We Got Fun and Games — Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review

When Spencer “the nerd” (Alex Wolff), Fridge “the jock” (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany “the princess” (Madison Iseman), and Martha “the smart one” (Morgan Turner) are sent to the school’s basement for detention, they end up opening a portal into the world of Jumanji.

Inhabiting archetypal video-game avatars in direct contrast to the real-world selves, our four teens with attitude have to rid the world of a curse while maneuvering through social and personal conflicts.

It’s a mix of Freaky Friday and the Breakfast Club, but the action/adventure twist makes Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle a fun film. It also helps that the movie doesn’t eschew character building and development.

Spencer, familiar with video game mechanics, takes the lead as the muscle-bound explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) while Fridge takes a sidekick role, entering the game as the zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), a diminutive researcher whose special ability allows him to hold weapons. Bethany, whose cell-phone addiction has kept her distracted throughout high school, takes the role of the portly Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black), the group’s cartographer, and Martha takes on a more active position in the group’s dynamic as the group’s physical bruiser Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).

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Minor Leagues — Justice League Review

Marvel has Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the Avengers, but DC has the Trinity — arguably, the three most important and popular comic book heroes in comic book history.

Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) — who made an appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice finally join forces with Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to fight cosmic invaders in an action-packed but fluffy movie that ultimately fails to shoulder the momentum of this year’s breakout Wonder Woman film.

With the world in turmoil after Superman’s death, fear has risen to new heights. Who will protect Earth from the incoming alien forces being called by the powerful Mother Boxes?

It’s up to Batman to find out. Traveling the globe as Batman and Bruce Wayne, the Dark Knight hopes to build a superteam to stop the extra-terrestrial Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) from collecting the boxes into one construct that will redesign Earth into a fiery landscape more fitting for his kind.

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Heavy Metal — Thor: Ragnarok Review

Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) tries to stop the end of the world in Thor: Ragnarok, a conflicted mess of a film that showcases some of the best that Marvel Studios has to offer along with some of their cringiest.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you have the main gist of it all — Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, has come to take her place on the throne of Asgard after Odin’s death releases her from the prison his life-force created.

As Odin’s firstborn, she is the strongest of his children, and she makes her mark within moments by destroying Mjolnir and sending Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into retreat. As the brothers attempt to teleport back to their homeworld with the help of the Bifröst Bridge, Hela follows them and send them off course.

Hela appears in Asgard, where her claim to the throne hits deaf ears — that’s what happens when an entire era’s history is wiped away or covered up. Viewed as an invading force, Asgard’s army tries to hold her at bay but fails miserably against Odin’s strongest child.

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Life in Three Acts — Dunkirk Review

The battle and escape at Dunkirk was a defining point during the first stages of World War II — it ultimately rallied the British who were at one point considering a conditional surrender to Germany.

The safe return of 330,000 British and allied soldiers with the help of civilian forces spurred a counterpoint to Germany’s blitzkrieg that was pushing its way through Europe with relative ease.

While the film takes place during the harrowing hours before the retreat, Dunkirk isn’t a simple and linear retelling.

It’s a collection of parables that uses the event as a backdrop to explore the paradigm of human existence. Compressing time and space, Dunkirk is a microcosm of chaos, beauty, and the circle of human life.

The movie opens with a literal bang as German soldiers open fire on Allied troops who have, so far, maintained an uneasy and untenable position with their backs to the French oceanside in Dunkirk. A few hundred-thousand troops wait on the beach as, one by one, ships pick up the wounded first.

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Welcome Back — Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

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Marvel Studios brought home a big prize back in 2015 when they announced they had partnered with Sony Pictures to bring Spider-Man into the MCU. The Internet broke, and hope was renewed that Marvel could one day bring back other franchises sold off to other studios during a time of financial crisis.

As celebration turned into speculation, Marvel explained they weren’t going to explore Spider-Man’s origin story and that his introduction would come in Captain America: Civil War. The cameo was stellar, and the hype for Homecoming (the title, not so much) went through the roof.

The single best decision for the movie was the exclusion of an origin story — which would have made it the third retelling in 15 years. Spider-Man: Homecoming arrives ready to go, and he’s a bit more evolved than any previous version’s first single-movie appearance.

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Diet Alien — Alien: Covenant Review

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Never has an Alien movie felt so rote — so … familiar.

Looking back, each film in the series had something new or original to offer, even if the overall package was hit or miss.

The first two films are considered classics — rightly so and each for varying reasons. The first film, Alien, was a gripping horror movie that gave science fiction movies a new angle. Its sequel, James Cameron’s Aliens, went the more-is-better route, giving audiences a war movie pitting human forces against an overwhelming and superior company of predators.

Subsequent movies weren’t as well-received — Alien 3 went through numerous rewrites, and the final result felt like a letdown in contrast to what could have been. Alien: Resurrection went far into the future with a cloned Ripley and an interesting cast of characters, but it lacked the spirit of previous films.

And the prequel Prometheus tried to expand the lore while exploring religious and moral plot points. Many felt it was too convoluted and messy, while others critiqued it for silly characters who just couldn’t keep themselves from dying.

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Sophomore Slump — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

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Rating: 3 out of 5.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge success for Marvel, and I’m not just talking about box office receipts.

Naysayers worried about “the big risk” of making a movie with a talking raccoon and his companion, a talking tree with only one scripted line. It was the comic-book movie projected it to fail — a potentially huge failure to launch that had Hollywood analysts holding their heads in fear of the impending collapse of Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe.

But Guardians of the Galaxy soared despite being one of Marvel’s lesser-known comic book titles, and viewers were treated to the best Star Wars movie of this generation (Rogue One included). That raccoon and talking tree became the talk of the town, and merchandise sales added more to Disney’s coffers. A sequel was inevitable — failure, or no — and thanks to the successes of the first, the onus to get audiences to buy in has been tabled and replaced with the freedom to build up and off characters, settings, and major threats.

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 kicks off just as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and company get ready to fulfill their latest job — inter-dimensional pest-control. Buoyed by their success in taking out Rohan the Accuser, the team has become the go-to group for solving galaxy-sized problems.

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The Wonders You Can Do — Wonder Woman Review

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In the world of comics, Wonder Woman is no throw-away hero.

First appearing in comics in 1941, Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who helped invent the polygraph. Marston believed comics had incredible potential in terms of educating children, and he wanted to create a hero with a modus operandi that set him apart from his contemporaries — a hero who would conquer with love.

It was Marston’s wife Elizabeth who said the character should be female, and Marston based Wonder Woman’s physical appearance on his student and other significant other, Olive Byrne.

The rest is history. As part of DC’s famed Trinity, Wonder Woman is on par with Superman and Batman in terms of ability, leadership, and respect. Her comic has been continuously published for more than seven decades — minus a four-month absence — and she just celebrated her 75th anniversary.

So, it’s actually a wonder that it so long for Warner Bros. and DC to bring her to the silver screen. She first appeared in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and I thought she was by far the best thing about the movie. Now, in her first solo outing, Wonder Woman gets her chance to show the cinematic world that she deserves her place amongst the World’s Finest.

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The Deepest Cut — Logan Review

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Interesting how this all came about. 

While the X-Men movies have basically been Wolverine-centric, it was X-Men Origins: Wolverine that featured the first onscreen appearance of the Merc With a Mouth — Deadpool — who eventually got his own solo movie that made a strong case for R-rated comic-book flicks. 

Studios have traditionally shied away from restricting comic-book movies to adults because of financial reasons — toys, merchandise, and a larger audience filled with teens and children. 

Which is, by James Mangold’s admission, why The Wolverine ended so badly — Logan fights a robot samurai and loses his claws, which somehow grow back.

Hrm.

Anyways, for what it’s worth, The Wolverine was better than Origins — though that’s not saying much. Origins was incredibly bad, and if I had to sit through it, I’d want the leaked version stripped of its special effects for educational reasons. 

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Family Matters — The LEGO Batman Movie Review

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Batman’s foes have an existential crisis in his latest outing, The LEGO Batman Movie.

Kicking off with an amazing 10-minute song-and-punch introduction, the LEGO Batman Movie not only features a bevy of villains, known and obscure — Crazy Quilt and Killer Moth! — the movie also treads into interesting meta territory.

After Batman saves another day in Gotham City, he drops a bombshell on the Joker — the Dark Knight doesn’t think the Clown Prince of Crime is his greatest foe.

Teary-eyed, the devastated supervillain escapes and begins work on a new plan to get Batman’s attention.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne finds himself torn against a potential love interest and a new commissioner who sees Batman as a problem. Between bouts of love and anger at Commissioner Barbara Gordon’s new plans for the city, Bruce agrees to adopt the orphan Dick Grayson.

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