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Brian Viner reviews The Greatest Showman and Jumanji

By Brian Viner for Daily Mail

Published: 19:55 EST, 21 December 2017 | Updated: 20:24 EST, 21 Decem..

By Brian Viner for Daily Mail

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)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)

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 alchemyWhen 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

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 remakeKaren Gillan, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Jack Black all star in the new Jumanji remake

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 funJumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is inventive, cleverly scripted, and huge fun

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!


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Saudi women in Sydney: Sisters’ bodies lay undiscovered for a month

Australian police are baffled after the bodies of two Saudi women, believed to have lain undiscovered for a month, were found in a Sydney apartment.

Sisters Asra Abdullah Alsehli, 24, and Amaal Abdullah Alsehli, 23, were found dead on 7 June in separate beds at home in the suburb of Canterbury.

Police, who were called to the property for a welfare check, said the women are believed to have died in early May.

But despite “extensive inquiries”, they still do not know how or why.

The sisters moved to Australia from Saudi Arabia in 2017 and may have sought asylum, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Police refused to confirm this, saying they do not comment on residential status.

A human rights organisation said it should be established whether the women fled Saudi Arabia because of domestic violence or harsh laws governing women. However, there is no evidence this is the case.

Police said they had been in contact with the women’s family, which is assisting them with inquiries.

Lina al-Hathloul, head of monitoring and communications at Saudi human rights organisation ALQST, said it “would not be the first case” of Saudi women who were killed abroad after fleeing domestic violence.

“There are no protections for women who are victims of domestic violence in Saudi Arabia, so they flee abroad,” she told the BBC.

She added: “I’m not saying that is the case here, just that we need a thorough investigation. It is frustrating not to have any information.”

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, there had been signs that something was wrong.

Last year, the women told their building manager they thought someone was tampering with their food deliveries, the paper reported.

A plumber who visited the apartment also said he believed there was “something mysterious” going on, and that police had been called in the past over concerns for the women.

New South Wales Police issued a renewed plea to the public on Wednesday, saying “any piece of information” could be the key to solving this case.

The local community is close-knit, police said in a statement, asking anyone who may have known or seen the women to come forward.

A report from Australian current affairs programme Four Corners in 2019 found 80 Saudi women had tried to seek asylum in Australia in recent years. Many of them were fleeing male guardianship laws.


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Australia election: Why is Australia’s parliament so white?

Australia is one of the most multicultural nations in the world, but it’s a different story in the country’s politics, where 96% of federal lawmakers are white.

With this year’s election, political parties did have a window to slightly improve this. But they chose not to in most cases, critics say.

Tu Le grew up the child of Vietnamese refugees in Fowler, a south-west Sydney electorate far from the city’s beaches, and one of the poorest urban areas in the country.

The 30-year-old works as a community lawyer for refugees and migrants newly arrived to the area.

Last year, she was pre-selected by the Labor Party to run in the nation’s most multicultural seat. But then party bosses side-lined her for a white woman.

It would take Kristina Kenneally four hours on public transport – ferry, train, bus, and another bus – to get to Fowler from her home in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, where she lived on an island.

Furious locals questioned what ties she had to the area, but as one of Labor’s most prominent politicians, she was granted the traditionally Labor-voting seat.

Ms Le only learned she’d been replaced on the night newspapers went to print with the story.

“I was conveniently left off the invitation to the party meeting the next day,” she told the BBC.

Despite backlash – including a Facebook group where locals campaigned to stop Ms Kenneally’s appointment – Labor pushed through the deal.

“If this scenario had played out in Britain or the United States, it would not be acceptable,” says Dr Tim Soutphomassane, director of the Sydney Policy Lab and Australia’s former Race Discrimination Commissioner.

“But in Australia, there is a sense that you can still maintain the status quo with very limited social and political consequences.”

An insiders’ game

At least one in five Australians have a non-European background and speak a language at home other than English, according to the last census in 2016.

Some 49% of the population was born or has a parent who was born overseas. In the past 20 years, migrants from Australia’s Asian neighbours have eclipsed those from the UK.

But the parliament looks almost as white as it did in the days of the “White Australia” policy – when from 1901 to the 1970s, the nation banned non-white immigrants.

“We simply do not see our multicultural character represented in anything remotely close to proportionate form in our political institutions,” says Dr Soutphomassane.

Compared to other Western multicultural democracies, Australia also lags far behind.

The numbers below include Indigenous Australians, who did not gain suffrage until the 1960s, and only saw their first lower house MP elected in 2010. Non-white candidates often acknowledge that any progress was first made by Aboriginal Australians.

Two decades ago, Australia and the UK had comparably low representation. But UK political parties – responding to campaigns from diverse members – pledged to act on the problem.

“The British Conservative Party is currently light years ahead of either of the major Australian political parties when it comes to race and representation,” says Dr Soutphomassane.

So why hasn’t Australia changed?

Observers say Australia’s political system is more closed-door than other democracies. Nearly all candidates chosen by the major parties tend to be members who’ve risen through the ranks. Often they’ve worked as staffers to existing MPs.

Ms Le said she’d have no way into the political class if she hadn’t been sponsored by Fowler’s retiring MP – a white, older male.

Labor has taken small structural steps recently – passing commitments in a state caucus last year, and selecting two Chinese-Australian candidates for winnable seats in Sydney.

But it was “one step forward and two steps back”, says party member and activist Osmond Chiu, when just weeks after the backlash to Ms Le’s case, Labor “parachuted in” another white candidate to a multicultural heartland.

Andrew Charlton, a former adviser to ex-PM Kevin Rudd, lived in a harbour mansion in Sydney’s east where he ran a consultancy.

His selection scuppered the anticipated races of at least three diverse candidates from the area which has large Indian and Chinese diasporas.

Party seniors argued that Ms Kenneally and Mr Charlton – as popular and respected party figures – would be able to promote their electorates’ concerns better than newcomers.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese also hailed Ms Kenneally as a “great Australian success story” as a migrant from the US herself.

But Mr Chiu says: “A lot of the frustration that people expressed wasn’t about these specific individuals.

“It was about the fact that these were two of the most multicultural seats in Australia and these opportunities – which come by so rarely – to select culturally diverse candidates were squandered.”

He adds this has long-term effects because the average MP stays in office for about 10 years.

The frustration on this issue has centred on Labor – because the centre-left party calls itself the “party of multiculturalism”.

But the Liberal-National government doesn’t even have diversity as a platform issue.

One of its MPs up for re-election recently appeared to confuse her Labor rival for Tu Le, sparking accusations that she’d mixed up the two Asian-Australian women – something she later denied. But as one opponent said: “How is this still happening in 2022?”

Some experts like Dr Soutphommasane have concluded that Australia’s complacency on areas like representation stems from how the nation embraced multiculturalism as official policy after its White Australia days.

The government of the 1970s, somewhat embarrassed by the past policy, passed racial discrimination laws and “a seat at the table” was granted to migrants and Indigenous Australians.

But critics say this has led to an Australia where multiculturalism is celebrated but racial inequality is not interrogated.

“Multiculturalism is almost apolitical in how it’s viewed in Australia,” Dr Soutphommasane says, in contrast to the “fight” for rights that other Western countries have seen from minority groups.

What is the impact?

A lack of representation in parliament can also lead to failures in policy.

During Sydney’s Covid outbreak in August 2021, Fowler and Parramatta electorates – where most of the city’s multicultural communities reside – were subject to harsher lockdowns as a result of a higher number of cases.

How will things change?

Liberal MP Dave Sharma, the only lawmaker of Indian heritage, has said all parties – including his own – should better recruit people with different backgrounds. He called it a “pretty laissez-faire attitude” currently.

Mr Albanese has urged Ms Le to “hang in there”, insisting she has a future.

But more people like Ms Le are choosing to speak out.

“I think I surprised a lot of people by not staying quiet,” she told the BBC.

“People acted like it was the end of my political career that I didn’t toe the party line. But… none of that means anything to me if it means I’m sacrificing my own values.”

She and other second-generation Australians – raised in a country which prides itself on “a fair go” – are agitating for the rights and access their migrant parents may not have felt entitled to.

“Many of those from diverse backgrounds were saying they felt like they didn’t have a voice – and that my case was a clear demonstration of their suppression, and their wider participation in our political system.”

She and others have noted the “growing distrust” in the major parties. Polls are predicting record voter support for independent candidates.

“This issue…. matters for everyone in Australian society that cares about democracy,” says Mr Soutphommasane.

“If democratic institutions are not representative, their legitimacy will suffer.

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Scott Morrison effectively ditches his promise to establish a federal anti-corruption commission

Scott Morrison has effectively abandoned his promise to establish a federal anti-corruption watchdog, confirming he would only proceed with legislation in the new parliament if Labor agreed to pass the Coalition’s heavily criticised proposal without amendments.

Morrison pledged before the 2019 election to legislate a federal integrity body in the parliamentary term that has just ended. The prime minister broke that promise, failing to introduce his own proposal before the 46th parliament was prorogued.

On the hustings on Wednesday, Morrison was asked – given his previous undertaking to create the body – whether he would promise to put his proposal to a vote in the next parliament in the event the Coalition won the 21 May election.

Morrison declined to make that promise. “Our position on this hasn’t changed,” the prime minister said. “Our view has been the same – when the Labor party is prepared to support that legislation in that form, then we will proceed with it.”

The prime minister has attempted to inoculate himself from criticism about breaking an election promise by saying he tabled the integrity commission proposal in the parliament.

Tabling an exposure draft, which is what the prime minister did, is not the same as introducing finished legislation to the House of Representatives or the Senate that is then debated and voted on.

As well as repeatedly fudging what happened in parliament, Morrison has also created the impression the proposal can only proceed if Labor agrees to its passage without amendments.

All governments routinely introduce legislation for debate without any undertaking that it will be passed by the opposition. Labor favours a stronger model than the Coalition’s proposal.

Morrison’s lack of urgency on the issue created tensions within government ranks. Late last year, the Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor to support independent MP Helen Haines’ bill to establish a federal integrity commission. Archer accused the government of “inertia” over the issue.

At that time, Archer said she was “perplexed” at her own government’s failure to release a revised bill almost three years after it was promised before the last election.

While Morrison clearly wants to move on from the issue, he will face renewed pressure from crossbench independents if the coming election is close enough to deliver a hung parliament.

A number of independents running against Liberals in metropolitan seats have made it clear that establishing a credible national integrity commission will be a key demand in the event any new government – Liberal or Labor – is seeking agreements for confidence and supply.

Haines blasted Morrison’s comments on Wednesday. “Mr Morrison broke an election promise to introduce an anti-corruption commission and his pathway to creating one is still as vague as it was in the last parliament,” she said.

The crossbench independent said it was “nonsense” for the prime minister to claim that he could not proceed unless Labor agreed with the Coalition’s proposal without seeking any amendments. “It would appear we are in the same void as we were before,” Haines said.

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