Movie review: Pete’s Dragon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the last movie review of this summer! We close the blockbusters season with another live-action fairy tale from Disney – Pete’s Dragon!

IMDb summary: The adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Pete’s Dragon is quite an unusual film for Disney because it is quite small – both budget wise and story/scope wise. However, small doesn’t mean bad – it just another type of picture. It is actually quite refreshing to see Disney spending time and money on newer and lesser known projects. Of course, I have to mention that Pete’s Dragon is not an original film but a remake of a musical with the same name from the 70s. I haven’t seen the 1977’s picture and I doubt that I’ll watch it because it is not a timeless Disney classic and it doesn’t have that good of a rating. Moreover, the new Pete’s Dragon more than satisfied all my wishes.

Writing

The film was written by the director of the feature David Lowery and the screenwriter/producer Toby Halbrooks. Halbrooks has written a few shorts and is also writing a script for 2018’s Peter Pan for Disney to be directed by Lowery. In addition to having his next directing gig sorted out, Lowery will also be writing the script for a war film The Yellow Birds. 

I really enjoyed the story that the duo penned for Pete’s Dragon. It was simple, yet well-crafted. The ideas about family and finding a place where you belong were classic Disney themes but they did actually work because of their universality and wide appeal.

The character development was also quite pleasant. I loved how Pete and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Grace felt connected through nature. I also enjoyed the father-daughter relationship between Grace and her father, played by Robert Redford. The friendship between the main character Pete and his pet dragon Elliot was also cute and reminded me of other great films where children befriend various animals/beings – Max and E.T. are just two of many.  The main antagonist of the film was a cliche character but he served his purpose well in this family adventure picture.

Lastly, I kinda thought that Pete’s Dragon was a spiritual succesor to another live-action fairy tale of 2016 – The Jungle Book. If at the end of Mowgli’s story, he would have been found by humans and Baloo would have gone looking for him, we would most likely have gotten a Pete’s Dragon type of a situation.

Directing

David Lowery, who has only recently started to dip his toes into the blockbuster business, did quite a nice job with the film. The action scenes were entertaining, the mise-en-scene (the forest and the mountains) – gorgeous and the movie’s direction good as well.

The character design of Elliot – the dragon – was a bit weird. He didn’t really look like a dragon, more like a furry dog or a soft teddy bear that could also fly. I heard that a lot of people hated that the dragon was fury and didn’t have any scales. Personally, this change didn’t bother me – I think that it actually helped Elliot to stand out as a different kind of dragon. Also, from the business standpoint, a furry dragon is way more marketable and more merchandise friendly – what kid doesn’t want another soft plushie toy to his/her collection?

I saw the film in 3D but, honestly, it didn’t add anything to it. The effect actually made the whole film darker and, since a lot of scenes were already happening during the night, the 3D only made it harder for me to see the human characters and Elliot.

Music

The 1977’s Pete’s Dragon was a musical, but the studio decided to remake it as a drama/adventure film and drop the songs. However, the 2016’s film still had an interesting soundtrack by Daniel Hart. It seemed to me that the flick had more of a country-music inspired soundtrack and vibe. It was quite refreshing to hear some deep voices and guitar sounds after a lot of EDM and pop music in all of the other films this summer.

Acting

The main character of the film – Pete – was played by Oakes Fegley. When did the child actors have gotten this good? He was excellent in the role – sweet, relatable to children but still able to display acting chops that some adult actors lack. He has a bright future ahead.

Jurrasic World’s Bryce Dallas Howard played the adult-lead Grace and did a nice job. Grace was very different from Dallas Howard’s Jurassic World’s persona – more motherly and way more nature-orientated. Going forward, the actress has a drama thriller Gold coming up. Also, funny fact, I only recently realized that she was the one playing Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3. I did not recognize her with the red hair.

Karl Urban played the main antagonist of the film and was okay. Since I’ve only seen him in Star Trek as the caring doctor Bones, it was quite strange to view him as this unlikeable douchebag. He will be one of the villains in Thor 3, so, I guess, I’d better get used to this.

The cast also included Wes Bentley (We Are Your Friends, Interstellar), Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) among others. Bentley didn’t have much to do – he mostly reacted to stuff that was happening around him. Laurence was good too, while Redford was also believable as loving but a bit weird grandpa/father.

All in all, Pete’s Dragon was a good movie from Disney. It was well-written and nicely crafted. The film was not groundbreaking or the most original but it still made for some pretty good time at the cinema.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Pete’s Dragon trailer

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Movie review: The Legend of Tarzan

Movie reviews

Hello!

The final live-action fairytale of the summer of 2016 – The Legend of Tarzan – has finally hit theaters, so let’s talk about it.

IMDb summary: Tarzan, having acclimated to life in London, is called back to his former home in the jungle to investigate the activities at a mining encampment.

When I was younger, I would always mix up Tarzan and Mowgli (although they are quite different if you think about it – Mowgli is the weaker one that ultimately chooses to live with the humans, while Tarzan is very strong and, being the king of the jungle, he stays to live in the jungle). This year, both of these characters appeared on the silver screen in a live-action, though in very different forms. The Jungle Book was a very child-friendly film, while The Legend of Tarzan was significantly more adult. In general, Mowgli is usually portrayed as a child, while Tarzan normally appears as an adult, so I do think that the 2016’s cinematic interpretations of the characters were appropriate.

The animated Tarzan movie from 1999 was/is one of my favorites. The opening montage set to Phil Collins’s Two Worlds is magnificent. In general, the whole soundtrack of the film is superb. The sequence, where Jane and Tarzan first meet, is beautiful and emotional. The scene, in which the gorillas are improvising and singing, is super funny and my kind of comedic relief. Overall, this particular animated film (like many others) manages to portray a range of human values and vices realistically and believably.

In addition to loving the animated picture during my childhood, I also used to play a Tarzan video game, where I had to jump around and pick bananas or something, so the character of Tarzan is very near and dear to my heart, because of that childhood connection.

So, I have given you some context and my general thoughts on Tarzan, but now let’s see if Warner Bros have finally managed to launch a successful live-action fairytale after crashing and burning with Pan. The critics were really harsh on this film, which, to my mind, was highly unnecessary.

!SPOILER ALERT!

Writing

The Legend of Tarzan was written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer – two quite unknown screenwriters. I really hope that they get a career boost because of this film because I really liked what they did with the script. It was partially based on various stories by the original creator of the character Edgar Rice.

To begin with, the idea to tie in the story of Tarzan with real historical facts was brilliant. The 19th-century setting and all the ideas about colonialism, slavery, the diamond and ivory business and the wars between tribes (there are actually lots of people who live in the jungle) made the movie more topical and much more serious. I also appreciated the fact that the writers sincerely asked the question what would happen if a person grew up outside of civilization. They treated the story in a realistic and respectful way and, although the movie was a bit dark, it was dark for a reason. I complained about the dark tone of BvS because I felt that it was dark just to be dark, while a more solemn tone of Tarzan was actually justified.

I also really enjoyed the writing for each of the characters. The attention to details and all the flashbacks really gave the characters some needed depth in a clear manner. We saw Tarzan’s parents dying in the jungle, we got glimpses of his life with the apes, we saw his first meeting with Jane and how he left the apes to live with the tribe. The detail about Tarzan’s hands whose bone structure has changed was also a nice touch. I also liked the fact that we saw Tarzan or John Clayton III in England. He was an educated and intelligent person – a complex character who was dealing with his human and animal sides like all of us – and not just someone who happened to grow up in a jungle. The backstory, involving the killed son and a lack of honor were also sophisticated and exceptional ideas. Jane’s backstory was also great – I liked the idea that she grew up near a tribe and didn’t just come to Africa as an adult. I also liked that they did not make her a damsel in distress. She did actually manage to escape from her captors but chose to come back so as to save the animals. Samuel L.Jackson’s character’s backstory with the civil war and the extension of the races were also interesting. Lastly, the writing for the villain played by Waltz was amazing (definitely better than writing for Waltz’s previous villain in Spectre). Rom’s weapon of choice – the cross necklace – was so unique. The little detail, like the shot where he was rearranging the knife and the fork, after Jane has finished eating, also showed his pendantic side in a perfect way.

Other little details of the narrative that I welcomed were the portrayal of the elephants as gentle, wise, and alsmost god-like creatures, like in many stories (e.g. The Jungle Book) and the usage of a different language to show the communication inside the tribe. The scenes were the members of the tribe were singing the traditional songs and dancing their folk dances were also excellent. It was also interesting to see more of the life in the jungle – how the different tribes interact and how some of them are hostile as well as how the people of the jungle are also killing animals like their western counterparts. Nevertheless, as per usual, the European colonialists (civilized savages) were the real bad guys of the film and deservedly so. Just look at history. If you don’t like to read history books, I suggest you check out a few novel about colonial Africa. Any book or novella by Joseph Conrad will give you a European perspective but if want to see how the natives felt about the invasion, read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Lastly, I loved the film’s ending. The birth of Tarzan’s and Jane’s baby was not only a nice callback to the beginning of the film, where they were mourning their dead child, but also a hopeful way to end the picture. I hope that WB will actually make a sequel, just maybe with a smaller budget – The Legend of Tarzan cost $180 million to make.

Directing

The Legend of Tarzan was directed by David Yates, who did the last 4 Harry Potter films and is also directing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, coming out later this year. I thought that he did an excellent job with Tarzan. Firstly, the wide shots of nature, including the opening shot of the mountains in the fog, were absolutely beautiful and magnificent. In addition, all of the close-ups of the character’s faces and eyes were framed really neatly. The CGI of the animals was also amazing – realistic and detailed. The only CGI effect that wasn’t that great was the shot with the young Tarzan and Jane. It looked a bit fake. Nevertheless, all of the action scenes were exciting: my favorite ones were Tarzan swinging on the branches and lianas and the train fight sequence, which kinda reminded me of a similar scene in Snowpiercer. The 3rd act’s action piece with the running animals was also reminiscent of Spanish Corrida or running with the bulls/bullfighting. The film’s soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams was good as well, especially the end credits song by Hozier.

Acting

  • Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan / John Clayton III was astounding in the role. He was great in the action scenes as well as in the slower shots with the close-ups. His sad brooding face was awesome too. Skarsgård is mostly known for his small screen work – the TV series True Blood. He has had a few supporting roles in indie and small-budget films but hasn’t had any big screen hits yet. I hope that Tarzan is his game-changing role.
  • Margot Robbie as Jane Porter Clayton was really good as well. She even kinda sounded like Minnie Drive (the actress who voiced Jane in the animated picture). Robbie’s career is on fire right now. Since starring in the Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie appeared in well-received movies like Z for Zachariah, Focus and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. She also had the Suicide Squad film coming up next month.
  • Samuel L. Jackson as George Washington Williams was also good. His reaction face was priceless, especially in the scene where Tarzan was greeting the tigers. I have no idea how does Samuel L. Jackson has time to appear in at least 3 films per year. I reviewed 3 of his movies from last year: Kingsman, Age of Ultron and The Hateful Eight. Later this year, he will be in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  • Christoph Waltz as Captain Léon Rom was a good villain. Waltz will probably always play a villain, I just wish that sometimes, a writing for his character would be better. Since his character in Tarzan had good writing, Waltz actually could do something interesting with it. However, I don’t think that he will ever be able to top up his Inglourious Basterds performances. Next year, Waltz will appear in Tulip Fever. 
  • Djimon Hounsou as Chief Mbonga was okay as well. The close-up of his face during the fight and that single tear in his eye and on his cheek made for a beautiful picture. Hounsou has appeared in movies like GladiatorGuardians of the Galaxy and Furious 7. He will also star in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword next year. 

To conclude, The Legend of Tarzan was probably my favorite live-action fairytale of this summer. It had a great narrative, good effects and exciting action and great acting. Don’t really see why the critics are destroying this film in their reviews.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Legend of Tarzan trailer

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Movie review: The Jungle Book

Movie reviews

Hello!

A few weeks ago, the first live-action fairytale reached theaters (The Huntsman: Winter’s War). Now, let’s talk about this summer movie season’s second feature of this genre – The Jungle Book!

IMDb summary: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.

Adaptation from animation

2016’s live action film is an adaptation of the 1967 animated feature, so, in preparation for this year’s film, I revisited the old animated classic. I concluded this: the 2D animation is still beautiful while the story and the premise remain timeless – I mean, who doesn’t like cute talking and singing animals? My favorite moments from the original film are all the elephant sequences (‘an elephant never forgets‘) and, of course, the iconic song – The Bare Necessities. The_Jungle_Book_poster

The character of Mowgli has originally been created by the author Rudyard Kipling in the 19th century. While I don’t remember reading any of his stories as a child, I do recall the times when I used to play a Mowgli video game. I was never much of a gamer and never really had the latest technology to play the games on, but I distinctly remember playing some kind of Mowgli game – I think you had to jump and pick up bananas or something. It was the early 2000s, so the games weren’t as advanced as they are now.

2016’s The Jungle Book is not the first, neither the last time that Hollywood is remaking the original animated picture into a live action feature. Back in 1994, Disney made a live-action version of the story with Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli. In 2018, Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes) will finally release his Jungle Book film – that movie has been pushed back numerous times and will serve as a full directorial debut for Serkis. 2018’s film will also feature a star-studded cast, who will motion capture and voice the animals . However, the 2016’s version also has a bunch of big names, headlining the movie.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

The Jungle Book’s screenplay was written by Justin Marks. Marks doesn’t have any big writing credits on his IMDb page. Nevertheless, he did a really nice job with the story.

To begin with, I don’t think that they changed the original story of the animated picture that much (except the very ending) – they only expanded on it a.k.a. added more details. For example, we found out that elephants were the ones who ‘created’ the jungle. The viewers were also introduced to the ideas of truce at the peace rock during the dry season and the Laws of the jungle. Shere Khan also appeared more consistently throughout the film, instead of just showing up at the end. His plan to get Mowgli to come to him was also a nice addition. Moreover, Mowgli’s parent’s backstory, which involved Shere Khan, added more depth to the characters and made the story more logical. The role of the ‘mother’ wolf was also expanded. The only gripe that I had about the narrative of the film was the question why some animals could talk while others could not.

The human village in the film also had a more prominent role – Mowgli got the fire from that village instead of getting it from the lighting, as in the animated picture. This tiny change made the story more sophisticated and more heartfelt. The film also stressed the importance of team-work, although the individual courage was also praised. The ideas of belonging and searching for identity were also explored.

The only big change that the filmmakers made to the plot was the ending  – Mowgli stayed in the jungle, while he usually goes to live in the human village in other versions of the story. However, since this film earned a lot of money during its opening weekend and the critics are loving it as well, Disney will most definitely make a sequel, so they will probably make Mowgli’s move to the human village – the main plotline of the next film.

Directing

The Jungle Book was directed by Jon Favreau. I am most familiar with his work on Marvel Phase 1 films – Iron Man 1 +2. A few years ago, he also wrote, directed and starred in comedy-drama Chef, which I quite enjoyed. I also recently watched one of Favreau’s earliest films – a Christmas comedy Elf (I did not like that film and found it extremely annoying).

Speaking about Favreau’s work on  The Jungle Book – I think he successfully brought this classic story to life, for a new generation. The film had more action than the original animated feature and the whole plot was very high energy, starting with the opening chase/run. In addition, the visuals of the scenery, as well as the realistic look of the animals, were both amazing – I was extremely impressed with the CGI. My favorite scenic sequences were the sped-up montage of the dry season and the falling waterfalls. All of the animals looked amazing, but I especially liked Baloo’s and Raksha’s spiky and soft fur versus Bagheera’s sleek looking fur. The little wolf Grey was also extremely cute. Plus, the design of the snake – Kaa –  was also pretty spectacular. I mean, that python was huge! The fire sequences, both in Kaa’s story and the 3rd act of the film, were great as well. Lastly, the ending – the closing of the book –  was very reminiscent of the original animated picture’s beginning and ending and was a nice nod to this story’s past. The way they used the visuals of the book during the actual end credits was also quite nice and entertaining way to finish the movie.

Music

John C. Debney scored the film. I really loved the fact they include the iconic ‘The Bare Necessities’ song – it fit nicely into the plot of the film. However, the other song from the original animation – ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’  – felt out of place in the live-action movie. Since this remake was not a musical, I think that one song from the original picture would have been enough. Nevertheless, I did like the end credits song – also from the original animated movie – ‘Trust in Me’ as performed by Scarlett Johansson

Acting

Favreau used computer generated imagery rather than the motion capture technology to bring this story to live, so the majority of the cast only did voice work.

  • Bill Murray as Baloo was the funniest character in the film. He was also very smart and cunning (in a good way). I loved his line about the Law of the Jungle: ‘That’s not a song, that’s propaganda!’ – it was quite an adult humor. However, other Baloo’s lines about hibernation (‘I nap…a lot’) were funny to all age groups. Murray did an amazing job with his voice work.
  • Ben Kingsley (Stonehearst Asylum) as Bagheera was the sassiest character. I especially enjoyed his line about bears and work. Kingley’s voice was very appropriate for the character and I also enjoyed listening to his narration at the beginning of the film.
  • Idris Elba (Beasts of no Nation) as Shere Khan was quite scary and furious villain. I didn’t recognize Elba at first, but his voice was very fitting to the character and really brought the tiger to live. Elba will also be voicing one the characters in the upcoming Finding Dory film.
  • Scarlett Johansson (Marvel) as Kaa was also really good. Johansson’s voice was very haunting, thus, fitting to the snake, who can hypnotize people and animals. Johansson is not a newcomer, when it comes to voice acting – she was the voice of the computer in 2013’s Her and will also be voicing one of the characters in this year’s computer-animated musical comedy Sing.
  • Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars) voiced Raksha and did a great job – her voice was very loving and full of motherly emotions.
  • Giancarlo Esposito (The Scorch Trials) did the voice of Akela, while Christopher Walken (Eddie the Eagle) voiced King Louie – they both did a nice job in a few scenes they had.

The film’s main character was played by a newcomer Neel Sethi. Child actors have been getting better and better every year, so I don’t even think that it is appropriate to call them child actors – they are just actors. I first spotted this change with Jacob Tremblay in Room. Going back to Sethi as Mowgli: he was really really good – he was appropriately annoying yet still likable and funny. He probably spent the majority of his time on set, interacting with fake models and green screens and he still managed to do an amazing job. I wish the brightest future for this young performer.

In short, The Jungle Book was a feel-good film that put a smile on my face. I sincerely think that both adults and kids can enjoy it. It stressed the idea of being yourself no matter where you are by conveying this message through nice dialogue, spectacular visuals and a heartfelt performance of a newcomer lead actor.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: The Jungle Book trailer

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