Movie review: The Jungle Book

jungle-book-2016-trailers-bare-necessitiesLet’s just make things clear: despite the name, this isn’t a book, it is a film. Nor is it the famous Disney cartoon, the one you probably saw first as a child and doubtless have fond memories of. It also isn’t the forthcoming one with Cate Blanchett and Benedict Cumberbatch in either. That’s Jungle Book: Origins, due out in 2018. Finally, it isn’t the now largely forgotten 1994 live action version. But I doubt you ever thought it was anyway: it is, after all, largely forgotten.
This one is a live-action film starring Dr. Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters, Nelson Mandela, the Black Widow from The Avengers and Mahatma Gandhi. Mowgli is clearly intended to remind you of the cartoon one with his orange pants and big dark hair but is actually played by a real boy, the excellent Neel Sethi. As in Babe though, the animals are real but have been granted the power of speech by magic.
Although they are mostly celebrity voices, I couldn’t identify most of them when I saw the film so was not too distracted by this. Mowgli is raised by wolves after his father was killed by the evil tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). The animal pursues the boy throughout occasionally leaping out at him unexpectedly like Richard Parker in Life of Pi. He is much scarier than the 1960s George Sanders version. His face actually looks evil. He is more like the Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park than Tony from the Frosties adverts. Who would have thought a lethal man-eating predator could be imbued with such a sense of menace?
(That said, the first two lines of Blake’s famous poem literally come true at one point. Spoiler over.)
Mowgli moves from the care of panther Bagheera (Sir Ben Kingsley) to the amiable bear Baloo (Bill Murray). Note to children: bears and panthers are often quite dangerous in real life too. Scarlett Johansson voices the apparently telepathic snake Kaa. And yes, two songs from the old cartoon do crop up, just when you’re starting to miss them.
Only Christopher Walken whose King Louis comes across as a sort of cross between King Kong and Marlon Brando’s character at the end of Apocalypse Now strikes a false note. Have you spoken to any six-year-olds lately? Frankly, most of their cinema knowledge is pathetic. Many haven’t even seen Pulp Fiction or Batman Returns let alone Heaven’s Gate or The Deer Hunter. Very few of them know who Christopher Walken is, so his weird speech patterns are just distracting. Maybe he does want to talk like you hoo hoo, but the fact is he speaks like no one else on Earth.
Is this a good family film? Yes. But it never let’s you forget the cartoon version. And, to be honest, that was much better than this.

jungle book light

Blu-ray review: The Walk

142382_front

Many people have a hobby. Some collect Smurfs. Others do DIY. Others like to record their opinions of recent film releases for public consumption.

But not everyone’s the same. In the 1970s, Frenchman Philippe Petit directed all of his free time towards achieving one single goal: walking by tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.

In addition to the obvious perils: the great height, unexpected crosswinds, the possibility that Jeff Bridges might be attempting to climb the towers at the same time to rescue Jessica Lange from King Kong in a poorly realised remake, Petit and his chums also faced the added complication that the WTC was brand new and not yet officially open to the public in August 1974. Also, what he was planning to do was technically illegal. He not only had to sneak in to do it but risked serious jail-time afterwards.

Just as the real life Petit (for this is a true story) faced plenty of obstacles, so too, did onetime Back To The Future and Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis in seeking to dramatise this story for the big screen. For one thing, many people watching will probably know the outcome of the famous walk already, potentially robbing the film of any dramatic tension. The story was also already filmed as the 2008 documentary, Man On Wire. This shouldn’t be confused with Bird on a Wire which is something else entirely.

The film begins rather whimsically with a few scenes filmed in black and white with occasional flashes of colour rather like a cheerier version of Schindler’s List. This doesn’t last long.

Others may start to worry when it emerges that US actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is playing Petit with a French accent, narrating the film while overlooking the towers from the vantage point of the top of the nearby Statue of Liberty. But they need not worry. Levitt is great. His accent is excellent and as the accompanying featurette reveals he quickly demonstrated a rare aptitude for tightrope-walking himself.

While one would expect all the drama to focus on “the walk” itself, the film does a good job of being compelling throughout its running time helped by a good cast and special effects which recreate the doomed World Trade Centre with a strong sense of authenticity. Petit himself seems to have been a somewhat temperamental character, his desire to complete the walk which he sees as a great work of “art” sometimes bringing him into conflict with his long-suffering girlfriend (Charlotte Le Bon) and equally temperamental mentor Papa Rudy (Sir Ben Kingsley). The latter sees the walk as performance only and urges the younger man to wear a safety harness, to no avail.

In the end, Petit’s timing was unfortunate from a publicity point of view. His exploit was knocked off the world news headlines by the news of the resignation of President Richard Nixon the following day, one of the biggest news stories of the century.

Ultimately,  Zemeckis’s touch is as sophisticated as Petit’s own rare sense of balance, the film only subtly alluding to the tragic events which most of us primarily remember the World Trade Centre for today.

Review: 4 out of 5

The Walk

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sir Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Running time: Deleted Scenes

First Steps – Learning To Walk The Wire Featurette

Running time: 123 minutes

Buggers can’t be choosers: Book review: Enders’s Game by Orson Scott Card

 

Image

“Give us a child until he is seven and we will give you the man”.

This attitude behind this Jesuit mantra prevails throughout this science fiction novel by the Mormon author Orson Scott Card. Set in a far future in an environment where humanity is under threat from a Starship Troopers-style alien menace named Buggers (yes, really), the novel sees the child Ender Wiggin recruited as a cadet at the Battle  School

We then see him go through the dehumanising effects of military training. Each chapter begins with a dialogue between two of Ender’s recruiters through whom we become aware that Ender is, in fact, something akin to a military genius.

It is an odd book, not least because so many of the main characters seem to be incredibly advanced young children.  Enders’s brother and sister, for example, rather bizarrely achieve a position of political dominance back on Earth through the internet despite still being in early childhood.

First written in 1985 (and updated substantially by Card since then to take into account the collapse of the USSR) and should make a good film when it is released in the UK late in October 2013, perhaps ranking alongside other decent sci-fi movies of 2013 such as Oblivion, Elysium and Gravity.

Sadly, Card – unlike his fellow Mormon author Twilight’s Stephanie Meyer – may have harmed the film’s prospects by revealing his homophobic views to the world. Mitt Romney woudl presumably give Card the thumbs up for this but few others will.

This is a shame. Perhaps it is unsurprising Orson Scott Card decided to name his villains “Buggers”.

But there is little to offend anyone in this novel.

Movie review: Iron Man 3

ImageNo movie superhero has captured the popular imagination quite like Iron Man has. While ten years ago, only the keenest comic fan would have known who Iron Man was, today he is probably the best loved of all movie superheroes knocking out competition from the better known likes of Spiderman and Batman. Robert Downey Jr.’s hero was easily the best thing in last year’s Avengers Assemble, the biggest grossing film of last year.

The new film sees our hero looking strangely vulnerable, however. Prone to panic attacks after his close brush with death at the end of the Avengers film, Iron Man’s alter ego, billionaire playboy Tony Stark also his domestic life threatened by both an old flame (Rebecca Hall) and a new enemy, the sinister Mandarin, played by Sir Ben Kingsley (in the antithesis of the portrayal of Gandhi which made his name, thirty years ago).

Too often in the past, the third in a trilogy has marked a franchise’s death knell: witness the disappointing X –Men:  The Last Stand (2006), Spider-Man 3 (2007) and Superman III (1983). But if anything this time round, it was Iron Man 2 (2010) which let audiences down. With a new director (Lethal Weapon screenwriter Shane Black) this is both funny and dramatic enough to leave audiences thirsting for more.

Out: Now. Director:  Shane Black. Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Sir Ben Kingsley, Jon Favreau, Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce. Running time: 130 minutes.

Rating: *****