Friday, January 21, 2022

Jungle Cruise (2021)


Streaming Service: Disney+
Movie Name/Year: Jungle Cruise (2021)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Length: 127 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Production/Distribution: Davis Entertainment, Flynn Picture Company, Seven Bucks Productions, TSG Entertainment, Walt Disney Pictures, Zaftig Films, Blitz Film & Video Distribution, Blitz, Forum Hungary, Kinomania, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Argentina, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Germany, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Sony Pictures Releasing, Disney+
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writers: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, Josh Goldstein, Michael Green, John Norville
Actors: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramírez, Andy Nyman, Annika Pampel, Chris Ward, Dani Rovira, David Lengel, Emily Marie Palmer, Flanagan John, Ilana Guralnik, Jack Whitehall, James William Ballard, Jesse Plemons, Kalanikauleleiaiwi Jardine, Keith Arthur Bolden, Mark Ashworth, Michael H. Cole, Paul Giamatti, Pedro Lopez, Peter Luis Zimmerman, Quim Gutiérrez, Quintin Tyler Price, Raphael Alejandro, Romualdo Castillo, Ryan Dinning, Sharon M. Bell, Shawn McBride, Simone Lockhart, Sulem Calderon, Veronica Falcón
IMDb Blurb: Based on Disneyland's theme park ride where a small riverboat takes a group of travelers through a jungle filled with dangerous animals and reptiles but with a supernatural element.

Selina’s Point of View:
Jungle Cruise was absolutely delightful.
Sure, it seemed – at times – to be two whole hours of Dwayne Johnson riffing off dad jokes, but I fail to see how that’s a bad thing. As a long-time fan, it’s what I’ve come to expect from him in his comedic parts. He does it well, and there’s nothing wrong with playing to an actor’s strengths.
I loved his on-screen chemistry with Emily Blunt. I find a lot of the actors Johnson works with can seem a bit pale in comparison. He’s just such a huge character, with an immense amount of charisma, that it’s hard to match-up to. Blunt did exceptionally. In some cases, she may have stood out even more than he did. I think the only other movie where I’ve seen that happen was in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) – where Jack Black played an amazing teenage girl.

I’ll admit that Jungle Cruise had a pretty basic plot. I think that was what turned off some of the critics. Still, it was done well and there were moments of shock.
A couple of times, I made an involuntary exclamation. Granted, one of those times was because I forgot what it was rated and thought something decidedly PG-13 was happening in what I thought was a PG movie – but there was an actual twist that caught me off-guard as well. I was impressed.
I think it is important to note that the writers had to work backwards. They didn’t even get to start with an idea. They started with a setting and had to build outwards. That’s not a simple thing to do. Knowing that does allow me to forgive some of the over-usage of tropes.

They did a good job with what they had. The writers not only succeeded in giving a story to fit the ride, but they also made a movie that was memorable and fun to watch. I think they deserve some credit for that.
Jungle Cruise was a great, turn-your-brain-off, forget-the-world, flick. I would absolutely watch it again, and I regret not seeing it in theaters.
Cat’s Point of View:
Jungle Cruise landed at my #4 spot in July 2021’s Top 20 Movies to Look Out For article – only because there was essentially a 4-way-tie for #1.

I had quite a lot of anticipation for this movie leading back to its announcement. The trailers promised quite a fun ride. Then the coronavirus pandemic began cascading delays through Hollywood’s release calendar. Needless to say, I was rather chomping at the bit to watch Jungle Cruise the moment it became available for Disney+ subscribers. (Going to the theater or paying the premium rental price just weren’t in the cards.) I was more than happy to watch it again as a refresher for writing today.
Before I press onward, I do have a confession to make. I’ve never been to Disneyland. I’ve been to Disney World – but only Epcot Center. Thus, I haven’t had a chance to partake of the ride Jungle Cruise was based on/ inspired by. I can’t tell you how well it follows the experience. I can, however, give you an idea (based on IMDb’s trivia) that there are plenty of Easter Eggs throughout for those that are former passengers of Disney’s skippered boat ride.
That being said, much like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Jungle Cruise is a film that you can enjoy without having had the real-world theme park experience.

I adored the chemistry between Dwayne Johnson (Ballers, Jumanji: The Next Level, Red Notice), Emily Blunt (The Huntsman: Winter's War, Sherlock Gnomes, Wild Mountain Thyme), and Jack Whitehall (The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Good Omens, Clifford the Big Red Dog) as an adventuring trio. The dad jokes from Johnson’s character had me groaning and laughing throughout. I enjoyed the story and this trio certainly elevated the material beyond your run-of-the-mill ride experience. I think I even had a bit of a jaw-drop moment on my first watch-through when the story’s twist was revealed.
Aside from being thoroughly entertaining and a fun popcorn flick for the whole family, there was really only one thing that bugged me. Some of the CGI effects for the supernaturally afflicted conquistadors were a little hinky. For example, Edgar Ramírez (Point Break, Resistance, The 355) is an amazing actor – but half the time his character was on screen, the effects were so distracting that I couldn’t entirely take him seriously. It wasn’t all the time, but it was enough to have me scratching my head in a few places and broke my suspense of disbelief. Aside from that, I was rather happy with the overall effects employed by Jungle Cruise.

Of course, it seems like a lot of the critics are taking things far too seriously. I can only implore viewers to keep in mind that, while the theme park attraction and parts of the film may have been inspired by Walt Disney’s favorite movie The African Queen (1951), this was in no uncertain terms any sort of attempt at remaking the legendary film. Holding Jungle Cruise up to that standard is rather unfair. It’s meant to be more whimsical and fantastical.
I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to give Jungle Cruise a whole-hearted recommendation. If you have access to Disney+, this would be a great addition to a fun evening. 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 62%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 92%
Metascore –50%
Metacritic User Score – 6.1/10
IMDB Score – 6.6/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating – 4.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4.5/5
Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Prospect (2018)

Streaming Service: Hulu
Movie Name/Year: Prospect (2018)
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: Depth of Field, Ground Control, BRON Studios, Shep Films, Culture Publishers, Gunpowder & Sky, Capelight Pictures, Eagle Pictures, Front Row Filmed Entertainment, KinoVista, Signature Entertainment, Youplanet Pictures
Director: Christopher Caldwell, Zeek Earl
Writer:  Christopher Caldwell, Zeek Earl
Actors: Sophie Thatcher, Jay Duplass, Pedro Pascal
Blurb from IMDb: A teenage girl and her father travel to a remote alien moon, aiming to strike it rich. They've secured a contract to harvest a large deposit of the elusive gems hidden in the depths of the moon's toxic forest. But there are others roving the wilderness and the job quickly devolves into a fight to survive. Forced to contend not only with the forest's other ruthless inhabitants, but with her own father's greed-addled judgment, the girl finds she must carve her own path to escape.

Selina’s Point of View:
Prospect had a slow start. I was afraid it was going to wind up a bit on the boring side, but it did eventually pick up. As it played on, it managed to capture my interest in a way that other drama-heavy science fictions don’t.
The idea behind Prospect wasn’t overly original, but it was woven with a sense of intensity that’s rarely seen. Most films would cut it with some bright and fast action, or quippy comedy, but that doesn’t happen here. Instead, it stays intense throughout, not offering any real relief from the question of whether the main characters will live or die.
A lot of the success of Prospect has to be credited toward the actors.
Jay Duplass (The Mindy Project, The Oath, Horse Girl) portrays his obnoxiously greedy prospector very well and cuts a path to make Sophie Thatcher’s (Chicago Med, When the Streetlights Go On, Yellowjackets) character even easier to root for. On her own, Thatcher brings her character to life in an almost hypnotizing way. Even when she’s not entirely likable, you still don’t want to see her come to any harm.

Pedro Pascal (Narcos, Triple Frontier, We Can Be Heroes) was just as worth the watch as one would expect. He played his gritty, strangely relatable, part with the charismatic appeal he’s known for. Even when he’s doing despicable things, he still attracts attention like a protagonist would.
The entire film seems very low-fi, but still gorgeous in a grimy kind of way. If I were to make a comparison, it’d be to Snowpiercer (2013). Not in content of the setting, but in the way it feels. Everything is perfectly placed to express the feel of species isolation. It’s awe-inspiringly beautiful, but in a dirty – somewhat apocalyptic – way.
Prospect was a good film, a little predictable at times, but worth the watch.
The writer/directors, Christopher Caldwell (Redemption, Man, In the Pines, Taste) and Zeek Earl (Flirting's for Dummies, In the Pines, Taste), did an amazing job. I would never have pegged this as a full-length feature film debut for anyone involved. I think it bodes extremely well for what their futures hold. I’ll be keeping an eye out for them.

Cat’s Point of View:
I’m just going to fire right out of the gate here and say that I was super impressed with Prospect.
There were more layers and nuance to this story than I anticipated.
I was a bit shocked to learn that this was the feature-length film debut for both writer/directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl. They brought together an interesting and story-driven film that didn’t rely on anything super flashy while still providing good proverbial bang for the buck. Their writing delivered a relatable story where – even though this movie takes place on a faraway moon – the characters couldn’t escape their own human nature.

I should take a minute to appreciate how Prospect utilized primarily practical effects. From the drop-pod to the forested alien moonscape and costumes – the production team provided us with rich detail and depth of setting. They didn’t need a huge amount of bells and whistles to sell this story.
While I don’t want to discount the contributions of Jay Duplass, or the supporting cast; the dynamic between Pedro Pascal and Sophie Thatcher was everything. I am very thankful that this script caught Pascal’s attention. It would be hard to imagine someone else in his shoes for this production.
If you’re a fan of story-driven sci-fi, as I am, Prospect is definitely a good choice. If you’re looking for something flashier with more CGI effects and the like, you might not come away as happy. On the other hand, you could be pleasantly surprised!

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 89%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 71%
Metascore – 68%
Metacritic User Score – 6.9
IMDB Score – 6.3/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 4.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating4/5
Movie Trailer:

Monday, January 17, 2022

Riverdance: The Animated Adventure (2021)


Streaming Service: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: Riverdance: The Animated Adventure (2021)
Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Music
Length:  90 minutes
Rating: TV-G
Production/Distribution: Aniventure, Cinesite, River Production, Constantin Film, Notorious Pictures, SND Films, Vértice Cine, Sky Cinema, Netflix
Directors: Eamonn Butler, Dave Rosenbaum
Writers: Dave Rosenbaum, Tyler Werrin
Actors: Pierce Brosnan, Brendan Gleeson, Lilly Singh, Jermaine Fowler, John Kavanagh, Pauline McLynn, Stephen Delahunty, Conor Drum, Sam Hardy, Hannah Herman, Rory Kardos-Ivess, Thomas Lappin, Danny McColgan, Brian Tynan
IMDb Blurb: An Irish boy named Keegan and a Spanish girl named Moya journey into the mythical world of the Megaloceros Giganteus who teach them to appreciate Riverdance as a celebration of life.

Cat’s Point of View:
It’s hard to put into words how giddy I was when I noticed that Riverdance: The Animated Adventure was available to stream on Netflix. When I listed it as my #12 on November 2021’s Top 20 list, it wasn’t clear where it would be landing for streaming purposes following its initial run. I could have danced a jig on the spot (had I still the coordination and balance for such things).
I feel I must preface my review with the same disclaimer as my Top 20 entry: don’t expect the stage show when you watch this movie. If you have the story from the show in your head, you would likely be disappointed and frustrated with the movie. Clean your mental slate before embracing this whimsical Irish tale of magic and music.
I’m pretty sure the few stinky critic reviews I’ve seen so far (as well as regular audiences) were from those that didn’t bother to modify their expectations – and failed to take into consideration the fantastical nature of Irish folklore.

I can’t say that I’m familiar with all of Ireland’s myths, but I do know a fair amount of them. Irish art, music, and mythology have been passions of mine for many years. Deer have been represented in several legends. Why not this one, too?
Let’s put aside whether or not the legend of the Irish deer (Megalocerus Giganteus) magically preserving the flow of rivers and teaching people step-dancing is authentic or not. It’s still a fun story. I actually adored how the writers incorporated the deer with the dance, and also the overall message of the movie – coping with grief and moving on in celebration of life. The heart of the story is authentically Irish enough that the rest doesn’t matter.

There were more layers to this story than I anticipated. It’s definitely about more than just dancing deer and the soundtrack. It’s about family, community, responsibility, owning your mistakes, tradition, friendship, and inclusivity as well. Complex for a kiddie movie? Perhaps, if you look at those concepts on paper. The animated tale made it easy to swallow without being preachy. I will also add that the production was very respectful in portraying death on screen so that it wouldn’t be as traumatic for young viewers.
Honestly, if you know someone with young kids dealing with grief from the loss of a loved one; this might be a good movie to show them to help them through it a little.
Now for the music.

I don’t think they could really get away with calling this Riverdance without some aspect of the original within the film. In this case, Riverdance: The Animated Adventure uses quite a bit of the music from the stage production. The same composer was on board, after all. Some songs were used only as a background score as events unfolded, but other tracks still hosted lively Irish step-dancing on the screen. It was just animated this time. I got a bit misty when my favorite piece played. Each number was thematically appropriate for the action on screen.
I absolutely adored this marriage of music and animation. If you loved the music of the stage production, perhaps give Riverdance: The Animated Adventure a try. Do keep in mind that the message is geared for younger kids, but it could still be fun for the whole family. My 18-year-old daughter watched with me and enjoyed it more than she would admit to. 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 38%
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 5.4/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5

P.S. - There is a brief post-credits scene.

Movie Trailer: