Movie Review: “The Jungle Book”

Starring
Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken
Director
Jon Favreau

There was much ado when Disney announced that they were going to make live-action versions of some of their most beloved animated films, but so far, the results are far better than what the naysayers were predicting. “Cinderella” was a lovely, if safe, first step, and while “The Jungle Book” doesn’t quite hit the same highs that “Cinderella” does, it’s packed with thrills, and it has the courage to go about the material in its own way. It should be noted, though, that this ‘own way’ may scare the hell out of young children.

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a “man-cub” that was found abandoned in an Indian jungle by the panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley). Bagheera asks the wolf pack, who recently had pups, if they will take care of him, and they gladly oblige. Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a man-eating tiger, takes issue with the animals protecting Mowgli, threateningly suggesting that more than just Mowgli may die if they continue to do so. Mowgli doesn’t want harm to come to anyone in his pack, so he agrees to leave. Bagheera walks him to the nearest man village, but Shere Khan interferes, and the two are separated. Mowgli is nearly done in by Kaa the python (Scarlett Johansson), but is saved by a sloth bear named Baloo (Bill Murray). Baloo appreciates Mowgli’s ability to make “machines,” but Shere Khan will not stop until he’s had his man-cub meal. Further complicating matters, Mowgli has attracted the attention of King Louie (Christopher Walken), a giant orangutan who wants Mowgli to teach him how to make fire.

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Movie Review: “The Boss”

Starring
Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Ella Anderson, Peter Dinklage, Kathy Bates, Tyler Labine, Kristen Schaal
Director
Ben Falcone

“The Boss” is pitifully lacking in self-awareness. It’s a film that wants to live in Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s universe, where there are real-life news anchor gang wars that end in people losing limbs. To be fair, it’s easy to see why they thought the audience might view the films the same way. “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights” both feature pompous shells of a human being who are humbled on a grand scale, much like Melissa McCarthy’s character here, but that is where the similarities end. What “The Boss” gets wrong is the meanness factor. Will Ferrell’s characters in the aforementioned films are dim and shallow, but harmless, while McCarthy’s character is an unrepentant, hostile sociopath from birth. Worse, the film treats this as a virtue.

Michelle Darnelle (McCarthy) is, by the audience’s viewpoint, a thrice-abandoned orphan who grows up to become a ruthless, filthy-rich business executive. Renault (Peter Dinklage), a former lover-turned rival, gets her indicted on insider trading, whereupon she is sent to prison and loses everything. Upon her release, she arrives at the door of her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) because she has nowhere else to go. Claire resents the way Michelle treated her, but because she’s a decent human being, Claire allows Michelle to stay, and as Michelle ingratiates herself in Claire’s life, she sees a business opportunity when she attends a Daffodils meeting with Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson), and they discuss cookie sales. Shortly afterward, Michelle tastes one of Claire’s family recipe brownies. Darnelle’s Darlings is born, the brownies are their cash cow, and Michelle is back in the game.

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Movie Review: “Hardcore Henry”

Starring
Sharlto Copley, Haley Bennett, Danila Kozlovsky, Tim Roth
Director
Ilya Naishuller

“Hardcore Henry” isn’t the first movie to be shot entirely from a first-person perspective, but it is the first action movie to utilize the gimmick. While it’s a little surprising that it hasn’t been attempted before in today’s YouTube generation, that’s likely because there was no one crazy enough to try it. Enter Ilya Naishuller, the Russian filmmaker behind the viral POV music videos for his indie rock band Biting Elbows. Though even Naishuller has admitted that he was skeptical about whether a full-length feature using this technique could work, he deserves kudos for delivering a film that’s exactly as advertised. “Hardcore Henry” is definitely hardcore – an adrenaline-fueled, ultra-violent, one-of-a-kind experience that stands as the closest thing to a live-action video game that you’ll ever see. Too bad it’s not any good.

The movie places the audience in the title role of Henry, a man who’s just been resurrected from the dead by a scientist claiming to be his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett). Henry has lost his memory and ability to speak, and can only look on as he’s outfitted with a number of robotic enhancements. But before Estelle is able to activate Henry’s voice module, the lab is attacked by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a telekinetic albino psychopath with villainous plans to use the technology inside Henry’s cybernetic body to build an army of super soldiers. Henry manages to escape, but Estelle is kidnapped in the process, so he teams up with a mysterious ally named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) – who has a habit of getting himself killed and then respawning as one of his many clones – to rescue her and stop Akan’s plan for world domination. In other words, the plot of every video game ever made. (Okay, not really.)

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Movie Review: “Demolition”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, Heather Lind
Director
Jean-Marc Vallée

Jake Gyllenhaal has really turned around his career over the past few years with character-driven films like “Nightcrawler,” “Enemy” and “Prisoners,” so it only seems natural that he would want to collaborate with Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian-born director who led Matthew McConaughey to Oscar gold in “Dallas Buyers Club” and helped revive Reese Witherspoon’s career with “Wild.” Unfortunately, while Gyllenhaal continues his fine form in “Demolition” – Vallée’s third movie in a row to deal with the subject of grief – the film isn’t as good as the performance at the center of it. Though it’s a refreshingly honest look at coming to terms with the death of a loved one, without Gyllenhaal in the lead role, “Demolition” wouldn’t be nearly as memorable.

The actor stars as Davis Mitchell, a successful New York investment banker who’s become so emotionally numb that he doesn’t know how to react when his wife Julia (Heather Lind) dies in a car accident – one that he escaped with barely a scratch. His father-in-law/boss Phil (Chris Cooper) believes that Davis is in shock and just needs time to process it all, but he can’t even squeeze out a tear at the funeral, instead fixated on the hospital vending machine that failed to dispense the peanut M&Ms he purchased shortly after Julia’s death. Over the following weeks, Davis writes a series of complaint letters to the vending company that take the form of cathartic, soul-baring confessionals filled with intimate details about his life under the assumption that no one will ever read them. But when the company’s lonely customer service representative, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), reaches out to Davis after being touched by his brutally honest letters, the pair forms an unlikely connection. With the help of Karen and her rebellious teenage son (Judah Lewis), Davis begins to dismantle his old life to understand what went wrong.

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Movie Review: “I Saw the Light”

Starring
Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, Maddie Hasson
Director
Marc Abraham

It was only last week that Stephen Frears’ formulaic biopic, “The Program,” arrived in theaters, and hot on the heels of that film, writer-director Marc Abraham delivers a similarly distant and uninvolving biographical drama, this time about troubled country musician Hank Williams. Once again, despite a compelling performance leading the way, “I Saw the Light” is yet another biopic that doesn’t dig deep enough into its subject.

Narratively, “I Saw the Light” is a collection of greatest hits that covers Williams’ (Tom Hiddleston) short and tragic life. Much of Abraham’s script focuses on the singer and songwriter’s testy relationship with his first wife, Audrey Mae Williams (Elizabeth Olsen). Audrey Mae isn’t exactly in the same league as her husband musically, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to sing along with him. She’s also not the healthiest of influences in Hank’s life, which involves plenty of alcoholism and infidelity.

For the first half of “I Saw the Light,” Hank’s marriage makes for a relatively focused glimpse into the singer’s life, but the film soon turns into the rise-and-fall biopic we’re far too accustomed to. Abraham only seems to graze the surface of Williams’ story, which is rarely as emotional as it sounds.

Watching the young Hank Williams waste away his life, family and talent should be dramatic. However, because the movie is just going through the motions, much of the drama comes across as routine. The third act, especially, could’ve been potentially excruciating, but instead, Williams’ death just sort of happens.

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