THE JUNGLE BOOK

I remember watching the original 1967 Jungle Book when I was a kid. I’m not sure how many times I watched it, but I have vague memories ingrained in my head of sitting on the couch, watching Mowgli’s adventures. I had a complicated relationship with the movie to say the least. I adored Baloo, was terrified of the monkeys, and loved the songs. On the other hand, I thought King Louie was weird, Shere Khan never struck me as a scary villain, but Kaa was terrifying. The vultures had funny accents, and the girl seducing Mowgli at the end was weird.

But I remember the movie vividly, so when I saw the commercials for the new Jungle Book (2016), I was not impressed. Where was the fun? Where was the color and singing and personality?

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Then some of my favorite reviewers started raving about the film. It quickly became one of my top anticipated movies of the year. And that’s how I found myself sitting with my sister and friend in the theater the Friday it opened, waiting expectantly for an engrossing experience, as the critics had promised. Maybe I could replace my fuzzy childhood memories with a new, fresh one.

The plot of The Jungle Book is simple enough. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a human child who is found in an Indian jungle by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Bagheera gives Mowgli to a pack of wolves to be raised. When Mowgli is older though, a tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) swears to kill Mowgli, prompting Bagheera to take Mowgli to the man-village. However, their mission is interrupted by the cast of colorful characters they meet along the way.

When I started watching the film, it took me a while to get used to the hyper-realistic CGI used. It reminded me of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, which has photo-realistic scenery, and cartoony characters. That serviced the story well, and I liked it a lot. Here, I think the difference was because I knew in my head everything was fake, and that the one flesh and blood actor there was interacting with green screen. It messed with how I viewed the way the characters, scenery, and actor interacted.

But, after a few minutes, I got used to it. The visual effects truly are masterful, and I think worthy of some technical Oscar nominations. And the fact that Neel Sethi was able to act so well with nothing, just increases my respect for him.

In fact, the whole cast was wonderful. I especially enjoyed Bill Murray (hilarious as always) as Baloo and Ben Kingsley (I want Ben Kingsley to narrate my life). I also really liked Christopher Walken as King Louie and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa. Lupita Nyong’o and Idris Elba I also thought were really solid. In fact, the only cast I am more excited about than this cast is the one for Andy Serkis’ upcoming Jungle Book: Origins (2018) with Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, and Christian Bale.

THE JUNGLE BOOK
THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) MOWGLI and BALOO. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Jungle Book is very respectful to its source material, and is a pretty straightforward retelling except for a few changes. These changes overall help make a more coherent plot, which I appreciated. The acting was wonderful, the story solid, and effects were great. I was engaged throughout the whole movie. I think it will appeal to both kids and adults, although there are some moments that are too intense for young children.

But as I left the theater, something was nagging at me. Finally I was able to put my finger on it.

This Jungle Book just isn’t as much fun. It had funny moments for sure. But there is a distinct lack of personality in comparison to the original. The original was stylish. It had energy and heart. This Jungle Book has heart, but instead of proclaiming it in a loud voice, it says it in a whisper. The obligatory, half-hearted performance of the two famous songs “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” have none of the pizzaz of the original.

So The Jungle Book is a solid film, full of good things. But there is nothing great, nothing that will stick in your memory. I hope future Disney live action remakes will make sure to infuse more style and personality to their movies, because for now, I’m going to stick with my memories of seeing the original.

-Madeleine D

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

This review contains spoilers.

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From the very beginning, people had their doubts about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

    The title is too long!

    I don’t like Zac Snyder!

    I hated Man of Steel!

    Gal Gadot?

    Jesse Eisenberg??

    BEN AFFLECK??????

    Marvel is way better.

    They just want to make money!

After the trailers came out, very few people were comforted.

The Batman suit looks stupid.

    They showed too much!

    It looks confusing.

    BEN AFFLECK??????

And now the event of the century has come. Two of the biggest American icons fighting. But to add to the doubts, turns out Batman v Superman has its work cut out for it, seeing as it’s not the only superhero movie about a genius billionaire vigilante asking for accountability against the boy-scout of the people with superhuman abilities (Civil War, anyone?).

Batman v Superman is set up, at least in its first act, as an essay of sorts. The claim: Superman and Batman must fight to decide who is a true hero. Evidence is first about Superman. We see the controversial fight in Metropolis from Man of Steel from the perspective of Bruce Wayne. We see the people dying, orphaned, losing everything. Bruce watches this all. His anger is justified. Then we see the next set of evidence. Batman has his own reign of terror, so much so that the people he saves fear him. He brands villains, kills easily, and calls himself a criminal. Then we go back to Clark Kent, who is just a confused young man trying to decide whether he wants to keep his calling to be a god. Then we go back to Bruce Wayne. He’s lost the people he cares about. He’s tired. He just wants to leave behind a legacy. And he finds that in Superman. His legacy could not be just getting rid of criminals, whom, he argues, are like weeds: they keep coming back. But to take down Superman? The god? That is something permanent. As for Superman though, the Batman is a threat to justice, working outside the law. Not that Superman can say much to that. He himself has gone outside the law to save Lois Lane, even destroying a village in the process.

But Batman isn’t the only person out to kill Superman, and that’s where the second act begins. A wrench gets thrown in. Lex Luthor.

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This is a complicated plot, with various other ones I haven’t even touched on thrown in. There is at least one side plot that could have been eliminated without hurting the story, world-building, or characters. Then, if you wanted to get rid of the DC Cinematic Universe building there goes another three side plots. And if you wanted to rid of the half-Man of Steel sequel, and the beginning Batman movie, you have only one story left- the actual fight.

I have a lot of respect for the movie for trying to fit that many stories into one film. Some of it works and fits together. I like that they took their mistakes from Man of Steel and confronted them, basically making a movie out of it. Later in the film they completely remake those same mistakes, but hey, effort.

As for the building of the DC cinematic universe, it doesn’t succeed in getting me excited. (Never mind the fact that this world-building is so comic-book based to the point that I had to look up what certain symbols meant and who certain characters were.) Warner Bros is rushing it, to replicate what Marvel took years to do. I think they should focus on hitting each beat. They don’t need to have a two part epic, they don’t need solo films for a dozen characters in between. That will come. If the DC movies don’t want to be compared to Marvel, they shouldn’t be following them so closely.

But since I can’t blame them for wanting to replicate a design that has made billions of dollars and fan love worldwide, we need to deal with the movie we have. One that is messy, brilliant at times, but overall very….

Empty. It’s a movie that has an elaborate, beautiful, seemingly intelligent cover. But when you dig down, it’s very empty. The world-building is there, but the world still feels dark and soulless. The cinematography is gorgeous but there is nothing on screen that hits me emotionally. The characters, while well-acted, don’t relate to me. I don’t understand Superman’s pain because it is so far removed. I don’t have Batman’s anger, because I didn’t know the people who died. The talk of gods and monsters are never resolved. We never get an answer if Superman is a god or not. And while that might spark debate, it seems more like lazy writing. Pseudo-intellectualism.

Much of that talk comes from Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg.) He was a controversial pick from the start. People have criticized his performance for being too much like his performance as Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network, or an imitation of Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight. This might have some truth in it. But I’d much rather see a film take a risk, try something new and reinterpret the character than just make another reincarnation of it. A reboot needs things to redo. So I enjoyed Jesse Eisenberg’s take on it. His eccentricity made sense. A man who is able to convince two superheroes to fight each other, orchestrate a bombing at a State Senate, and kidnap various people needs to be on the crazy side.

Ben Affleck is a very good Batman, and an even better Bruce Wayne. This Batman is more murderous than any incarnation before, but it doesn’t seem out of place in this universe. And his Bruce Wayne is more proactive and exciting than Christian Bale’s before him. Jeremy Irons as Alfred is good too, but has very little to do.

Henry Cavill as Superman has all the tools to be a great Superman and Clark Kent. This is an interesting Superman. Not a boy scout but a torn young man wrestling with his powers. His relationships with his mom, ghost of his dad, Lois, Perry White, and Batman are very defined. Once he comes back (he’s confirmed for Justice League) I hope to see even more development for him.

Amy Adams tries extremely hard to make Lois Lane a great character. She has more to do here than in Man of Steel. But, she is still being used as a plot device and grows very little as a character.

Wonder Woman was one of the biggest wild cards in the movie. While she doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, she makes a very good impression. Gal Gadot makes Diana Prince relatable, (she checks her email! Just like us!) and Wonder Woman’s entrance is fantastic. Her theme song is an electric guitar solo for heaven’s sake! (the whole score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL is fantastic) I’m very excited for her upcoming movie. As long as they make it a point to sell the movies to men and women, not just making her “the female superhero,” it should be a great start to hopefully a new wave of more diverse superhero movies.

There are some other good things about the film. The actual fight between Batman and Superman is chillingly dark. Watching Batman completely brutalize Superman, the way he was brutalized by Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, had me cringing, sitting on the edge of my seat. Especially because, for the first and last time in the movie, I was emotionally invested. I cared that Martha Kent was saved.

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Now in a perfect world, the movie would have ended there. I really liked the connection between Martha Kent and Martha Wayne, I had never made that connection before. There is some really good writing. Holly Hunter takes a throwaway role and makes it great. The bombing of the Senate scene was breathtaking. But since it is not a perfect world and not a perfect movie, it keeps going.

Now I understand movies feel the need to get bigger and better. But when your bigger and better is a slug monster that looks like a cross between The Abomination and a Cave Troll, a fairly generic fight isn’t the ending we needed.

The true problem of Batman v Superman is that it is a wanna-be prestige picture that is the geekiest (and I mean that in the most endearing way, my fellow nerds) comic book movie that has ever been on screen. You have to know these storylines, characters, vague references, and symbolism from the comics to understand a lot of what is going on, because unlike other cinematic universes like Marvel, there is only one other movie to give you any background. At the same time, you have to have an appetite for a lot of often empty talk about gods, monsters, men, and the meaning of life. A lot of people can do both. This movie however, cannot. This leaves us with a movie that wants to be a lot of things, and while it succeeds at a lot, utilizing everything off its bucket list, it never fully resonates with the audience. At least, the audience who is still on the fringes of whether they want to get into this world at all.

-Madeleine D

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

For this review, I’m going to steal the IO9 format for reviews, a Q&A Style.

What is Midnight Special?

It is the newest film by Jeff Nichols, who, as my dad said before the movie, was “3 for 3” in good movies. He didn’t say “4 for 4” after the movie.

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Okay but doesn’t your dad like Terrence Malick and poetic films and foreign language films? This looks like a cool supernatural road-trip movie.

Yes, but that isn’t the problem. He loves all sorts of movies. If it was a cool supernatural road-trip movie he probably would have liked it a lot more actually, but it wasn’t.

So what is it?

A good idea that had no ending that someone greenlighted anyway.

So the ending is bad?

The ending is so bad it invalidates the whole film.

Okay. but back up. Is it good before the ending?

Ehhhhhh

???

Let me start from the beginning. [Warning: Spoiler Alerts ahead!] So the story is about Alton, who is a little boy (super cute Jaeden Lieberher) with unusual abilities. He can shoot lasers out of his eyes, bring down satellites, create bomb-thingies, scream out government coordinate thingies, and a lot of other random thingies. And that’s all you’ll ever know about that. A cult living on a ranch is created after they hear him speaking random numbers, and somehow sermons are created from the numbers.

????

Exactly. So the government sends Kylo Ren to find Alton, who is on the run with his father, Roy (a good, but somewhat muted Michael Shannon), mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst, who is reduced to looking mildly upset), and their friend Lukas (Joel Edgerton.) Their mission is to get Alton to a field, which they have been planning for for years, yet the day before they get there, Alton tells them what will actually happen when they get there.

That sounds cool, though.

Yeah, until the end when Alton and his mom finally get to their destination and all that happens is that Tomorrowland from Tomorrowland shows up, Alton goes off with some misty alien dudes (misty because the special effects budget ran out,) and Sarah looks mildly unhappy, cuts her hair to signify change, and Lukas and Roy go to jail.

The end.

So was Alton an alien the whole time?

WE NEVER KNOW. All he says is he is “from the future” and “a distant time” and he doesn’t belong here and his parents act like this seems reasonable, odd since they gave birth to him.

So Alton was a plot MacGuffin! I figured the movie out. It was an artistic statement.

No. Sorry, you didn’t figure it out. A plot MacGuffin works if in the end it doesn’t matter. The journey is what matters. EXCEPT THE JOURNEY HERE DOESN’T MATTER IF WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ALTON IS. The journey is fairly entertaining, and I am a huge sucker for road trip movies, but the motivation, the character’s sympathy, all rests on figuring out what Alton is. When it turns out it doesn’t matter, the journey is useless, the characters are as unreachable as ever, and why the heck did we even bother?

Maybe it was a political statement.

Don’t you dare use that line on me, that is my line and it does not apply here.

Okay, so the ending was bad, making the whole movie’s plot bad. Were there any redeeming things?

The acting was good. Even though the characters were hard to relate too, they were all well-acted. The style of the film was nice. The world-building, with the simple ways the deep south was represented, was subtle. And I really enjoyed a lot of the action. The car chase at the end and the kidnapping of Alton were really exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat. I also really liked Adam Driver’s performance (save for some of his plot conveniences, casually explained by the screenwriter as, “Look! He’s a nerd! He could obviously figure this out!”)

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Adam Driver plays a nerdy government worker that creates plot conveniences?

Yes.

Okay, so should I see it?

If you like Jeff Nichols, go see it. If you like road trip movies with random endings, go see it. If you like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, don’t see it. And if you’re like all the critics who are praising this movie for its vagueness, go see it.

What if I need to choose between seeing this movie and another movie?

Choose the other movie.

What if that other movie is God’s Not Dead 2?

Then, for the love of cinema, save your money for The Jungle Book.

-Madeleine D