Great Adventure Movies Set In The Jungle
Disney's Jungle Cruise opens today, so we head to the jungle to recommend some movies
Disney’s Jungle Cruise starring The Rock and Emily Blunt opens in theaters this weekend, which got us thinking about all the good movies set in the jungle. From war movies to adventure escapades to monster stories, there’s surprisingly a lot of different types of movies that take place in a jungle. We recommended a few for this week’s newsletter. Read, subscribe, and tell a friend!
Tropic Thunder (streaming on Amazon Prime)
This is one of the only movies that actually fits the bill for a phrase I generally hate: “This movie would never be made today.” To be clear, it is not a bad thing. that Hollywood doesn’t make these types of movies anymore. We have excessive use of the R word and Robert Downey Jr. in black face. Miraculously, this movie turned out to be the 21st century version of Blazing Saddles, a high-quality spoof comedy that looks inward on the movie industry and has laughs at every turn.
Tropic Thunder follows five actors who are all at different points of their career and come together to make a big-budget war movie. Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) trying to break away from the characters that have made them famous. Speedman being an action star and Portnoy being part of a fart family franchise. A rapper (Brandon T. Jackson) named Alpa Chino trying to dip his toe into acting while promoting his drink Booty Juice and energy bar bust-a-nut. Next is 5-time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr.) who immerses himself completely into every role. This time he controversially pigments his skin to portray a black man. And lastly a no-name actor who was only hired because he was so cheap (Jay Baruchel).
These actors are thrust into a new style of filmmaking where they are dropped into the middle of a Vietnam forest and will be filmed by various hidden cameras. They are warned that it will feel real and to act their way through it. Turns out, all of the violence and danger they are feeling is real! They have stumbled into a real war zone.
With this movie I would disparage no one if they turned it on and found a lot of the themes out of date. For me it worked because of how aware they are with what they are satirizing. A Hollywood system that has refused to look inward and needs to be critiqued. Tropic Thunder very easily could have fallen victim to the things it is parodying, but it hits almost all the right notes for me. Turning into a movie that is fascinating on each rewatch.
The Lost City of Z (streaming on Amazon Prime)
Charlie Hunnam… I don’t get you. Part of me doesn’t like his style and it feels like Hollywood is just shoving him in our faces and yelling, “HE IS A MOVIE STAR!” Then there is part of me that really likes most of the movies he is in. The Lost City of Z being a performance that I really like that is attached to one of my favorite genres: an adventure story.
The adventure story can take on many shapes. An Indiana Jones type, the Lord of the Rings type, the Stand by Me type… I could go on, but no other genre can get me hooked faster. The Lost City of Z shows the life of the man Percival Fawcett who sets out to discover the lost city located in the Amazon. What director James Gray does here is give an epic style that is typically seen in pre-70s cinema. Some type of action set piece would have been in most modern interpretations of this story. Instead the environment is used to show how each character is breaking down and when they get back to modern society they are never the same. At the beginning these adventurers are young, vibrant, and know their end goal. They assume to have the support of their country for the discovery, but as they discover the advancement of these seemingly “lesser” societies their support begins to feel threatened.
The Lost City of Z brings the initial entertainment with a star-studded cast and puts the audience into a trance with a harrowing adventure story that pulls on the heart strings at every stop, while bringing in a commentary on the arrogance of Western civilization. Somehow their discovery threatened the great things that they have created. Gray brings in so many complicated aspects that could have slowed down the story, but somehow impeccably created a pace that mirrors each stage of their adventure. The Lost City of Z will bring back adventure into your life in a time that it is needed most.
Kong: Skull Island (streaming on HBO Max)
Kong: Skull Island is big, dumb CGI spectacle done right. This is a movie that knows it’s supposed to be escapist fun about a giant ape that fights monsters and doesn’t try to out-reach that grasp. The human characters are largely forgettable as written, but the starry cast makes it work. King Kong is the true lead character anyway.
This 2017 blockbuster was part of the MonsterVerse franchise that kicked off with 2014’s Godzilla reboot. There have been many Kong and Godzilla films over the decades but you don’t really need to have seen any of them previously to enjoy Kong: Skull Island. The story doesn’t delve too deeply into the monster mythology, it just serves up one giddy action sequence after another.
Skull Island takes place right at the end of the Vietnam War, and the movie uses this setting to evoke past Vietnam classics like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. A collection of government and military figures, as well as a war photographer (Brie Larson), head to the titular Skull Island to search for primeval creatures reported there. Almost immediately, they are introduced to our guy Kong. And he doesn’t take kindly to their invasion of his homeland.
With dazzling special effects, Kong: Skull Island is a blast to watch, as long as you aren’t expecting a compelling human story. Still, veteran actors like Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, and John C. Reilly know exactly what kind of movie they’re in, and they play their parts accordingly. Reilly, in particular, has the most interesting (and funny) character as a World War II fighter pilot stranded on Skull Island for almost 30 years. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson do capable work as the “leads” of the movie, but you don’t actually care about their character arcs like you do Reilly’s.
Directed with real verve by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (who also made the very good indie comedy The Kings of Summer), Kong: Skull Island has virtuosic camerawork and vivid coloring throughout. There’s not really a dull shot in the entire movie, so even if Kong clubbing a colossal prehistoric reptile with a tree trunk isn’t your jam, there’s at least plenty of vibrant visual filmmaking to hold your attention. This is no small thing when so many other blockbusters today have a visual palette that is boring, incomprehensible, or downright ugly. Most importantly, Skull Island recognizes that it shouldn’t take itself too seriously. We’re just here to be wowed by that giant ape.
Recent Release Mini-Reviews
Old (in theaters now)
Billy: Decent thriller. Extremely repetitive, no consistency in camera movements, and has that three endings too long Shyamalan twist.
Next time get Cronenberg or Peter Jackson tackle a story that is ripe for body horror and creature development. - 2.5 / 5 Apples
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