In light of the ongoing creative drought in Hollywood, it was hard to meet the latest adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling’s beloved children’s classic, The Jungle Book, with anything but scepticism. While the tale itself is no stranger to adaptation – since its publication in 1894, the story has seen numerous retellings, from author Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book to Disney’s own animated classic – there was certainly an aura of exploitation surrounding the project. Perhaps, The Jungle Book was being reintroduced to popular culture because it brought with it very little risk of commercial failure – after all, with a star studded cast and a sizable special effects budget, how badly could a time-tested classic really fare? As it turns out, such cynicism was largely unwarranted; that star-studded cast consistently delivered riveting performances and it seemed like every cent of that special effects budget was put to excellent use in crafting a lush, vibrant world filled with mystery, danger and adventure. Ironically enough, it is the story itself that falls a little short in terms of narrative heft but makes up for it with plenty of heart and humour. (8/10)
This post has mild spoilers for Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. If you do not wish for certain information regarding plot points from this movie to be revealed to you, you might want to consider not reading any further.
Was there ever a movie as destined to bomb as Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice? Between Ben Affleck pretending to be Batman and Zack Snyder pretending to be a director, it feels like the movie’s fate was pre-destined. Sure, some part of the movie’s poor performance can chalked up to the glut of decent comic-book super-hero movies in recent years, but that’s no excuse for a project this size to have nothing to show for itself other than some flashy special effects and a few well-choreographed action sequences. The most perplexing thing about this movie’s failure, however, is how very predictable it was. It seemed that each new announcement regarding the movie pushed expectations to new lows; from the casting choices to the film’s premise, it seemed like there was disaster lurking around every corner. Indeed, everything that could possibly have gone wrong, did – from a slipshod script, unconvincing performances and questionable production, if this movie doesn’t end Snyder’s all too long career, nothing will. (3.0/10)
Unflinchingly brutal, Alejandro Inarritu’s period revenge flick is visually stunning but narratively stale (8.0/10)
Set in the rugged, untamed wilderness of early America, The Revenant revolves around the story of veteran trapper and hunter Hugh Glass and his quest for revenge when a fur trapping expedition goes violently wrong. With the unforgiving yet jaw-dropping beauty of Montana and South Dakota as his canvas, director Alejandro Inarritu (Birdman) returns to the box office flanked by industry darlings Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy to deliver a story that is as vicious and gritty as it is unbelievable. Hardy and DiCaprio, unsurprisingly enough by this point, both deliver powerful performances with the latter dragging the film screaming over the hump separating good from great. Yet, despite the cast’s performance and admirable commitment, the film is let down by a narrative structure that is simply too shallow and plain – the plot lacks tension of any sort and while the film is certainly a feast for the eyes and ears, it leaves the mind wanting more.
Daniel Craig’s hit-or-miss fun with the Bond franchise continues; Spectre is a squeak compared to Skyfall‘s shout (6.0/10)
Here’s a Euthyphro dilemma for the modern cinematic age: is James Bond cool on his own merit or is he cool because he is James Bond? It seems like a no-brainer at first, doesn’t it? After all, how can someone who swaggers into a mansion, shoots up a bunch of assassins, fixes himself a strong drink and then woos a newly widowed woman into bed not be considered cool? The truth is, since Ian Fleming first created and then popularized the super-spy genre in 1962, there has been no shortage of men who fit the Bond mould. Men like Tom Cruise and Ethan Hawke have led franchises that serve the same function as Fleming’s and while none of them have had Bond’s iconic polish or enviable longevity, they have nevertheless raised the bar for what audiences have come to expect from the genre’s preeminent special agent. Yet, in an era of ever expanding budgets, if James Bond expects to retain his position as the quintessential super spy, he will need more than stale stories and tired reliance on sex and visual effects. He will need, in other words, more than Spectre. Calling Spectre, the 24th Bond movie, a disappointment would be a gross understatement but at the same time, it’s hard not to feel at least a little sorry for director Sam Mendes. His previous Bond outing, Skyfall, propelled the franchise to loftier heights than ever before; it was the highest grossing Bond film ever made and critical success as well. Yet, as always, there was unrest among Bond’s legions of fans as they clamoured for a return to simpler times. There was no need for such complex themes and ideas in a James Bond movie, they declared haughtily; well, I hope they’re happy.
Entourage has long been accused of being an all boys club, full of the crude, vulgar vitriol that most of its critics have come to associate with frat boys and the perennially immature. There is some truth to that, of course, but none of that explains the niche popularity that the series, cancelled in 2009, still enjoys. That particular explanation might lie in how eerily similar Entourage is to Sex And The City. Both shows are heavily divided along gender lines, feature a certain kind of wish fulfillment fantasy designed to pander to their respective demographics and ended their respective runs with a movie. They now share another similarity – both movies were widely panned by critics but accepted (arguably, just tolerated) by fans. In all fairness, Entourage, the film, feels just like Entourage, the series which means that fans of the series will feel the warm gush of familiarity that accompanies meeting characters you considered friends but newcomers will probably be wondering why this film wasn’t just sent straight to TV; it’s practically designed for it. As a standalone film, Entourage falls short in numerous categories – the plot doesn’t reach the heights a movie needs and time has robbed the cast of some of the chemistry that was the very backbone of the series. However, as a replacement for the series’ universally derided final season, the film shines, providing much needed closure and satisfying ends to each character’s story.
Mad Max: Fury Road is to the action genre what espresso is to coffee; a distilled essence with absolutely no frills. As with espresso, Mad Max, in all its high octane, blood pumping glory, is a matter of taste. Despite what its legions of fans would have you believe, the film is rather dismal in the departments of character development and world building, and is almost utterly devoid of any meaningful dialogue. You might think that this lack leaves the film toothless, but on the contrary, there is something unadulterated about the film’s commitment to storytelling purely via action. It is a taller order than it seems – director George Miller opts to entirely forego any explanation of the characters’ backgrounds and their settings instead letting their various frantic, violent struggles tell that tale instead. In the process, a great deal undeniably falls through the cracks – the film relies on the action, not the plot, to provide coherence – but the end result is a film that has shed all unnecessary baggage, presenting a story that is unabashedly over the top, fuelled by a madman’s fervour but still capable of maintaining an absolute death grip on the audience’s attention.
The Avengers return for the summer’s first major blockbuster but there’s little new here – if you liked the first, you’ll like this one as well (7.5/10)
There are a great many difficulties when it comes to adapting any sort of story between mediums. In the case of comic books, the adaptation must take special care in retaining the original’s sense of wonder and excitement while adjusting the more archaic elements like the catch-phrases and dialogue. In the more specific case of the Avengers, director Joss Whedon’s take on the franchise has been light-hearted and spirited, a sleek, cool re-telling of a comic book series that began when editors realized that each of the individual heroes was far too boring to warrant a series of their own. The trouble is, sometimes, the source material’s soul comes into conflict with the director’s vision for the adaptation – for instance, it would be simply uncomfortable if this modern interpretation of the Avengers began using the same catch-phrases and dialogue that they did when their story first began – and yet, remove too many of these signature moments and in the end, your adaptation will feel hollow and plain. Whedon’s most valuable asset as director for an adaptation like this one is that he is particularly well-versed in reshaping a work into something that is palatable for everyone without removing its essence. When The Avengers opened all the way back in the summer of 2012, it was the ultimate summer bonanza. Aliens, superheroes, explosions, Samuel L. Jackson – it was a total romp and it did all that while still capturing the core of the various characters. What more could you ask for from a summer blockbuster? That’s the intimidating question that Whedon has had to both ask and answer. Intuitively, there are only two real routes available to him: switch things up or return with more of the same. Of course, the two can and have been mixed together but watching Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s clear that Whedon opted for the latter more than the former. While there is certainly some wisdom in notion of not fixing something that isn’t broken, the result is that Age of Ultron ends up feeling a little flat and muddled compared to its predecessor though on the whole, it could still be the summer’s preeminent blockbuster.