Monday, December 25, 2017

But Is the Premise Weird Enough?: Bleeding Steel & Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Good luck, big special-effects-based movies, getting released within a week of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. You were extremely unlikely to be nearly as good as that one, which is genuinely terrific, but maybe you can get some overflow from the people who get to the theater and find out Star Wars is sold out Of course, in the case of Bleeding Steel, they've got the big 3D screens in China because The Last Jedi doesn't open until January.

Both of these movies are on the weird side, though I suppose that Star Wars is weird enough if you haven't been absorbing it since childhood. Still, Bleeding Steel cribs quite a bit from Star Wars, maybe unintentionally, at least in part, but even without that, it gets more and more absurd as it goes on, although never quite so loopy as to be too far from a borderline-realistic start. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle feels like it should be screwier - it's a movie about teenagers sucked into a videogame and winding up in adult bodies, one of the opposite sex - but it settles in easily enough that it doesn't actually feel weird most of the time. It gets pretty mission-oriented compared to how much it should have been freaking out.

Ji Qi Zhi Xue (Bleeding Steel)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 22 December 2017 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

Bleeding Steel is Jackie Chan's sixth film to come out in the United States this year, and while two were (mostly) animated while another played China in late 2016, that's still a pretty good clip for a guy in his sixties who has spent his career doing highly-physical action movies. This one is less a martial-arts showcase than a sci-fi thing that is rather brazen in what it cribs from other movies, the sort of thing that will make people shake their heads when they rediscover it later, a peculiar part of a legendary career.

Chan plays Lin Dong, a cop who is part of a UN task force in Xingan, China, although as the film opens in 2007, he's more concerned about five-year-old daughter Xixi (Elena Cai), a leukemia patient undergoing a crucial treatment, though he's called in for a crucial mission, as brilliant geneticist Dr. James (Kim Gyngell) is defecting from a terrorist state and needs to be brought into witness protect. Lin and partner Susan (Erica Xia-hou Qi-yu) are the best in the business, but they get ambushed by a small army led by a Darth Maul-looking maniac by the name of Andre (Callan Mulvey). It goes about as badly as you might expect, but James's "bioroid" research resurfaces thirteen years later in Sydney, with the author of a new Tom Clancy-style novel drawing the impression of Lin, genius hacker Leeson (Show Lo Chi-cheung), and a flamboyant lady mercenary (Tess Haubrich). Leeson, at least, is flabbergasted - how does this lead to local Chinese-Australian college student Nancy (Ou-yang Nana)?

Jackie only gets one or two action scenes where a viewer will really feel like the movie needed Jackie Chan for that, although the big central stunt where he gets into a fight on top of the Sydney Opera House is classic Chan daredevil material, the sort of thing that still kind of looks nuts even in a decade in which anything can be pasted together digitally and the action outtakes over the closing credits are mostly what scenes looked like before the wires are edited out. It's a movie where Chan's character is as likely to drive recklessly and shoot guns as throw punches, but even in a shootout, the JC Stunt Team still impresses, working with director Leo Zhang Li-jia to make the action crackle even though audiences are used to movies with this sort of B-movie plot being clumsy things where action and reaction is never in the same shot. Little things like how Jackie changes directions when dashing from one bit of cover to another show a star and team that are still fairly nimble.

Full review at EFC

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

* * (out of four)
Seen on 23 December 2017 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

There's not quite desperation to this 22-year-later "legacyquel", but something close to it, like Sony saw everyone else scoring with long-running properties and said, crap, what have we got? And so they settled on Jumanji (a likable family adventure that's had more staying power than many effects-centered flicks), signed a decent cast, and then threw enough screenwriters at it until they had something that pushed a lot of the right buttons but saw any clever contributions canceled out, until what was a fairly fresh idea for a new take on the material loses its luster before too long.

It posits that when American kids grew tired of board games, the game that magically disgorged a bunch of jungle animals into a suburban home back in 1995 evolved itself into a video game system, although even that soon wound up forgotten on a series of shelves before being found by four kids given detention - nerdy hypochondriac Spencer (Alex Wolff), football star Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), social-media star Bethany (Madison Iseman), and introverted Martha (Morgan Turner) - find it among the piles of things taken in for a junk drive. They turn it on and get sucked in, emerging in the land of Jumanji in the form of a number of ironic avatars: Spencer a mass of pure muscle (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge is a short sidekick (Kevin Hart), Bethany a portly middle-aged man (Jack Black), and Martha a statuesque fighter (Karen Gillan). They - along with Alex (Nick Jonas), who has been there a while - are given a mission to return a gem to the eye of the jaguar statues where it belongs, but villain Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), who has control of the local animal life, will do anything to stop them.

Despite having what seems like a lot going on, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle seems weirdly less ambitious than the original - where that was a sort of contained and constrained mayhem, there was a bit of Gremlins to it, not afraid to scare kids a little and hide a bit of horror underneath the flashy special effects. This one gives its characters something of an open world but seems like it's even more locked on a path than the one based on a board game, not touching what's scary except to make jokes (including way more gags about the penis of Bethany's male avatar than parents who remember the first fondly and are taking their own kids may like). The jokes about video games seem about ten years out of date and are explained to the point where they're no longer funny, and the path the characters follow feels like it's just adventure-movie spare parts with their rough exteriors smoothed out until the sense of pulpy fun is muted along with some of the genre's less enlightened traits.

Full review at EFC

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