I went into this movie thinking I would not enjoy it as much as the original. But I did. This 3D fantasy adventure film open worldwide on April 15th, 2016, since then more than tripling it’s staggering $175 million budget. As part of Disney’s new plan of live-action adaptations for their classic animations, we follow a young boy named Mowgli who is being raised as a “man-cub” in a pack of wolves led by Raksha and Akela. During a particularly dry rain season, a temporary truce has been called between all the animals of the Jungle. But the powerful tiger, Shere Khan, has a great hatred for man, and announces that once it starts raining again and the truce is over, Mowgli dies. So now, Bagheera, the black panther who brought Mowgli into the Jungle in the first place, is escorting him to the nearest man village for safety, meeting a cast of colorful characters along the way. This may surprise some fans of classic Disney, but it takes cues from both the old 1967 film and the original writings of author Rudyard Kipling. Only two of the songs from the original movie’s soundtrack composed by Louis Armstrong appear in this movie. “Bear Necessities” is played up from banter between Mowgli and the bear Baloo, while “I Wanna Be Like You” sung by King Louie seemingly comes out of nowhere. It felt like director Jon Favreau shoehorned these songs into the movie for the sake of, “If a Jungle Book didn’t have any of the songs in it, that would be strange.” And this is just me being petty, but the actor who plays Mowgli simply can’t sing. But thankfully there are many other things he can do. He is literally talking and acting in front of nothing, and I have seen adult actors do worse at that than him. Quote me on this: Neel Sethi is going to be getting a ton of work and movie roles offered to him in the not-so distant future. The entire voice cast is also worth noting. Sir Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray share great chemistry as two protectors of Mowgli who have very different ideals and methods for how to operate in the Jungle. I view this movie as a return to form for Murray, who cracks many funny jokes with appropriately snappy dialogue. If we want to talk about supporting characters stealing the show, Christopher Walken deserves recognition as the orangutan King Louie. More or less he plays what Christopher Walken usually plays: a big, creepy weirdo who likes to assert authority over others and is a goner before the movie is over. That’s what I can say about this film in general, is that it’s a lot darker and more scary than the animated Jungle Book. Despite it’s PG rating, strong caution is advised for any parent who plans on taking their young children to see the movie. the snake Kaa, voiced by the versatile Scarlet Johansson, has gone from a silly animal to a terrifying beast. In King Louie’s temple, the monkeys all acted and sounded frightening; not cute and fuzzy as we are used to knowing. Got to talk about Shere Khan, though; HO-LY SHIT! He was so intimidating. I’m going to remember this tiger for the rest of my existence. I love how his personality was made for the movie; he’s ferocious, articulate, menacing, dominating, intelligent, stubborn. Voiced by Idris Elba, who sounds so natural that it seems he’s been do voice-over work for years. What truly drove this movie home for me is how it showed that the Jungle has a system. Each species must bow in respect to the elephants, the wolves are responsible for their own pack, fire is commonly referred to as the “red flower,” and all animals have their own specific territories within the Jungle. In the end, The Jungle Book was exactly what I wanted it to be. A great cast, wonderful characters, fantastic visuals that rival that of Gravity and Avatar, and ultimately serves as a loving tribute to it’s predecessor that doesn’t betray its legacy. Easily one of the best movies of 2016 by far, I am now eagerly awaiting a live-action Mulan. You know you want it, too.
There’s really nothing better than a good show to binge watch. The second season for Marvel’s Daredevil premiered all of its episodes on Netflix on March 18th, 2016, continuing Marvel’s deal with Netflix on producing MCU properties on its service. I apologize for never reviewing Jessica Jones after the first season, but I really enjoyed it. And like that show and the first season of Daredevil, this season shows a really good and fresh dark tone that contrasts their cinematic counterparts. Some time after the events of Season 1, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen has watched over his city as its savior and protector. But a new player named Frank Castle, A.K.A. The Punisher, starts slaughtering the local gangs with brutal military precision in an effort to avenge his murdered family and replace Daredevil. Reflecting on his “normal life,” Matt Murdock encounters Elektra Natchios, an old flame who comes to him with a business proposition. He eventually gets tangled with his old mentor Stick in a plot regarding a secret organization called The Hand. First, let’s start with the negatives, which many fans seem to be either avoiding or erasing from their own reviews. Season 2 feels like a major step-down from the first season, which I generally view as near-flawless. I don’t mean to mislead you; it’s still great entertainment with many memorable moments. There’s just a large void left by Vondie Curtis-Hall and Vincent D’Onofrio as Ben Urich and Wilson Fisk, respectively. And while the first season was almost entirely story-driven, the pacing in the first few episodes feels a bit slow and underwhelming. Now on to the positives, and there are many. The whole cast is still stellar from last year with new additions. Let’s get right into it: Jon Berenthal as The Punisher. He completely (and quite literally) slays every single scene he’s in. Similar to Shane Walsh in The Walking Dead, he’s violent, sociopathic, unpredictable, determined, intelligent, fearful, yet also tortured. Once you get an idea of his motivations and backstory, he becomes far more tragic and relatable. The French actress Elodie Yung also did what I thought was impossible: she actually made Elektra interesting. To be honest, up to this point, Elektra has been one of the most truly boring and disposable characters in Marvel Comics. But now, she’s like a mysterious femme-fatale with unclear motives and feelings for our titular protagonists. Their relationship sparks great chemistry and sexual tension, allowing for some playful back-and-forth banter the two of them. The English actor Charlie Cox continues his convincing role as Daredevil and Matt Murdock. Despite his violent alternative persona, (and still-crappy costume) he’s really likable and funny around Foggy and Karen. And in the second half of the season, Vincent D’Onofrio makes a surprise appearance as Wilson Fisk, who has become the kingpin in prison. He’s still intimidating and powerful as ever, even in his current position. And the violence in this show, oh my God. This version of the Punisher is sadistic and R-Rated. A few times, I averted my eyes when either he or the Hand were getting busy with those in their way. So don’t watch your little kids. All in all, Season 2 of Daredevil isn’t the smooth and swift show it’s predecessor was. But it’s still smart, engaging, and surprisingly emotional, especially after the fourth episode. If you stick it out to the end, there’s even a 30-second teaser for Marvel’s Luke Cage that plays after the final episode. Because of that, I’m more excited for Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the Defenders miniseries.
You know why I’m here. You saw the trailer too. So the first official teaser trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has dropped. I don’t do posts on movie trailers or teaser images. Last week, some people wanted to hear my word on the Lego Batman Movie trailers. But they were essentially the same, so I’d be saying, “There’s a brand new Lego Movie coming out. It’s about Batman, and there are a lot of self-referential jokes. Done.” Same thing when the first cast image appeared last August. Here’s what it would’ve been: “It looks like a bunch of battered Rebels, just like we all heard. Looks cool, but I don’t see the importance of this in the middle of The Force Awakens’ campaign. Done.” But this first trailer? Oh yeah, there’s enough to talk about. The trailer opens with Felicity Jones’ character, Jyn Erso, being interrogated on what looks like the Rebel base on Yavin 4 by Mon Mothma and General Dodonna. She remarks, “This is a Rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.” Pretty witty and clever, not only because it’s told over a scene of her kicking Imperial ass, but also directly addresses the Rebel Alliance’s seemingly obvious sales pitch. This film is being directed by Gareth Edwards, the director of the new American incarnation of Godzilla. If there’s one thing he did right in both of those movies, it’s that he showed off an immense scale. It’s looking no different in this trailer. You see it when the Star Destroyers are so puny when compared to the completion of the Death Star. Next, can we just address the love movie trailers have for loud, siren-like bursts of alarm? It plays almost all throughout, especially during the montage of action. We also get our first look at Forrest Whitaker. It’s kind of odd to see one of the most accomplished actors in the world and in this saga as a Mad Max-like warrior, but he provides an obligatory ominous voice-over. He keeps asking, “What will you do if they catch you? What will you do if they break you?!” From context, it sounds like he’s a mentor figure of sorts to Jyn Erso, warning her about going off to war. This montage also shows Donnie Yen, the modern-day Bruce Lee of martial arts movies, being a complete badass. Though he’s a blind alien, he’s more than capable of taking down an entire Imperial Stormtrooper squad with a staff like Morgan from The Walking Dead. You get a couple glimpses of Ben Mendohlson as the villainous officer of the Empire, and he looks like he’s high in power. Just his white cape and stride through the aftermath of a large battle are enough for the as-yet unnamed character to look intimidating. There’s one quick shot of someone approaching the Emperor’s Guards. I’ve heard that Darth Vader makes an appearance in this movie in some capacity. From what it looks like, he may not be relegated to a simple cameo for the sake of fan service. And remember what I said about the director’s penchant for huge scale? The teaser ends with many of the Rebel soldiers running across a beach landscape towards a line of AT-AT Walkers. It felt so cool and intense. It seemed reminiscent of the front line beach attack in Saving Private Ryan, because like the Nazis, these gigantic Walkers are not messing around. Now comes the part where I explain what the hell I’ve been talking about. So about a year ago, Disney announced that the Extended Universe has been wiped from canon, which now only consists of the films and cartoon series. (And supposedly that godawful Holiday Special) They also announced that in addition to the core movies, they begin an Anthology series. This is where each installment is a different stand-alone picture centered around a different story. And now we have an entire cinematic plan that stretches from now to the year 2020. The first Anthology movie is Rogue One, which focuses on the Rebel soldiers and spies who embarked on a suicide mission to steal the Death Star plans right before the events of A New Hope. And unlike the other films, this is meant to be a gritty and grounded war drama, with no Jedi or Lightsaber battle included. While many have argued that this business practice of releasing annual films screams money-grab, I think it’s a great proposition for fans. Outside of the central Skywalker family arc, there is a wealth of fascinating stories in the Star Wars Galaxy worth exploring. And now that the first teaser trailer has released, I’m officially pumped. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Yes, I realize I have to finish Daredevil Season 2 and see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But first, as a fan of all almost things sci-fi, I bring you this. This science-fiction drama thriller received a limited release on March 18th, 2016. Grossing just over 1 million within that limited release, this is the fourth feature length film from writer-director Jeff Nichols, who is quickly and deservedly becoming one of the most talented storytellers of his generation. The story follows an 8-year-old boy named Alton Meyer, who possesses incredible and unearthly powers, as he and his father Roy flee from a religious cult. With the help of his childhood friend, state trooper Lucas, they have to take Alton to a certain location where a celestial, even world-changing event might occur. However, some of the cult members devise a plan to steal Alton back, whom they see as a Messiah and prophesier. This attracts the attention of the FBI, as the sermons and dates used in the cult are actually encoded with government information communicated via satellite. Midnight Special honestly reminded me of last year’s Ex Machina, in that it was a low-key science-fiction movie that focuses more on ideas than spectacle. Though not as tense as that movie, its visuals are very nicely polished, especially in the last act of the story. There are a lot of noteworthy performances, so here we go. First off, Michael Shannon is completely convincing as Roy and brings sincerity and fear to a father who wants to connect with his son, a stark deviation from his portrayal of a creepy, selfish Prohibition agent in Boardwalk Empire that gained him initial recognition. Speaking of which, Jaeden Lierberher is a surprisingly good child actor, sharing some great chemistry with Shannon. Joel Edgerton, Sam Shepherd, and Adam Driver all gave typically wonderful performances in their limited yet pivotal roles. But the one that stands out the most has to be Kirsten Dunst as Alton’s mother. Outside of her early stint as Mary Jane Watson in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, I can’t name a single thing she has done that I remember or that has impressed me. Until this film. She’s so understated yet perfect as Sarah. In fact, one of the things that separates Midnight Special from its peers is that it’s just so driven and based on different emotions. It’s mysterious, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s inspirational all at the same time. It can truly be called a “modern science fiction” movie- it’s a unique and mostly original story that tries not to be derivative of other properties or part of any sort of franchise. Though a case could be made for Stephen King’s The Green Mile, it still stands on it’s own due in large part to the narrative ultimately being a father-son tale. It’s simple: there’s a boy with special powers who’s dad must take him to a place for a world-changing event in his life. With that simplicity, Midnight Special can already be hailed as one of the year’s best films, and as one of the most original and memorable science-fiction experiences in recent memory. Even though it’s technically in a limited release, I issue a call-to-arms of all fans of science-fiction to see it at the earliest opportunity. Jeff Nichols is a modern treasure trove of creativity, and I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next.