Note to readers: I have started going to movies in the theaters, having received my two shots and passed the two-week standby period, wearing a mask at all times and following social distancing. Most of the films I am reviewing are still movies that I watched at home, but I will note in the review if I saw them in a theatre. I am not going to tell you whether or not to attend a theatre. Just be aware of the risks, do your research, and follow the instructions to the letter.
My View: Jungle Cruise (2021) PG-13 Captain Frank Wolf (Dwayne Johnson) is used to taking some tourists on a typical jungle cruise aboard his boat. But Capt. Wolf has never met Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), a determined explorer on a research mission, has other plans for her trip. Along with her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), she is looking for a magic cure hidden in the Amazon jungle for centuries. Captain Wolf, Lily and are about to go on the adventure of a lifetime, one that no one has ever returned from. This film reminded me of the classic Walt Disney adventure films of the fifties and sixties like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with lots of action, a somewhat over-the-top villain, and some really scary henchman that does the villain’s bidding. What makes this film work is the chemistry between Johnson and Blunt. They play off each other perfectly, with lots of charisma but even better, great timing. As with any good romance of this nature, the two don’t get along at first, but we know right from the start that they are made for each other. The action sequences are fast and highly enjoyable with Blunt, using her experience with action-adventure roles from Edge of Tomorrow and A Quiet Place to great effect. Jesse Plemons is terrific as the evil (there is a great bit where Jack Whitehall’s character can’t understand that Plemons character is saying the word ‘jungle’), filling every scene with glee and mayhem. The film moves at a quick pace and is helped by a few nods to the Disneyland Jungle Cruise ride (watch out for those vicious headhunters!). Jungle Cruise is a lot of fun and is worth seeing on the big screen (I wish I had) due to all the wild and wooly action sequences. So go on a bit of a ride down the Amazon with the Captain and Lilly. You won’t need a refund for this trip. My Rating: Full Price Jungle Cruise Website The film is now playing in theatres and is available on the Disney+ platform.
My View: Stillwater (2021) R An American oil-rig roughneck from Oklahoma, Bill (Matt Damon) travels to France to visit his daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin), who is being held in jail for a murder that she claims she didn’t commit. With no help from her lawyer or the police, both of whom think she is guilty, Bill, in a foreign country, battling language barriers and a system set up to have him fail, is determined to find evidence to exonerate his daughter and bring her back home, to Stillwater. While not quite the Oscar performance that I am sure Damon was hoping for, this is still a good movie due to Damon's quiet and restrained performance as Bill, a man trying to do right by his daughter, who he has failed for most of his life. The film is two parts; one is a father trying to reconnect with a daughter he doesn’t know, and the other is a love story between Bill and the French woman, Virginie, played by Camille Cottin, who becomes at first his friend and then his love interest. Bill is determined to help his daughter in any way he can, if it is just being near to her, so Bill can visit her in prison from time to time. Soon, though, Bill gets it into his head that maybe he can do more; that maybe, just maybe, he can find a crucial person in the murder case that just might get his daughter out of prison or at least, a new trial. The film is helped by the secondary story of Bill getting involved with Virginie and her adorable daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud), as we get to see Bill get a second chance at both love and having a family, making us like Bill more and more as the film goes on. The film drags a bit, feeling every bit its two hour and twenty-minute length, as we wait for the break in the case that we hope (and know) is coming. Overall, Stillwater is a good character study of a man who has sinned in the past and is trying to make up for those sins, no matter what it costs him. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Stillwater Website The film is now playing in theatres.
Indiefest: The Green Knight (2021) R The story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), King Arthur’s nephew, who is determined to make his own legend as he takes on the Green Knight, a gigantic green-skinned stranger. Filmmaker David Lowery has always been hit or miss with me. I really liked his films Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and The Old Man & the Gun, and I absolutely hated his movie A Ghost Story and wasn’t a big fan of Pete’s Dragon. So, be warned that this is a beautifully told tale of a classic knight of the round table story that is very much what I would call an ‘Arthouse Picture.’ It’s a film that critics will love, including me, but probably won’t find a wide audience because it isn’t a conventional telling but more in line with what the 14th-century poem followed, a tale of a knight on a quest, and it’s up to you to decide if the knight failed or succeeded in that quest. The film is filled with magical images that make the film feel part of all those 14th and 15th tapestries showing knights on their quests to serve King Arthur and the ideal of the honest and brave knight. Interestingly, Lowery has chosen to make Gawain not a knight but a wannabe, a young man who dreams of being a knight but would rather sleep with women and drink. This makes Gawain a flawed character from the start, and Dev Patel uses this to his advantage, making Gawain get by on his good looks and connections (he is King Arthur’s nephew and his mother is a sorceress). The film follows Gawain on his quest, one where he makes many mistakes, almost dies (primarily due to those mistakes), and relies on the kindness of strangers, some of which also can’t be trusted. The Green Knight is a moving, visually stunning film that anyone who loves the classics (like I do) will fall in love with. Now, if you are looking for a knight’s tale with lots of romance and sword-fighting, this isn’t your film, but if you want to go on a quest and experience a fantastic tale, this is a film for you. My Rating: Full Price The Green Knight Website The film is now playing in select theatres.
Indiefest: Twist (2021) R Twist (Raff Law) is a gifted graffiti artist trying to find his way after the loss of his mother. He meets Fagin (Michael Caine), the head of a street gang, and Twist is on his way to becoming an integral part of the gang when an art theft goes wrong, and Twist finds himself caught between Fagin, his love for Red (Sophie Simnett), the police, and a loose-cannon enforcer (Lena Headey). I enjoyed some of this film, mainly the parkour bits where Twist and Red went all over London via its rooftops. Still, the film falls flat with a weak plot that involves what should have been a very clever break-in into a high-security art museum, but instead, we get a lame heist film that never quite jells, even with pros like Michael Caine and Lena Headey in its cast. It would help if Raff Law had some of the star power of his father, Jude, but he doesn’t, and while he and Simnett, playing the tough and agile Red, have some chemistry, it's not enough to help the weak script in its attempt to do a contemporary tale of Oliver Twist. Dickens Oliver Twist is a great story and has inspired many a wonderful film, but this adaptation isn’t one of them. My Rating: Cable Twist Info Now playing in select theatres.
My View: Resort to Love (2021) PG It’s been a tough year for Erica (Christina Milian) after she broke up with her fiancé (Jay Pharaoh). Her fortunes look up when she accepts a job as an entertainer at a fabulous Island resort only to find out that she will be the highlighted entertainment at her ex-fiancee/s wedding. Think of this film as a Hallmark Channel film with better music. The storyline is predictable, Millian’s acting wavers a bit (she does well at the drama parts but not with the comedy), and the ending is what you expect, but fans of Millan will enjoy this film because she sings a lot. Sinqua Walls, playing the brother of Jay Pharaoh, is fine as the love interest that we know Erica will end up, and the film gives him plenty of chances to take off his shirt to make the viewers swoon a bit. Resort to Love is a very lightweight film perfect for a Saturday afternoon or maybe a late-night viewing with a glass of wine. In fact, perhaps a couple of glasses of wine and a fast-forward button to get to Millan singing a tune or two. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Resort to Love Website Now playing on the Netflix platform.
Indiefest: Ride the Eagle (2021) Leif (Jake Johnson) is left a picturesque Yosemite cabin he inherits from his estranged mother. Her only condition is that he has to complete a to-do list that she has compiled to teach him some lessons about life. I am a big fan of Jake Johnson, having loved him in films such as Drinking Buddies and Safety Not Guaranteed, and I was not disappointed in this film about a guy who has never gotten over the fact that his mother left him when he was young for a cult and never did make amends…until now. Leif, via tapes his mother has left him, has to complete some tasks that his mother has decided will teach Leif about life and how to live it. This is Johnson’s film; he is on screen the whole time and, with the exception of his loyal dog (with whom he talks to all the time), is pretty much on his own, trying to faithfully complete the tasks his mother has left him to do. I loved the phone conversations that he has with an old girlfriend (played by always charming D’Arcy Carden), who Leif has called as part of his mother’s quest. Susan Sarandon plays Leif’s mom (who we only see through those videotapes) and is hilarious as she gives Leif his tasks to undertake. Ride the Eagle is one of those small, independent gems that is worth not only your watch but a wider audience if only to see J.K. Simmons, as one of Leif’s mother's lovers, rage at Leif, calling him a hilarious bunch of names that I can’t publish but would really like to. My Rating: Full Price Ride the Eagle Website Now playing in select theatres and available to rent on available online platforms.
Forgotten Film: Changes (1969) R Kent (Kent Lane) is a lost young man. As the filmgoers along, we see his life in flashbacks, including his unhappy relationship with his girlfriend, who ended up committing suicide. He crashes his car and then goes on a walking quest to figure out his life. Along the way, he meets people that he thinks can help him, including a journalist (Marcia Strassman). This is one of those films that was made in the late 60s, early 70’s when Hollywood was trying to figure out what would appeal to the young people in a country that was changing incredibly fast. Changes isn’t a great film, much too experimental for my taste, but it gives you a great look at a time when Southern California was changing and Hollywood was trying to keep up. It helps that the film has an incredible soundtrack, including Joni Mitchell singing ‘Both Sides Now and look for an incredibly young Terri Garr in the movie playing a waitress. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Changes Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of Jungle Cruise: Men’s Head Cutter
Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: King Richard (2021) The story of how Richard Williams (Will Smith) turned Venus and Serena Williams into two of the greatest tennis players in the game's history. The film is from Reinaldo Marcus Green, who gave us the marvelous Monster and Men (2018) and we all know that when given a good part that Will Smith can act, so I am looking forward to this film. King Richard Info