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Jungle Cruise - Disney +


I streamed this movie with very modest expectations. I expected a silly, derivative, possibly very juvenile plot. I anticipated clunky dialogue sprinkled with painful attempts at humor. I also braced myself for Dwayne Johnson putting in a forgettable performance as a big smiling doofus. My expectations were off on every point.


The story takes place in 1916, and it involves Emma Stone and her brother, Jack Whitehall, heading off to the Amazon River to find the Tears of the Moon, a mythical tree that can heal anything. Soon they hook up with the Rock as their river guide and they’re off and running down the river. Their quest is complicated by bad guys: a cursed

Spanish conquistador, Aguirre, and a caricature Nazi. Well, it turns out the Rock is hiding secrets, and he and Emma spend most of the film arguing and sniping at each other . . . which means, of course, that they are destined to hook up before all is said and done.  The ending is predictable, but still fun to watch.


The film is reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark with all of the screwball, round the world adventures, including scenes of maps charting the characters’ progress. But this is no Raiders. Still, I have to say the dialogue was campy, funny, and generally smartly done. Also, hats off to the Rock. Sure, he wasn’t asked to do a whole lot, but he acquitted himself well in doing not a whole lot. And, I have to admit, the plot was much better than I expected. Finally, we have a ton of CGI going on, but I actually didn’t find it annoying.


So, Jungle Cruise is an enjoyable film, provided you don’t go in with high expectations. That said, I would recommend waiting to stream it until the price comes down. This movie isn’t worth the $29.95 Disney + is currently charging for a rental. Disney took me for a ride and it was one jungle cruise I paid too much for, my friends.


Black Widow - Disney +

Scarlett Johannsen is back as Black Widow, whom we last saw in Avengers: Endgame. She dies in that film, so I expected her death to hang over this movie like a dark cloud. It didn’t. Even though we know she is going to sacrifice herself down the road in the Avenger’s universe, this doesn’t really impact the story. That doesn’t mean Black Widow is a great film. It isn’t. But the movie is modestly entertaining.

The story begins with some backstory about young Natasha and her adopted sister, Yalena, living in America with their fake spy parents. The story then jumps to the period after Captain America: Civil War when the Black Widow is in hiding and on the run. Natasha reunites with Yalena and together they sally forth to take on Viktor Dreykov and the notorious Red Room. They extract

their former fake dad (David Harbour) from prison, join forces with their former fake mom (Rachel Weisz), and the four of them then confront Dreykov in his floating fortress in the sky. A final showdown ensues, cataclysmic destruction rains down from the clouds, and found family triumphs.


The plot takes a back seat to action scenes involving chases, explosions, fighting, and wild stunts. The action sequences were generally well done, but derivative; we’ve seen it all before. For example, early on we have a wild car chase with the oft-seen motorcycle driving down a flight of stairs and the obligatory car-going-the-wrong-way-against-traffic stic. The sequence is topped off by a giant vehicle lumbering down the street smashing parked cars right and left and looking like a xerox of Terminator 3 with the giant crane rampaging through the city.


The performances are hit and miss. Scarlett Johanssen is solid, but the real star is Florence Pugh as Yalena. She kind of steals every scene she’s in and, in my view, elevates the film above mediocrity. On the flip side, David Harbour is mostly a laughable caricature with his silly Russian accent. 


The experience of watching this movie is a lot like an amusement park ride. It’s enjoyable as long as you’re in it only for thrills and an adrenalin rush. The movie is like a large pink ball of cotton candy. Going in, it looks big and impressive, but soon it melts in your mouth and there’s not much substance beneath the fluff. 


The movie isn’t horrible, but it ain’t great either. It will appeal most to diehard fans of the Marvel Comics universe. For those who are only casual visitors to the MCU, they might want to hold onto their money and wait until this movie streams for free somewhere.


Quiet Place Part II - Amazon


The sequel to 2018’s Quiet Place brings us back to the strange post-apocalyptic world where aliens who kill by sound roam the land snuffing out what few survivors dare to show themselves. The film begins with a short prequel showing the day the alien attacks first began, as these human-hating creatures make mincemeat of the poor people of a small town. Then the movie jumps ahead to where the first one left off. Honestly, I thought the prequel would have made a better basis for a movie than the sequel we get. Q II is a decided step down from Q I, but it does deliver a bunch of well-choreographed ugly monster scares. 

The plot is pretty simple. Regan carries the high-pitched squelch that was developed in Q I to disable the monsters.  The squelch is

the aliens’ kryptonite, which makes them vulnerable to bullets and stabbing things. Regan takes it upon herself to trek across the alien-filled countryside to find a radio station to broadcast the squelch. Along the way she and the companion she acquires navigate through some rough waters and eventually reach their goal, just in time to save not only their lives, but the lives of Regan’s mother and brothers. The movie ends with plenty of room for a Q III, should the Q II box office so warrant.


The movie works best with the numerous monster jump scares and frenzied attacks. When the monsters aren’t on the screen, the movie sags. That said, Millicent Simmonds (young Regan) is terrific. Without her, I’m not sure this film earns a passing grade at all.


Q II succeeds as an engaging, tension-filled ride with some pretty frightening alien beasties as company. But, don’t look for much more than that. It is what is and doesn’t pretend to be anything more.


I did have the sense that a lot of stuff might have been left on the editing room floor. For example, we have a brief appearance of a group of bad humans. They zip in and out so fast, I was left asking “Who?” “What?” “Why?” “How?” So too we have a closing sequence that takes place among a community of survivors on an island, but this happens so late in the movie and so little screen time is given to these folks that it ends up being a distraction. In fact, my smart TV gives the names of the cast on the screen at any given time, and for these people it gives names like “man on the island,” “woman on the island,” and “child on the island.” So the whole island thing is a shallow drive-by that the plot could have done without and still gotten to the right place in the end.


In sum, if you’re up for a decent scary movie with some very cool monsters, but you want a movie with enough dead spots so you can make several trips to the fridge or the bathroom without missing much, this is your baby. Just...keep your voice down.


Fear Street Part One: 1994
Fear Street Part Two: 1978
Fear Street Part Three: 1666

- Netflix

The Fear Street trilogy released over the first three Fridays of July. While each movie sort of stands alone, really you have to watch all three to fully experience the story. Hence, I think one needs to review them as one film experience.

These movies are horror films that have a certain tongue-in-cheek element to them. They remind us of great slasher movies of the past (e.g., think Scream). While there is gore aplenty, particularly in FS 1994, the axes and knives gradually become less prominent and the story takes over.

The tale begins in 1994 and revolves around high schoolers, Deena and Sam (Samantha), and their rocky romance. Lots of 90s nostalgia. The story takes place in area consisting of two opposite types of towns: Shadyside and Sunnyvale. Zombie serial killer monsters burst onto the scene determined to kill everyone who gets in their way. Gradually, the cast of characters is whittled down to Deena, Sam, and Deena's younger brother, Josh. All seems lost when Sam is turned into a zombie killer, so Team Deena in desperation turns for help to a strange lady, Ms. Berman, who survived a similar zombie apocalypse in 1978.

The story then slides back in time to 1978 and narrates the tragic summer camp events that happened to Cindy Berman and her sister, Ziggy (Sadie Sink), who faced their own zombie army. With FS 1978, we learn more about a curse imposed on the land by the witch, Sarah Fier. The 1978 story is full of twists and turns, and with it the plot really picks up steam. The story of the 1978 massacre gives Deena the information she needs to break the curse and rescue Sam.

Before the curse can be lifted, though, we have to learn exactly what the curse is really all about. This means going back to 1666 when it all began and experiencing the story of Sarah Fier. This part of the trilogy was the best. Who Sarah Fier was, why she was murdered as a witch, and why she cursed the town are revealed and it works pretty nicely. Once we know the real story, the trilogy finale plays out back in 1994 as Deena and her Scooby gang go to work putting an end to the curse and saving Sam

So, I liked these films. They 
were a lot of fun, had a nice overall plot, and the acting was excellent. Special kudos to Kiana Madeira (Deena), Benjamin Flores Jr (Josh), and Sadie Sink (Ziggy Berman). They were outstanding.

The movies are helped by great music from 1978 and 1994, rife with songs you probably haven't heard too often since those years. There's plenty of comic relief, so it's not all tension and scares. And while the characters were not that deep, they were enjoyable. 

In sum, I give the trilogy a solid recommendation. Yes, it may be a tough watch if you're squeamish and don't like horror, but just keep reminding yourself that all that blood is really just ketchup, and those brains aren't really brains, they're tofu. Problem solved.

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