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 Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

wolf of wall streetReleased: December 25, 2013. Directed by: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie. Runtime: 180 min.

I’m not going to claim that I’m an expert on anything movies just yet, especially not on films by Scorsese – hell, I haven’t even seen “Goodfellas” yet (something I plan on changing this weekend). All I know is this is a freaking awesome film. This is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Belfort made a lot of his money in the pennystocks after the market crash in 1987, where he started his own company. His commission would be 50%, so even if he had someone invest $10, 000; he would still be getting $5000. At one point, Belfort explains a bit how stockbroking works, and since the writers know most of us aren’t following what he’s saying, he gets to the point, and says all we have to know is it isn’t legal. The fourth wall is broken a lot, which is amusing.

The film is downright hilarious; its type of comedy is dark, oh but it is the funniest film of the year that isn’t primarily a comedy. This is a tale about amoral behaviour, but it’s not as if the crew members are advocates for this kind-of behaviour. They’re compelling characters, either way, and likeable for drug crazed folks. It’s a similar case with “Pain and Gain,” but it’s not like the characters in this film are full-blown psychopaths like in “P&G.” They’re cheating people, but they’re not killing anyone. They’re just greedy and really love money. Belfort is a sex and drug addict who really likes this drug called Ludes, it was around as a sleeping pill, but if you could last fifteen minutes on it without falling asleep, you’d get a wicked high. The characters are hilarious on these ludes, by the way. DiCaprio portrays Belfort to near-perfection, causing heartbreak in the viewers here and there. He has some true power in this role, and it’s compelling when he realizes how he often hurts the people around him.

Jonah Hill plays his best friend Donnie, a man with big pearly whites and a really funny personality. He’s one of those characters that does some stupid stuff, but you still like him a lot even after he does it. The plot follows the trouble Belfort faces and the colourful characters he meets along the way, and it’s so nice to see Ethan Suplee again in a small role. Matthew McConaughey teaches Belfort the ropes of the stockbroking business and how to be a better one – lots of jerking off and lots of cocaine. As you can see, the film can be a bit filthy with all of its sex and drugs – but it’s often sexy. A lot of the sexual acts are over-the-top and therefore just really funny; so if you see it with your parents, you’d be entertained and might feel uncomfortable at the same time. This has spectacular pacing for a film that’s three hours long, and it has some compelling character development. I like the way it shows how money can change a person. The stockbroking game is a crazy life, apparently, but it helps make this film entertaining and great, and my favourite of the year. I really can’t wait to see this again.

Score100/100

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

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2Iron Man 2

Release Date: May 7, 2010

Director: Jon Favreau

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

Runtime: 124 min

After a great introduction to the Tony Stark/Iron Man character, the first sequel doesn’t impress and it’s overwhelmingly average. The movie doesn’t soar as high as Iron Man can really go. It isn’t a bad addition to Marvel’s collection of movies, it’s just not as great as it could be.

Stark is dying because his arc reactor is spilling poison into his body at this point. The world knows he’s Iron Man. He’s practically the only super hero in the world to ever reveal his identity. I guess that’s what one person gets when they’re 20% (filled with) poison, and 80% ego. That “you can take the man out of the suit, but you can’t take the suit out of the man” character conflict phases Stark. He’s also, of course, facing some ole comic book villains.

Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is much too reserved, and the fantastic actor goes really underused and he hardly has a chance to shine. Mickey Rourke is good as Ivan Vanko. The electric whips he uses are mighty cool. The movie’s finale is great, but everything leading up to the satisfying end; is usually good, rarely boring, fairly silly, and a lot underwhelming.

69/100

Iron Man (2008)

Iron ManIron Man

Release Date: May 2, 2008

Director: Jon Favreau

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges

Runtime: 126 min

Iron Man is a good movie that introduces a second-tier super hero to mainstream audiences. It changes Iron Man from a hero that is only known by avid comic book readers, to one of the more popular of the Marvel universe. Robert Downey Jr. portrays the textbook narcissist extremely well. The action sequences are effective and the plot is easy to follow. Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane is awesome, but I’m not sure how likely it is for Stane to become a household name.  Jon Favreau brings some fine direction to the picture. The beginning is rather slow. Though, after it gets past fifty minutes, things heat up. It’s worth the wait. It truly does ease itself into a comfortable pace, and it’s good entertainment from then on.

76/100

Celebrity Birthdays: October 15 – 21

Sorry for the delay, I got my days mixed up.

Bailee Madison (October 15)

Happy 13th birthday to Bailee Madison. She is a great young actress. At only the age of 13, she has worked with Robert Patrick (in Bridge to Terabithia); Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire (all in Brothers); Hilary Swank (in Conviction); Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston (in Just Go With It); and Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, and the writer Guillermo Del Toro (in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark).

Jon Favreau (October 19)

Happy 46th birthday to Jon Favreau, director of the Iron Man films and the (apparently) disappointing Cowboys & Aliens. I’m not a really big fan, but his films seem good for those super hero fans.

Viggo Mortensen (October 20)

Happy 54th birthday to Viggo Mortensen. He is best known for performing in A History of Violence, and playing Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings series. He frequently works with director David Cronenberg, their collaborations include: A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method.

Danny Boyle (October 20)

Happy 56th birthday to Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, 28 Days Later… and Trainspotting. He looks a bit like a tall version of Golum from the LOTR films, doesn’t he? (I say jokingly.) I liked Slumdog Millionaire, but not really 127 Hours.

Other Birthdays: Oct. 15, Larry Miller (59). Oct. 16, Tim Robbins (54); Brea Grant (31). Oct. 18, Zac Efron (25); Freida Pinto (28). Oct. 21, Carrie Fisher (56).

Who is your favourite actor/actress on this list?

My reviews of films they have starred in: 

Bailee Madison: Bridge to Terabithia (2007)