Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Jungle Book

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! No CG animals were harmed in the making of this film and this review.



The Jungle Book – 5 out of 5

I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the original 1967 Disney animated film The Jungle Book.  I don’t hate it, mind you; it’s just not high on my list of Disney’s features.  However, when I first saw the trailer for Jon Favreau’s live-action adaptation of the story I was blown away.  It looked incredible and I really wanted to see it but life got in the way and I never got around to getting to the theater.  The nearly universal rave reviews and the fact that Honest Trailers couldn’t even find a single thing wrong with it in their video made me decide that this would be one of those movies I would gamble on and just flat-out purchase it completely sight unseen.  I have to tell you:  After finally watching The Jungle Book, that gamble was a complete win!

Replay value on this one is high, my friends!

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a spunky man-cub left to be raised by wolves and the jungle cat Bagheera (Ben Kingsley).  He’s happy in his world but when the nasty Shere Khan (Idris Elba) vows to eliminate the man-cub, Mowgli is forced to find residence back among the humans.  However, Shere Khan will not have his victory taken from him and Mowgli is sent on the adventure of his life.  Along the way, he befriends a loveable bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) and a power-hungry Gigantopithecus named King Louie (Christopher Walken)—who wants man’s knowledge of fire (or, as the animals call it The Red Flower) so he can rule the entire jungle.  Mowgli soon learns of the depths Shere Khan will go to find him and he decides to run no more and that he needs to face him once and for all.

Fun Fact:  Idris Elba is so full of talent that special effects weren't needed in
order to turn him into Shere Khan.  He literally transformed his body into
a tiger.

From the moment the film began to the time the credits rolled, I was in complete awe of this movie.  I’m going to admit it right now that this review is going to be a gushing love-fest because this is about as perfect as a film and story can get.  Jon Favreau really crafted something that is beautiful to look act, has absolutely astounding special effects, offers up just the right amount of fun, heart and action and just captured the spirit of Disney magic.

This is pure, industrial strength Disney magic, here people.

Right off the bat, this film gives you some of the most amazing special effects I’ve ever seen.  I’ve seen a lot of people complain on the internet about how computer generated effects are ruining movies but you never could have made something this incredible without them.  I will grant that some studios, production companies and directors will use CG as a crutch and the result is lazy, awful looking effects but it’s very clear that this film and everyone involved was actively trying to create something majestic.  The illusion of the talking animals is all-encompassing as they move fluidly, talk and move in a way that feels legitimate for the fantasy and they all look incredibly photo-realistic.  This level of detail and soul infused into the special effects is carried into the composited backgrounds that, like the animals, look amazingly real and it helps to create landscapes that are endlessly stunning to look at and create a reality that is believable for the fiction at play.

Some of the animals' sizes are exaggerated but it didn't stop them from looking
insanely realistic.

Fantastic special effects to make the creatures and beasts look real is all fine and dandy but without a voice acting cast to give them heart, emotion and soul the product could have been a bust.  Ultimately, however, the cast assembled to bring characters like Baloo, Bagheera and Shere Khan to life were fantastic!  Idris Elba continues proves that he’s amazing in everything he does as he is very threatening as the antagonistic tiger, Bill Murray keeps showing how fun he is as the loveable Baloo, Ben Kingsley nailed the over-bearing protector of Bagheera and Christopher Walken had this great mob boss essence going for him as King Louie.  

They even work in a nice cowbell reference for Louie.

Crossover idea:  Kaa battles the anaconda from
Anaconda.
Additionally, there’s some exceptional voice acting from Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o as Akela and Raksha; two of the wolves in the pack that raised Mowgli.  Scarlet Johansson has this great combination of alluring and frightening as she brings the treacherous snake Kaa to life and, finally, the film also brings in a little bit of a tear jerk moment when you get to hear Garry Shandling—in his last role—voice a little porcupine that offers up some very satisfying comedic moments.  Rest in peace, good sir!

This is the caption to porcupine Garry's pic, the only caption to porcupine Garry's
pic.  Porcupine Garry called me up and asked me if I would write a caption.

Similar to the special effects on the animals and the voice acting, this film could have easily been undone by a child actor who just can’t sell the role of Mowgli.  That simply was not the case with Neel Sethi.  For his first acting part, Sethi really showed off some natural talent but, more so, the kid was just naturally charismatic and endearing in his portrayal of the man-cub.  He had that right amount of innocence, goofiness, heart, and determination to make the character someone that you actively want to both watch on the screen, interacting with the other characters, and strive to win and succeed in his journey and battle against Shere Khan.  To put it simply:  Neel Sethi was just delightful as Mowgli.

This kid is just awesome.  Let's get him with on the 2nd season of Stranger Thingsso he can be with other awesome kid actors.

Finally, this film tells a story that is deeper than the cartoon and a little more accurate to the source material.  Jon Favreau does a tremendous job of delivering a plot that flows insanely well and is able to interject fun moments and points of plot development without bringing the momentum to a screeching halt.  There’s plenty of heart showing up all over the place to  make you laugh and also make you claim that something is in your eye and the action sequences are endlessly exciting and, at times, very intense.  The whole story and plot never gets overly complicated but, at the same time, never over-simplifies itself where it feels like it’s just kid’s stuff either.  It struck a really great balance in this department.

Bagheera looks upset.  Quickly, someone find him a box and catnip!

I know saying The Jungle Book is perfect is setting the bar high but it’s perfect in the fact that I found nothing about it substandard, weak or disappointing.  I was very entertained with the story, I was dumbfounded by how amazing the special effects and the visuals were and it had me laughing, crying and really just having a blast every second of the running length.  It really is a film that captures the very essence of that Disney magic I mentioned earlier and then goes even further to deliver something with heart, fun and special effects unlike anything before it.


Hakuna Matata!  Oh and did I mention the fun Easter Eggs this film has?



Monday, August 29, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Can't wait for the sequel; Kubo and the Six Strings, and hear him rock out some tasty licks!



Kubo and the Two Strings – 4 out of 5

I’m a pretty big fan of the production company Laika.  They do some of the most amazing stop-motion animation that has come out in a long time and have continuously proven that this method is far from something that is on its way to extinction thanks to computer animation.  So, needless to say, when I saw the first trailer for their latest film Kubo and the Two Stings I was pretty excited.  Well, I finally got around to seeing it but does it live up to their previous products like Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls?

                                                                                                    Laika/Focus Features
"Ya'll ready to rock?!?"

In ancient Japan, Kubo (Art Parkinson) lives in a cave on a mountain with his ill mother.  When she is collected enough, she constantly warns Kubo about never staying out at night or his grandfather; the Moon King, will find him and try to claim him.  One day, Kubo accidentally stays out late and he is discovered by his mischievous family.  Using the last of her magic, his mother sends him away and to be protected by Monkey (Charlize Theron).  Together, they set out to collect the pieces of a magical armor and sword that can help them stop his grandfather.  Along the way, they meet a quirky samurai named Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) but little can prepare them for how dangerous their journey will become and what mysteries will be unraveled along the way.

                                                                                                     Laika/Focus Features
You can pick your friends but you can't pick your team that you end up with in order
to track down ancient and powerful armor that is needed to stop a ruthless
mystic.


The strongest aspect about the film is the fact it is absolutely visually stunning.  Laika perfectly marries the traditional stop-motion animation with some computer animation and it is totally seamless.  They work in concert to create backgrounds, settings and characters that are all amazing to look at with the old eyeballs.  It’s incredibly astounding to see this company constantly out-do itself and keep setting the bar higher and higher.

                                                                                                     Laika/Focus Features
This is how I imagine seaweed to look and that's why I freak out when it
touches my feet.

                                                                         Laika/Focus Features
"Watch me shoot this arrow...alright, alright, alright."
Additionally, the film has a great cast who does a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life.  Everyone really nails down what their character needs to be and is able to reflect that in their voice acting.  For example, Rooney Mara is playing the creepy aunts of Kubo, known as The Sisters, and her voice is downright unnerving or there’s Matthew McConaughey who is just absolutely a blast as the goofy samurai Beetle.  This, and the animation, is where Kubo sings and sings beautifully; however, it’s in other areas where the film fails to live up to its predecessors.

                                                                                                    Laika/Focus Features
Seriously, twins are creepy pretty much all the time.

While the story for Kubo is definitely interesting and has all it needs for wonder and awe, the emotion just fell flat.  Too often, the journey the team was on felt very by-the-numbers and the reveals were so obvious that it was hard to get emotionally invested in what was happening.  I understand that this film is meant to be your basic hero's journey and, in being that, will follow a predictable path but what occurs feels only serviceable. The film is enough of a visual splendor that these shortcomings can make up for where the story fails but it did leave me feeling a tad on the “meh” side when the credits rolled.

                                                                                                     Laika/Focus Features
Strange ghost snakes.  Why did it have to be strange ghost snakes?

Kubo and the Two Strings is an absolutely gorgeous film that is truly a testament to what Laika can create in the world of animation but it just didn’t have the story or entertainment factor that their other features contained.  There are amusing moments, touching scenes and some cool action sequences but none of them came away as memorable as the funny, heartfelt, and wicked moments that their other films have offered.  The whole thing just felt more style than substance.  Even though it’s not their best film, it still is pretty impressive from a technical standpoint.

Don't Breathe

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! I'll breathe if I want to, movie.  Let me live my life!



Don’t Breathe – 4 out of 5


Home invasion thrillers are quickly replacing “found footage” as the new go-to horror films in today’s society.  It just makes sense because your home is supposed to be where you feel safe and where nothing bad is, in theory, ever supposed to happen to you.  The idea of people invading our world is inherently frightening.  Don’t Breathe takes a new approach to the home invasion thriller as the protagonists are the ones doing the invading.  So, does flipping the script work here?

                                                                             Ghost House Pictures/Good Universe
Things would have ended differently if he was feeling the opposite wall...


Money (Daniel Zovatto), his girlfriend Rocky (Jane Levy) and their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette) are three small time criminals in Detroit who access the homes of the security company that Alex’s father works for and commit robberies.  One day, they get wind of an old blind army veteran (Stephen Lang) who lives out in an abandoned part of town and he is is sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash after a settlement was given to him due to a hit-and-run accident that took the life of his daughter.  It seems like an easy score until they discover that this man won’t go down easily and that he’s hiding a horrible secret.

                                                                             Ghost House Pictures/Good Universe
The secret?  The blind man hangs the toilet paper the under way...but he's
blind, so cut him some slack.


I’ll be honest; I was a tad hesitant about Don’t Breathe.  Over the course of the last several years, I’ve found the horror genre to be one of the lazier genres out there and one that tends to repeat itself over and over again and rely far too heavily on the quick, easy, and terribly predictable jump scare.  I've basically grown bored with the genre and just don't see a lot of films that work within it.  Even worse, the trailer for this one promised that it had a “shocking twist ending” and every time I see that I always find an ending that isn’t really that shocking or that much of a twist.  However, it has Stephen Lang in it—the only aspect of Avatar that I enjoyed—, it was directed by Fede Alvarez (the man behind the Evil Dead remake—and damn, I thought that movie was fantastic!), and my girlfriend is a horror nut and she wanted to see it so we went and checked it out…I was pleasantly surprised!

                                                                            Ghost House Pictures/Good Universe
I really wish he would play Cable in the next Deadpool film.


Two things that really struck me almost immediately with this film is the fact that Alvarez really knows how to use sound (or its absence of it) and music extremely well.  The music goes beyond your average, run-of-the-mill striking chords and goes with a soundtrack that contains tunes that have a very noticeable beat to it—very much like the heartbeat that would be pounding in your ears when you are trying to remain quiet while sneaking around a house.  The music goes one step further by having a chaotic element to it and acts as the polar opposite of the three kids in their attempt to quietly get in, get the money and get out.  Once they’re discovered, you know they’re up turd creek without a paddle but the harsh, unique music really helps sell just how bad things are getting and will continue to get for the trio.

                                                                            Ghost House Pictures/Good Universe
Is this film more terrifying than Minnette's last film?  Well, yeah, that's obvious.


This musical element works in concert for the way Alvarez uses the sound.  When the kids first enter the house, everything is quiet but the small things like their footsteps, their breathing and creaks of the floorboards.  Like anyone who has ever had to move around their house while a loved one is still in bed, these normally forgettable background noises become elements of cacophonous sound that made the viewer cringe with worry over being discovered.  This really helped to create suspense in the moments leading up to when the blind man is awoken from his slumber and the survival horror element takes over.  At that point, the film is fairly by-the-numbers but Alvarez did a masterful job of making these seemingly routine and cliché moments feel fresh and new—even when they led up to a tiresome jump scare.


The performances in the film are absolutely excellent as Stephen Lang is a genuine badass and a threat as the blind man and the kids are all playing their roles exceptionally.  Additionally, the characters are crafted better than you usually see in horror films.  Rocky is sympathetic for her reasons for committing crimes and is developed exceptionally (albeit she is a tad cliche in her motivations). Another aspect of the characters that I enjoyed was the restraint the writers took with crafting them.  It seems the standard for characters in a horror film in today's day and age is to basically make them all...well...assholes.  Too often thriller and horrors are filled with detestable characters that are impossible to sympathize with.  This eliminates our desire to see them live and destroys the shock value when the predictable deaths occur; instead, these deaths become moments of celebration because they "got what they deserved."  This also calls into question who the real bad guy is in all this mess.  Don't Breathe avoids this pitfall by having character that you are actually invested in.  Sure, Rocky is the most sympathetic and Alex is in desperate need of some more depth beyond the fact his dad is the reason they have access to these homes and the fact he has a crush on rocky.  I will also grant you that Money is one of those characters that is clearly written for you to want to see be the first one to die but, thanks to this comparison, Rocky and Alex are actually fairly decent people despite being criminals and you actively want to see them survive. 

                                                         Ghost House Pictures/Good Universe
I'm pretty certain she's breathing.  Is everything in this film a lie?!?


The only downsides I had for the film was the fact that, despite its relatively tight running length, the plot does tend to drag at times.  There was definitely a moment or two where I felt the battle between the invaders and the invaded started to get monotonous but these moments were few and short.  Finally, I’m not entirely sure I would call the “twist” very shocking or even a twist.  While it is interesting, the “twist” makes too much logical sense (in terms of horror logic, anyway) for it to be a twist.  It was definitely a cool element to the film but it is a long, long, LONG way from being shocking, surprising or even a twist of any kind.  I honestly found myself saying, “Yeah, that makes sense for the character.”


Don’t Breathe is an excellently crafted thriller that makes great use of its sound, music and it’s light and darkness.  The cast does an excellent job and the director provides a product that is never outright frightening but does a great job of keeping you tense and on the edge of your seat.