Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Panthers, Tigers and Bears and Mowgli too...

Disney's new "live" action The Jungle Book, produced and directed by Jon Favreau, is clearly a work of love. It is a live action only in the sense that Mowgli played by newcomer Neel Sethi is the only non-CGI character in the movie. It is an amazing film that while maintaining all the charm of the 1967 movie intensifies the plot and characters with incredible details.

All, well most of the songs, you may have loved in the original are there.  You haven't heard anything until you've heard Christopher Walken sing "I Wanna Be Like You" as King Loui.  There are some small or large changes depending on what kind of purist you are.  Kaa, the snake, is truly creepy and the animals are incredibly real, if not a bit over-sized.  Just don't go in expecting to see elephants marching in a line under the gaze of a British colonel with a riding crop. They are instead majestic and noble creatures who have become a part of the creation myth of the jungle animals. 

As I said, the animals are CGI and if there is one flaw, they are huge.  They dwarf Mowgli on the screen.  I don't know the actual size of jungle animals well enough but Loui, for example, could hold Mowgli in the palm of his hand.  Even the baby elephant towers above the man-cub.  Kaa's length is larger than any snake you've ever seen in a Hollywood horror movie.  Symbolic? Perhaps.  For the animals are strong and glorious but even Shere Khan knows of the dangers of what could happen when the man-cub becomes a man.

Our one encounter with "man" is when Mowgli seeks

fire.  It is clear that man is not in tune with nature.  They build a fire in their village that is far larger than it needs to be.  Perhaps it is a view of man from the animals or perhaps an indication of how little men understand the natural world surrounding them. The scene is disturbing as the only "men" we see are mostly in silhouette.  The only other man we see is Mowgli's dad who once made his way into the jungle where all creatures learn to defend their "people" which is how he dies, defending Mowgli against Shere Khan.

The voice acting is, for the most part, well done.  I have to admit, of all the characters the one I still remain least enamoured of is that of Bill Murray as Baloo the bear.  Don't get me wrong, I love Bill Murray and the actor he has become.  I understand why he was cast as the charming con-bear.  There was just something that occasionally didn't quite fit.  The only other issue I noticed was Idris Elba's gritty British street accent did creep through a bit at the end as Mowgli faced Elba's Shere Khan.

Overall, The Jungle Book is intense and moving and wonderfully done.  The oddest thing in the movie was the strange "thank you for coming to see the movie" from Jon Favreau before the movie. The young actor Neel Sethi held his own as Mowgli in what would have been a tough role even for a seasoned veteran FX movie actor.  I liked the movie. It is perhaps a bit intense for younger viewers, but it is well worth your time.  Even the end credits were entertaining.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Dark Musings for Nerds

A friend posted an article on losing Superman as an icon because of the more recent Batman v Superman and Man of Steel.  The author of the article bemoaned the loss of clean cut superhero played by Christopher Reeves in the late 70's mentioning that he saw the movie when he was four. He even mentioned that Superman Returns with Brandon Routh had more of that clean-cut, wonderful feeling of the 70's movie than the much darker Batman v Superman.  He's right the recent incarnation of Superman is darker, but it is not the death of an American icon.  That ship sailed with the comic book Death of Superman series.  There is also now the multi-verse which has every kind of Superman.  The waking nightmare that Batman has in Batman v Superman is a set up that has nothing to do with the movie and was inspired by one of those universes.  Batman fears Superman so that enters his dream, but he also gives us a glimpse of the arrival of Darkseid the ultimate villain. Batman comes awake to see the time traveling Flash.  It is a confusing sequence, but one of the issues the movie has and why it probably seems so disjointed is simply the impossible was asked.  In one movie, Christopher Nolan, who has been given the reins of the DC Universe, was supposed to set up the entire slate of movies Warner Brothers intends to make over the next several years.  Mistakes were made.

I don't actually intend to defend Batman v Superman. It clearly has its problems.  What the discussion by the article and the comments on my friend's post did was start me to thinking.  Is Zack Snyder, as one commentator put it, lazy and a bad storyteller and is Batman v Superman and Man of Steel just a culmination of DC and Warner Brother's dark vision.  I don't actually believe that Nolan or Snyder hate Superman as the article states.  I think there is more here.  Maybe, we just don't want to see our heroes through rose-colored lenses with a dash of Pollyanna anymore.  The fact is that action movies, including comic book movies, are getting darker as are the comics themselves.

I for one was thrilled when Tim Burton returned the dark to the Dark Knight. Batman the movie was the first video I ever bought.  It's not that I don't wax nostalgic when I see or hear about the Adam West Batman, but the fact is the Batman TV series of the flower power days was silly, over-the-top goofiness but not really even close to the original comic book Batman who uses a gun, by the way.  You see Batman in the comics and Batman in films and TV is actually pretty complicated and so is Superman, who used not fly but jump in his original appearance and was a little less discerning about who he killed until the 1950's.  (BTW Reeves killed Zod in Superman II.)The idea of them not killing or using guns was not really a "let's give our superheroes as a squeaky clean image or a call to nobility." Actually, it was more of  "how do we bring back popular villains if we let our heroes kill them off?" moment. It's not that Batman, Superman, Daredevil, or others haven't killed or will kill; it's that it is more convenient if they don't.

Horror movies and action movies have been darker and getting darker really since the late 60's or early 70's.  The Exorcist, Jaws, Star Wars, Freddie, Jason, even Zombies were far darker than killer ants or gigantic women affected by atomic radiation. I remind you that The Werewolf with Lon Chaney Jr. is a different movie from the dark comic overtones of American Werewolf in London.   Bella Lugosi's Dracula was not nearly as dark as was Bram Stoker's Dracula with Gary Oldman. Movies are darker, even edgier in many a case.

We also have another issue that faces movies, the anticipation factor.  We know more about an upcoming movie and rumors about upcoming movies than we ever did before.  There was outrage when Ben Affleck was cast as Batman.  Imagine what it would've been like on Facebook if Star Wars: A New Hope had been made today.  We do have The Force Awakens, though. We got every rumor, every detail of these two movies, every injury, every casting idea and theory from "Jar Jar is a Sith Lord" to "Sad Batman memes."

The anticipation of movies, especially in the nerd realm, is, I think, devastating at times.  Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, have all had to survive the pre-judgement, theories and second-guesses of every nerd site, nerd with a basic knowledge and nerd without taste on the internet.  All I know is that Michael Keaton was the only thing we discussed when he was cast as Batman, and we may have spent all of 15 minutes worrying about it and reading the one or two articles in fan magazines.  Over-anticipation of any film is not a good thing.  I was disappointed by E.T. the Extraterrestrial not because it was a bad film, but all I had heard about and read about it was how wonderful it was. It had been out a while by the time I got to see it, and all I could see was a boy and his dog story with Eliot and the alien.  Imagine how difficult the secret would be to keep these days if everyone knew Bruce Willis was dead in the Sixth Sense or Rosebud was a sled in Citizen Kane. I honestly wonder how some movies survive Twitter and Facebook.  Batman v Superman has had a heap of hate put on it and not because of the problems it has but for problems the critics had.  It was getting bad reviews before it had actually opened and there is little doubt that some of those "reviews" were by people who hadn't seen the movie.

Think I am wrong? Imagine movies like Dead Pool being made even 10 or 15 years ago. There was the adaptation of Blade in 1998, but R-rated movies just weren't discussed much in comic book world.  Now with Dead Pool, there will be R-rated Wolverine III and an R-rated director's cut of Batman V. Superman. Even Star Wars: The Force Awakens is PG-13 and if Star Wars: A New Hope had the PG-13 available, it would still be barely a PG movie today.

Unlike the person who wrote the article that started all this, I didn't see Superman in 1978 when I was four. I saw it when I was 21, so my point-of-view about the clean cut Christopher Reeves movie is not as a child but as someone who grew up reading the grittier comics of the 60's like Savage Sword of Conan and Luke Cage, Hero for Higher and Silver Surfer.  I found the chemistry between Reeves and Kidder as frequently awkward.  Don't believe me? Watch this scene. I trust you'll see what I mean immediately.  I didn't read Superman or Batman because how hokey and silly they'd become in the "feel good, I'm okay, you're okay" 60's and 70's.  I wanted harder and troubled hero's.  I was thrilled as those harder edged comic book writers came of age in the 80's and  90's.  Really, if the rumor is to be believed, the whole Death of Superman was actually an attempt to reboot the Man of Steel to someone who wasn't quite so completely indestructible.

My point is that to expect movies to do the television, comic book or movie we saw when we were younger is both unrealistic and unfair to the modern filmmakers.  I believe movies or movie series stand on their own merit and that is why I may seem more forgiving.  I am not a Marvel v DC guy. I look at movies or movie series as they are.  To compare Ben Affleck with George Clooney as the Knight, would be wrong as wrong as not giving Affleck a chance because he played in oh say Dare Devil or blaming Ryan Reynolds for Green Lantern and missing that he is the quintessential Dead Pool even if he was stuck doing Dead Pool in Wolverine Origins. Moviemakers make decisions. Actors make decisions. Studios make decisions. Scriptwriters make decisions. Producers make decisions. Directors make decisions. Not all of them are good. Not all of them are bad.  Movies grow and change according to what sells and vision.