What a surprise this week’s batch of movies turned out to be. The new week starts and the premieres and private streams begin, and you find yourself either in joy or in pain. I’m happy to report that it’s more of the former on all counts this week.
We must start with the family fare this week, and I have to say that there was practically nothing I did not enjoy about Disney’s new updated version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau. In fact, for the first time in a long time, I was astounded by what CGI effects could do with a film of such scope and magnitude. The movie is a stunning piece of breathtaking beauty. What the director, writers and voice cast have managed to pull off, all while staying close to the Kipling classic AND the Disney original (with a few songs to boot), is beyond impressive. Playing Mowgli, little Neel Sethi is perfectly cast and utterly endearing as the film weaves its adventure tale through the jungles of India, as Mowgli, the li’l man-cub, makes his way towards human civilisation to escape the fierce clenches of the malevolent tiger, Shere Khan. What leaves us, the audience, so intrigued is the fact that someone’s vision to recreate the cartoon classic into a live-action tale has been so utterly and perfectly envisioned and executed. The grandeur of the setting and the lush nature, combined with the precise movements and verbal accuracy of the animals’ mouths, locks you into the visceral touches of nostalgia that run throughout this film. This movie should be heralded as the first Oscar-worthy, big-budget movie of 2016. Astounding and practically perfect in every way! #####
The main thing I noticed as I watched the new remake of the famed Argentinian film El Secreto de sus Ojos (2009) is the sheer grit of Julia Roberts’s performance throughout the film. I have never seen her eyes so seemingly tortured, and her success in the daunting task of creating this long-suffering character is yet another reason to herald Roberts as a truly gifted actress. That said, The Secret in Their Eyes does nothing to improve or kindly reimagine the stellar original. Even when the cast includes the fantastic Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and Alfred Molina, there is something that simply doesn’t seem to gel, apart from when Roberts comes on the screen. She plays DA Investigator Jess Cobb, whose daughter turns up dead in a dumpster while she and Ejiofor are on a routine search. Herein lies the key that connects all the pieces and people, and it’s nice to see Kidman in control of both her minions as the new assistant DA and her face (as it appears less botoxed than usual). Still, when remaking a foreign film that is so good, I wish that US-American studios would accept the fact that they need to be more astute instead of releasing shoddy remake products that fall so short. Such a great cast should have had more to work with. ###
And then there’s the delightful yet serious comedy The Lady in the Van. Set in Camden Town in the Seventies and starring Dame Maggie Smith, the film is like taking a field trip to a London of yesteryear that I only wish I could have experienced. What national treasures Britain has with actresses like Smith, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren still at the fore. In her latest hit (the film cost a paltry $6 million and has grossed nearly $40 million already!), Dame Maggie interprets the true story of Ms. Mary Shepherd, who parked her van in the driveway of famed author Alan Bennett’s (1991's The Madness of King George III, 2004's The History Boys) home and stayed there for over a decade and a half. As you watch the simple arc of the story unfold, it is clear to see that this title character could only have been played by Smith. While I do question the use of odd-looking actor Alex Jennings as the rather dapper Bennett, the way he correlates his persona with that of his author persona is fantastic, and director Nicholas Hytner, who has previously worked on Bennett material with The History Boys, has done the playwright justice with this on-screen portrayal. This is an absolutely captivating and quirky film, and you’ll be glad you saw it! ####
Lastly today, we have the film Victor Frankenstein. It seems that every 10-20 years, some good person takes it upon themselves to reinvent the horror classic into their own, wannabe new image when we all know the gist of the damn story…reanimating life in a mad scientist’s image and la-di-da. This time around, more Brits take a stab at ye olde tale, with James McAvoy as Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe as his gifted surgeon, Igor. The film starts quickly, gets strong and then seems to peter out when it should get better. It’s fascinating to see the conceptual imagery that director Paul McGuigan must have envisioned for his film, but the overall lack of vision delays its impact and purpose, and just over halfway through the film, we’re left wondering what went pear-shaped. Assuredly, the tale has been told enough, and while some may immediately relegate this to a horror piece, it really isn’t. It’s more of a second-rate period piece thriller. The acting is first-rate, and watching Charles Dance as McAvoy’s stern father was a small treat, but we must also ask ourselves…do we really need another Frankenstein film, even if it stars Harry freakin’ Potter? The answer is quite simply, “No!” ##-1/2
See you all very soon and have a great week everybody!