Published: 19:55 EST, 21 December 2017 | Updated: 20:24 EST, 21 December 2017
The Greatest Showman (PG)
Verdict: He's no Michael Crawford
Here’s a teaser for your family quiz this Christmas: what is the link between the hapless Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em of blessed memory, and mighty Marvel Comics superhero Wolverine?
The surprising answer is that the actors who inhabited both characters subsequently brought to life the legendary 19th-century impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum.
It’s more than 35 years since I saw Michael Crawford in Barnum on the London stage, and now it’s Hugh Jackman’s turn in The Greatest Showman (which opens across the UK on Boxing Day). Maybe the enduring memory of Crawford’s dynamic performance explains why, for me, Jackman doesn’t seem quite right in a part that, by all accounts, he has been desperate to play for years.
He’s a terrific actor, he can sing and dance wonderfully and he has a smile that could light up Broadway. But in my mind’s eye P. T. Barnum is a lithe, slippery fellow, more bantamweight than heavyweight and definitely not 200lb of Aussie beefcake.
It’s more than 35 years since audiences saw Michael Crawford in Barnum on the London stage, and now it’s Hugh Jackman’s turn in The Greatest Showman (which opens across the UK on Boxing Day)
A bigger problem is that the movie doesn’t live up to its grand ambition. It was conceived as a musical fantasy blending fact and fiction, telling the story, partly through the medium of modern-sounding pop songs, of how Barnum made it big in the 1860s and effectively invented what later became known as showbusiness.
That’s just fabulous on paper. On screen it’s hard to see who it’s aimed at. Children, I think, might find it all a little boring; adults, a bit try-hard.
First-time director Michael Gracey and screenwriters Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon certainly do their utmost to pile up dramatic tension between the songs: will Barnum leave his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) for the celebrated singer he has brought over from Europe, the ‘Swedish Nightingale’ Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson)?
Will he bounce back from his financial setbacks? Will playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), who becomes Barnum’s partner, bend over backwards to please his socialite parents, or alienate them by bending over backwards with the mixed-race trapeze artist (Zendaya)?
And will Efron whip his shirt off, as he seems contractually obliged to do in all his films?
I’m sorry to report that none of these questions, except possibly the last, engaged me for more than a moment.
When you think of the great screen musicals — West Side Story, Oliver!, Fiddler On The Roof, The Sound Of Music, Cabaret, The Jungle Book — they all represented a perfect fusion of story and score, featuring characters we really cared about.
The Greatest Showman conspicuously seeks but never finds that magic alchemy. And among the original songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who didn’t do badly with La La Land), there isn’t one that, thinking back as I write just a few hours after seeing the film, I could so much as hum.
Sure, there are flashes of dazzling spectacle, and plenty of excellent choreography. As a potted history of the Barnum legend, the film does a decent job, too. He was of humble birth, yet by the time he died in 1891, aged 80, the Washington Post described him as ‘the most widely known American that ever lived’. The Greatest Showman explains pretty well how he parlayed his vision and charisma into colossal fame and fortune.
When you think of the great screen musicals they all represented a perfect fusion of story and score, featuring characters we really cared about. The Greatest Showman conspicuously seeks but never finds that magic alchemy
First, he built his Museum of Curiosities, filling it with the uncommonly short, tall and fat, not to mention a lavishly bearded lady.
Then came the Jenny Lind episode, plainly an antecedent of the modern rock tour. Finally and most famously, yet apparently forced on him after his theatre burned down, he devised the idea of a circus, in a tent.
So there’s no doubt that he deserves posterity’s unyielding admiration. But he also deserves a more memorable movie than this.
I sat down to The Greatest Showman with high hopes and left disappointed.
Jumanji: Welcome to The Jungle (12A)
Verdict: Enormous fun
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle did the precise opposite. I expected it to be humdrum and witless. In fact, it is inventive, cleverly scripted, and huge fun. The 1996 Robin Williams film to which it is notionally a sequel, and which was itself based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, was not one of the great comedian’s better efforts, but I think he’d have enjoyed this enormously.
BACK in 1996 in smalltown America, a boy vanishes after plugging in a video game called Jumanji. A couple of decades later, the same thing happens to four high-school kids.
All in detention at the same time, they start mucking around with an old games console and get sucked into the high-octane world of Jumanji, reappearing as adult adventurers stuck in a perilous jungle.
Karen Gillan, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Jack Black all star in the new Jumanji remake
There, they each get three lives in the quest for a precious jewel, while evading the clutches of a baddie straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, who is enjoyably played by Bobby Cannavale.
I was reminded also of the 1988 Tom Hanks comedy Big, as the quartet, while internally feeling the same as before, come to terms with their new grown-up physiques and capabilities.
The difference, from which director Jake Kasdan and his co-writers extract a series of very good verbal and physical gags, is that they are strikingly unlike their high-school selves.
Spencer, a bookish nerd, turns into dishy and muscular Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). The powerful school jock, nicknamed ‘Fridge’, becomes diminutive zoologist Dr Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart). Martha, a sport-hating misfit, is transformed into sexy commando Ruby Roundhouse (the former Doctor Who actress Karen Gillan).
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is inventive, cleverly scripted, and huge fun
Most spectacularly, Bethany, a vain blonde princess in thrall to her smartphone, changes gender. She turns into tubby archaeologist Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black).
In a way it’s a one-note joke, but such a good one it easily sustains the rest of the movie.
Black in particular excels, but then he gets most of the best lines. The mere act of urinating as a man is a source of wonder. ‘The fact that I’m not Instagramming this right now is insane,’ says the former Bethany, looking down. And later: ‘I feel like ever since I lost my phone, my other senses have heightened.’
As the father of a daughter whose phone sometimes seems surgically attached, I almost cheered.
Loud, bonkers, fun! Ellis gives his views on the Jumanji remake
I wasn’t sure I was going to like this from the trailers. However, much like Paddington 2, it proved me wrong.
It starts where the original film ended. But this time the story follows four teenagers — Spencer, Fridge, Martha and Bethany — who, after getting stuck in detention, find an old video game called Jumanji.
It’s an updated version of the board game, so you are expecting mayhem, especially when you hear the drums.
They are sucked into the game and become their avatars (played by Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black). With their characters’ unique skills – and weaknesses – they must complete the game to get back to the real world.
The story is an action chase, but it’s a nice twist on the original Jumanji plot.
In the first one, the game comes to the real world — and in this movie, they go to the game world.
And it is funny to watch the characters adjust to their avatar bodies.
Welcome To The Jungle is action packed and features the song of that name by Guns N’ Roses. Both of them are very loud.
There are also lots of nice original features, due to the characters being in a video game. For example, the NPCs (non-player characters) can only say the dialogue in their programming, and each character has a tattoo of 3 lines on their arm, representing the amount of lives they have left.
My favourite character is Alex, played by Nick Jonas. One scene with him mentions Robin Williams’s character from the original, which I liked.
It might be a bit too scary for younger kids at times, with a few loud jump scares. Watch out for the rhino stampede.
But the chemistry between the characters, and the non-stop action is great.
Some of it is bonkers, but that is Jumanji!
ELLIS BARNES-CHURCH, 13
The post Brian Viner reviews The Greatest Showman and Jumanji appeared first on News Wire Now.