‘Jungle Cruise’

Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence. Opens in theaters on July 30 and on Disney+ with Premier Access for a onetime additional fee.

The premise: Based on the popular theme park ride, Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” is an adventure yarn that follows scientist Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) on their quest to locate a tree fabled to have miraculous healing powers. She enlists the services of Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) and his boat to take them down the Amazon River, but the perilous journey gets worse when they’re pursued by enemies both human (Jesse Plemons) and supernatural (Edgar Ramírez).

The verdict: Johnson has that Disney’s long-in-the-works project was inspired by “Indiana Jones,” “Romancing the Stone” and “The African Queen,” which most viewers will pick up on early in the film. However, there’s also some “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Brendan Fraser’s version of “The Mummy” thrown in for good measure.

While that might make the story sound like yet another boring retread, it turns out to be pretty fun because of the pleasant chemistry between Johnson and Blunt. Although I never bought them as a romantic pair, they’re definitely a killer comedic duo. Plemons’ hilariously weird, scene-stealing work as the film’s villain is a delight too.

Even when “Jungle Cruise” gets bogged down by CGI overload and an excessive running time (mostly due to minutes-long stretches when the movie slams on the brakes so characters can deliver mouthfuls of exposition) the charismatic actors and some clever twists keep things interesting. It has the potential to be one of the summer’s biggest hits.

Grade: B

‘The Green Knight’

Rated R for violence, some sexuality and graphic nudity. Opens in theaters on July 30.

The premise: Based on an epic 14th century poem, this dark fantasy tells the story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a quest to confront a gigantic, emerald-skinned stranger known as the Green Knight. Along the way, Gawain encounters ghosts, giants, thieves and schemers in a journey to define his character and prove his worth.

The verdict: David Lowery is one of the most compelling filmmakers working today, so it makes sense that he’s crafted one of 2021’s best movies. I would be shocked if “The Green Knight” isn’t on my Top 10 in a few months. Granted, there’s a strong chance mainstream audiences are going to hate it, especially viewers who are expecting a traditional, straightforward take on the Knights of the Round Table.

As anyone who has seen “A Ghost Story” (Lowery’s brilliant 2017 meditation on grief) can attest, he isn’t afraid to get weird and metaphorical in order to reach the narrative’s emotional core. But he’s also the guy who made 2016’s heartfelt “Pete’s Dragon,” which remains the best of Disney’s recent remakes.

Here, he combines that flair for the bizarre with his stunning eye for visuals to craft one of the most unique, engaging fantasy tales I’ve seen in quite some time. Even when I didn’t fully understand what was going on — such as a lengthy sequence where Gawain visits an enigmatic lord (Joel Edgerton) and his wife (Alicia Vikander, excellent in two different roles) — I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen because of Patel’s phenomenal work and his hauntingly beautiful surroundings.

For me, “The Green Knight” was literally hypnotic: there were moments when it felt like I was being lulled into a trance. Credit for that goes to Lowery, Andrew Droz Palermo’s incredible cinematography and the stunning score by Daniel Hart, which often evokes “The Shining.” I can’t wait to rewatch it and pick up on details I missed the first time.

Grade: A


Rated PG-13 for strong violence, disturbing images, suggestive content, partial nudity and brief strong language. Now playing in theaters.

The premise: M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller centers on a vacationing family (led by Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps) who discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them and their fellow beachgoers (including Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Eliza Scanlen, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Aaron Pierre) to age rapidly — reducing their entire lives into a single day. As the body count rises, the group desperately tries to find the secret to escaping their beautiful but deadly prison.

The verdict: Shyamalan has been hit-or-miss his entire career, but you can’t say the guy doesn’t take risks or that his movies are boring. His latest follows the same pattern, with a bunch of weird narrative issues that somehow don’t sink an overall fun and surprisingly nasty flick.

“Old” is like a silly episode of “The Twilight Zone,” with thin characters who represent ideas or themes more than actual people. It works better if you think of the movie as a parable rather than a narrative with realistic human beings. There’s also some pretty messed up body horror, especially for a PG-13. I imagine if it had been made by a lesser-known director, it would’ve gotten an R.

While the performances are all over the map (partially due to a lot of clunky dialogue), Shyamalan gets particularly strong work out of McKenzie and Wolff. Sewell and Lee aim for a campier tone that, while entertaining, feels like it belongs in a different movie. Still, the mixture makes for a weird, wild ride.

Grade: B-

Book Spotlight: ‘Quint’

by Dionne Irving

Full disclosure: it’s important that you don’t consider my thoughts on this new novel (which hits bookstores on August 3) an official review. There’s no chance of being unbiased, considering I’ve known author Dionne Irving for almost a decade. She was my colleague at the University of West Georgia for several years (we shared an office for a while), as was her husband, Aaron Bremyer. I’m proud to consider them both friends.

With that context out of the way, I simply want to get the word out about her excellent story about five miraculous girls and the horrifying toll that greed and celebrity takes on their lives.

Loosely based on the real-life Dionne quintuplets, the first known to have survived their infancy, “Quint” is a powerful novel that centers on extraordinary children who are born during the Great Depression, taken from their naïve parents and turned into a tourist attraction in Canada in the 1940s.

Although the strange circumstances initially give them better access to food, clothing, shelter, etc., the siblings ultimately struggle their entire lives against the abuses of their profiteers.

This might sound like a backhanded compliment, but Irving’s novel is so emotionally devastating that it took me a while to read. It was so sad that I could only tackle a few pages at a time, which speaks to the power of her writing. I cared so much about the central characters — and loathed the villains so much — that I couldn’t stand what they were forced to endure.

Twitter: @IAmJoshSewell