The Jungle Book


Viewed – 24 November 2016  Blu-ray

I must admit I was sceptical going into this.  The much loved Disney classic from 1967 was prominently known for it’s sing-a-long musical numbers and largely animal cast of characters, with the only human being a child.  In this day and age of state-of-the art CGI I wasn’t too worried about them pulling off convincing animal performances.  Yet that child casting and subsequent acting had to be spot on.  Luckily it is.

THE JUNGLE BOOK

But I digress.  This classic tale follows the story of young ‘man-cub’ Mowgli, a child abandoned as a baby and brought up by a pack of wolves, along with the watchful eye of a black panther by the name of Bagheera.  Yet when bitter and ferocious tiger, Sheer-khan finds out about Mowgli, he vows to kill him as revenge for being burnt by ‘man’ some years previous.  So Mowgli, in order to keep him safe is sent away to find the man-village and be with his own kind, if that is he can escape the clutches of Shere Khan first.

Shere KhanThis is very well done.  The child actor playing Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a revelation; just as likeable and fun as the original character, and aiding him on his journey is lovable Bear ‘Baloo’ perfectly voiced by Bill Murray.  Voice-acting on a whole is very good throughout with only a couple of questionable choices.  Scarlett Johansson as a manipulative snake seems out of place and Idris Elba’s Shere Khan whilst good, is way too familiar to me (I’ve just come away from a run of Luthor episodes after all).  However Ben Kingsley as Bagheera is perfect, and I got a kick out of Christopher Walken’s mobster-like King Louie.  Yet the somewhat awkward implementation of the most famous songs, like ‘bare necessities’ and ‘I want t be like you (ooh ooh)’ considering the different tone, felt like unnecessary nods to the past rather than adding anything to the experience.

But for a remake that really shouldn’t have worked, this delivers on (almost) all counts with several stand out sequences and plenty of heart.  Well worth your time.

Verdict:  4 /5

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The Heist


Viewed – 08 July 2014  Netflix

Hmm, a pleasant surprise this.  As the highest voted entry on my recent poll, I was almost expecting this to be bad … sort of an ‘I dare you to watch this clunker!’ result, but then as the final credits rolled I realised – I hadn’t laughed or chuckled quite as much in a long time as I had watching this highly entertaining comedy.

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Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman and William H. Macey are security guards working at a museum, who discover they all have one thing in common -.their love of particular works of art.  For Walken, the haunting portrait of a lonely maiden, for Freeman a classic painting of a girl pouring milk for some cats, and for Macy a priceless bronze statue.  However on learning that their beloved pieces are due to be moved to a museum in Denmark, they hatch the unlikely plan of stealing the art for themselves.

I found this really enjoyable.  Three great actors, all of which I am a fan of, turning in excellent performances with many little quirks and old-age bumbling.  Walken’s over bearing wife, Freeman’s wealth of cats and Macy insistence on getting naked to pose with his statue at every opportunity.  It was a joy to just watch these complete working-class Joe’s try and pull off a painstakingly planned heist … with all the things that could go wrong etc.  Walken carries the movie well, even if like the other two, he comes across as a bit ‘odd’.  Also as a caper, it doesn’t add much to a well worn genre but for the over-the-hill casting.  Yet the comedy although gentle and innocent is right on the nail and I still had a great time.

Verdict:  4 /5

True Romance


Viewed – 20 August 2012  DVD

With the news of director Tony Scott’s death, I felt the only way I could pay a genuine tribute, was to watch and review one of his best (and most underrated) movies.  Starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, we follow the story of Clarence (Slater) who falls for rookie call girl Alabama (Arquette) and ends up doing a drug deal with a hot-shot movie producer after accidentally coming into possession of a suitcase full of cocaine.  With the Police and the Mob closing in on them, will they make it to the happy ending they dream of?

Based on a stellar screenplay by Quentin Tarantino and released at a time when Hollywood had Tarantino fever (it followed Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs only a year previous, quickly followed itself by Oliver Stone’s controversial Natural Born Killers) and with Scott’s trademark soft-focus filtered style and a great soundtrack this simply bleeds quality from beginning to end.  Supporting cast members all get their moment to shine, most notably Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken in a very memorable scene (you’re Sicilian, right?), but also Tom Sizemore, Val Kilmer (as the ghost of Elvis) and Gary Oldman.  Slater delivers easily the performance of his career, helped no end by a spunky and sexy Arquette, looking her most iconic.  The dialogue especially impresses, some of the best I’d say Tarantino has ever written, and with Scott’s confident direction, it even feels weightier and more meaningful than when Tarantino himself is behind the camera.

The plot does get a tad complicated, seems to wallow at times in the violence, and there’s probably too much going on … but if you’re paying attention, it all just works – which is a rare thing indeed.  A sure-fire classic of 90s cinema well worthy of repeated viewing.

Verdict:  5 /5

Batman Returns


Viewed – 09 August 2009  Blu-ray

With all the fuss over last year’s admittedly impressive The Dark Knight, I still came away longing for the old days when Batman was directed by Tim Burton and starred Michael Keaton as the caped crusader.  This 1992 follow up to Burton’s own Batman see’s Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego pitted against two villains (something that grew to a ridiculous degree in the two awful following films) namely Michelle Pfeiffer’s Cat Woman and Danny DeVito’s Penguin.  Great choices following Jack Nicholson’s acclaimed turn as the Joker last time around.

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The Penguin you see, was abandoned as a baby in the film’s classy, eerie opening sequence, and chooses Christmas Eve to make his return to a city that shunned him; Gotham.  Teaming up with corporate big wig Max Shrek (Christopher Walken) he makes a bid for Mayor, whilst at the same time Max’s bumbling secretary Selina Kyle (Pfieffer) is transformed into Cat Woman after Shrek pushes her out of a window following an unfortunate ‘curiosity kills the cat’ incident.

Although on paper complex, Burton’s assured direction and obvious love for the material makes everything flow effortlessly, with startling set design and a quartet of brilliant performances, be it Walken’s menacing Max or Devito’s ghastly Penguin.  But for me Pfeiffer steals the show every time she appears; sexy, playful and mad as hell – the perfect Batman femme-fatale.

It is then sad to watch this with the memory of Christopher Nolan’s two Batman films firmly in my mind.  Nolan doesn’t know how to create the Batman look, his Batman (despite the spot on casting of Christian Bale) is bland and uninteresting, with too much screen time given to the villians – and here, although Michael Keaton’s Batman / Bruce Wayne is less showy and more subtle than the foes he faces, Keaton delivers a confident and convincing portrayal of the tortured soul that is Bruce Wayne – perfect casting.  I will add that I couldn’t warm to Devito’s Penguin, totally unpleasant and one dimensional, with a very basic story arch that is sadly the films main focus.  Also some of the effects work is showing it’s age, although this is masked well with Burton’s incredible eye for gothic imagery, given a greater flamboyance when mixed with Danny Elfman’s superb score – still the only Bat theme anyone needs.

So in closing, if your a Batman or comic-book movie fan, this is an instant recommendation.

Verdict:  4 /5

The King Of New York


Viewed – 30 September 2008  DVD

I thought this kicked all kinds of ass when I watched it once on late night television.  Who can argue with the set up of a respected, feared gang boss (Christopher Walken on electrifying form) who is released from prison and goes about taking over New York City by any means necessary.  Dirty, seedy, sexy and very violent – result!

Yet having sat down and watched it again now – it hasn’t aged well.  Walken of course is superb, but the story and the situations all feel so over-dramatic with little tension or believable atmosphere – it kinda feels like a very bloody comic book – of which I don’t have a problem with…but you can tell this film is taking itself very seriously, and frankly…at times it began to look a bit juvenile.  Scarface would have crapped all over these guys.

The cops (headed by David Caruso and Wesley Snipes) are very unlikable (especially hot shot dick-head Caruso) and the dead-faced Walken is unstoppable…leading to a very weak ending.  Yet saying hat, its still all tits, guns, coke and attitude to spare – and Walken is always worthy of your time.

Verdict:  3 /5