Films used to be fun

Remember when films used to be fun?

“Jungle Cruise” is the first Hollywood studio film in a long time that’s actually fun to watch.

While “Black Widow” and “F9” and “Cruella” (and a few others and let’s face it they are all movies from 2020 rescheduled for this year) showed big budget tropes, needle drops and special effects you didn’t get the giddy feeling you get when watching a fun film.

“Jungle Cruise” is fun to a fault. We’re rehashing a template that includes “The African Queen,” and “Romancing the Stone” mixed in with the otherworldly spine of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Lest we forget to add the Brendan Fraser “Mummy” movies and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the latter itself an expert blend of ’30s movie serials and the 1964 Philippe de Broca film “That Man From Rio.”

Jaume Collet-Serra has finally hit his stride as a director after good and bad genre movies . Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson give big satisfying movie star performances. For the record, “African Queen” was full of goofy moments like Bogart doing a hippopotamus imitation. If Blunt and Johnson never leave their wheelhouse of comic mugging and puns delivered with Henny Youngman aplomb it’s for the best as it fits snuggly into the paranormal rambunctiousness on display.

Even films that aren’t strictly laughs can be fun if pulled off with meaning. “Stillwater” from writer/director Tom McCarthy examines the clash of cultures when a blue collar worker from Oklahoma moves to Europe to help his estranged daughter. She’s imprisoned for a murder she claims she didn’t commit. Matt Damon, Camille Cottin and Abigail Breslin star. In more ways than one “Stillwater” comes across as a modern classic of divergent views and how to adjust attitudes accordingly.

Similar themes highlight the equally memorable “Joe Bell,” a story based on actual events about a redneck who realigns his priorities after his gay son is literally bullied to death at school. Mark Wahlberg as Bell attempts to walk across America educating people along the way. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green reins in Wahlberg so the audience isn’t aware of his penchant to overact. The film itself is a couple of years old, penned by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry. Green’s next film, “King Richard” opens in a couple of months.

Meanwhile a paucity of foreign films is only compounded by art house specific theaters that closed during Covid. When a title pops up it’s typically from the new breed of art house distributors like Neon, A24 and Kino Lorber.

Kino streams indie and foreign titles (locally in conjunction with the temporarily closed movie theater division of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). This week’s release is the Polish film “Never Gonna Snow Again” where we witness a mysterious Ukrainian masseur who brings brief happiness to a gated community in Warsaw.

The intricacies of the social commentary on display seem vague for Polish audiences much less their American counterparts.


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