BARE BONES: JUMANJI-THE NEXT LEVEL (2019)

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JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019)

Sequel to the sequel/reboot of the 1995 book based flick finds Spencer (Alex Wolff) returning to Jumanji, because there he felt like a hero. Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Martha (Morgan Turner) follow him in and inadvertently take Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie’s friend Milo (Danny Glover) along with them. Meanwhile Bethany (Madison Iseman from Annabelle Comes Home) seeks help from Alex to help rescue her friends. Once inside, they find Jumanji once again in peril, this time from Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann). Also creating distress is that avatars have become mixed up and Eddie is now Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Milo is Mouse (Kevin Hart) Fridge is Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black) with Bethany becoming a winged horse and Spencer becoming thief Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina). Martha is still Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), however, and Alex is still Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Nick Jonas). The group must again save Jumanji, somehow get their avatars straightened out and maybe get back home again.

Film is again directed by Jake Kasdan from a script by himself, Jeff Pinker and Scott Rosenberg. While not quite as lively as the last film, it’s still mindless and harmless fun. There is plenty of action and exotic settings, though does replay a lot of the gags from the Welcome To The Jungle. The cast are again having fun, especially Johnson and Hart, who get to play different characters whom their video game alter egos are representing. Johnson is fun echoing Danny DeVito, though Kevin Hart really steals the flick with his dead-on impression of Danny Glover. He’s hilarious. New addition Awkwafina is also fun as Spencer’s avatar Ming and when the gang gets their avatars realigned, she gets to have fun mimicking DeVito in the film’s second half. McCann makes a functional yet generic villain and it’s once again the character interaction that really makes it so enjoyable. Entertaining enough with a solid cast that overcomes a fairly pedestrian script.
-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: GOOSEBUMPS 2-HAUNTED HALLOWEEN (2018)

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GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN (2018)

Sequel has two boys, Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) finding an unfinished book by R.L. Stine (Jack Black) in an abandoned house. Upon opening it, they accidentally unleash the evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Mick Wingert). Slappy now plots to bring Halloween to life and starts bringing monsters into the sleepy town of Wardenclyffe, New York. Can Sonny, Sam and Sonny’s sister Sarah (Madison Iseman) stop Slappy’s evil plot!?

Film is lackadaisically directed by Ari Sandel (The Duff) from a story and script by Rob Lieber and Darren Lemke. It’s a weak script that replays a lot of the same schtick from the first flick, yet not as energetic or fun. Black’s appearance as Stine is basically an extended cameo and the movie as a whole seems a very uninspired effort. It has the definite feel of a paycheck job for those behind the camera. There is some very cool Halloween imagery, some amusing bits and Madison Iseman (Tales Of Halloween, Jumanji) does make for a feisty and resilient heroine. The rest of the cast seem to be having a fun time, but the film itself isn’t as buoyant as it’s predecessor. A mediocre follow-up to a surprisingly fun first flick. Also stars Wendi McLendon-Covey as Sonny and Sarah’s single mom.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN IT’S WALLS (2018)

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THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN IT’S WALLS (2018)

Movie is based on the book by John Bellairs and tells of young Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), whose parents have recently been killed in a car accident. He’s sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in a creepy old house and soon finds out Jonathan is a warlock. Lewis also discovers that there is a clock in the walls of the house and one that may have a sinister purpose. Can Lewis, his uncle and their witch of a neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) find out the clock’s true purpose and stop it from whatever evil it’s intended for?

Film is directed with surprising restraint by Eli Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno), who is most known for his over-the-top gore flicks, though it could have used a bit of those flicks’ bombasity. The script is by Eric Kripke based on Bellairs’ book and while the cast give it their all, there is just something lacking from the proceedings. The film is slower paced than Roth’s usual fare and never really ignites the spark needed to make the film more fun. There is plenty of magic and the supernatural on hand and some very spooky imagery, but the film lacks a strong sense of charm or wonder. It’s a decent enough watch and you can tell Black and Blanchett especially are having a good time with the material, but the movie itself never really takes off running as the popcorn entertainment it’s intended to be. Even the last act confrontation with Kyle MacLachlan’s re-animated warlock villain never reaches the excitement, or suspense, level it needs. Overall, Eli Roth shows he can direct with some restraint, but maybe it’s not that good an idea here, as the film is a bit too laid back to entertain more than just moderately.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017)

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JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017)

Sequel/reboot to the 1995 book based flick finds four teens, nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff), jock “Fridge” (Ser’Darius Blain), shy girl Martha (Morgan Turner) and popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman from Tales of Halloween) together at detention. Their task is to clean up the school basement where they find an old video game called Jumanji. They activate the game and magically get sucked into it’s world. Now in the fictional jungle land, they take on the appearance of their video game characters, with Spencer becoming adventurer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge becoming his sidekick Mouse (Kevin Hart), Martha becoming ass-kicker Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany becoming male scientist Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black). The four must save Jumanji from the villainous Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), if they ever are to return home.

Film is directed by Jake Kasdan from a script by four writers and despite the scribe overload, is a harmless and fun flick. The action comes fast and furious, the cast is very charming and works well together and there are some very funny moments. The film pays tribute nicely to the 1995 Robin Williams flick and mixes the sentimentality with the more fun elements very nicely. The FX are top notch and being set in a video game, it has an excuse for some very over-the-top situations and even has fun with gamer tropes such as our leads having only three lives which they must guard preciously if they are to return home. Sure it has a sappy finale that wraps everything up in a nice little bow, but with this kind of flick, that’s kind of expected. It’s not perfect. It can be very predictable and not all of the jokes/bits work, but it’s still an entertaining time on the couch with Johnson, Hart, Gillan and Black having a fun chemistry together, that helps smooth over some of the bumps.
-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GOOSEBUMPS (2015)

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GOOSEBUMPS (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

When his mother (Amy Ryan) accepts a vice principal job in Madison, Delaware, high schooler Zach (Dylan Minnette) is forced to move there with her from New York. He finds he has a reclusive and unfriendly neighbor Mr. Shivers (Jack Black) with a pretty teenage daughter named Hannah (Odeya Rush). When sneaking into Shivers’ house one night to check up on Hannah, who he feels is being imprisoned there against her will, he finds out that Shivers is actually famed horror author R.L. Stine. Zach also discovers that opening Stine’s original, locked manuscripts actually releases the creatures within into the real world. With evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy (also voiced by Black) accidentally released, the diabolical doll unlocks all the rest of the monsters into the streets of the unsuspecting town. Now Zach, Stine, Hannah and Zach’s new buddy Champ (Ryan Lee), have to somehow find a way to get all the monsters back in the books…books that Slappy is gleefully burning.

Goosebumps is a clever and fun family horror from director Rob Letterman from a script by Darren Lemke based on Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s story. It amusingly combines not only a number of Stine’s ghoulish creations, but involves the author himself in the mix. It’s never really scary, but it is a lot of fun, especially a scene involving lawn gnomes which evokes some of the best bits in Gremlins. The characters are all likable and while the scenario is played fairly seriously, there is a lot of humor added to the mix as our heroes battle a wide assortment of Stine’s creatures running rampant on this small Delaware town. To a degree it’s nothing new. We have seen creatures come to life from the written page before, but it is an entertaining movie with it’s heart in the right place and fans of Stine’s tales should enjoy the parade of his characters marched out across the screen. If there is any fault with that, it is that only a few of them get any more than a few moments of screen time with Slappy being the main villain with a few secondaries like a werewolf and a giant praying mantis. On a production level, while the CGI can be weak at times, Letterman has a nice visual eye, especially scenes set in an abandoned amusement park, and it is all photographed well by Javier Aguirresarobe. There is also a buoyant and spooky score by legendary composer Danny Elfman, which adds nicely to the atmosphere of spooky fun.

The cast all have a firm grasp of the nature of the material. Black is amusing as the reclusive and egotistic Stine and also gives voice to the villainous Slappy and the mischievous Invisible Boy. The young cast shine as Minnette, Rush and Lee all provide their high school stereotypes well, as the new boy in town, the adventurous girl and the eccentric sidekick respectively. They are all quite charming with Ryan Lee showing a flair for comedy and Minnette and Rush having nice chemistry together. It’s an example of a solid cast making the material work very well.

I had fun with this. It’s not a classic and I’m not all that familiar with Stine’s stories, but it was entertaining in the style of something like the 80s classic Monster Squad. It has some shaky CGI, but the characters it represenst do have some life and personality and the human characters are quite endearing, as is the cast. A fun night on the couch and something kids and Stine fans will probably have a good time with.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Slappys.

Columbia Pictures' "Goosebumps," starring Jack Black.

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