Reeling it in: Lots of fun this week at the movies

This file image released by Sony Pictures shows Kevin Hart, from left, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan and Jack Black in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” (Frank Masi/Sony Pictures via AP, File)

I’m not a huge fan of long plane flights, but one nice thing is that nowadays you can spend the time watching movies, which usually takes my mind off my knee that’s seizing up or the line to bathroom that’s stretching all the way from the back of the plane to that curtain that so helpfully separates first class and coach.

 

Now, it’s not that the movies on offer on the flight are films unavailable to watch anywhere else. I could have streamed these on Netflix or iTunes at home, but when else are you allowed 6 straight hours to just sit and watch TV? The family and I spent the holiday in Florida this year, and on the way home I managed to squeeze in two movies I’d been wanting to watch but hadn’t been able to. Those, in addition to the one I went to see in the theater when we got home, made for a trifecta of very satisfying films. Three in a row. How often does that happen anymore?

“Marshall”

Open Road Films

1 hour, 58 minutes

The first film I watched is called “Marshall,” and first thing my radio co-hosts said to me when I mentioned the title was, “You mean that movie where the plane crashes and kills the whole football team?” Yes. I watched a weepy Matthew McConaughey from 2006 for this week’s review.

No. “Marshall” is a film released this fall to a depressingly small number of theaters and little to no fanfare, about an episode in the early life of Thurgood Marshall, the man who would later go on to become America’s first black member of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1940, Marshall was a traveling attorney for the NAACP, crisscrossing the country defending black people that the organization believed were innocent of any crime. Finding himself in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Marshall is asked to take on the case of a chauffeur accused of rape and attempted murder.

The film is entertaining and moves along at a rapid pace. Chadwick Bozeman is excellent as Thurgood Marshall, and Josh Gad, playing co-counsel Sam Friedman, tones down the wackiness and does a good job. The film has a stylized feel to it, in places, which works most of the time.

As much as I liked the story and the acting, I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing, which often goes out of its way to explain what’s going on, whether you need it or not. Biopics are hard to do, though, and I appreciated this one for focusing on a limited aspect of the great man’s life, and really doing it well.

Grade: A-

“Marshall” is rated PG-13 for strong language and sexuality, and some violence.

“Battle of the Sexes”

Fox Searchlight Pictures

2 hour, 1 minute

After “Marshall” and a quick hobble down the aisle, I dialed up “Battle of the Sexes,” the sports drama, set in 1973, about the famous tennis match between retired Men’s champion Bobby Riggs, and up and coming star Billie Jean King. I like sports movies, as a general rule, and I like tennis, as a game, so this was right up my alley.

Actually, it’s more about celebrity, the women’s movement, and King’s struggles with her own sexual identity than it really is about tennis, but there’s some good play, and Steve Carrell, playing Riggs, is really great. It would have been an easy move to portray the self-proclaimed male chauvinist as the film’s villain, but “Sexes” never sees him that way. Carrell’s portrayal feels very honest — sympathetic, funny, and sad.

In the end, my only real complaint was that I wish the tennis scenes in the film had been more interesting.

Grade: A-

“Battle of the Sexes” is rated PG-13 for sexual content and partial nudity.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”

Columbia Pictures

1 hour, 59 minutes

Finally, a day or two after we got home, we all bundled up once again to go see “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” Luckily for us and the six other people in the theater, this film was playing at both theaters, giving us plenty of options. No need to run award contending films like “The Shape of Water,” “Lady Bird” or “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” when we can have Jack Black and The Rock playing on 40 percent of the area’s screens.

Grousing aside, “Jumanji” was actually much better than I thought it would be. Both Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black have great comic timing, and the decision to set this sequel as a video game instead of the original’s board game was a smart one.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, “Jumanji” is a beautifully illustrated and written children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg about a couple of bored children who have to contend with the jungle come to life in their home when they play a mysterious board game. The original film starred Robin Williams back in 1995 and ended with the titular board game buried where it could never hurt anyone again.

That’s not the way sequels work however, so eventually the game comes back, finding itself in the orbit of a bored Nintendo obsessed teenager. Realizing that old school gaming wasn’t the way to go, the nefarious toy magically transforms into a game cartridge and spirits the teen away to a magical jungle land.

Fast-forward 20 years to the here and now, and we are presented with four awkward teens who find the game, attempt to play, and find themselves also whisked away to Jumanji. However, instead of appearing as their teen selves, they arrive in the bodies of their game avatars, including hunky Johnson, diminutive loud-mouth Kevin Hart, Lara Croft look-a-like Karen Gillan, and the aforementioned Jack Black, who unfortunately provides the body for the hot chick.

The movie is silly, and often fairly obvious, but for family fun we found it highly entertaining. My 8 and 10-year-olds were at the edge of where I think this movie is probably appropriate — there is some mature humor that they, luckily, didn’t ask for a lot of details about.

Aside from that, though, “Jumanji” is just what a jungle movie starring the rock should be.

Grade: B+

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is rated PG-13 for mature humor, cartoon violence, and mild language.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.