Jungle Cruise

Disney
If a movie is going to be derivative, it may as well go all out and be outrageous about it, as long as the result is as much fun as Jungle Cruise, Disney’s new shameless, live-action theme park tie-in, starring Dwayne Johnson (formerly The Rock) and Emily Blunt. Yes, Jungle Cruise is based on the Disney theme park ride that everyone remembers loving as a kid, much like another Disney film franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean, was. Similarities between those two films don’t end there, as Jungle Cruise borrows more than a little from those family-friendly pirate blockbusters, as it does a plethora of other films, including The African Queen, The Mummy, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, just to name a few. But, again, this film is definitely not one for the overthinkers out there. It is as Disney as a movie can be, as well as everything you expect and hope it to be. It may not be perfect, but the (not too young) kids will love it and the adults will totally enjoy rolling their eyes.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra has packed a LOT into its 2+ hour running time, but Jungle Cruise moves so quickly through all of it that it only feels too long in the last fifteen minutes. It begins by setting the scene of our two main characters. Lily (Blunt) is a scientist in London, but, with it being London during the Great War, her contributions are not taken seriously, so she has her doofus brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) present her request to the scientific society to go in search of the mythical Tree of Life, which is supposed to exist in the deepest recesses of the Amazonian jungle. True scientists are skeptical about funding a search for something that lives only in ghost stories, so Lily decides to embark on the journey by herself, with MacGregor along for the ride. When in the Amazon, she needs a river guide, and stumbles across Frank (Johnson), a seemingly capable riverboat captain (with the ever-present Captain & Tenille hat to prove it) whom she hires to take her to her elusive treasure.

Read more

Black Widow

Marvel Studios
If ever there was a time when the world needed a Marvel film to bring everyone together, it is now. And Black Widow is very likely the one to do it.

COVID-19 put a bit of a kink in Marvel’s plan for world (cinematic) domination, but, with the studio’s new release, Black Widow, they have picked up right where they left off in 2019, when the last Marvel Avengers film, Avengers: Endgame, helped put Marvel’s parent company, Walt Disney Studios, over the $11 billion mark for the year, commanding an historic third of all domestic box office grosses that year. The Marvel juggernaut is a hulking beast in the industry that will not likely stop swallowing up everything around it now that cinema is starting to creak back to normal, but even the genius brain trust with the golden touch over at Marvel are sure to be amazed at the luck of their timing. The fact that Black Widow was the next film in the hopper when the pandemic hit is perhaps the best thing Marvel could have hoped for. Not only will it satisfy all of those mega-fans who have been longing for another Avengers movie, but it is the perfect film to welcome back all audiences to the theater because it finally is an Avengers movie that is made for everybody, and anybody can enjoy it, whether you are steeped in Marvel mythology or not. Unlike Avengers: Endgame, which may have turned off some casual Marvel viewers due to its need for an intricate knowledge of the Avengers compendium to enjoy it in any way, Black Widow merely sprinkles Avengers references here and there, but is mostly just a fun, action-packed thrill ride that anyone can enjoy, with a perfect feminist bent that just may win over the audiences who were disappointed by Wonder Woman 1984.

Read more

The Tomorrow War

Amazon Studios
There’s no denying the increase in the number of movies that look and feel like video games. Hollywood sees the massive popularity of video games in their primary demographic (young men) and is hoping to appeal to them with movies like Extraction, Nobody, The Old Guard and The Army of the Dead, just to name a few–movies that lean heavily on shooting, fighting, a relentless enemy and bottomless CGI and stunts budgets, and not so much on story or character development. The latest entry into this video game-inspired cinematic shooting gallery, Amazon’s The Tomorrow War, however, is so ridiculous, it not only makes Army of the Dead look like an Oscar-winner, but makes video game storylines seem like Shakespeare.

Starring Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski and J.K. Simmons, The Tomorrow War lays out an ultra-complicated plot about how aliens in the future have landed on Earth and are killing everyone, so people now have to travel to the future to fight them, in order for there to be any hope of humanity’s survival–a not-very-well disguised metaphor for climate change. Governments are forced to impose a draft to send all eligible humans to the future to fight, but the aliens are winning the war in the future, and all hope seems to be lost. Up steps military veteran-turned high school teacher Dan Forester (Pratt), who gets drafted and is stuck with a ragtag group of ordinary joes who are neither prepared nor trained to make the jump to their uncertain fate. Dan instantly bonds with nervous nellie Charlie (Sam Richardson) and cynical, battle-tested Dorian (Edwin Hodge), and they are able to hold their own against the alien enemy, thanks to Dan’s bravery and military skills. Romeo Command, played by Strahovski, the commander in the future, takes notice of Dan’s band of fighters and tasks them with a dangerous mission that, if it works, just might kill the aliens and save all life as we know it. There’s much more, but it would spoil all the non-fun.

Read more

No Sudden Move

Warner Bros.
Despite having delivered some of Hollywood’s most traditionally successful films of the twenty-first century so far, Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh continues to be one of the most enigmatic and unpredictable artists working today. Akin to a cinematic shark, he keeps moving from genre to genre, medium to medium, forcing new challenges on himself, never pandering to expectation. With films as disparate in tone and subject as Sex, Lies and Videotape, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, Solaris, Contagion, Magic Mike, Behind the Candelabra, Logan Lucky and Let Them All Talk, Soderbergh continues to break new ground and reinvent himself, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. In 2020, Soderbergh took on perhaps the most challenging project of all, serving as one of the producers for the pandemic Oscars. Although he signed up to co-produce the annual awards extravaganza prior to COVID-19, there possibly was no artist better suited for the flexibility and creativity needed to mold a show out of literally nothing. While the show itself fell flat in the end, Soderbergh’s contributions were hailed as the only part of the production that had any life.

It is because of Soderbergh’s immense talent and ability to shape ordinary rocks into diamonds that every new film by the auteur is met with such high expectations. Which is why his latest film, No Sudden Move, is such a rare disappointment.

The concept of cool criminals wasn’t invented by Steven Soderbergh, but his Ocean’s series of films, beginning with Ocean’s Eleven in 2001, certainly defined it for a generation of moviegoers. No Sudden Move is carved from the Ocean’s mold and borrows more than a little from it, but it isn’t able to find the traction necessary to hold together as a consistent or cohesive enough cousin to the iconic heist franchise.

Read more