Streaming Spotlight - Welcome to the jungle

Take a walk on the wild side with this week's selection

by Amber Wilkinson

Tragic Jungle
Tragic Jungle Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival
When it comes to using a film's landscape as a metaphor, settings don't come more versatile than the jungle. Often used to suggest exoticism to early cinema audiences - and in ways that have not always aged well - the jungle can be a place of mystery, romance or danger and sometimes all three at once. So this week our Streaming Spotlight is taking a trek through some of the best.

Tragic Jungle, Netflix

The jungle has rarely looked more beguiling than it does in Mexican writer/director Yulene Olaizola's historical drama, set deep within the borderlands between Mexico and British Honduras (now Belize) in the 1920s. Olaizola lets the mythical bleed into the real as a woman on the run (Indira Andrewin) encounters a group of rubber harvesters who are attempting to steal their haul. While references to the Xtabay - a female demon who lures men to their deaths - are on the oblique side, Olaizola's dissection of the patriarchy is impressive and the cinematography from Sofia Oggioni never less than majestic.

The Jungle Book, Disney+

Disney's live-action remakes haven't always delivered on their promise but the best of them - including this and Mulan - succeed by bringing a sense of action adventure to the stories. Writer Justin Marks captures the spirit of Rudyard Kipling as Mowgli (Neel Sethi), the man child, finds himself on the kill list of Shere Khan (voiced with silky menace by Idris Elba) and embarks on a coming-of-age adventure with his friends Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and Baloo (Bill Murray, in a part he was surely born to play). The jungle here may be a CGI creation but you can feel the rustle of every leaf, while director Justin Favreau embraces the darker elements of the jungle as well as the light to serve up a gripping adventure yarn that is a minor classic in its own right.

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, Amazon

Jake Kasdan's adventure is another franchise reboot that's hard to resist, mixing action set pieces with body-swap comedy as four high school kids (Madison Iseman, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner and Ser'Darius Blaine) find themselves trapped inside the jungle of a video game. The adult stars - the avatars the kids have chosen to be in the game - have enormous fun channelling the spirit of the teens, with The Rock embodying a nerdy gamer, the diminutive Kevin Hart representing a beefy football star, Karen Gillan taking on the personality of an introvert and Jack Black personifying a vain teen queen. The comedy may be broad but it also has broad family appeal, meaning that kids and parents can sit down and enjoy this slice of jungle jinks together. The sequel Jumanji: The Next Level is also worth a look.

Predator, Chili, GooglePlay

Jennie Kermode writes: An iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from the star's Eighties heyday, this initially modest, low-budget sci-fi actioner created a remarkable legacy and remains just as much fun to watch today. That's largely testament to the directorial skills of John McTiernan, whose stunning action scenes and control of suspense make it gripping throughout. As in Die Hard, which he made the following year, McTiernan plays with the muscular action man trope whilst having fun at the expense of macho values, striking the perfect balance for a story which riffs on The Most Dangerous Game, already a well established theme in cinema. Arnie leads a group of mercenaries who are hunted through the jungle by a brilliantly camouflaged alien foe. Outgunned and outmanoeuvred at their own game, depending on a local woman to make sense of events, they are picked off one by one until it becomes clear that brains as well as brawn offer the only hope of survival. There's inspirational technology, horrific mutilation, mud wrestling, some stonking tunes and all the gunfire you can eat.

Romancing The Stone, Disney+, Chili

Robert Zemeckis would go on to cement his place in film lovers' hearts with the Back To The Future franchise a few years later but he had already proved he knew how to craft an adventure with plenty of comedy and heart with this odd couple jungle romp. The film also catapulted stars Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner into serious box-office draw territory and also fuelled the career of Danny DeVito. It may have been made with an eye to replicating the success of Indiana Jones but its tale of a romance novelist (Turner) who ends up on an unlikely treasure hunt in the jungle with a loveable rogue (Douglas) is a charmer in its own right. With plenty of sparky chemistry, something they would later put to good use again in War Of The Roses (which DeVito directed), Turner and Douglas really sell the romance element of proceedings, while DeVito is at his comedy best as a kidnapper and Zemeckis keeps his foot on the action throttle.

Newton, Amazon Prime

The Indian jungle becomes the setting for satire in Amit Masurkar's film, which sees an idealistic bureaucrat (Rajkummar Rao), who is determined to help the course of elections run smoothly in the conflict-torn region of Chhattisgarh. His rules find themselves in a head on collision with reality when he tries to register the votes of 76 locals in the jungle. Masurkar brings home the absurdity of the 'right to vote' in circumstances where the populace are disenfranchised in every other way, helped by a nicely pitched 'innocent abroad' performance from Rao who keeps his hero sympathetic as the tension mounts. Masurkar has headed back to the jungle for his most recent film, Sherni, which is also available on Amazon Prime.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God, BFI Player

Jennie Kermode writes: Conrad eat your heart out. The jungle has never been darker than in Werner Herzog's 1972 epic about a group of 16th Century European noblemen and soldiers hacking their way through it in search of Eldorado, the mythical city of gold. In the heat and humidity, as they are exhausted by disease and hostile locals, order breaks down until birthright counts for nothing against the ruthlessness of one man's ambition. That man is Aguirre, played by Herzog's closest collaborator and 'best fiend' Klaus Kinski, whose perpetually hunched stature is a product of his own wartime experiences and who famously shot off the tip of an extra's finger when order briefly broke down on set too. Later revelations make part of his storyline here specially uncomfortable but there's no doubting his magnetism as he plays a man whose obsession becomes not only self-defeating but capable of consuming and destroying everything around him, a monster unleashed as others succumb to overwhelming pressure. Herzog finds moments of stunning beauty amidst the madness, presenting a vision of contrasts and extremes where one might believe oneself closer to God.

This week's short is Guilherme Marcondes' Tyger, an animation inspired by William Blake's poem that sees an animal bring the jungle to the city.

TYGER (2K version) from Guilherme Marcondes on Vimeo.

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