The Premise: Based on a beloved ride at Disney that’s 20% water ride and 80% dad jokes (now with less racism!), the film adaptation introduces us to Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), thwarted at every turn because of her gender, but dedicated enough to scientific pursuit to follow it all the way to the Amazon where she engages irascible skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to deliver her to the jungle.
The Verdict: While it achieves no great heights, it’s a decent action-adventure the whole family can enjoy. It relies heavily on the charm and chemistry between Blunt and Johnson, who are quite apparently enjoying themselves on screen. Emily Blunt is gorgeous, even in pants, Johnson is formidable wrestling a cheetah, Jack Whiteall stuns in a series of dinner jackets, Paul Giamatti looks like he was born to sport a gold tooth, and Jesse Plemons delivers a memorably villainous accent. A cross between Disney’s successful ride-based franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the more recent Dora the Explorer effort, Jungle Cruise is just fun enough, funny enough, interesting enough, and exciting enough, but with the excessive charisma oozing from our two leads, this is a worthwhile watch – in theatres, or on Disney Plus.
According to critics, I really shouldn’t like this movie. They make some pretty valid arguments, yet I’m going to stray from the path and mow one of my own, over the green, green hills of Ireland, which provide such lusty landscape porn over the opening credits alone that I need very little further convincing.
Neighbouring farms belonging to the Muldoons and the Reillys have supplied friction as well as friendship over the years, and if this was anywhere else this might have made them enemies, but these two generational farming families are wise enough to know not to completely estrange the very people who will be counted upon in a pinch should the need arise, and the need is always arising. Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) and Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) have known each other their entire lives, and since there’s not exactly an excess of options, it’s been assumed by locals that they would someday marry. Now their elderly parents are dying off, but the relationship hasn’t deepened much beyond “Good morning to ya'” because Anthony is terminally awkward and believes too strongly in a family curse. And he’s always at odds with his father (Christopher Walken), who decides to pass over bachelor Anthony in favour of keeping the family name and the farm’s inheritance alive and well. Enter Anthony’s American cousin Adam (Jon Hamm), a Yank in every sense of the word. Arrogant, showy, with no real concept of farming, Adam’s worst crime is of course this his eye is immediately caught by the girl next door, Rosemary, who is understandably growing antsy waiting for “shy,” “slow” Anthony to come around.
Writer-director John Patrick Shanley adapts his own play for the screen and gives us a unique love story specific to a corner of Ireland just outside Mullingar. Rosemary and Anthony remain separated by a gate and a silly family feud, but they’re emotionally separated as well, never really able to connect. Since we spend privileged time with both, we’re privy to them each burning up from wanting the other, which makes their failure to connect all the more frustrating.
You’ll need three things to even have a hope of enjoying Wild Mountain Thyme: 1. patience; she’s a slow burn, folks 2. a willingness to overlook some pretty dodgy accents, and 3. a willingness to let go of convention and embrace its offbeat charm. Wild Mountain Thyme isn’t just set in Ireland, but set in its own time and place, a place that looks Irish and a time that seems like the 21st century, and yet is so rural and insular not only have modern conveniences barely touched them, our grown-ass protagonists also seem almost child-like in their (lack of) lived experience. They’re naïve. The film has its own rules and internal logic but doesn’t feel compelled to share them with us, things just are how they are and you can either love it or leave it, and honestly I won’t blame you either way. Like all truly quirky movies, this one is not meant for everyone. For those of us whose souls thirst for the truly eccentric, it is a puzzle not to be solved but to be admired for its opacity. When things come out of left field, we should merely note what a lovely field it is, and remember to admire the right one as well, while we’re at it. I know first hand what it is to spend a movie yelling “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING” at the screen and checking wild-eyed with our co-watchers to see if they, too, are experiencing the brain melt. But this one simmered just above that level for me, an enjoyable stew of lyricism, unconventionality, and idiosyncratic story-telling that exists well outside the normal realm of romance I couldn’t help but admire its bold posture.
The last time John Patrick Shanley adapted his own work for us, we got Doubt, a small film with big impact. This is not Doubt. It is very much its own thing, without comparison or peers. Emily Blunt, of course, could make me watch almost anything; every performance seems to find some new undiscovered corner of her essence as she stretches to reach corners of the human spirit she hasn’t shown us before. She’s the best thing in this, and reason to watch all on her own, as long as you’re up for some uncommon trappings.
Wild Mountain Thyme is in select theatres now, and will be available on digital and on-demand Dec 22.
Zoe and Owen are enthusiastic circus goers when they meet as children, and the circus is the background of their courtship growing up. But when Owen (John Krasinski) is ready to settle down with Zoe (Emily Blunt), he heeds her father’s advice, leaving the circus behind in favour of the family dog biscuit business. It’s not his passion, not even close, but it pays the bills and seems befitting of a family man. It takes a tragedy – the untimely death of Owen’s eccentric, long-lost uncle Buffalo Bob, who bequeaths to him his circus.Unfortunately, the circus is not at its best. With aging performers, absentee animals, and a ledger in the red, it’s definitely past its prime.
Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?
The good news is that Owen finds Buffalo Bob’s recipe for success, one that’ll guarantee amazing animal acts and paying butts in the seats. But he also remembers that he has not one but two long-lost uncles. Uncle Horatio (Ian McKellan) owns the largest chain of circuses in the world, and there’s no way in hell he’s going to let his dweeby nephew Owen threaten his empire.
Animal Crackers has an all-star voice cast, which is the entire list of things it has going for it. The script is clumsy, the story unremarkable, the songs subpar. It’s not going to knock the clown socks off anyone. But since we’re experiencing a movie drought due a certain global pandemic who shall remain nameless, this might just about fit the bill for a family film night. Hand out the Cracker Jack, or dare I suggest – animal crackers? – and I can promise you that young kids won’t hate it. Neither will you, of course. It’s completely harmless and completely forgettable. But it’s new and it’s available for streaming on Netflix, so step right up, put on your red nose, and prepare to be whelmed.
It’s very easy to forget that the monarchy is made up with real, living, breathing people. Extremely privileged people of course, who are often very out of touch with the real world and therefore the people they are meant to represent as well. But people nonetheless. Victoria (Emily Blunt) reminds us that even palaces can be prisons.
By the age of 11 she is made aware of her precarious and burdensome lot in love; the only living heir to King William IV’s throne. Victoria’s teenage years are dominated by her possessive mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and the Duchess’ consort, John Conroy (Mark Strong), who imposes all kinds of rules on Victoria. Despite the pressure, Victoria refuses to allow them the power to act as her regent, and she finally takes the crown at the age of 18.
In fact, this only means that even more people seek to control and influence her, including her cousin Albert (Rupert Friend), with whom it is hoped she will fall in love for political reasons. Having only just left the clutches of her mother, she isn’t quick to attach herself to someone else, but instead falls under the influnce of Prime Minister Melbourne (Paul Bettany), whom she trusts implicitly, even to the point of constitutional crisis.
Emily Blunt does a masterful job of portraying the young queen – her confidence, her missteps, her optimism, her suspicion, her inexperience and her willingness. Most 18 year olds aren’t ready for such weighty responsibilities but when your birth decrees it, there is nothing to do but step up. She is the sun around which so many orbit, on whom so many depend. A power struggle is inevitable.
The Young Victoria is romantic but lumbering, never quite hitting the right balance of tension and story. There’s a lot of wistfully reading letters aloud while sitting on various tufted couches. But if you’re looking for a Victorian drama, there are plenty of petticoats around, the scenery is terribly opulent. Blunt and Friend have a sizzling chemistry and you almost wish the movie had started rather than ended there.
If you’ve been to Disney in Anaheim, Orlando, Hong Kong, or Tokyo, then you’re familiar with a staple of the parks, a ride called Jungle Cruise. The premise is that you’re at a 1930s British explorer’s lodge and you’re taken on a voyage on a tramp steamer down a river (which river? depends on the day – but let’s say it simulates the biggies from Asia, Africa and South America).
The boat is driven by a Disney cast member by a number of scenes involving animatronic jungle animals. The cast member keeps up a patter I can only describe as dad jokes, with apologies to dads. The jokes are cheesy as heck, and scripted of course, but the cast members usually manage to tell them in a way that makes it feel fairly fresh even though for them it’s canned and on a continuous loop all day long. Disney really expects a lot from their employees! There seems to be a fairly large pool of jokes, or the script is getting refreshed fairly often, because I bet if you took two tours back to back, you’d get two different experiences. Jungle Cruise isn’t exciting or eye-catching or new or thrilling, but it still feels like an essential ride, a classic. The last time I was there, I was with my 5 year old nephew Jack. After “driving” the boat near a waterfall and back, the cast member said something like “Show of hands – is anyone missing?” and little Jack, not usually one to volunteer, raised his little hand. So at least one joke went over his head, but he and his brother still enjoyed their ride, though unsurprisingly it was their DAD who laughed the most. Dad jokes!
The attraction has some exotic imported plants but to keep on budget, it’s also got local plants that you might not recognize: orange trees, for example, a Florida staple, are planted upside down, coaxing vines to grow from the exposed roots. The water is tinted a dark green to keep up the illusion – otherwise, the fact that it’s only about 5 feet deep, and the boat is on a track might give away some of the magic. A sister restaurant, The Skipper Canteen, keeps the story and theming going. You might dine in any of the restaurant’s 3 “curiously quirky” (Disney’s words) rooms: the crew’s colonial-era Mess Hall; the Jungle Room, styled after Dr. Albert Falls’ actual family parlor; and the S.E.A. Room – a secret meeting place for the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, with plenty of little easter eggs for you to find and enjoy. The menu boasts “exotic flavor” for “wild appetites;” you might start with a Lost & Found soup, the Chef’s Seasonal Soup prepared with the freshest unclaimed cargo! Please ask your Skipper for today’s selection, followed by Sustainable Fish (“not Piranha”), and perhaps ending with some Quick Sand – jasmine rice pudding, mango sauce, lemon curd, hibiscus meringue, and pineapple.
The pair seem to have become quite good chums on the set, and they’ve even visited Disney World together, with Johnson jumping aboard an actual Jungle Cruise ride, taking over skipper duties and delivering I’m sure a very memorable string of dad jokes to a boatful of surprised holiday-makers. What can I say: Disney is magic.
This weekend, I was babysitting my two adored and adorable little nephews, Brady, who is 7, and Jack, who is 5. We went to the trampoline park and the toy store, and then we came home to bake a cake for their dad, who was celebrating a birthday. We mixed and measured and layered on nearly 5 pounds of candy, which they insisted their dad would love, including banana cannons and a candy fence we dubbed the fortress of bananatude (I know, this cake sounds banana heavy).
Anyway, the kids were discussing The Muppet Babies for some reason, which Jack pronounces ‘Muffin Babies’ and is pretty sure he’s saying the same thing we are. I’m thinking about Jack a lot today because he’s being brave and having a little surgery. Mostly I’m thinking about my sister, Jack’s mom – the surgery will likely be harder on her than on him. But anyway. After we discussed which muppets were our favourites (Kermit for Jack, Fozzy for Brady, who does work in an errant “wocka wocka” into random conversations), and how we’d recently seen them at Disney World, we decided that our pre-bedtime movie would be Lego Batman. Haha, just kidding, they watched that in the car (imagine as a kid having a movie screen in your car!) – we watched The Muppet Movie!!
It’s about two brothers, the human Gary (Jason Segel) and the muppet Walter, who is obsessed with THE Muppets, who they’ve compulsively watched on television since they were kids, but who have sadly been absent from show business in recent years. Gary and his human girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are celebrating their tenth anniversary and plan to visit L.A. to celebrate, and Walter is thrilled to be invited along with them (by Gary, and a much more reluctant Mary) as it is the home of the Muppet studios. But once there, he discovers that an evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is about to buy both the studio and the Muppet name right from underneath them. So he enlists Kermit to go on a roadtrip to assemble the old gang in an effort to raise the money to save the day.
Jason Segel showed his puppet fetish in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and went full kink with this script, clearly a loving tribute to a beloved franchise. There’s joy being spewed all over the screen in this film, the movie is dripping with it, and it’s fun just to sit back and get soaked in nostalgia. The script introduces a new character, Walter, with whom we re-experience the magic of the Muppets, and it’s great to see them back in action, recreating a lot of acts that we remember so fondly, in a format that we know and love. They work in plenty of celebrity cameos, both human and Muppet, and the whole thing feels like a love letter – not just to the Muppets, but to a new generation of kids just discovering them, two of whom were cuddled next to me in my bed.
At the end of the movie, when asked how they liked it, Jack exclaimed “I didn’t know Kermit had a car!” Because when you’re 5, even the most mundane things can seem momentous. The Muppets are that elusive thing that can bring out the kid in all of us.
Rose is a single mother who has a son who’s just a little weird. A complete genius according to grandpa Joe, but his school doesn’t want him back. So Rose (Amy Adams) needs to make some serious cash in a hurry, to pay tuition fees at a private school where weird kids can thrive, and cleaning houses just doesn’t cut it.
So she assembles a crack team consisting of herself and her flaky sister Norah (Emily Blunt) and together they start cleaning crime scenes. Blood and guts equal serious hazard pay. Of course, there are also serious hazards. And I’m not just talking decomposition smells and bodily fluid leaks and brains on the ceiling. I’m talking about emotional hazards, like bereft widows who don’t know how to deal with husbands of 50 years being reduced to a blood stain in the living room. Not to mention the fact that Rose and Norah’s mother committed suicide when they were young girls. So, you know, this is potentially triggering work, and Rose and Norah aren’t hardened enough yet to have strict professional boundaries.
As the title suggests, director Christine Jeffs puts a sunny spin on a macabre subject. Well, sunny-ish. Overcast anyway, which is pretty amazing considering the long shadows cast by tragedy. Sunshine Cleaning is a low-key movie. It’s intimate, with a light touch. Amy Adams is the sun at the centre of its universe. Everyone orbits around her, basking in her glow. Although I’m sure her character would not describe herself thusly, Rose is a fighter, a quiet fighter maybe, but she doesn’t give up. She persists. She’s seen hardship but you rarely see the cracks, which she deftly caulks with hard work and optimism. She’s the kind of character you root for even though she doesn’t ask for your sympathy – still, you feel she’s earned a break or two, and you hope to see her get them. Is that how life works? Not really. But it’s nice to dream.
I didn’t think I needed The Jane Austen Book Club in my life. Hollywood has taught me that movies based on book clubs just don’t really feel cinematic. But I saw that it was early (2007) Emily Blunt and I was tired of searching for something better, so I settled.
Lesson #1: trust your instincts.
Jocelyn (Maria Bello) has just lost her best friend and life partner, who happened to be a dog. Some may think the funeral is a little over the top, but Jocelyn’s grief is real, and her friends have gathered round to help her through a difficult time – only Sylvia’s husband Daniel (Jimmy Smits) can’t seem to keep the snide comments to himself. Turns out, that’s not the only thing he can’t keep to himself as he soon confessed to Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), devoted wife of a quarter century, mother of his children, that he’s seeing another woman and that leaving the other woman is non-negotiable. So. Jocelyn sets aside her own grief to take care of her flailing friend. Sylvia’s daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) moves back in so she’s not alone and pal Bernadette (Kathy Baker) has the genius idea to establish a Jane Austen book club to provide a distraction. Since there are 6 novels to discuss, they’re in need of 2 more members. Bernadette brings aboard Prudie (Emily Blunt), an unfulfilled French teacher yearning for more than this provincial life, and Jocelyn recruits a young man and virtual stranger, Grigg (Hugh Dancy), as perhaps bait to liven up Sylvia’s gloomy divorce.
You can already tell that the book club is mostly an excuse to bitch about men (and women), and then we occasionally follow the women home to watch them make their various mistakes in real time, which is charming. Hint: that was sarcasm. The ensemble work between the women is actually pretty good but it’s an otherwise formulaic, sentimental, maudlin piece of crap pushed by Big Kleenex to turn women into weepies. Plus, it can’t help but be compared unfavourably to the Austen works discussed in the film. And that they should have seen coming.
Mary Poppins Returns is practically perfect in every way. It looks wonderful, whimsical, fanciful, a dreamscape. The animated sequences are next-level. The choreography is lively and polished. The costuming, by genius Sandy Powell, makes me tremble, its candy colours and hand-painted detailing an absolute riot. It’s wearable happiness.
And the cast. The cast! Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer play Michael and Jane Banks, the original kids from the first Mary Poppins, all grown up. Julie Walters tinkers in the kitchen as the hard-working maid, Ellen. Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack, the effervescent but largely ineffective lamp lighter (he might light 3 lamps total during the course of a 2 hour movie because his song and dance breaks are so frequent; the lamp lighter’s union must be fabulous). Together, they’re already a dream cast, but then director Rob Marshall plunks down Emily Blunt as the iconic nanny, Mary Poppins. Ho-lee shit. I mean, every ounce of credit to Julie Andrews, but since she’s vacated the seat, Emily Blunt is absolutely the perfect choice to carry the carpet bag. Anyone else in the role is simply unimaginable. And Colin Firth and Meryl Streep are BONUSES? Ex-squeeze me? Pure casting heaven.
But here’s the deal: despite there not being a single smudge dirtying up the glass, the magic just wasn’t there for me. I wanted to love this movie. Maybe I wanted it too much. It has all the right ingredients, but the pinch of disappointment is all I can taste.
Michael Banks is in a spot of trouble. His wife died a year ago, leaving him in charge of the house and the kids. All are neglected. His adorable children aren’t just raising themselves, they’re taking care of him too. Just about the only thing they can’t do is save the house from foreclosure. Michael and Jane can’t do it either – neither has any money. Where or where are those stock certificates their father left them? They’ve only got a few days to save their family home from the evil banker, Colin Firth. Cue Mary Poppins. Nominally, she’s taking care of the children, but I think her main ambition is just to allow them to be children again. And ideally, force Michael to act like the father again. So that’s the plot, and then we continually interrupt the plot to do some wild Mary Poppins shenanigans. The dancy, singy, cartoony musical numbers are incredible, or they would be if the songs weren’t so negligible, but they grind the plot to a halt and don’t relate to the rest of the movie at all. It’s not cohesive; I feel like I was watching two different movies, part depression-era family tragedy, part nostalgic stuff and nonsense. There are some wonderful call-backs to the original film, but I feel like Mary Poppins returns relies too heavily on its predecessor and our forgiveness. I wanted so badly to be carried away by this, but I remained firmly in my seat, butt against leather, popcorn in the cracks (of the recliner, not my ass). Translation: perfectly ordinary in every way.
It was 2011 when we first met garden gnomes who come to life when no humans are watching. Back then, two rival yards, that of the Montagues, and the Capulets, were at war, except Gnomeo fell in love with the forbidden Juliet, and they all got a happier ending than the one Shakespeare wrote for them, set to a soundtrack of Elton John songs.
Cut to: the May long weekend, 2018. Jay and Sean are in the mood to kick off the summer in style, so they drive to the nearest open drive-in, which is playing a TRIPLE feature which we only realize in retrospect was a night of sequels: Sherlock Gnomes, Deadpool 2, and Super Troopers 2 (in order of how they played, and how much I enjoyed them).
As you may have gleaned from the title, instead of revisiting Shakespeare, this time the gnomes tackle Arthur Conan Doyle. London is being terrorized by a garden gnome thief, which may sound petty to you, but if all your friends and family are gnomes, you’d understand why Gnomeo and Juliet are so concerned. Luckily London is also home to the kind of taste-makers likely to have literary garden gnomes in their flower beds, so a ceramic version of Sherlock himself (and his ceramic sidekick Watson) show up to solve the crime and save the day.
I liked Gnomeo and Juliet in a “just fine” kind of way, and was surprised to find that a sequel, 7 years after the first, was to be released. I wasn’t even sure if it was a sequel. The first had big names as voice actors – Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, and Emily Blunt and James McAvoy in the titular roles. I assumed they couldn’t possibly be back for a sequel with little to no promotion, and yet they were, in addition to Johnny Depp as the master detective and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the beleaguered Doctor Watson.
The thing is, this movie is once again strictly fine. But it doesn’t have much raison d’etre. It doesn’t aim for much more than kid appeal, which makes its sporadic attempts at literary humour feel out of place. It’s hard to believe that a movie, and in fact two movies, were green-lit specially for the crowd (which I need to believe is pretty small) who find garden gnomes wearing thongs to be hilarious, and movies based on that one running joke to be oddly satisfying.
I didn’t really love this movie, but then I saw Super Troopers 2 and realized that I could probably find just a little bit of leniency for any movie that wasn’t it.