Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” is packed with thrilling twists and turns, recreating classic adventure flicks for a new generation of young cinemagoers.
If you’ve ever stood in an hour-long line just to take your kids on a 10-minute amusement park ride, you’re probably wondering how anyone could transform the brief thrills of that attraction into an engaging feature-length movie. But, in 2003, Disney did it as only Disney can, releasing the first of five Pirates of the Caribbean movies that, together, would bring in billions at the box office. Disney has taken another stab at theme park-inspired films with Jungle Cruise, which is based on the Disneyland attraction of the same name. The ride itself was inspired by Disney’s “True Life Adventure” documentaries and has been around since the park opened in 1955. Decades later, Disney now gives the “jungle cruise” concept a new twist under the direction of Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows, 2016; Run All Night 2015).
Before she was saving the world with Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, and Captain America, founding Avenger and kick-ass spy Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanoff) was…well, what was she doing? It’s a question that Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fans have been asking since Black Widow made her franchise debut in Iron Man 2 (2010). Her past was shrouded in mystery, making her the ideal character for a solo spin off movie, and Scarlett Johansson brought such strength and emotional depth to the character that we couldn’t help but ask for more. A Black Widow movie couldn’t just be an exposition on the character’s past. It needed to give her the chance to stand in the spotlight and get some much-deserved screen time. It needed to be unique, action-packed, and emotionally satisfying. It needed to add meaning to the character and allow fans to appreciate Black Widow’s role in other MCU movies even more. As fans waited years for such a movie, these expectations only grew. After one extra year of waiting due to the pandemic, MCU fans will finally get what they’ve been waiting for on July 9, 2021. The question is, does Black Widow live up to years of fan expectations?
Jimmy Olsson’s latest short, “Notes,” is the cathartic relationship movie you didn’t know you needed.
One of the most difficult parts of living alone is the silence. If it weren’t for FaceTime lunches with friends, work calls, and daily conversations with my cat, there might be days where I didn’t even hear the sound of my own voice. When my TV is off, my phone stops buzzing and there’s no sounds coming from outside, there’s this brief terrifying moment where I wonder if everyone else on Earth has disappeared. Even if I break the silence by talking to myself, it feels like I’m just sending my voice out into an empty void where no one will ever hear it. Writer/ director Jimmy Olsson captures this kind of loneliness in his short film, Notes, in which he offers a hopeful answer to the question that appears on the poster, “how can you speak when you have no one to talk to?” In Notes, a man moves into a temporary apartment after his bathroom floods, where he proceeds to work on a song he’s composing for his girlfriend’s birthday. He’s a little rusty on the keyboard and can’t quite find the right notes, but his neighbor chimes in through the wall to help him out.
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
Wheels starts with its greatest strength: music. A lively rock-n-roll tune plays over a black screen as a few opening credits fly by, and we hear the protagonist, Max (Arnstar), introduce himself while doing what he loves most: DJing. But when the music comes to a halt, we see that Max isn’t DJing at a club or fancy event, but at a children’s birthday party. The film’s memorable introduction is just a small sample of the masterful cinematic storytelling that writer/director Paul Starkman offers in his feature debut, a well-crafted coming-of-age-film that brings together the Emmy-nominated director’s love of hip hop and his fondness for his hometown, Brooklyn. Wheels premiered at the 2018 Woodstock Film Festival, where it took home the Audience award and the Best Narrative Feature award. After a successful festival run, the film was released to general audiences in September 2020.
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
According to the press notes for Call for Dreams, Israeli director Ran Slavin started the project in pursuit of a “new cinematic form.” Slavin began with the idea to collect dreams from strangers that he could use as inspiration for his film and he ended up incorporating this idea into the plot of the film itself. Call for Dreams revolves around a young woman named Eko (Mami Shimazaki) who posts a “Call for Dreams” advertisement in a Tokyo newspaper. Strangers can describe their dreams to Eko by leaving a message on her answering machine, and if she approves of the dream, she’ll visit the customer and act out their dream for a fee. Meanwhile, an investigator in Tel Aviv (Yehezkel Lazarov) listens to old tapes on Eko’s machine as he investigates a murder. The two stories overlap in abstract ways that blur the lines between dreams, memories, and reality. Although the film flew under the radar for its international streaming release in late 2020, Call for Dreams is an intriguing film that deserves praise and critical attention.
It’s strange to think that children born within the last eight years or so will develop their first memories in a world where social distancing and mask wearing are the norm. While most of us have made significant lifestyle adjustments during the pandemic, this group of children has never known anything different. We certainly hope things will have gone back to “normal” by the time this generation comes of age, but there’s no doubt that COVID-19 will have many lasting effects on the world. In the short film “6,480 Days,” writer/director Ran Slavin imagines a future in which the lockdown never ended, and the virus is still a very real threat. The narrator, a young man born sometime after the initial outbreak, reflects on the pre-pandemic world he never knew. But like any good post-apocalyptic vision, “6,480 Days” has a lot more to say about our current fears and attitudes than those of future generations.
As literature and media consumers, we’re accustomed to reading stories that fit neatly into one of a few familiar narrative templates. Regardless of genre, even the most unique original screenplays can be reduced down to a basic plot formula that we’ve already encountered a million times (according to author Christopher Booker, there are in fact 7 basic plots, hence the title of his 2004 book). The hero’s journey, for one, is proven cinematic gold, as we’ve seen with the Marvel franchise’s takeover of 21st century cinema. This plot structure not only provides us with a thrilling adventure, but it allows us to indulge in the possibility that we, too, could one day be a hero. With social media personalities plastered all over our screens, it’s nice to escape into a fantasy world where the most ordinary people get the chance to prove their moral strengths. This is the kind of fantasy that screenwriter Tom O'Connor created in his Cold War espionage thriller, The Courier. Working with director Dominic Cooke, O'Connor pulls together a variety of historical sources to craft a classic based-on-true-events story that reminds us why we keep going back to the movies.
Florian Zeller’s "The Father" explores aging and dementia by questioning our need for a stable point of identification
The Father is the kind of film that’s got “awards season” written all over it - which is also the kind of film that’s difficult and daunting for an aspiring critic to approach. With its untouchable cast (namely, Oliva Colman and Anthony Hopkins) and unconventional narrative style, The Father may seem, at first glance, like a lofty art film that’s supposed to go over everyone’s heads. Directed by Florian Zeller and based on his play of the same name (Le Père), The Father has already received lots of attention ahead of its U.S. release. After its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, The Father secured four Golden Globe nominations along with a slew of other award considerations. Unlike other stage-to-screen adaptations, which tend to be dialogue-driven, there’s a lot more going in The Father than lengthy speeches used to show off a certain actor’s mastery of the craft. At first, we might expect it to be a highbrow, intellectually-driven film, and perhaps that’s what Zeller was going for. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the best way to watch it.
Created by the founding members of American folk-rock band, The Sweet Remains, "The Independents" takes us on a delightful musical adventure
Simply put, The Independents is about three guys, a van, and some jams. That tells you just about all there is to know about the content of this little indie film, but it doesn’t account for the experience of watching it or the incredible way that this flick establishes a nostalgic, comfortable tone. The Independents stars Rich Price, Greg Naughton, and Brian Chartrand, real-life band members of The Sweet Remains, who play fictionalized versions of themselves. Loosely based on their actual interactions and experiences, The Independents tells the story of three down-and-out artists who happen to meet at a time in their lives when they need to make music more than ever before. As you might expect, this road-trip band fantasy movie is filled with musical montages, crowded bars, shared joints, and even a grandiose monologue delivered on a hilltop overlooking LA. More than anything, however, The Independents is about capturing a certain mood, like a glossy motion-picture scrapbook of the band’s favorite memories.
“Tell Me Your Secrets” is an emotional whirlwind that eventually runs itself into a wall with Freudian sexual tension
Content Warning: Tell Me Your Secrets involves heavy subject matters that may be triggering to some viewers, including violence and rape. These issues are briefly discussed in the following review.
Available now on Amazon Prime, Tell Me Your Secrets is a mystery/thriller series revolving around two women who have little in common except their unfortunate connection to a convicted serial killer. While it’s not the most original or nuanced thriller, I’d be lying if I said the show wasn’t engaging. The 10 episodes that make up season 1 are so jam-packed with explosive emotions that it almost watches like a desperate attempt to snag viewer attention with drama and shock value amidst the insane amount of streaming content that’s now being produced. One you start watching, you’ll no doubt want to stick around until the end to find out how everything fits together. But you might find yourself rolling your eyes along the way.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."