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

Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific RimRelease Date: July 12, 2013Director: Guillermo del ToroStars: Charlie Hunman, Idris Elba, Rinko KikuchiRuntime: 132 min.

“Pacific Rim” is the first movie I attended a premiere for since “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” back in December. As the day of the premiere approached, I became more and more excited. Heck, I could hardly even sleep one night coupled with my excitement and crappy sleeping habits. Let’s just say, “Pacific Rim” satisfies in most of its critical aspects.

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, and creatures attack at an increasingly rapid rate, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to go on a high-stakes mission in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

There are some refreshing aspects to this feature that one might not see in an average summer tent-pole. There’s no leading star power, but Charlie Hunman (TV’s “Sons of Anarchy,” “Children of Men”) is good as a character you’ll enjoy, but you probably won’t remember his name. In this film, there doesn’t have to be much star power, because everybody knows the real stars are the robots (Jaegars) and the monsters (Kaiju). If one had to compare this to anything, it’s like a “Godzilla” movie and that Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game. There’s a lot of new content here, and it’s an awesome ode to monster movies. This is going to stand out in memory as one of the most original movies of the year.

I appreciate that this movie isn’t merely just a visual feast. The story gets care put into it and it keeps the viewer guessing. It’s ridiculous at times, but it’s going to have to be in a sci-fi monsters vs. robots feature. The concepts of the Drift and the Neural Handshake are fascinating. It is the most effective storytelling presented in a movie event so far this year, so that’s a compliment to this, but not exactly to 2013 blockbusters as a whole. The thing is, one’s average big-budget extravaganza has a larger focus on visuals and less on story – so to see that in a film like this is refreshing. Though, like the modern big-budget flicks, this is going to feature a lot of loud noises!

There are also some appealing characters, even if they aren’t memorable. Mako (Kikuchi) is given layers, as something from her past is haunting her. Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Elba) is quite possibly the character you’ll care about the most. Elba delivers one of the year’s most memorable speeches, and it’s still pretty damn effective when one finally sees the movie after seeing the trailer seven times. The research team of Newton (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, “The Dark Knight Rises”) is comedic gold, and one of the movie’s best aspects. It also shows that this movie has a comedic way about it, as well, even if it has the tendency to be cheesy. That pairing is the movie’s best aspect besides the big battles, of course.

The battles everybody is anticipating are spectacular in a visual way, and lots of fun. You’ll nerdgasm a few times throughout, at the battles and the great creature design, but mostly at the battles. I cannot help but wish that more battles occur during daylight. All of the mashes occur during the night, mostly in the middle of the ocean, and in the pouring rain. Granted, the monsters’ invasion might alter the climate to make it rain a lot, but it would be nice to see them fight without the rain. It would also be great to see a little less splashin’ on the screen, and some more monster mashin’. It’s as if they’re in a wave pool.

This feature also has to find a comfortable pace before it can really get to the heart of the story, so a shorter film would be welcome. Nobody wants to see the humans. We nerds are here for the robots. You’ll care about the humans, sure, but you’ll only truly care about the survival of a select few characters, and since these characters believe in the greater good of the humankind, we’re taken on an emotional roller coaster with them. These folks also make a great ensemble cast, made up of little to no bankable actors. This is visually stunning in its IMAX 3D glory, and you’ll be getting a front row seat to one of the most awesome speeches of the year.

This movie is awesome. It will remain one of the 2013’s best blockbusters. It’s also a great addition to a fantastic year of science fiction, a genre that is growing on me. I know I’ve thrown a lot of ‘Most memorable speech’ and ‘Best storytelling in a sci-fi extravaganza’ so far this year, but I remain undecided if this will be included in my Top 25 of the year, looking at what is coming in the second half of the year. It’s immensely enjoyable, but I’m not sure when I’ll feel the urge to revisit this. At the end of the year, if I think back to the pure awesomeness of a Jaegar picking up a giant boat and using it as a baseball bat to hit a Kaiju with repeatedly, this movie might find its way on my Top 25 list.

Score80/100

My most anticipated movies of July

Hi everyone, this is my post for the movies I’m most anticipating this month. I’m going to leave out the ones I’m not anticipating (but will be seeing), because who wants to write a paragraph about a movie they’re not particularly passionate about? (I’m talking about you, GROWN UPS 2.) I’ll be writing reviews about those said movies, but that’s for another day – and I love writing reviews. So, that’s good, then. I’ll start with a few thoughts on the movies I can wait for, but I am looking forward to watching.

Fruitvale Station (7/12)

Fruitvale Station (7/12)

Plot: The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.

I like a good bio pic and a good emotional drama, so I’m intrigued by this. It also has critics raving, so I’m hoping it’s good. I thought Michael B. Jordan is great in CHRONICLE, and I like Octavia Spencer in just about anything.

Red 2 (7/19)

Red 2 (7/19)

Plot: Retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device.

I can mostly wait for this one because I haven’t seen the first. I own it, so I’ll watch that this week or next or something, and then maybe I’ll be a bit more excited about this one. I love a good crime comedy, and the cast intrigues me.

R.I.P.D. (7/19)

R.I.P.D. (7/19)

Plot: A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him.

I don’t know if this will be a box office hit – but it does look very amusing. I love the first and third MIB movies, so I’m pretty intrigued by this. It looks fun, and Jeff Bridges has many great one-liners in the trailer.

The To Do List (J7/26)

The To Do List (7/26)

Plot: Feeling pressured to become more sexually experienced before she goes to college, Brandy Clark makes a list of things to accomplish before hitting campus in the fall.

This looks like a predictable comedy, but it does look very funny. I like EASY A a lot, and this seems to have similar awkward humour. I’m curious to see how Aubrey Plaza will do in her first leading lady role. (I’ve seen a few episodes of TV’s PARKS AND RECREATION and it’s just hilarious.) There are some real laugh-out loud moments in the trailer, especially Clark Gregg’s thoughts on taking the back door.

Turbo (7/17)

Turbo (7/17)

Plot: A freak accident might just help an everyday garden snail achieve his biggest dream: winning the Indy 500.

I like the voice cast and the simple thought of Ken Jeong voicing a little Asian grandma makes me giggle. This looks like DreamWorks Animation’s answer to CARS and FAST & FURIOUS, and maybe even RATATOUILLE (instead of rats and cooking, it’s snails and racing). I think the idea’s just as silly as Stuart Little playing soccer, I mean, this little snail is probably going to get run over. I think I’ll enjoy the movie a lot, regardless.

The Wolverine (7/26)

The Wolverine (7/26)

Plot: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

This looks pretty cool. I’m not huge on superhero movies, but I do enjoy the X-MEN movies. I’ll have to have a marathon soon to pump up for this one a bit more. It looks good, but it could be so much better if Darren Aronofsky really did end up directing it. I guess I’m really just hoping it’s better than X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.

Now these are the ones I’m really excited for. 

5. Pacific Rim (7/12)

5. Pacific Rim (7/12)

Plot: When an alien attack threatens the Earth’s existence, giant robots piloted by humans are deployed to fight off the menace.

I think this looks awesome. I haven’t seen any GODZILLA movies, but I like a good monster movie. And, this is monsters AND robots. Whoa. It sounds like it could be everything BATTLESHIP and TRANSFORMERS aspired to be. Lots of fun, and well-made. And Del Toro is at the helm! I might have to re-watch CLOVERFIELD and find a GODZILLA movie online this week to get a bit more excited. It seems action-packed, and frankly, I want to see the movie right now, and not just the trailer. But I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing Idris Elba shout, “Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!”

3. Only God Forgives (7/19)

4. Only God Forgives (7/19)

Plot: Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s recent death.

I love Ryan Gosling and the director, Nicholas Winding Refn, and DRIVE is one of my favourite movies of 2011. The story intrigues me, as well. While critics haven’t exactly been praising the movie, I think it could be pretty awesome. It might be wavering my expectations ever-so-slightly, but I’m still really looking forward to it.

3. The Conjuring (7/19)

3. The Conjuring (7/19)

Plot: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.

I think James Wan is a fantastic director. I’ll have to watch INSIDIOUS to get a vibe of his atmospheric haunting flicks, though. This looks absolutely terrifying, and while I’ll probably be watching the movie through the my fingers, I can hardly wait. Vera Farmiga is great, too. The trailer creeps the hell out of me, and I love it. The true story edge is even spookier – so, I just want it to be July 19 already. It would be great if this will birth a Warren files franchise.

2. The Way, Way Back (7/5)

2. The Way, Way Back (7/5)

Plot: 14-year-old Duncan’s summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and his daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.

I love a good coming-of-age tale. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is my second-favourite movie of 2012. And THE DESCENDANTS is one of my favourite movies of 2011. Two of the Oscar-winning writers from that movie (Nat Faxon, supporting actor in most of the Broken Lizard movies, and Jim Rash, the Dean on TV’s COMMUNITY) co-write and direct this one. I love the cast so much. Steve Carrell as a major jerk, Sam Rockwell, Rash in a supporting role, AnnaSophia Robb, and Rob Corddry, Toni Colette and Allison Janney. Suffice to say, it sounds amazing – and I can hardly wait for this to come to my city.

1. Despicable Me 2 (7/3)

1. Despicable Me 2 (7/3)

Plot: Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal.

I love the original DESPICABLE ME 2. This sequel looks amazing and hilarious. I can hardly wait for it. I love Gru and the minions, and I think this will be a real winner with a lot of heart and some great action. And new villains, of course. This is not only my most anticipated movie of July – but it’s probably my most anticipated movie of the year. (But, I’ll have to make a list to see if that’s true. I might be a bit more excited for KICK-ASS 2.) I can’t wait to have a second helping of the minion madness, though. Anything under a score of 75 will be disappointing. I hope this is in the same league as the first.

Here’s all of the movies opening in July: http://www.imdb.com/movies-coming-soon/2013-07/

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

MV5BMTkwNDM5MDEzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDEyNTUxNw@@._V1._SY317_Release Date: February 17, 2012. Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor. Stars: Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido, Ciarán Hinds. Runtime: 95 min.

The Ghost Rider rides again in this not completely horrid, but not a very good sequel.

Johnny Blaze is hiding away in a remote part of Europe in an attempt to keep his inner Rider hidden away. When he’s seeked out to help a boy from the Devil, and who’s being chased after by a group of criminals, he has to decide whether to help or not. After some thought, he realizes that if he helps this child, he may be able to be rid of his curse for good.

While Blaze was much better in the first film, he still has some charisma; but he can get really silly. The film made me laugh a few times though. The characters got to be silly, and the acting wasn’t very stellar (Cage and Hinds were the only mediocre ones).

I was able to get through the thing without getting bored, but sometimes I only had little interest for it. I like the character of Johnny Blaze, so that helped me get through it. I didn’t really care for the plot, it seemed really average.

I respected the film for one thing though: its cinematography and film editing. I didn’t exactly care for it, but it was refreshing to see something different.

The film stars Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth and Fergus Riordan.

It isn’t a very good film, but it isn’t horrible; and it isn’t a great sequel. I didn’t really have any expectations for this film after all of the bad buzz, so in a way I was moderately satisfied.

Score: 50 out of 100