Tag Archives: Christopher Walken

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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The Jersey Way

Clint Eastwood brings Frankie Valli & Four Seasons to the screen

JERSEY BOYS

Jersey Boys

Starring John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen & Christopher Walken

Directed by Clint Eastwood

R, 134 min.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons provided a snappy pop soundtrack to the 1960s and early ’70s, then rode a wave of massive nostalgic resurgence as the subjects of a smash, song-filled 2005 Broadway production, Jersey Boys, based on their story.

Now director Clint Eastwood dramatizes the saga of Valli and his three original singing partners in a movie—one that takes a lot of its cues from the Tony Award-winning musical. Using several of the Broadway cast members and two of the show’s writers, Eastwood shows how the young musicians came together in the early 1950s and rose to fame, walking a line between petty crime and dreams of stardom.

JERSEY BOYS

John Lloyd Young plays Frankie Valli.

“I’m going to be as big as Sinatra,” boasts Valli (John Lloyd Young) to the sexy young Italian spitfire who’ll eventually become his wife (Renée Marino). His mom worries he’ll end up “dead or in jail.”

Young, who portrayed Valli on Broadway, is outstanding, especially when summoning up Valli’s uncanny, almost otherworldly falsetto. “A voice like yours, it’s a gift from God,” says Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), the local mob wise guy, whose eyes well with tears when Frankie sings.

Erich Bergen plays Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons’ songwriting guru, introduced to the group by Joe Pesci (yes, the actor, here played “pre-stardom” by Joseph Russo). Michael Lomenda is baritone singer Nick Massi, who never has much to say—until he explodes in a quasi-comical rant about having to room with dictatorial group founder Tommy DiVito (Vincent Piazza, the only performer who didn’t play a Four Season on Broadway).

By using a cast of newcomers, Eastwood focuses the attention on the story, not the stars. Having the main actors occasionally look directly into the camera and address the audience, however, is hit and miss. A holdover from the musical, it’s meant to allow each band member to provide his “side” of the story, but the voices fail to create a much of a framing device, or add any traction to the tale.

JERSEY BOYS

And what a tale: Dizzying heights (100 million records, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), crashing lows (gangsters, embezzlement, fractured families). But for such an epic yarn, things often feel underdeveloped, too quick to move on. Nothing’s given time to sink in, register, resonate. Eastwood’s a solid, meat-and-potatoes director, but this fascinating, multi-textured story could have perhaps benefited from a bit more fine-tuning and finesse.

The music and the musical scenes, however, are toe-tapping terrific. And the story, a real-life combination of Goodfellas meets That Thing You Do!,follows a gritty, all-American arc of talent, pluck and luck, punctuated by songs—“Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Ragdoll,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “My Eyes Adored You”—that have stood the test of time.

The end-credits curtain call has the entire cast spilling into the streets for a choreographed hoof-it to “September 1963 (Oh What a Night),” the Four Seasons’ last big hit, from 1975. Another nod to the movie’s Broadway roots, it should help a lot of music lovers—especially those “of a certain age”—stroll out of the theater a bit looser, livelier and lighter than they walked in.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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