The Jungle Book (2016)

Released: April 15, 2016. Directed by: Jon Favreau. Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley. Runtime: 1hr, 45 min.

Director Jon Favreau brings his vision of Rudyard Kipling’s classic story of The Jungle Book to the big screen – telling the story with fantastic visuals and a stellar cast.

It’s a coming-of-age tale about Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a man-cub finding his place in his world with animals in the Indian jungle. In fact, Mowgli is one of the film’s only live-action actors with any substantial contribution to the story.

Seethi is given a high task to carry the film as the only live-action actor. His performance is remarkable, capturing the bravery and charming curiosity of Mowgli, as well as his inventive personality.

He’s the heart of the film and he shows a great maturity as the character. It feels like he’s been performing for years – but this is his first theatrical film, his only prior experience was in a short film called Diwali.

While Seethi is virtually the only live-action actor on display in the core cast – the world between the human Mowgli and the motion-captured, computer-generated animals blend together so seamlessly, it feels like he’s truly interacting with real animals.

The visual effects are flawless and so is the attention to detail in how the animals are rendered. It’s really as great as Life of Pi in terms of creating realistic, visually striking animals. The landscape portrayed is vivid and adds to the film all around. The way the actors capture animals’ behaviour and movements adds a heightened realism.

The Jungle Book2

Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book (Source)

The voice performances for the classic characters are also great. Bill Murray encapsulates Baloo – his laziness is relatable and he’s a fun character.

Ben Kingsley portrays Bagheer, the panther who found Mowgli as an infant in the jungle. He’s also tasked with bringing him to safety to return to his own kind when he is threatened by Shere Khan, the fearsome Bengal tiger. Idris Elba is menacing as the primary villain and doesn’t like Mowgli in the jungle because he is a human and doesn’t trust them. A human gave Shere Khan his scars. This adds a layer to Mowgli, who at times has to question if he could be destructive like that, too.

Also notable is the presence of Christopher Walken as King Louie. He’s changed from an orangutan to a gigantopithecus, to make it native to India. It also gives the scenes with Louie a much grander feel and breathtaking scale because he is so hulking. He’s actually scary here, in a refreshing turn from the original.

His rendition of the original Disney’s “I Wanna Be Like You” serves as one of the feature’s many high points.

Kaaa

Neel Sethi as Mowgli and Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) in The Jungle Book. (Source)

Murray also sings “Bear Necessities” and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa sings “Trust In Me” through the end credits. That’s it for the songs used from the 1967 animated musical.

Jon Favreau chose to tell the story of how Mowgli got on his own when Kaa (Johansson) was hypnotizing Mowgli, instead of having her sing the song. The slithering character is seen in only one scene – but she’s memorably chilling.

The choice to cast Johansson and gender-swap the character was to done to add another female to the cast, where the only other primary female cast member is Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha.

It is one of the film’s only disappointing aspects that Kaa only has a small role, almost a cameo – as the more utilized “red flower,” fire to the animals, is more utilized as a villain here. The animated Disney flick basically only mentioned “red flower” in passing, so Favreau was more faithful to Kipling’s use of the element.

The way the story is structured is strong and the narrative is so engaging and entertaining. It also handles the iconic characters so, so well. This adaptation was penned by Justin Marks, who shows a great adapting ability. His two other prior screenwriting credits were a television movie (Rewind) and a video game adaptation (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li).

It might not have songs at every turn, but it handles its own very well as a film with a few violent moments. The third act is a great finale, and the film maintains a compelling pace – peppering comedy, drama and stunning action set pieces throughout. Some of the action even kept me on the edge of my seat at times.

Favreau perfectly finds a difficult balance of capturing the Disney magic, as well as making a mature adaptation that is unique and memorable. I think parents will be bugging their kids to see it so they have an excuse to watch it. And then watch it again. It’s truly great.

Score: 100/100

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The Boxtrolls (2014)

The BoxtrollsReleased: September 26, 2014. Directed by: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi. Starring: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning. Runtime: 96 min.

For the kids, The Boxtrolls is a colourful animated film that they will remember fondly for a crazy hermit who repeatedly says “Jelly!” For the adults, it’s a clever political satire of the power one man can have over a small populous by planting a single idea in their heads.

Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) convinces the townspeople of Cheesebridge that boxtrolls are a monstrous race that eat children and steal cheeses, and that’s not okay in a town called Cheesebridge. When a boy is stolen by the boxtrolls, a city-wide curfew is put in effect. Rumours fly that the boxtrolls ate the father’s bones. Snatcher uses this as an opportunity to spark a paranoia of the unknown.

In reality, they’re a misunderstood, harmless race that steal what they need, like tiny men from The Borrowers. Their appearance is reminiscent of the annoying Crazy Frog, and their timid personalities are much like turtles (the box is their shell). The logo on the box they wear is also their name. There’s a boxtroll called Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) boy who obviously doesn’t look like the rest of his people. When Snatcher is hired by the town’s mayor (Jared Harris), Eggs tries to stop the numbers of his people from dwindling.

Snatcher’s malicious intentions find reason in motivation: To get a white hat that indicates prestige and privilege. Ben Kingsley offers memorable moments as Snatcher, a creepy, embodiment of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s villainous Child Catcher. He is perhaps out-starred by his three amusing sidekicks who are trying to snatch the boxtrolls. Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost voice a pair who bicker about whether they’re on the good or bad side of the situation. Tracy Morgan portrays the other sidekick, a sadistic Mr. Gristle. The villains use a local heartthrob, Madame Frou Frou, as a channel for propaganda.

When we get to the human “good guys,” things get less interesting. The supporting Winnie (Elle Fanning trying her best) is an uninteresting and mild brat. Her father (the Mayor) is too obsessed with the town’s main export, cheese, to pay attention to her. Cheese’s prominence in the screenplay is strange, one character even compares it to a mother’s smile on a warm spring’s day.

The character of Eggs at the film’s heart isn’t captivating. He leads a story of finding belonging. He’s at his funniest when at a public and prestigious dance. Otherwise, much like minions in Despicable Me, the boxtrolls steal the spotlight with their creative language and antics. They’re diverse (one has a pair of dentures) and amusing, particularly Shoe and Eggs’ caretaker, Fish.

The Boxtrolls boasts detailed animation and a unique visual style. For all of its faults – it’s both sporadically gross and boring – it works just fine. It will keep children entertained and it’s clever enough for adults.

Score: 63/100

Ender’s Game (2013)

Ender's GameReleased: November 1, 2013. Directed by: Gavin Hood. Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld. Runtime: 114 min.

Ender is conveniently named because he is called upon to lead the war against the genocidal species the Formics after they nearly annihilated the human race in an earlier invasion. He must end it all, in a film where war tactics are prominent and intriguing. You just can’t win one battle, you have to win the war; keep \kicking the enemy, and it will send a message. It will make them never attack again.

Many of these ideas are enforced by an intense Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), a generally unlikeable but important character. Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), one who focuses on the psychological status of the young students recruited by the International, is there to balance out Graff’s intensity. At least, that’s how I see her. I am afraid if this character wasn’t present Graff would be completely intolerable. Ender (Asa Butterfield) is the perfect choice to lead this battle because he’s smart, and has a near-perfect balance of compassion and violence. That is ideal for a war leader, at least in the International’s eyes.

Ender is the third child to go through this sort-of training, after his brother and sister. His brother, Peter (Jimmy Pinchak), couldn’t get very far because he resorted too quickly to violence. His sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin), made it further into the training, but couldn’t advance because she was too compassionate, which is a believable trait for a character portrayed by Breslin. (She just seems kind and genuine, if you ask me.) Her character plays a much bigger role in Ender’s development than Peter. I find it interesting in this world that the parents have to file a government request in order to produce a third child. It seems to me that this might be put in order so the population doesn’t get out of control – in case the Formics attack again and they don’t kill as many humans? That’s my theory.

I am not sure how faithful this is to Orson Scott Card’s book of the same name, but I like many aspects of the film and I think Ender is a compelling character, a smart and emotional one with strong morals. He also sees many troubles of having this pressure weighing on his shoulder, because he is relied on to be a new leader. Everyone needs a leader. These war tactics are thought-provoking, and I think that’s why I prefer the first two thirds of the film over the third act. The third act has some good moments but the actual battle is lackluster. But the visuals are good, and I enjoy the set-up of this familiar science fiction flick. It’s a movie with good action scenes, a good cast and interesting aspects, but the fact that the whole movie leads up to an unrewarding battle is disappointing.

There’s some great battle training sessions that are entertaining. It’s like an anti-gravity laser tag, and it looks like a fun sport that I’ll probably never play because I don’t like heights. Haha. Ender makes a few enemies during his training, mainly Bonzo (Moises Arias in his third film of the year) who is a little man with a big Napoleon complex. He treats everyone like crap if he gets shown up. Well, he treats everyone like crap all the time. I’m liking Arias more and more though; even in an unlikeable role. Ender makes a friend, too, in Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), but it’s never crystal clear if they’re romantically involved or just friends. One more thing: There’s a really cool video game sequence that reveals Ender’s mental state to Viola Davis’ character and it’s just beautifully animated. I think this film would make a great video game – but as a movie, it leaves a bit to be desired as an sci-fi action flick.

Score63/100

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3Iron Man 3

Release Date: May 3, 2013

Director: Shane Black

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle

Runtime: 130 min

When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

Iron Man 3 is the strongest of the trilogy. It might disappoint the fan-boys and girls, but for casual movie-goers just wanting a taste of the super hero niche genre; it’s rather satisfying. The first of the trilogy was good, but the second was a disappointment. Most fan-boys (and fan-girls) could just forget about Iron Man 2, and see this merely as a follow-up to universally beloved (for the most part) The Avengers. The fans will at least be satisfied with the movie’s great little Easter eggs.

Shane Black, genre newcomer, breathes some fresh air into the trilogy. He takes the directing duties over from Jon Favreau (but he still plays the lovable Happy Hogan). It’s really one of those situations where when a new guy comes in, it ends up benefiting mostly everyone. His humour and wit is present in the movie, and he finds a great cast to match the lines. They fit like a glove. Or almost like an iron suit. Many might appreciate the flairs of humour, but others, most notably fan-boys and fan-girls, won’t enjoy the inconsistencies of the movie’s overall mood.

Sometimes it’s dark and gloomy when characters are in mortal danger, especially when Stark’s Malibu home falls into the water. It’s doom and gloom one minute, somewhat hysterical and silly dialogue the next. Both Black and RDJ can hardly help themselves. The plot flows well, but the mood is unpredictable. One minute, the egotistical Stark is having an anxiety attack (because of the events in New York City, that occur in The Avengers), and the next, he’s exuberantly confident again and cracking joke after joke. However, it does remind us that Stark – genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, mostly invincible in his iron suit – can still be vulnerable and is quite human.

This instalment is better than the second. It’s smarter with its humour, and that could be thanks to Black. The action sequences are great and fast-paced, and it’s a real adrenaline rush that will go best with some poppin’ corn and a Pepsi. It’s still a great ensemble cast, where RDJ is great as ever, as is Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle. Ben Kingsley is outstanding (like he is in every role he takes on) and Guy Pearce rocks his role. Great twists and turns of the movie are really enjoyable, and usually unpredictable. The enemies posing a potential threat to the well-being of Stark are much better than Rourke and Rockwell of the second.

The Mandarin is handled with effective care, even if the way they portray him is disappointing to avid comic book readers. If you want a movie that stays faithful to the source material, you won’t find it here. The portrayal of the character is good, as he is a worthy opposition for Stark, but, even for someone who only reads Archie comics, the character could feel like a wasted opportunity with the direction they choose. It is a shame that the Marvel universe might not get its chance at an Supporting Actor Oscar this year. The Mandarin isn’t nearly as great as The Joker of The Dark Knight, but it’d be nice if Kingsley at least nabs that Oscar nomination. The Mandarin is the terrorist mastermind of the Marvel universe. Did I say terrorist? I meant ‘teacher’. (If he were a teacher with actual credentials, he’d be fired in a hurry!) James Badge Dale is also one of the movie’s biggest surprises, besides the twists, in a role best fit for Robert Patrick, and it is great to see the actor in a big summer movie like this.

The mood of this movie feels inconsistent throughout, and the direction the producers choose for the Mandarin could be disappointing to many; but this is better than the second, and it’s my favourite of the trilogy. The casting is great, and Black is a good fit. The action sequences are compelling, and there’s a reason that Iron Man is arguably the most popular of the Avengers squad (Hulk could be, if a decent Hulk movie could be made).

80/100

Hugo (2011)

Hugo

Release Date: November 23, 2011Director: Martin ScorseseStars: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben KingsleyRuntime: 126 min.

Hugo is a fantastic film that really sweeps the audience up with its charm, lavish production design, engaging cinematography and thoroughly impressive visuals. One great thing about this is that it isn’t only a marvelous piece of cinema, eye candy or a great film of technical achievements, but it’s a fairly simple and emotional mystery that is easy to follow, but it also gives something special for us film buffs and older audiences alike.

Film buffs might have the mystery figured out by the time they understand who a primary character is, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be a compelling watch. There’s some real emotion in the concept of being forgotten, as we all we want to be respected in some way and we know what it’s like to be neglected at some point. In this way, we can really relate to some of the characters. Hugo also knows what it’s like to be alone as he as an orphan, and it’s really something more most can relate to.

The antagonist, a train inspector portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen, is also very funny, and he has an extra real layer, because he has one bad leg and he knows what it’s like to be an outcast. His character might as well just be called the Orphan catcher. Cohen has proven to be a versatile performer, as he voices a King lemur in the animated Madagascar series; he has taken on roles in musicals like Sweeney Todd and Les Misérables; while he still plays his signature characters of a flamboyant Austrian trying to make his way in the film industry (Bruno), an Anti-semetic foreigner (Borat) and his most recent character of General Aladeen in The Dictator. He’s really a rare and great talent, if you can get past his tendency to always show frontal nudity. Ben Kingsley also offers a great performance, as do the young actors, Chloë Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield.

Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s ode to film. It’s also a great ode to one of the greatest pioneers of the film industry (watch the film and find out who!), all wrapped up in a magnificent family adventure that is truly delightful and one of the finest films of 2011. It’s a must-see for cinephiles everywhere, and it’s a visual treat for the whole family.

Score91/100

The Dictator (2012)

The DictatorThe Dictator

Release Date: May 16, 2012

Director: Larry Charles

Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Farris

Runtime: 98 min (Extended Version)

The Republic of Wadiya is ruled by an eccentric and oppressive leader named Hafez Aladeen. Aladeen is summoned to New York to a UN assembly to address concerns about his country’s nuclear weapons program, but the trip goes awry.

The Dictator is exactly what you’ll expect from a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. It’s going to be rude, crude, filled with racist and sexist remarks, it’s sometimes pretty nasty, usually stupid and hilarious, and it’ll probably have some male frontal nudity. Cohen’s films are usually pretty stupid, but this one actually has a nice plot.
It’s sort of like a Prince and the Pauper premise. When Aladeen and his advisors get to America, his right-hand man – Tamir (Ben Kingsley) – backstabs him to by replacing him with a dim-witted doppelgänger. He must find a way to get to a new signing of a UN document, because Tamir wants democracy in Wadiya. Aladeen must pair up with Zoey, a hairy little woman who looks like a ten-year old boy (as Aladeen calls her) to stop the signing of the document and keep democracy out of his country. Women’s rights? Voting? Who wants that?

It is boring in the beginning, but it finds its pacing and it gets pretty interesting and even funnier. It is sometimes pretty nasty and ridiculous, but that’s just Cohen’s brand of humour. If you don’t like that sort of stuff, this won’t be your type of movie. But for the aimed demographic, they’ll love this treat. However, while it may be nasty at times, it usually is really funny. The rudeness of it all is just not for everyone. It really offers a fun experience for any of those who can appreciate it.

The concept of a woman’s love changing a man for the better has been used many times before, so Cohen resorts to an old age tale in that way. However, it isn’t like he’s a slacker or anything, he’s a dictator who thinks he executed hundreds of people. Zoey starts to change his ways, and she teaches him how to masturbate in a sort of hilarious scene that includes an eagle soaring majestically and Forrest Gump breaking out of his leg brace. Leave it to Cohen to think of things that are so ridiculous, but so funny.

Someone who also helps Aladeen is a missile developer back in Wadiya, Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) who Aladeen thought was “executed”, but he was really sent to America. He shares many of Aladeen’s beliefs, but they make this film feel like a buddy comedy at some points in the film. One really odd character is this sort of ninja who uses her ginormous boob as a weapon. Remember when Borat nude wrestles with Azamat in Borat? Well, this woman sort of beats Aladeen up with her big tit… It’s a little odd, even for anyone who enjoys Cohen’s unique sense of humour… But he is one edgy guy, and it’s certainly never been done before.

The Dictator is an attempt from Cohen that is much better than Brüno, but it’s no Borat. However, he makes a great attempt at stringing a good plot line, and bringing us a great new character in the process. It offers some fine entertainment value for the time-being, and it’s a fun and funny experience. It’s a great racist comedy that finds its pacing when he and his crew get to America. It’s fine that he used the Prince and the Pauper premise, but he does resort to the old-age tale of women changing men for the better. Whatever, you did us well, Cohen.

70/100