Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, and Jeff Pinkner Directed by Jake Kasdan
The children’s literature of Chris Van Allsburg is mysterious. If you’ve ever read The Stranger, his picture book about a mysterious vagrant whose arrival at a farmhouse signals a pause in the seasons, you’ll know how powerfully haunting his illustrations can be. His work exists on a line between photo-realism and surreality. Faces look real, yet the world around these characters feel as if it emerged from a dream. The original 1995 film adaptation of Jumanji does a reasonably good job of telling its story with those visually softened edges of Van Allsburg’s illustrations but is forced to expand significantly upon the source material. The film would be followed by an animated series by Everett Peck and resembled the look of his work, Duck Man and Rugrats. A little-seen film sequel Zathura would be released in the early 2000s, based on a book that is a spiritual companion to Jumanji more than anything else. This brings us to the current state of Jumanji as a media product.
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (2015) Written & Directed by Alberto Vázquez & Pedro Rivero
On an island in a seemingly endless sea, where a factory in the industrial zone exploded, leaving this place a decaying hell, lives Birdboy. Birdboy is a teenager possessed by a demonic force that makes its home in the lighthouse just off the shoreline. Despite his dark nature and dependency on meds to keep this demon at bay, Birdboy is loved by Dinky, a mouse girl from a troubled family. Dinky is a runaway who, with her friends Sandra the rabbit and Little Fox, have pooled their money to try and buy a boat so they can finally escape this place. This animated Spanish-language picture is very dark and most definitely a mature adult-oriented film dealing in themes of mental illness, addiction, and abuse.
Don Diego de Zama was sent by the Spanish crown to a remote colony in South America to serve as a functionary under the governor. When we meet Zama, he is standing on the shore, staring off into the ocean anticipating a vessel to carry him back to his family, a ship that will never arrive. This is the living nightmare that Zama exists in, a place where the governors come and go but where he is trapped. He suffers the temptations of the flesh, has belongings stripped from him, and has to reside in a haunted shack. Finally, Zama volunteers to be part of a doomed expedition to capture the infamous Vicuña Porto.
Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Alita is a movie almost 20 years in the making. In 2000, James Cameron registered website domain names that involved this property as a film. In 2003, he confirmed he was going to direct a movie based on the early 90s manga. And then delays began, and Avatar went into production, and other projects came about. Eventually, Cameron stepped aside, taking credit as screenwriter and producer. Robert Rodriguez came onboard in 2016 with the film set to be released in July of 2018. That didn’t happen, and the movie was delayed to a primo January release in 2019. All this is to say that this film has had so much time to be worked on tweaked and improved so it should be great. But there is a common theme in Hollywood where a film has a window between enough pre-production and too much that it overbakes. Alita was burnt to a crisp.
Lady Macbeth (2016) Written by Alice Birch and Nikolai Leskov Directed by William Oldroyd
This is not a movie about Lady Macbeth. It’s not an adaptation of Shakespeare. It’s not a reimagining of the events of his play. This is a film noir, set in the English Victorian era, about a classic femme fatale, told from her perspective coldly and neutrally. She’s a child bride, sold off to a wealthy man so his son can have a wife. The problem is that the son has no attraction to her; we later learn why, and it’s not what you expect. Left alone in a dusty manor house, our protagonist seeks out the affections of a gruff stablehand, someone like she used to know before this life. The two engage in a torrid affair, the house staff knowing exactly what is going on, and this all leads to murder.
Silence (2016) Written by Jay Cocks & Martin Scorsese Directed by Martin Scorsese
There has been more than one Martin Scorsese. He’s become most famous for pictures like The Wofl fo Wall Street, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. These are movies about intense, volatile figures that eventually explode. There is also the Scorsese of muted and contemplative films like Kundun and The Age of Innocence. Much like the man himself, his filmography is slightly manic, overflowing with ideas, and able to appreciate art across the spectrum of tone and theme. Silence is one of the quieter films, but it addresses monumentally enormous concepts and touching on a message that resonates across the ages. Few films deal so maturely with matters of faith, genuinely questioning and looking at belief from all angles.
Certain Women (2016) Written & Directed by Kelly Reichardt
I was drawn the short story form in college. I think what excited me about this mode of storytelling was the urgency of the moment and way this specific event reveals a profound depth to a character. Authors I enjoyed when first discovering the short story were Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Steven Millhauser, among others. Today I still get no better satisfaction than from a well crafted short story collection, leaning more into fantastical writers of horror and magic-realism. However, if the stories don’t center on character, then they lose any potential magic. Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt loved the short stories of writer Maile Meloy and has taken three of them to weave into a meditation on a variety of women in complicated situations.