The Jungle Book ****

  

IMDB 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 interests at heart.

Disney is at it again. “The Jungle Book” is the latest live action remake of one of their classic animated films following “Alice In Wonderland”, “Maleficent” and “Cinderella”. “The Jungle Book” is the best so far, by a long shot. It is a ground breaking film when it comes to the storytelling and visual effects. With this film and last month’s “Zootopia”, Disney is having on of their best years ever. Director Jon Favreau is also on fire lately with this and his last film “Chef”.

“The Jungle Book” is a seamless combination of live action locations and CGI characters. I have complained a lot in recent years that movies were relying too much on computer animation to create action and visuals. The CG in this house film is some of the most realistic I have ever seen. The animal characters jump right off the screen.

The voice actors are all perfectly chosen and give these computer generated characters their heart and soul. Bill Murray in particular is pitch perfect as Baloo the bear. I love how he sets Mowgli the man cub up for disaster when he sends him to retrieve bee hives full of honey.

Idris Elba is fearsome as Shere Khan. I love he isn’t just outwardly evil. He has genuine reasons for wanting to kill Mowgli. His mind is clouded by hatred for humans after a particularly nasty encounter with them. Ben Kingsley is wise and calming as Bagheera the panther. Scarlett Johansson voices Kaa the snake and Christopher Walken shows up as King Louie.

The story hits all the familiar beats and stays true to the classic story. Favreau isn’t just content to keep things basic though. He lets the darkness of this scenario creep in. This is one of the few family films that does not pull it’s punches when it comes to some of the scarier moments.

“The Jungle Book” is one of 2016’s best films. Hopefully it is remembered come years end. I know I won’t forget it.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice **1/2

IMDB Synopsis: Fearing the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the man of steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. With Batman and Superman fighting each other, a new threat, Doomsday, is created by Lex Luthor. It’s up to Superman and Batman to set aside their differences along with Wonder Woman to stop Lex Luthor and Doomsday from destroying Metropolis.

“Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice” has finally arrived. Seems like we have been hearing about this movie for decades with the amount of hype and controversy it has come with. So is it any good? That is difficult for me to answer. I may need to see it again to really answer that. I can say that there were some things that I really liked as well as some things I really disliked.

What I did like was the performances. The casting of Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot as Batman and Wonder Woman were both met with a seriously unwarranted backlash when they were announced. This movie should at least make some of those bitter folks in to believers. Both performances were excellent.

Henry Cavill returns as Superman and more than proves that he owns the role. This time the main adversary is Lex Luthor played by Jessie Eisenberg. This was another casting choice met with a backlash and now that I have seen the movie I sort of agree that he might of been the wrong choice. His Luthor is sort of cartoon like in his evil schemes. He also has little to no back story which didn’t really help either.

What I disliked was how bloated this movie is. There is so much crammed in that was unnecessary creating a sometimes gruelling 2 hours and 30 minutes. There is too much time spent setting up the inevitable “Justice League” movie and not enough time of Batman and Superman throwing down.

The film is also very heavy with brooding and darkness for its entire running time. There is not much humour or light at all, which was especially difficult to deal with when the first hour and a bit has almost no action at all. I’m not saying that I need this movie to be a roller coaster but we get little to no Batman or Superman doing much of anything until they finally face off. Their battle is the highlight of the movie but is sort of brief.

Feels odd to be complaining about a lack of action in a film directed by Zack Snyder, the director of “300” and “Man Of Steel”. When we do get to the action sequences I was surprised to find them mostly to be edited together at such a chaotic rate that they are almost incomprehensible.

What this movie needs is an editor who can cut out all the fat. Remove all the “Justice League” setup and trim the flick down to 2 hours and it might actually be a better experience. I have heard that there is a 3 hour cut out there that will carry an R rating. Some are excited about the harder rating I am dreading another 30 minutes of brooding drama.

 

10 Cloverfield Lane ***1/2

  

IMDB Synopsis: accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a tense, claustrophobic thriller about a trio of people hiding in a bunker after some sort of world ending attack. What has happened to the world and why is left a mystery until the final twenty minutes of the film. Most of the film deals with life inside the bunker.

The first character is Michelle played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. As the movie opens she is driving through the he night after a fight with her fiancé. She gets in to a serious accident with another vehicle. When she wakes up she is chained to a wall and seemingly held captive by a man named Howard played by John Goodman.

Howard is a menacing presence with some dark skeletons in his closet. He built the shelter over the years. His neighbours thought he was just a conspiracy nut. At first we get the feeling that nothing is actually happening on the outside and that Howard is simply crazy. But not everything is as it seems.

The third resident of the shelter is Emmett played by John Gallagher Jr. Emmett helped Howard build the shelter.

Eventually the tension boils over and the real threats of the film come to light. Everything is expertly directed by Dan Trachtenberg. The screenplay is by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle. Chazelle is the director of the great “Whiplash”.

So you might of noticed that the title contains the word “Cloverfield”. Is this a sequel to the 2008 film of the same name? It is hard to say. There is not much of a connection. Maybe I will see more on a second viewing.


Zootopia ****

IMDB Synopsis: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

“Zootopia” is the latest animated films from Disney and it is one of their very best. I know that “Frozen” was a massive hit but it did not even approach the sheer originality of “Zootopia”. This film builds it’s universe from the ground up.

I realize that having talking animals in a film is nothing new but I have never seen them inhabit fully realized cities that suit the needs of their individual species. Take for example the Rainforest District. It is filled out with lush trees and a massive sprinkler system to simulate constant rainfall. Because of the District’s spacious interior, transport comes in the form of highways and gondolas.

I also really loved the Little Rodentia, a District for small mammals and rodents. Everything is built to scale resembling a model city to the full sized citizens. When an action sequence spills over in to their part of town it looks like Godzilla is attacking.

The animation used to create these wonderful areas is some of the best I have ever seen. No expense is spared when it comes to creating this world. It looks beautiful. I can’t wait to watch this again at home so I can pause certain frames and just let the visuals sink in.

What also sets “Zootopia” apart from other animated flicks is that it actually has a serious plot. I found myself caught up in the detective story. I was caught up in the stakes. Our heroes, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, who are a bunny and a red fox, are trying to locate missing persons as well as discover the secret to why some citizens are going ‘savage’.

“Zootopia” sets the bar pretty high for any animated films that will follow it. Next up are “Angry Birds” and the fifth “Ice Age” movie. Neither of those have given me hope for their quality. “Zootopia” is one of the best films of 2016 and I imagine it will still be the best animated film of this year come December.

Deadpool ***1/2

  

IMDB Synopsis: A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopting the alter ego Deadpool.

“Deadpool” has been in development since that wretched version that was brought to life in “Wolverine: X-Men Origins”. Seems like Ryan Reynolds has been trying to do justice to this character for years and finally he has. This is an R rated, offensive, overly violent romp that is exciting and fun. It also opens the door for for more R rated comic books adaptations.

I will say that I was highly entertained. I did like that the story was very self contained but I hope to have a bigger budget in future “Deadpool” movies. Seems like most action films that don’t have enough cash always seem to take place in junk yards or factories. It would also be cool to see “Deadpool” kick some ass along side some more prominent X-men characters.

 Those are small gripes though. You must get out and see this movie. Even if you don’t like comics but are a fan of hard core action flicks with a sick sense of humour, this is still for you.


 

Hail, Caesar! ****

  

IMDB Synopsis: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.

The latest movie from the Coen brothers is one that I think will be one of their most divisive films. I just don’t see the majority of audiences falling head over heels for this film. It is quirky, whimsical, with a touch of noir and drama. I fell for this film right away. I loved everything from the unexpected story to the lavish sets as well as the unique performances.

The story that is sold in the trailers does not do this film any justice. Then again I don’t think this film was an easy one to market. The story is not traditional or linear, which is one of this films strengths. You doubt anyone could predict some of the plot twists that come out of the minds of the Coen brothers.

The cast here is also amazing. I want to single out Josh Brolin and Channing Tatum as the highlights. Tatum in particular has a dance sequence that will bring the house down with laughs and admiratiotn.

What a way to kick of 2016. Seems odd to have a Coen brothers movie released outside of the traditional awards season but then again I don’t think this is going to attract too much attention. Critics and audiences seem to be mixed on it already which is a shame. This is one of the best films of the year and it is only February.

Kung Fu Panda 3 ***1/2

 

IMDB Synopsis: Continuing his “legendary adventures of awesomeness”, Po must face two hugely epic, but different threats: one supernatural and the other a little closer to his home.

“Kung-Fu Panda 3” is not really a necessary sequel by any means but it is a great one.  I didn’t think that the story of Po the Panda was one that could span multiple movies but I am pleasantly surprised to find him still funny and entertaining.  It also helps that the director and the animators are still fully engaged in surrounding Po with a lush and vividly animated film that looks absolutely stunning on the big screen.  

I especially loved the look of the Spirit Realm.  Sort of a heaven for kung-fu masters of the past.  There resides Kai, a disgruntled master who wants to break free and seek revenge on the Dragon Warrior.  Kai is a an excellent movie villain who just chews up the scenery and takes no prisoners.  I found this plot more interesting than the side plot of Po finally meeting his birth father and finding a village full of Panda’s.  

If there is going to be a fourth “Kung-Fu Panda” movie then I would advise that they really take a risk and set it entirely in the Spirit Realm. If there is not a fourth movie then I think we will be fine with that three that we have.  If this movie makes the amount of money I think it will make then I would bank on seeing Po the Panda again.