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Jumanji: The Next Level

I’m a little late to the Jumanji party, having completely missed the original installment. That being said, it’s not imperative for you to have seen the previous film, as it stands strongly on its own.

A mysterious game console from the ’80’s transports players into another world, where they inhabit the bodies of characters within the game, Jumanji. Therein lies the device for 90% of the comedy in this film, which, surprisingly, doesn’t wear thin.

Danny DeVito’s character Eddie, hilariously transforms into Bravestone, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson acting from DeVito’s viewpoint is amazing, and you don’t doubt for a second that the two are one and the same. Likewise, sidekick Kevin Hart’s Mouse character is inhabited by Danny Glover’s mild-mannered Milo, and the laughs seem to continually multiply.

The adventure that the the players set out on, along with Jack Black and Karen Gillan, is chock-full of absurd circumstances, like nearly getting trampled by a herd of ostriches in the middle of a desert. Without giving any of the plot away, I have to say that it’s a good, old-fashioned thrill ride, a la the Indiana Jones films.

My family watched Jumanji about two weeks ago, and last night, my daughter said she’d like to watch it again. I’m in.

D.P.

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Knives Out!

Speaking as someone who loves the mystery genre, I couldn’t wait to see “Knives Out.” Set in an old Victorian mansion with a star-studded cast, the trailer firmly set the hook.

From the press kit: “The circumstances surrounding the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey are mysterious, but there’s one thing that renowned Detective Benoit Blanc knows for sure, everyone in the wildly dysfunctional Thrombey family is a suspect. Now, Blanc must sift through a web of lies and red herrings to uncover the truth. From acclaimed writer-director Rian Johnson comes this suspenseful, twist-filled whodunnit with an all-star ensemble cast including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, and more.”

Harlan Thrombey, who has accumulated a fortune writing mystery novels, realizes that he’s spent his life coddling his children and their families. Thrombey, played to perfection by Christopher Plummer, decides to cut all financial support, and leaves his estate to his kind nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), who is truly as coy as she seems.

As you might expect, Thrombey’s family is livid, and the lot turns on Marta, when Thrombey’s body is found in his study, throat slashed by a dagger. This is where the tribute to mysteries past ends, twisting more times than Chubby Checker in 1960.

Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a private investigator with an accent more ridiculous than Foghorn Leghorn, is on the case, but it’s not all that clear who hired him, or if he is even capable of unraveling the case to expose the murderer. His main suspect is Thrombey’s son, Ransom, played with prickly delight by Chris Evans. 

This is the best mystery I’ve seen since 2017’s “Murder On The Orient Express,” Kenneth Branagh’s brilliant interpretation of the classic novel. “Knives Out” edges it out, however, because it’s impossible to see the end coming. What could be better in a mystery?

D.P.

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Spies In Disguise

You might ask, “How in the world does a movie about the world’s greatest spy turning into a pigeon get greenlit?” Cast Will Smith and Tom “Spider-Man” Holland as principals, that’s how.

Holland’s character, Walter Beckett, is one of the Q’s at the spy agency, who’s got an unorthodox approach to the gadgets that he creates to stop the bad guys. In short, his devices never harm anyone. Whether it’s an endorphin-inducing glitter bomb, or a bubblegum-like substance that renders villains unable to walk, all are designed to gently contain.

Will Smith’s Lance Sterling is the only spy cooler than James Bond, even when Beckett accidentally turns him into a pigeon. As you’d expect, his quips and one-liners rarely stop, keeping the pacing brisk.

Visually, Blue Sky Studios has another film that’s nearly as brilliant as anything Pixar has produced. In fact, some of the mid-century styling made this feel almost like part of The Incredibles  franchise, which is no small feat in itself.

Great for families, there’s really nothing objectionable in this. There is a scene where Sterling tries to use an airplane bathroom after he’s turned into a pigeon, but it’s not really rude, as whatever happens in the bathroom is left up to the imagination of the viewer. It mostly just comes off as silly.

I laughed out loud more times than I can count, which tells me that “Spies In Disguise” will be well worth seeing again in the future.

D.P.

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The Rise of Skywalker

I’ve seen this film dissected to death online and in print, so rather than getting into the nuts and bolts of critiquing it for the millionth time, I thought I’d take a look at the emotional side of getting to see a new Star Wars movie.

Those close to me know that one of my favorite pleasures is going to the movies. When I arrive, I still get a charge out of looking at the backlit movie posters as I make my way to the concession stand. Waiting in line, I’ve always got a little twinge of nervous energy before I get my snacks and make my way into the theater. Snacks, you say? For me, it’s always buttered popcorn and a cherry Coke. If I’m in the mood for chocolate, it’s got to be either Snowcaps or Milkduds.

Just entering the actual theater still makes me feel like I did when my grandparents took me to see “Peter Pan” or “The Apple Dumpling Gang,” when I was a kid in the 1970’s. It’s one of my favorite places to be in the whole world. Before the previews start, I’m always in such a good mood that I even enjoy the trivia quiz and latest Coke commercial.

There’s almost always three of us; me, my wife and my daughter. We almost always see new Star Wars, Star Trek or Marvel movies together. My daughter was pretty young when the Star Wars prequels came out, so those are her favorites.

For us, these outings are as pleasant and happy as when we get to go to Wrigley to see our beloved Chicago Cubs play daytime baseball. We’re on vacation from politics, bills, work…most anything that occurs in everyday life. Our eyes and ears are focused on that beautiful silver screen, which has a way of bringing us together, as we share popcorn and Snowcaps.

While my daughter will always love the prequels the most, and my wife and I the original trilogy, we all agree that these new movies, including “Rogue One” and “Solo,” are really enjoyable. They could easily be picked apart, as they often are, but we’d just rather enjoy them. As imperfect as they are, they never stop being a vacation for us.

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Now Showing: Abominable

Chloe Bennet stars as Yi, a young girl, who lives in a small Shanghai apartment with her mother and grandmother. Yi spends her days doing the worst of odd jobs, and secretly stashes her earnings away for an adventurous trip across China. Her nights are spent on the apartment’s roof, playing the violin that her father gave her before he passed away.

One night, she discovers that a yeti, on the run from the captivity of the evil Mr. Burnish, is hiding in her rooftop sanctuary. Yi feeds him, tends to a wound on his arm, and decides to call him Everest. Everest becomes the friend that she’s always needed, and the duo set out to return him to his family home in The Himalayas.

Along the way, friends Jin (Tenzing Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai) join them. Through the various legs of their journey, their friendship is strengthened, and they learn of all the wonderful, magic qualities their yeti friend holds. They also begin to consider the importance of their friendship, and the relationships with their families back home in Shanghai.

As you’d expect, the showing that I saw was mostly families with small children. It was a joy to hear them laughing throughout this movie, which clearly showed that the target audience was pleased. The adults laughed quite a bit as well, myself included, making this family film a real winner. I wish I could elaborate on some of the funniest parts, but I really don’t want to be a spoiler.

Beautifully rendered, “Abominable” finds DreamWorks giving Pixar a serious run for their money. There were a couple of flying sequences that had such depth, they almost seemed three-dimensional. I would highly recommend this film for families spanning all ages, as there is nothing objectionable for younger eyes or ears.

D.P.

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Now Showing: The Mandalorian

Nothing could be more exciting to a kid who grew up in the 1970’s than a new entry into the Star Wars saga. It was from that vantage point, that I excitedly waited to watch “The Mandalorian.”

From Disney, “After the stories of Jango and Boba Fett, another warrior emerges in the Star Wars universe. “The Mandalorian” is set after the fall of the Empire, and before the emergence of the First Order. We follow the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.”

While that official description might not elicit excitement in Star Wars fans, the serial itself will. It does play like a futuristic western, and the character of The Mandalorian (played with Clint Eastwood dryness by Pedro Pascal) is humanized far more than the Fetts. In his quest to obtain multiple bounties, he’s warned by Greed Karga not to bite off more than he can chew. Played with weightiness by veteran Carl Weathers, Karga offers up a bounty that must be done off of the books, and the adventure begins.

Created by director Jon Favreau, clearly a fan of “A New Hope,” this serial puts the viewer back into the worn-out galaxy that Han Solo and Luke Skywalker came from. The future shown isn’t covered in shiny stainless steel and glass, it’s full of underworld miscreants and horrible weather. 

In a nutshell, that’s the thrill for me. As a fan himself, Favreau completely understands our need to not only see new Star Wars stories and characters, but the need to escape life for an hour or two and actually go to the places they inhabit. I’m in.