Posts Tagged ‘spring’

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I have zero connection to Disney movies.

Even as a child, I was already too grown-up for their fake worldview.

I am a better person for it. Disney is a disease that infects children with unrealistic expectations. Director Jon Favreau does an admirable job subverting the classic expectations of Disney movies as much as possible. But the cheese is overwhelmingly ham-handed and inescapable.

Of course, this is still a children’s movie—first and foremost. Like most kids movies, they sell audiences on the bullshit line that it’s for children but can also be enjoyed by adults. While Favreau performed substantially better than most would in his position, that balancing act is very visible.

Neel Sethi

Before we get into spoiler territory, let’s talk about what works. Above all, The Jungle Book is a success because Disney nailed their casting of Mowgli. Neel Sethi was phenomenal and picture-perfect for the role. Few child actors could pull of the physicality needed for Mowgli to move throughout the jungle in a realistic fashion while also believably interacting with CGI animals. Apparently, The Jim Henson Creature Shop was wisely brought in to fabricate puppets to serve as reference points for Neel Sethi. However, this movie probably doesn’t work remotely as well with any other child actor.

You have to love Mowgli because this is his journey and you are with him every step.

Baloo and Mowgli

Bill Murray is always a welcome presence, and he does a superb job bringing Baloo (the bear) to life. The character depiction perfectly matches Bill Murray’s voice and delivery. The third casting choice that Disney had to perfect was Shere Khan (the tiger) because he’s the villain that you must fear and despise. Idris Elba reveled in this opportunity and he chews ample scenery. As a result, Shere Khan is the correct mix of menace and power. I could do without every other casting decision.

I understand why they would want to cast Ben Kingsley as Bagheera (the panther)—especially considering the backstory of the book in the context of India. I mean, he’s fucking Gandhi. But it felt like a decision obligated more out of politics/commercial incentives instead of a character-based decision. Personally, it feels like Ben Kingsley mailed it in—either that or he’s not a good voice actor. Emotionally, Bagheera feels flat. While he may have intended for it to come across as regal, Ben Kingsley’s delivery feels like he’s bored and divorced from what is happening on the screen.

Bagheera

For a completely computer-generated movie (except for Neel Sethi), The Jungle Book breaks new ground and deserves praise for being a technological achievement. As usual, the 3D is completely unnecessary and I think it would drastically detract from the visuals. While there is a certain disconnect between the voice actors and CGI animals moving their mouths, I was able to forgive and forget that these were actors in a sound booth. You just have to go with it because you can only do so much to replicate how voices echo through the space and density of a computer-generated jungle.

Although it may look silly 5-10 years later, this is an important step in CGI development.

Now that I’ve praised this enough, let’s get down to talking some shit about a children’s movie.

Spoilers galore.

A surprising amount of death occurs in The Jungle Book.

However, no real violence is shown when a death happens, but the character completely disappears from the story without so much as a lingering shot. This occurs multiple times. Maybe I’m guilty of overanalyzing, but I believe you negate the impact of the death you’re showing by just breezing right past it. Mufasa’s death in The Lion King makes a monumental impression because they show the act and direct aftermath—Simba seeing the body of his dead father and mourning him.

Whereas in The Jungle Book, it’s impossible to tell whether or not some characters actually died—specifically Kaa and King Louie. Both of these characters feel shoehorned into the movie. I have no idea what their previous roles were in the animated movie or book, but the screen time for Kaa and King Louie appears to primarily serve as clumsy exposition to further plot points.

Kaa

Kaa is a massive python s-s-seductively voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She is in one scene where she basically tells Mowgli the story of the red flower (Shere Khan killing Mowgli’s father and getting burnt badly in the process) and then tries to devour Mowgli. Somehow, Baloo silently climbs up an extremely high tree and I guess he viciously kills Kaa to save Mowgli. Remember, Baloo is a lazy, obese bear—but evidently he can climb really high steathily undetected. Kaa never reappears in the story, but you also never see Baloo kill Kaa. It’s just a roar, heavy implication, and quick cut.

King Louie appears in a similar yet even more bungled sequence. King Louie is voiced by Christopher Walken, which is so weird that it works. While King Louie is an orangutan in every other incarnation, Jon Favreau turned the character into a Gigantopithecus. Essentially, he is King Kong as an orangutan with all of the quirky personality traits of Christopher Walken. King Louie wants to learn the secret to controlling the red flower from Mowgli so he can use it for his own sinister devices.

King Louie

Bagheera and Baloo track Mowgli down after he’s kidnapped by the monkeys and taken to King Louie. With their help, Mowgli escapes, but they all have to outrun and outwit King Louie. This leads to King Louie destroying his kingdom so he can try to grab Mowgli. As a result of his greed, the whole kingdom literally crumbles down on top of King Louie. These scenes make it seem like Kaa and King Louie only exist to talk about the red flower (fire), threaten to kill Mowgli, and then die.

It seems very odd as an adult, and I would imagine children must also be confused.

And apparently, all life is precious in the jungle except monkeys. Countless monkeys presumably get slaughtered—or else we’re supposed to pretend they’re made of rubber and have no bones so they can get clawed and trampled without any repercussions. Why did the monkeys get fucked over? As far as I can recall, the monkeys are also the only animals that aren’t given human voices.

That is some fucked-up shit to do to our closest DNA relatives, Fatreau.

Finally, Mowgli learns from King Louie (before he is crumbled to death) that Shere Khan killed Akela. That was also another glossed-over death because Khan attacks Akela and throws him off a cliff. It is incredibly quick, but at least that is a death that has an impact. While the wolves let Shere Khan reign supreme over their domain, Mowgli is immediately out for blood when he hears the news.

Shere Khan

Mowgli runs to the man village to steal fire and sprints through the jungle with a lit torch.

In his haste, embers from his torch fly off and ignite the jungle. This all leads to a very stilted final stand after Mowgli miraculously runs back home in a matter of minutes (the same ground that it took him days to flee). Inevitably, Mowgli kills Shere Khan with fire—using the blaze he created by burning the jungle. But it’s all cool because elephants are natural firefighters. Problem solved!

So the lesson here is don’t play with fire…unless you have an elephant around.

I don’t know why they intentionally made the hero (Mowgli) destroy part of the jungle—even if it was by mistake. Apparently, that fire didn’t kill any other animals or destroy their habitats. Remember, elephants are magical and can fix any situation by knocking down some trees.

Despite all its faults, The Jungle Book is a good movie.

But everyone should relax on the instant classic bullshit.

Red Flower

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Hardcore Henry is a stupid name for a movie. We can all agree on that.

A movie that solely features a first-person perspective seems like a stupid idea.

However, Hardcore Henry is not a stupid movie. Although this is absolutely not a highbrow movie, it is quite an achievement in filmmaking for crazy rooskie Ilya Naishuller. I hope that’s not taken as an insult in the Motherland because it’s meant as a term of endearment for this outrageous Russian who made this fucking movie his debut film. I have no idea where Naishuller goes from here.

Sadly, we may never even get an opportunity to see Naishuller’s future work if this flops.

Hardcore Henry deserves better. This movie would have benefitted tremendously with a late release at the very end of summer—hitting people at the tail-end of action movie season with something they have never witnessed. Or perhaps scheduling the movie for a February release (such as Deadpool) would have been a boon to the box office. Anything was a better idea than competing directly against tentpole movies. Keeping the original title of Hardcore should have also been an easy decision. Hardcore Henry’s marketing campaign did not do the movie justice. This is more than a “video game movie.”

For whatever reason, Hardcore Henry has not hit the mark with critics or the audience.

Yes, the first-person perspective is a gimmick. But it is very well-executed throughout the movie.

Action

No one has had the balls to pull off a full-length feature film shot with a GoPro. I have no idea how some of these sequences were pulled off, but the practical effects are seamlessly blended with CGI to make this relatively smooth camerawork. If you are at all predisposed to motion sickness, sit in the back row. As a child, I learned the hard way because the 5-year-old version of myself was dragged to Aladdin and forced to sit in the front row. Needless to say, that magic carpet ride was not so magical. I wanted to throw up and we had to leave the movie. Maybe it’s a coincidence that I hate all Disney movies. But as long as you know what to expect with Hardcore Henry, you should be fine for the hour and a half runtime. While it can get too shaky at moments, I never experienced motion sickness. Naishuller gives the audience just enough breaks at the right times to serve as respite from all the murdering.

Hardcore Henry has a frenetic pace and the kinetic action drives the movie.

With a slow build, there is a nice crescendo leading up to all the ensuing chaos.

Estelle

The beginning is a beautiful introduction to the premise and plot. As the audience, you see everything from the first-person perspective of Henry. Just as Henry does, you wake up to find yourself being attended to by a sexy doctor named Estelle (played by Haley Bennett). Not so sexy is that you’re missing an arm and a leg. But good news, the doctor is apparently your wife and she can hook you up with cybernetic limbs. Essentially, these limbs are indestructible plug-and-play parts.

The party is almost immediately broken up by a mysterious villain named Akan (played by Danila Kozlovsky) who has fine-tuned telekinetic powers and bad intentions. Akan and his never-ending army of soldiers seize Estelle and Henry’s mission is to get his wife back. If there’s a weak part of this movie, the character of Akan leaves a lot to be desired. A more iconic villain and matching performance would have really elevated Hardcore Henry. Instead, what we got was a weird albino Joker-lite.

Akan

The story isn’t remarkable, but it still manages to be an entertaining sci-fi movie set somewhere in a more technologically advanced world. If this was filmed in the typical straightforward fashion, I would still be interested in watching the story unfold. In a sense, Hardcore Henry self-imposes limitations on the story by forcing themselves to film everything in the first-person perspective.

It’s hard to fathom how this got made, but I am glad it did.

Sharlto Copley comes out of Hardcore Henry as the shining star (Jimmy). Copley is not the titular Henry, but he plays several different versions of the same character who helps Henry on his mission. Most of the comic relief in Hardcore Henry is a direct result of Copley’s completely over-the-top performance. Sharlto puts his range on display, and he already proved very capable of performing with just his voice in Chappie. By luck or design, Copley appears to enjoy being part of interesting movies.

Jimmy

Hardcore Henry is mostly a nonstop thriller. When Naishuller needs to give the audience a rest from close-ups of hyperviolence, he still manages to make the events interesting. Considering Hardcore Henry was primarily shot using GoPro mounted cameras, that feat is a worthwhile accomplishment. However, there are few occasions where Naishuller falls a little too much in love with the GoPro.

I whole-heartedly loved the first and third acts of this movie. But Hardcore Henry threatens to stall out in the second act because there’s too much repetition of similar sequences. Henry is in a bind against Akan’s soldiers and he has to fight his way out so he can find his wife. There reaches a point where they almost make you numb to the gory violence. I promise you that Ilya Naishuller will win your heart over with the finale if you stick it through. Near the end, they recognize the absurdity of the story and Naishuller just turns up the volume level to dangerous head-splitting territory.

While this movie absolutely isn’t for everyone, I would be surprised to hear people (who went into this movie expecting to experience mindless action) were not entertained. There are so many thrilling sequences that leave your jaw agape. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Violence

I guarantee you have never seen anything like this movie. Since we’re all drowning in a sea of mediocrity, you should do yourself a favor and bear witness to a cinematic achievement that cannot be replicated. I don’t think anyone will have the balls to try to pull this off again. Even if someone makes an attempt, Ilya Naishuller already set the bar extremly high with the execution of Hardcore Henry.

Eventually, I expect this movie to find a cult audience that will appreciate and celebrate its existence. Hardcore Henry deserves that adoration because it threatens to be different. If you noticed, I haven’t even mentioned who plays Henry. A series of stuntmen and cameramen served the role—including director Ilya Naishuller, which shows some real investment. The whole crew responsible for this movie probably won’t get the respect they deserve, but they can take solace in the creativity of their labor.  Their work will likely scare off anyone else from attempting a full first-person movie.

Despite the commercial disappointment, Hardcore Henry is actually an incredibly pleasant surprise.

A-OK

4 out of 5 stars

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The opening montage of Chappie appropriately sets the stage by introducing the audience to the new robotic police force that is tasked with cleaning up the rampant crime in Johannesburg, South Africa. If you watched District 9, the faux documentarian approach employed early on is familiar territory.

While effective, it’s indicative of the movie as a whole and writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s work.

By now, we’ve all grown accustomed to the imagery.

The look and feel of District 9, Elysium, and Chappie are mostly the same. South Africa is a horrifyingly beautiful place stricken with poverty and blessed with pretty landscapes. I can certainly understand why Blomkamp is comfortable with using his home country of South Africa as a foundation for his movies. But people have reached a point where they want more diversity discovering new stories.

Although Chappie isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

Unfortunately, Chappie didn’t seem to find its audience here domestically. An early release in March seemed like odd timing as Chappie feels like it should have been closer to the string of summer releases—somewhere around late April/early May or at the tail-end of blockbuster season near August. Both District 9 (2009) and Elysium (2013) were August releases. Pure armchair speculation, but those studio decisions are typically indicative of their own opinions on the movie.

Maybe they were right, to an extent. Disclaimer: Chappie is not for everyone. And that’s fine.

This is not a movie that would likely sit well with test audiences. I can understand why studio executives wouldn’t get it either. Squares in suits with ties cinched around their necks are not going to enjoy Chappie. Clearly, this movie is intended for Blomkamp’s well-carved out niche audience. I count myself amongst them. Chappie is dumb, entertaining fun with a heart. Do not try to think too much or else the plot holes will hurt your brain. If you want a thinking man’s movie about artificial intelligence, then watch the terrific acting performances of Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson in Ex Machina. Both of these movies are great in their own right, just in different ways. Ex Machina should be an Oscar contender in some respect.

Hugh Jackman

That’s right, I think Chappie is great. And that’s not because of Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, or Sigourney Weaver. While I enjoy Ripley as much as the next person (and we can probably credit Chappie for the eventual creation of the next Alien movie), Sigourney Weaver was wholly useless in this movie. It wasn’t her fault, but that role of Tetravaal CEO was so bland that literally any man or woman could have filled out. That was a bit of a disappointment. Dev Patel was solid yet unspectacular as Deon, the genius inventor of the robotic police force. A number of actors could have done as serviceable of a job as Slumdog Millionaire. Hugh Jackman was delightful as the prickish, jealous ex-military co-worker of Deon who wants to watch the world burn if it means his massive remote controlled MOOSE robot can come in and wreck shit. His haircut was ridiculous and Jackman seemed to revel in the freedom of the role.

Sharlto Copley deserves immense praise for giving life to Chappie—both voice and motion-capture. At several points, I had to remind myself that it was the same person that played the lead in District 9 and was relatively terrifying as Kruger in Elysium. Copley bring a humanity to Chappie that I didn’t expect. There’s one particularly heart-wrenching scene where Chappie is in danger in the slums of Johannesburg while still trying to understand the world. Copley captures the spirit of every situation perfectly.

But no, none of these actors are the highlight of the film. I feel confident in saying that whether or not you like Chappie hinges on what you think about the gangsters Ninja and Yo-Landi.

If the purpose of Chappie was to thrust Die Antwoord on the American populous, then I consider Chappie to be a resounding success. Ninja and Yo-Landi stole this movie and made it entertaining. Die Antwoord is interwoven into the fabric of Chappie—this movie couldn’t work without them. Several production sets are clearly from Die Antwoord’s music videos, which brings an awesome sense of surrealism. Die Antwoord’s music is dropped in at perfect, opportune moments to add some levity and zef style.

Zef

It’s been six months now and I’ve watched Chappie on three separate occasions.

I still haven’t escaped the rabbit hole that is South African rap group Die Antwoord’s ridiculous music. Such classics as Cookie Thumper!, Enter The Ninja, Fatty Boom Boom, Happy Go Sucky Fucky, I Fink U Freeky, Raging Zef Boner, and Strunk. And I hate almost every electronic dance music song I’ve ever heard. But the fat beats and zef raps of Die Antwoord will seep into your brain and infect you.

In Chappie, the gangster duo of Ninja and Yo-Landi are accompanied by Amerika—their Yankee cohort played by Jose Pablo Cantillo, best known as Martinez in his run on The Walking Dead. Chappie has a limited story, which is set into motion by these lovable gangsters needing to pay off a $20 million debt in a week to the not-so-lovable Hippo—a steroid freak with a hilarious haircut played by Brandon Auret. I think Auret is a weak link in a very good cast, but he serves as an imposing figure in his few scenes.

I was shocked that I enjoyed Chappie as much as I did. Several people were probably turned off by a shitting marketing campaign, but this movie deserves better. Blomkamp apparently already has a trilogy planned out, it seems completely unnecessary in terms of pure storytelling. While the foreign market at least balanced the budget, Chappie probably isn’t long for a sequel. And that’s fine.

Although I truly hope Blomkamp’s contribution to the Alien franchise comes to fruition, I don’t want to see Blomkamp return to any of his works. We’re done with the world of Chappie. The story comes to a nice resolution that we don’t need to revisit. It’s time to move along to a new story and different world.

Story Time

Die Antwoord made this movie with real, human performances that I connected with—surprisingly enough. It seems unlikely that Chappie even got off the ground with the unknown rap duo practically starring with more screen time than Hugh Jackman. You can see that Blomkamp leaves a window open with the ending that he could squeeze through for a sequel, but let’s just close that shut now.

While this movie is nowhere near Oscar-worthy in any category, Chappie is great in its own right. It’s much more entertaining than it had any right being. With an odd blend of charisma and panache injected by Die Antwoord, Chappie manages to be unique—something all movies should strive toward.

Give Chappie a chance. Maybe it won’t touch your heart, but you should enjoy the ride regardless.

Fist Bump

4 out of 5 stars