Tag Archives: Jon Favreau

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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Boys’ Town

Big, bloated, bro-fest-ic movie picks up where TV series left off

ENTOURAGE

Entourage

Starring Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara & Jeremy Piven

Directed by Doug Ellin

R

Based on the 2005-2011 HBO TV series about a young actor and his posse of best friends in Hollywood, this feature-film treatment is targeted primarily—and blatantly—to the same kind of hedonistic horn dogs who make up the movie’s base of bro-main characters.

Tinseltown satire, super-rich success fantasy and chauvinistic sex comedy rolled into one, the Entourage movie takes up where the TV series left off—and doesn’t go much anywhere else. A-list movie stud Vince (Adrian Grenier), newly freed from a nine-day whirlwind marriage, is ready to return to work and now wants to direct as well as act. As usual, his longtime nitwit buddies are all-aboard: Eric, his manager and best friend from childhood (Kevin Connolly); Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), his dim-bulb, struggling-actor half-brother; and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), his driver turned tequila mogul.

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Haley Joel Osment, Emily Ratajkowski & Adrien Grenier

High-strung agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), now running a movie studio, green-lights Vince’s film, a ridiculous, futuristic twist on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which quickly balloons over its $100 budget. The movie’s investor, a rich Texas oilman (Billy Bob Thornton), sends his starstruck son (Hailey Joel Osment) to ride shotgun over the troubled production.

The pencil-thin plot: Will Vince and his crew cash in once again, or will Hollywood finally break the bros?

The Entourage TV show was loosely based, at least originally, on the some of the experiences of actor Mark Wahlberg, who served as executive producer and is now one of the producers of the movie (and has a cameo, with his own tagalong “entourage”). But the movie version plays like such an overblown, oafish wet-dream stream of sexy (often topless) women, caustic one-liners and obscene wealth, it seems adrift in its own alt-universe, like an R-rated, 100-minute Viagra commercial shot inside a VIP strip club operated by light-depraved leprechauns. If you liked Entourage and its freewheeling, high-living characters on TV, you may think they’re even cooler enlarged to cinema-size. Otherwise, you might wonder what anyone ever saw in this pack of boors, mooches, rakes and cads with so few discernable, redeemable skills, talents or virtues or values.

The movie’s attempt at addressing something “deeper”—as Eric confronts his paternity with his pregnant ex-girlfriend (Emmanuelle Chriqui), or Ari seeks peace through spirituality—seems pathetically out of sync with its true, crude flow.

DSC_8682.tiff

“Turtle” (Jerry Ferrara) prepares to spar with Ronda Rousey.

To add to the movie’s sense of disorientation from the world in which most people live, an almost endless parade of real actors, sports figures and other personalities breeze through, blurring the lines by interacting with the fictional characters. There’s a lecherous Bob Saget, a grumpy Kelsey Grammer, a ticked-off Jessica Alba, an incredulous Martin Landau, a loopy Gary Busey, plus rapper T.I., director Jon Favreau, actors Liam Neeson and Armie Hammer, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Emily Ratajkowski, NFL quarterback Tom Brady, TV personality Piers Morgan, zillionaire Warren Buffett, mixed-martial arts fighting champ Ronda Rousey and many, many more. Blink and you’ll miss someone.

It’s almost like everyone inside Hollywood wanted a piece of the action. The bigger question: How many people outside of Hollywood will want a ticket to this smug, bloated, big-screen, bro-fest-ic boy party?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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