Author Archives: lydias

A Review of Jumanji: The Next Level

Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillian posing as their characters in a film poster for Jumanji: The Next Level. They’re all surrounded by baboons. Jumanji: The Next Level is a 2019 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four people who were  transported into a magical video game. Just like during the first visit, they must figure out how to win in order to return to their ordinary lives.

This is the sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle which I previously reviewed here and would strongly recommend watching first. The franchise in general is a reboot of the 1996 Jumanji film. It is not necessary to watch the original in order to understand what’s going on  here.

I will go into more detail about why I recommend watching Welcome to the Jungle in my review below.

Once again, I’m leaving secondary characters out of this post for spoiler reasons. Please note that this review does contain some spoilers for the first film, so reader beware!

 

Characters

Game World

 

Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone. He's standing in a jungle.
Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Xavier “Smolder” Bravestone

 

Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone was a strong and confident archeologist, explorer, and team leader.  He was Eddie’s avatar.

Jack Black as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon
Jack Black (centre) as Professor Sheldon  “Shelly” Oberon

Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Obero was a cartographer, cryptographer, archeologist, and palaeontologist. He was Fridge’s avatar.

Kevin Hart as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar
Kevin Hart as Franklin “Mouse” Finbar 

Franklin “Mouse” Finbar was a zoologist and weapons carrier. He was Milo’s avatar.

Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse
Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse 

 

Ruby Roundhouse was a martial artist and fighting dancer. She was Martha’s avatar.

Real World

Danny DeVito as Edward "Eddie" Gilpin
Danny DeVito as Edward “Eddie” Gilpin

 

Eddie was the grandfather of Spencer, a character from the first film. He was a pessimistic man who believed his best days were behind him.

Ser'Darius Blain as Anthony "Fridge" Johnson
Ser’Darius Blain (right) as Anthony “Fridge” Johnson

Fridge was a college student now. His group of friends wasn’t as close-knit as it used to be, and he struggled with that shift.

Danny Glover as Milo Walker
Danny Glover as Milo Walker

 

Milo was Eddie’s old, dear friend. Despite knowing each other for decades, there was an underlying tension between them that none of the younger characters were cognizant of at first.

Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply
Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply

Martha was also a college student now. She was as intelligent and cynical as ever, but her new educational environment had caused her to blossom in ways that weren’t possible for her as a shy high schooler a few years ago.

 

My Review

If you’re in the market for a light, fluffy storyline, keep reading.

One of the criticisms I noted about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was the lack of character development. While it remained pretty shallow, I did enjoy seeing some growth in the two returning protagonists as well as in all four avatars in general . Martha and Fridge had obviously had a chance to grow up a bit since high school. It was interesting to contrast their behaviour to the behaviour of their elders.

Ordinarily, I’d expect senior citizens to be more self-assured and level-headed than people who haven’t even left their teens yet. The fact that all four main characters were thrown into a situation that only the two younger ones knew how to handle made it fascinating to tease out the differences between all of their reactions.

We need more films that include senior citizens as heroes. Having not one but two of them included in this storyline made me curious to see how things would play out for them.

Why should you watch this series in order? The character development is part of it. Most people mature rapidly in their late teens and early 20s. I thought it was cool to see how Fridge and Martha had changed since we last met them. There were also some switch-ups to the cast of main characters that won’t be as meaningful to anyone who wasn’t aware of how things were in Welcome to the Jungle.

In addition to that, some of the plot twists work better for audiences who are already aware of how Jumanji is supposed to be experienced. Let’s just say that Milo and Eddie had a unique approach to winning that is best understood if you have firm expectations of how one should behave in a video game.

By all means watch the original Jumanji, too, if you love this universe, but enough of it was revisited here that I wouldn’t make that mandatory.

There were a couple of sexual jokes that made me roll my eyes. The first instalment in this reboot did a great job of poking fun at the idea that women who play video games are something unusual or that identifying as a woman should affect how you play or what you do with your avatar. I wish that same snarky energy had continued in this sequel. It made this franchise stand out in my mind in a truly refreshing way, and I’d love to recommend future instalments of it to people who love gaming but shy away from the sometimes juvenile and sexist comments people make about women in this hobby. Sometimes the best way to change harmful social scripts like that is by mocking the hell out of them, so here’s hoping we get more of that in the third instalment if or when it happens.

Do you need to be a certain type of gamer, or even a gamer at all, to enjoy this story? Absolutely not. I’m the sort of gamer who generally sticks with sandbox games like Minecraft, and I had no problem keeping up with what was going on. Everything was explained well. Although my spouse who knows more about the topic once again enjoyed a few jokes tucked in there that seemed to be geared towards viewers who are into more strictly structured storytelling.

Jumanji: The Next Level was brain candy in the best sense of that phrase. If you need a fun distraction that doesn’t require any deep thought, this might be right up your alley.

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Jumanji: The Next Level is available on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: What I Wanted to Do When I Grew Up vs. What I Do

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

Woman leaping between boulders. The one she is leaping to has the word "job" on it. What I wanted to do:

It changed every year, and sometimes I had no idea what I wanted at all.

Generally, my dreams revolved around being a librarian, college professor, or bestselling author.

I love books, knowledge, and teaching things to adults. If the occupational outlooks for librarians or professors were better, I probably would have gone in one of those directions!

What I actually do: I’m currently a writer who is looking for ways to pivot back into the traditional workforce. Those plans were interrupted by Covid-19, so I’m still evaluating my options as far as job training, online courses, or additional volunteering goes to strengthen my resume as the economy (hopefully) improves. We’ll see what happens!

I’ve previously worked in all sorts of places, from retail to tutoring to office work. I enjoyed my office job the most because of how personable my bosses were there. Having wonderful bosses makes all the difference in the world.

Once I worked in a movie theatre that my coworkers swore was haunted because of weird sounds they heard and how certain objects like mop buckets tended to move around when certain people were cleaning. I preferred rational explanations for those phenomena, but I also didn’t look too closely into the shadowy regions of the employee-only zones late at night. Ha!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Loved But Never Reviewed

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

This is one of those topics I could write dozens of blog posts about and still come up with more answers to it. I only write reviews of a portion of the books I read.

Due to this, I decided to share the reasons why I don’t write reviews of certain books I loved.

ceramic mug sitting on an opened book1. The series had an unexpected ending

Example: Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series

I loved the first few books in this prehistoric world. The last few instalments didn’t tie things up the ways I thought they would based on the early foreshadowing.

While I understood some of the changes the author made, I don’t think I’m the right person to review this series because of how different my interpretation of those early scenes was from the author’s interpretation of them.

2. It’s a classic novel

Example: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 

Frankenstein is one of my all-time favourite classics! If we ever get another Frankenstein film, I will be shouting that news from the rooftops and blogging a (hopefully glowing) review of it.

With that being said, this story is 202 years old. Most people who want to read it have already read it, so I’d rather save space for newer books that aren’t so well known.

3. Mainstream audiences have embraced it 

Example: Andy Weir’s The Martian 

Now don’t get me wrong! I love it when people who don’t normally read science fiction discover something in this genre that appeals to them. It has made me extraordinarily happy to see this interest of mine become much more mainstream since I was a kid, and I welcome every new fan.

But I also feel compelled to focus on lesser-known science fiction stories, especially when they’re indie and/or written by writers from underrepresented groups.

4. I don’t know what to say about it 

Example: Emily Tesh’s Silver in the Wood 

This doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes I have trouble specifying why I love a book so much.  It could be that it reminds me of very specific childhood memories or that it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Those reactions are a great deal of fun, but I need to have a firm list of reasons for enjoying a story before I decide to write a full review of it. I always want to be the sort of reviewer whose readers receive plenty of concrete examples of why I liked it so much so they can decide for themselves if it’s the right read for them.

Reviewing is serious business in my opinion!

Come Tell Me Which Thanksgiving Films to Review

An overturned tub of popcorn and some gummy bears lying on an opaque surfaceToday’s post is going to be short and sweet because I will (hopefully) be following up on it at least once this autumn.

Over the past few months I’ve been working ahead on blog posts as ideas pop into my mind and I have the time to write them.

Right now I’m thinking about Thanksgiving films. I’ve reviewed many stories set during Halloween and various winter holidays, but I haven’t done the same thing for Thanksgiving yet.

This is something I want to change in October for Canadian Thanksgiving or November for American Thanksgiving. Maybe I’ll even be able to review films for both of these holidays!

The rules are simple.

Rule #1: The film should be at least loosely related to any speculative fiction genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal, alternate history, etc. so that it will fit the theme of this blog. I am willing to stretch these terms to include films that might only brush against these genres lightly if you say they’re great stories.

Rule #2: The film should be something I can access legally by either purchasing it online or watching it on a streaming service. This isn’t something I’m ethically comfortable compromising on.

The films I’m currently considering, assuming I can procure copies of them, include the following:

  • Addams Family Values (1993) 
  • Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow  (2015)
  • ThanksKilling (2009)
  • A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)
  • A Thanksgiving Tale (1983)
  • It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

As you may have noticed, the year a film was originally released doesn’t matter. While everything on this list happens to be in English, I also have no problem watching something with subtitles if someone recommends a film that includes that.

I have two questions for my readers as I work on this project.

Which of these films did you enjoy the most?

What other Thanksgiving films can you recommend? 

Thank you all in advance for your input!

Vengeance: A Review of Ceremony of Ashes

Ceremony of Ashes - A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance by Jayson Robert Ducharme book cover. Image on the cover is of a silhoutte of someone holding a large staffTitle: Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance

Author: Jayson Robert Ducharme

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 135 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

Something wicked descends upon Leinster Village
Adrian Holloway’s life is turned upside down after receiving a disquieting phone call. His sister and niece have gone missing, and his mother is in shambles.
Something malicious is lurking in his old hometown. Children are going missing and their mothers are turning up dead. People are afraid to go out. Rumors spread from house to house. Blood. Ritual murder. Sacrifice and mutilation.
Sins of the past become unearthed. A woman, whose powers are beyond imagination, is soon to extract her vengeance on the entire town. She can make the dead talk, breathe fire, and turn a man into an animal.
Only Adrian and a young female constable know the truth. Only they can stop her.
CEREMONY OF ASHES is a 135 page novella about witchcraft, vengeance, and how our destinies are sometimes forged before we are even born.
Fans of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Nikolai Gogol are in for a treat with this fast-faced, violent and uncompromising novella of terror.

Review:

Content warning: blood, ritual murder, sacrifice, and mutilation. I will briefly discuss these things in my next paragraph but will not go into detail about them.

Many of the items in that list happened before or after new scenes occurred. While this was firmly rooted in the horror genre for sure and did include some gory scenes, I was glad that so much of the rest of it was left up to the reader’s imagination.Filling in those moments for yourself can be so much scarier than having them all spelled out.

There’s more to Halloween than costumes and trick-or-treating in Leinster Village village this year.

Reading this novella was like eating a chocolate bar in the very best sense of that metaphor. I digested it quickly and enjoyed it for what it was without searching for a deeper meaning to it or anything like that. This was something that didn’t require analyzation or interpretation. It was simply a nice, scary distraction from everything going on the real world. Sometimes that’s exactly what a reader needs!

There were times when I had trouble keeping the dozens of characters straight. Some of them played pretty minor roles in the plot, so when they popped up again it often took me a while to remember who they were and how they might have been connected to the characters who were featured more prominently.

Small town life was captured nicely here. The characters I was able to keep good track of were connected to each other in multiple ways in many cases. I liked the way the many ways their lives overlapped was slowly revealed. It reminded me a lot of my own experiences living in small towns and how closely everyone’s lives end up intersecting regardless of whether they’re relatives of some sort or genetically unrelated to each other.

I would have liked to see more time spent on character development. While this was a heavily plot-driven tale and I certainly wouldn’t have expected it to be as introspective as something character-driven, it still would have been nice to get to know the main characters on a deeper level. They tended to be boxed into specific roles. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in moderation, it happened so much in this particular story that I didn’t get to know the characters as individuals like I wanted to.

The witchcraft aspect was handled well. One thing I look for in speculative fiction books that include this topic is a sense that the author has put some thought into why they chose a witch as their antagonist. Rest assured there were excellent reasons for this decision that will be revealed later on in the storyline.

I’d recommend Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance to anyone who loves the dark side of the horror genre.