Our Christmas Day with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”

Jumanji!

Dwayne Johnson on a motorcycle with a flamethrower. Maybe movies do get better than this, but some days they don’t need to.

No one deserves to be left alone on Christmas, least of all a grandmother. When one of our families canceled their Christmas gathering altogether at the last minute, it left one kindly relative in danger of spending all day alone with her dashed hopes and her TV dinners and a 227 marathon. We knew we had to do something. That’s why for the first time in ages we headed to the theater on Christmas Day — gave her some company, some fresh air, and the treat of an all-new movie. Waiting there for us with two hours’ worth of innocuous, family-bonding fun was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his happy sidekicks in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

In his wrestling days our man Mr. Johnson famously asked his opponents, “Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?” He may not get into the ring anymore, but we can still smell what he’s cooking. And if there’s one thing The Rock cooks best these days, it’s popcorn. Lots and lots of popcorn. Movies with The Rock in them are like the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving of cinema. You might groan at what’s on the table, but even if you don’t touch it, someone else will appreciate the love and effort he put into that popcorn, and they’re gonna have some and love it.

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“Kung Fu Panda 3”: Eats Yaks & Leaves

Kung Fu Panda 3!

“Dad, do you think they’ll let me present an award at next year’s Oscars? Or at least the Kids Choice Awards?”

It’s post-Oscar season movie time! That inevitable season when the major studios helpfully fill up theaters with numerous counterprogramming choices, by which I mean flicks that will never, ever win quality-based awards but might just make a buck or two off those moviegoers who couldn’t care less about the overwrought film-award pomposity. Usually when you see an animated release on the post-Christmas slate, it’s one that was made overseas for twenty bucks that would’ve gone to straight-to-video if the studio weren’t desperate for some first-quarter earnings on their P&L sheets.

So I was surprised to see Kung Fu Panda 3 dumped into a wintertime slot. I barely remember anything about the second one except an impressive ship crash and Gary Oldman’s lame evil peacock, but the original was an eye-popping martial-arts spectacular that proved to be one of Jack Black’s best-ever vehicles and one of my top five Dreamworks Animation films to date. I was hoping the third would be more like the first.

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My Labor Day Weekend 2014 TV Marathon Report

Peter Dinklage!

Tyrion Lannister wishes you would go away.

I’m grateful every day to have a job that observes the largely superfluous privilege of Labor Day. I spent most of the weekend recovering from “con crud” and saving up energy and money for future chores and exploits. It was nice to have the time and excuse to make headway into my infinite viewing pile — with my wife’s blessing, no less. I’ll make a point of mowing the lawn some other week, just for her.

The weekend’s results, in no particular order:

* The Station Agent (Netflix): Before Game of Thrones, and slightly before his winning scene in Elf, Peter Dinklage starred in this 2003 indie, a low-key character piece about a railroad enthusiast who retreats to small-town New Jersey after his best friend dies and his model-train hobby shop is sold off. His attempts at hermitage are thwarted daily as life pushes other people into his path — a happy-go-lucky food-truck runner (Bobby Cannavale), a separated wife and grieving mother (Patricia Clarkson), a teen librarian with a secret (frequent Oscar nominee Michelle Williams), an unassuming young black girl, the backwater citizens who mock his stature, and Mad Men‘s John Slattery in a bit part as a disgruntled husband. Dinklage barely talks, letting his doleful gaze speak or deflect for him, but he slowly emerges from inner captivity as the tracks are laid for new connections to new friends, each overlooking the others’ outward differences and recognizing their inner wounds.

Right this way for the rest of the viewing schedule…

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