I laughed harder during THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 than at any other film this year and emerged from the theater with tears in my eyes because of it. The film doesn’t break new ground, but I’ll own it and watch a dozen more times for sure. Take the family! 😻
Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.
Plenty of regular everyday people make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too. Annually, including this eighth edition, have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change, even if I get to do it every week in a different ranting way on “What We Learned This Week.” My cadence hasn’t changed. I have no false internet courage to be a Twitter troll. As always, some resolutions come true while others get mentioned and reiterated every year. A great deal of last year’s list is still relevant. Enjoy this year’s hopes and dreams.
#2: Disney, take your time with Fox properties you bought from Marvel.
A recent Kevin Feige interview became click bait when he said that Fox’s Marvel properties, mostly the Fantastic Four and X-Men universes, could be in their control within six months. Everyone (well, expect me) got out their abacuses and calendars to calculate how fast those new incarnations would arrive. My advice and resolution preached patience. Don’t just make these films because you can. Take your time and get them right. Fantastic Four has had two failed attempts. X-Men has had its soft reboot too and is already slipping. I have no doubt those characters are in the right place, but Marvel needs to hold off.
#3: Speaking of Disney, slow down with your own releases.
Have you seen the Disney release calendar for 2019? It’s insane. Their dominance, as if we already didn’t know, is unquestioned and it shows. I think it’s too much. When big releases are on top of each other like this, they feel more run-of-the-mill instead of special. I remember a time when there was only animated Disney film a year. It was huge, important, and it mattered. It’s hard to multiply care when there are a half-dozen or more between Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and their own house brand choices. Space them out. Build them up. Make them matter because they don’t come around all that often.
#4: Don’t show us another second of Avengers: Endgame
Those of you who follow my weekly column and the “soapbox specials” know that I’ve sworn off of trailers and have been encouraging people like a cinematic cult leader to do the same. I’ve simply seen too many and oversell their products and create unreasonable expectations which create the butthurt fans we have come to hate. Avengers: Endgame would be the perfect trailblazer. That movie doesn’t need a second of marketing to get our money. How awesome would it be if they stopped cold right now after the first trailer? Our frenzy of anticipation off of the small sample would create more buzz than any new footage. At the same time, the studio could pad their bottom with the reduced need to throw money into marketing, as well as merchandise too. Don’t even release an action figure until after the screaming and parent-tugging kids see the movie in April. Don’t hope for a frenzy. Create one.
#5: Vet your hosts and spokespeople
In the Twitter meltdown wake of James Gunn, Louis CK, Kevin Hart and more this past year, studio heads and showrunners need to do a better job background checking their hires. It shouldn’t matter as much as it turns out, but we’re seeing it does. Big outfits and corporations have too many PR employees and interns at their disposal to miss the large problems they have this year. When those flags come up, talk it out and have a plan before making final decisions and public comments.
#6: If you’re a celebrity, it’s time to get off Twitter
I think we’ve reached a point where we have to ask what the gain is from Twitter. Sure, it’s fun to see trends and maybe catch breaking news, but that’s for us anonymous people of the general public. If you’re a big star, do you really need the scrutiny just for a small PR and promotional bump that comes from social media accessibility? I don’t see the value if you’re an established celebrity or brand.
#7: Repackage the Oscars a better way
Speaking if Kevin Hart, the embarrassing panhandling for a new host and poor attempts to shoehorn new and silly categories creates the need for this resolution. I say don’t do even have a host at this point. Reduce the bits and focus on the awards. Here’s some perfect and generous math even with a host. Give the 24 categories 5 minutes each (3 to introduce it gracefully with deeper montages than mere quick mentions and 2 full minutes for each winner’s speeches) and that’s 120 minutes. Tack on 5 minutes to open with a welcoming monologue, 5 minutes to close with a thankful prologue, 3 minutes for the annual dead people roll call, and 30 minutes for required commercials to pay the bills. Easy peasy! You’re well under three hours, the awards are given rich room to operate, and nothing is forgotten except another hare-brained skit. As far as categories go, Best Casting and Best Stunt Work deserve inclusion. If you want to trade those for some technical awards being moved to the separate Science awards night, so be it, but don’t even try to devalue the whole show with a dumb and patronizing Popular Film award. Leave those awards for MTV.
#8: Respect Netflix
Speaking of the Oscars, much is being talked about on a perceived bias and beef the Academy has with Netflix films. They need to put it aside with tolerance for a new and viable distribution outlet that isn’t going away, especially if they keep landing high pedigree films like Roma and The Irishman. Movie moguls need to arrive at the learning curve television and their Emmy Awards have already put behind them where cable and streaming shows have equal footing and respect as network shows. Welcome the new guy better than you are.
#9: Netflix, please choose quality over quantity
Speaking of Netflix, you might need the same resolution as the one Disney got earlier. We get it. You have money and are spending it. You can freely drop films and splash any and every pot with them. The trouble is you have more bombs than winners. For every Roma and Bird Box, you have a dozen that never get attention because there are too many choices. I know, right? Who would have ever thought too many choices was a bad thing. Netflix, I see your strengths. You are revitalizing the midrange budget film market studios haven’t been making since the 1990s. You give indie films wider and better chances for visibility than they would at the shrinking number of arthouse screens. You have long championed documentaries. Do all that with a discerning eye and refined taste.
#10: Keep repackaging Adam Sandler
Speaking of quality over quantity, if you don’t count his voice work in Hotel Transylvania 3, 2018 was the first year in a long time without a theatrical release from Adam Sandler. That alone made 2018 a glorious year answering one of this column’s longest repeating annual resolutions to stop that man’s redundantly bad career. I say that while still being happy Adam Sandler’s recent unbound and R-rated Netflix comedy special has done so well. Give us that grown-up Adam Sandler. Bury the man child. Since Netflix is writing him checks, it’s up to them to remake Adam Sandler. Someday, we’ll be glad he’s back in the spotlight as a new man. The fear will always be him slipping back to the boorish slacker type that made him rich.
#11: Price point will always be the greatest trigger and hurdle simultaneously
This goes for all of the current streaming services out there and all of the ones still coming, especially Disney+. Each streaming service’s standalone price makes it highly affordable compared to the price of theater tickets for the whole family year-round or a bloated cable TV subscription. The devices like AppleTV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire, and more are all wonderfully affordable too. The hard part is if/when you feel like you need to have 4-5 streaming services in addition to the steadily increasing costs of high speed internet to make it all work. Then that number balloons. At some point, the overabundance of services and higher prices will break a common person’s budget. The services have to make sure they don’t reach that point.
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication. As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.
We live in a world of remakes, reboots, reimaginings and rebrandings. Sequels and franchises dominate the box office. If a studio sees any opportunity to squeeze a dime out of something you loved as a child, chances are it’s already in production. While they’re not all terrible, even the best of them are merely well-produced retreads that lack innovation and imagination. But every once in a while, a sequel or a reboot comes along that surpasses its source material with a fresh take that injects life into the property. This Christmas, we’re lucky enough to have one of those rare diamonds in the rough in Jake Kasdan’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a standalone sequel to the 1995 hit Jumanji, directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt and a young Kirsten Dunst that spawned an animated television series and multiple video games. Boasting cutting edge CGI for its time, the film told the story of four players stuck in the middle of a mystical interactive board game where you win or you die. I’ve been excited for this film for a while due to my fond memories of the original and the casting of Dwayne Johnson in the lead role. Anyone who knows me knows that the easiest way to get me into a theater is to cast The Rock.
The film picks up almost exactly where the original left off in 1996 with the board game being discovered on a beach where it washed up after Robin Williams’ Allan Parrish attempted to bury it in the bottom of a river in 1969. The man who discovered the game gives it to his son Alex who has no interest in board games but is an avid video gamer. The game transforms itself into a video game and after we see some green flashing lights from outside Alex’s window, the film fast forwards to the present day where four high schoolers discover the video game while cleaning out an old storage room and they one by one get sucked into the world of Jumanji. Having been transformed into the bodies of their avatars (Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black), the four students must find a jewel that’s been stolen and return it to its sacred resting place before the perils of the jungle take their lives.
If the plot sounds simple, that’s because it absolutely is. There are a couple of mostly predictable twists and turns along the way, but this film works because of the solid chemistry of its cast. Continuing the on-screen chemistry that was forged in 2016’s surprising comedy Central Intelligence, Johnson and Hart play off of each other well and are the source of a lot of the film’s biggest laughs. Jack Black is as funny as he’s been in years as a self-obsessed teenage girl trapped in the body of a middle-aged man. Karen Gillan is perfectly awkward as an awkward teen suddenly trapped in the body of a stereotypical female video game heroine. The four of them clearly seem to be having a lot of fun together and each character is given their chance to shine.
There are a lot of films out there to see this time of year that will be mentioned come awards season. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is absolutely not one of those films. It’s ridiculous and over the top, but if I were making a list of the most enjoyable movies of the year, it would definitely be in the top five. I enjoyed the action, it made me laugh and there was a surprising emotional punch at the end that I didn’t see coming. If you’re wanting to go out with the family* to have a good time at the movies this holiday season, I have a hard time believing that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle would leave you disappointed.
*This is a film with PG-13 humor unlike the original that catered to wider audiences. There is some content that might be objectionable to some with younger children. I’m glad I saw it on my own before taking my children who are all under the age of 12.
Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.
Welcome to our spoiler-free review where we talk about the newest DreamWorks Animation film, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Mike Ward of Should I See It? Reviews is here for this one and we do our best to give you both our own adult impressions as well as that of our kids, who range in ages from around 10-14. If you’re on the fence about seeing this one or curious what it’s all about, this is the episode for you.