Tag Archives: Ben Kingsley

Jungle Love

Disney scores again with spectacular retool of Rudyard Kipling classic

THE JUNGLE BOOK

The Jungle Book

Starring Neel Sethi

Directed by Jon Favreau

PG

British author Rudyard Kipling wrote the stories that came to be know collectively as The Jungle Book more than a century ago, setting the best-known of the tales in India, where he’d spent his early childhood. It entered the pop-cultural mainstream in 1967 when Walt Disney turned The Jungle Book into a full-length animated musical children’s comedy.

Things have certainly changed in the world—and in the world of filmmaking—since then. Director Jon Favreau has steered steely summer blockbusters (the Iron Man franchise) as well as fluffier family fare (Elf), so he was a wise choice—by Disney, again, 40 years down the road—to retool Kipling’s ripping, roaring allegorical fable for a new generation of moviegoers weaned on spectacle as well as sentiment.

THE JUNGLE BOOKThe Jungle Book is the tale of a young boy, Mowgli, raised by a pack of wolves. All is well until a fearsome tiger—bearing horrific scars that remind him of what humans can do—catches the scent of the “man cub.” With his life in danger, and knowing that his very presence is a threat to the other creatures, Mowgli begins a journey to rejoin human civilization.

But the trip isn’t an easy one, as Mowgli learns more about himself and the meaning of friends, family and the “law of the jungle.”

The biggest spectacle the new Jungle Book is the sight of Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi, the only human, flesh-and-blood actor onscreen for the entire film, except for a fleeting flashback) in a jungle teeming with wild animals. But none of them are real—they’re all digital effects, down to the last bit of fur, fang and feather.

THE JUNGLE BOOKAnd not only do they look, move and “behave” like real animals, they also talk—constantly. Remember the computer-generated tiger in Life of Pi? Well, imagine it conversing with Pi, and with every other living thing it encounters. Around The Jungle Book’s watering hole, the DirectTV horse, Smokey Bear, the GEICO gecko and Tony the Tiger would feel right at home.

The effects in The Jungle Book are so casually spectacular, you even forget they’re effects. You become so completely, convincingly immersed in the realistic, storybook world, just like Mowgli, it doesn’t seem unnatural that a menagerie of creatures can speak—or sing—just as easily as they can growl, prowl, crawl or climb.

THE JUNGLE BOOKThe all-star animal voices belong to Bill Murray (the slothful bear Baloo), Scarlett Johannson (the seductive snake Kaa), Lupita Nynog’o (the nurturing wolf Rakasa), Idris Elba (the vengeful tiger Shere Khan), Christopher Walken (the monstrous ape King Louie) Ben Kingsley (the protective panther Bagherra) and the late Gary Shandling (a comically possessive porcupine). Giancarlo Esposito, who plays Sidney Glass in TV’s Once Upon a Time, provides the voice of alpha wolf Akela.

It’s rated PG, but there are periods of action, peril and intensity that might be a bit much for very young viewers—especially if their parents, or grandparents, bring them into this Jungle with sugarplum visions of the candy-coated, song-and-dance Disney version. This isn’t that movie; it’s darker, more dangerous—and far superior, in almost every way.

It’s the same jungle Rudyard Kipling described 120 years ago, and it’s even got a trio of familiar soundtrack tunes (“Trust in Me,” “The Bare Necessities” and a reworked “I Wanna Be Like You”) from 1967. But it’s come to life in remarkable, resounding new technological, 21st century leaps and bounds. With this outstanding upgrade to yet another childhood classic, Kipling still gets a writing credit, but Disney—as it usually does—again gets the final word.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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High Wired

Twin Towers tightrope tale is spectacularly nerve-wracking

The Walk

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley and Charlotte Le Bon

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

PG-13

In August 1974, Philippe Petit did something no man had ever done or will do again—and he did it eight times.

Petit, a 24-year-old high-wire artist, walked across a cable between the tops of New York City’s newly completed World Trade Center towers, at the time the tallest buildings in the world. It was a delirious 1,350 feet in the air, it was totally illegal, and it was deadly dangerous.

Director Robert Zemeckis dramatizes the feat, and the years of obsession and preparation that led up to it, in this dazzler of a movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the fearless Frenchman, a former rascally street performer in Paris who was forever “searching for the perfect place to hang my wire.”

Gordon-Levitt not only learned how to walk a wire, but also how to ride a unicycle, juggle and speak in a flawless-sounding French accent for the leading role. As Petit, he also punctuates the wildly entertaining tale with “asides” to the audience from a “perch” atop the Statue of Liberty’s torch. Even if you’re familiar with the story (chronicled in the excellent Oscar-winning 2009 documentary Man on Wire), this whimsical, conversational—and oui, somewhat contrived—narration makes it feel engaging, intimate and personal from beginning to end (especially when the movie makes one final, touching homage to the Twin Towers and their majestic pre-9/11 dominance of the New York skyline).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ben Kingsley

Gordon-Levitt takes us on the journey of his character from a childhood fascination with circus tightrope walkers into his adolescence, as he learned the rudiments of high-wire artistry from Czech maestro Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley). Then inspiration strikes: a grand scheme to stage “the artistic coup of the century” across the ocean in New York.

Director Zemeckis, whose hit movies include the Back to the Future franchise, Castaway and Forest Gump, has fun building to what we know is coming. We watch as Petit meets a beautiful girlfriend (Charlotte Le Bon) who becomes his biggest cheerleader, and begins to gather his motley crew of loyal accomplices, which includes a photographer, a math teacher who’s afraid of heights, and an eager American fan who works at the World Trade Center.

Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shares his dream with Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) in TriStar Pictures' THE WALK.

Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shares his dream with Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) in TriStar Pictures’ THE WALK.

A sequence in which Petit finally arrives stateside and infiltrates the Towers, in various guises, to take photos, make measurements and scope everything out, adds to the tension. Soon he and his team will be topside, in darkness, setting up, running cable and making preparations for the Walk.

And when it happens—well, hang on. Modern moviemaking technology, combined with Zemeckis’ mastery of narrative, imagery and emotion, makes you feel like you’re out there with Petit, on that wire, in between those buildings, stepping into the “void,” like no movie has ever done before. It’s the most breathtaking, spectacularly nerve-wracking seven minutes of anything you’ll see on screen this year. It’s dream-like, hyper-real, beautiful and terrifying, lovely and scary all at once, and you know it’s just a movie but you can’t believe how giddy and gobsmacked and vertiginous dizzy-awesome it makes you feel.

Petit staged his “coup.” The Walk is a coup of its own. C’est magnifique.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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