Jumanji: The Next Level (2019): The Kinda Sorta Freaky Friday Holiday Special

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“Jumanji: The Next Level” is directed by Jake Kasdan, who also directed this film’s predecessor, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” This film stars Dwayne Johnson (Rampage, San Andreas), Kevin Hart (Ride Along, The Wedding Ringer), Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda, Goosebumps), and Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Who). This film is the sequel to the recently mentioned “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” and it continues following the characters we got to know from the last film, a group of young adults who get sucked into a video game and become the the avatars they chose. And in this followup, the main young adult, specifically Spencer, returns home from studying in New York around Christmastime. He eventually goes into his basement and decides to play the “Jumanji” video game once more. This leaves Spencer’s friends bewildered of where he’s gone and leads to their eventual return to the virtual world.

I have been on this blog since 2016, and I have reviewed a good number of movies every year since then, but one of them was not “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” For one thing, I had little time on my hands for it, there were other movies I was more focused on such as “The Disaster Artist,” I was trying to get started on 2018 in film, I had my end of year countdowns (by the way, stay tuned for my BEST & WORST movies lists of 2019 once the New Year arrives), and I will also add that I saw the trailer for “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and before that, I heard about the movie’s plot. I wasn’t particular fond with it. I grew up admiring the “Jumanji” film from the 1990s, the one with the horrific board game that brought havoc upon humanity, I loved that movie from a story and spectacle perspective. The ending still gives me chills just thinking about it. When it comes to “Welcome to the Jungle,” the 2017 reboot, I was scared for how it would turn out because it felt like there was going to be significantly less at stake compared to its 1990s counterpart. After all, the movie took place inside a video game as opposed to the real world, where ACTUAL things happen. But to my surprise, I had a rather fun time with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” The main cast has terrific chemistry, a lot of jokes inside the video game worked, Jack Black’s performance is up there with some of the finest I’ve seen in a popcorn movie, and here’s a shocker, it felt like there were stakes! Surprisingly, anything that took place in the real world was boring compared to the video game. Granted, when the movie kicks itself into gear and I start seeing lots of Sony product placement everywhere, I cannot help but get irritated.

Speaking of surprises, I honestly think “Jumanji: The Next Level” may be better than its predecessor. I think it has better writing, the ideas are just about as clever as they were in 2017, it’s crowd-pleasing, and I will say that a couple new characters bring a bit to the table as well. Most notably, Danny DeVito (Batman Returns, The Lorax).

In this movie, Danny DeVito plays Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie, and I don’t know how many of you saw the trailers, but without giving much detail, he ends up getting sucked into the “Jumanji” video game, so he manages to become an avatar. To be as blind as possible, the avatar he happens to portray is why I found it hilarious when he asks “Are we in Florida?” Yes, the trailer reveals who he becomes, but I went into this movie fairly blind so I am just trying to go off of my experience.

Now I mentioned that in the last “Jumanji” movie, “Welcome to the Jungle,” I never really liked anything that happened in the real world, and I say this because anything that was spoken or acted out in the real world was never funny, somewhat generic, and it did not have much glamour to it if you wil. All I saw were four stereotypical teens not knowing they were going to escape their boring everyday lives and that’s about it. Granted, I grew to like them, but still. But what made the real world events interesting was catching up with our past characters, because they were reuniting, and even though I have known them for less than a week, I feel like I have grown up with them. After all, they were in high school in the first film, and now they are following their own paths in life. I have a feeling I will have some sort of reunion with somebody down the road that I have known from high school in the future, after all, the holidays are here, making this a good time for it. Plus, I’ll mention once again, speaking of reality, Danny DeVito’s real life character is honestly a highlight of the movie for me. I am honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed watching him, especially when he has a little reunion of his own. This movie goes into a little sideplot (if you can call it that), about a restaurant that he and someone else operated together. This is just a fraction of the interactions DeVito has with the character of Milo, who is wonderfully played by Danny Glover. Both of them have great chemistry and I honestly would not mind a spinoff mini-series on Crackle or something just listening to them have conversations.

But let’s be serious, real life is overrated, and sometimes it’s a video game, it’s just a fact. I do like how the video game manages to go in different directions with its characters and storyline, this time there is a new plot where the characters are after a different object. It’s sort of got similar beats to the previous installment, but it has enough to not feel like a ripoff. As for the villain, Jurgen the Brutal, I thought he was just going to be this cliche bad guy who wants to do bad guy things upon one or two early impressions of him, but even though he may resemble someone with cliches, the way the movie goes about executing his character, specifically towards the end, is a thing of beauty. There is an ongoing scene where our characters are interacting with him and his cronies, it’s not only intense, but also pretty funny. That’s the thing that I will say is amazing about this movie. I know it’s got comedic talent, but to have TWO “Jumanji” movies that aren’t exactly the within the realm of “Jumanji” I have come to know and have BOTH be funny and charming is one of the best surprises I have gotten during my recent moviewatching experiences.

But even though I will point out that this film is better than the original, it doesn’t mean it’s flawless. As much as I really like the climax, it does get a little off the rails towards the end. Granted, there is a bit of that off the rails factor that I like, but there’s also a tad that I found to be too insane. It is a video game though, which often distorts itself from reality so maybe I’ll retract this error eventually. I think some of the pacing could have been fixed, and once again, this is not that big of an issue, but there are some scenes that take place in the real world that feel like they are just inserted at a random point and it almost doesn’t flow. This movie is not that much longer than its predecessor, and even though I found certain portions dull, the pacing is a bit better in that film. The last film felt shorter than what it actually was, but this one just felt a tad longer. There’s also one scene with ostriches that is most certainly trying to get a laugh out of people, but feels like something out of a a horror movie where every character does not know the first thing about common sense. I get it, jokes bring smiles to people’s faces, but so do characters with brains. Nevertheless, “Jumanji: The Next Level” is funny and I would not mind watching it again on a rainy day at home.

In the end, “Jumanji: The Next Level” is exactly as the title suggests, “The Next Level.” The last movie was good, this one is a step up. I think I’ll end up having a little more replay value with this one, but we’ll have to see. The characters, both real and fake, are all a joy to watch. The movie itself is pretty mindless, but also works because it is so mindless. In fact, portions of its creativity perhaps comes from mindlessness. I know “The Rock” is not a GREAT actor, just a muscular man who has a somewhat engaging screen presence, but if I had to compare the performance he gave in “Jumanji: The Next Level” to pretty much anything else he’s done, this may be the best he’s been in terms of solid acting ability. I mean, when you are playing someone that is literally portraying somebody else in avatar form, it requires a little bit of extra effort to maybe be convincing. For that, props to Dwayne Johnson. I’m going to give “Jumanji: The Next Level” a 7/10.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is most likely going to be for “Uncut Gems,” which I saw before reviewing this movie, but I wanted to get this “Jumanji” review out first because it felt like a higher priority. Also stay tuned in about a week and a half, where I will have my review for the biggest movie event of the season, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account for greater access and posts brought directly to your personal feed! Please leave a like on this post, and if you like liking, like… a lot, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Jumanji: The Next Level?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite video game of all time? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018): I Believe in Magic 8-Balls

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“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is directed Eli Roth (Death Wish, Cabin Fever) and stars Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda, Goosebumps), Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok, How to Train Your Dragon 2), and Owen Vaccaro (Daddy’s Home, Mother’s Day) as a young orphan named Lewis meets up with his charismatic uncle Jonathan. This uncle happens to be a warlock who lives with an elderly witch by the name of Florence Zimmerman. Together, they are all living in the same house that is said to be haunted. Throughout the movie, Jonathan is trying to get rid of a clock through magic in order to preserve the world.

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is one of those films I just didn’t know much about before going to see it. I remember seeing one trailer for it in the movie theater. And in all honesty, the first time I even heard about this was when the film was doing advance screenings. Then again, I live 30 minutes from Boston and Eli Roth, the director behind this film, actually was born around the area. So I don’t know what other areas happened to be doing regarding this film, but I remember getting some alerts for screenings going back as far late August. Although I must say, the screenings were far ahead of when I was alerted of them. The screenings actually happened to be on the week when the movie actually released. Guess Universal didn’t have too much faith in this film. Most of the marketing I saw came towards the time before the movie went into theaters.

I have to say though, despite some apprehension with the marketing, “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is a fun time! I’d say it’s a decent flick for kids and adults alike. It doesn’t treat people like idiots (for the most part, because it is apparent these days that you can’t have a kids movie without poop jokes). The biggest praises I can give to this movie is the lovable chemistry between the characters. Some highlights include Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, who play off each other calling each other rude names. The gag increasingly dies down as the movie goes on, which is kind of unfortunate considering once I first witnessed this, it was one of the best parts of the movie.

As far as the kid goes in this movie, his name is Owen Vaccaro. I wouldn’t go ahead and call Vaccaro the next great child actor, who is gonna go onto win Oscars one day. I mean, he could, but his name probably wouldn’t be as prominent. It’s not like I’m witnessing another Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder) or Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone, My Girl). However, Vaccaro’s performance serves both the character and the movie very well. His character, known by the name of Lewis Barnavalt, is pretty much a wiz. He reminds me of a more humanized version of Mindy Kaling’s character from “A Wrinkle in Time.” I’m not saying he often quotes other people, particularly those who happen to be famous and have perhaps above average intelligence, but he does seem to have some abnormalities to him. He often looks in a dictionary, and I mean that in a way that technically qualifies as a hobby. In fact, what makes this kid weird, is kind of what this movie tries to teach people. It’s similar to other lessons that may have been provided in children’s films before, but it doesn’t mean the film fails on trying to emphasize such a lesson.

While the kid may be weird, the character played by Jack Black is just plain crazy. He almost reminds me of a mad scientist in some ways because he doesn’t seem to believe in the concept of sleep. So in a way, I guess you can say I can relate to this character. The character’s name is Jonathan Barnavalt and he is a warlock. Jack Black is probably my favorite character in the movie, and perhaps the one that kids might want to emulate the most. For one thing, his house has one rule (don’t open a particular cabinet), but other than that, there are literally no rules. He’s enthusiastic, hyperactive, and it adds up to make him rather charming.

As for Cate Blanchett, her character goes by the name of Florence Zimmerman. Out of everyone in the movie, she wasn’t my favorite character. She was pretty close, but Jack Black takes the cake. But the thing is, I literally had no idea I was even witnessing Cate Blanchett in this movie. So out of everyone in the movie, I’d say this character was the most well performed. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really know Cate Blanchett was going to be in this film and I knew Jack Black was. Plus the film reminded me of “Goosebumps,” which also had Jack Black as a character with some similarities to his character in this movie. I’ve seen Cate Blanchett in some films before like “Lord of the Rings,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” I’m somewhat surprised that I wasn’t really able to discern Cate Blanchett because to me she seems to have one of those voices you can easily pick out. But you also have to consider how Cate Blanchett looks in this movie compared to how she does off screen. Even so, I feel like Cate Blanchett embodied this character well and it just goes to show one actor can truly slip over your head sometimes. I am not saying Cate Blanchett’s performance is gonna get her an Oscar nomination, maybe at best she’ll be recognized for a Saturn Award, but I’m not sure.

But in all reality, what makes this film so interesting to me is the vibe and the spirit of the film itself. This film is in the fantasy genre, and it’s particularly aimed at families. I will have you know that when I was actually at the theater to watch this movie, I was the only customer in attendance. “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” manages to balance humor, story, and character development very effectively. In fact, in some ways, I guess you can also say this is a horror movie as well. One reviewer on YouTube by the name of Chris Stuckmann actually went to see this movie, and somebody told him that children walked out of the theater early because they were scared. When I saw his review, it reminded me of how I studied something scary from a childhood show I watched. I’m not sure what it was, but it was probably from a show on PBS or something. I could understand why some children would walk out. Comparing this film to “Goosebumps” once more, there are some light scares that almost seem like scares that fall into the “playing safe” category, but then there’s one scene that stood out to me as I watched it and almost reminded me of what I “must” have witnessed as a kid. If you like horror, I wouldn’t say to go out of your way and watch this movie. This isn’t like you’re watching “A Quiet Place” or something. But if you want to have fun and escape reality, “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is for you.

In the end, “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is a fine fantasy film that probably won’t be remembered throughout time, but it is certainly good for a watch. It’s intriguing, occasionally suspenseful, funny, and perhaps the most effective commercial for the Magic 8-Ball that I’ve seen since maybe “Angels in the Outfield.” Would I buy the movie on Blu-ray? Probably not. If it were used and available for a decent price maybe I’d put my hands on it. However I am proud to say that my recent viewing of this film was not a waste of time. I’m gonna give “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” a 7/10. Thanks for reading this review. Be sure to stay tuned for my review of “Apollo 13,” which will be up on October 11th (hopefully). This will be my last space movie review before I make the trek to see “First Man,” so be sure to check that out. Also, be sure to check out my eventual reviews for “Venom” and “A Star Is Born.” One more thing, I just got back from New York Comic Con, and I’ve got a bit to talk about regarding that, so look forward to my review on that sometime soon! Be sure to follow Scene Before with a WordPress account or email so you can stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, did you see “The House with a Clock in Its Walls?” What did you think about it? Or, given how this film is directed by Eli Roth, what is your favorite film Eli Roth was involved in? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!