Movie Monday: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) and Wonder (2017)

Jumanji

Once in a while on Monday, TMINE will review the select few movies it’s had time to watch when it’s not been watching TV. The film reviews A-Z lists every film ever reviewed here

Just a couple of movies this Movie Monday, seeing as there hasn’t been much on iTunes of late. Although I was tempted by Netflix’s Annihilation.

Jumani: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Technically, the third in the Jumanji series, given that it’s a sequel rather than a reboot of the 1990s movie (and its subsequent sequel) starring Robin Williams, in which the characters and hazards of a haunted African board game started to enter the real world. This new entry sees the game of the first two movies washed up on shore in the mid-90s, where it’s picked up on a beach and taken to someone’s home. However, it gets tossed to one side by its new owner – “who plays board games any more?” – but quickly learns that console games are where the new fun is at, so reincarnates itself as a video game.

Fast forward 20 years and a bunch of teenagers stuck in detention find the game and make the mistake of playing it, whereupon rather than the game taking over the world, Tron-like they get sucked into it instead and become the game’s characters. Nerdy allergic kid becomes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; bullying high school football star becomes teeny tiny Kevin Hart; selfie-obsessed popular girl becomes middle-aged fat bloke Jack Black; and snarky feminist becomes the kick ass Karen Gillan. Possessed of only three lives each, they have to learn the rules of the game, survive its obstacles and rescue the land of Jumanji from evil Bobby Cannavale – all while going Breakfast Club style on big personal emotional journeys.

Although comparisons with the original are inevitable, this is a far nicer, gentler, funnier movie than horror fan Joe Johnson (Gremlins)’s film; beyond a few references to the original, it’s also largely a standalone story. The first half is a pretty decent satire of video games and their arbitrary rules and approaches to storytelling, with “cut scenes” to explain the back story, each of the characters having stupid powers (“smouldering intensity”, “dance fighting” and of course, “Weakness: cake”), NPCs (non-player characters) only having a set stock of responses to our heroes’ questions, and the ridiculous puzzles that have to be solved to pass onto the next levels of adventure games. True, Karen Gillan’s navel-exposing outfit is only part satire of games’ attitudes to women, part attempt to get Karen Gillan in a navel-exposing outfit, but there is some good intent there at least.

It’s also really funny in places and not just thanks to the resurrection of Central Intelligence‘s Johnson/Hart partnership. Everyone gets good lines, Johnson does a sterling job of playing a nice Jewish boy who’s scared of everything but now has the body of a former WWE wrestler, while Black is surprisingly convincing as a teenage girl. The movie also sticks strongly to its spirit of its characters, with Gillan marvellously awkward – Black’s attempts to train her in the ways of seducing boys fall hopelessly flat, leaving her to find a way that’s more true to herself.

In its headlong pursuit of the end of the story, the second half of the movie loses some of that sharpness, becoming a more conventional, CGI adventure. But it by no means loses it completely and there are twists that you might not see coming. The ultimate conclusion is also a little hurried, not really showing us how the adventures have changed the characters’ life paths, beyond perhaps a new romance or friendship or too – maybe the planned sequel will fix that.

All the same, a much, much better movie than you might expect and one that’s already supported multiple viewings chez nous.

Wonder

Wonder (2017)

Based on the New York Times bestseller, Wonder tells the “incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story” of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time.

That’s the IMDb plot summary, that is. What should be added to all of that is before he enters fifth grade, he’s been home-schooled by mum Julia Roberts and dad Owen Wilson. And to that, it should be added that it’s all set in the US, as if all of that wasn’t obvious already.

So maybe it is a lovely, heartwarming story for a US audience, as they see how August is first rejected by his classmates, but finally is accepted by them, making new friends along the way with his great spirit – and with perhaps a little help from inspirational principal Mandy Patinkin as well. Indeed, purely for the sake of giving us a teacher who’s good at his job, cares about his kids and isn’t cynical, Wonder should perhaps be treasured.

However, for a UK audience, it’s probably a different story. Indeed, Lovely Wife – who works in schools with kids with special needs – was almost incensed enough to write a blog entry of her own to explain to parents in the UK just what a horrific and unrepresentative portrayal of mainstream school attitudes to SEN children Wonder is. Apart from the fact that home-schooling usually doesn’t result in super-smart kids who know more than the rest of their classes, because the average parent doesn’t know more than all a kid’s teachers combined, kids are always far more accepting of difference at a younger age so Roberts’ keeping him out of school is literally the worst thing she could have done, stopped him from socialising normally and stopped him from making friends at an early age. It’s tantamount to child abuse. It’s not heartwarming.

Anyway, watch it for Patinkin and some good performances, but be prepared to feel sorry for American SEN kids forced to go through that educational system, if Wonder is to be believed.

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