists, and fun and silly banter between the characters. Overall, I found it to be a mildly entertaining film that had its moments of thrills and laughter but with a feminist twist through the empowering portrayal of women secret agents taking down the bad guys. It was definitely not one of the best action comedies, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much better it was than what the promotional materials led the viewer to believe.

Midway

Directed by Roland Emmerich who is best known for such Hollywood Blockbusters as 1996’s Independence Day and 2000’s The Patriot, Midway is a large-scale war action movie that heavily relies on CGI special effects to recreate the pivotal Battle of Midway during World War II but does not fully satisfy as a well-rounded movie as a result of its fairly generic script and characters. Based on true events of the beginning of the American involvement in World War II, the movie shows the devastating surprise attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the Empire of Japan. The plot follows a bunch of American characters from the top with the Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, played by Woody Harrelson, to the top intelligence officer in the region Edwin Layton, played by Patrick Wilson, and all the way down to the Naval bomber and fighter pilots, including the real life Dick Best who is played by Ed Skrein and Wade McClusky who is played by Luke Evans. Also, unlike most traditional war movies, the film also follows several key Japanese Naval commanders and officers who are shown making battle decisions based on their best interest. After the somewhat haphazard introduction to almost too many characters to keep count, the story leads up to June 4, 1942 when the Japanese engage the American military at and around the remote islands of the Midway Atoll, a strategic base that allows for closer range to the Japanese Islands. What ensues is the Battle of Midway in which American aircraft carriers and their warplanes go up against the Japanese counterparts in what would become the one of the largest naval battles of World War II. In dramatic and spectacular fashion, the movie effectively uses special effects to capture what the battle must have been like with a constant flurry of aircraft and anti-aircraft fire on both sides. The main mission of the Americans is to destroy as many of the Japanese aircraft carriers as possible in order to recapture control of the Pacific Theater after the mass destruction of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The script also does scratch the surface of the personal lives of those involved, especially the Naval pilots, but is ineffective because it comes off as cheesy and formulaic, making for unnecessary storylines to the main thrust of the movie to portray a specific battle. Overall, I found it to be a suitably entertaining war movie that does a good job of using special effects to fashion realistic and thrilling battle sequences in order to tell the important story of the Battle of Midway, but, as a whole, relies on too many characters and a rather average screenplay to truly become an iconic war movie.

Harriet

Directed by critically acclaimed African American filmmaker Kasi Lemmons best known for 1997’s Eve’s Bayou, Harriet is important as the first major motion picture about runaway slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman that tells a truly remarkable story but does not do justice to such an extraordinary person as a result of the film’s rather formulaic script. Based on a true story, the plot follows Harriet Tubman, played by Tony winner Cynthia Erivo, first living as a slave in Maryland who decides, after receiving visions from God, that she must escape and run away to the free state of Pennsylvania. We witness her courageous solo journey of over 100 miles being chased by slave catchers led by her brutal slave owner Gideon, played by Joe Alwyn. Eventually, she makes it to Philadelphia where she gets help from an African American abolitionist leader named William Still, played by Leslie Odom Jr., and a generous African American boarding house owner named Marie, played by Janelle MonĂ¡e. Receiving further visions, she makes the brave decision to return to Maryland to help her family also escape slavery using the Underground Railroad route given to her by Still. The rest of the film follows her numerous other expeditions as one of the most successful conductors on the Underground Railroad to eventually help almost 300 slaves escape to freedom. Following the tropes of the adventure genre, Harriet is constantly chased by the villain in the form of Gideon and his slave catchers, including an African American man, but she always perseveres to help her fellow man, woman, and child to reach freedom. Her missions are very much complicated by the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed runaway slaves living in free states to be legally captured and returned to their slave owners in the South. Overall, I found it to be a much-needed and thereby very important depiction of one of America’s greatest heroes who has been overlooked in terms of the embarrassing lack of cinematic treatments. Despite the terrific acting performances and amazing story, the movie, unfortunately, adheres too much to a typical action adventure film with predictable actions and results and makes for a movie that does not rise to the stature of the truly extraordinary Harriet Tubman.

Terminator: Dark Fate

Directed by Tim Miller best known for 2016’s Deadpool and produced by James Cameron who directed the original The Terminator released in 1984, Terminator: Dark Fate is a surprisingly satisfying action film that is almost as good as the first three installments of the six movie franchise that works as a result of adhering to the framework of a traditional action flick with intense fight sequences and complex characters. Similar to some of the other Terminator movies, the movie’s plot takes a revised journey into the Terminator universe by presenting an alternate reality in which the humans and machines from the dystopian future travel back in time to protect or terminate a character integral to the future survival of humankind. The film begins with the appearance of the augmented human Grace, played by Mackenzie Davis, who is sent on a mission from a future timeline, as well as the villainous latest version of a Terminator sent by a powerful group of AI machines resembling the original Skynet. Grace’s mission is to protect a young woman from Mexico City named Dani, played by Natalia Reyes, whose survival is somehow vital to the future human resistance. After being cornered by the new Terminator, the heroine of the franchise Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, shows up guns a-blazing to also help protect Dani and destroy the advanced Terminator. In addition to the appearance of Sarah Connor, the film also brings back the T-800, played by the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger, which helps add to the nostalgic elements of the movie taken from the influential first Terminator movies. Much of the film is an elongated action-packed chase sequence in which Grace, Dani, Sarah, and Arnold’s Terminator must do everything in their power to fight the practically indestructible new Terminator. It is a highly entertaining and thrilling sight to see one of the most beloved action stars Arnold Schwarzenegger relive his most iconic role without missing a pulse-pounding beat alongside Linda Hamilton and deadly shapeshifting liquid metal Terminator machines. Yes, the plot does seem to be recycled from the original installments, but there are slight alterations updated for the 21st century, such as the inclusion of more female heroes, that allow for it to feel fresh to contemporary fans of action movies that may or may not have seen the first few films. Overall, I found it to be a much more enticing action flick than what I was expecting, especially in light of the subpar recent installments, and is an especially rewarding cinematic experience due to its first-rate action sequences and nostalgia for the original Terminator movies.

Gemini Man

Directed by visionary director Ang Lee best known for 2013’s Life of Pi which won him the Oscar for Best Director, Gemini Man is a high-concept and technically brilliant film that uses new technology for great visual effect but ultimately fails as a movie due to its poor script writing and slow pace. The plot revolves around the aging secret government assassin Henry Brogan, played by Will Smith, who is close to retirement after his latest assassination almost goes terribly wrong but is forced to remain in action as things go awry with his handlers. He teams up with a fellow secret government agent named Dani, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who greatly helps him evade those who are chasing him. Henry is on the run from a secret non-governmental military force known as GEMINI after its leader and a previous military acquaintance of Henry must do whatever he can to protect his company’s secrets. The increasingly misguided head of the organization Clay, played by Clive Owen, dispatches his own clandestine assassin Junior who we later find out is actually a younger clone of Henry as part of a secret operation to create a superhuman force of clones for the American military. Like a typical action thriller, there are a few visually dazzling action sequences that occur across the world, including in Columbia and Budapest. What really makes the movie stand out is the filmmaker’s decision to film in a much higher frame rate of almost a 120 frames per second when the typical movie is only 24 frames per second. The high frame rate along with a less gimmicky version of 3D made the movie much more smooth and thereby realistic. Another technical breakthrough is the fact that the younger version of Will Smith is a completely digital creation made from CGI and a compilation of Will Smith’s earlier works. Unfortunately, these quite innovative cinematic tools were used on a surprisingly ineffective and sometimes boring action flick. Overall, I found that the only reason to see the movie is to witness the birth of several technical milestones, but otherwise I would avoid the movie because of its weak story, almost entirely devoid of emotion.