Posted: July 5, 2016 in Movie Reviews


Story after story throughout the history of storytelling has revolved around friendship and its limitless boundaries. It’s an uplifting theme recognizable in any culture and society. Whether between man and animal or between people from two vastly opposing walks of life, the plethora of stories dealing with relationships all deliver the same consensus: friendship knows no prejudice. Based off of Roald Dahl’s children’s book, The BFG depicts a friendship between two people separated by two very different worlds.


Summary: (No spoilers)

After spotting an enormous creature stalking the streets of London in the dead of night, young orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is plucked from her bed and taken to Giant Country. She quickly discovers, however, that this particular giant is indeed a friendly giant, a Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance—–Bridge of Spies). Unlike the other giants in the land, this peaceful giant doesn’t eat children, instead collecting dreams and delivering them to people as they sleep. But the other not-so-friendly giants in the land don’t share his morals. In order to save England’s children from being devoured, Sophie and the BFG seek help from the Queen to rid the land of such nasty brutes.

Also starring: Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, and Bill Hader


The legendary Stephen Spielberg is among the most admired and respected directors of our time, a man whose multiple masterpieces of film will still be viewed centuries from now. We’ve seen him cover every genre from drama, war, animation, biopic, and family-friendly. Films like Hook and E.T. captured the spirit of childhood imagination. The BFG strives to accomplish very much the same thing.

The BFG is a film brimming with all the visual pizzazz and splendor that could derive from such a brilliant director. While a film of this type would suffer from an over-saturation of colors and CGI under most other directors, Spielberg manages to evoke the feeling of a fully realized set with authentic locations instead of a film modeled inside of a computer. Sure, there’s CGI aplenty, but it’s complemented by gorgeous imagery. But if there’s one standout aspect of the film’s visual splendor, it’s the motion-capture work done for Mark Rylance as the giant.

Coming off of his Oscar win for Bridge of Spies (also a Spielberg film), Rylance imbues the role with all the charm that could be given to a big, friendly giant. His pure charisma is coupled with some of the most gorgeous motion-capture work on a human character I’ve ever seen. Newcomer Ruby Barnhill plays her role with an equal amount of magnetism and sophistication. If there’s one thing that Spielberg accomplishes with aplomb in every one of his films, even the weaker ones, it’s coaxing the best performances from his actors that he possibly can. The young Sophie prompts just as much adoration and affection from the audience as E.T.’s Elliot.


Where The BFG ultimately falls a bit short is in its narrative. The first two-thirds feel somewhat lost, with no immediate focus. The story plods along with only a slight feeling that it knows where it wants to go. It’s in the last third of the film, when the duo finally attempts to persuade the Queen for her help, that it finally kicks into gear. The previous events are in no way unwatchable, they merely lack the drive to make us completely invested. But the two characters blend together with such seamless charm that it makes the first hour and a half bearable.

In a nutshell:

If The BFG is trying to be merely a fanciful family film with levity and magical charm, then it accomplishes its goal. If The BFG is striving to be something more meaningful (as one would excpect under the direction of a filmmaker like Spielberg), then it falls a bit short. The performances are as heart-felt and genuine as they could possibly be, and it’s a visually gorgeous piece of work, but this film just doesn’t quite hit the mark that it was perhaps aiming for.

6.5 stars


Finding Dory

Posted: June 18, 2016 in Movie Reviews


Back in 2003, Pixar Studio’s résumé was far less varied than it is now. Before the rat with culinary skills, airborne houses, linguistic cars, and mind-dwelling emotions, Pixar’s array of animated masterpieces were limited (“limited”) to talking toys, oppressed bugs, and energy-seeking monsters. Then along came Finding Nemo, a film brimming with warmth and vivacity, epic storytelling, memorable characters, and gorgeous animation that still looks just as mesmerizing as it did 13 years ago. Among its ensemble of memorable characters was Dory—–the charming blue tang with a knack for forgetting things. But now that Nemo has been found, Pixar has taken the opportunity to expound on Dory’s story.


Summary: (No spoilers)

One year after her tumultuous journey across the vast ocean, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) begins to have flashes of her past. When she remembers a vital clue regarding her parents’ whereabouts, she sets off to find them after years of not remembering anything about them. Determined to not allow somebody else he cares about get lost, Marlin (Albert Brooks——Taxi Driver) and his son Nemo accompany her. But when Dory is scooped up from the water and taken to a California marine rehabilitation center, Marlin and Nemo head in after her, accepting help along the way from the most unlikely of allies.

Also starring: Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell, Kaitlin Olsen, Hayden Rolence, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, and Sigourney Weaver


Finding Nemo is among the greatest of Pixar’s prestigious achievements, so it only makes sense that its sequel would require just as much charm and whimsy as its predecessor. While the end result doesn’t quite deliver the greatness of the first, it does infuse it with enough of its best qualities.

As wildly entertaining as Dory is in Finding Nemo, she never seemed like the type of character that needed her own story. Sure, her past was an enigma, but we  really didn’t need to see it (of course, what film do we ever need to see?). I was a bit worried that this film would feel like a stretch, only existing for the sake of capitalizing on its predecessor’s success. Yet every time I doubt Pixar I almost always find myself wondering why I did. In fact, I would say that Dory is a more appropriate title character than even Nemo was.


I was also pleased to see that characters from the first film are used sparingly (except, of course, for the main three), while some don’t make an appearance at all. I appreciate that only characters that truly added to the story were included. When a film like Finding Nemo makes such a big splash (no pun intended) with an audience, it’s just come to be expected that the sequel will throw as many of its favorite characters back onto the screen as it physically can.  But with Finding Dory, it uses a few of the old characters but utilizes the opportunity to develop brand-new ones, not merely relying on the nostalgia of the original to carry it forward.

The voice acting is simply splendid; each voice sounds distinct yet appropriate. But the real MVP of the film is Ed O’Neill who voices an octopus named Hank. Gruff in nature yet lovable at his core, Hank’s journey feels organic and not at all forced. His allying with Dory feels natural and wholly plausible. But overall, not one character in the film feels even slightly annoying or heavy-handed, an aspect that most animated films these days (even, on occasion, a Disney film) is guilty of. But if we’re talking about loveable characters, then the epitome of loveable in this film is baby Dory. Remember how adorable Squirt was? Multiply that cuteness factor x5.


Another incredible aspect of this film is the animation, something that just keeps being repeated every time Pixar makes a film. Remember how utterly amazing the landscapes looked in The Good Dinosaur? How every tree, mountain, and river looked like it was filmed by a National Geographic crew? Well Finding Dory’s ocean looks just as incredible. Even the film’s opening short Piper (an immensely enjoyable little tale) utilizes a photo-realistic environment.

In a nutshell:

Not much can be said negatively of this film, other than the last act could’ve used the smallest hint of fine-tuning, and the film ends somewhat abruptly. Also, Sia’s song “Unforgettable” that accompanies the end credits isn’t anywhere near as appropriate in style as Robbie William’s “Beyond the Sea” was in Finding Nemo. But these are mere grievances that are easily forgettable. Finding Dory is a sheer delight from start to finish, infused with well-placed humor, even more loveable characters, a sparkling musical score, and all the TLC that Pixar can spare.

8 stars


Against all inconceivable odds, the almighty Marvel Studios has successfully kept up with their shared cinematic universe for eight years now. It’s uncanny to conceive that with 13 films and roughly 16 main characters (that’s not counting villains, secondary characters, or supporting characters) that Marvel has managed to keep their universe free of major cracks and holes. After all, Fox Studio’s X-Men franchise bears a couple lackluster films and is littered with glaring inconsistencies (not to mention the failure of three Fantastic Four films). Even Sony’s Spider-Man franchise contains a few rotten eggs and has been rebooted twice now. With Marvel’s nearly unblemished record, it seems that they have the Midas golden touch. In Captain America: Civil War, two major storylines come to a head in what is both a conclusion to the Captain America trilogy and an aftermath to the most recent Avengers film.


Summary: (No spoilers)

For four years the Avengers have basked in the glory of unprecedented victory in the face of domineering adversity. But when their seemingly-heroic actions are placed in a completely alternate light, their perceptions of war and glory and victory are quickly put into perspective. Their defeat of Ultron in Sokovia may have been triumphant, but their actions caused unprecedented loss of life in the process. It’s for this very reason that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.—–Sherlock Holmes, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) backs a multi-national treaty to place the Avengers under the responsibility of the United Nations.

Staunchly opposed to the notion is Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans——Fantastic Four) who claims that bureaucratic oversight will restrain the team from carrying out their duties as earth’s mightiest heroes. With the debate from every team member readily growing by the day, the Avengers quickly find themselves divided against each other as all-out war imminently looms ahead.

Also starring: Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Rudd, Daniel Brühl, Tom Holland, Martin Freeman, and William Hurt   


Debate is a major facet of life. Whether discussing politics or the feasibility of film plots, conjecture and opinion is something we all engage in on a regular basis. And the higher the risk involved, the more heated the debate will be. Saving the world isn’t entirely a black and white issue. Marvel’s past films may have presented it in that way, but Civil War takes our perceptions of our favorite superheroes and places them in an entirely different light. Is Captain America truly the pillar of virtue we so admire? We know Tony Stark is a class-A narcissist, and dire mistakes aren’t out of his realm of possibility, but is he really the heroic billionaire playboy philanthropist we’ve been lead to believe?

Ever since we were introduced to the scrawny kid from Brooklyn who never shied from a fight, Captain America has always been our moral compass and rock of integrity we’ve anchored ourselves to. His patriotism coupled with his incessant hatred for injustice is what makes him not only a fan favorite, but the perfect leader for the Avengers to follow.

In The Winter Soldier, however, we learned that duty to country can make you blind to the hidden agendas that lurk just under radar, and that saving his old friend-turned-foe required him to deny all past sense of obligation and disobey higher command. These seeming “flaws” of Captain America carried over into Age of Ultron where his ardent passion for taking down the bad guy caused him to drag his team into an affair that ultimately cost the lives of countless innocents. Their death may not have been at his expense, but they died anyway.


Ever since we were introduced to the weapons-manufacturing billionaire playboy who used his technology to stop those who sought to pervert his work, Iron Man has been the unofficial soul of the Avengers. His technology has provided incomparable aid to the team, and he’s the one who assembled the team to begin with. When he sees people in need, he doesn’t hesitate to intervene.

What I found most refreshing about Civil War is that it doesn’t strive to take sides. Its marketing urged us to do so, but the film doesn’t. Instead, it presents both Cap’s and Stark’s viewpoints in a balanced way. Cap claims that the world will always need to be saved, while Stark claims that the Avengers need to be in check. Cap claims that being in check will inhibit and ultimately dismantle the team, while it’s pointed out that Stark has only incited global destruction since getting into the Iron Man suit. Tack onto that the continuing storyline from The Winter Soldier concerning Bucky—–Rogers’ life-long friend. Though his friend has been involved in decades of stealth assassinations, he and Stark clash over whether he can be trusted.

These moral dilemmas make for the most indecisive Marvel film yet. Not because the film itself is indecisive in what it wants to convey, but because the characters themselves face perhaps their greatest challenge yet. DC made their interpretation of super-dispute a mere month ago with Batman v Superman; but where their film ultimately lacked, Marvel’s film once again showed how it’s done. Both films are similar in premise: two titans of power collide head-to-head. Another similarity is that, in both situations, the two sides are being coerced by a figure lurking in the shadows pulling the strings. That particular subplot doesn’t especially play out to the film’s advantage in Batman v Superman; and while it isn’t the strongest aspect of Civil War, it isn’t nearly as clear of a weakness.

But the largest difference between these two powerhouses of film is that we’ve had four films familiarizing ourselves with Rogers, two of which contained both Cap and Stark. These are characters we’re intimately familiar with and invested in. Batman and Superman, not as much. So when the punching and the fighting commences, we feel it on an emotional level. They’re not only fighting because they’re being tricked—–they’re fighting because they no longer see eye-to-eye. To witness that after years of camaraderie and friendship (though, granted, at first reluctantly) is difficult to observe.


The film stuffs numerous characters, super and non-, into the story. While most films would have crumbled under the weight of so many characters, directors Joe and Anthony Russo create a truly perfect balance within the narrative. With 12 superheroes plunging head-on into the fray, it seems like Avengers 2.5 from the outside; but at its core it’s still a Captain America film. Each actor brings their all. But perhaps one of the standout aspects of the film is the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man. We’ve had Tobey Maguire, then Andrew Garfield, and now Tom Holland. Though I’ll wait for his upcoming stand-alone film before determining whether he’s the best incarnation of the character we’ve seen yet, I will say that this new Spider-Man definitely shows incredible promise.

In a nutshell:

While I can’t say for sure if it’s the greatest film from Marvel yet, I’d undoubtedly place it in the top three. Captain America: Civil War more than delivers on the promise of the trailers by delivering a film with breathtaking action choreography, impressive production design, heart-felt drama, and a fresh plot. If there’s any doubt about the Marvel formula growing stale in the near future, then this film eradicates all doubt. Captain America: Civil War does practically everything to perfection. But what truly sets this film apart from most others in the genre is Steve Rogers’ and Tony Stark’s final confrontation in the third act. If anything that precedes it feels even remotely comic-y, the truly heart-breaking end of the film will change your mind. Team Cap or Team Iron Man? The true victor is Team Marvel.   

9 stars

With the recent release of Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book, the Mouse House proved indefinitely that not only are the animation-to-live-action adaptations a good idea, but that they’re here to stay. Of course The Jungle Book  was the fourth of a string of these adaptations that have ranged from good to mediocre.

Though many were dismayed at Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, I personally thought it contained a wacky charm that served Lewis Carroll’s book well. While Maleficent was by no means a poor film, and its focus on the villain was a great idea, the retelling of the classic fairytale didn’t translate well. Cinderella was beautifully made, retaining the charm of the original film while adding flair of its own. It was my favorite of the live-action retellings until The Jungle Book came along.

But above all, the live-action adaptations have proved a monetary boon to the Disney Company (with Alice In Wonderland alone garnering over $1 billion). So it’s no surprise that Disney has announced a slew of classic (and some non-classic) live-action retellings. The list includes: Pinocchio, The Sword in the Stone, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasia, The Little Mermaid, Dumbo, Mulan, Winnie the Pooh, Chip ’n’ Dale, Aladdin, and both a Tinker Bell film and an untitled “Prince Charming” film.

The films that excite me the most are The Sword in the Stone, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast (which with stellar stars like Emma Watson, Stanely Tucci, and Ian McKellen, is shaping up to be quite a film). While I have full faith in the Disney story brains, I’d just as soon throw out several of these films on this list and replace them with different classic Disney animations. While the three aforementioned films are at the top of the list of much-needed live-action adaptations, there are several films that would translate superbly onto the big screen (or at least more so than Tinker Bell).

The Rescuers Down Under


 If there’s one word to summarize this film, it’s “adventurous”. The Australian outback would be a fantastic setting to film on location, and Disney proved with The Jungle Book and Cinderella that they can give non-caricatured animals all the charm and personality of their animated counterparts. I personally would be ecstatic to see Miss Bianca and Bernard interact with Joanna the monitor lizard. And the flight through the clouds atop the majestic eagle would be a spectacle to behold.

The Lion King


 Prior to seeing The Jungle Book, I emphatically stated that The Lion King would be absolutely impossible to make due to its need to be 100% CGI. Then I was immersed in the photo-realistic jungle that looked and felt like it was filmed in the rain forests of India, and my mind was instantly changed. Now that I know that CGI is of no issue, my only hesitation is eradicated. The Lion King is already Shakespearean in style, so it would translate perfectly. Cherry pick the best songs as they did with The Jungle Book and you have another instant classic on your hands. Still not convinced? Envision this: that stunning opening shot recreated on the Serengeti plains, with those same stirring vocals of “Circle of Life”.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire


 Chances are you’ve probably never seen this film. It was released during the 2000s, which was a hit-and-miss decade for Disney. It comes highly recommended. Like The Rescuers Down Under, it’s adventurous. Its Jules-Verne-like method of storytelling and style coupled with its mythos makes for one exciting experience. And this is a film that the art directors and cinematographers and set designers could go to town with. The scene alone where the sea creature attacks the submarine—an already eerie scene in the animated film—could really turn out spectacularly if done convincingly.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame


 Disney has shown that they’re not afraid to alter their storylines in order to tell a more palpable and heart-felt story. The already existing storyline of a man shunned by society simply for being disfigured and then used by a pernicious antagonist, with adjustments for affect, could be really enticing. Cast some great comedic actors to do the motion-capture for the gargoyles and you have the makings of a hit.



 2015 saw a couple bad to terrible iterations of the demigod, and to this day the animated film remains the best there is. This is Disney’s opportunity to make their live-action adaptation that could potentially become the defining Hercules flick. Though it wasn’t as instantly accepted as The Little Mermaid or Frozen, I feel that the animated film has grown in popularity over the years. Cast a great comedic actor as Phil the satyr and someone who can bring terror and humor to Hades, and the potential is there.

Treasure Planet


 Like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, you’ve probably never enjoyed this film. It’s a retelling of the classic “Treasure Island”, except taking place among the cosmos instead of the high seas. A film of its kind has never been made, and it’s been a while since we’ve had a “Treasure Island” remake, so Disney seemingly as a staple on it. A live-action retelling would be a great way to introduce the populace to the animated film, and a romping adventure in outer space with that classic pirate theme sounds like a perfect project for Disney to sink its teeth into.






Ask the average bum on the street to name a superhero and chances are that he’ll mention either Batman or Superman. With a combined 13 films (and that’s not counting any of the older cartoons, television shows, and animated films), Batman and Superman are the defining superheroes. Even with Marvel Studios churning out great films one after the other, nothing will ever defeat the might and attraction of these two titans of comic book lore. Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” comic is a cult classic in the fan community. Now, through the eyes of director Zach Snyder, the ultimate fight is finally realized.


Summary: (No spoilers)

In the wake of the devastating assault on Metropolis depicted in Man of Steel, the world has a split view on Superman (Henry Cavill—–The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). Some point to his invaluable aid of the human race, while others emphatically point to the desolation and ruin he’s left behind him. As the political ire intensifies by the day, Gotham billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck—–Argo, Good Will Hunting) uses his technological prowess as the Batman to devise a plan to take down the Son of Krypton. Tempers flare on both sides as the two titans head into the greatest gladiator battle the world has ever known.

Also starring: Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, and Jeremy Irons


How super is Superman? If his heroic actions save the lives of tens of thousands but leaves billions of dollars worth of damage, is it worth it? Can he even be trusted? The old Superman cartoons never bothered to answer these moral dilemmas, and they never needed to. They were upbeat, romping adventures of a superhero stopping bank robbers and blocking erupting volcanoes. But it’s 2016, and in a post-911 world with ISIS inflicting chaos, everybody and everything is under scrutiny. ­Batman v Superman seizes the opportunity to depict a modern world with an alien who can do extraordinary things.

The DC Cinematic Universe got off to a bit of a late start. The almighty Marvel Studios has been crushing it since 2008 with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers. Following the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, DC began their shared universe of caped crusaders with Man of Steel, a film that I personally loved but that received mixed reactions. Batman v Superman needed to be great in order to make people as receptive to the DC films as they are to the Marvel films. While the end result is admirable at times, it’s hardly great.

The film is titled Batman v Superman, therefore it isn’t implausible to assume that they’re gonna duke it out. And with a 2 hour 30 minute runtime, it isn’t implausible to assume that they’re gonna duke it out a lot. Perhaps not as long as Kal-El battled Zod in Man of Steel, but most likely a clash that is drawn out over two fights. You would assume that, wouldn’t you?

Unfortunately the end result hardly plays out that way. The two spend more time battling as friends (not a spoiler, it was in the trailer) than they do as enemies; which would be far less disappointing if the film were titled “Batman and Superman: Dawn of Justice”. The film hypes you up for this epic showdown for the ages. While the struggle itself is enthralling and grand in scope, it hardly constitutes as the gladiator battle we were so enthusiastically promised.


In his second run as the Son of Krypton, Henry Cavill manages to progress his excellent portrayal, playing it even darker and a tad more brooding this time around. The classic Daily-Planet-reporter-out-saving-cats Superman he may not be, but for a hero who is being shunned and even degraded by society for his valiant efforts, he portrays the Superman adequate for this tone and style.

Amy Adams’ performance as Lois Lane is adequate, while not outstanding; Jeremy Irons brings us a different Alfred than we’ve seen in any Batman iteration: less of a proper English butler and more of a friend and accomplice to Bruce Wayne; Gal Gadot wows us with a strong presence as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman; and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is, well, shall we say an “interesting” rendition. Eisenberg clearly channels Jim Carrey’s Riddler from Batman Forever (and maybe even hints of Ledger’s Joker) in several moments of the film. Perhaps he was going for the “mad, crazy bad guy that comes off as brilliant” approach, but unfortunately that method of acting didn’t pay off for him.

Where this film truly shines, ironically enough, is with Ben Affleck’s Batman. I say “ironically enough” because a year ago when Affleck was announced fans practically rioted in the street. Now, they’re all in unified agreement that he is perhaps the greatest aspect of this film. While multiple more viewings are required before it can be determined if he rivals Christian Bale’s Batman, I can say this: Ben Affleck is outstanding in this film. Absolutely remarkable. The presence and gravity he brings to both Batman and Bruce Wayne is absolutely perfect for this iteration of the Dark Knight. He’s an older, grizzled war veteran of Gotham crime. He’s been around the block more than a few times. He’s seen things that have likely rocked him to his core. But when he takes to the streets to take down the bad guys, he’s like a tank. His fighting is less grunt-punchy and a little more fluid.

Ultimately, where this film truly loses its focus is in the story—the single most important element of any film. The core storyline and motivation for the heroes serves the film well; it’s quite logical to assume that a Bruce Wayne embittered by the destruction of an entire city would view Superman as an alien, a loose cannon that could potentially wipe humanity from the face of the earth at any time. Therefore you sympathize with him. But you’re also well aware that Superman is no foe to humanity. So when the two battle to the death, you aren’t necessarily rooting for one person.


But there’s a secondary motivation for these two clashing that links to Lex Luthor. While I won’t reveal it for spoiler reasons, it certainly is not the way the story should have gone. It’s quite unfortunate that Warner Bros. didn’t have the foresight to hire a new director and leave Zach Snyder as producer, because as much as I loved Man of Steel  (which partially had to do with Chris Nolan’s involvement in the project), I despise 300 and Watchmen.

In a nutshell:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits many of the right chords, just not the ones that truly matter. Epic in scope and thought-provoking in its morality, the end result is still enjoyable but hardly noteworthy. It’s worth the view, if not to relish the epic (but short-lived) battle between Supes and Bats. In the end, this film leaves me less excited for the subsequent Justice League films (especially considering Zach Snyder’s involvement as director) and ecstatic at the prospect of a Ben Affleck-directed Batman solo film with him starring. That is the film I’ll be eagerly awaiting.

7 stars

The Jungle Book

Posted: April 16, 2016 in Movie Reviews


It’s 2016. Stunning computer generated imagery has been around since 1993’s Jurassic Park. Since that time, the film industry has produced a plethora of CGI-laden films; some have managed to push the limits of possibility, some have causd a fatigue for big budget blockbuster films among the general audience. There have been milestones in CGI in the decades since: Star War I: The Phantom Menace, The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, etc. Now, through The Jungle Book,  we have the next milestone in the world of special effects.


Summary: (No spoilers)

Since infancy, the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) has been reared by the law of the jungle and the wolf pack that have become his family. But when the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba—–Thor, Pacific Rim) demands the boy who will one day grow into a man, Mowgli’s trusted friends must aid him as he flees from the jungle to the protection of his own kind.

Also starring: Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong’o, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito, and Scarlett Johansson


I went in wondering if we would get a film from the director of Iron Man or Cowboys and Aliens. Very thankfully, we got the former. The Jungle Book  is for certain among the top 10 most beloved Disney animated classics, and it would have been an absolute shame for this to have gone the same way as Maleficent. Ultimately, it ended up being the best live-action adaptation Disney has produced yet.

The 1967 classic bears all the signature elements of a great Disney film: loveable characters, an enticing environment, a heartwarming story, and a list of Sherman Brothers songs that leave you humming for days. What this iteration of The Jungle Book does is beautifully and almost flawlessly blends the classic themes and tone with a modern, grittier story. All of the characters you know and love are present (even if one or two are in it less than we’d prefer).


At its core, the story remains the same. But the opportunity is taken to embellish the story, partially with material from Rudyard Kipling’s book. The result is a film that feels both nostalgic and completely fresh. From its opening title, certain scenes and thematic elements are utilized from the animated film. Even a couple of the songs, modified and revitalized, make their way into the film (with a brand new bit written by Richard Sherman).

Visually, this film is among the greatest ever. The staggering fact is that nothing you see, with the exception of Mowgli, is real. Everything, everything, is created inside of a computer. While so many films suffer from an over-saturation of special effects, The Jungle Book is rescued by the fact that it all looks stunning. From the individual blades of grass to the water droplets on the animals’ fur, everything you see is absolutely incredible. Does it rival even Avatar? Yes; though, granted, Avatar did create an entirely new world filled with breathtaking creatures and environments. But as for being immersed in an environment, The Jungle Book does it best. Never once do you question the look of an animal or the flow of a river.

But where the heart of this film truly lies is with the cast. Bill Murray may not seem like an entirely appropriate choice for the larger-than-life bear, but he pulls it off astoundingly, instilling an appropriate amount of humor and levity. Ben Kingsley as the panther Bagheera provides a deepness of tone and authority to a character who must look out for Mowgli’s safety. As much as Christopher Walken seems like the most unlikely actor who could bring King Louie to life, Walken is fantastic in the role. While he seems like a guy to do business with, he’s perhaps the biggest double-crosser and con artist in the jungle. Newcomer Neel Sethi handles himself with aplomb, especially considering that his acting environment consisted of 100% green screen, an environment that seasoned actors have crumbled in. He instills all the youthful charm and charismatic nature of the animated Mowgli.


While it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact standout, it’s Shere Khan who should be considered for one of the best villains of the year. Frightening, collected, and subtle, the villain that evokes the most terror is usually the one that holds back but could strike at any moment. Idris Elba’s voice lends itself perfectly to a villain that could have easily become bland and stereotypical had it not been for the right type of motivation that compels him.

In a nutshell:

While I’ve stated emphatically that a live-action iteration of The Lion King is impossible, this film has not only changed my mind, but has made me genuinely ecstatic at the thought of it. Beautifully adapted, ideally cast, and at times heart-warmingly pleasant, The Jungle Book is a visual feast and contains a lively musical score to match. It perfectly mixes somber tones with the levity of the animated original, and is sheer proof that live-action adaptations of the Disney classics can truly be great.

9 stars



Posted: March 8, 2016 in Movie Reviews


Walt Disney once said, “Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.” While this may not be one of those inspirational Walt Disney quotes on a mug, it nonetheless rings true as a testament to his studio’s 75 + years of animation and imagination. And if there’s one quintessential word to surmise the Disney success, it’s imagination. It’s why billions of people have flown over Neverland in a pirate ship or sailed the Spanish Main with vagabonds or have been hijacked by 999 grim, grinning ghosts; because imagination——whether experienced through Disneyland or the art of animation——is one thing that Disney has always excelled at.


Summary: (No spoilers)

Since a young age, rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin——Once Upon a Time) has dreamed of becoming a police officer in the bustling city of Zootopia, a place where predator and prey——of all sizes——live in harmony. After successfully becoming Zootopia’s first rabbit officer, her success is only met by consistent discouragement as nobody believes that such a small creature can endure the pressures of police work.

But when Judy is given a chance to crack an important case, she employs the use of a slick, wily Fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman——Horrible Bosses). Together, these otherwise incompatible companions must work as a team, setting aside stereotypes, to accomplish their goal.

Also starring:  Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, and J.K. Simmons


Walt Disney Animation Studios has been delivering quite the variety lately. Princess flicks The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Frozen gave a charming-yet-modern spin to the classic fairy tales; the gaming-heavy Wreck-It Ralph opened an entire realm for a potential franchise within the world of video games; and though I personally found the Big Hero 6 narrative to be a bit underwhelming, it was still proof that Disney can handle the aesthetic authenticity (not to mention character appeal) of anything they put their creative hand to.

Zootopia continues with that unprecedented creative range by creating yet another immersive world ripe for genius storytelling. And if there’s one thing that the great Walt Disney inspired in his animators, it was creating those worlds——the foundation for visionary storytelling. At its core, Zootopia carries current connotations and weaves it into its plot. Animals have evolved and advanced over the years from primitive predator-eats-prey mindsets to living together peacefully in an urban setting.

But not all is well in Zootopia, for some predators are seemingly reverting back to their savage ways. It’s up to officer Hopps to discover what is causing this damaging pandemic. But over the course of the film, she discovers that wide-spread concern is becoming just as harmful as the actual crazed animals. This concern quickly becomes fear, which becomes panic, which turns into pure animosity for all predators, even those who have committed no wrong. It’s Civil Rights- and current-America in the animal world.


But lest you think that this is a socio-political thesis set within a childrens’ movie, you couldn’t be more wrong. Zootopia is just as much a Disney Animation film as Aladdin; it simply carries with it nuances and implications that can be seen in today’s society. Within Zootopia, many animals are seen as one way, and one way only. The brute animals such as the rhinos comprise the police force. The smaller, more helpless creatures have the office jobs. And the sloths are, quite appropriately, employed at the DMV (a hilarious scene that will have you laughing aloud). While this mindset perfectly reflects today’s society, it also depicts that your size and stature and background needn’t have bearing over what you can accomplish, an idea that Walt himself cherished and lived by.

Disney chooses the fox, a creature known throughout the centuries for its craftiness, as its secondary protagonist. They’re not a trusted species in Zootopia, but the film suggests that stereotypes, though often seeded in truth, should not define the individual. Though a person may be of descent that is commonly associated with a particular viewpoint, it isn’t incumbent of that person to live within that stereotype. Ultimately, Zootopia teaches that stereotypes are often in place for a reason, but that it’s also the responsibility of society to not blindly assume.

In a nutshell:

What truly makes Zootopia work as a film is not its mere preaching about social morals, but the way in which it makes you connect with the characters authentically. It imbues these characters with dimension, even giving some of them back stories that might leave a tear in your eye. Set within a richly-detailed world (I can’t wait to buy the Blu-ray so I can pause and absorb every detail), this film proves yet again that Disney is the master at telling beautiful stories with mature themes within child-friendly environments. As fun as the minions are, this is the stuff that fulfills you in a wholly positive way and leaves you happier and more cheerful than when you started out.


8.5 stars