Tempo grade: B+
Storyteller 7 Cinemas
If it weren’t for its stars, Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson, Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” might very well spring a leak and wind up devoured by piranha. But, it doesn’t, and because of their earnest and enjoyable performances, this movie is a surprisingly fun way to spend a couple of hours in the dark with strangers.
The movie, helmed by experienced Spanish producer-director Juame Collet-Serra (“The Shallows,” “Orphan” and “House of Wax”), follows a path blazed by Disney’s motion picture expansion of its theme park rides, such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Tomorrowland.” It even includes a sequence that is all about providing a group of circa 1930s Euro-tourists with an adventure tour along the Amazon, peppered of course with contrived thrills and chills.
Interestingly, Disney sought to deflate potential criticism in the months before the big budget feature opened by revamping its real theme park ride and eliminating African Natives from its cast of characters.
As in all Disney movies, there is a tried-and-true formula that must be followed, featuring a solidly designed plot structure that hits expected highs and lows, exposition, a bit of romance, and lots of easy to take action. Even though its story takes place during World War I and includes a race against time with a crazed German aristocrat who seems eagerly poised to eventually take up the Third Reich banner, this is really a Nazi-lite villain. The antagonist, Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), is more of a cardboard bad guy than anyone truly given to horrific atrocities.
As for our heroes, Blunt stars as a plucky biologist named Dr. Lily Houghton, who represents in this fantasy era a young woman ardently pushing through the male-dominated scientific community in order to get funding for a dangerous trip to the Amazon to locate the miraculous “Tree of Life,” which, legend has it, possesses petals that can cure any illness. Along with her in this quest is her sophisticated but hapless brother, MacGregor Houghton, played by Jack Whitehall, who, also surprisingly, turns out to be one of the few gay characters in a Disney adventure movie.
Unfortunately, the film gives in to a bit of Indiana Jones foolishness by portraying archaeologists as a mere treasure hunters; in this case, by focusing on a MacGuffin-like Spanish conquistador arrowhead that supposedly offers a clue to the location of this healing tree. But, it is this object that provides the movie with its first slapstick action piece with Dr. Houghton snatching the arrowhead and barely escaping the evil Prince’s clutches.
Soon after, we meet the real hub around which this story revolves, a handsome, brave, yet cynical and shrewd riverboat captain named Frank “Skipper” Wolff, played by Dwayne Johnson. It is he that Lily and her brother decide to hire in order to complete their quest. So, as they make a daring escape from the Amazon harbor run by the crusty Nilo Nemolato, played with characteristic nervous conniving energy by Paul Giamatti, they head out to find their fate amid snakes (lots of them), piranhas, and Amazonian Natives (who work with Frank on his various schemes), all while being nudged by a barrage of awful puns.
All that is just within the first minutes of the movie. What follows has expected thrills and chills, thanks to an abundance of CGI special effects, but some interesting twists you might not see coming. And, stay for the end credits for some nice old school movie poster illustrations of the main characters rendered as animation.
The film co-stars Édgar Ramírez, Veronica Falcón, Dani Rovira, Quim Gutíerrez, and Andy Nyman.
“Jungle Cruise” is rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence
This film is now showing at the Storyteller 7 Cinemas, 110 Old Talpa Cañon Road in Taos. For showtimes, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com. It is also available on Disney+ streaming service as a Premier Access offering for $30.
Also showing at Storyteller Cinema 7
The Green Knight
Rated R for violence, some sexuality, and graphic nudity.
An epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend, "The Green Knight" tells the story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), King Arthur's reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men.
Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger. Film directed by David Lowery co-stars Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton and Sarita Choudury.
Rated R for language.
In this fictional drama written and directed by Tom McCarthy, Bill Baker (Matt Damon), an American oil-rig roughneck, travels to Marseille, France, to visit his estranged daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin), in prison for a murder she claims she didn't commit.
Confronted with language barriers, cultural differences and a complicated legal system, he soon builds a new life for himself as he makes it his personal mission to exonerate her. This film co-stars Camille Cottin, Lilou Siauvaud, and Deanna Dunagan.
Movies on the Big Screen at the Taos Community Auditorium
For tickets, safety restrictions and additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org. Also, inquire about the continuation of the TCA’s Big Screen @ Home series. Venue is located at 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and a rude gesture.
This film will be screened Friday (July 30).
Yearning to own a small patch of land and be more than a chicken sexer, the ambitious paterfamilias, Jacob Yi (Steven Yuen), relocates his Korean-American family: skeptical wife, Monica (Yeri Han), and their children from California to 1980s rural Arkansas, to start afresh and capture the elusive American Dream. However, new beginnings are always challenging, and to find out what is best for the family, let alone start a 50-acre farm to grow and sell Korean fruits and vegetables, is easier said than done. Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung.
Summer of Soul
Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, smoking and brief drug material.
This film will be screened Sunday (Aug. 1).
This documentary championed by Questlove is part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just 100 miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was never seen and largely forgotten-until now.
This film will be screened Tuesday (Aug. 3) and Thursday (Aug. 5).
Film written and directed by Alexandre Rockwell — and featuring several members of his own family — centers on the lives of two children in contemporary New Bedford, Massachusetts in particular one eventful summer spent in a beach house with their mother and her boyfriend. The story is an intense but ultimately uplifting, poetic rendering of childhood that captures the essence of that time in life when a day can last forever. The friendships, loyalties, and challenges of adolescent youth propel the story into a triumph of childhood hope and resilience. It stars Lana Rockwell, Karyn Parsons, Nico Rockwell, Will Patton and Jabari Watkins.
Carry You With Me
Rated R for language and brief nudity
This film will be screened Wednesday (Aug. 4).
Based on true love, this film directed by Heidi Ewing is a romance that spans decades beginning in Mexico between an aspiring chef (Armando Espitia) and a teacher (Christian Vázquez). Their lives restart in incredible ways as societal pressure propels them to embark on a treacherous journey to New York City with dreams, hopes, and memories in tow. It stars Armando Espitia, Christian Vazquezm and Michelle Rodríguez.