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Movie Review: “The Jungle Book”

Based on the Rudyard Kipling.

Version: 2016; starring Ben Kingsley; Bill Murray; Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken

Genre: adventure; children’s classic

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] After a threat from the tiger Shere Khan forces him to flee the jungle, a man-cub named Mowgli embarks on a journey of self discovery with the help of panther, Bagheera, and free spirited bear, Baloo.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

Alright, an amendment: as a teenager I did try to read the Jungle Books, but did not get very far because it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I remember watching the Disney animation a few times as a child though, and I would also recommend the Masterpiece classic “My Boy Jack” based on the true story of author Rudyard Kipling and his son during the Great War (starring Daniel Radcliffe).

Even though reading the book escaped me, I was excited to see the live action version. I think the most fun for me was listening to all the great voice actors (obviously, we see only one human throughout the whole film, except in distant portrayals of the villagers).  I did not know beforehand who was playing most of the characters, so it was fun guessing.  I absolutely loved Ben Kingsley’s noble sounding voice as Bagheera.  What a perfect match for one of my favorite actors!  Another favorite was Christopher Walken as King Louie.  Although it took me a little bit, I soon recognized his famous voice and I thought it was hysterical!

It was genius to change the voice of Kaa the Python to a woman’s. For one, it provides more female roles to the story, and also the thought of an alto voice can be very hypnotizing.  However, Scarlett Johansson just didn’t do it for me (I don’t know why this is).  It also did not seem to make sense why this villain was in the story in the first place.  It didn’t flow connectively to other parts.

Is this live action a musical? Not really, though it does include some snippets of songs from the cartoon, but this primarily weighs in favor of the drama.  The characters who do sing are not exactly noted for their musical capabilities.

The special effects were great and there was an appropriate atmosphere of fear throughout, balanced by Mowgli’s faithful and loving friends. Raksha, Mowgli’s mother-wolf, is nurturing and Baloo the bear provides cute, comic relief.  My personal favorites were the little wolf cubs.  🙂

Despite all of this, I disliked how this movie ended. In both the book and 1967 version, Mowgli the boy goes to live in a human village where he is adopted by parents.  Baloo and Bagheera sacrifice and do what is best in their friend’s interest, making for a bittersweet but satisfying ending.  In this newest adaptation, after all of the struggle for keeping Mowgli safe, the boy stays with his animal friends.  Perhaps this is a bridge to a Jungle Book II?  Who knows.  But one has to wonder what the purpose was in Mowgli living isolated from his own kind.  In the earlier version Bagheera shows wisdom (and joy) in seeing Mowgli off to a home among people who can nurture him better than the animals can.  In version 2016, nature seems elevated above the benefit of human love and relationships.  Man is evil, and Shere Khan cannot really be held responsible for his actions because man *made* him what he is.  It all boils down to your world view.

Most will probably find this movie family friendly, though it is sad to see a tiger kill a wolf (not graphically), and there are some scary parts (snakes, teeth, etc.) that may bother little children.

*Of interest, I find that another live-action version of The Jungle Book, directed by Andy Serkis is due in the near future.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “Papillon”

Based on the book by Henri Charriere.

Version: 1973; starring Steve McQueen; Duston Hoffman

Genre: adventure; survival; based on true story.

Plot Summary: In the 1930’s, two convicted criminals are sentenced to life imprisonment and arrive in the French penal colony of Guiana where they soon forge an enduring friendship through the many years, adventures, and tortures to follow.

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

This was a story I did not know I needed to know about.  I had never heard of the book, or of the movie, and it was not until writing this review that I learned of a new remake starring Charlie Hunnam in McQueen’s role.  There’s always some room for tales of imprisonment and escape in my strange soul, so when I happened across this older movie it did not wait long on my watch list.

This is nearly a three hour film.  The pace is slow and mostly quiet, as to be expected when your hero spends 5+ years in solitary confinement.  Don’t worry, it’s not as painstaking to watch as it sounds!  Henri Charriere, wrongly accused (as far as we trust our main character’s POV) of murder spends all of his time from the very first minute scheming his way out of captivity.  We, the viewers, are right along with him each step of the way.  The time and detail it takes for these real life persons to plan an escape which their very life and sanity depend on is suspenseful and has us glued to the story instead of watching the clock.  Our emotions are invested into the very human characters we watch who try so hard to live.

If you’re looking for a clean flick, this isn’t going to be for you.  Death, starvation, and madness are the order of the day.  Men are killed as a matter of course, and sometimes there is quite grisly detail.  In an atmosphere such as this, it would be unrealistic for the script not to include swear words.  So of course, that factors liberally into the movie as well. One prison guard has a hankering after one of the prisoners and wants to sexually abuse him.  The prisoner appears to go along with it for a time, but only as a means of eventual escape.  It is common for the inmates to smuggle their belongings in places where the sun doesn’t shine.  If I remember correctly, there may have been a brief scene of backside (prison context) nudity.  What actually bothered me more than that was an island setting in which all the tribeswomen wore nothing at all and we see full frontal nudity.

Despite all of this, I came away doing a lot of thinking about this movie.  The thing that stood out the most to me was comparing the two main characters: Henry Charriere (or, “Papillon”) and his friend Louis Dega who was sent to Guiana for forgery.  Their friendship is begun for survival’s sake.  Papillon can easily handle himself in any situation, with quick wits to boot but not much clout among other prisoners or guards.  Dega on the other hand, is physically undersized with round glasses that couldn’t possibly get any thicker which produces a wrong-end-of-the-magnifying-glass-effect when we look at him.  However, his secret weapon is literally the stash of cash he sits on and he is able to bribe for opportunities.  In one of the most touching parts of the story, Papillon risks his life to protect Dega when he is being beaten.  This action lands him longlasting consequences.  It brings Dega to tears to think that an innocent man would be willing to put his life in jeopardy for him, who is justly convicted of his crime.  It made me think of Jesus, the innocent lamb who was slain for us, the real sinners.  It was an eloquent portrait of biblical truth.

Eventually, through many trials and hardships, the two men are brought together once again where they have to face a decision: remain in captivity, or attempt escape (quite possibly ending in death or worse, recapture).  It is rather pitiful the situation they are in, yet in some ways it could have been worse.  Will Papillon be content to live the remainder of his years on Devil’s Island where he could live in comparative peace?  Or will he convince Dega to risk the dangers of escape and perhaps be able to attain true freedom once again?

SPOILER ALERT:  Papillon never once abandons his idea of the pursuit of freedom.  I believe giving up his busy mind over this matter would have consigned him to insanity.  Dega on the other hand, was never strong of body or mind.  He found a little piece of joy right where he was and made it into his own.  He had nothing left to go back to.  Was one view right and the other wrong?  I don’t think so.  Two different temperaments, different personalities, with different limitations.   Each did what they could with what they had and what they were made for.  This, of course, is taking the question of guilt out of the equation.  END OF SPOILER.

I know this film will not be for everyone.  But I found some redeeming aspects of it that I encourage anyone so inclined to give it a try.  I am looking forward to seeing a newer version, but Steve McQueen was very good in his role, and Dustin Hoffman provided some comic relief.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “The Big Four”

Based on the book by Agatha Christie. [see my book review here]

Version: 2013; starring David Suchet.

Genre: mystery

Plot Summary: [from IMDb] As the threat of world war looms large, Poirot seeks the help of friends both old and new when he is pitted against a dangerous group of dissidents responsible for a series of violent murders.

My Review: When I read Agatha Christie’s The Big Four, it wasn’t the best mystery I’d read by her; but it wasn’t the worst either.  I guess I’d rate it around midling.  I think the thing that turned me off from rating it higher was probably the ending which did not seem very believable to me.  I didn’t really see how this story would be filmable.

When I watched the movie version starring David Suchet I could see where they took liberties with the story, and I didn’t really blame them.  It needed to be within the realms of the believable and not feel like a dated story line.  Many of the same characters were kept, but the motives and ending were changed.  I still can’t say it’s one of my favorites, though.

I don’t remember alarming content material here, however since it deals with murder and the regular mayhem I would say there is some moderate worries for children.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “Murder on the Orient Express”

Based on the book by Agatha Christie.

Version: 2017; starring Kenneth Branaugh; Johnny Depp; Derek Jacobi; Michelle Pfeiffer; Judi Dench

Genre: classic; suspense; costume drama; mystery

Plot Summary: [from imdB.com:]  When a murder occurs on the train he’s travelling on, celebrated detective Hercule Poirot is recruited to solve the case.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book. 

When I first saw the promo trailer for this, my first instinct was: “No.  That’s not Poirot, and nobody can tell me it is.” How can anybody possibly play that character better than David Suchet?  But there have been so many times when I have tried something (usually movies) that I thought I would hate, and it turned out I liked it much, much better than I thought I would, or benefited by it in some way.  So I did break down and give this a try.

Did it surpass the previous Orient Express I love starring Suchet, Barbara Hershey, and Toby Jones?  No.  Did Branaugh embody Chritie’s Poirot?  No.  Was it a terribly rotten movie?  Surprisingly, no.  Here’s why.

Try to get it out of your head that this is a remake.  Try to get it out of your head that this was a book first with a detective that appeared in a whole series of books previously.  Forget what Poirot looks like, and that Suchet perfectly imitated his mincing steps and egg shaped head.  Now, sit down and take this film as it is.  Take Branaugh’s Poirot completely as Branaugh presents him.  And you get a good, suspense-filled movie with a  “closed room mystery” and a cast full of colorful characters that make you think about life and justice, while giving you chills in the middle of an avalanche and a cold blooded murder scene.  This is what …Orient Express actually is.  And the film does an excellent job of that.

I still like BBC’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot version, for all of the above reasons, and because it feels more realistic.  It has it’s own sense of atmosphere and it doesn’t come off feeling so exaggerated.  But.  Branaugh’s film is to be recognized as being a good drama, too.  It really does not fail.  In fact, I was better able to follow the plot in this one, the motives behind the murder, and the big reveal at the end was far more dramatic than a huddled group in a narrow dining car.  The newer version works to create different change of scenes on a limited stage.  Overall, it took on an artistic, creative flair that was very interesting.

I’ll warn you: if there’s going to be a murder, you might as well expect blood, and there is lots of it.  So, cover your eyes Sally and Johnny and Grandma, too.  In fact, this may not be for you.  In a nutshell: if you crave realism and darkness, choose BBC’s Murder…  If you wish something with a bit more flair and composition, go for Branaugh’s.  Both are recommended.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “Jamaica Inn”

Based on the book by Daphne du Maurier

Version: 2014; starring Jessica Brown-Findlay

Genre: classic; suspense; costume drama

Plot Summary: [from imdB.com:]  A young woman moves in with her aunt and uncle and soon discovers unsavory happenings in her new home.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book. “Jamaica Inn” has been made into a movie at least three times (Alfred Hitchock- 1934; 1983, starring Jane Seymour; current review) and I have seen all three.  This is not because I especially love the story, but because I was usually bored with nothing else particularly appealing to watch.  The 2014 caught my attention because of Jessica Brown-Findlay playing the lead character.  I have to say that out of all three, this most recent version is my preferred version.

For those who may not be aware, the story is very dark and tense.  What I liked about this movie was the way it kept it tight and the viewer guessing; there is also a lot of texture, wind, and weather.  Watch it for the moody atmosphere if nothing else.  But the acting is pretty well done, and there is interesting cinematography, too.

Unfortunately, there is a pretty racy scene between Mary and love interest Jem.  There is some amount of foul language as well (lots of rough and rowdy fellows and drunken tavern scenes).  An attempted assault is made on Mary, but her uncle defends her.  There are several scenes of murder and some gore.  Obviously, this film is not for sensitive folks.

SPOILER: I often get weary of the church as being painted as the villains in movies.    However, if this storyline has started to lose its shock-and-awe value it is because we live in an age where #metoo has reared its ugly head within the church and the reality is that one mustn’t take even religious leaders for granted.  Even so, we have a pervading sense that this is not the way it is supposed to be—injust, mercy-less and hypocritical so-called “Christians.”  It is not supposed to be this way because Jesus Christ was not this way and deep down the world recognizes the contradiction.  The Bible says that the man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.  (1 John 1:4-6)  Rev. Davy appeared to be living God’s commands, yet his life was full of darkness, control, and death.  Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.  But whoever is truly a Christ-follower lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  END OF SPOILER. 

Is Jamaica Inn worth the watch?  I think it can be thoughtfully viewed and learned from.  Some themes to talk over include addiction, codependency, fear and control.   How does each character’s choices come back to haunt them in the end?  It makes for interesting dialogue.  But it’s certainly not a family movie.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: True Grit

Based on the book by Charles Portis.

Version: 2010; starring Jeff Bridges; Matt Damon; Domhnall Gleeson

Genre: adventure; classic

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:]  Mattie Ross, 14, from Dardanelle, Arkansas, narrates half a century later, her trip in the winter of 1870s, to avenge the murder of her father. She convinces one-eyed “Rooster” Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshall, to tag along, while she outdickers and outmaneuvers the hard-bitten types in her path.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

I’ve been wanting to watch this film for a while, but you should know by now I’ve never been up to speed on pop culture.  I have never seen the John Wayne movie made in 1969, so I cannot compare it to that or the book which (as stated) I have not read.

I could immediately see why this story is such a classic.  The plot sounds like one that could easily be written today.  One could also appreciate the detail and attention taken in the production of this movie.  Much of the story’s tone is cold and austere, the characters are often grungy and hardened.  This gave it a believable feel, taking place in a tough atmosphere and time period.

I was struck by such a quick-witted heroine only aged 14 years.  She is forced to grow up far too early and therefore she is mature and capable.  She doesn’t let any scoundrel monkey with her and isn’t shy in standing her ground.  She makes for a very admirable character!  The question isn’t whether she has true grit, but whether others are up to the task of staying faithful to their word even when the trail grows cold.

I wanted to give thought to the choice of background music.  Orchestrated by Carter Burwell, much of the theme delineates from the hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  At first I wondered why this choice was made.  The sound fits well in the background, but what about that song connects it to the story?  After thinking about it, I realized that although the film is not overtly religious and many of the characters do not recognize God (except through swearing), our young heroine Mattie Ross does come from a God-fearing family.  Mattie is not after personal revenge per se, something the Lord commands us not to seek.  But she is after justice which is a major attribute of God.  After local officials refuse to take correct measures, Maddie pursues her case with a local bounty hunter.  She wisely chooses a man she believes will not be soft on the matter of holding a wrongdoer accountable… Rooster Cogburn.  He isn’t an easy character to deal with, but Mattie is not faint of heart.

It’s a good thing she isn’t timid because there are plenty of gorey scenes that aren’t so pretty.   This isn’t exactly a family-friendly flick, and also contains some amount of swearing.

But overall, I was glad to be able to watch this movie at last and counted it as a positive experience.  I would encourage fans of both the book and the previous film version to give this a try.  No, Bridges isn’t John Wayne, but I believe he made the character all his own.  I especially got a kick out of Matt Damon’s egotistical Mr. LaBoeuf.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “Alistair Maclean’s Air Force One is Down”

Based on the book by John Denis.

Version: 2013; starring Emilie de Ravin

Genre: adventure; intrigue

Plot Summary: When Air Force One, carrying the President and many cabinet members, is hijacked and destroyed, it is up to a team of three independently working agents to rescue innocent lives.

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

This movie caught my eye because a) I enjoy stories of intrigue, and b) the name of Alistair Maclean.  It was a fairly recently made movie and I was surprised that Maclean had any stories so recent.  Wasn’t he a writer from the 1960’s or something?

It turns out that the book this movie is based upon was not written by Alistair Maclean, but by an author pen named John Denis.  It has the name of Maclean attached to it because it is a continuation of a series he started.  I believe it was originally set in the ’80’s, the decade it was written.

The story does not have good reviews as a novel, and the film (updated to a contemporary era) was obviously not big budget.  However, I found the plot interesting and exciting, even if the acting was a little cheesy at times.  There were a lot of twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat.  I also enjoyed seeing actress Emilie de Ravin in another role besides playing sweet characters for a change (Australian accent not present).  As an undercover Russian agent, her edge and innovativeness in tight situations were fun to watch.

Unfortunately, this movie does contain a lot of foul language and innuendos.  Early on, a man and woman have a sexual fling.  Francesca and Steven are left to drown in their underwear.  Another scene contains a lesbian kiss, but it is shortly revealed to be only a hoax.  There were some pretty gory sights, as well.

Would I recommend this?  I wouldn’t place it high on my to-watch list but it did have an unique plot, and if you have nothing better to do or watch this may be of interest.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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