The Jungle Books

Comparing the original and the remake…

This week I’m doing things a bit differently. I’m going to look at a recent remake of a classic film and compare both films strengths and weaknesses. If you guys like it, I may do this again with other remakes at some point. Since I reviewed a horror action film last week, I thought I’d look at something lighter hearted and more innocent this time, and so I’ve chosen to look at the remake of the Jungle Book (based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling). The original was of course a film I watched and enjoyed a lot as a child, and it was interesting to see the story from a live action style. Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man and Chef, was the director for this film, and for the most part he adapts the story and characters in a new and interesting way. Unlike many modern live action Disney remakes, this film does quite a few things differently.

I have to say that although the 1967 film is close to my heart, objectively it’s one of the worse Disney animated films. The story is very bare, the pacing is terribly slow and the animation is lazy; they re-use so many shots that you could make a drinking game out of them. The main saving grace is the humour and the music. The film is more like a series of loosely connected scenes which serve as an excuse for songs and animal antics, but for a young kid, that’s all you need. The songs are great, especially King Louie’s “I want to be like you”. It’s also a very funny film, helped by an easy-going tone that keeps you from taking the plot too seriously. However, as an adult watching the film in 2017, I can’t enjoy it on the same level. It’s quite boring in places, and for an animated movie set in the jungle, the colour is very bland and washed out.

Image result for the jungle book 1967

The 2016 film takes the core plot and characters of the first film and expands them. Now Shere Khan has a backstory, a reason to fear fire and hate Mowgli. Now Mowgli has a more developed and nuanced character. This film is definitely a more serious affair. The tone is darker and less simple, the biggest conflict of the film is whether or not Shere Khan is right about Mowgli being a danger simply by using tools to survive. The ending of the film, in which Mowgli uses fire against Khan, but shows that he can be a danger to the animals in the process, is quite deep for a children’s film. In short, there is actually a plot this time.

The film is paced better, keeping Mowgli’s journey more focused. Although this film is quite long, there is never a moment that feels as though we are killing time, unlike the original film. There are homages to the original; Favreau keeps two of the best songs, although not as well sung by Bill Murray and Christopher Walken. If anything, these moments of song and levity seem to jar with the rest of the film. There are no other singing characters, and the stakes are much more real, so it feels weird for the characters to break into song only occasionally. Visually this film is far superior to the animated version. The CGI is breath-taking, and it is genuinely hard to tell what is real set and what is a CG background. It is amazing to me that we can use animation to render such photo realistic animals, fur and all. The characters are realistic, yet still loosely based around the features of the actor playing them. The colour in this is also rich and varied.

Image result for the jungle book

A key difference between the two films is scale. The Jungle Book 2016 is a deeper story, with more epic backgrounds, detailed characters and complex motives. Set against a simple animated musical from the 60’s it’s not difficult to pick a favourite. That isn’t to say the first one is a bad film, it’s just more shallow and smaller scale. They were limited by technology at the time so it’s no surprise they didn’t try to make realistic animals, nor that they went for a comedic musical. After all, the same style of animated films had made Disney a family success for years. However, these limitations are very noticeable, and they make the film feel quite small. The 2016 film has stunning CG locations which capture the imagination. Its not hard to picture yourself in ancient India, deep in the jungle.

Performance wise I would say the two films are equal. While the actors in the new film may not sing well, they bring these animals to life very well. Ben Kingsley is kind and authoritative as Bagheera and Bill Murray is both extremely chill and mildly funny as Baloo the bear. Idris Elba is terrifying as Shere Khan, his voice harsh and angry for most of the film. Neel Sethi does a decent job as Mowgli, a more rounded character and much less annoying than the original. Most of the other cast do fine, but have to short a role to be very memorable, however one character stands out among them. King Louie, played by Christopher Walken is incredible. Walken brings his strange awkward charm to the role and the motion capture of his face is bizarre. Walken brings a certain arrogance and danger to the character which was missing from the campy original. This ape is big enough and angry enough to kill Mowgli in one punch. The performances in the first film are very good except for Mowgli. In particular Phil Harris is a treat to listen to. As much as I love Bill Murray, he doesn’t have the rich deep voice of Phil Harris. English actor George Sanders played the voice of Shere Khan, and he brings a sophistication to this predator, an intelligence which contrasts well with his savage nature.

When comparing the two, it is clear that these are two very different films. Both have their strong elements, whether it be the songs, the characters or the plot, but I think that the remake may have a slight advantage. The fact is that the original version is quite a simple, bare bones films, and the way in which Jon Favreau adapted and expanded upon the film significantly improved it. On reflection I prefer the remake, even if it hasn’t got a scene as iconic as the bear necessities.


Looking back at Blade 2

Having a look at the best Blade film…

Taking a break from recent releases, I thought I’d look at a film I very much enjoy, which I saw again recently as part of my film course. Blade 2 directed by Guillermo Del Toro is a mixed bag objectively speaking. The plot is silly and a little clichéd, the dialogue is cheesy and the acting questionable. But these elements are all flawed in an endearing, dated way, a representation of films from the early 2000’s and all that was fun about them. On top of this, the film has some excellent fight scenes with some intricate choreography, interesting cinematography and very creative creature design, which Del Toro is so famous for. The first Blade film is fun but more deeply flawed and suffers from a seriously unintimidating villain, and for the most part I prefer the sequel. The less said about Blade Trinity the better. So, I think it’s worth exploring the ups and downs of the best film in the Blade trilogy.

To start with a negative, the biggest problem with all three of these films is the script. The story is not exactly engaging; there are some interesting ideas and cool concepts, but they are wasted amongst a tonne of clichés and pacing issues. David S. Goyer wrote all three and directed Blade Trinity, a big part of why that film is so awful, but as writer he is fine. Just fine. He’s not an incompetent writer, he knows how to craft a character arc and create stakes, but he just doesn’t have enough originality. The weakest part of Blade 2 in particular is that the story is convoluted and messy. Characters motivations are unclear, twists that are supposed to be surprising are painfully obvious, and a character is even retconned back from death in the previous film. I don’t blame Del Toro, he didn’t write the script, and the direction is miles better than the first one. Goyer is simply not an interesting enough writer and given his recent contributions to the superhero genre, it’s clear he can’t hold an audience’s attention on his own. Every film written by him I’ve seen that has been at least decent has had other more talented people working on it. In the Dark Knight trilogy, he wrote with Christopher Nolan, in this film, Del Toro manages to elevate his very average script to a much more entertaining film.

On a more positive note, the film has a very unique visual design. The direction and cinematography are much improved from the first film. There are far fewer dated shots, like the sped-up footage that permeated so much of the late nineties and early 2000’s. The fights are easier to follow as a consequence, and the choreography of the fights is easily the best part of the entire film. The monster and costume design are much less boring than in the first film too. Now instead of hot topic vampires wearing fur coats or open shirts, we have a tactical squad of trained killer vampires, wearing body armour and even a chain shirt at one point. The villains aren’t human looking vampires, they are a brilliant homage to the Nosferatu style makeup of the 1920’s. They are incredibly unnerving and scary, thanks their unhinging, predator-like mouths, and feral veiny appearance. The differing costumes and visual style make this Blade much more enjoyable to look at, even when no action is happening, something that can’t be said either for the previous film are for Blade Trinity. This film, mainly thanks to the excellent costume design on the reaper vampires, feels more like a blend of horror and action than just action.

On to the performances. This film has a large cast of side characters, and as such a lot of them don’t really get a chance to shine through. For example, I was surprised to see Donnie Yen amongst the elite vampire squad, and even more surprised when he barely got two scenes in the whole film. That is a criminal waste of Donnie Yen’s talent as a martial artist; his character doesn’t even die onscreen! However, he I learned that he was the fight choreographer for the film, which does explain why it is so much better. However, there are several key characters that get just enough development, and give a good performance whilst doing so. The main villain has quite a compelling Frankenstein complex, as he is created to be a new type of more durable vampire, but goes wrong, and seeks revenge on his father for making him this way. Luke Goss is an incredibly intimidating bad guy, but I’m unsure if this is owing to his acting or the insanely good makeup and prosthetics. Either way, it’s a huge improvement on Deacon Frost from Blade 1, AKA the boring cool bad guy. Norman Reedus plays a charming techie who helps out Blade and his partner Whistler, and Reedus does such a good job it is genuinely heart breaking when he betrays them and joins the vampires. Apart from these two, the only other memorable character is Nyssa, daughter of the vampire lord, who goes through a quite compelling arch through the movie.

Leonor Varela plays her with a tough vulnerability which is easy to relate to, and as she was born a vampire, we can sympathise with her more, as she has known no other way. She forms a deeper connection to Blade, seeing him when he takes a blood serum to stave off the thirst. She sees him in a vulnerable position, and the two form mutual respect as they fight side by side. Blade even saves her life at one point. Her decision at the end to go against her father is a sign of her growing out of his shadow. Wesley Snipes as Blade is not particularly deep. He is a stoic and outside of his connection to Nyssa, he mostly serves to deliver cool lines and kick arse. He does this very well. Snipes oozes cool, he delivers even cheesy lines with a conviction that makes it work, and his martial arts background ensures he always looks like he knows what he is doing.

On the whole, this film may not be a deep or particularly nuanced story, but is has some very exciting action, excellent choreography and stunning visual and costume design. It is a blast from start to finish, and is held up by decent performances and unique direction from Guillermo Del Toro. It isn’t high art, it isn’t Oscar worthy, but it’s a fun blend of several genres, that keeps from ever being boring. It’s easy to see why many consider this to be the best Blade film.


Mild Assault on the Orient Express…

Kenneth Branagh’s new film seems just a little off…

I really don’t want to review this film. It gives me no joy to criticise a director I enjoy, and seeing as I was actually an extra in the film, it feels a bit like biting the hand that fed. But after finally having seen Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, I have to admit that it just doesn’t measure up to any of the previous adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novel. I don’t think the film is bad, certainly there are still many things to enjoy about it, and it’s great to have a slightly more cerebral mainstream film, rather than another bland action snooze fest. However, it falls down in many areas that previous iterations are strong in, and I found myself not drawn into the story in any meaningful sort of way. It’s a very mediocre movie.

The story is mostly faithfully adapted from the novel, and the clues, surprises and outcome are for the most part the same, but the execution is sorely lacking. The characters aren’t given enough time to leave an impact. Each one, except a few of the main characters, gets a single introductory scene and one interview with Poirot and then for the rest of the film they only really appear in group and reaction shots. This would be fine if they were side characters, but in a mystery drama, each characters history and motivations are equally important, because we don’t know who the culprit is. This means that the big reveal at the end feels less earned because we haven’t spent long enough with the characters. It’s rare that I say a film is too short, but this could really have done with about twenty minutes extra footage to flesh out the characters. We barely have enough time to figure out that these people are acting suspicious before the final scene, where most of the information is handed to us without any clues given. The problem is Branagh is handing us the solution before we had a chance to look at the puzzle properly, and so the final scene can’t help but be an anti-climax.

Visually this film is brilliant and yet tonally inconsistent. The cinematography is very nice, and it’s clear they went to great effort to make the shots unique and interesting, considering the fact that nearly the whole film takes place on the train. Some shots work better, such as the overhead shots looking down at the characters when they discover the body. The problem is that the style of shots doesn’t match the style of the film. This a murder mystery period piece, complete with sweeping vistas and smart costumes, and yet the shots are all very modern, and this can feel jarring. It would be like filming a gangster movie with mostly shaky cam, it just doesn’t fit. On the other hand, the set and costume design are impeccable. The train carriage is opulent and classic, the suits are crisp and pressed and the dresses are pretty. When I was on set the train was still being finished, and yet it felt almost like stepping back in time, looking out of the window to see fake snow on the trees. I felt like some fancy foreign dignitary as I sat in one of the cabins, eating a bag of wotsits. After a while the train itself starts to feel like a character, and even though there are only two locations in the film, it doesn’t feel stale.

Now we come to the performances, and for the most part everyone did a good job. I say good, because the lack of focus on most of the characters doesn’t really give them opportunity to shine, there are no real stand out characters, apart from maybe Tom Bateman as Bouc. He takes a relatively boring minor character and turns him into youthful schoolboy type, who is thrust into a situation he struggles to control. In fact, he gets most of the funniest lines. Daisy Ridley, who plays Mary Debenham probably gets the most screen time outside of Poirot himself, and she does perfectly fine. She at least proves here that she has range outside of Star Wars.

But now we come to the man himself. Poirot, self-styled as the “world’s greatest detective”. This performance baffles me a little. It’s very far removed from the Poirot of the books, although I must admit I haven’t read that many. This Poirot has a pointless ex love interest and severe OCD, because apparently just being observant isn’t good enough to notice clues anymore. This Poirot is an action Poirot, chasing after culprits and hitting people with his stick. While Branagh has certainly captured the sizeable ego Poirot has, he fails to capture the quiet, restrained side of his personality. It’s hard to imagine the Poirot of this film sitting down quietly to solve a mystery, or have a chat with Captain Hastings. He is too bombastic and quippy. Branagh also is far too skinny. I realise that interpretation means making a character your own, and not being defined by the description in the books, but this is a classic case of Hollywood’s need to make characters better looking. He has a full head of hair, a rather rugged moustache and he seems to not even need his cane at all. It seems as though Branagh has done all he can to turn Poirot into a Belgian Sherlock Holmes, and not the classic one, the BBC version. I think that the problem is direction. Because Branagh is directing as well as acting, there is no-one to reign in his over the top tendencies. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kenneth Branagh, both as an actor and a director. I just feel like he needs to choose which one to be. In this particular film, I think it would have been beneficial for Branagh to have produced the film and gotten in another director, to get a more three-dimensional performance out of him.

Overall, this film isn’t the worst, in fact it’s actually pretty good. Yes, the ending is an anti-climax and the characters need fleshing out. Poirot is a bit confused as a character and there is a tone issue. But the film still has a good visual style, enjoyable side characters and great art direction. I would say it is definitely the weakest adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, but if it means more Murder Mystery films and less mindless action, I’ll take it.

A Post-Mortem of the Hobbit Trilogy…

As I have yet to finish the second season of Stranger Things, I thought I would take a look at a film franchise that may soon be getting a TV reboot, The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R Tolkien is one of my absolute favourite authors. I’ve always been a huge fan of both the books and the films, and I always loved The Hobbit. In a way, I liked it more when I was younger, especially seeing as it was much more aimed towards children and easier to consume. The Lord of the Rings took effort to read, The Hobbit was short and sweet. There was more humour, a lighter tone and a sense of carefree adventure, all things a younger kid prefers. So when I heard that the book was being adapted into two films by Peter Jackson, I was extremely excited. Jackson had turned the three LOTR books into a hugely entertaining and richly detailed trilogy of films, and I had no doubt he could do the same again.

In hindsight, I may have hyped these films a bit much. In my defence, I don’t often over-hype upcoming films, but I think that everyone has that one franchise that they can’t view objectively and mine is the Tolkien series. As most would agree, The Hobbit trilogy is a deeply flawed set of films. Even Jackson has since admitted he wasn’t satisfied with how the films turned out, “I spent most of The Hobbit feeling like I was not on top of it.” On the one hand, I enjoyed each film as it came out and on the other, there are a lot of elements to the films that actually made me angry, and it wasn’t because they didn’t stick to the book.

If anything, it was that they added to the book rather than taking anything out. The main problem in my opinion was stretching the single short book into three films. Two would have been acceptable, after all they could hardly spend all that money for a stand-alone film, and there is plenty of material to fit two films, but there aren’t just two, there are three. For one book. But for all their problems, the Hobbit films are still very entertaining, so I’m going to go through a few things that work and a few that don’t.



Let’s begin on a positive note. The three films have a beautiful visual design. Although it can be said that the extra frames per second and the colour palette make everything seem unreal, I think it fits the tone of the original book. The novel is light and comedic, the story isn’t a particularly deep one, and so a sillier costume and set design fits in well, and a brighter colour scheme suits the setting, in the golden age of Middle Earth before the return of Sauron. While this doesn’t always match the tone presented by what is going on onscreen, it does reflect the original style and so I view it as a good thing.


There is no getting around the amount of padding in these films. For instance, two large subplots have been crowbarred in to give enough story to reach three films, Gandalf going to Dol Guldur and Kili and Tauriel falling in love. So many superfluous scenes are slipped in to justify the length. There is even a completely pointless scene in Bree, which only serves to remind the viewer of information we already knew from earlier. However, some scenes have been cut from the novel, which could have been better padding than the new fake characters like Tauriel (Oh we’ll get to her). There is an entire sequence where Bilbo meets the eagles king and we learn why they fly favours for Gandalf and Jackson didn’t see fit to include it. It’s actually one of my favourite scenes from the book, but apparently it isn’t as important as a terrible romantic subplot.


All of the casting is inspired in these films. Every actor suits his role to a tee, and none more so than Martin Freeman. He gets the mannerisms and personality of Bilbo absolutely spot on and it is a joy to watch him grow as a character through the story. Another great character is Bofur, who forms a close bond with Bilbo, and is very charming owing to James Nesbitt’s natural charisma. Ian McKellen returns to Gandalf with ease and grandeur, and Richard Armitage is a great choice for the brooding and troubled Thorin. My only qualm is that he doesn’t capture the greed of Thorin very well, passing it off as a sickness and not an actual character flaw. I loved Lee Pace as Thranduil, haughty and unfeeling after centuries of loss. Almost all the characters are played superbly by the cast, and this elevates the films greatly. All except Alfrid.


The characters Jackson created for the film suck, so much. I wasn’t that angry about him adding in new characters, there are too few women in the Hobbit, and so adding a new female elf character fitted into the Mirkwood scenes. But then Tauriel turned out to be a love interest to one of the dwarves, Kili. Why? Couldn’t we just have a badass female character with her own hopes and personality? Why does every film feel the need to add a romance plot? It takes away a chance of her developing her own identity and actually ruins the relationship between Legolas and Gimli in the Lord of the Rings, because it turns out, they weren’t the first elf and dwarf to become friends. But Tauriel is nothing compared to Alfrid. This character is a painfully unfunny comic relief side character, which is fine in small doses, but in the Battle of the Five Armies, they give him a ridiculous amount of screen time. I don’t mind a side character not being funny for five minutes. I do mind a side character not being funny for a good thirty minutes and wasting my time.


This is a back handed compliment really, but I think Jackson did a smashing job, considering the pressure he was under. He had to take over from Guillermo Del Toro late into production, meaning he was constantly playing catch up, with no real creative vision and no time to form one. The level of work and stress eventually led to him becoming ill and needing to take a break. The script was being written as they shot the film, because they were simply not given enough time to refine it. So the fact that I still enjoy these films at all is nothing short of a miracle.


The films keep trying to remind us of Lord of the Rings. The problem is that this trilogy wants to be both the light-hearted children’s book, and the gritty dark Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it can’t choose one or the other. The tone is all over the place, in part because it feels like two different movies. One is the adventure with Bilbo, which remains fun and engaging, and the other is a weird fanfiction style prequel to Lord of the Rings, starring Gandalf and Legolas. One of these films is significantly less fun, can you guess which?


Overall, these films are not terrible. They are entertaining and fun, and kids will certainly love them. But I can’t deny it is a shame how much potential is squandered for the sake of padding out the story and trying desperately to connect them to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. I can’t help by wonder what Guillermo Del Toro’s Hobbit would have looked like. It would at least have been more memorable. Oh well, now to see if the reboot messes up.

Thor Ragnarok: Thor is funny now…

Taika Waititi brings humour and warmth to Marvel’s most boring character…

Apologies, this review is a little late, and I’ve not been very active for the past two weeks! In my defence, I’m lazy, and I had two pieces of coursework to finish, but anyway lets continue with the review.

I recently saw Thor Ragnarok and I feel compelled to talk about it here, because it is one of the best Marvel films I’ve seen in quite a while. I should mention that I’m not a subjective source for this, as I’ve been looking forward to this film ever since I found out Taika Waititi was directing. For those who don’t know, Waititi is a director and comedian from New Zealand, who has directed some of my favourite films, such as What We Do in the Shadows. His style of comedy and writing are extremely entertaining and so I had high hopes for Thor Ragnarok. Going into this movie, my biggest concern was that the studio had let Waititi do what he wanted, as Marvel have been known to get in the way of great directors’ creative vision; look at what happened to Edgar Wright. Fortunately, this film carries a lot of Waititi’s unique style and tone, and it is a joy to watch. Spoilers from hereon in.

The two previous Thor films have been less than amazing. They certainly weren’t bad films, they had competent directors and good cinematography. The acting was mostly fine, great in the case of Anthony Hopkins. Nonetheless, the first Thor is not very memorable. The story feels very by the numbers and it felt more like a film we needed to watch to get to the avengers, rather than a film I actually wanted to see. Then came Thor: The Dark World. I can think of no film in the Marvel roster that feels more like a waste of time. The villain is underdeveloped, none of the characters arcs feel fleshed out, and it has little to no impact on any future films. This one, you can skip. But now we come to the newest entry, and let me tell you, this film makes me wish that Taika Waititi had directed all three films and not just this one.

The first thing that strikes me about this film is the colour. The costume and visual design are much less restrained than in the previous films and I for one am relieved. The tone of the Thor films has always been silly. When you have a story about mythical Gods who join a superhero team, you need to keep your tongue firmly in your cheek, but the previous two films toned down the costumes, making it seem more like a generic fantasy film. Ragnarok embraces the ridiculousness in the series and runs with it. Want a white armoured Valkyrie with face paint and a dragon tooth sword? You got it. Want the hulk to be wearing gladiator armour made from scrap? You got it! Want Hela to wear a giant elk style headdress? You get the picture. The costume department clearly had a lot of fun, and the array of colours and styles is a visual feast.

The story has massively improved on the previous films too. This time around, Thor seems to have a proper story arc, and thanks to Waititi’s direction he is allowed to be funny. Chris Hemsworth has fantastic comic timing and it is a pleasure to see him finally apply this to Thor. Not that the character has changed, rather his exposure to earth has made him less uptight and naïve. Clearly allowing the cast to improvise much more has helped enormously. Each major character has a journey, but this is Thor’s story, and he finally feels like he has the focus. The removal of his hammer forces him to grow without it, and the destruction of Asgard feels like breath of fresh air, getting rid of all the stodgy tradition of the other films. It was also a very bold narrative decision, almost like killing off a character. This will force change in the MCU, which is always a good thing. The worst part of the MCU is when the films start to stagnate. The tone is also consistently funny, in fact often when a serious moment rears its head, the moment is interrupted. The best example of this is late in the film, when Bruce Banner prepares to change into the hulk. The moment is set up to be similar to a scene in the avengers when Banner transforms just in time to punch a huge monster. However in this film, he jumps out of a ship, and splats on the rainbow bridge. It takes a few moments before he actually transforms, but the way in which this dramatic moment is deflated is side-splitting.

The actors give brilliant performances, particularly Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, a slave owner who doesn’t like using the word slave. His performance reminds me strongly of Bill Lumbergh from Office Space oddly enough. Hemsworth is the best he’s ever been as Thor this time round, and Loki played by Tom Hiddleston is entertainingly indignant. Cate Blanchett as Hela is suitably intimidating, although not much is done with her character considering she is the elder sister of Thor. Tessa Thompson is great as Valkyrie, showing a tough exterior and hurt, vulnerable inner. Her drunken introduction is incredibly funny, and yet her badass moments are some of the highlights of the film, as she fights with no extra powers, just great skill. Two of the best characters are the Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo, and Korg the rock monster played by Waititi himself. Hulk finally has dialogue, and it is great to get his perspective. He is selfish and angry, sure, but then he has reason to be. After being hounded and hated on Earth he finally finds a place to accepted and he loves being champion. You can hardly blame him for not wanting to leave. Ruffalo does a great job performing the motion capture, and an equally great job performing a very confused Bruce Banner. But the best character is the softly spoken rock creature Korg, who is a standout character with some of the best lines. Waititi demonstrates once again how good he is at playing characters against their stereotypes. In What We Do in the Shadows he was a kind-hearted OCD vampire, and in this he is a polite and calm revolutionary.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the things I love about this film, the dialogue, the inversions of previous scenes from the avengers, such as when the hulk smashes Thor into the ground and Loki shouts out “You see how it feels?”. However I’m very conscious that this is turning into quite a long review, so I’m going to finish by saying that Thor Ragnarok is the most fun I’ve had in a Marvel movie in several years, and I hope that Marvel let Waititi direct a tonne more Thor films, because I will be the first to buy a ticket for each one.