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.

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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.

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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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Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Eddie the Eagle US posterReleased: February 26, 2016. Directed by: Dexter Fletcher. Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley. Runtime: 1hr 46 min.

Inspired by the life story of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the only slightly fact-based Eddie the Eagle is a touching story about chasing a dream.

What makes this so inspiring is that Eddie was never the most natural athlete. He’s shown with a brace on his knee from a young age, but he would have these passions for different sports where he just wanted to go to the Olympics.

This seemed to be after he read a book, Moments of Glory, about notable moments at the Olympic Games – and he wanted one of those moments for his own.

After Eddie, portrayed by Taron Egerton, isn’t able to go along with the alpine skiing team because he just isn’t “Olympic material,” he has to forge his own way to the 1988 Winter Olympic Games by becoming his own ski jumping team.

We see Eddie’s journey there alongside his very hesitant coach, Bronson Peary, portrayed by Hugh Jackman.

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Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman in Eddie the Eagle. (Source

The characters at hand are definitely the beating heart of the feature – where in a sports movie like this, if the main character isn’t great – nothing about it works. It’s not the case with Eddie Edwards, as he’s really just an inspiration.

He’s just the poster boy for trying the best someone can do and just never underestimating themselves. He’s also truly a role model for any kid on the playground who was always picked last. He’s just inspiring for those who aren’t natural athletes – and basically, everyone.

The reel counterpart of Edwards is Taron Egerton who was great in Kingsman: The Secret Service. He’s excellent here, too, even if he’s much less cooler than a spy. The way he looks adversity in the face and bounces back as Eddie is marvelous.

He truly sells the optimism and tenacity of the character. Also notable is Hugh Jackman as the drunken coach. He, as well as Egerton, brought a ton of humour to the film and their banter was delightful.

The characters surrounding Eddie very much get the Hollywood treatment. There’s an unprecedented amount of cruelty from even those close to Eddie – where his sweet mother (Jo Hartley) seems to be the only person to believe in him throughout the film.

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Taron Egerton as Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards in Eddie the Eagle. (Source)

The British Olympic Association were depicted as especially cruel – where they tried their hardest to not allow him to compete in the Games. They seemed afraid because he’s not exactly the face that sponsors might want to invest in. The Committee think he doesn’t have any of the qualities of an Olympian – even though he sure as Hell has more heart.

The cruelty from basically everyone just feels a bit over-the-top in its lack of realism, but it just seems tailored to make us angry that they’re undermining him and make the audience root harder for Eddie.

It’s manipulative in a way – but it works. The cruelty probably did get so Hollywood because only about 10 to 15 per cent of this is factual, suggested Edwards himself in an interview with BBC.

The film still tells a rousing tale all the same, and it appears to keep the absolute heart of the man and his spirit and love for the sport intact. It only adheres to sports movie formulas on the road to the Olympics – and going against it since Eddie wants to participate and isn’t a natural athlete.

He’s like the Rudy Ruettiger of ski jumping – he just wants to show how much heart he has and have his moment to shine. It’s a feel-good, lighthearted underdog story and I found myself smiling throughout.

Score: 75/100

Stand Up Guys (2013)

Stand Up GuysReleased: February 1, 2013. Directed by: Fisher Stevens. Starring: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin. Runtime: 95 min.

On paper, this seems like a great success. It stars veteran actors Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, working together in a crime comedy that sounds pretty good. The story follows Val (Pacino), who, after spending 28 years in prison, is released and spends time with his best friend Doc (Walken). Little does he know, but later figures out going out on a whim, that Doc is asked to kill Val by a mob boss called Claphands (Mark Margolis) whose only son was killed in a robbery, and it could have been Val’s bullet. And someone has to take the blame. All we know is that Val took the fall for everyone 28 years ago and didn’t snitch. He did his time and jail, and that all makes him a stand up guy.

On paper and translated to the screen are two different things. On the screen, it’s bad; it’s a movie so unrewarding, I grunted throughout the end credits. It’s usually seriously boring, made sometimes okay by a good soundtrack and Walken’s signature dancing. This only has about five chuckles to offer, but it has a few sweet scenes. A scene featuring Pacino dancing with a pretty young thing is random, but sweet. All the jokes involving Viagra, however, are not. There are so many Viagra jokes! We get it, these guys are old, but the film feels very juvenile.

The old folks want to do some living before they die, which could be tomorrow, so they also “kidnap” their old friend Hirsch (Arkin) from a hospice (that doesn’t have particularly good security because they literally walk in and out, what if one of these old folks just wandered off?) and take him out for a night on the town in a car stolen from a few gangsters. That sub-plot gets handled oddly. This is essentially The Bucket List with a few more bullets, busted kneecaps and a lot less laughs.

The thing is, the simplistic plot isn’t that interesting, at least the way it gets handled. The drama tries hard to be sweet and garner any sort-of emotional reaction from the viewer, but it only works to some avail occasionally, but hardly consistently. This is just very boring. There’s a lot of time spent in a residential whorehouse that features a prostitute who’s supposed to be Russian but the only foreign dialogue she speaks is actually Ukrainian; but at least it allows us to see Lucy Punch who’s usually decent. It might have been much funnier seeing her portray the Russian prostitute.

There are also too many warehouse sequences, one of which feels like it ends before it really gets going. They go by this diner a lot; where there’s a waitress who’s the most sincere, cheerful and kindest soul in the film. The character’s name is Alex, portrayed by Addison Timlin, whose beauty and charm injects some desperately needed warmth and energy into this film. She’s one of the only good characters in the feature (at least that care about) and this minor character feels like she gets more character development than Arkin’s Hirsch.

The rest of the actors are well-cast as unremarkable characters. I think both Pacino and Walken show they can still bring it and be strong actors even when they seem to be phoning it in at times, and make the best out of a crappy screenplay. They act well, save one scene at a hospital (the second visit) that is played for comedy but it feels so insensitive that it should have taken a different tonal route. It just isn’t a believable character exchange, and because of that it feels empty. You might know which scene I’m talking about if you see this.

Walken’s character is a lonely guy, and that’s his main development. He’s an artist who paints sunsets; so that’s a nice muse. His and Val’s mutual motivations are not to get whacked, but considering all the steaks Val eats, I think his cholesterol is going to kill him first. Val’s character could get more development with an arc where he’s not used to the drastic changes of the outside world after 28 years in jail. He doesn’t look affected in the slightest, and he seems used to his surroundings. Almost thirty years is a long while, so it’s just a bit unrealistic how well he adjusts to everything.

The character can use all the layers he can get, because he isn’t compelling otherwise. Hirsch is also not that great because we never really know much about him other than he wants to have a threesome before he dies and he was the driver back in the day; but the character just feels like he was wedged in there because who wants to leave Arkin out of this opportunity?

The three actors have a good chemistry, but what does a decent bond do when the formula isn’t all there? Nothing really, they’re just left to flounder in a true stinker of a movie. Walken’s Doc should have just shot Val when he was passed out. It would have saved me a lot of time.

Score38/100

Click (2006)

ClickReleased: June 29, 2006. Director: Frank Coraci. Starring: Adam Sandler, Kate Beckinsale, Christopher Walken. Runtime: 107 min.

Finding a post-2000 Adam Sandler feature that isn’t middling is a rarity. That’s why “Click” is an emotionally engaging breath of fresh air.

The story follows Michael Newman (Adam Sandler), a workaholic architect who is so busy with work he can’t even find the time to finish the treehouse in the backyard. You see, he’s in line for a promotion from his boss, a character that doesn’t pass the Name Test, but is played by David Hasselhoff. Michael wants things in his life to be easier, and out-do his neighbours the O’Doyle’s in the process. What he gets to fix his problems will certainly put the O’Doyles to shame; after a late night drive in search of a universal remote, he lands at Bed, Bath and Beyond where Morty (Christopher Walken) gives him an extremely advanced universal remote. The remote enables Michael to fast-forward, skip scenes, fast-forward, pause, etc., his life; everything an ordinary remote can do. He can skip through the most boring parts of his life (I’d use it for the dentist), and initially the remote makes his life easier, but then it begins to overpower his decisions and affect his relationships with others.

The premise is a decent one, and its execution does it justice, for the most part. The film is only plagued by gimmicks and clichés that have been existent since the beginning of time. But it’s a funny film and a good time helped out by likable characters. There’s a lot of laughs and heart at play. The life lessons Michael learns (family, dedication) are important. This is one of the only Sandler comedies that can make me cry every time. The story is helped out by the attractive cast, especially a scene-stealing Christopher Walken. This is the type of movie that makes you want to go home, hug your family, make better choices and be thankful for your life. That’s profound for an Adam Sandler film, I’d say.

Score: 75/100

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Seven Psychopaths

Release Date: October 12, 2012

Director: Martin McDonagh

Stars: Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell

Runtime: 110 min

Tagline: They won’t take any Shih Tzu

Marty (Colin Farrell) is a struggling writer trying to write up a screenplay entitled ‘Seven Psychopaths’. He doesn’t really know how to start it out, and is struggling to find inspiration. His friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) tries to offer him some inspiration, despite constantly accusing him of being an alcoholic. Marty soon becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld, much to his dislike, after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) prized Shih Tzu.

The screenplay is smart and fun.

The plot is great and the film is just a fun experience. The pacing can feel a little off, and the plot can get quite ridiculous, but that’s what makes it fun.

If there’s any message I would have taken from this is that McDonagh makes great and original films, and his humour can sometimes be similar to that of Quentin Tarantino. The film is fun and can get a little crazy, but who could have thought up a plot so ridiculous? There is a lot of humour found in the most intense of situations, and I love that.

One of the funniest things about this film is all this carnage was started over a little Shih Tzu. Nope, not a wife, not a bunch of stolen cocaine, not the kidnapping of a best friend (even though a dog can be a man’s best friend) or anything like that – but a freaking Shih Tzu dog named Bonnie.

I love the characters. Even Harrelson, who is the main antagonist, is a great character. Who thought psychopaths can absolutely be this lovable and hysterical? My favourite character would be a hard answer to give. The female psychopaths (played by Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko) would be out first, because they hardly have a lot of lines of dialogue at all. Tom Waits’ character of Zachariah is hysterical. Of the main protagonists, Billy (Sam Rockwell) would be the funniest, and then Hans (Christopher Walken). Generally, Charlie (Woody Harrelson) is my favourite, because he is just hysterical. Each character is well-developed.

For those of you who may have seen McDonagh’s In Bruges, will be familiar with his certain sense of humour, and you may also know that his films have the tendency to get extremely gruesome. There is gore left right and centre in this film, but for anybody who likes that sort of stuff – will be probably love this.

The film offers a laugh at least every two minutes, and its spikes of crime and violence are great. Some of the time there are flashbacks and stuff which are good, and there are also movie-within-a-movie subplots which are effective. The moods set for this film is great, and all the subplots and general plot are extremely clever.

Seven Psychopaths stars Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Olga Kurylenko, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish and Zeljko Ivanek.

Seven Psychopaths is a clever screenplay that can have some poor pacing, and offers a fairly simple, ridiculous, yet clever plot; but, it is another winner from writer/directer Martin McDonagh. It can be equal parts brutal, clever and hysterical. It is most of all extremely memorable, has great characters and a very good cast. Each cast member portrays their characters well. This is yet another 2012 film (I’m talking about Ted or 21 Jump Street, not Project X) that proves that this is a year to beat for comedies. and this may just have to get an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

80/100

Box Office Predictions #1 – October 12

These are my box office predictions for the weekend of October 12-14, but only for the four brand new releases: ArgoHere Comes the BoomSeven Psychopaths and Sinister.

Argo

Plot: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.

Argo is Ben Affleck’s third feature film as director, the other two being Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Affleck’s last directing, and acting, gig – The Town – made $23 million in its opening weekend, and Affleck usually makes a pretty large box office splash. Town is a bank heist thriller, and that sort of concept may appeal to a larger audience than this, because political thrillers aren’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. This though, has the whole ‘true story’ pitch, and it has a lot of fine performers like Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. The film’s trailer makes itlook great, so hopefully the film will live up to its trailer.

Argo Prediction: $34 million

Here Comes the Boom

Plot: A high school biology teacher looks to become a successful mixed-martial arts fighter in an effort to raise money to prevent extra-curricular activities from being axed at his cash-strapped school.

Here Comes the Boom is the newest Happy Madison Productions film that is a martial arts action-comedy. It reminds me of 2008’s Never Back Down, which opened to $8 million. Sandler’s films often make over $100 million, when he’s headlining. Kevin James’ last headlining film, in relations with Sandler, was Zookeeper which opened to $20 million. His last action comedy was Paul Blart: Mall Cop that opened to a bit over $30 million. This seems like another mindless comedy, but those can be fun.

H.C.B. Prediction: $20 million

Seven Psychopaths

Plot: A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

Seven Psychopaths is a crime-comedy that is Martin McDonagh’s second feature film, and he also wrote and directed it. A huge attraction for this is the great cast that includes: Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Abbie Cornish. McDonagh’s last film was the British crime-comedy In Bruges that in total grossed $7.7 million, and a little under $450 thousand in its first weekend. It has grown in audience since its release, though. I think this one will make a greater splash because I’ve seen one trailer for this on a popular channel, and I can’t recall seeing any for In Bruges. This also has a better-known cast. The comedy may not appeal to all, but it seems just hilarious to me.

S.P. Prediction: $4 million

Sinister

Plot: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

Sinister has been given a great advertising campaign. I’ve probably seen the trailer a good six times, but not because I looked it up or anything. The story seems pretty interesting and quite scary. A big advertisement hook has been it’s from the producer of Insidious and Paranormal Activity. Insidious grossed $13.2 million in its opening weekend, and $97 million in total – and P.A. grossed $193 million in total. The hype for this has been great, and horror lovers are going to be lining up to see this one.

Sinister Prediction: $30 million

1. Argo – $34, 000, 000                       2. Sinister – $30, 000, 000

3. Here Comes the Boom – $20, 000, 000

4. Seven Psychopaths – $4, 000, 000

Do you readers have any predictions?