JUNGLE CRUISE: 4 STARS
“Jungle Cruise,” now playing in theaters and on Disney + with premium access, is a new adventure story that stretches back into Hollywood history for inspiration.
Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson’s film is based on the 65-year-old Disneyland Riverboat theme park ride, which in turn was inspired by the antics of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in the 1951 film ” The African Queen “. Add to that a hint of “Indiana Jones” and “Romancing the Stone,” and you’ve got a family movie that feels both brand new and old-fashioned.
Blunt is eccentric botanist Dr. Lily Houghton, an English adventurer in search of the Tree of Life, a mythical Amazonian tree whose “Moon Tears” flowers are said to have healing properties. If she can find him and harness his powers, she thinks it will be the start of a scientific revolution.
While traveling from London to the Amazon, she meets steamboat captain “Skipper” Frank Wolff (Johnson), a fast-talking cynic who reluctantly agrees to take her along with his assistant, Brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), on his dilapidated boat in the heart of darkness.
“If you believe in legends,” said Frank, “you should also believe in curses. This is not a fun vacation.
As they ascend the river, they face rippling supernatural beings and rival Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a Habsburg aristocrat determined to use brute force to reach the Tree of Life before Houghton, in a dangerous race against the show.
Movies based on theme park rides have a checkered history. For every “Pirate of the Caribbean” that becomes a hit and spawns sequels, there’s a “The Haunted Mansion” or “Tomorrowland” that collects dust in a trash somewhere.
“Jungle Cruise” seems likely to avoid this fate. A classic adventure, it’s an action-packed journey fueled by chemistry between the protagonists, Blunt and Johnson.
The half hour opening is actually like the theme park ride. It takes off like a rocket with one painstakingly staged action scene after another. This sets the frenetic pace the film maintains for most of the runtime, until a long ending that threatens to exceed its welcome, but doesn’t, thanks to the cast.
Blunt and Johnson have great chemistry, playing verbally throughout. This is the “Romancing the Stone” model; they are an odd couple who roast each other while dodging life-threatening situations and ultimately reveal their true feelings. The comedic timing works and adds a lot of charm to the action sequences.
Plemons, who threatens to steal the show, reveals his rarely used comedic side. As the power-mad Prince Joachim, the actor embraces the cartoonish aspects of the character, creating one of the best family villains in recent memory.
“Jungle Cruise” is a lot more fun than you might imagine a movie based on a ride through a theme park. There are shady CGIs and slightly over-inflated uptime, but it’s an old-fashioned adventure, updated with the scene of a character coming out (no spoilers here) and a reversal of the processing. of the theme park of its native characters, which offers action, humor and chemistry.
THE GREEN KNIGHT: 2 ½ STARS
“The Green Knight,” a new medieval fantasy film currently in theaters, dates back to Arthurian legend and a 14th-century poem for its hero’s journey.
Based on the poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” the film stars Dev Patel as King Arthur’s nephew and Knight of the Round Table, Sir Gauvain. The young man is stubborn and reckless but, despite his bravado, he says: “I am afraid that I am not made for greatness.
The young knight sees a chance to prove his mettle when the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), a larger-than-life green-skinned “man tester”, challenges King Arthur.
“O greatest of kings, one of your knights is trying to strike me a blow,” he said. “Introduce me to this game”.
Gauvain accepts impulsively, charging the stranger, removing his head in one fell swoop.
But the challenge is not over.
Raising his own head from the ground, the Green Knight mocks Gwain, ordering him to meet again in a year in a cursed place, the Green Chapel, to end their duel. As the headless adversary gallops, Gauvain’s quest to test his prowess begins. The journey to the Green Chapel is a dangerous adventure, full of supernatural forces, betrayals, and challengers that will test the strength of his character.
“What do you hope to gain from all of this? he is asked. “Honor,” Gauvain replies. “That’s why a knight does what he does.”
Calling “The Green Knight” an adventure implies that it is also exciting. It has all the hallmarks of an old-fashioned ‘Lord of the Rings’ style adventure story – there are trippy giants, a talking fox, a headless woman and more – but it’s not. exciting.
Director David Lowery has made a cerebral film about finding your true path in life through trials and temptations. His account of the classic poem is dense, deliberate, and often beautiful. But just as often, it is intentionally obtuse because it gets lost in the surrealist deconstruction of Gauvain’s journey. As a result, the film is often more interesting than entertaining.
Towards the end of the film, Gauvain asks: “Is that all there is?” Oddly enough, life imitated art at that point as I found myself wondering the same thing.
THE EXCHANGE: 3 ½ STARS
Sometimes you don’t get what you want, but you get what you need. Especially in coming-of-age movies.
In “The Exchange,” now on VOD, teenager Tim Long (Ed Oxenbould) was born and lived his entire life in a small town in Ontario, but feels like a stranger. Obsessed with everything French, he is a pupil of Camus, worships Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais, and despises his classmates and even his family. The feeling is mutual. “Bookworm” and “loser” are two of the nicest shots he has ever had.
“Everyone hates you,” says Gary (Justin Hartley), the school’s soccer coach. The only person Tim really likes is Brenda (Jayli Wolf), who is unaware of his crush.
Wanting sophisticated company, he enrolled in an exchange program to acquire a “best friend by mail order”. He hopes the exchange student will be a breath of Gallic air in his worn-out little town. But instead of a tourist guide scholar of all things French, he gets Stéphane (Avan Jogia), a chain-smoking teenage horndog more interested in girls than Gruyère Gougères.
After causing a sensation in the city, Stéphane’s behavior is not long in frowning until he finds an unlikely supporter.
“The Exchange” is based on a true story. Screenwriter Tim Long, a Canadian from Manitoba who served as the consultant producer of “The Simpsons” for over twenty years, adapts his own awkward friendship with an exchange student as the basis of the story.
I’m sure the characters are magnified and the situations out of proportion, but underneath it all, “The Exchange” is a feel-good story with laughs and a lot of heart.
It’s light, but that doesn’t stop “The Exchange” from adding more dense textures to the story. Towards the end, Long and director Dan Mazer (longtime writing partner of Sacha Baron Cohen) tackle the xenophobia that drives the latter part of the film. After a brief moment of celebrity in town, the tide turns against Stéphane because of a veiled racism. He is, as Gallophile Tim, the Stranger might have put it, a stranger whose motives are in question, simply because he was not born in the local hospital.
It’s settled – “We drew some conclusions about your difference,” one character tells him – and is treated with delicacy, but in our timeshare, it hits the mark.
Ultimately, “The Exchange” works because it’s about empathy. It’s funny, with the kind of premise that might have been fodder for a sitcom, but beyond the laughs, there’s a bigger message of acceptance.
FOR CRAZY ONLY: THE STORIES OF DEL CLOSE: 4 STARS
“For Madmen Only: The Stories of Del Close,” a new documentary now on VOD, is about the most famous funny man you’ve probably never heard of. Tina Fey says he taught her to be daring in life. Mike Myers says he learned the connection between comedy and bigger ideas from him, and Robin Williams is campaigning for a church in Del Close. Del Close is called a living legend by Amy Poehler and yet, as the movie says, this comedy Zelig has the same name recognition as a third tier fast food chain.
As one of the pioneers of a new kind of theater called Close improvised comedy, along with a handful of others like Elaine May (who Close calls a supernatural figure) and Mike Nichols, created the form and the rules comedy without a net.
Some were intellectuals.
“Always work on the top of your mind” and “Don’t deny, respect the other person’s reality.
“Remember where the objects are” and “Don’t mime”. Most important of all, “You’re not locked in there like an actor with a script.”
Using taped interviews with Close, who died of emphysema at the age of 64 in 1999, and more recent interviews with many of her friends and students, like the names I have listed above and Tim Meadows, George Wendt, Bob Odenkirk among others, as well as recreations (which have a “closeness” to them because director Heather Ross based on Close the autobiographical comic “Wasteland”), and stock footage and from the photographs, a story emerges of a self-defeating rebel who put human nature on the scene in an attempt to explore why we behave the way we do.
At the end of the film, it is the portrait of a complicated man whose window on human nature was both a gift and a curse. He was, as Dave Thomas describes it, “a delicate basket of eggs destined to break at any moment.” He was brilliant, but as Adam McKay points out, he was also “a little baby sometimes”.
What remains is his pioneering work in teaching improvisation (well ahead of Charna Halpern). His “Harold” teaching method, the structure used in long-lasting improvisational theater, is both rigid – there is a strict set of rules – but also liberating in a way that makes his students, like Myers says, “get in touch with their higher selves.”
“You have a light within you,” he told them. “Burn it.”
You can draw a straight line from Close to most of the people who made you laugh over the past thirty years. He was a guru, who never reaped the rewards or recognition that many of his students enjoyed, but the film aims to correct the latter.
As often happens in biographies, the legend sometimes appears larger than life. Did he really give L. Ron Hubbard the idea of founding a religion to circumvent taxes? Did he really volunteer to have his dreams monitored by the US government while on LSD, did he quit the project earlier and then send a letter saying he owed the government one more dream?
Who knows? They are still good stories. Reality and fiction, it seems that these are the two sides of the coin that inform the legend of Del Close.