The Jungle Book (2016)

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It seemed that not many were excited by the prospect of a live-action re-imaging of classic tale The Jungle Book. However, it turns out that the wave of scepticism meeting the announcement was heavily misplaced because Jon Favreau’s film is GREAT.

The story strays only slightly from the classic Disney animation, landing somewhere between that and Rudyard Kipling’s classic. The film introduces Mowgli’s (Neel Sethi) back-story as a flashback and starting with his struggle to adapt to life as part of a Wolfpack in the Indian jungle.

Other than his poor howl and tendency towards human ‘tricks’, jungle life is fairly idyllic for Mowgli until Shere Khan arrives on the scene with a score to settle. Driving Mowgli from his home, Khan stalks the man-cub through the jungle with such power that protection proves almost impossible.

This sends Mowgli on a journey through the tress, during which he meets and interacts with a series of animals – some he can work with and some who see him as sustenance. Panther Bagheera continues to act as a surrogate parent while Baloo, who saves Mowgli from a tight squeeze, is a mischievous sidekick for the young man.

Visually, The Jungle Book is almost perfect, the animals interact realistically with their expertly crafted environment. In 3D the jungle comes alive, from the monkeys high in the trees to the rampaging water buffalo. Director Jon Favreau decided against filming in the jungle, instead opting for the technology utilised in the likes of Avatar to create a world with a specific ‘dreamlike’ quality.

The film benefits from an excellent breakthrough performance from Neel Sethi as Mowgli alongside strong contributions from Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley and more. Bill Murray brings a lot of Bill Murray to the character of Baloo, you know exactly what you are getting with Murray these days and, although it would be mean to call him a lazy old bear, he fits the bill (get it?) perfectly!

Far from another pointless remake or reboot (we’ve had our fill of them already this year, huh?), The Jungle Book is visually stimulating and edge-of-yer-seat exciting from start to finish. A couple of shoe-horned and slightly awkward musical numbers aside (I guess you couldn’t leave out the classics…) this is fun, fast and must-see.

 

4 Stars

 

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They’re Watching

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They're Watching

They’re Watching kicks off as a pretty perfect pastiche of the American property show House Hunters. I’ve lost many an afternoon DEEP into a House Hunters hole – the recreation here, Home Hunters Global, follows the same idea of a couple looking to uproot and find a new home; generally away from the hustle and bustle of a big city.

Some of my favourite House Hunter episodes have focused around American surprise at the size of Tokyo apartments and the absolute insistence for a ultimate frisbee league (who knew that was a thing?) close by. This episode sees Becky (Brigid Brannagh) hunting for a new home in rural Moldova and, amidst the fairly horrendous conditions, she finds her dream place – a dilapidated house in the middle of the woods. This would feel far-fetched but in reality isn’t that different from your average episode of the actual show.

Setting off to film Becky’s progress six months later, the crew are joined by a guide who struggles to keep the gang from offending every local in the village. They go from inadvertently attending and filming a child’s funeral, to casting up the local witch at the town pub – aptly named The Burning Stake.

As the crew return to Becky’s home, they notice it is being watched by a group of townspeople, clearly unhappy with their presence. This makes for a decent twitch in the atmosphere which is furthered by a series of mysterious occurrences as their shoot progresses. None more so than the incredible transformation of Becky’s property which has gone from collapsing barn to Moldavian mansion.

Events peak as the crew are tormented by a series of local and supernatural forces with the film careening towards a fairly (ok, TOTALLY…) crazy ending.

They’re Watching has some genuinely inventive moments and doesn’t feel as tired as the recent bulk of found footage strugglers. It is let down by some questionable CGI – it goes heavily towards the ‘Finish Him’ sequence of a Mortal Kombat battle towards the end – but the performances are decent and the story builds at a nice slow pace, deciding not to show its hand (other than an axe to the head in the first minute of course!) until the second act.

They’re Watching is a decent addition to the found footage genre but left me hankering more for House Hunters than the Blair Witch.

 

3 Stars

 

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Countdown

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Countdown, the latest release from WWE Studios, is the story of a maverick cop, his angry boss and the race against time to save a kidnapped child. It’s a standard action film that will appeal primarily to fans of goings-on in the squared circle.

Ray Fitzpatrick (Dolph Ziggler), busts a Russian gun runner but shoots a colleague in the process leading to him being put on suspension with pay for 30 days. Dealing with the loss of his son to a drink-driving incident, Fitzpatrick is slightly unhinged which is a concern for the force as he is drawn into a kidnapping with a ransom in excess of $2m and an exchange scheduled to take place inside the arena at a WWE show.

The handover goes south leaving Fitzpatrick with just over six hours to rescue the kid, who has been rigged to some heavy-duty explosives, from an unknown location before the bomb explodes. Teaming up with Internal Affairs agent Julia Baker (Katharine Isabelle), they search the city, getting into a few destructive scrapes and breaking a ton of protocol in the process.

It’s not original but it is entertaining, getting started immediately and keeping the action moving right to the end.

Directed by John Stockwell, who played Cougar in Top Gun (!), Countdown benefits from the WWE’s resources – the relatively big budget action sequences are well executed and the backstage footage, include Rusev pulling a gun on Fitzpatrick, are great fun for fans. Problem is, the WWE Studios output still struggles to be considered as much more than a star-driver for certain WWE superstars. That’s fine though, the existing audience is probably sizeable enough to ensure a certain degree of success.

The star here is Ziggler and, for his first major role (previous credits include Shallow Hal’s ‘guy in a nightclub’), he carries the story well enough. Kane gets on equally ok as Lt. Cronin, barking orders and restraining Fitzpatrick as required.

Countdown is a pretty straight-up action movie with a paint-by-numbers plot, it’s best during the fight scenes which are well executed and fast-paced but the dialogue is a bit predictable and the film suffers from an EXTREMELY dated soundtrack – a mix of WWE nu-metal entrance themes and emotional ballads. This can make it difficult to take things seriously at times which is a shame – the acting isn’t as bad as you might expect from the wrestling guys and Isabelle is always good.

Overall, it’s daft but totally watchable.

 

3 Stars

 

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