Review: Jungle Cruise

Is it safe to cruise again? Cinematically speaking, yes. Jungle Cruise is a fun ride, thanks in large part – okay, almost entirely – to the likability of its stars, Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. The film is loosely based on a Disneyland theme park ride that takes travelers downriver, through a jungle filled with wild animals and supernatural stuff. I don’t recall ever taking the ride, but I’m pretty sure that’s where the similarities end. As a movie, Jungle Cruise skims across the water as a lightweight family-friendly comedy adventure in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean (also a Disney ride), Indiana Jones, The Mummy and National Treasure. And if you like puns, as I do, you’re guaranteed a good chuckle at least every few minutes.

Review: Lorelei

At the center of this working class drama is Wayland (Pablo Schreiber, First Man, “Orange Is the New Black”), just out of prison after 15 years and looking to go straight. And running into his high school sweetheart Dolores aka Lola (Jena Malone, Hunger Games, Inherent Vice) while still living in the half-way house gives him something to hope for. She’s just barely hanging on though, working part-time and taking care of three kids alone. And it becomes clear that she’s been waiting for him all this time, to start the life they both dreamed of back in their youth. But can love conquer all, including the lure of his old pals and the money they need to live?

Review: Broken Diamonds

They don’t make a lot of films that deal with mental illness for good reason. It’s a tough subject to portray realistically. Sure there are plenty that have that one crazy aunt or a sweet homeless guy that just needs to be loved. But actual problems like the ones in Broken Diamonds require a director and a script not to fall into the trap of treating mental illness as a plot point to be exploited for a dramatic beat. Sadly, that’s exactly what this film does with the main character’s schizophrenia.

2fer review: Settlers and Cousins

I watched these two indie films back to back. Both of them deal with a girl growing up with just about every kind of obstacle thrown in her way. One takes place on a planet far away in a not so distant future. The other takes place within the Māori community of New Zealand in the mid-20th century.  Young Remmy in Settlers is played by Brooklynn Prince who made her splashy debut in The Florida Project four years ago as a kid running around looking for adventure and getting into trouble. She’s more serious this time around, but still pretty much doing the same thing, only on a desolate planet instead of backwater Orlando. Young Mata (Te Raukura Gray) in Cousins is not so lucky. She’s been ripped from her Māori family (including two female cousins) and adopted by a loveless white woman. Both girls weather adversity as they grow to adulthood, but both come out of it all battered but still standing.

Review: Joe Bell

Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day) is back at it as yet another flawed, working-class hero type based on a real guy. This time around, he’s Joe Bell, an Oregon dad who quit his job to walk across the country in search of redemption after his 15-year-old gay son Jadin killed himself in response to intense bullying at school. Joe decides to pay tribute to his son by walking to New York City where Jaden had hoped to live one day. Along the way, he speaks in schools, churches, bars–wherever he can get an audience– about the very real dangers and consequences of bullying. And he reflects on his own missed opportunities to connect and protect.

Review: Pig

Pig is a quest film and a really good one at that. Nicolas Cage plays Rob a self-exiled hermit in the Oregon wilderness whose beloved truffle-hunting pig is violently abducted, forcing him to leave his isolated cabin to track her down in the city and return to a world he turned his back on years before. He’s aided by young Amir (Alex Wolff, Hereditary), his truffle buyer who knows the lay of the land once they’re back in town. Their search takes them deep into the belly of the Portland culinary world where Rob was once a star, and he’s able to trade on that reputation. Cage turns in one of his best performances in years as the weary and wounded chef in this surprisingly touching drama from first time director Michael Sarnoski, who’s someone I’ll be following.

Review: Black Widow

It’s been a looooong time coming to get Russian spy-turned-Avenger Black Widow aka Natasha Romanov’s backstory onto the big screen. And now Marvel fans can breathe a sigh of relief. The combination origin story and fill-in-the-gap between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War is a satisfying, action-packed spy thriller with a dysfunctional family dynamic that is both toxic and amusing. If you lost me at ‘Avenger, ‘Black Widow’, ‘Captain America’, or ‘Infinity War’, then you probably haven’t been waiting on the edge of your post-vaccination seat to see this in theaters. And that’s okay. If you’re not into Marvel movies, move on. Black Widow requires a certain base knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to maximize the entertainment value and fully appreciate Natasha’s history – and potential legacy. (note: It’s not a spoiler to remind folks that Natasha met a tragic, self-sacrificing end in Avengers: Endgame.)

Quickie Review: The Tomorrow War

Hey, look – it’s Chris Pratt! In a sci-fi movie! With big mean monsters! How… familiar!

The biggest difference between The Tomorrow War and some of Pratt’s other big action dramas (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World, Passengers) is that it’s not opening in theaters. It’s being released on Amazon Prime. That could be part of the reason I wasn’t exactly blown away. It’s possible my mere 42” TV screen diminished the film’s impact, though not its audio levels. It got very loud in my living room during battle sequences. Sorry neighbors!

Review: The Boss Baby: Family Business

“What happens on the playground stays on the playground.” Lines like this are what made the first Boss Baby a cute little hit in 2017, and what makes its sequel, The Boss Baby: Family Business easily watchable now for kids and adults. There is a caveat however. While Boss Baby 2 is entertaining enough for a family film night, it’s no Boss Baby 1. The magic is gone – largely because we already know the drill. And, there’s simply not enough (for my taste) of the bitterly sarcastic talking wizard alarm clock “Wizzy”!

AFIDOCS 2021: Arty Chick’s Download

This year was a distance festival. There were opportunities to be in the theaters in DC, but I chose to watch everything online from afar, on my couch. That’s a mixed blessing. No running from theater to theater. No missing something because it overlapped with another film. No frozen feet from arctic-cooled theaters. Lots of good snuggles with my dog. But also no standing in line with other festival-goers and talking about what we’ve seen and loved. No Q&A’s after the films. (There were some that were available, but it just didn’t seem the same taped from a distance.) And no watching films in some of DC’s beautiful landmarks like the National Archives. A slew of distractions that made it very different from sitting in a dark room with an audience. And for me the worst part was that I don’t have a big screen television, so some of the films were definitely shortchanged.

Nevertheless, it was a good festival and there were several films I will be thinking of for a while. The Audience Award for Best Feature went to one of my faves for sure, Storm Lake. It is a smaller film and I hope that the award will mean it gets seen by a lot more people.

The films I saw were: The First Step – Radiograph of a Family – Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer – LFG – Storm Lake –  The Neutral Ground – The One and Only Dick Gregory – Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union –  Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain – The Story Won’t Die –  Daughter of a Lost Bird –  and The Lost Leonardo.