Friday, November 24, 2017

On Blu-ray/DVD: JUNGLE (2017) and THE SHOW (2017)

(Australia/US/UK - 2017)

This fact-based chronicle of future tech entrepreneur and ecological activist Yossi Ghinsberg's harrowing three weeks spent lost in the uncharted jungles of Bolivia in 1981 provides a chance for Daniel Radcliffe to give it everything he's got and he certainly runs with it. Looking to see the world after serving three years in the Israeli military, Tel Aviv-born Yossi upsets his parents by not going to university, but he's a wandering, curious soul who does what he must do. After venturing through Alaska and down into the States, with stops in NYC and Vegas, Yossi ends up in Bolivia where he meets Swedish tourist Marcus Stamm (Joel Jackson) and noted American hiker and photographer Kevin Gale (Alex Russell). A chance encounter with Austrian adventurer and treasure hunter Karl Ruprechter (Thomas Kretschmann) leads to the quartet venturing deep into uncharted territory in the foreboding Bolivian jungle on a trip they'll soon regret taking. An infection in Marcus' feet slows them down, but after building a raft and attempting to travel via river, increased tensions and the discovery that Karl may not be what he claims to be have them turning against each other as much as they're fighting the forces of nature. Hopelessly lost, Marcus and Karl decide to hike their way back to civilization while Kevin and Yossi proceed along the river on the raft. The raft is destroyed in a dangerous stretch of rapids and Kevin and Yossi are separated. So begins Yossi's three-week journey into the heart of darkness, with a useless map and delirium sending him in circles, battling the elements, fungal infections, a persistent parasite, red ants, and quicksand.

Sporting a convincing Israeli accent, Radcliffe looks like he went to hell and back shooting this thing, but director Greg McLean (WOLF CREEK, ROGUE, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT) keeps things moving at a detrimentally glacial pace, and by the third act, gets totally sidetracked with Yossi's flashbacks, hallucinations, and random Jesus Christ poses. Based on Ghinsberg's memoir, JUNGLE admirably doesn't sugarcoat its characters and their passive-aggressive treatment of Marcus, and is appropriately grueling and unflinching (though as icky as the parasite-extraction scene is, readers of the memoir may wonder why they left out the bit where Yossi lands ass-first on a sharp pole, penetrating and severely injuring his rectal area), but McLean meanders all over the place, torn between making a Werner Herzog homage and a standard survivalist adventure, and coming up short at both ends. Still, Radcliffe fans will definitely want to check it out, but they'll probably end up wishing his work was showcased in a better movie. (R, 115 mins)

(US/UK - 2017)

THE SHOW wants to be a blistering takedown of reality TV, but it has no idea how satire works, taking its place alongside AMERICAN VIOLENCE as the most embarrassingly heavy-handed film of 2017. After a rejected woman on a BACHELOR-like reality show kills the bride and groom and turns the gun on herself on live TV, smarmy host Adam Rogers (Josh Duhamel, sporting the douchiest haircut you'll ever see) pitches a new show to his boss (Famke Janssen as Faye Dunaway) called THIS IS YOUR DEATH (the film's original title when it played the festival circuit), where contestants come up with various elaborate ways to commit suicide in front of a live studio audience and millions watching on TV, with the winner's designated survivors getting a huge payday. Meanwhile, hard-working family man Mason (Giancarlo Esposito, who also directed) has fallen on hard times and works two jobs--one as a janitor and the other as a dishwasher at a posh restaurant--and ends up losing both of them in the same night (the dishwashing one because he sees Rogers sitting at the bar and criticizes THIS IS YOUR DEATH, prompting dickhead Rogers to complain to the manager). With his wife on his case, his disabled son needing new crutches, his bills mounting, no job prospects, and close to his breaking point thanks to the deck that the script has stacked against him, Mason decides to audition for the season finale promising $1 million to the winner, and of course, he makes the cut.

Approached with a sardonic, DEATH RACE 2000 or NETWORK attitude, THE SHOW could've been the bitter, bile-soaked screed that the subject deserves. But it comes off as obnoxiously pushy and utterly humorless wokesploitation, taking itself completely seriously, and Duhamel's impossibly smug caricature of a TV host is hard to take after a while (imagine how subversive this could've been simply by casting someone like Ryan Seacrest as Rogers). The only thing that saves THE SHOW from total oblivion is a genuinely effective performance by Sarah Wayne Callies (THE WALKING DEAD) as Rogers' sister, a nurse and recovering addict whose life takes a downward spiral thanks to her brother's notoriety as the man behind the most controversial show in America. THE SHOW gets more sanctimonious and full of itself as it goes along, pointing fingers at everyone, from Rogers' increasingly monstrous behavior to the ghoulish, rubbernecking audience that can't get enough (there's one guy holding a sign that says "Show Me the Bloody") and Mason on live TV shouting things like "WHY ARE YOU WATCHING THIS?" and "TURN IT OFF!!!" Considering Esposito is the director, that may be the most accidentally satirical thing THE SHOW has going for it. (R, 104 mins)

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