Review: ‘Jungleand’ (2020), starring Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell

December 2, 2020

by Carla Hay

Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell in “Jungleland” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Jungleland” (2020)

Directed by Max Winkler

Culture Representation: The dramatic film “Jungleland” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In order to pay off a debt, two brothers who are involved in the world of underground bare-knuckle boxing are forced to go on a road trip with an unwilling young woman, so that the brothers can bring her to a crime lord. 

Culture Audience: “Jungleland” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted stories about hard-luck individuals and the sleazy things that they do to survive, but viewers have to be willing to tolerate how this movie can sometimes be too slow-paced and unfocused for its own good.

Jessica Barden and Jack O’Connell in “Jungleland” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the dramatic film “Jungleland” (directed by Max Winkler) will be packed with a lot of action-oriented boxing scenes. Boxing is not the primary focus of this movie, which is really a road-trip film about two tight-knit American brothers coming to terms with their co-dependency on each other. Their relationship might be permanently changing as one brother tries to become more independent from the other. It just so happens that the two brothers are involved in some shady criminal activities, so there’s an added “race against time before we get killed” aspect of the story.

The two working-class brothers at the center of the story are Stanley “Stan” Kaminski (played by Charlie Hunnam) and Walter “Lion” Kaminski (played by Jack O’Connell), who spent most of their childhood as orphans growing up in various parts of America. Their deadbeat father abandoned them as children, and they spent part of their childhood raised by a single mother, who died when Stan and Lion were underage. In the movie, Lion says that he’s 25, while Stan (whose age is not mentioned) looks like he’s in his late 30s. They only have each other as family.

When this story takes place, the Kaminski brothers are living together in a run-down house in Fall River, Massachusetts. They both work at a sweatshop-styled fabric sewing factory, where their job is to do things like sew bedsheets. And they have dreams of being rich some day, which Stan constantly talks about when he fantasizes out loud to Lion about all the walk-in closets full of silk suits that he would like to have.

Stan is supposedly a dedicated follower of high fashion, but you’d never know it because he looks and acts like a scruffy rogue. That doesn’t mean he has to look “rich” (because he’s not), but Stan doesn’t even seem to care about looking like he has good hygiene. Later in the movie, it’s revealed that the brothers have been sort-of planning to open a dry-cleaning business together. Their “business plan” is literally a photo collage that looks like something a 9-year-old child would do as an art project, which is an indication of how little these brothers know about business. Keep in mind, this is a drama, not a comedy.

Because he’s the older brother, Stan takes on the “alpha male” leadership role in their relationship, while Lion is the “beta male” follower. Stan is a big talker who likes to come up with “get rich quick” schemes, while Lion just passively goes along with whatever Stan wants. However, even though Stan comes up with ideas, he’s not that smart in making any of these ideas beneficial to him and his brother. Stan’s ill-fated schemes have landed the brothers in debt to a local criminal named Pepper (played by Jonathan Majors), who is the type of thug who likes to be smooth but menacing.

Lion has raw talent as a boxer, and Stan is his coach. Lion and Stan like to growl at each other like lions as a way of getting Lion psyched up before a boxing match. It’s revealed later in the story that Stan tried to bribe a referee in the past, so he lost his license to train boxers. Stan still has dreams of Lion making it big as a boxer. Until they can make it to the big leagues, Stan has been putting Lion in underground bare-knuckles boxing matches that don’t really pay enough to get the brothers out of their dire financial situation.

After one of these matches, which ends with Lion losing by getting pummeled by a man who’s about 20 years older than Lion, the brothers find themselves accosted and essentially kidnapped by Pepper and one of Pepper’s henchman. Pepper has grown impatient with the brothers for not paying their debt. Stan and Lion both get roughed up a little until they agree to do whatever Pepper wants.

Pepper tells Stan and Lion that the only way they can erase the debt is to do two things: (1) Enter and win a boxing match called Jungleland, which has a grand prize of $100,000, and (2) Take a young woman named Sky with them on their road trip to Reno, Nevada (where Jungleland takes place), and deliver her to a pet store. Pepper gives them a business card for the store. Why a pet store? That’s explained much later in the story.

Lion is very reluctant to go along with the plan, but Pepper says, “You’ve got no choice.” Stan asks Pepper if this task of transporting Sky is some type of human trafficking. All that Pepper will tell them is that Sky is a “family friend” who “can be a handful.”

When Stan and Lion meet this mysterious Sky (played by Jessica Barden), she is very guarded and aloof. She doesn’t really want to talk about herself at first. Sky is in her early 20s (she’s able to buy alcohol at a bar later in the story), but she looks like she could be 16 or 17. Even though Sky isn’t very talkative, one thing that she does make clear to Stan and Lion is that she doesn’t want to go on this trip. As an incentive, Pepper gives them quite a bit of cash and a fairly new-looking SUV to take on the journey.

The Kaminski brothers soon find out why Pepper made Sky a part of this road trip. She’s been hiding from a crime lord named Yates, who wants Sky brought back to him in Reno, where he lives. Pepper was supposed to complete this task, but he’s now handed off that responsibility to Stan and Lion, who are both furious when they find out that they’ve been tricked into doing Pepper’s dirty work. However, there’s no turning back from the road trip. Stan is convinced that he and Lion will be killed if they don’t fulfill their end of the bargain.

Stan decides that Sky cannot be let out of their sight, so he tells Lion to keep watch over Sky when Stan can’t do it, such as while Stan is asleep or not in the same room. Also along for the ride is Stan and Lion’s whippet dog named Ash. Stan senses that Lion and Sky are immediately attracted to each other, and he orders Lion not to let Sky tempt or distract him. Easier said than done.

Throughout this road trip, which sometimes wanders off into tangents that drag the film down, Lion and Sky become more attracted to each other. She tells Lion that he doesn’t need to be bossed around by Stan, and she encourages Lion to think for himself. Sky also makes Lion see that Stan tends to do a lot of impulsive things that end up making things worse for the two brothers—not just on this road trip but as a pattern throughout the brothers’ recent lives. And during this road trip, more of Sky’s past is revealed, including a secret that explains why Yates wants her in his custody.

“Jungleland” director Winkler co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Theodore Bressman and David Branson Smith. The screenplay could’ve used some definite improvements, because some parts of the road trip don’t make sense, according to the “race against time” aspect that is supposed to be a big part of the story. For example, if it was so urgent for Sky to be brought to Yates from Massachusetts to Nevada, they could’ve taken the trip by plane, which is faster and more convenient than driving by car.

But that would mean there would be no “Jungleland” movie, since the road trip is contrived so that all sorts of things can go wrong along the way. And they do. A big foreshadowing is when, at the beginning of the trip, Stan impulsively decides to blow a lot of the cash by splurging on the highest-priced suite available at the hotel that he chooses for himself, Lion and Sky. But when they get to the suite, they find out that there’s only one bed, because it’s meant to be a honeymoon suite. It’s an example of how Stan doesn’t plan and think things through very well.

There are also parts of the movie where it doesn’t look like Stan and Lion are really in that big of a rush to get to Reno, even though a lot of time is lost because of some unfortunate things that slow down the trip by at least three days. With that sense of urgency lost, the movie tends to wander into different directions that sometimes don’t really add anything to the story. It just seems like these unnecessary scenes are filler, because the screenwriters couldn’t think of anything better to increase the length of the movie’s total running time.

For example, Stan, Lion and Sky break into her former high school when no one else is there, for reasons that are shown in the movie but won’t be revealed in this review. But even then, that part of the story is questionable, because the trio ends up spending the night at the school, without any concern that school employees will show up in the morning and discover these three intruders. Even when a school is on hiatus (such as during the summer), there are still employees who work at the school to look after it.

And as for any intense training for this big Jungleland fight, forget about it. There are so many mishaps and shenanigans that happen to this trio on the road trip that Stan and Lion barely have time to do any training, except when they use the gym at the high school during their break-in. The Jungleand fight really takes a back seat to some messy drama involving Sky. It isn’t until the last few scenes of the movie that the Jungleland fight comes back to the forefront of the storyline.

What makes “Jungleland” worth watching, despite the flaws in the screenplay, is that Hunnam, O’Connell and Barden give very good performances as these troubled souls who have been thrown together in very tension-filled circumstances. Each of these actors shows some emotional depth to the insecurities that each characters has. Lion is questioning his identity as an individual and how he might have been living under the control of his brother for too long. Sky is running away from her past in more ways than one.

Stan likes to be in control of Lion, but deep down he’s envious of Lion because Lion has one thing that Stan doesn’t have: talent in doing something well. Stan tells Sky when they’re alone together how he feels about Lion: “That kid is better at fighting than I’ve ever been at anything in my life … He’s special, and I’ll never know what it’s like.”

In real life, Hunnam, O’Connell and Barden are British. Out of the three, Barden fares the best in mastering an American accent. (People watching this movie might be surprised to find out that she’s British in real life.) O’Connell’s American accent is also believable, but Hunnam’s natural British accent can occasionally be heard when he says some of his lines in the movie.

“Jungleland” is fairly adequate for its cinematography and production design. And the filmmakers try not to make this a completely boring and stereotypical “desperate people in debt to gangsters” movie. For example, the character of Yates (played by John Cullum) is not what a lot of viewers will expect for a crime lord. Boxing fans will probably be disappointed at how few boxing scenes there are in the movie. To use a boxing analogy, “Jungleland” doesn’t deliver a knockout punch as a compelling drama, but it brings out enough emotionally impactful jabs from the main actors to make an impression on viewers.

Paramount Pictures released “Jungleland” in U.S. cinemas on November 6, 2020, and on digital and VOD on November 10, 2020. The movie’s DVD release date is January 12, 2021.

Review: ‘The Gentlemen,’ starring Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding and Jeremy Strong

January 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

The Gentlemen
Michelle Dockery and Matthew McConaughey in “The Gentleman” (Photo by Christopher Raphael)

“The Gentlemen”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Set in London, this group of predominantly white male characters (with a few Asians and black people), who are from the middle and upper classes, live on the edges of the law and are primarily motivated by greed and revenge.

Culture Clash: The characters in the “The Gentleman” constantly try to one-up and outsmart each other in their betrayals.

Culture Audience: “The Gentlemen” will appeal mostly to people who like movies about groups of criminals who mix dirty deals with aspirations to belong in the upper echelons of society.

Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam in “The Gentleman” (Photo by Christopher Raphael)

In case people might think British filmmaker Guy Ritchie was turning soft because he directed Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of “Aladdin,” he wants to remind everyone that he’s still capable of making the down’n’dirty British crime capers that made him a hot director, starting with his feature-film debut, 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” (And then his ill-fated 10-year marriage to Madonna brought him another kind of fame: tabloid hell.)

With “The Gentlemen,” Ritchie returns to the theme that he seems to like best when he writes and directs a film—men behaving very badly. And who needs to have legal consequences? Ritchie makes it clear in his movies about drug dealers or gangsters that the harsh realities of police busts and courtroom appearances are pesky distractions that shouldn’t really get in the way of the story he really wants to tell, which is from the lawbreakers’ perspectives.

The movie’s title is quite cheeky, since the shady and sleazy characters in “The Gentlemen” act like anything but gentlemen. All of them are violent, and some of the Anglo characters spout racist and anti-Semitic remarks. There’s some content in this movie that’s truly twisted, including a bestiality scene that’s in the movie for laughs. The deviant act is not shown on screen, but what happened and who was involved are made very clear to viewers.

“The Gentlemen” has an all-star cast, but the movie really comes down to the sparring between two of the characters who want to be the alpha male who’ll outsmart them all. The two opponents are Michael “Mickey” Pearson (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Fletcher (played by Hugh Grant), who see themselves as brilliant manipulators who like to play people off each other like pawns in a chess game.

Mickey is an American who’s been a marijuana dealer in the United Kingdom, ever since he was a Rhodes Scholar student at Oxford University. He’s built up his business by renting out large estates worth millions and using the land to build underground areas for growing marijuana. His operation (which spans the entire nation) has grown to the point where he’s ready to sell it, now that marijuana might become legal in the United Kingdom.

Fletcher is a private investigator and aspiring screenwriter, who wants to tell Mickey’s story (and dirty secrets) in a movie screenplay that he’s writing. Fletcher describes the screenplay in vivid detail (which viewers see acted on screen) when he has a tense confrontation with Mickey’s right-hand man, Ray (played by Charlie Hunnam). It’s a story-within-a-story conceit that works well in some areas of the movie, but gets too convoluted and messy in other areas. Fletcher tells Ray that the salacious details of the screenplay is Fletcher’s way of extorting £20 million from Mickey if he wants to keep Fletcher from spilling those secrets. Fletcher has found himself in Mickey’s orbit in the first place because Fletcher has been hired by a tabloid editor named Big Dave (payed by Eddie Marsan), who has a grudge against Mickey and wants Fletcher to dig up dirt on Mickey.

Viewers should know before seeing this movie that the hyper-absurd situations in the story basically serve to poke fun at the characters, who mostly think they’re smarter than everyone else in their world.  And make no mistake: This is definitely a man’s world, since Michelle Dockery (who plays Mickey’s Cockney-accented loyal wife, Rosalind, nicknamed Roz) is the only woman with a significant speaking role in the movie—and her screen time in the film is less than 20 minutes. Fletcher describes Roz as the “Cockney Cleopatra to Mickey’s Cowboy Caesar.” It’s a fairly accurate description, since Roz’s scenes basically revolve around her sexuality, and Mickey’s scenes revolve around him asserting his power.

Mickey’s asking price for his marijuana operation is at least £400 million, and he finds a potential buyer in billionaire Matthew Berger (played by Jeremy Strong), another successful, upper-echelon drug dealer who’s been a longtime rival of Mickey’s. And there are some other sordid characters who are entangled in this spider web of a story. One of them is Dry Eye (played by Henry Golding), a gangster/wannabe mob boss who answers to his real mob boss, Lord George (played by Tom Wu). Their gang is also at odds with Mickey.

Then there’s deadpan henchman Coach (played by Colin Farrell), who’s somewhat of a mentor to a group of young thugs who like to video record their mischief-making and crimes while in disguise, take the footage, make them into rap videos, and post the videos on social media. The young hoodlums make the mistake of breaking into one of Mickey’s marijuana bunkers and stealing some of what’s stashed there, so Coach offers to make amends by doing favors for Mickey.

All of the stars of “The Gentlemen” do a very competent job with an often-verbose script, which requires a massive suspension of disbelief in the fight scenes—especially in an assault-weapon shootout aimed at a vehicle, where someone very unrealistically walks away unscathed. Grant’s Fletcher character has the best lines, and he’s the one who’s the least predictable. But many of the other characters (such as Ray, Dry Eye and Big Eddie) are very two-dimensional, and a few humorous one-liners don’t quite fill the voids in their personalities.

Put another way: Ritchie is no Martin Scorsese when it comes to gangster films. “The Gentlemen” tries to be a little too clever for its own good, but if you’re curious to see Ritchie’s take on a backstabbing criminal subculture, then “The Gentlemen” might be your stinging cup of tea.

STX will release “The Gentlemen” in U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on January 1, 2020.

 

 

Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson search for a mythical culture in ‘The Lost City of Z’

April 14, 2017

by Carla Hay

Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland at the 2016 New York Film Festival press conference for "The Lost City of Z"
Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland at the 2016 New York Film Festival press conference for “The Lost City of Z” (Photo by Carla Hay)

Based on author David Grann’s non-fiction bestseller, “The Lost City of Z” tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (played by Charlie Hunnam), who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment who regard indigenous populations as “savages,” the determined Fawcett—supported by his devoted wife Nina (played by Sienna Miller), son Jack (played by Tom Holland) and aide-de-camp Corporal Henry Costin (played by Robert Pattinson)—returns time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925. An epically scaled tale of courage and passion, told in writer/director James Gray’s classic filmmaking style, “The Lost City of Z” is a stirring tribute to the exploratory spirit and a conflicted adventurer driven to the verge of obsession. “The Lost City of Z” had its world premiere at the 2016 New York Film Festival, where Gray, Pattinson, Miller, Holland and co-star Angus Macfadyen gathered for a Q&A after a press screening.

 

2017 CinemaCon: What to expect at this year’s event

March 19, 2017

by Carla Hay

CinemaCon

CinemaCon, the annual convention for the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), will be held March 27-30, 2017 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. About 5,000 people attend the event, which gives movie studios the chance to showcase what they expect to be their biggest hits of the year.

Movie studios scheduled to give their presentations at the event are Sony Pictures Entertainment on March 27; STX Films, Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures on March 28; Universal Pictures, Focus Features and Warner Bros. Pictures on March 29; Universal Pictures, Amazon Studios and Lionsgate on March 30. Although most of the presentations only include clips and trailers, a few movies will be screened in advance in their entirety. Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and Lionsgate’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

CinemaCon culminates with the CinemaCon Big Screen Achievement Awards ceremony, which will take place March 30.

Here are the announced winners of the awards:

Cinema Icon Award
Goldie Hawn

Goldie Hawn
Goldie Hawn (Photo courtesy of PBS)

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Goldie Hawn has won an Oscar (for 1969’s “Cactus Flower”) and starred in such hits as 1980’s “Private Benjamin,” 1987’s “Overboard” and 1996’s “The First Wives Club”. In 2017, she returns to the big screen after a 15-year hiatus by co-starring with Amy Schumer in the comedy “Snatched.”

CinemaCon Vanguard Award
Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek
Salma Hayek (Photo by Lacey Terrell)

Salma Hayek, who received an Oscar nomination for starring as artist Frida Khalo in the 2002 biopic “Frida,” has appeared in a number of hit movies, including 2010’s “Grown Ups,” 2013’s “Grown Ups 2” and 2011’s “Puss in Boots.” She has four movies lined up for release in 2017: “Beatriz at Dinner,” “Drunk Parents,” “How to Be a Latin Lover” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

Distinguished Decade of Achievement in Film
Naomi Watts

Naomi Watts
Naomi Watts (Photo courtesy of Exclusive Releasing)

Nominated twice for an Oscar (for 2003’s “21 Grams” and 2013’s “The Impossible”), Naomi Watts has starred in practically every movie genre, including the blockbusters “King Kong” (2005) and “The Ring” (2002). In the past 10 years, she has received acclaim for her roles in the Oscar-winning movie “Birdman” (2014),  “Mother and Child” (2009) and “Eastern Promises” (2007).

CinemaCon Male Star of the Year
Charlie Hunnam

Charlie Hunnam
Charlie Hunnam (Photo by Aidan Monaghan)

Charlie Hunnam, one of the stars of the FX TV series “Sons of Anarchy,” has headlined the 2013 action flick “Pacific Rim.” In 2017, he stars in “The Lost City of Z” and “King Arthur.”

CinemaCon Female Star of the Year
Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain
Jessica Chastain (Photo courtesy of EuropaCorp)

Jessica Chastain has received Oscar nominations for her roles in 2011’s “The Help” and 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” Her other big hits include 2014’s “Interstellar” and 2015’s “The Martian.” In 2017, her movies are “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” “Woman Walks Ahead” and “Molly’s Game.”

CinemaCon Director of the Year
Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele (Photo by Justin Lubin)

Jordan Peele rose to fame as part of the Emmy-winning comedy duo Key & Peele (with Keegan-Michael Key), who co-starred in an eponymous TV series and the 2016  film “Keanu.” Peele wrote, directed and was one of the producers of the 2017 horror thriller “Get Out,” his directorial debut. With the smash success of “Get Out,” Peele became the first African-American director to have his directorial debut gross more than $100 million at the U.S. box office.

CinemaCon Action Star of the Year
John Cena

John Cena
John Cena (Photo by Mary Cybulski)

Although John Cena has had well-received supporting roles in the 2015 hit comedies “Trainwreck,” “Sisters” and “Daddy’s Home,” his WWE background paved the way for him to star in mostly action flicks. In 2017, he stars in “The Wall,” a war drama co-starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

CinemaCon Male Star of Tomorrow Award
Ansel Elgort

Ansel Elgort
Ansel Elgort (Photo courtesy of TBS)

Ansel Elgort is best known for starring in 2014’s “The Fault in Our Stars” and the “Divergent” series. In 2017, his movies include “Baby Driver,” “Jonathan,” “Billionaire Boys Club” and “November Criminals.”

CinemaCon Female Star of Tomorrow Award
Sofia Boutella

Sofia Boutella
Sofia Boutella (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

Sofia Boutella has had high-profile roles in 2015’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and 2016’s “Star Trek Beyond.” Her movies set for release in 2017 include “The Mummy” (starring Tom Cruise) and “Atomic Blonde” (starring Charlize Theron).

CinemaCon Breakthrough Performer of the Year
Brenton Thwaites

Brenton Thwaites
Brenton Thwaites (Photo by David Dare Parker)

After starring in movies that failed to find a large audience (2014’s “The Giver,” 2014’s “Son of a Gun,” 2013’s “Oculus,”), Brenton Twaites is poised to have a major blockbuster breakthrough with 2017’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” starring Johnny Depp. Thwaites’ other movies releasing in 2017 are “Office Uprising” and “An Interview With God.”

March 24, 2017 UPDATE:

CinemaCon Rising Star of the Year
Isabela Moner

Isabella Moner (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Isabela Moner is an actress and singer whose on-screen roles include starring in the Nickelodeon series “100 Things to Do Before High School” (from 2014 to 2016) and the 2016 feature film “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.” In 2017, she is co-starring with Mark Walhberg in her biggest movie so far: the action sequel “Transformers: The Last Knight.” She also has a voice role in the 2017 animated film “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.”