As we're now in the holiday blockbuster season, IA entertainment gurus John Turnbull and Dan Jensen team up to preview a dozen of the films competing for your box office dollars over summer.
Jumanji: The Next Level – now showing
Directed by Jake Kasdan
2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a surprise smash hit, making almost a billion dollars at the global box office, so it was inevitable that another sequel was on its way. The Next Level takes us back to the video game world, reuniting the original cast of Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart, while introducing fresh young talent in Danny DeVito and Danny Glover.
Much like Wreck-it Ralph, it seems all sequels about video games have to be about a glitch in the system, but not one of those real glitches where you get stuck in the floor and have to restart the game yet again. No, this glitch sees the game getting incrementally harder, with unending streams of bad guys spawning and our heroes facing a challenge tougher than they’ve ever…
Look, to be honest the plot of this movie is almost entirely irrelevant. What made the 2017 version a hit was the interplay between four charismatic actors who genuinely seemed to be having a good time. From that perspective, The Next Level looks pretty good, with the Rock and Kevin Hart getting the chance to break out their DeVito and Glover impersonations.
Jojo Rabbit – now showing
Directed by Taika Waititi
I went into this movie blindly, having avoided seeing a trailer or knowing much about it. I was pleasantly surprised by what was the second-best movie I saw in 2019 and have been back to see it again only two days later. Jojo Rabbit is nothing short of extraordinary and easily New Zealand writer/director Taika Waititi's masterpiece. This is a film that will have you feeling the entire gamut of emotions — it's hilariously funny, inspiring, a little disturbing and both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The subject matter, of a German boy obsessed with joining the Hitler Youth at the end of World War 2, is handled tastefully and gives the Nazis their due disrespect.
Waititi’s quirky style and warped sense of humour, along with terrific performances from the likes of Scarlett Johansson, have led to this film receiving acclaim from both critics and audiences as well as a couple of Golden Globe nominations and I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Touted as an "anti-hate satire", Jojo Rabbit is every bit as important as it is entertaining.
Cats – now showing
Directed by Tom Hooper
What can be said about Cats that hasn’t already been said? The cast is extensive and diverse, featuring Dame Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson, noted actor Taylor Swift, Sir Ian McKellen, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo and James Corden. The director once won an Oscar, although for a movie that some decried as being ‘historically inaccurate and entirely misleading’. The source material by poet TS Eliot is charming in an old-timey sort of way and the songs composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber are catchy, if almost unbearably twee.
Put all of these things together and what do you get? A nightmare, brought to life. Early reviews for the movie are mixed (at best) and reveal that Taylor Swift sings a newly written song about cats eating the corpse of an old woman who died in her flat. I’m just going to leave it at that.
1917 – opens 9 January
Directed by Sam Mendes
I've been fortunate enough to see this film already and it was a movie I wasn't initially all that interested in. I have this strange mental barrier where my brain tries to tell me that I have no interest in war films, until I see them and they turn out to be excellent. But even then, I keep fooling myself into thinking I don't want to see them. When I first saw the trailer for 1917, I switched off and immediately figured I'd skip it. Then I saw it was directed by Sam Mendes, whose work I quite like. Then I found out it employs the gimmick of appearing as though the whole film was done in one continuous take. Then I read people's early reactions to it and how it was the most intense movie experience of this year and that was enough to pique my curiosity. And I am so glad I overcame that mental block as this is easily in my top ten for 2019. It's extraordinary.
Filmed in one (apparently) continuous shot, this gimmick works brilliantly in immersing the viewer into the story. Sure, there are several moments where you're wondering how they achieved a certain shot or where the hidden edits (which you know are present) could be, but in the end, you are there on this perilous journey with two British soldiers trying to deliver a message across enemy territory in World War 1.
On a technical level, 1917 is a first-class achievement, but it also packs an emotional punch and really does deliver moments that will have you clinging to the cinema armrest or breaking your partner's hand. The only thing that let it down slightly for me was that the one-shot technique meant we lingered on one camera angle during some of the scenes with no action, which did tend to slow the pace down a touch. But it didn't stop it from being a film that lives up to the word "experience" and is an absolute must-see.
Bad Boys for Life – opens 16 January
Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah
Yet another sequel, this one a full 16 years after the last instalment in the Bad Boys series, Bad Boys for Life is directed not by master of excess Michael Bay but by Dutch indie directing team Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who you might remember from movies like Black (2015) and Gangsta (2018). The plot (such as it is) sees Martin Lawrence going through a mid-life crisis while Will Smith is a wildly successful and witty detective who needs to bring back the only man he can trust for one last job.
From one perspective, this seems like an attempt by Will Smith to have one last crack at being a big action star, despite the relatively poor reception to recent action flicks like Gemini Man and Bright. One the other hand, Smith might be throwing a bone to his down-on-his-luck buddy Lawrence, who hasn’t starred in a hit movie since 2006’s cross-dressing comedy Big Momma’s House 2. Either way, the trailer pretty much tells you what the movie is going to be about: action, violence, misogyny and oh-so-witty wisecracks.
Bombshell – opens 16 January
Directed by Jay Roach
Sorry, what's that? I need to write more reasons why I want to see this? Fine.
Bombshell features a fantastic ensemble cast including Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and did I mention Margot Robbie is in this? Based on the true story of a group of female Fox News employees who sought to expose the CEO for sexual harassment in the '80s, this is another film that has picked up Golden Globe nominations for some of its performances.
From what I've seen in the trailer, the 1980s aesthetic is captured beautifully and I'm rather a fan of great production design replicating a certain time period accurately. But aside from the production, the message of female empowerment and the telling of an interesting story, this film has Margot Robbie in it which pretty much guarantees a ticket sale from me.
In part two, we’ll be checking out The Grudge, The Gentlemen, Little Women, Dolittle, Sorry We Missed You and A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood — see you back here soon!
Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Damnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).
You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @danjensenmovies or check out his YouTube channel, Movie Talk with Dan Jensen.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.