Friday, December 30, 2011

Game Night

Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Bonnie Hunt, Bradley Pierce
Released: December 15, 1995

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins
Released: November 11, 2005

Zathura is not a sequel or prequel to Jumanji, but both films are connected as they are both based on books written by Chris Van Allsburg (who also wrote The Polar Express) and both are about board games that come to life. However, besides that, the two movies are not connected.

Jumanji's journey begins all the way back in the 1860s where we see two adolescent boys looking scared and burying a wooden box that is emitting a steady banging sound. Fast forward one hundred years later where we see young Alan, who will grow up to be Robin Williams, but is now played by Little Man Tate. He's about twelve years old and gets beat up by the bullies at his school because he's been hanging out with one of the bullies girlfriend, Sarah, who will grow up to be Bonnie Hunt, but is now played by the girl who will go on to play the lead in Legally Blonde on Broadway. His dad is really strict with him and wants him to attend an all-boy's private school. Fun fact: his mom is played by Patricia Clarkson.

Alan hears the drumming sound when he's walking home from school one day and finds the wooden board game. (Evidently, those two boys from the 1860s didn't bury it so well as it only takes him a couple of minutes to dig it up). He brings it home and just as he's about to start playing, Sarah stops by to apologize for her boyfriend for beating him up. He invites her to play, but she says she hasn't played board games since she was a little girl, but is intrigued by it, so she stays and plays with him.

The game has wooden pieces that move themselves after the player has rolled the dice. When they have landed on a square, they receive a card that has a rhyme on it and literally does what it says. Because of this, Alan is sucked into the game and will stay there until another player rolls a five or an eight. This of course traumatizes Sarah and she runs screaming out.

Fast forward to the present. Or, at least, to 1995.

Before she was T-T-T-Torrance, Kirsten Dunst was the young blonde girl with braids named Judy. She and her younger brother, Peter (Bradley Pierce who is probably most well known for voicing Chip in Beauty and the Beast) move in with their aunt (Bebe Neuwirth) in Alan's big and creepy old house. Before they are about to leave for school, they both hear a loud drumming sound coming from the attic. Their aunt doesn't seem to hear it and they both tell her they can wait for the bus without her and when she leaves, they both race upstairs and find the game and start playing. Neither of them are too freaked out when they find monkeys terrorizing the kitchen or when a lion suddenly appears in the same room as them. Judy thinks it's part of the game, that what they're seeing is just a special effect.

Speaking of special effects, I remember being amazed at them when I first saw this movie in the theaters, but they haven't aged very well. They're impressive for their time, but now they look pretty antiquated.

Peter rolls a five and Alan (now Robin Williams as it's been awhile) appears with a beard and ragged clothes. He's been living in the jungle and is elated when he finds out he's home. He seems to think he's still a kid as he runs around the house trying to look for his parents. He finally understand what's going on and tells Judy and Peter the only way to make all of this stop is to finish the game, but they need Sarah to do this. They find her and have to force her to play with them. She's become sort of a recluse as everyone thinks she's crazy since she told the police what really happened to Alan.

The four of them continue to play the game throughout the movie and have to endure a stampede of wild animals (probably one of the most iconic scenes from the film); vines growing all over the house; quicksand; a monsoon (indoors, nonetheless); and a hunter named Van Pelt who is trying to kill Alan. I didn't realize this until now, but the same actor plays both Van Pelt and Alan's father.

Of course Alan wins in the end, just after Van Pelt has taken a shot at him and he and his gun and bullet get sucked back into the game along with all the wild animals and natural disasters that has occurred. There's a bit of time travel because Alan and Sarah are suddenly there younger selfs and are back at his house the night they started the game. They remember everything that has happened and when we return to 1995 again, they are married and meet Judy and Peter and their parents who have not yet died in the  car crash yet and they convince them not to go to Canada which is where the accident occurred.

While Jumanji had a jungle theme, Zathura had a space theme. The movie is confined to one location while the characters in Jumanji were all over the town. We meet Walter and Danny (Hutcherson and Bobo (that poor kid with a last name like that!)) brothers who don't exactly get along. Their dad (Robbins) has a meeting to go to and gets their older sister (a pre-zombie, oops, I mean Twilight, Kristen Steward) to watch them. She says she will, but goes back to sleep.

Danny, the younger one, finds a big rectangular box in the basement and brings it up to reveal the game of Zathura. While Jumanji was made out of wood, Zathura is made out of plastic. He asks Walter if he wants to play, but his older brother is more interested in watching TV, so Danny decides to play by himself. Instead of dice, the player has to crank a dial and the arrow points to a number which is how many spaces the spaceship game piece passes. A card shoots out and like Jumanji, it has a little rhyme and whatever it says on the card literally happens.

Their house becomes a spaceship, so thus the reason for the confined space. They have to fight an evil robot and other space monsters and meet an astronaut (Shepard). They go through some pretty periling things, and like Jumanji, there's also a bit of time-traveling in this one, but it's more complicated and doesn't make any sense. It turns out that the astronaut is actually Walter as an adult. Back when he played the game with his brother, he got a Shooting Star card which meant he could wish for anything he wanted and he wished for his brother to never be born. If that's the case, then how is younger Walter playing the game with his brother. It didn't make any sense.

You know what game-come-to-life movie they should make next? FIREBALL ISLAND! Now I know Jumanji and Zathura weren't based on actual games (duh), but I know they made a game into Jumanji after the movie (how disappointed do you think the kids who received that were?!), but Fireball Island would make an awesome movie if it were done in the same vein as Jumanji or Zathura. 

For those of you not familiar with Fireball Island, the point was pretty much to get your guy from start to finish without being knocked over by a fireball (i.e. a red marble). I forgot what triggered the fireballs, I think it was if you stepped on a certain colored stone or picked a certain card. But that was always my favorite part : to see the fireball knock someone down. It was also great when someone was standing on one of the bridges and the marble would knock them into the water, haha. I just know it would make a really exciting movie! Hmm, maybe I should start writing the screenplay!


Friday, December 16, 2011

Breaking Dawn book review

I've finished reading "Breaking Dawn" which means I've finished reading the entire series of "Twilight!" Please help me celebrate by viewing my videos! I even brought the champagne and Aqua music!

Okay, at 1:07, I say that Edwards thinks Jacob will listen to Bella. Well, I meant that Edward thinks Bella will listen to Jacob. I probably had too much champagne at that point! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Childhood Christmas Classic

Home Alone
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O'Hara, John Heard, John Candy
Released: November 16, 1990

Oscar nominations: (I had no idea this movie was nominated for any Oscars; probably because I didn't start watching the Oscars until 1995-ish).
Best Score - John Williams (lost to John Barry for Dances with Wolves)
Best Song - "Somewhere in My Memory" by John Williams (lost to "Sooner or Later I Always Get My Man" by Stephen Sondheim from Dick Tracy)

I'm going to try to make it a tradition to review at least one holiday movie around this time of year. Two years ago I reviewed Elf, last year I reviewed Love, Actually and this year I opted for a favorite of mine from my childhood. I remember seeing Home Alone in the theaters and just thinking it was the funniest thing ever. I still think it's pretty funny (the whole gag with the statue outside the house always falling down when it's hit by the airpot shuttle or pizza delivery car never fails to make me giggle and I love the scene with the pizza delivery boy and the video. "Well, sir, you have to pay for your pizza!") I have to wonder, though, if I would still like this movie if it came out in this day and age.  It came out when I was  in fourth grade, so of course I was the target audience for it. Obviously the entire cast would be changed as they would all be too old and there would be little changes made to make it more current. It's funny because I was watching the commentary with Chris Columbus and Macaulay Culkin (which they recorded about five years ago) and they sort of joked that if the movie were made today, it would be over right before the family gets to the airport because with all the security measurements they would never make it on the plane, especially if they just had minutes to spare. Not to mention that they would all have cell phones to contact Kevin. Macaulay also joked that he wouldn't be in it because he was 26, unless he was living in his parents' basement and they forgot him on their trip to Paris. Who knew Macaulay Culkin was so funny?

How bad of a mother is Catherine O'Hara in this? I mean, who forgets their own child when leaving for a trip? I do think the movie does a good job of making it as realistic as possible. Yes, most mothers would not forget their own child, but for the sake of the movie, they do set it up as you can see why they just forget about him. First, there was fifteen people in that house (which looked like it could hold about 100 - that is a really nice house). Then we have it set up where Kevin gets in trouble (and I can totally empathize with him for having an older provoking brother) and has to sleep upstairs in the attic alone. Then there's a storm and the power goes out and everyone wakes up late and is in a mad dash to the airport. And of course we have Kevin's neighbor friend come over and he is accidentally counted as Kevin. (I loved that kid - "Does this van get good gas mileage? Does it have four-wheel drive? Does it have automatic transmission? How much horse power does it have?") So I can see how it's possible they would forget about him. The one thing that didn't really make any sense was after Kevin's mom lands in Paris and gets in touch with the police back home and they send an officer over to check on him. It didn't make any sense that he didn't say he was the police and didn't go in and check to see if the kid was hurt or something. But I guess if that had happened, the movie would be over.

I mentioned earlier how funny I thought this movie was when I was a kid and it still makes me laugh but it's only now watching it as someone older and wiser do I realize what a warped little kid Kevin was. (Maybe it was watching Angels with Filthy Souls). Some of the things Harry and Marv have to endure when they attempt to rob Kevin's house are almost things Jack Bauer would think of to torture terrorists! The blowtorch to the head, the hand touching the hot knob, the hot iron in the face, the bare foot on the nail (oh, that scene always makes me cringe), and the bare feet stepping on those glass ornaments. Not to mention both of them falling down the icy steps.

I don't know how Kevin cleaned up the house because his mother (and the rest of the family) arrived home the next morning. He must have been up all night - or maybe he called a cleaning service! I always get a little teary-eyed when Kevin is reunited with his mother and well as when he sees his scary neighbor reunited with his family and when he's walking outside and sees a happy family together at Christmas and he's all alone. It's so sad!

I think Chris Columbus is a little clueless. Here is a funny exchange between him and Macaulay during the commentary. (And remember, the commentary was filmed around 2006-07).
Columbus: I think he went on to be in a popular kids' show (referring to Kevin's red-headed brother, Jeff).
Culkin: Yeah, The Adventures of Pete and Pete.
Columbus: Is that still on the air?

Is Pete and Pete still on the air? Is he serious? Dude, Michelle Trachtenberg was on that show before she was on Buffy and she first joined that cast in 2001! Trust me, it's been awhile since Pete and Pete has been on the air. (It ran from '93-'96 according to IMDb). That just made me laugh.

To go back and answer my own question about whether I would like this movie if it came out in this day and age? Probably not. It wouldn't have the nostalgic factor!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's Time To Meet the Muppets

The Muppets
Director: James Bobin
Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black, The Muppets
Released: November 23, 2011
Viewed in theaters: November 28, 2011

This is my history with the Muppets. When The Muppet Show was on air, I wasn't even born when it premiered and way too young to watch it when it ended. I have seen episodes either from re-runs or videos, but even then it's been awhile. I am very familiar (and love) the theme song because I have it on my iPod. It's a very catch song (and they do play it in the movie). How can you not love it?

I remember watching the animated series Muppet Babies, which thinking back now, doesn't make any sense because the Muppets are puppets and puppets can't be cartoons. But I digress. And of course I'm sure I've seen many movies the Muppets have starred in, but the only one I can remember seeing  is A Muppet Christmas Carol which I saw in the theater nineteen (!!!!) years ago. Oh, and of course I watched Sesame Street when I was a kid and Kermit was on that show often if I remember correctly. I go back and forth on who my favorite Muppet is, but I have a soft spot for Rowlf. He's really adorable AND he's a piano playing dog! You guys, I totally want a piano playing dog. But I do love Kermit. And Gonzo. And Beaker. And Animal! ANIMAL!

At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to brothers Gary and Walter. Gary is played by Jason Segel, who also co-wrote the movie. Walter is a muppet. Don't ask me how they're brothers. We never meet the parents, but it did make me wonder how that would work. It's like when I read Harry Potter and wondered how Hagrid's father could be a human and his mother a giant. And these are for kids! I didn't know why they didn't make Gary and Walter best friends, but it was funny when they did a montage of them growing older, Gary would keep getting taller and taller and Walter would stay the same height.

"Maniacal laugh! Maniacal laugh!"
Being that Walter is a muppet, he is a fan of the Muppets. He's ecstatic when Gary invites him along to the trip to Los Angeles he's planned with his longtime girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams, who doesn't have much to do besides be adorable). They go on a tour of the Muppet Studio but find it's abandoned and dusty and while hiding, Walter overhears an evil oil tycoon (aptly named Tex Richman (played by Chris Cooper)) telling his cronies his plans for tearing the entire studio down because there's oil underneath. If you've ever wanted to hear Chris Cooper rap, this is the movie for you! Yes, you read that right!

Walter relays the news to Gary and Mary and they find Kermit and convince him to get the Muppets together to try to save their studio. The entire gang (Fozzie! Miss Piggy! Gonzo! Rowlf! Animal! Scooter! Beaker! Dr. Bunsen! Swedish Chef! The two old dudes from the balcony! And the others!) reunite and put on a telethon to help raise money. The show is reminiscent  of The Muppet Show, only it's called The Muppet Telethon. My favorite moment of the telethon was when the chickens squawked Cee Lo's F--- You (Cluck You?) Now I will never be able to listen to that song without hearing a bunch of chickens clucking.

It's a sweet movie, but not overly saccharine. There's plenty of laugh out loud moments that don't resort to stupid and juvenile jokes, but not all the jokes work all the time, especially the meta jokes. The only meta joke that did make me laugh was when they were going across the country finding all the Muppets and after they had picked up three or four of them, one of them suggested to Gary that they do a montage to make it go faster. There's also an ongoing gag with Kermit's butler, '80s Robot.  I loved how everyone calls Kermit "Mr. The Frog."

I really didn't care about our human leads that much, but since they were there they had to have a plot. It's just Mary thinks Gary is finally going to propose to her, but he becomes so busy with helping the Muppets with their Telethon that he forgets that it's their anniversary and blah, blah, blah. Their story coincides with Kermit and Miss Piggy who have been separated for awhile (Miss Piggy was found in Paris as the editor of a fashion magazine where she became like the Meryl Streep character in The Devil Wears Prada, in fact Emily Blunt plays her assistant), but they reconcile in the end.

There's plenty of celebrity cameos, but not as many as I thought there would be. There's your Whoopi Goldberg for the older folks and Selena Gomez for the youn'uns. I don't think Jack Black would be counted as a cameo. Even though he plays himself he has a big role in the movie as the Muppets kidnap him because they need a celebrity host for their show.

I forgot to mention this is a musical, but you probably already knew that. Of course a movie about the Muppets wouldn't be complete if "The Rainbow Connection" and "Mah Na Mah Na" weren't sung. I may have been too young to watch The Muppet Show, but even I'm familiar with those songs. The main song of the movie is called "Life's a Happy Song" and it's just as cute and jovial as you would think it is. I also loved Amy Adams rocking out to "Me Party". ("I'm having a me party! A party by myself! Me party! I don't need no body else!) Kermit singing "Pictures in My Head" almost got me choked up. Okay, I'll admit it: even though I didn't cry, I did get a little choked up a few times during the movie.

Obviously if you're a fan of the Muppets or grew up with them, I definitely recommend this movie. It is really cute and brought back memories of my childhood. I kind of want to see it again!