FILM REVIEW: THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

Standard

junglebooktriptych3

Baloo: [singing] Forget about your worries and your strife…
Mowgli: What’s that?
Baloo: That’s a song about the good life.

Director: Jon Favreau

Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken

Synopsis: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.

Perhaps Jon Favreau’s most disappointing film in years after the game changing Iron Man films and 2014’s charming Chef. The film is visually stunning however there doesn’t appear to be any linking narrative aka beginning, middle, end or character development. It is simply random scenes connected together by the one-note Mowgli and various animals in the jungle. However I don’t completely blame Jon Favreau as he is merely reenacting the animated Disney original from 1967 with less songs.

The plot of The Jungle Book revolves around a young boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who has been raised by wolves and the wise panther Bagheera (voiced regally by Ben Kingsley) in the Indian jungle. With threats from the chilling tiger Shere Khan (voiced menacingly by Idris Elba) Mowgli must leave the wolves and find his own people. Along the way he meets a sneaky snake (voiced seductively by Scarlett Johansson) and a laid back bear named Baloo (voiced with charm by the always great Bill Murray). He also ends up in a temple run by the gigantic ape King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken playing The Godfather). These series of events barely connect with each other and the film eventually finds a climax where the hero prevails but little else really matters. In fact the whole film felt like a series of events that don’t really matter. Mowgli is constantly saved from any threats and the actor does such a poor job in gaining any respect from the viewer as he clumsily reads through his lines and stares blankly at cgi creatures. I understand it must have been difficult for him to stare at tennis balls or sticks and create a realistic performance but with Favreau’s past with child actors including Emjay Anthony from Chef or Ty Simpkins from Iron Man 3 I was expecting more.

Where Favreau doesn’t let the audience down is with the breath-taking special effects. All of the animals are uniquely structured with meticulous design to put you in a real world of walking talking animals with genuine personalities. It was amazing to watch however if only the story and protagonist were more impactful.

Rating: 2 Stars

FILM REVIEW: AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)

Standard

american-sniper-poster-international

Wayne Kyle: There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs, Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep. Then you’ve got predators, who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Synopsis: The true story of Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in American history with over 160 confirmed kills over four tours during the Iraq war. However when he returns home to his family he can’t easily escape the war that now lives inside him.

Clint Eastwood returns to fine form in this gripping true story of American soldier Chris Kyle. The film opens in Kyle’s childhood with his strict Catholic father teaching him the respect for guns and to protect your own no matter what. It is these values that follow Kyle into adulthood when he begins to see America is under attack from foreign enemies. He joins the army and becomes a NAVY seal. His skills with a sniper rifle are quickly discovered by his superiors and he is promoted. Meanwhile Chris meets Taya and they soon fall in love and get married. However just before they get married the tragic events of 9/11 occur which sparks the American war with Iraq.

maxresdefault

Eastwood has a strong eye for action scenes from his early works such as The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) to Sudden Impact (1983) to Unforgiven (1992). Even his dramas can contain gripping action sequences such as Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Gran Torino (2008). It is during Kyle’s tours in Iraq where Eastwood’s direction really shines in his gripping and tension filled sequences involving Kyle having to take a shot, whether it is a child or mother or another skilled sniper these action sequences are breathtaking and elevate this film to a very high standard. Eastwood knows there is no black and white reason for the war or for taking a life and Kyle’s story is filled with compromised choices that no man should ever have to make. Eastwood also shows the human frailty of being in the war and taking so many lives as Kyle returns to a quiet and loving home but can’t get the screams and gunshots out of his head.

American-Sniper_0

Bradley Cooper gives a gripping performance as Chris Kyle not only physically (he put on mass pounds to appear bulky as the real Kyle) but also emotionally with his piercing eyes showing us the cost of war. He is riveting throughout and elevates the film to near classic status. Sienna Miller also turns in a strong performance as Kyle’s wife Taya who also must deal with raising a family and trying to save her husband from the war he can’t leave behind. The politics do become a bit shaky by the end of the film as Eastwood and Cooper show a man struggling with this devastating war however as the film ends Eastwood begins to portray Kyle as a true American hero however Cooper portrays him as a broken man who had given too much to his country with little reward. Although the politics are a tad unsteady, Eastwood and Cooper deliver a strong and riveting drama.

Rating: 4 Stars

FILM REVIEW: BIRDMAN (2014)

Standard

a_900x0

Riggan: Just find me an actor. A good actor. Give me Woody Harrelson.
Jake: He’s doing the next Hunger Games
Riggan: Michael Fassbender?
Jake: He’s doing the prequel to the X-Men prequel.
Riggan: How about Jeremy Renner?
Jake: Who?
Riggan: Jeremy Renner. He was nominated. He was the Hurt Locker guy.
Jake: Oh, okay. He’s an Avenger.
Riggan: F – k, they put him in a cape too?

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan.

Synopsis: An aging actor who was once famous for playing the superhero ‘Birdman’ struggles to regain relevance when he attempts to adapt a play based on Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

A visually compelling and emotionally resonant motion picture from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. I loved Inarritu’s first two films Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003) however he lost me with Babel (2006). His first two films had a gritty visual style and fractured structure that resonated with the films themes of desperation, longing and failed dreams. However he went too far with Babel, which turned into two hours of depression porn. I’m happy to see that just like his lead character Riggan Thomson he has made a comeback with this important and relevant fable on celebrity culture, superhero/blockbuster cinema, arthouse cinema and his original themes of desperation, longing and failed dreams. The film is very meta not only for its director but also its lead character Riggan, who was once in a successful superhero franchise (Birdman 1, 2 & 3) just as its actor Michael Keaton (1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns). Keaton has always been a wild and charismatic lead actor and revealed a manic spirit in his first successful film 1988’s Beetlejuice. Keaton recaptures this manic energy and also adds a level of gravitas by knowing his history with the real life Batman franchise. He gives the character an extra level of reality with his casting.

birdman-movie-review-f8eacfee-1f23-4abf-a558-b4d24c84e8fc

The film revolves around Riggan trying to make a comeback by adapting the Raymond Carver play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, however his own hubris comes in the way as everything starts falling apart including the set, actors and his own fragile mind. Riggan continuously hears voices in his head from the character he once played, Birdman. Birdman believes that Riggan shouldn’t bother with this play, no one cares and he won’t be able to make it as a true actor. He tells him to take the check and star in another Birdman film which is what the audience really wants. No one cares about theatre and broadway. He may be right in this day and age of the superhero blockbuster. The film is a real time capsule of cinema in 2014 and is a savage attack on the entire superhero genre and how it is destroying true art. This is only one of the themes as the film also tackles age, father daughter relationships, art versus commercial, internet and viral marketing, actor’s egos, and the fall of success. It is a bold and powerful film.

birdman-movie-poster-4

The real star of the film for me was cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The film is made to look as if it is all one shot and this is breathtaking to behold. The amount of work from actors to crew (especially the stage handlers) is amazing as the camera pulls in and out of Riggan’s room, to the stage and to the streets of New York. The films distinct look is remarkable and will be talked about for years to come. I haven’t even mentioned the impressive performances from Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan. The film is quite the masterpiece and is clearly one of the best films of this decade.

still-of-michael-keaton-in-birdman-(2014)-large-picture

Rating: 4.5 Stars

REVIEW: THE CONJURING (2013)

Standard

246460id1c_Conjuring_INTL_27x40_1Sheet.indd

Ed Warren: The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges on which we decide to follow.

Director: James Wan

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor

Synopsis: The true story of ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren who must help a family deal with paranormal activity in their new home.

The Conjuring directed by James Wan is a classically styled horror film which relies on genuine slowly built frightening sequences and excellent characters to entertain and scare its audience. Unlike other recent horror films which rely on torture (Saw series) or found footage (Paranormal Activity series) to scare its audience, The Conjuring harkens back to the days of masterful suspense by directors like Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter and William Friedkin. Wan clearly a fan of these great auteurs gives his film a sense of respectability in not relying on gimmicks to surprise or shock his audience. He relies on mood, sound, atmosphere and a slow feeling of dread that surrounds every moment of this film. He utilises these elements extremely well in developing frightening sequences which admittedly we have seen done before, however he treats the scares with a genuine sense of authenticity and doesn’t pander to his audience. Although the film relies on haunted house and exorcism film genre conventions, Wan injects them with more than what we have seen in recent horror films and this easily excels all others in comparison.

THE CONJURING

Wan coming off the respectable horror film, Insidious, and the original Saw is now a genuine horror auteur and has reached his peak with this horror masterpiece. The film centres on the Perron family, father, Roger and mother, Carolyn (both played earnestly by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five children. They move into a new house and soon begin to hear bump in the night. These early sequences are well choreographed and don’t rely on fake scares like a cat jumping out of the corner, instead cinematographer John R. Leonetti weaves his camera around the house and allows the darkness to creep into the daughter’s bedroom. His camera works wonders in setting up the shocking situation this family will soon be in. We also meet paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who bring a sense of genuine chemistry to their partnership. Vera Farmiga excels as the tortured Lorraine Warren and Patrick Wilson plays Ed as a protective husband and father, a man willing to help and has a sense of duty to those in need. They meet the Perron’s and immediately sense a demonic presence in their home.

the-conjuring (1)

The film then moves towards its compelling and shocking finale involving an exorcism that matches the original The Exorcist (1973) in its horror and intensity. With excellent acting, direction and cinematography, The Conjuring is perhaps one of the best horror films of the last decade. One which many will be aiming to replicate in our future.

Rating: 4 Stars

REVIEW: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)

Standard

rise-of-the-planet-of-the-apes

Maurice: Hurt bad?
Caesar: You know sign?
Maurice: Circus orangutan.
Maurice: Careful. Humans don’t like smart ape.

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Synopsis: A scientist testing a new drug to cure alzheimer’s uses apes as test subjects. The drug works and one ape named Caesar begins to grow more intelligent…

After 2001’s reboot directed by Tim Burton bombed critically and financially ten years later Fox decided to do another reboot. Only this time they moved away from remaking Planet of the Apes (1968) and made a hybrid prequel/remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). The one thing that differentiated it from the franchise (and had fanboys quite worried) was the fact that all of the apes would be completely CGI and not men in costumes. Although the one thing everyone praised in Burton’s reboot was the amazing costume design. This film opens in the jungle and provides a far more serious and compelling opening far removed from what we have seen in the past films. Thanks to the geniuses at Weta Digital we have amazing looking apes who look more like they are from a David Attenborough documentary than a Halloween party. The apes look and move exactly as real apes do and this opening is brilliant in showing not only this new universe but also the new tone this film/franchise will go in.

rise-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-movie-image-011-600x333

After the jungle sequence opening we are introduced to Will Rodman (played earnestly by James Franco) who is a scientist experimenting with cures for alzheimers. We quickly learn that Will has a personal stake in this as his father is suffering from the illness (played heartbreakingly by John Lithgow). Will has a lab full of chimps who have been given a serum that increases their intelligence and gives them the IQ of humans. After a presentation goes wrong the experiment is called off and the chimps are all euthanized except for one baby chimp which Will takes into his own care. As weeks go by Will discovers this chimp has the AZL serum in his blood passed down from his mother and shows signs of increased intelligence far superior than any regular ape. The ape also befriends Wills dad, Charles and he names him Caesar based on his love of Shakespeare. The famous Shakespeare play Julius Caesar definitely has parallels to this story.

640px-Will_&_Caesar

As years go by Will begins dating comely Vet Caroline (played by Frieda Pinto) and Caesar grows claustrophobia as an ape with no jungle to explore. He watches outside the attic window at children playing and becomes depressed in his current predicament. Will begins to take him on trips to their local sanctuary where Caesar is able to climb trees and swing from the vines. These sequences are breathtaking and show the scope of the quality of Weta’s special effects. As with every Planet of the Apes film things soon begin to go wrong not only for Caesar but also for Will and Charles who begins to slide further into madness. Caesar ends up in a zoo owned by the nefarious John Landon (played with moustache twirling glee by Brian Cox) and his son Dodge Landon (played by Harry Potter villain Tom Felton). Here Caesar meets Maurice and Rocket and many other apes and begins to find a place among his primates. He soon becomes King due to his advanced intellect. Unfortunately Caesar also learns the evil of men and becomes distrustful of Will and sees his fellow apes as his equals. He rallies them together to rise up from their cages and take over the city. The action and special effects filled sequences that follow are truly breathtaking especially the action on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge.

Rise-of-Planet-of-the-Apes-600x335

The film is ultimately a tragedy and shows the problems with our modern society between different classes, ethnicities and groups of people. Also the cost of trying to advance science and technology to play God. The film is an allegory for many issues in today’s society and unlike the older Apes films it doesn’t hit you over the head with the obvious subtext. Instead it provides an action filled and at times heartbreaking story of man and ape who lose their way.

lice

One more thing I need to praise in this film and that is Andy Serkis motion captured performance. After playing Gollum and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, Serkis has made body acting an art form. He is brilliant in this role and brings the ape Caesar to heartbreaking life. You follow his journey and side with his character more so than any human performer. Serkis’ Caesar has become one the greatest CGI characters in the past five years. He is truly a revelation and lifts this film from enjoyable to fantastic.

Rating: 4 Stars