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Films I Neglected To Review: It's A Jungle Out There

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/20/17 10:45:55

Please enjoy short reviews of "Amityville: The Awakening," "Jungle" and "Killing Gunther"

Even by the haphazard standards of The Weinstein Company of recent years (non-scandal-related), the travails of ''Amityville: The Awakening'' in its struggles to get some kind of release make even the well-chronicled boondoggles surrounding ''Tulip Fever'' seem relatively minor by comparison. Originally scheduled to come out in January, 2015, it has been bouncing around the schedule ever since and is only now being dribbled out in one of the oddest distribution patterns in recent memory--it is currently playing for free on Google Play in advance of its opening in a few theaters next week before hitting DVD next month. Amazingly, even that seems like far more than a film as staggeringly lame and patently unnecessary as this one deserves. As the film opens, sullen teen Belle (Bella Thorne), along with her mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh. . . yes, Jennifer Jason Leigh), her adorable moppet younger sister (McKenna Grace) and her twin brother James (Cameron Monaghan), who has been in an irreversible coma ever since unsuccessfully fighting for his sister's honor two years earlier, is moving one of Americaís most infamous domiciles--the joke is that she has somehow never heard of ''The Amityville Horror,'' even though the book and films exist in the framework of this narrative. Before things get too meta, James begins to show some unexpected signs of life and while Mom is overjoyed, Belle is not so sure and once she uncovers the true history of the house, she begins to suspect that demonic forces may be responsible for his increasing perkiness, leading to the usual array of swarming flies, slamming windows and preposterous plot developments before the whole thing literally drags itself across the finish line.

Considering that pretty much every single entry in the ''Amityville Horror'' film franchise has been little more than sour owl poop--I do have an odd fondness for the jaw-dropping ''Amityville II: The Possession,'' a cinematic stew of murder, incest, abuse and gratuitous Burt Young so profoundly sleazy that the demonic stuff almost seemed like an afterthought--no sane person could possibly go into this film with anything but the most meager of expectations but this one manages to miss even that low-water mark. The story is nothing more than derivative gibberish, the characters are utterly nondescript and writer/director Franck Khalfoun (the auteur of the classic ''P2'' and the equally useless remake of ''Maniac'') apparently only knows how to scare viewers via ''BOO!'' moments and cannot even pull those off with any degree of success. However, in a film filled with dumb moves, the dumbest has to be the decision for the story to go meta at one point--not only does it take place in a world where the ''Amityville Horror'' book and movies (with the odd exception of ''Amityville 3-D'') actually exist, we get to witness a scene where our heroine and a couple of her friends actually watch the DVD original film while inside the house where it purportedly takes place. However, when the DVD for this one comes out in a couple of weeks, here is hoping that the special features including a recording of the phone call made to Jennifer Jason Leigh by her agent that convinced her that doing this film was a sound career move--I can pretty much guarantee that if such a recording exists, it would be infinitely more terrifying that ''Amityville: The Awakening.''

Having already negotiated the horrors of the corporate jungle with his previous film, the repulsive ''The Belko Experiment,'' director Greg McLean now heads off to the actual jungles of Bolivia for the gruesome adventure thriller ''Jungle'' and while the results may be a slight improvement over that earlier effort--which still remains the single most loathsome film that I have had the misfortune to endure this year--most viewers will be two busy fighting the urge to recycle their popcorn to notice. Based on a true story, the film stars Daniel Radcliffe, sporting a deeply dubious Israeli accent, as Yossi Ghinsberg, a young man whose thirst for adventure sends him on a backpacking trip through the Bolivian jungle. With a couple of recent acquaintances (Alex Russell and Joel Jackson), he hooks up with Karl (Thomas Kretschmann), a wily and resourceful outdoorsman who offers to serve as their guide for a trip through the most remote areas of the rainforest for a real adventure. Needless to say, things go spectacularly wrong and Yossi is eventually left to fend for himself in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no survival skills to his name other than the simple determination to live, no matter what he must do to live.

In that sense, the film is somewhat reminiscent of ''127 Hours,'' which told another story of a young man whose thirst for adventure led him to a deadly situation that required him to do the unthinkable to survive. While that film wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs, it did an effective job of letting us get to know the character and understand what it was that drove him both to his current predicament and to his way out of it so that once he did the unthinkable, it meant something. ''Jungle,'' on the other hand, is essentially a barf bag movie that is more concerned with grossing viewers out than in making them think or feel anything but nausea and so McLean lavishes far more attention on such sights as the consumption of roast monkey right off the bone and bird embryos straight out of the shell, closeups of horribly infected feet and, in the coup de gross, a bit in which Yossi slices open a nasty wound in his head in order to squeeze out the large parasitic worm that has taken up residence inside. I admire Radcliffe's willingness to do films far removed for the Harry Potter fantasies but this is one of his less interesting performances--we never get any real idea of what makes Yossi tick or why we should care about whether he lives or dies in the end. Look, if you want to see a film based on real-life events in which the boyishly handsome star of a wildly successful fantasy film franchise plays a would-be adventurer who goes into the jungle seeking thrills and gets into all sorts of trouble as a result, go out and rent ''The Lost City of Z,'' the fantastic adventure film co-starring Robert Pattinson that you almost certainly missed earlier this year and give ''Jungle'' a pass.

''Killing Gunther'' stars ''SNL'' alumnus Taran Killam as Blake, a callow hit man who recruits a number of his fellow hired killers (played by the likes of Bobby Moynihan, Aaron Yoo, Hannah Simone and Allison Tolman) for a plan to take out the world's best hired killer, a man known only by the name ''Gunther,'' and become the top dogs in their profession themselves, even going so far as to recruit a documentary crew to follow along as they set out to accomplish their goal. The only problem is, Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger)--whose biggest crime against Blake appears to have been briefly snagging his ex (Cobie Smulders) on the rebound after they broke up--is more amused than frightened by the upstarts and spends his time toying with the gang before taking them out one by one. The best thing about the film by far is Schwarzenegger, who has always shown a flair for comedy throughout his career and who is clearly having fun goofing on his action hero past. The problem is that while he does score some genuine laughs, he doesn't actually appear until the film is more than two-thirds over and the wait for his appearance is interminable. In addition to writing the screenplay, the film marks Killam's directorial debut and he cannot score any laughs to speak of in any capacity. There are funny people in the cast but other than Arnie, none of them can make much of a screenplay that is completely bald on successful punchlines and Killamís direction is so clumsy that you get the feeling that the otherwise inexplicable documentary conceit was included as a way of helping to conceal his obvious deficiencies behind the camera. (To be fair, I suppose it could be meant as an homage to the grisly Belgian cult comedy ''Man Bites Dog'' but that would hardly be fair to that film to compare it to this mess.) Unless you are an Arnie completist--such people probably still exist--''Killing Gunther'' is a film that offers viewers little beyond the promise of killing 90 minutes in the most slow, painful and laugh-free manner imaginable.

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