It’s been 22 years since Jumanji, the film directed by Joe Johnston and based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book, was released. That film was groundbreaking in the 90s for its use of CGI and has become a much loved classic thanks to Robin Williams’ lead role. The original book isn’t exactly crammed with material to adapt but there was so much potential with the concept of a board game that came to life. I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched the original film at this point but it always makes me feel like a kid again. I know it’s meant to be a kind of scary situation but I’ve always wanted to play this fucking game. I don’t care how many monkey’s destroy my kitchen or monsoons fill up my entire house with water. It looks really fun… and incredibly dangerous obviously. For a movie that has it’s fair share of flaws, it’s pretty damn perfect and has remained a classic even though it hasn’t really aged well. So the news that we were getting a new film was worrying. I know Hollywood likes to remake and reboot franchises these days but, surely, nobody would be stupid enough to try and remake the original? I mean Robin Williams made that film what it was so trying to make it without him would be suicide. However, the news that this would be more of a sequel than a remake was enough to get me a bit excited. Dropping the Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan into the jungle? Who wouldn’t want to see that even a little bit? Was I still annoyed that they were squeezing as much cash out of the original film as possible? Was I still worried that it was going to be a terrible mess? Was I concerned to see Karen Gillan dressed like Lara Croft despite it being 2017? Yes, yes, and hells yes! Did I care enough to not see it? Nah.
Yesterday I left work a little early after feeling super ill all day. I was knocking back pints of ginger beer and peppermint tea in the hopes that it would prevent the waves of nausea that kept hitting me like a tsunami. So when I finally got home all I wanted to do was get into bed and watch the film I always watch when I’m sick. I know it’s a bit of cliche but how can anyone watch anything other than The Princess Bride when they’re stuck in bed? Well, as luck would have it, I couldn’t find my copy of the film so had to pick something else. Thankfully, the case of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? flashed out at me from the shelves and, as I haven’t seen it in ages, I thought it would be a nice treat. If only the fucking DVD had been where it was meant to be. So, to top off an already shitty day, I’m left blankly staring at a sea of films that I’m really not in the mood for. So I do what any person would do in 2017 when they can’t make up their mind: I googled it. Well, I googled “random film generator” and eventually came up with this. I’d never seen Walk Hard before but I used to live with a guy who spent ages trying to convince me it was the
greatest thing ever. I also adore everything about John C Reilly. So, after spending way too long on such an insignificant decision, I was finally wrapped up in the bed I’d been dreaming about since 9 am that morning.
For a time, it looked as though the early 2000s was a time of the music biopic. There was Ray, Walk the Line, La Vie en Rose, I’m Not There and god knows how many more all out within the first decade of the noughties. Despite being based on the real life of musicians, all of these films end up following the same sort of pattern. We see a troubled young wannabe struggle to get past their childhood, sliding out of obscurity into the big time and stopping off to sample women, booze and drugs before they finally become legends. It’s your average from zero to hero success story that oh so wonderfully follows the equation for the American dream. So it was only natural that Judd Apatow would see it as a genre was rife for parody. I mean I’m Not There already felt like a ridiculous spoof as it was so why not make a film that actually meant to be funny?
So in walks Dewey Cox played by John C. Reilly: a legendary rock star who has overcome a childhood trauma to become a decade spanning superstar. What is that trauma, you ask? Cutting his older bother, a gift pianist, in half with a machete. The death ways heavily on Dewey’s father, who blames his remaining son, and on Dewey himself, who believes he needs to produce enough success for the both of them. This is what drives him to pick up a guitar and aim for the big time. As he embarks on a massive tour, he finds himself drawn into the ever expanding world of drugs and groupies until he meets the woman of his dreams. Backing singer Darlene (Jenna Fischer) catches his eye immediately and, after singing a raunchy duet together, the chemistry becomes too much to ignore. With her help, Dewey is able to realise what is truly important to him.
There is a lot to enjoy about Walk Hard but it is a concept that never really reaches great heights. John C Reilly’s performance as Dewey is superb as he plays everything with a naive charm. Reilly’s musical talents were hardly a secret before this film but we now see how adept he is at imitation. Dewey goes through several changes of style during his career and Reilly becomes almost chameleon esque as he channels the likes of Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. It’s a highly impressive turn that, if I’m honest, this film doesn’t really deserve. Co-writers Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan made the perfect choice in casting the actor because it is his straight-faced and sincere performance that holds all of this together. Well, that and some amazing original songs. The soundtrack is truly remarkable in that it manages to be both hilarious and an incredibly well composed bunch of songs. Each one is a great quality and really represents the musical style of the time it was supposed to be mimicking. Again, it is something that this film didn’t really deserve.
It’s not that Walk Hard isn’t a good film or that it isn’t a humour spoof of the genre. It does everything it wants to quite well but it doesn’t exactly push itself. The jokes don’t exactly come thick and fast and, if I’m honest, a lot of them don’t quite land. This film would have worked better if it wasn’t too obviously trying to sell itself as a parody. The jokes that are desperate and downright silly get old really quickly. There’s a fantastic moment later in the film when Dewey ends up dropping acid with the Beatles in India. The Fab Four are played by Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman. Now these are obviously not the four actors you’d get to play the Beatles in any ordinary circumstances but it is the stand out scene in the entire film. In fact, all of the slightly miscast celeb “cameos” are hilarious. These clever bits of movie making just make the incredibly silly and unnecessary moments seem worse than they are. The times Walk Hard when this flies are the times when John C Reilly is allowed to get on with the job of playing the character. If this had been played a tad straighter then it could have been a different thing all together.
As you all know by now one of my greatest loves is Christmas films. As a permanent child, I fucking love everything about Christmas and fall victim to the festive spirit in all forms. However, there is nothing that annoys me more than a cliched rom-com. So I’m a little bit torn when it comes to Christmas rom-com. Half of me hates everybody for being so bloody oblivious whilst the other half just get caught up in the festivities. Of course, there are some special cases that manage to be so fucking awful that I don’t need to worry about potential warm and fuzzy feelings. You can take a look at my Top 10 Worst Christmas Films list for more details on some of these but I want to focus on a film that I get more resentful towards with every passing year. I’ll be honest that has a lot to do with my annoyance at Jude Law’s questionable acting talents but there is a lot to The Holiday that we should be opposing.
Now I really like Jack Black. He was one of the main reasons I was so keen to so the new Goosebumps film. You can put him in the shittest of concepts and he’ll still make things enjoyable. Particularly, you might think, when he’s paired up with the equally lovable Kate Winslet. I mean the idea of those two falling in love at Christmas should make your heart grow at least 1 size bigger. However, Nancy Meyers has managed to create a romantic-comedy so cloying and formulaic that even something that sentimentality is all but lost.
The Holiday spans two continents and follows four characters who are all losers in love. Winslet plays Iris Simpkins, a writer for the Daily Telegraph who is desperately in love with a man who only manipulates her feelings for his professional gain. When the object of her affection gets engaged Iris skips town and swaps homes with Amanda Woods, a Hollywood bigwig responsible for creating movie trailers. Obviously, the pair then meet their ideal romantic match and the plot is dragged out until everyone realises what is starring them in the face.
That’s the problem with everyone in romantic comedies: they’re all either fucking stupid or just blind to the obvious. If people were honest and up-front with one another then there would be no need to mess around with misunderstandings and pointless wallowing. What is about people that insists romance be hard when it’s depicted on screen? I don’t know about you but I’ve never had any hilarious mishaps when it comes to romance.
But I guess you can’t really blame The Holiday for that. It’s just one of the awful tropes of the genre. What you can blame The Holiday for is the insipid characters. Black’s character, Miles, is hardly developed at all and Jude Law is playing a single father in an incredibly lazy attempt to create sympathy for a one-dimensional figure. There is nothing for these actor’s to work with and even Kate Winslet, who could do an amazing job with anything, is left lost. Iris has no depth. She’s a nice but pathetic female who is defined simply through one dodgy relationship. It’s infuriating.
However, not as infuriating as Cameron Diaz’s emotionally scarred executive. Hurt by her parent’s divorce years ago, Amanda put aside her emotions in order to be the great business woman that she. It’s such a tired and frankly fucking disgusting idea that women can’t be both emotionally in-tune and business savvy. Not to go all feminist ranty on you all, the scene in which she tries to cry is a fucking abomination. Maybe this thing could pass in the 1980s but this was fucking 2006. Women are real people too now folks.
The Holiday attempts to fill it’s audience with festive cheer thanks to the snowy Surrey landscape but it’s not enough to distract from the awful narrative and underwritten characters. Taking a step back for a second, this isn’t the worst film that’s ever been made but, if you’re looking for a charming and fun holiday watch, there are plenty of much better ones out there. Check out my Essential Christmas viewing for proof.
It feels like fucking ages since my last old fashioned Monday film review. I’ve gotten so used to letting off steam in a rant every week that I’ve moved beyond the point of this blog at all. Change is all well and good obviously but this was my chance to play out my long dead desire to be a film critic. It’s just a really sad fact that I don’t get chance to see as many films at the moment. I need to catch up with things. It’s always the way though: one thing starts going well whilst everything else suffers. Reading or films? Surely there are people out there who find the balance? Until I find the dream solution I’ll count the victories where I can. Last month I managed to watch a film that I’d been excited about for a while. A film that summons up feelings of my childhood… although without the fear I experienced in those days.
Apparently, the Goosebumps series of books has sold over 350 millions books worldwide and has been translated into 32 languages. Despite being written between 1992 and 1997, the series is still one of the best selling series of fiction for the 7-11 year old market. I guess this goes someway towards explaining why it’s taken until 2015 for the books to make it to the big screen. The original fans are now about my age and only a handful will go and see it out of some weird nostalgia. Still, better late than never. Of course, with so much source material to chose between, it begs the question “how do you pick which story to turn into a film?” The obvious answer: you don’t. Instead Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski created a story about a fictitious version of author R.L. Stine who hides a terrible secret in his cobwebbed mansion. It’s a little bit weird but it’s not the most ridiculous plot we’ve ever heard.
When Zach (Dylan Minette) and his mother move to a new town, he could never expect that he’s living next door to the famous author. R.L. Stine has become something of a hermit and has locked his daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush), away from the world. Obviously, Zach and Hannah quickly fall for each other and, despite her father forbidding contact, they meet in secret whenever they can. Fearing Hannah is being held prisoner Zach and his geeky friend, Champ (Ryan Lee), break into Stine’s house and discover his biggest secret.
Stine has been keeping his spooky creations locked up in manuscripts to prevent them coming to life and causing chaos in the real world. Not too surprisingly, Zach unwittingly unleashes one of these monsters and sets off a chain of events that leaves his new town in great danger. Not wanting to pick just one eponymous Goosebumps monster to scare modern audiences screenwriter Darren Lemke unleashes all of them. It’s a relentless chase that won’t give you many chances to collect your thoughts.
There’s very little subtlety here but, for it’s intended audience, it will certainly fit the bill. The monsters are frequent and the action never-ending. For the older audience members, it’s incredibly cliched and the characters are lost in a frantic computer world. The time there are given to make connections shows some depth but that just makes it more of a shame that it’s so fucking rare.
Although, there is something about Goosebumps that works. It has the feel of a classic B movie but with a fuck-ton of CGI thrown into the mix. Some would say too much CGI but, when you look at the 90’s TV show, it’s probably for the best. The premise is a good one and celebrates the books in a better way than a traditional Goosebumps tale might have done. It shows the power of books and the importance of imagination and storytelling. If nothing else, it might inspire a new generation to embrace Stine or their own creativity.