‘The Jungle Book’ Review

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Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Justin Marks

Cast: Neel Sethi

Voice Cast: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, and Christopher Walken

Synopsis: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interest at heart.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

I know I’ve watched the animated 1967 film, but I don’t actually remember too much from it. So going into The Jungle Book, I went in pretty fresh, not knowing a ton about the story and how things would work out. Thankfully, Jon Favreau and the special and visual effects team did a great job of bringing Rudyard Kipling’s characters to life in a remarkable and effective way.

Loosely based on multiple versions of Rudyard Kipling’s novel, The Jungle Book follows Mowgli (Sethi), a “man-cub” raised by wolves lead by Akela (Esposito), and his “mother” Raksha (Nyong’o). However, Mowgli’s presences upsets the tiger Shere Khan (Elba), and asks the animals who live in the jungle is Mowgli is still worth keeping around and reminds them that he will grow up and older and become they thing they fear the most. Mowgli, wanting nothing to happen to his pack, decides that it’s time to move on and is lead out of the jungle by his friend Bagheera (Kinglsey), but Khan sneaks attacks them and Mowgli runs deeper into the jungle.

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Along the way, Mowgli encounters different characters that’s he’s never met like the hypnotic snake Kaa (Johansson), the cunning and lovable bear Baloo (Murray), and gigantopithecus King Louie (Walken). His adventures lead Mowgli down a path to find out where he truly belongs, with man or the jungle, and face the dangerous Shere Khan.

Obviously, one of the big selling points for this iteration of The Jungle Book is the visual effects, and that’s not a bad thing. The visuals that director Jon Favreau was able to get out of everyone involved is phenomenal. The photorealistic approach to not just the environment, but the animals really brings you into the world that is being created. While some effects are blatantly visual effects, there are some moments that have you second-guessing. Yes, that’s how great the effects are, it makes you second guess. However, that might also be a problem because you’re wondering whether or not it’s real, partially real or full CG (no animals were used around Neel Sethi, but still).

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Besides the technical level success, The Jungle Book is also elevated by the great voice performances by the cast and newcomer Neel Sethi. Sethi is the only real non-CGI character in the film, and for his first movie, Sethi is able to handle himself pretty well, especially considering he was probably working off tennis balls or stand-ins, but even saying that, Sethi draws you in every important scene that he needs to. There are moments where he misses his mark, but not only is this his first movie, it’s also a movie where he is the only human character.

The voice casting is perfect of Shere Khan with Idris Elba. Elba already has the swagger and demeanor that demands respect, and every time Khan was onscreen you understood why the rest of the animals were afraid of him and Elba’s voice just makes it more powerful. Ben Kingsley’s black panther, Bagheera is the no nonsense teacher that tries to make sure Mowgli fits in with the pack and learns the ways of the jungle since he found him when he was a baby, and forget his “human tricks.” You can say that Bagheera is more of the father-figure to Mowgli, than Akela. Finally, Bill Murray seems like he was born to play Baloo. Murray injects The Jungle Book with his comedic and light-heartedness, and is so likeable you can’t help but laugh along with me.

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The rest of the voice cast like Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha, Mowgli’s wolf-mother has her real moment to shine when Mowgli decides to leave. Scarlett Johansson has a glorified cameo voice appearance as Kaa, in one of the darkest and creepiest scenes in the movie and Giancarlo Esposito’s Akela is, unfortunately, the loose-end of the voice cast, but that’s nothing against him, just the character not giving enough to do. Finally, Christopher Walken’s King Louie was mixed for me personally. In fact, his whole scene kind of takes the wind and good pace the film had and the middle of the sequence seems forced and out of place with the rest of film.

I’m also trying to imagine what the film looked like in 3D, but I assume it adds to the experience. I didn’t watch it in 3D, but just watching the film, I can only imagine they used the 3D pretty well with the environment they were given.

All in all, The Jungle Book is a great family film, despite some dark and maybe too intense scenes for kids, it also carries some messages that they can pick up on. However, the big positive out of the film is the amazing visuals, the great voice cast, and newcomer Neel Sethi.

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The Jungle Book

4 out of 5

‘Ender’s Game’ Review

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Dir: Gavin Hood

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Haille Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, and Harrison Ford

Synopsis: The International Military seek out a leader who can save the human race from an alien attack. Ender Wiggin, a brilliant young mind, is recruited and trained to lead his fellow soldiers into a battle that will determine the future of Earth

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a non-spoiler review as always.*

Based on the popular Orson Scott Card 1985 sci-fi novel of the same name the movie takes place 50 years after earth suffered an attack from the ‘Formics’ – insect-like aliens. Their efforts failed, but millions died during the invasion, and the planet has been awaiting the Formics’ return ever since.  The government decides that children are our best chance of survival, training them to take charge of the planet’s International Fleet. The reason is because kids “don’t think the way we think,” they operate at a higher speed, and can handle technology and deal with tremendous amounts of information without getting burnt out.

This is where we see Ender (Butterfield), who has vast intelligence and maturity but he’s also a very troubled boy. From being bullied for being a Third, at this time families are limited to two children, by school mates and his older brother and having both selfless and selfish. Ender, according to Colonel Graff (Ford), is the last and only hope to save the Earth from a possible future attack from the Formics. Graff then gets Ender to practice to become the leader he thinks Ender can be and sends him to Battle School.

The Battle School, a huge space station that orbits the planet, has our young cast, or Launchies as their called, raised on war games and taught the laws of engagement to prepare for the war.  The school’s commander, Graff, along with Major Anderson (Davis) see Ender’s true potential and leads some back and forth between the two on how far they are pushing him and if he’s truly the one to stop the war.

It’s at the school where we see Graff do whatever he think is necessary to make sure the students, especially Ender, are ready for the war. Even if it means treating them like they’re not children and that’s where Graff and Anderson bump heads and ultimately shows us how different they view the war.

The big highlight of the Battle School section of the movie is the Battle Room. A giant glass sphere where war simulations are played out in zero-gravity and where the children divided up into teams to wage war against each other.   Through these games Ender and his fellow cadets learn tactics and strategy and again learn to become leaders and killers. The zero-gravity scenes look a bit cheesy at first especially when it’s only one of two people but once we see the room filled with everyone flying around and battling it they become great scenes to see.

Unlike my other reviews, I don’t be talking about the final act of the movie to save you from nothing anything. Needless to say, it will make question everything you’ve seen.

As far as the acting goes, this is Asa Butterfield’s show. He does a great job of balancing the emotions and the intensity of Ender as he’s put through the ringer with all the tests and showing how effective he can be as a leader. Harrison Ford’s Graff is a puppet master of sorts, coming off as caring but then completely changes once the stakes get raised. Butterfield and Ford, next to Davis, have the strongest performances in the movie and leads to a great scene between the two at the very end.

The rest of the cast does okay with their roles but nothing really great. Hailee Steinfield’s sharp-shooting cadet Petra has more to do in the movie than she does in the book and Moises Arias miss-cast as bully Bonzo kind of fits but really does nothing. Ben Kingsley as former war hero Mazer Rackham really does nothing for the movie when he pops up in the third act.  Abigail Breslin, who plays Ender’s sister Valentine, probably does the best job of the supporting cast (next to Davis and Ford of course). Her compassion for her brother plays a factor on who Ender by the end.

You may have noticed I’ve only about one reference to the book. I do believe you shouldn’t compare the movie to the book too much. The movie does make changes from the book. Valentine and Peter (Ender’s older brother played by Jimmy Pinchak) are very downplayed, with Peter only getting two scenes and Valentine have a handful. That being said the ending is different. There are some minor changes and things that are not even mentioned; Thirds, the governments, the aliens are given a name, the Mind Game (which doesn’t really work) and more importantly the ages of the characters. I personally didn’t mind so much of the changes but I know some fans will.

All in all, Ender’s Game is a pretty descent adaptation. Despite its changes from the book it still manages to work in the end. The effects are great and acting by Butterfield and Ford makes the message at the end mean more.

Ender’s Game

4 out of 5