REVIEW: “JUNGLE CRUISE” (2021) Disney Studios

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I was probably 4 years old when I was first taken to Disneyland. I can’t remember my exact age, but I do know I was very young and my parents took me on the Jungle Cruise ride – and I freaked out and started screaming and crying. Because yes, I thought it was real and I remember so well the big hippo opening his mouth right where I was sitting in the boat and I thought I was going to be eaten, and basically thought lions, tigers and bears were all after me. I cried so hard and was so terrified, that I never went on that ride again until I was a teen – possibly even older! Needless to say, there was no crying watching this version of Disney’s “JUNGLE CRUISE”, only laughter as it is definitely not that ride and a much different story to boot.

This adventure begins with Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), who hires a wisecracking skipper, named Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), to take her down the Amazon in his ramshackle boat. Together, they search for an ancient tree whose petals hold the power to heal all — a discovery that will change the future of medicine. Along for the ride Lily’s posh, upper-crest brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), who doesn’t clearly belong anywhere in a jungle, but succeeds in stealing a lot of his scenes with his over-the-top persnickety ways, most particularly his interactions with Frank’s pet leopard whom they have on board the cruise. The CGI might have been a bit lacking on the leopard, but Whitehall makes it funny so it’s very easy to overlook.

(L-R): Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff, Emily Blunt as Lily Houghton and Jack Whitehall as MacGregor Houghton in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

While ‘Jungle Cruise’ could have just been a simple escapade through the jungle with some good action and laughs thrown in, we do get some long drawn out sections with Johnson’s character Frank explaining a bit of a convoluted backstory of the special flower, and the enhanced version of the long dead enchanted conquistadors of his time. Kids especially, might get a bit lost here as let’s face it, they just want the lions, tigers and fun action aspects of his character that help endear Frank to us more. Director Jaume Collet-Serra gives us a big scale action adventure here with plenty of laughs thanks to Johnson giving us some of his best cheesy humour with one-liner awful, terrible jokes that are so bad they are absolutely downright funny. It’s perfectly done and no one in this film takes it all to seriously and that is possibly it’s biggest highlight except for the fact that the biggest thing that upstages them is the absolute wonderful, electric chemistry between Blunt and Johnson. This would have been a totally different movie without that as together they are an unbeatable team here and yes, the glue that holds this film together. But the supporting cast consisting of Jesse Plemons, and again, Jack Whitehall with his witty-ness, Edgar Ramirez, and Paul Giamatti, all add to the adventure as well and round it all up.

So my advice is no crying – and get your ticket for the fantastical journey that is – Jungle Cruise.

Grade: B-

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Review Screening: Monday, July 26, 2021 at El Capitan Theater ~ Courtesy of Disney Studios

“JUNGLE CRUISE” IS IN THEATERS AS OF FRIDAY, JULY 30, 2021 also VOD on Disney+

REVIEW: “JUDY” (2019) Roadside Attractions

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While the focus of this movie is of course Judy Garland and primarily the last year of her life,  “JUDY” opens with a behind the scenes look of with a young Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) being berated by her publicist/handler and MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer. Not allowed to eat, not allowed to have friends, working 18 hour days and most notably, the start of her pill addiction that would eventually take her life.  While watching, you can’t help but wonder why these things were even allowed and social norms for the time. The studio system was set up as such, to where the only people in control of all the lives underneath them, were the studio heads themselves. A selfish group of old men whose true stories would only be revealed years later as their power was lost.

That being said “Judy” might well be one of the saddest movies of the year, while Rene Zellweger’s performance of this icon, might just be the best of the year.  This is a sparkling, yet honest look at the last year of Garland’s life, giving us a closer look at the legendary 1968 “Talk of the Town” London engagement, the promising effort for a physically and emotionally exhausted Judy Garland to reignite her fading career.  For her to capture one last moment on the ‘yellow brick road’ before her accidental overdose on drugs, which is depicted here with a surgeon’s accuracy.  The days are counted in despair over her addictions and most of all the separation from her children. Nothing much is pretty about her life, and most of it seems desperate.

There are a few notable problems with the film that while you understand not every single thing can be depicted, they could at least have given us, say a bit more of her already famous daughter Liza Minnelli, whom at the time depicted in this movie, was 23, making movies, and on a career trajectory that would result in an Oscar three years later. But here she only exists in a moment, at a random party Judy attends when she comes back from a short gig with her younger children and doesn’t have a home or hotel that will let her in. Only Garland’s two later children Lorna and Joey, fathered by Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell) are primarily shown to us. It’s also at this same party that Judy meets her last and youngest husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock).  He shows up in London and before you can say Toto! they are married.  It seems Judy was always stuck with some type of handler whether it be a stage manager or a husband, there was always someone wanting to dictate her life’s moves to her. To push and pull her in all directions.

As noted, kids aren’t the only thing missing. There is a huge gap of nothing past her early days with Mickey Rooney and the 60’s, which actually included two Oscar nominations and a Grammy award for Album of the Year. Also a short-lived television show where she did a memorable duet with a then almost unknown, 21-year-old Barbara Streisand. Considering the range of celebrities she worked with, the opportunities for quality namedropping are limitless – but aside from Mickey Rooney, there’s a pronounced lack of showing us anything.  Well thank goodness for a subplot involving two gay fans and their evening with her. It’s endearing and the best way to show how she impacted those on the margins of society. The final scene when she sings Rainbow involves the gay duo and is hokey but effectively sentimental and lyrical like the song itself.

But don’t get me completely wrong, the film has heart, in matter of speaking it has in fact loads of it. The script, costumes and sets take the audience on a virtual trip back into the last days of the ultimate performer’s life. We meet a different Judy – and older one who has been dealt all of life’s blows, only to keep coming back again and again – because no matter what, she still had that voice. The drama is punctuated by songs, sung well by Zellweger, and by her Oscar-worthy performance which is remarkable as she captures every single nuance of Garland’s mannerisms and body movements, even the “hunchback” part that Louis B. Mayer used against her as a child when calling her his ‘little hunchback.  But, of course, her voice is not Garland’s.  That voice is what we will always remember and the little girl who made us so happy by clicking her heels twice and taking us somewhere over that rainbow.

What is made clear in this film is that Judy Garland is the definition of a tortured soul.  It is thoughtful and provocative in it’s telling of this trip portraying a life that was not lead down “The Yellow Brick Road” as we were once lead to believe. This movie is a very worthwhile look at the life of Judy Garland. See it for Judy, or see it for Renee, or see it for both … just see it.

Grade: B

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, September 25, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup

“JUDY” is out in theaters nationwide this Friday, September 27, 2019 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING

 

 

REVIEW: “DESPICABLE ME 3” (2017) Universal Studios

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“Face it, Gru. Villainy is in your blood!” Dru (Steve Carell)

This fun, third-time around romp back into the world of the minions and crew, tells the story of the ex-villain Gru, who teams up with his twin brother Dru (also played by Carell), whom he has never met, in order to fight against former famous Hollywood child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). Balthazar, who has become a 80’s obsessed super villain who uses powerful bubble-gum to fight and steal the worlds biggest gemstone.

After being fired from the AVL (Anti-Villian League), Dru tries to convince Gru to come back to being a villian. With the Minions off being busy speaking and singing gibberish – almost becoming reality show singing stars in one of a few hilariously fun skits done with them. Along with being taken jail, we get a fantastic little spoof on JailHouse Rock and whose dance in prison stripes to the Pirates of Penzance’s “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” brings down the house. Agnes (Nev Sharrel) and her adorable obsession with unicorns, and Gru being a basically worthless but lovable villain/anti-villain. At the same time, the movie introduces some positive new dynamics in Lucy (Kristen Wiig) as she isn’t as annoying as she was in her first movie and the fun twin camaraderie between Gru and Dru is completely infectious.

The plot has enough twists and turns to stop it from being formulaic, and the movie has some excellent and funny references to the previous two films. Finally, Bratt is a perfect villain for this type of film and is too tongue-in-cheek to resist. The only little downside of this brotherly union is the minions have less of a role – maybe a little mistake when you consider they are a certifiable home run at any time.

All in all – this one is a fun 1.5 hour romp for all ages.

Grade: B+
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Media Review Screening: Monday, June 26th, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Universal Picture
NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE