The Jungle Book (2016) Review

Everyone loves the cartoon version of Kipling’s most famous tome. It was a 1960s classic with lush animation and some great songs. We didn’t really need a new version, though Disney seems determined to revamp its classics with a live action spin and 21st century effects. 

  
Sadly Jon Favreau’s new, live action version of Disney’s take on The Jungle Book is a massive let down. I spent half the film trying to stay awake and the rest of the movie trying to make out what was going on. 

One of the problems is its so dark, visually and tonally; it looks like it was shot with a night time Instagram filter. 

Okay, purists might argue that the original was equally dark, but this is just murky. 

The vocal cast is excellent, from Ben Kingsley (Bagheera) to Bill Murray (Baloo), but Christopher Walken is mis-cast as the Godfather-like King Louie. 

Idris Elba, Disney’s current go-to guy when it comes to vocalising creatures with authority (after Zootroplis), is excellent as always; his one-eyed Shere Khan spot on as the big bad, while Scarlett Johansson does a good job as the sinuous, seductive snake Kaa. 

  
Alas, Neel Sethi’s Mowgli is a bit of a let down also, lacking that magic quality. 

I’d like to see it again without an army of kids running to and from the loo, and with a better print where I knew what was what. 

It comes alive in the closing credits, with some fabulously inventive work, but obviously too late in the game. 

Let’s hope Andy Serkis’s pending take on the Rudyard Kipling classic is more on the money.  

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Iron Man 3 – the review

Threequels – always a tricky hurdle to overcome, but the good news is Marvel pulled off a master stroke hiring Shane Black to co script and direct Iron Man 3. King of the blockbuster script, his work on Lethal Weapon and Long Kiss Goodnight injected a freshness to the action genre that many scribes tried to emulate.

Back in the days when Robert Downey Jnr was almost unemployable, Joel Silver gave Black a few million dollars to write and direct Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was witty, exciting and proved RDJ was a great leading man.

Fast forward to 2013 and the boys are back doing what they do best, creating fun, witty, intelligent, exciting cinema.

By now you know the plot for IM3. Tony Stark (RDJ) can’t sleep. Terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is wreaking havoc. Newcomer Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is a smug entrepreneur keen on mucking about with Extremis, a scientific theory about regeneration, and Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle) looks like Captain America in an Iron Man suit as government backed defender the Iron Patriot.

When Stark’s chauffeur/security head Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is left hospital bound after a Mandarin attack, Stark promises revenge, gives his home address and is amazed when helicopters turn up and level the place. Oh and Gwyneth Paltrow and Rebecca Hall trade dirty looks at one another as Stark’s gf and ex respectively.

The second act sees Stark stripped of his suit, teamed up with a smart kid whose snappy repertoire is a perfect match for Tony, and then all hell breaks loose in small town America.

Thanks to a great twist, IM3 takes a sharp left hand turn before the inevitable whiz whiz bang bang finale with dozens of Iron Man suits and explosions.

The last 20 minutes is fun but overkill. However, the closing titles are a supercharged flash frame orgy of clips set to Brian Tyler’s hip retro theme. One of the best things about the film.

Yes, there’s a credit cookie, so stay for that, and despite a sense of finality about the closing scenes, I’d be amazed if Stark and company didn’t return in a few years.

Ender’s Game. The review

May contain spoilers

I try not to play video games when my wife is in the room because she’s not a gamer and I know how bored she gets watching me building bases and zapping CG aliens.
And that’s the problem with Ender’s Game, the new sci-fi adventure based on the novel by controversial author Orson Scott Card.

For the most part it’s a slick, intelligent and mostly compelling yarn, a mash-up ofWargames, Tron, Starship Troopers and assorted other sci-fi adventures.

Asa Butterfield is superb as the eponymous young hero, and director Gavin Hoodsurrounds him with a worthy supporting cast, including Viola Davis and tattoo-faced Ben Kingsley.
(It’s a lot more rewarding than Hood’s previous fantasy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

Arguably the weakest link is Harrison Ford as gruff seasoned military man, Hyrum Graff. He sounds laboured as he reads the dialogue, like he has little faith in the material, or is wondering what time he can wrap up shooting so he can have his dinner. Yes, he probably had the same demeanour shooting Star Wars in the mid 1970s, but here he lacks the charisma of Han Solo.
The problem is for the most part you’re watching someone else playing a game. There’s a disconnect between the audience and the key protagonists, especially Ford, who is usually seen through windows or behind desks. There’s a barrier between him and us which rarely lowers.

In a previous blog I remarked that Ford hadn’t made a good film in 20 years, and whileEnder’s Game is far from a disaster, it’s also not the winning mix of Harry Potter and Star Wars that the ad campaign suggests.

I was impressed by the bulk of the movie. It was smart and treated the audience with a degree of intelligence; surreal moments involving a game were suitably dreamy and nightmarish, but as the film built to its finale I didn’t know if I was watching a simulated battle or the real thing.
And the finale is stunning to look at; a flurry of spaceships swarming like fish engage the eye as the young warriors build to an edge-of-the-seat, do-or-die climax.

But the last few minutes are disappointing. A personal bugbear, the hero’s name being repeated constantly by a character, set my teeth on edge, while the open-ended conclusion is clearly set up for a sequel that I fear may never happen.

I enjoyed this far more than most Potter films, but I doubt Ender will engage the audience enough to return to your local multiplex in a couple of years.

I hope I’m wrong as I’d love to see the hero actually physically tackle some alien bad guys instead of orchestrating their destruction from behind a computer screen.