Jumanji: The Next Level 2019 ***


The fourth entry in the Jumanji franchise is pretty much a re-tread of the third; an overlong adventure with a vague video-game theme, with a few added guest-stars without which this would be fairly indistinguishable from the previous film. Aimed specifically as small kids, Jake Kasdan’s sequel manages to remove some of the crude sexism of the previous entry, but there’s little improvement in the overall package.

Like the first film, there’s a lugubrious intro to various young characters, hardly memorable for the first film; Spencer (Alex Wolff from Hereditary) is the only one who makes an impression. He’s chilling with his grand-father (Danny De Vito) when his dad’s old friend Milo (Danny Glover) comes to visit. All of them get sucked into the Jumanji video game, which leads to a confusing version of the laboured body-swap humour previously featured. If you can’t remember who Bethany, Martha and Fridge are, then it’s pretty hard to work out what’s happening when they get trapped in the bodies of their avatars. It’s all really just an excuse for googly-eyed schtick from Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan and Jack Black, who grab for their pay-check with both hands.

Gillan is introduced, legs akimbo, in tiny shorts, and with the camera zooming right into her crotch; one of the regrettable elements of the franchise is the leering emphasis on objectifying women in children’s entertainment. Fortunately, The Next Level doesn’t force her into quite such demeaning situations as the first, although locking lips for a snog with Johnson, who is old enough to be her dad, is particularly stomach churning. Awkwafina also turns up to self-sabotage her own Oscar campaign for The Farewell, looking somewhat embarrassed to ride a flying horse in the interest of exposure.

There’s a nice idea buried here; only Rhys Darby as the exposition-heavy host captures the right satirical tone for making fun of video-game clichés. Otherwise, there’s some elaborate set-pieces involving ostriches, monkeys, rope bridges and a climactic punch-up set to Baby I Love Your Way. Jumanji: The Next Level passes the time, but there’s nothing new or exciting about it. The first film was lucky to come up against an almost universally disliked Christmas blockbuster (The Last Jedi) which was overlong and not particularly suited to families. The Rise of Skywalker is still an unknown quantity at the time of writing, but it seems unlikely that Jumanji: the Next Level will be so lucky with throwing the double-sixes again.

One More Time 1970 ***

One More Time‘We know what turns you on’ says the opening song in One More Time, but if stars Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Junior actually do know what turns us on, there’s little evidence of it in this slapdash comedy. Writer by the brother of Dr Who’s Jon Pertwee, Bill, and directed by Jerry Lewis, it’s a sequel of sorts to 1968’s Salt and Pepper, but is mainly designed as a showcase of the talents, resistible as displayed here, of Davis Junior.

Davis and Lawford are Charles Salt and Chris Pepper, two hipster nightclub owners who fall foul of the law in some kind of Merrie England as featured in Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. Lawford plays a double role, Pepper and his twin brother Sydney, who is murdered with a deadly dart and replaced by his brother, swapping the dead body for his living one to investigate the crime. Although the two are supposedly best buds and partners in crime, Chris Pepper doesn’t tell Charles Salt, and allows his friend to think that he’d dead.

This means a good hour or so of Sammy Davis Junior wandering around an English country house vaguely synching to some incredibly maudlin tunes; a sequence in which Davis descends a staircase singing Where Do I Go Now? seems to last for weeks. The personable Lawford is stranded with some character comedy, which isn’t his strongest suit; Lawford can barely be bothered playing a thinly veiled version of himself, so playing another variation on the same person is something of a strain to watch. Meanwhile Lewis indulges himself with some strange set-pieces, including snorting snuff and a lengthy parody of the final scenes of Kubrick’s 2001 as Davis reacts to a country-house bedroom with the same awe that Kier Dullea reacts to the Monolith. It’s an odd, vaguely racist scene which fits with the general indignities that Davis goes through here, having drinks thrown over him, called a ‘chocolate dandy’ and generally side-lined in a way that constantly has him breaking the fourth wall to complain.

One More Time is probably best remembered for one single scene, seemingly improvised without reason, in which Salt finds a hidden doorway that leads to a cellar where Dracula (Christopher Lee) and Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) are working; the gag seems to be that Gothic horror lies beneath traditional British values. Otherwise, when the words ‘that’s it’ appear instead of “the end’, One More Time must have had even the most hipster-cat audiences begging for it to stop; with Lewis directing Davis Junior well beyond excess, it’s the audience who must truly have felt mugged. As a side-note, One More Time offers a good argument against smoking; everyone quaffs fags like their lives depend on it, and there’s even huge close-ups of full ashtrays to present bona-fide testimony to the performers’ enthusiasm for cigarettes.


Terminator: Dark Fate 2019 ****


Why make another Terminator movie, and why now, in 2019? The blunt answer is that the first two Terminator movies are still stone cold classics in an action genre where fashions change rapidly. Dark Fate brings back the three key figures in the franchise in Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, none of whom are getting any younger, so if there was ever going to be a franchise capper, it’s now or never.

Dark Fate wisely ignores the mind-numbing scribble of character development in terms of resistance fighter John Connor that took place in the last three movies. In fact, the character is killed off in the opening scenes, shot by a terminator (Schwarzenegger) on a Guatemalan beach in 1998 while his mother (Hamilton) looks helplessly on. This could have felt like a let down, like killing Newt at the start of Alien 3; after all, we’ve been substantially invested in keeping Connor alive, so it’s something of a bummer to see him die. But his death opens up some prime real estate in terms of new and revived story developments, and Tim Miller makes the most of a chance to repurpose the vibe of the original films with new ethnically and gender-diverse characters.

In a fresh Mexico City opening, we meet Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) who works in a mechanised car-plant, and finds herself caught in a scrap between two terminators sent from the future; soldier/assassin Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and Rev-9 (Gabriel Lunas). Rev-9’s pursuit of Dani spills out onto the highway for a big-scale chase with explosions, fireballs and all the action that you’d expect a Terminator movie to deliver; if you didn’t sign up for large-scale physical destruction, you can probably still catch Downtown Abbey in the screen next door. Sarah Connor is to the rescue, and Dani and Grace join her for a race to find the terminator who killed her sone before Rev-9 gets to them first.

Dark Fate has Cameron’s name attached as producer, and it doesn’t let the memory of the original films down by cannily referencing the original look (old-school armoured grunts in the flash back/forwards), and savvy feel (neat techno details like Sarah Connor hiding her phone in a foil potato-chip bag). It takes a good hour to get to Schwarzenegger’s terminator, but the pace doesn’t lag and Hamilton takes her place at the centre of the film with aplomb; she drives the emotional pull of the film, mourning her son and hunting down the future terminators with verve. “You don’t fight it, you run from it,’ Connor notes of the terminators, and the real key ingredient here is the sense of momentum that the last three Terminator movies lacked.

Any movie that starts with the lines ‘there once was a future…’ knows that there are inherent paradoxes in any time-travel story, but when the action hung on the premise is so large in scale, Terminator:Dark Fate will satisfy the fans in a way that the franchise hasn’t since 1990. Maybe the terminator will be back some day, but not with this cast, so to paraphrase C3P0, it’s time to take one last look at some old friends.

Angel Has Fallen 2019 ****


Mike Banning (Gerry Butler) is a burnt-out case. His health is failing, his emotional range is narrowing, he barely recognises his own wife. Of course, that could be because she’s not played by the same actress (Radha Mitchell) as in the first two films, Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, but Banning’s loyalty to the President is unshakable. Aaron Eckhart clearly didn’t fancy a third outing either, so Morgan Freeman is hurriedly sworn in as Commander In Chief Allan Trumbull for Ric Roman Waugh’s cheeky and entertaining film. Trumbull comes under attack from an airborne army of explosive drones, and in the eyes of the authorities, Banning is linked to this treasonous act of terrorism. Fleeing the scene, Banning hides out with his estranged dad, played by Nick Nolte in a full Yosemite Sam/Dirty Santa/prospector peeing–through-his-knee length beard get-up (‘I don’t do medication,’ says Nolte, in a knowing wink to the audience). Banning and his dad set out to find out who was responsible, while FBI agent Jada Pinkett Smith is in hot pursuit in the style of The Fugitive. Although various personnel have jumped ship, Angel Has Fallen is easily the best of the trilogy, and arguably Butler’s best action film yet. Decent support (Danny Huston, Tim Blake Nelson) and improved action scenes including a truck chase through a forest, and a slam-bang shoot-out in a high-tech hospital climax that really deliver the goods. And hewn-from-granite leading man Butler is the happy centre that a straight-forward action movie requires; lily-livered liberal film critics may scoff, but a big man, a big gun and instant justice will make Angel Has Fallen a guilty pleasure for all sides of the political spectrum.

French Connection II 1975 ****

French-Connection-IIAlthough it was released as The French Connection Number 2 in the UK, one of the claims to fame of John Frankenheimer’s sequel is that it started the trend of Roman numerals after the title. Otherwise, French Connection II is not exactly a classic sequel; it doesn’t have the NYC setting, only a couple of returning characters, no car chase, and offers a very different mood to William Friedkin’s scuzzy Oscar-winner. Friedkin wasn’t interested either, but Hackman presumably liked the idea of retuning to the role of cop Popeye Doyle, arriving in Marseilles without any French and falling foul of hoods and police alike on the trail of Frog One (Fernando Rey). Most reviewers focus on a lengthy rehab scene after Doyle is shot full of heroin, and while Hackman’s commitment and performance levels are admirable, it derails the energy of the movie  without upping the stakes and is probably the reason that it’s not as fondly remembered. But The French Connection’s ambiguous ending left room for a satisfying sequel, and there’s lots of vigorous cops and robbers action to enjoy here, including a big-scale docklands shoot-out, a raid on a drug-packaging and distribution plant, and some great bits of business with Doyle; expressing remorse after blowing a fellow cops cover, forming a wordless bond with a barman, or hitching a ride on a garbage truck to avoid a tail, Hackman inhabits this signature role so well that, even if it’s not quite the original, Frankenheimer’s thriller has a weather-beaten style of its own.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters ***

GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERSThe third entry in Legendary’s constantly creaking MonsterVerse franchise is a somewhat turgid affair, lit by a few bright moments and performances. With Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla offering action but little to remember in terms of cast or character, Michael Dougherty’s sequel pulls a new family to the fore, with Godzilla-experts and concerned parents Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga struggling with a marriage in free-fall and their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) caught in the middle. Meanwhile the Monarch group featured in the first two films has plans to revive over a dozen sleeping monsters from various locations, with Godzilla assigned to sweep up the mess when things get out of hand. King of the Monsters has a better cast than it deserves, including Sally Hawkins and Charles Dance, but it’s Millie Bobby Brown that really makes an impact and provides an original through-line for an otherwise rote monster-movie. With Ken Wantanabe regularly popping up to solemnly intone platitudes about Godzilla being our friend, King of the Monsters never convincingly marries the large-scale carnage with the human drama; a pity, because Madison’s character is considerably more compelling than Godzilla himself.

The Bride of Frankenstein 1935 ****


Striking as the appearance of Boris Karloff in the original 1931 Frankenstein film is, the film itself is pretty hard going; the camera barely moves, and early scenes are like a filmed play, stiff as a board. Allowed to revisit his creation in 1935, James Whale’s sequel is a much jollier affair, with Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) goaded by rival Dr Pretorius (a rampant Ernest Thesiger) to create a mate in the iconic form of Elsa Lanchester. Whale plays things for dry but genuine laughs, and there’s fascinating special effects when Dr Pretorius unveils the tiny bottled creatures he’s been nurturing. A sequel that’s not cut from the same cloth as the original, The Bride of Frankenstein is probably an improvement.


Airport 80: The Concorde ***


A camp classic from the ‘so-bad-its-good’ file, David Lowell Rich’s franchise killer can now be enjoyed as a comedy classic. It’s a indication of the idiocy involved that George Kennedy’s Joe Patrioni, responsible for clearing the runway in the first film, is now promoted to flying to Concorde from Washington DC to Paris, and then to Moscow, while Robert Wagner attempts to shoot it down with guided missiles. The cast is random rather than eclectic, featuring Sylvia Kristel, Charo, David Warner, Mercedes McCambridge and Alain Delon as Patrioni’s co-pilot, and the scenes in which the pilots shoot down missiles with flare gun through open cockpit windows while flying at supersonic speeds defy logic, invention and the woeful blue-screen work of the special effect team.

Amityville 3D 1983 ***


When a horror franchise ‘jumps the shark’, it’s usually because they’ve moved away from whatever made the original formula work; After two reasonably sober entries, claiming to be based on real life experiences, veteran director Richard Fleischer took the franchise into hokey new territory with Amityville 3D. No longer confined to flies and bumps in the night, Amityville 3D goes for bug-eyed monsters and literally blows the house to pieces as a gateway to hell opens up beneath the house. Tony Roberts, from Stardust Memories, plays the non-believer who is quickly convinced of the house’s powers, with a youthful Meg Ryan amongst those caught in the trap. The 3D is used for amusingly cheap effects, as Frisbees, construction poles and more are thrust towards the camera, making for a enjoyably daffy romp.

Psycho II 1983 ***


One of the few sequels that merit comparison with the original, Richard Franklin’s 1983 thriller returns to the Bates Motel with Anthony Perkins returning after 22 years in a mental institution and Vera Miles returning as Lila Loomis, and Meg Tilly as her daughter. Norman’s troubled mind is immediately disturbed by the surroundings, but Tom Holland’s script ingenuously reworks many of the tropes of the original Hitchcock film, with the local people keen to knock Norman off his stride by driving him mad. Jerry Goldsmith contributes an excellent score, and Psycho II’s twists and turns make for a stylish entry in the series, strong on suspense and light on gore.