The Jungle Book

The classic Rudyard Kipling Jungle Book stories have had a long, rippling, effect on literature and on screen. A lot of people, like me, have happy memories of sitting down and watching an old VHS tape of the 1967 Disney classic animation. Remakes and reboots have been a controversial issue, over the last decade especially, however I’ve always believed that with the right approach and methodology no filmic concept should be dismissed out of hand, and there is always potential in rediscovery.

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a man-cub raised by Raksha (Lupita N’yongo) among a wolf-pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). He was brought to the wolves as a baby by the Black Panther Bagheera (Sir Ben Kingsley) who has since served as a guardian to the boy. During a water truce between the animals of the jungle the fierce tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) threatens Mowgli’s life. To keep him safe Bagheera agrees to escort Mowgli to a nearby man village. Along the way Mowgli must deal with a multitude of other jungle creatures such as the snake Kaa (Scarlet Johansen), Gigantopithecus King Louie (Christopher Walken) and the free loving bear Baloo (Bill Murray).

Director Jon Favreau, DOP Bill Pope and the numerous talented visual artists responsible for the design of the film should be applauded for the fantastic world they have managed to create. Crafting a completely digital living jungle is breath taking enough but populating it with the amount of fantastically detailed environments and animals they have done is truly astounding. Neel Sethi is the only live action actor to appear in the film; however you immediately forget this thanks to the brilliant CGI The Jungle Book uses to conjure these creatures to being. Their lips sync perfectly with their speech and the movement whether crawling, walking, running or leaping is phenomenally realistic. The best work is that of the villainous Shere Khan, portrayed with brilliant menace by Idris Elba, whose beautiful design juxtaposes with his aggression and ruthlessness. Neel Sethi, in his first ever acting role, does an excellent job as Mowgli. Considering he spent the entire film shoot on a green screen reacting to pretend animals he delivers a touching and heartfelt performance that matches up to the prolific ensemble. Everybody in the cast delivers, but Bill Murray’s Baloo steals every scene he’s in. One of the most popular and beloved Disney creations of all time the role of Baloo was always going to be a difficult task but Murray’s combination of humour and heartfelt, and his relaxed, yet somehow powerful, line delivery have succeeded in bringing the character out of his animated ‘hibernation’ and back on the big screen to be loved all over again by young and old. The music is both nostalgically pleasing and impossibly triumphant, and how can anyone not like Christopher Walken as a giant monkey singing one of the jazziest songs of all time. There are a few narrative issues, problems with making the structure of the film work to be a successful collaboration of both Kipling’s story and the previous animated feature. But I’m not sure too many people are going to care thanks to the joyous romp that the film manages to be.

In the end it is a delight to report that The Jungle Book is a visual masterpiece, a fond nostalgia trip and one of the best films of the year so far rolled into one. Knowing that Warner Brothers also have a live action adaptation planned for release in 2018, directed by Andy Serkis, they’re going to have their work cut out as the bar has been set pretty darn high, and I highly recommend a trip to the jungle as an (undeserved smirk) ‘Bear-necessity’.

4/5 stars

Review by Alexander Halsall


Hail Caesar

Hail Caesar

Baird Whitlock delivering a dramatic monologue, pretty much all he’s good for.

Hail, Caesar – Review

The Coen Brothers are amongst the most critically acclaimed filmmakers of the last three decades having worked in a range of genre, whilst their films maintain a unique identity that categorises their individuality as artists. They are regarded as a pair of western cinemas most highly skilled writers and directors, and as such have garnered massive success. So it is hardly a surprise to see Hail, Caesar packed with A – list talent throughout the entire ensemble, attracted to performing in the work of modern American cinema’s finest creators.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a producer/fixer for Capitol pictures, a top studio in Hollywood, and is caught up in a conspiracy when Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of Capitol’s latest biblical epic Hail, Caesar, is kidnapped. Mannix needs to retrieve his big name star whilst also dealing with the problems of everyone else at his studio from directors and actors, to gossip columnists, and manic editors.

To say the plot strays in Hail, Caesar would be inaccurate, as it more often intrudes on the fascinating madcap misdeeds of the populace of capitol pictures. The narrative is swept aside so that we can be entreated to aquatic symphony sequences with DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), a song and dance number featuring Hobie Doyle (Channing Tatum), and watch as acclaimed thespian director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) attempts to draw a nuanced acting display from western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), the results of which left me in a fit of laughter I could aptly describe as painful. These entertaining interludes are the highlight of the film both satirising and paying homage to the golden age of Hollywood. The films setting at the beginning of the 1950s allows it to analyse the declining years of the studio system, and the effect this caused on Hollywood produced cinema. As well as poke fun at the media frenzy surrounding taboo subjects of the time such as homosexuality, pregnancy outside of wedlock, and communist sympathisers, with Tilda Swinton pulling double duty portraying a pair of twins, who happen to be rival journalists.

The films narrative is somewhat unimportant in the grand scheme, with Mannix’s personal guilt being a somewhat amusing side note but is also seemingly arbitrary, and against the ludicrous insanity of the ensemble uninteresting. Brolin’s performance is entertaining, showing nice comic touches, and his efforts in displaying Mannix’s weariness and guilt are impressive, if not supremely effective in the narrative. The ensemble as a whole are ferociously energetic, and the rhythm of the scenes is always flawless, a credit to the cast and the work of the Coen’s direction, writing and editing.

Hail, Caesar is effectively a collection of entertaining scenes recalling a dubiously fascinating period in Hollywood’s history, the majority of which are consistently hilarious. That Hail, Caesar never really rises above this is, I suppose, a criticism, though I do still enjoy the film for its entertaining asides and splendidly presented humour. Carter Burwell’s music adds texture to the period setting, without being uniquely splendid, whilst Roger Deakins cinematography captures the various tones of the era beautifully to deliver a visually pleasing tribute of the golden age. I heartily recommend Hail, Caesar as a consistently entertaining comedy buoyed by great performances by Brolin, Johansson, Tatum, Fiennes, and Ehrenreich, and a sharp witted script, that, despite its unfocussed narrative, will entertain you as much as it did me.

*** STARS out of *****

Review by Alexander Halsall


Deadpool – A review

The latest superhero film from 20th Century fox, directed by Tim Miller, starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, and TJ Miller, has been a long time in the making. Deadpool’s ascent to the big screen has been a long, slippy, road and has taken years of development and passionate appraisal from Miller and Reynolds to finally get released (with the help of some ‘leaked footage’ a couple of years ago). Having been in limbo for some years it’s impossible not to relish the critical and commercial success that has come Deadpool’s way in the preceding couple of weeks.

Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is a former Special Forces operative, now acting as a freelance mercenary, when he meets Vanessa (Baccarin) and the pair begin a relationship, with some lewd, hilarious laughs along the way. However their happiness is cut short when Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer. In desperation to be cured he offers himself up for experimentation by the mysterious Ajax (Skrein) and his accomplice Angel (MMA fighter Gina Carano), however something goes horribly wrong and now Wilson is out for vengeance.

Tim Miller does a fine job balancing the, shall we say, extreme humour with the dramatic scenes and manages to maintain the tone of the comic with its profane shock humour making it a stand out cinematic treat amongst the numerous superhero films released this year. The dialogue is, for the most part, satisfyingly voracious, and well delivered by the entire ensemble. Reynolds own the film, and is perfectly cast as the abhorrent non-hero with plenty of enthusiasm and gallows humour like wit, and is clearly having the time of his life bringing something that has now become a passion project to the screen. Baccarin matches Reynolds energy step for step as Vanessa a role that originally seems quite vibrant and well rounded, but does fall into the same superhero’s girlfriend clichés that we’ve come to expect as the film goes on. However Baccarin works round the scripts limits brilliantly and is a pleasure, especially in the scenes where Vanessa is allowed to let her own lascivious humour loose. Ed Skrein’s Ajax is appropriately sinister, and interestingly cast. You would usually expect an older actor in the role. Skrein does perhaps lack the charisma and gravitas of a more experienced hand, but as the focus of Deadpool’s obsession he delivers an unapologetically rotten character with as much disdain as he can. Miller’s direction is fast paced, quickly edited, but concise and focussed at the same time so the action is frenetic, whilst maintaining clarity. The films limited budget does keep the set piece locations somewhat isolated and sparse, such as abandoned warehouses and scrap yards. So I do believe that a sequel with a larger budget, an inevitability following the financial success of the film, would be something to look forward too.

In a calendar year littered with high profile superhero films Deadpool has thrown down the gauntlet with a uniquely carnivorous sense of humour, and a meta-cinematic inimitability which I enjoyed tremendously. This Merc with a mouth gets a firm recommendation from me for his first big screen outing and I look forward to seeing him back in the future with a replenished arsenal of crass, ballistic mayhem to entertain us in the years to come.

**** stars out of *****

Review by Alexander Halsall


24 year old male and 27 year old female, who watch a lot of movies and likes to share their opinions of sed movies. Nothing the internet has a low supply of. However if you do like to read opinions of certain movies or are looking for a certain movie recommendation we do tend to cover a lot of different genres over a large range of time. More of a movie diary than reviews of what is actually out soon. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you like what you find and please leave as much feedback as you like. Seriously, go nuts.