Review: The Jungle Book

 

Disney’s The Jungle Book is certainly a testament to the age of filmmaking we are in. No longer do we need real animals in the jungle, in fact the jungle itself is no longer a necessity.

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A few weeks back I posted an article entitled ‘Thank You Disney and Jon Favreau for Keeping Mowgli Brown‘, and it is Mowgli, played by Neel Sethi, that provides the life and human emotion that the film desperately needs. I’m sure you’ve heard, many times, just how real this new Jungle Book film looks and how much of an accomplishment it is for visual effects. I too have read the articles of praise for the computer-generated images but to be perfectly honest, all of Mowgli’s furry counterparts were a long ways off of convincing me of their authenticity. Sure they looked real, but did they look natural? Of course not, but there’s no way a talking bear could. I say this because all the talk I heard going into this film prepared me to be wowed by the vivid and lifelike jungle inhabitants, however I didn’t find them in this film, but that’s not to say that Disney failed to make me believe that they belonged. Rather than set-out to make a realistic jungle with life-like animals, Jon Favreau creates the jungle we imagined as kids, one where animals of all shapes and sizes follow a ‘water truce’ to quench their thirst together during the dry season, where elephants are treated as gods, and where a pack of wolves can raise a ‘man-cub’.

Neel Sethi shines in his breakout role as Mowgli, it is his performance in the red loin cloth that brings life to his animated counterparts, whom without him, would remain as flat as the green screen they were created on. There’s also some excellent voice acting on display here, with the exception of Scarlett Johansson, I can think of a slew of actresses that would’ve brought more to the Kaa character. Idris Elba as Shere Khan is, dare I say, a better Shere Khan than George Sanders. But perhaps the greatest voice acting accomplishment here comes from Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha, who is fast becoming one of Hollywood’s go-to actresses for voice work.

Although The Jungle Book is a CGI, perhaps oversized, epic, it has a lot of heart. Jon Favreau is becoming the go-to Filmmaker when it comes to focusing in on what really matters in these massive digital worlds filled with digital characters. Much like in Ironman Jon Favreau has an eye for what really matters in films like these, and that is character. That’s right, real human emotion is what saves The Jungle Book from becoming an overstuffed CGI bore. Neel Sethi reels you in and makes you want to take this adventure with him more than Bill Murray playing a CGI bear ever could. So if you feel so inclined, see Disney’s iteration of The Jungle Book, that is before Warner Bros. makes its own soulless version in a few years.

Are ‘Movies’ and ‘Films’ Really Two Different Entities? (Why you’re not as high-brow as you think).

On April 20th, the holiday of all holidays, me and some newly formed friends discussed a favorite topic of mine… Movies. About mid-way through the discussion of films we’ve seen, which ones we liked, which ones we disliked, one person said something interesting. “What people don’t understand is that there is a difference between a movie and a film.” “Transformers” he said, “is a movie, but Blue Is The Warmest Color is a film.” There was silence in the room as everyone nodded their heads but the statement wasn’t sitting right with me. Of course I had heard that point before, it was even something I believed whole-heartedly at some point, but since then I’ve begun to reject it.

“But I liked Transformers, and I didn’t like Blue Is The Warmest Color“, I said.

There lies the crux of this whole idea. Someone saying there are movies, and then there are films, is essentially saying that Films are of a higher quality than Movies, but aren’t they all Motion Pictures? Where does that distinction of Motion Pictures even come from? Is it the budget that determines where a Motion Picture falls in the two categories? Is the number of screens it plays on, or the opening weekend box office haul? Is the amount of CGI what makes it a ‘movie’? The story? The acting? The Cinematography? Creating such a schism in the world of Motion Pictures creates many questions.

When looking up ‘Film’ in a dictionary one will find: 1. a thin flexible strip of plastic or other material coated with light-sensitive emulsion for exposure in a camera, used to produce photographs or motion pictures. 

If someone were to say that a Film is a motion picture that is shot on actual film, and a movie is a motion picture shot on a digital format, then I would have to give them that, that actually makes sense, however we all know that that is rarely how people make the distinction between a Film and Movie. Typically people act as if the distinction is determined by the quality of the product, but I’m also calling that bluff. In my shitty opinion, the determining factor of what constitutes a ‘film‘ or a ‘movie’ in the minds of my fellow Film enthusiasts (or Film buff, enthusiast seems presumptuous) is the entertainment factor of a motion picture. A film that is technically great, but doesn’t make an overwhelming amount of effort to entertain it’s viewer is typically considered a film. Not to say that this type of motion picture isn’t entertaining whatsoever, this just means it doesn’t go to any great lengths to entertain every audience; it’s niche and the filmmakers know it’s niche, and they expect the film’s audience to be niche. So, already it sounds like how a film is classified as a film or a ‘movie’, is very much a matter of perspective. That is why the people that try to create this distinction are my least favorite kinds of people; often times they just think the films that they like are superior to the ones they don’t. Is Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy not considered ‘film’ but a movie because it was massively entertaining, well funded, and a box office powerhouse? Well Nolan’s Batman trilogy was shot on actual film so, no matter what, it is a ‘Film’. But what about Hitchcock’s Psycho? Or any of Hitchcock’s films for that matter. Was Hitchcock not both auteur Filmmaker, and, Hollywood hit maker? Film itself, that celluloid strip being exposed to light, by today’s standards, is no longer an accessible medium. Independent, or niche, films that people consider “high-brow”, are  pretty much shot on digital anyway. There are hardly any Filmmakers left shooting strictly on film, it has become a rich man’s format sadly. 

What’s clear to me is that what separates these two entities, films and movies, from each other really, just depends on opinion. What one may find good or bad, depending, on what one may like. The only difference between a movie and a film, is perception. Those that tell a room full of people that “there are movies and then there are films”, have let their perceptions become universal law. In my opinion someone that makes that kind of statement just hasn’t seen enough films. Perhaps they should expand their horizons beyond The Oscars 10 best picture nominees and formulate their own opinions about the motion pictures they watch. But that’s just my opinion.
 

 

Review: ‘The Night Before’

‘As he sat alone on Christmas Eve

his friends came over and forced him to leave.

They had to get Ethan out of his funk

So they went to a bar and got his ass drunk.’

At the outset let me say that it is extremely difficult for me to talk about this movie. Every time I try to vocalize an opinion I am overcome by laughter that takes me at least a solid two minutes to stifle. Johnathan Levine is at the helm of this very adult Christmas tale about a group of friends (played by Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that get together every Christmas Eve to get drunk, do drugs, and try to find the Christmas party that eludes them every year, The NutCracker Ball. What makes this film so successful is how real the characters feel. Even Anthony Mackie playing a football star named Chris, hiding a steroids secret from his friends, is relatable. Seth Rogen is Isaac, the soon to be father that is insecure about his abilities to raise a child, made me think of me and my friends as we get closer and closer to that child rearing phase of our lives. However the heart of this movie is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Ethan, who’s parent’s death is the reason why the gang gets together every Christmas Eve. The chemistry between Rogen, Mackie and Levitt is undeniable as the three riff off each other effortlessly providing laugh after laugh.

While the film does feel like a series of gags strung together, who cares if it’s so damn funny!? Also if I do say so myself, there is a lot of subtle racial commentary, what with Mackie being something of the token black friend. His football teammates make fun of him for hanging out with white boys, and he puts on a more hood version of himself to talk to his fans on social media, which is so genius that you just have to see it. What makes this movie so funny is that it hits so close to home. If you have any friends at all, then you’ve had nights like this, you’ve thought about having nights like this, you’ve dreamed about having nights like this.

So to wrap this up, I think I’ve found a new Christmas Eve tradition. No I won’t be going out and getting wasted with my boys, I’ll be watching The Night Before, and yeah, maybe getting wasted too.

Go watch this shit.

p.s. Did I mention they perform the first half of Runaway on the foot piano in F.A.O Schwarz? It’s fucking incredible.

Why is Lupita Nyong’o heard and not seen?

This is a question for which I have no answer. All I do know is that since winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong’o has only gifted the silver screen with her voice. She played an alien named Maz Kanata in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and a wolf named Raksha in the live adaptation of The Jungle Book. For the past few months she’s starred in the Broadway play Eclipsed about a group of women in Liberia however, movie-goers are missing Lupita. Is this by choice? Maybe Ms. Nyong’o finds theater to be less of a creatively stifling environment. I ponder all of this because it’s hard for me to imagine an actress like Lupita Nyong’o not being able to get any role she wants, but we all know Hollywood can be a strange place.

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Thank you Disney and Jon Favreau for keeping Mowgli brown.

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In the age of Gods of Egypt, Pan and Exodus: Gods and Kingspeople of color almost expect to be extremely let down when it comes down to studios casting white actors in roles that are historically non-white. When I first heard that a live-action Jungle Book movie was in the works, memories of my childhood flooded back to me. Then I became saddened at the thought of Mowgli getting The Last Airbender treatment. Remember The Last Airbender? The all-Indian Fire Nation, white actors playing Inuits, and Asian actors relegated to background figures? But alas, maybe studio execs are listening, paying attention to the masses, and watching the three movies I listed above tank at the box office amidst the whitewashing controversy must have certainly showed them that in 2016 white isn’t automatically right. Or maybe Jon Favreau and the folks at Disney just aren’t complete boneheads. And since they don’t seem to be complete boneheads, they delivered what seems to be a crowd pleasing live-action version of The Jungle Book, and believe it or not, Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi) is still brown! What is sad is that this is even a big deal at all. How did we get here? How did we get to celebrating the fact that a studio leaves a classic character’s nationality unchanged? Why is it something that happens so often in the first place, the fact that studios feel as if white actors casted in major roles is still ‘playing it safe’. Is it me or in 2016 do studio execs prove to be more and more disconnected from the real world? The world in which millions of people stream diversely casted entertainment on a daily basis. In my opinion studios insult all of us as viewers when they decide that they will get more of our dollars if they turn brown, black, or asian characters, white. These are also the same studios that expect our praise when they decide to cast a black actor or actress in role previously held by white actors (a la Halle Berry as Catwoman or Michael B. Jordan as The Human Torch).

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But anyway, lets raise a glass to Jon Favreau and the folks at Disney for this one. And here’s to Hollywood whitewashing becoming a thing of the past in the not-too-distant future.

Oh by the way, have you heard there’s a new Ghost in the Shell movie in the works? Motoko Kusanagi will be played by none other than… Scarlett Johansson. *sigh*

In defense of ‘Batman v Superman’

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Batman v Superman… ‘The greatest gladiator match in history’, turns out to be little more than a sepia-toned emo cat fight. Who would’ve thought that the crux of bringing these two heroes (and I use the term ‘heroes’ lightly in regard to this film) together was making them realize their mothers have the same first name? Seriously though, it’s easy to drag this movie through the mud and bring up all of Zack Snyder’s faults, but I’m a positive person and despite the underwhelming feeling I left the theater with; I want to talk about the things that I actually liked about Batman v Superman. 

1. Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne

Ben Affleck as Batman is something I could definitely get used to, I like the aging caped crusader that has turned cynical and dark after 20 years of patrolling Gotham streets. However I must say that Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne is the best since Michael Keaton. Yes the Christopher Nolan Batman series is still untouchable but it was the villains that made those movies great. Remove the villains and you see that Christian Bale, not as Batman but as Bruce Wayne, just wasn’t that great. What happened to the billionaire playboy socialite Bruce Wayne that we all know and loved? In Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy it seemed as if Christian Bale only captured half of the man, his Bruce Wayne wasn’t the one I grew up watching in cartoons. I always preferred Bruce Wayne as the womanizing, snarky rich boy that no one would ever suspect to be Batman. Ben Affleck brought that back and I am thankful.

2. Batman’s voice disguising device

If anyone prefers Christian Bale’s inaudible growls then please sound off in the comments so we can get you some help.

3. Jeremy Irons as Alfred

In Batman v Superman we see that Alfred and Bruce are perhaps the only people that understand each other. They’re both equally scarred by the things they’ve witnessed throughout twenty years of crime fighting in Gotham, and at times their relationship seems like one of an old married couple. Definitely very Frank Miller/Dark Knight Returns-esque.

4. Henry Cavill came into his own… sorta

I’ve always been a diehard Superman fan, since I was a child the man in blue was always my guy. When I saw Man of Steel I thought, where’s the soul? Where’s the insecure Clark Kent? Where’s the everyman that Superman has always been? I preferred Brandon Routh’s Superman to Henry Cavill’s because, to me, Superman was never this brawny chiseled Greek God, he was a farmboy with an unshakeable moral compass, an insecure journalist and underneath it all, the Man of Steel that would do anything to protect his adopted home planet. However after seeing Batman v Superman I realized I just have to get used to the fact that this is not that Superman. This is the unrealistically buff Superman you see in the cartoons and comic books that make you roll your eyes at the unattainable physique. When I came to terms with this realization, I kind of respected Zack Snyder for bringing this version of him to the big screen.

5. Ground-level view of Superman/Zod fight

Never had a Superhero movie made me so thankful that superheroes didn’t actually exist.

That’s about it really. As to whether or not you should see this shit, go see it. Sure it’s not a perfect movie but that’s not why you go see films like this in the first place… Zack Snyder films that is.

Damn now I’m tempted to dedicate a list to the shit I didn’t like…

Review: Why CREED is the only boxing movie since Rocky that matters.

creedAdonis Johnson (played by Michael B. Jordan) looks at his reflection in the mirror. His mentor Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) tells him that the man he sees looking back at him is his greatest opponent, in boxing and in life. This is the essence of Ryan Coogler’s Creed, a boxing movie that concerns itself with the fight between one’s inner demons, just as much as the fights that take place in the ring. It would not be fair to call Creed a sequel, or even a reboot, of the Rocky franchise. While familiar elements are at play here, such as Stallone reprising his role as the Italian Stallion, Adonis watching the classic Creed/Rocky fight on youtube, and a heartening visit to Paulie and Adrian; the film creates more than it imitates.

Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, grew up in group homes and juvenile detention centers before being taken in by the widow of the father he never knew. Despite all the opportunity his new life provides him, running through his veins is the blood of a fighter. Creed acts as both a macho boxing movie and sensitive coming-of-age tale, with Adonis’s attempts to become a professional boxer taking the backseat to his need to find himself and ultimately step out of his father’s shadow. His motivations to fight constantly come into question, the trainer at his father’s gym says he’s too soft, Rocky insists he’s too smart to fight, including his girlfriend Bianca (played marvelously by Tessa Thompson) telling him he doesn’t “look like a boxer”. All of these things said, when it seems as if Creed is dabbling in vulnerability and sensitivity for too long, it gives you some of the most exciting and well choreographed boxing scenes you’ve ever seen (including a fight that is composed of 1 shot).

Now lets get down to brass tax as to why socially this film is so damn important. If you watched the 2016 Oscars you might’ve caught Chris Rock’s joke about Rocky being a science fiction movie because of a white boxer’s athletic superiority over black boxers. It was a funny dig, one that seemed to bring subtle discomfort from the audience, but all jokes aside, how is Creed the first boxing movie centered around a black boxer(Ali aside obviously)? Has anyone in Hollywood watched a boxing match in the past 50 years? Do they think it is beyond white audiences to root for a black boxer? Perhaps it took a black Writer/Director, Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), to rectify what I can’t imagine to be an innocent oversight by Hollywood. Coogler went through hell to get this movie made, he’s said this movie is a testament to his late father and the movie franchise that brought them together. The blood, sweat and tears, are evident on the screen and behind the camera. Creed packs a punch, literally as well as emotionally, so see it with your boys or see it with your girl, as long as you see this shit.