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Posts Tagged ‘Jesse Plemons’

Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Whitehall

“JUNGLE CRUISE” My rating: C+

127 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Like the famed Disneyland ride that inspired it, “Jungle Cruise” is jammed with instantly forgettable silliness; moreover the whole thing is 100 percent synthetic.

Just like a theme park attraction, this sprawling effort from director Jaume Collet-Serra embraces a sort of movie-set phoniness, a phoniness that is only accentuated by a near-complete reliance on CG scenery and action. Is anything we see on screen real?

Happily the film has as its stars the imminently watchable Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson (with able assists from Paul Giamatti, Jack Whitehall and Jesse Plemons), so when your eyes start to glaze over from all the computer eye candy there are at least a couple of real human faces to focus on.

The screenplay (credited to Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, John Norville and Josh Goldstein) takes as its template — for good and bad — the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. But that’s just the start…some wiseass college film student will undoubtedly cough up a thesis picking out all the movie and pop cultural references sprinkled throughout.

There’s also a bit of meta at work here. In recent years the theme park Jungle Cruise has come under fire for its White Man’s Burden approach to the third world, and the movie slyly comments on all this.

When we first encounter Amazon riverboat captain Frank Wolff (Johnson) he’s leading gullible tourists (the setting is the early 20th century) on a cruise that features encounters with wild animals (actually Frank has trained them) and spear-waving cannibals (Frank’s scurrilous rivertown buddies in feathers and warpaint).

Frank is clearly based on Humphrey Bogart’s perf in “The African Queen” (check out the little cap) with a dash of Han Solo “me first-ism”…he’s a charming cad who loves a good pun and cheerfully insults his clientele. He’s also deep in arrears to local mogul Nilo (Paul Giamatti…think Jabba the Hutt).

Enter Lily Houghton (Blunt), a scientist who with her effete sibling MacGregor (Whitehall, looking very much like a fetal Brendan Fraser) has come to South America to find a legendary tree whose flowers possess miraculous healing powers. Lily is a sort of female Indiana Jones, dismissed by the larger scientific community because she is, well, a girl. She’s determined to prove herself.

Jesse Plemons

Also, she wears men’s trousers. Captain Frank decides to call her “Pants.”

Yes, there’s a lot of love/hate bickering reminiscent of the Bogie/Kate Hepburn relationship in “African Queen.” It’s never as clever as that earlier film, but at least it’s out there trying.

Things get complicated with the appearance of Prince Joachim (Plemons), a Prussian martinet who arrives on the scene in a U-Boat (that’s right…a submarine in the Amazon River) and proceeds to revive ghostly, decaying Spanish conquistadors who have been entombed for centuries by a native curse. Now they and their leader, Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), are sent out to intercept Frank and Lily.

Supernatural shenanigans ensue.

There are also killer waterfalls, hostile natives living in treetop villages (just like Ewoks) and computer-generated wildlife (snakes, bugs, even a pet jaguar Frank keeps below deck).

Through it all Frank and Lily exchange insults; brother MacGregor freaks out over the lack of amenities and confesses that he’ll never marry (uh, yeah, we got that early on).

There’s about enough charm and usable plot here for a lighthearted 90-minute romp. Alas, “Jungle Cruise” clocks in at more than two hours, which means that for a good quarter of its running time viewers will be checking their watches.

| Robert W. Butler

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Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa; Robert DeNiro as Frank Sheeran

“THE IRISHMAN” My rating: B 

209 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Martin Scorsese’s much-anticipated “The Irishman” is a good movie.

Not a great one.

It’s been described as the filmmaker’s ultimate gangster epic, yet it feels less like a conventional celebration of tough-guy ethos than a slow (3 1/2 hour’s worth), mournful meditation on sins unacknowledged and unforgiven.

In fact, Scorsese seems to have gone out of his way to avoid the sort of eye-catching set pieces (like the long nightclub tracking shot from “GoodFellas”) that marked many of his earlier efforts. “The Irishman” is almost ploddingly straightforward.

Steve Zaillian’s screenplay follows the title character, real-life contract killer Frank Sheehan (Robert DeNiro), from his early days as a truck driver with a taste for theft  to his residency in an old folk’s home.

(Now seems a good time to comment on the much-ballyhooed CG “youthening” of the actors…it’s so good you don’t even think about it. No waxy skin tones or blurry edges — damn near flawless.)

The bulk of the movie, set in the ’50s and ’60s, chronicles Frank’s association with the Teamsters  and his friendship with union president Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), who in a phone call introduces himself to Frank with the statement: “I heard you paint houses.”  That’s code for acting as a hired assassin, a role Frank will perform for Hoffa and others for a quarter century.

The film centers on a long 1975 car trip in which Sheehan and his mentor, crime family boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and their wives drive from Philadelphia to Detroit, ostensibly to attend the wedding of a colleague’s daughter.  At various stages in the journey Frank’s memory is jogged to recall past exploits. He doesn’t realize until late in the trip that Russell has another agenda — the assassination of Jimmy Hoffa who, after serving a four-year sentence in federal prison, is now upsetting the apple cart by attempting to reclaim the presidency of the Teamsters Union.

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Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Tom Hanks

“THE POST” My rating: B+ 

115 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Steven Spielberg’s powers as a storyteller are so secure that not even the miscasting of one of “The Post’s” two leads can do much damage to the narrative.

This sprawling effort — it begins with a firefight in Vietnam and winds down with a firestorm over the Second Amendment — hits the ground running and rarely slows down for a breath. It’s like a Spielberg master class in taking a complicated story and telling it cleanly and efficiently.

And like other major movies about real-world journalism — “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight” especially — “The Post” could hardly be more timely.  With a president who shows every indication that he’d love to roll back freedom of the press, this film is so relevant it hurts.

The subject, of course, is the 1971 scandal over the Pentagon Papers.  That massive study, commissioned by LBJ’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, looked at American involvement in Vietnam going back to the Truman administration. It revealed that the experts had always known a land war in Vietnam was unwinnable — but had plowed ahead anyway, sacrificing billions of dollars and countless lives on what amounted to political face-saving.

The papers showed that the Johnson administration had systematically lied to the public and to Congress so as to continue the war.

McNamara suppressed the study; the public only learned of its existence when one of its authors, Rand Corporation analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), made an illegal copy of the top secret document and passed it on to The New York Times.

Today  The Washington Post sits at or near the top of American newspapers (thanks to its reporting on the Watergate Scandal in 1972-’73).  But in 1971 The Post was at best a regional paper…and not a very good one.

Its new editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), was pushing it toward greatness, but still felt himself outclassed by the journalistic aces at The Times. He was particularly concerned about rumors that The Times was about to scoop The Post (and every other news outlet) with a major story.

That big story was the Pentagon Papers. No sooner had the first in a series of articles been published than a federal judge — at the behest of the Nixon administration — enjoined The Times from printing additional material.

Bradley’s Post, however, was under no gag order. Working back channels Bradley got his hands on another copy of the papers and prepared to publish even more revelations on the pages of The Post.

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