FlixChatter Review: JUNGLE CRUISE (2021)

Disney once again capitalize on one of their Disney park’s attraction and turn it into a movie. I suppose that’s no surprise since the last franchise based on a popular Disney ride, Pirates Of The Caribbean grossed a total of $4.5 Billion globally with five movies, making Johnny Depp extremely wealthy with a reported $300 mil total for playing Jack Sparrow. I’ve actually never ridden either rides before, despite having visited both Disneyland AND DisneyWorld several times. The original Jungle Cruise opened in July 1955 at Disneyland Park, making it one of its oldest.

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At the center of the story is Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), an explorer who’s a bit like Indiana Jones meets Rachel Weisz’s character in The Mummy. Armed with a map her father gave her and an ancient artifact object she acquired from in a fun heist opening sequence, she is off to the Amazon in search of an ancient tree which flower holds miraculous healing power. Thanks to a scenario of mistaken identity and a clever ploy involving a Leopard, Lily ends up hiring Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), a wisecracking skipper with predilection for cheesy dad jokes on his ramshackle boat La Quilla. His intro during an actual jungle cruise tour is pretty amusing and fun.

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Much like in The Mummy, Lily and Frank didn’t get off on the right foot initially but surprise, surprise, they form a bond throughout the journey. Blunt and Johnson may seem like an unlikely duo but they have a pretty effortless chemistry and the two play each other off quite well, though some of the jokes/puns are cringe-worthy, especially Frank’s obsession with Lily’s pants. In fact that is his nickname for her, a light commentary of the misogyny of the 1930s period. Now, the plot is a bit too convoluted for a movie based on a ride, and the PG-13 rating is warranted given some of the petrifying jungle scenes and supernatural bits. It’s best not to overthink it and just enjoy the ride as it were, and marvel at the visual beauty of the Amazon river and the lush rainforest. 

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Barcelona-born Jaume Collet-Serra, known for his action flicks with Liam Neeson and the shark movie The Shallows (which I quite enjoyed) is pretty adept in directing the action scenes. “Everything that you see wants to kill you…and can.” Frank says, but of course the scenes of perils aren’t really that scary in a Disney movie, which automatically takes the suspense out of even the most intense action sequences. 

As far as the supporting cast go, Paul Giamatti is rather over the top as Nilo, a successful businessman in the Amazonian port town who often extorts money from Frank. Jack Whitehall plays Lily’s hapless brother MacGregor who’s often the butt of jokes for being absolutely clueless about what this dangerous journey entails. Disney attempts to be more inclusive with including an LGBT character though his coming-out scene is downplayed and feels like an after-thought. Edgar Ramírez is Captain Aquirre, one of the three soldiers in the mythology of the ancient tree, but he became kind of a throwaway character given how the ending is written (more of that later). Lastly, we’ve got a scene-stealing performance from Jesse Plemons as Prince Joachim, who’s basically a cross between an Indiana Jones + Bond villain complete with his hilarious German accent. I’ve only seen him in one Black Mirror episode so I’m not totally familiar w/ his work. His talking-to-bees scene and casually yelling “Hallöchen!” from his submarine while holding a machine gun are wildly amusing. I’m still giggling over how he pronounced ‘jungle’ as ‘chunkle’ in a German accent, mwahahaha!

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My biggest issue is the way Disney is forcing the romance between Lily and Frank. It’s so hugely unnecessary and adds nothing to the story. I realize that Romancing the Stone is one of the main inspiration for the movie, but the romance just seems so forced and would’ve worked better if Emily and Dwayne are just platonic friends. I also have an issue with the ending SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) Now, in the beginning of the movie Lily says she’s convinced the flower from the ancient tree would change the future of medicine forever, and she’s willing to risk her own life to get it. Yet when she finally got the petal, literally by the skin of one’s teeth, she quickly gives it away to bring Frank back to life. The movie also wants to have the cake and eat it too by making the flower miraculously appear AFTER Frank is back alive again, render her sacrifice inconsequential. I think there’s an opportunity for the team of writers to offer somewhat of a redemption to Aguirre and his soldiers which would have been a more intriguing character arc instead of just having them being trapped by the jungle all over again.

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Given Disney has removed the ride’s problematic colonialism stuff and the racially-insensitive depiction of the jungle natives, the movie also wisely subvert that narrative of them being primitives and offer a fun twist about the indigenous people. Visually, the movie looks beautiful, which is to be expected given the large budget. The movie is shot in Hawaii though obviously there are plenty of CGI use for most of the action scenes. Just don’t expect a gritty depiction of the jungle, everything looks too clean and artificial, down to Lily’s hair and red lips that doesn’t seem to be affected by all the hullabaloos. The production design by Jean-Vincent Puzos is fun to look at and I enjoyed the music James Newton Howard, apart from the weirdly bombastic rock music playing during the jungle flashback scene.

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At over 2 hours, it’s a bloated adventure movie that could’ve easily been trimmed down. Overall though it’s entertaining enough for the whole family, though perhaps not for really young kids. Surely they’re banking on Jungle Cruise to be another lucrative franchise for the Mouse House, though it’s not one I personally am clamoring to see. I’m being generous with the rating here, but a full point belongs to Plemons’ hilarious portrayal, I actually can’t wait to rewatch the movie on Disney+ just for Prince Joachim’s scenes!

3/5 stars


What did YOU think of JUNGLE CRUISE?

FlixChatter Review: The Girl on the Train (2016)

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When this project was first announced, I was hoping I’d finish the book by the time the film comes out. Well I didn’t get to the book, but I was still anticipating this one, largely for the female-driven story.

Comparison to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (which I reviewed almost exactly two years ago) is inevitable, given that both involve a missing person and is told from a female perspective with some mental, emotional turmoil. Reading the character descriptions in the novel, where the protagonist Rachel Watson is described as ‘not beautiful and can’t have kids,’ it seems that the stunning Emily Blunt, who’s actually pregnant with her second child during filming, doesn’t seem to fit the role. That said, I think Blunt did a terrific job in making Rachel a believable train wreck (pardon the pun). She rides the train every day and passes by the same neighborhood, a leafy, posh Hudson River Valley where she used to live with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux).

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Rachel still can’t reconcile with her past and she drinks away the blues, filling up her plastic water bottle with booze whilst she voyeuristically watches Megan Hipwell from the train. In Rachel’s eyes, Megan lives the life she’s always dreamed of. A beautiful woman married to a handsome, rich guy who seems to love her, as they’re shown being constantly lovey–dovey. But one day, Rachel sees Megan kissing another man and she goes berserk. It’s as if something snaps in her and she somehow felt *betrayed* that Megan would stray.

Watching this film makes me want to pick up Paula Hawkins’ 2015 best-selling novel, as surely there are tons of story/character nuances that are simply lost in a feature film. Certain internal things, such as the moment Rachel got upset by Megan’s infidelity, is conveyed visually by her lashing out in the bathroom of Grand Central Station. While her chronic drinking problem might’ve made her prone to destructive behavior, this scene made her seem like a deranged, violent person.

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Though the film did manage to keep me engrossed throughout, thanks largely to Blunt’s performance, the narrative feels disjointed. I don’t know if it’s meant to make the audience empathize with how the protagonist is feeling but it can be quite frustrating. Director Tate Taylor (who directed The Help with a multi-narrative plot) adapts the film from Erin Cressida Wilson‘s screenplay. Her last script was Men, Women & Children, which I wasn’t at all entertained by, though this one is far more watchable by comparison. I was rather skeptical when Taylor signed to do the film, as I was expecting someone more like David Fincher who made Gone Girl such a gripping and visceral film that’s also wildly entertaining. The Girl On The Train is a dark and somber tale, but the film itself could’ve been less drab.

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Performance-wise, I find it odd that we’ve got a British actress playing the protagonist when the filmmakers moved the story from London in the novel to NYC. She keeps her British accent throughout though it’s never clear where she’s actually from. In any case, Blunt approaches the role with razor sharp precision, not just by looking unglamorous but she also embodied Rachel’s tormented peace of mind. Newcomer Haley Bennett as Megan has the most screen time out of the supporting cast. I think she has some screen presence, but at times I find her scenes too melodramatic. Later we find out her life isn’t so dreamy after all, and she too has a dark past that haunts her, but yet I can’t find myself to sympathize with her. To be fair, none of the privileged people who love to indulge in their own misery is easy to root for.

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The rest of the characters are pretty much one dimensional. Rebecca Ferguson‘s good as Tom’s second wife Anna, but her acting skills seems underused here. Luke Evans is all rugged perfection as Megan’s husband Scott but he seems to be more eye-candy than anything. Another handsome actor, Venezuelan Edgar Ramírez, seems oddly cast here as Kamal Abdic, who’s from Serbia or Bosnia in the book, but he’s speaking Spanish in the film. Ramírez seems charismatic enough but his character is so boring it barely made any impact. I also have to mention Lisa Kudrow as Tom’s ex boss Amanda whose role is basically a cameo, but an important one.

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Lastly, there’s Tom the antagonist, who actually seems untrustworthy from the start. Initially, the only image of Rachel comes from his point of view and she’s portrayed as a truly unhinged woman with drunken, violent outbursts. I think Theroux a skilled actor but there’s not much to work with when he’s given a paper-thin character who’s more of a caricature douchebag than a menacing sociopath. I’d think in the novel there’s more to his character than presented here?

The reviews haven’t been kind for this, sounds like another case where the book is much more superior than its cinematic adaptation. The novel might be a ‘thriller that shocked the world,’ but I don’t think the film lives up to that. I do think it’s still worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of Blunt who proves herself once again that she’s a versatile and skilled actress. The movie itself isn’t quite as thrilling as it could’ve been, though I wasn’t exactly bored by it. It works more as a psychological drama than a taut whodunit murder mystery.

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Have you seen ‘The Girl On The Train’? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter Review: Zero Dark Thirty

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Apart from perhaps Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow’s films are often a one-time-viewing-only for me and this one is no exception. It’s not a dis mind you, it’s just that the subject matter she picks are usually so difficult to watch.

The beginning of the film took us back to September 11, 2001. With nothing appearing on screen, we hear the tape of the air controller and 911 operators responding to the people in the twin towers. It was an efficient way to remind us what’s really at stake in the investigations that take place two years later. A CIA officer named Maya has just been brought to the black site where an ongoing interrogation of an alleged terrorist takes place. It’s during the first 20 minutes of the torture and humiliation scenes, including waterboarding, that’s become the subject of tons of controversies. Kathryn Bigelow has since defended her film, saying that “…depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices.” Well said, I’d say.

This film definitely challenges us to ponder on various moral issues and as a viewer I was put into a roller coaster ride as all kinds of raw emotions run through me. At the center of it all, we have a relentless protagonist Maya, who’s become obsessed with this manhunt. What started out as an assignment straight out being recruited out of high school, her hunt for Bin Laden (nicknamed ‘UBL’ by her colleagues) quickly became a personal vendetta.

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It plays like a documentary at times in the way it depicts true events such as the various terrorist bombings, including one that Maya herself almost become a victim of at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan. Despite its claim that it was based on true events though, of course it’s still a movie so creative liberties are obviously taken. As a thriller, it definitely works. Despite the 157-minute running time, Bigelow’s direction based on Mark Boal’s script managed to keep my attention throughout. There’s not a boring moment as even the slower moments are packed with tension. There’s also some humorous moments such as when Maya relentlessly writes on the glass window of her CIA boss how many days its been since she gave out her intel but nothing has been done about it. She also delivered the most bad-ass lines to Leon Panetta (played by Mr Soprano himself, James Gandolfini) when he asked who she was during a meeting discussing Bin Laden’s compound.

“I’m the motherf***** who found this place, sir!”

I don’t like to cuss but that is one heck of an awesome line delivered in such deadpan perfection by Jessica Chastain. She gave a credible performance in the role. Maya’s reserved, even aloof at times, but she’s definitely a fighter and she stops at nothing to get the job done. There’s a powerful scene where she tells her boss Joseph Bradley a piece of her mind, it was a ‘you go girl’ moment and Chastain nailed it.The supporting cast delivered a solid performance as well, most notably Jason Clarke (an Aussie who always play Americans), Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez and Mark Strong. Joel Edgerton plays one of the SEALS Team Six that appeared in the last 40 minutes of the actual raid in the compound in Abbottabad.

I thought that the whole sequence was well-directed. The views from night-vision goggles and the handheld camera movements offer quick cuts in a dark environment, but thankfully it didn’t make me feel nauseous watching it. I’m also glad that Bigelow didn’t over-dramatize the actual killing of Bin Laden with excessive slo-mo, what have you. Though we know how the end plays out, it’s still an edge-of-your-seat ride from start to finish.

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The end of such an exhilarating, dangerous, and not to mention expensive operation ends with a solemn moment of Maya alone on an airplane as she leaves the military base. It’s the right kind of sentiment I’d expect someone in her position would have. She’s spent years at the agency to finally get to this moment, to bring justice a man who has killed thousands of innocent victims. But yet, there’s no self-congratulatory cheer, no high-fives with the troops… it’s not a moment of celebration. It was such a relief for me that the whole ordeal is over and I had only been watching it for 2.5 hours, I can’t begin to imagine how the real ‘Maya’ must have felt.

As I said in my Oscar nominations reaction, I think Bigelow was snubbed and now I’m even more convinced of it. It was a well-crafted film all around, the non-flashy, no non-sense directing style works for this subject matter, and acting-wise it was top notch. The whole film was enhanced by the terrific score Alexander Desplat. It’s minimalistic but definitely effective in setting the mood. A riveting film that certainly leaves much to ponder about for days to come.

4.5 out of 5 reels

What are your thoughts on this film? I’d love to hear it.