JUNGLE CRUISE (2021)
Flick takes place in the early 1900s with Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her prissy brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) seeking the Tears of the Moon, a tree blossom that only grows in a secret place deep in the Amazon Jungle and is said to contain miraculous healing properties. Lily hires down on his luck river tour guide and ship captain Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to help her find it. Hot on their trail is the villainous Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who wants the Tears of the Moon at any cost, and some ghostly Conquistadors with a grudge.
Adventure flick with a touch of the supernatural is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows) from a script and story by five writers, which sounds like a lot for a movie based on a theme park attraction. Johnson and Blunt are charming leads and do make a good team, even if this adventure feels as by the numbers as the attraction it’s based on. There is a lot of action and some daring escapes and the film looks good, but Jesse Plemons is to much of a dull villain to really be perceived as a threat. There are some colorful supporting characters, the film does have some heart and it really seems to want to be a lot more fun than it is.
Overall, Jungle Cruise passes the time breezily, even if it’s not quite the thrill ride we’d hoped for. It’s no Pirates of the Caribbean or Raiders of the Lost Ark, which appears to be it’s aspiration, but, you could do far worse. Also features Paul Giamatti as an Amazon River harbormaster to whom Frank owes money.
GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (2021)
Sam (Karen Gillan) is an assassin for The Firm, and after her most recent assignment goes awry, is tasked with retrieving some money stolen from them and killing the man, David (Samuel Anderson), who took it. She finds he stole the money for ransom, to get his kidnapped daughter Emily (Chloe Coleman) back and Sam proceeds to go rescue her. Along the way the money is destroyed, David dies and now The Firm wants Sam dead. With Emily in tow, Sam is forced to team with her estranged assassin mother, Scarlet (Lena Headly) and a sisterhood of assassins (Carla Guigino. Michelle Yeoh and Angela Bassett) Scarlet once belonged to, to face down an army of killers sent her way.
Netflix streaming movie is stylishly enough directed by Navot Papushado (Rabies) from a script by he and Ehud Lavski. It’s an entertaining enough movie, though a bit of a mess and clearly is a strong case of John Wick meets The Professional, with a little Tarantino thrown in for good measure. The cast all seem to be having a good time playing a host of oddball characters and there is plenty of gunfire, but it gets tiresome after a while. We’ve been watching these slow motion gunfights and stabbings since John Woo made them popular in the 90s and these hip, hyper-violent crime flicks are starting to get played out. They’ve become their own subgenre. Gunpowder Milkshake has a fun neon colored look to go along with all the CGI blood and gun flares and while it’s never boring, it’s never all that involving either. An OK waste of time if there is nothing else to watch and Gillan does make Sam a likable killer with a sarcastic sense of humor and a heart. Also stars Paul Giamatti as Firm head Nathan.
Disappointing French horror finds Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse) summoning the vengeful Moroccan spirit of Kandisha after being assaulted by her ex-boyfriend. Kandisha (Mériem Sarolie) is said to be the spirit of a woman who merged with a demon, after being murdered for avenging her husband’s death. Now she kills only men when conjured—but there is a price. The malevolent entity doesn’t stop with just her ex and starts killing Amélie’s friends, too. Now she and girlfriends Bintou (Suzy Bemba) and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) must find a way to stop it.
Written and directed by the Inside duo of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury one expects more than a routine teens vs folklore boogieman film, but ultimately that’s all this is—with a healthy dose of Candyman thrown in, too. Strip away the feminist slant and the Moroccan background of the spectral villain and you have, basically, just another entry in the popular sub-genre of teens taking on some sort of evoked entity, that is popular in flicks right now. Aside from an abundance of gore, as per usual with Bustillo and Maury, this is no different than it’s PG-13 American counterparts—and not all that much more engaging. It’s competently made and visually sound, but not all that scary and even at only 85 minutes, gets tiresome towards the end. At least it does have a good cast and a likable and diverse group of characters to emotionally invest in. A disappointing flick from the usually innovative and far more effective French filmmakers.
THE WHISPERING DEAD by DARCY COATES
Latest book from Darcy Coates begins with a young woman named Keira fleeing from a group of men who are hunting her. She has no memory of who she is and why she is being pursued. She finds herself at a small church and graveyard, outside the remote town of Blighty, where a kindly pastor lets her stay at the groundskeeper’s cabin. There she discovers that she can see and communicate with the spirits still inhabiting the cemetery and gets embroiled in a mystery, while helping the troubled ghost of a murdered young woman move on from her mournful wandering.
Once again Coates spins an entertaining yarn that is equal parts ghost story and mystery. A story brimming with fog shrouded graveyards, shadow filled woods and locals with dark secrets. It’s the start of a new series, so don’t expect to get answers to all your questions, but Keira is a very engaging character and the town of Blighty a strange and gothic place, filled with some eccentric—and maybe some dangerous—characters. It’s a very quick read and a very entertaining tale, populated with some likable supporting characters, such as Pastor Adage, conspiracy theorist and general store clerk Zoe and charming med student Mason. The type of spooky fun book, perfect for reading under the covers at night, that we’ve come to expect from Coates, and a starring a heroine we want to hear more from.
FEAR STREET PART 3: 1666 (2021)
Third film opens in 1666 with young Sarah Fier (now Kiana Madeira) being thought wicked for her love for village girl Hannah (Olivia Scott Welch). With the warnings of “The Widow” (Jordana Spiro), a local woman suspected of practicing witchcraft, and the increasingly strange and gruesome events that are occurring in the village, Sarah—and the villagers—start to believe it. Soon a full witch hunt is underway and Sarah and Hannah become the targets of the villagers’ fears and anger, as they wish to purge their village of this evil presence.
Concluding R. L. Stine based installment is once again directed by Leigh Janiak from her script with Phil Graziadei and Kate Trefry. A strong and spooky finale that has some fun telling the origin story of “witch” Sarah Fier by having the cast members of the first two chapters play the parts. Kiana Madeira really shines here playing the part of Sarah, after already making a strong heroine out of her Deena. She’s a star in the making. There is sympathy for Sarah as we find out the surprising truth behind her story, one of an independent and passionate young woman and the ignorance and superstitions of others. It’s a dramatically strong finish, as we find out how the Shadyside curse came to be, it’s true nature, and then return to 1994, to wrap up the story in a thrilling climactic last act. It’s a spooky and strong concluding chapter, with the atmosphere and gruesome bloodshed we’ve come to expect from this Netflix series.
All in all a solid finale that manages to be the best of the three flicks. A fitting end for this wonderfully creepy and bloody three part horror series, based on the works of beloved author R.L. Stine.
Click on the link here for my review of Fear Street part 1: 1994
Click on the link here for my review of Fear Street part 2: 1978
A CLASSIC HORROR STORY (2021)
Derivative on purpose Italian horror finds five travelers on an RV trip crashing in the middle of nowhere. They happen upon a strange cabin, that turns out to be the sacrificial alter of a bizarre and bloodthirsty cult.
Flick is directed by Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli from their script with Lucio Besana, David Bellini and Milo Tissone. Amusing it took five people to write the script for what is basically another variation on the cabin in the woods horror, but it shows with some definite idea overload. On the plus side, it has some effective and brutal violence, some unsettling sequences and some spooky and disturbing visuals. The cast are all fine and it at least has the respect to acknowledge it’s influences—a character refers to the cabin as “Sam Raimi’s house”—but when it comes down to it, we’ve seen it all before—many times. Between the spooky bits there are also some long dialogue sequences, with characters bickering and passing blame on each other for their predicament, and did we need another pregnant character for sympathetic effect? Last act veers off into a couple of different directions that are, like the rest of the movie, a mash-up of flicks we’ve already seen. It goes on a bit too long and gets quite convoluted before finally ending, thus losing what little grip it had. Overall, some effective moments, but maybe too many cooks adding too many ingredients to the homage soup for it’s own good. Flick is available on Netflix.
GREAT WHITE (2021)
Australian shark flick finds a couple of seaplane owners, Kaz (Katrina Bowden) and her boyfriend Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko), taking another couple, Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) and her husband Joji (Tim Kano) on a tour of an area known as Hell’s Reef. Aptly named, as a pair of large great white sharks prowl the waters. While investigating the origins of a body they’ve found, an earlier meal of said sharks, the two couples and their cook Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka) soon find themselves stranded in a lifeboat, miles from land and now prey to the predatory duo.
Routine shark movie is competently directed by Martin Wilson from a script by Michael Boughen. It’s run of the mill as these flicks go, with nothing new to offer, though what it does present is entertaining enough for those who like everything shark. There is some moderate bloodshed, as these flicks go and the characters are fairly stereotypical, as is the soap opera level drama between them—did Kaz really need to announce she’s pregnant before their perilous adventure begins? There is some sub-par CGI to bring the effectiveness down a few notches, but the last act is fairly intense and suspenseful, even if we have to sit through some ho-hum shark melodrama to get there. The cast are al fine, with Bowden being a solid heroine, and the Australian locations are nice to look at and a bit refreshing to the eye.
THE CARROW HAUNT by DARCY COATES
Another fun and spooky read from Darcy Coates, though a bit of an uneven one. This book finds Remy, a tour guide in the notoriously haunted Carrow House being hired to host a two week paranormal investigation of the mansion, which has a background of serial killers and murder. She has an eccentric group to watch over, including Carrow’s teen owner, April, the mysterious founder of the investigation, Mark and psychic medium, Marjorie. When things start going wrong and guests start turning up dead, Remy begins to believe this was a bad idea and that the evil in Carrow House is greater than any of them imagined—and maybe even far more corporeal than expected.
Book is another entertaining story, though based on Coates’ books read so far, it is also the most over the top tale from the author. It starts out grounded in the traditional haunted house tropes and a somewhat more down to earth approach, combining haunted house story and soon murder mystery. By it’s last act it gets very theatrical, though, with evil spirits plotting to become corporeal, a storm that seems almost to have a mind of it’s own and a ghost battle royale in a burning house. Depending on one’s tastes, the more bombastic ending may cause the story to lose it’s grip, or you may embrace the more Spielbergian theatrics. There are some plot contrivances in the last act, too, that allow characters thought gone to reappear and it gets a bit much. At least Coates’ penchant for good, fun characters holds up with her largest cast of characters in the books read so far. Her most uneven book to this point overall, but still an entertaining read and Remy is yet another memorable lead heroine.