Tag Archives: Jack Black

The Muppet Movie (2011)

This weekend, I was babysitting my two adored and adorable little nephews, Brady, who is 7, and Jack, who is 5. We went to the trampoline park and the toy store, and then we came home to bake a cake for their dad, who was celebrating a birthday. We mixed and measured and layered on nearly 5 pounds of candy, which they insisted their dad would love, including banana cannons and a candy fence we dubbed the fortress of bananatude (I know, this cake sounds banana heavy).

Anyway, the kids were discussing The Muppet Babies for some reason, which Jack pronounces ‘Muffin Babies’ and is pretty sure he’s saying the same thing we are. I’m thinking about Jack a lot today because he’s being brave and having a little surgery. Mostly I’m thinking about my sister, Jack’s mom – the surgery will likely be harder on her than on him. But anyway. After we discussed which muppets were our favourites (Kermit for Jack, Fozzy for Brady, who does work in an errant “wocka wocka” into random conversations), and how we’d recently seen them at Disney World, we decided that our pre-bedtime movie would be Lego Batman. Haha, just kidding, they watched that in the car (imagine as a kid having a movie screen in your car!) – we watched The Muppet Movie!!

It’s about two brothers, the human Gary (Jason Segel) and the muppet Walter, who is obsessed with THE Muppets, who they’ve compulsively watched on television since they were kids, but who have sadly been absent from show business in recent years. Gary and his human girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are celebrating their tenth anniversary and plan to visit L.A. to celebrate, and Walter is thrilled to be invited along with them (by Gary, and a much more reluctant Mary) as it is the home of the Muppet studios. But once there, he discovers that an evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is about to buy both the studio and the Muppet name right from underneath them. So he enlists Kermit to go on a roadtrip to assemble the old gang in an effort to raise the money to save the day.

Jason Segel showed his puppet fetish in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and went full kink with this script, clearly a loving tribute to a beloved franchise. There’s joy being spewed all over the screen in this film, the movie is dripping with it, and it’s fun just to sit back and get soaked in nostalgia. The script introduces a new character, Walter, with whom we re-experience the magic of the Muppets, and it’s great to see them back in action, recreating a lot of acts that we remember so fondly, in a format that we know and love. They work in plenty of celebrity cameos, both human and Muppet, and the whole thing feels like a love letter – not just to the Muppets, but to a new generation of kids just discovering them, two of whom were cuddled next to me in my bed.

At the end of the movie, when asked how they liked it, Jack exclaimed “I didn’t know Kermit had a car!” Because when you’re 5, even the most mundane things can seem momentous. The Muppets are that elusive thing that can bring out the kid in all of us.

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The House With A Clock In Its Walls

Lewis’s parents are recently deceased, so his uncle Jonathan, previously unknown to him, takes him it. It seems the peculiar apple (Owen Vaccaro) does not fall far from the odd tree (Jack Black). At first glance, it seems that Jonathan’s house merely has clocks on its walls, but there is some sort of magic afoot. The next door neighbour, Mrs. Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is always around, and she and Jonathan seem to be in cahoots…but what are they hiding? The ghost of Lewis’s mother seems to corroborate his feeling that something’s not quite right, and a kid at his school lets it slip that his uncle’s house is known to neighbourhood kids as The Slaughter House. When Lewis finally mv5bmzq2mtlkmgmtodrmni00ztq2lwiwnwetzmmyowjkmduyy2qwxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndqxnjcxnq@@._v1_resolves to flee in the middle of the night, he finds the house to be very uncooperative. Turns out uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman are a couple of witches, and the house is indeed haunted by the previous owner, himself a warlock, or at least haunted by the clock that he left in its walls. Every night, Jonathan searches the walls for the clock that’s driving him nuts, but so far no luck.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls may manage a PG rating, but it packs more fright per square inch than most kids’ movies. Credit director Eli Roth for that; a master of the horror genre, this might be his first movie that’s not an automatic R. Luckily Jack Black is on board, and his silly antics temper the scary stuff. He’s quite good, actually, and Cate Blanchett is mesmerizing, a vision in purple. But I think the plot is a little overdone, so we lose some of their effectiveness in its convolutions.

The House With a Clock In Its Walls has the potential to be a beautiful tribute to weirdos, even if it loses its own thread about half way through. For me, there was no way I wasn’t going to watch Cate Blanchett and her flawless hair, and I’m not sorry I watched this, not at all, but I am sorry it didn’t quite translate. Eli Roth has some fun transferring his skills to a family-friendly film, but it’s not quite enough, he doesn’t quite strike the right tone, and this movie ends up being just okay – this despite Blanchett’s mighty spell.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Worry. He Won’t Get Far On Foot

John Callahan was a dedicated alcoholic when he had a life-changing accident that left him paralyzed.

Post-accident, the path to sobriety isn’t exactly direct. Between the struggle to accept his new limitations, learning to live in a chair, caring for his broken body, and searching for the mother who gave him up at birth, there are a lot of reasons to drink. Of course, there’s always a reason to drink. Only when he truly embraces the value of AA, with the help of group leader Donny (Jonah Hill), does he start to imagine a future for himself. And he finds a healthy way to channel his anger and his energy and his wonderment: cartoons.

MV5BMjMyMTY2MzYxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTEwNDgyNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Callahan is injured enough that he cannot grasp a pen but he manages somehow to manipulate a felt-tip pen between two mangled hands and he finds inspiration in his life to create funny, and often controversial cartoons. His student paper sees fit to publish him and from there he develops a national following.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is a line ripped from one of his own cartoons; the movie is adapted from Callaghan’s memoir. Director Gus Van Sant wants to say something about the healing power of art but the movie itself reads more like a tribute to support systems and the importance of forgiveness without dipping into the considerable well of inspirational cliches.

It’s a dark comedy, as you can imagine, but between Jack Black, Jonah Hill, and an orange-haired Joaquin Phoenix wielding his wheel chair like a bat on wheels, there’s some appreciated levity to all the drama. It’s an off-beat comedy about an off-beat guy. Phoenix is irrepressible.

Sean didn’t care for the movie – he felt not much had happened. I liked it well enough – I liked the unexpected performances from the likes of Beth Ditto, Carrie Brownstein, and Kim Gordon. I liked that Callaghan’s dark vein of humour is kept in tact throughout transformation, that he doesn’t become some sort of saint, merely the same caustic guy with a new lease on life. I liked that his past is never treated like an excuse – not that I’m not sympathetic to his victimhood but I like that he finds his salvation elsewhere, that he’s allowed to not solve the puzzle of his childhood before finding peace in his present. The 12 steps are not equally cinematic, but I felt Phoenix’s charismatic performance carried us through. Obviously Sean disagreed, so I guess I’d call this a mixed-bag review. It’s not for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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King Kong (2005)

king_kong_2005Even if you haven’t seen King Kong or its many remakes (like me, until yesterday), you probably know the story. A struggling filmmaker (Jack Black) leads a rag tag crew on a voyage to a forgotten island where he’s going to complete his movie against the studio’s wishes. While there, the filmmaker and his cast encounter a mess of overgrown B-movie creatures including dinosaurs, bugs, lizards, bats, and of course, the giant gorilla who rules them all.

In the course of this grand adventure (which ought to have killed everyone involved several times over), the gorilla falls in love with the lead actress (Naomi Watts), now the damsel in distress, who already has a thing for the screenwriter (Adrien Brody). That leads to a very awkward love triangle.  Things get even more awkward when the filmmaker conspires with the ship’s captain to bring the gorilla back to New York City as a way to salvage the mission once his camera and footage (and film crew) are destroyed.  Indeed, once back in NYC the situation gets so bad that Brody’s character even starts to feel sorry for Kong, as Kong is now trapped in the Empire City with nowhere to go but up (and then a long way down).

Peter Jackson helms this remake and it shows.  That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, it just means there’s a three-hour-plus runtime, a lot of CG rag dolls flying across the screen/into walls/off cliffs during action scenes, and a significant number of emotional orchestral swells combined with ethereal vocals and closeups of teary eyed actors to make sure we feel sad at the proper times.  For better and for worse, he delivers a movie that feels like a throwback to classic Hollywood cinema.

But the “for worse” is really, really bad.  Black “savages” feeding a white lady to a monster bad.  It is possible that the issue of systemic racism is particularly fresh in my mind right now thanks to BlacKkKlansman (which, if Jay’s review wasn’t clear enough, you should see immediately),  but a movie pitting backwards black natives against righteous white people only reinforces racist stereotypes that we need to eliminate from our society.   One way to help eliminate those stereotypes would be using discretion and thoughtfulness when remaking old movies to ensure we don’t recycle harmful racial stereotypes.  Jackson failed in that respect, and his failure gives power to those stereotypes instead of helping to put them to rest once and for all.  It’s a glaring mistake.

That Kong contains such racially insensitive scenes is truly a shame, on at least two different fronts.  First, it’s a shame because the Kong that Jackson and Andy Serkis created is absolutely amazing.  Even though many of the other special effects in this movie have not aged well, Kong remains a marvel, an expressive and lifelike CG character who’s worthy of being the hero of this picture.  Of course, hero status is Kong’s by default, since the humans in the film are consistently terrible, destroying everything they touch, acting entitled all the way through the carnage, and worst of all, blaming Kong’s unfortunate ending on beauty rather than the beasts who tried to exploit nature for personal profit.

Which brings me to the second disappointing aspect of the film: but for the racism, the film’s main message would have been as suitable for our times as it ever was, but the presence of racism or at least racial insensitivity makes this film one that is better left in the past.

Goosebumps

20151007fdGoosebumps.6c5f8Turns out, it’s Jack Black week around these here parts. Today’s instalment is Goosebumps, a movie written for (and possibly by) people a third of my age or less. And those damn tweens must have seen this one a LOT of times because a sequel is coming out this fall just in time for Halloween.

First things first: Goosebumps is not scary at all. Planet Earth II is more harrowing.  Though in fairness, the Planet Earth segment with the snakes chasing an iguana is one of the scariest things ever:

There is no chase sequence in Goosebumps that even comes close to that level of terror, but that’s by design. Goosebumps is completely non-threatening right down to its protagonist, who you might recognize as the non-threatening guy from 13 Reasons Why if, like me, you watch too much Netflix.  He is perfect for Goosebumps because in his spare time he is a singer/rhythm guitarist for a band that got its break at a social inclusion and autism awareness concert (that’s right, two non-threatening causes at once)!

There are monsters in Goosebumps but they are the kind that chase you with a smile on their face. The kind that Jay would adopt and make me build a shelter for in our backyard. The kind that I can watch with my nephews and not get dirty looks from their parents. The kind that must make Goosebumps author R.L. Stine pat himself on the back for being as non-threatening as the guy from 13 Reasons Why (it helps immensely that Stine has written dozens of joke books and G.I. Joe choose-your-own-adventures under the pen names “Jovial Bob Stine” and “Eric Affabee”).

The only way Goosebumps will give you goosebumps is if you watch it while your furnace is broken. But I’ll take that over nephew nightmares any day of the week.

 

The Polka King

Jan Lewan, Polish immigrant, is a hard-working polka enthusiast. He works 18 day time jobs just so he can afford to keep touring the Pennsylvania polka circuit. His band, however, isn’t content to work for peanuts. In a bid to fatten their paycheques, he recruits some of his elderly fans to become “investors”, and he writes promissory notes guaranteeing a 12% return on investment. His investors are quite happy: Jan always finds new investors, so he can always cover generous quarterly payments. But then the FBI finds out.

polka-kingThe FBI gets one whiff of this and feel it must be some sort of Ponzi scheme. They shut Jan down, but since he promises it was an honest mistake, and to pay back his investors, problem solved. Except, in order to pay back his investors, he ends up creating a second, bigger scheme.

The thing about our Polka King is that he’s very, very charming. Jack Black is perfect to play him: guileless, open-faced, enthusiastic. Even when he’s dirty, his heart is squeaky-clean. Jenny Slate appears as his beauty queen wife, Jacki Weaver as his scowling mother-in-law,  and Jason Schwartzman as his best friend and bandmate, Mickey Pizzazz. The film bubbles with energy thanks to its cast, and Jack Black’s eyes are never not dancing. Black’s been honing his indie acting chops these past few years, and it shows. But it never hurts that this wacky guy is exactly in his wheelhouse. It just so happens that this wacky guy is a real person, and if you were a polka fan in the 1990s, especially around Scranton, you may have caught a performance. But even if you didn’t, now all you need is a Netflix subscription. The screwball energy is infectious…although it must be said: directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky seem to love their protagonist a little too much. But heck, I love him a little too much too. The Polka King is endearing and entertaining.  He may be conning his way into our hearts, but he’s there.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

636866-jumanji-dwayneThe trailers for this movie set the bar so unbelievably low that I thought Jumanji could not possibly disappoint. The only surprise this movie has to offer is that it is a sequel not a reboot. Otherwise, it is completely by-the-numbers, including lots of CG animal stampedes and even more cliched character growth. In short, it is the perfect counter-programming for liberal propaganda like Spielberg-Streep-Hanks snoozers about fake news. More on that later.

The rules of Jumanji were well-established in the first film and Jumanji so compulsively follows those rules that it’s scary. The only difference between the two movies is that Jumanji 2.0 takes the form of a video game rather than a boardgame. That way, there can be lots of jokes about video games, which comes in handy because the main character is a video gaming nerd so when he becomes the Rock we can be reminded that he is still a nerd and he can explain to the other characters and the audience how video games work.

I can’t remember if Jumanji 1.0 had as much explanation about board games but I feel like even it aimed slightly higher than this. I guess that’s why it is a “classic” that has now spawned a “franchise”. Putting those words in quotes is the only thing keeping my head from exploding.

I hate to play the movie snob card and honestly, I never imagined I would be this guy, but there are a ton of really good movies in theatres right now, it being Oscar season and all, and Jumanji is not one of them. Nonetheless, Jumanji is by far the biggest box office draw right now. That’s not surprising, North America, since we are just the worst right now (LIKE, THE WORST), but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Let’s resolve as a continent to stop making bad decisions in 2018. Let’s do things differently. Let’s stop dumbing things down. Let’s start thinking critically. Let’s challenge ourselves. Let’s watch films like The Post, The Shape of WaterLady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, instead of mindless, vapid and soulless fare like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Saying no to Jumanji is one small step toward a better world.