Friday, April 15, 2016

REVIEW: The Jungle Book (2016)

When I first saw the trailer for this film, only one thing was going through my head. Christopher Walken as King Loui??? Sold! You sold me movie! Okay, on a more serious note, I had mixed feelings going into this movie.  On one hand, I'm absolutely tired of the Disney remakes. They missed on Alice in Wonderland (and the sequel doesn't look any better), Maleficent seemed pretty silly and clichéd, Cinderella was hit or miss, and with only more remakes on the way of Winnie the Pooh and Pete's Dragon...let me tell you I'm really not looking forward to the future too much with Disney's remakes, and don't get me started with Marvel and Star Wars.  Cool your jets Disney.  But this one got me into the theater, and as I sat myself down with my popcorn and cherry icee (my trademark kind of thing), I held nothing but high hopes.  And by the times the familiar music begins to play and your transported into the deep of the jungle, you realize that you're witnessing a remake that probably actually needed to happen, and you realize that Disney has finally hit that bullseye when it comes to their remake plan.

For those who don't know, I'm not that big a fan of the original animated classic of this film.  Nothing against it really, I just don't really find it to be that interesting. There's too many subplots and side-characters that get pushed out of the screen, and it's just not all that gripping of a story. The remake sees this, and does something about it, and I'm actually kinda impressed. The wolves aren't just shelved at the beginning, the villain Shere Kahn doesn't just wait to appear until the end, he actually plays a much bigger role in this film, there's action to keep you into the story, and you know...I for one am thankful that it doesn't do too much to stray from the original concept.  And it doesn't rely on prophecy! Alice in Wonderland and I'm gonna throw in Maleficent kinda do that. The people behind this movie knew what they wanted to do.  Remake a movie, but not go overboard.  And honestly, they near perfectly balanced out the original concept with their own unique personal touches.

That's not to say the movie is flawless, because Lord knows it isn't. There were a few scenes I found myself laughing at at how silly it was, or rubbing my head at because of how forced it seemed, or a few scenes in general I felt jsut...didn't need to be in at all. And I'm not gonna spoil anything, but there were a lot of scenes particularly toward the end that were guilty of this. Just little moments that didn't make sense to me as to why they were included. Okay I gotta talk a little about certain moments, so if you don't want anything spoiled skip to the next paragraph, but know that NOTHING MAJOR WILL BE SPOILED. The first scene that I really rubbed my head at was Baloo's sending of Mowgli away. When we were maybe halfway through the film. I didn't mind the talk that they were gonna do, but the whole "Mowgli we were never friends" thing was just so forced, and so...well for lack of better words, bullshit phony that I just rubbed my head at it.  Did we really need a buddy-cliché of the two friends having that kind of blow-up argument? It felt so unnatural and forced. Another thing I really kinda felt was unnecessary was toward the end when Mowgli is facing off against Shere Kahn, and a wolf puppy who has been worried and wondering about him is suddenly scared of him simply because he has the fire in his hand, and the fact that half the jungle is now in flames. It's like...come on, you know why Mowgli is me personally, it just didn't fit the picture.

Another thing I kinda took minor annoyance at was the somewhat forced inclusion of the iconic music. As amusing as it was to watch Christopher Walken do his rendition of "I Wanna Be Like You", or Bill Murray break into a jam of Bare Necessities, none of it felt natural enough to make me think that the movie earned the right to be a musical number.  And the fact that those are literally the only two songs from in the entire movie, makes me think that they just put them in to give you a playful nudge of nostalgia.  A sense of "Hey, you remember this song?  From the original movie?  Yeah we're doing that!" And that's not to say that they didn't perform it well, because I thought Bill Murray and little Neel Sethi (who didn't do that bad a job for his debut on screen) performed the song rather well, and Christopher Walken...well he was Christopher Walken, but the songs just didn't fit the movie in general if you ask me.  I honestly don't think they needed to include them.  With that said, the musical score of this film is a wonderful treat.  I wasn't joking when I said that by the time you hear the first few notes, you're immediately immersed in this film.

Despite the few clichés and other annoyances that I didn't care for in this film, I love what they did with the original story.  Everything has a set purpose in this film, and a select role, and even if it can seem a little weird at times, the original animated film doesn't come close to this kind of storytelling. One thing I actually found kinda cool was that the elephants, though their role was minor, they actually contributed much more to this film than anything the elephants did in the original. The same can be said about literally every other animal in this film. Even the main characters do more. This is how a remake should be done! You don't wanna just rehash the film you're looking to do, and you don't wanna stray too far from the original concept. You want to reinforce what people love in the first place, and for the most part this film does that.  The main characters are incredibly portrayed, the casting was spot on, the added action and faster pace is welcome, and...I can't believe I'm saying this, but the ending, which isn't the open to interpretation, and I actually kinda like that. We don't get a solid answer for an ending of this film. And...I like it. I like it a lot.

The Jungle Book is a solid three star rating out of four.  As far as Disney remakes are concerned, it's their strongest one yet, and honestly, I don't think it'll be matched in the near future. From solid visuals, strong character, and just an overall better storytelling experience, The remake has proven it had what it took to be worth our time. It doesn't just lean on nostalgia, it adds its own touch to what many call a timeless classic, and but the time those credits are rolling, you're already satisfied. A movie I originally was only going to see because of Christopher Walken turned out to be much more than a silly remake I originally predicted. It's got a kick to it. If Disney can harness that magic to it's future remakes and other projects, perhaps there's some reason for other things to be made in the future.  Maybe not.  I still have no plans to see other planned remakes, but I am glad I saw this one.

Please feel free to request or suggest any movie you'd like me to review. Leave a comment describing your own thoughts on the movie down below, and as always, thanks for reading.

Final Verdict: 3/4

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

THROWBACK REVIEW: Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back

Twenty years ago, a franchise emerged in Japan that would impact, mold, and shape culture that we grew up in, particularly if you were what we like to call, a 90's kid. Ah, the 90's, the time of butt-scooters, Wonderballs, and weird dance music (hey at least I can go to my Alice in Chains or Pantera if I'm not in the mood for Fatboy Slim). Growing up in this little time Era was a lot of fun. Yeah, maybe for a time, the movies weren't exactly the best, but you know what, it was still a lot of fun. And there are certain things that were done back then that I wish were done today, particularly that of kids animation. I've long praised Kids WB, as it was my go-to channel for everything cartoon after school, and Saturday Morning. And it was the birthplace for Pokémon Fever in the United States. If you were a kid,  you were hooked. If you were older, you just had to deal with it.  I was a fanatic. The game, the cards, the books, and the show. I loved it all. And you can bet that once I heard about the movie, I was gonna go see it.

The hype behind this movie if you were a kid may as well be compared to that of a new Star Wars movie. The advertising, these weird collectable cards you could collect, the endless...and I do mean endless trips to Burger King, who had all 150 Pokémon toys in their kids was every definition of an early Christmas. I went into that theater with my friend, my dad (who I feel sorry for), and sat myself down, ready to indulge in nonstop action, fun battles, and just immerse myself, wondering what exactly it was like to be in the shoes of a trainer called Ash Ketchum.'s hard to imagine that was only 18 or 20 years ago.  Regardless of whether you like it or not, no one can deny the impact that Pokémon has had on pop culture, for better or for worse. It's not nearly as big as it once was, but you know what? It doesn't need to be. It was big for us, and that was what mattered. And so to celebrate 20 iconic years, I'm going to sit through each and every Pokémon movie that was ever made, and I'm going to give my thoughts in a review. Strap yourselves in guys, this will be a tough one. It's not that they're terrible, it's just that I'm going into this with the mindset of both an old fan, and a critic. And the fact that there's 18 of these damn things right now...and they aren't slowing down either. What can you do? So I hope you'll join me as I go through a marathon of Pokémon movies as I look back on my childhood, and see if the movies still hold any life.

Please note that I will only be reviewing the feature pictures themselves. That means the shorts that occasionally came before them, like Pikachu's Vacation will not be reviewed. So...what are my thoughts on Mewtwo Strikes Back?

Whether it's for nostalgic reasons or whatnot, This tends to be the film that most Pokéfans regard as the best, or like talking about the most.  And you know, for their first attempt at filmdom, it's not half bad. In fact a lot of it is surprisingly still pretty dark for the franchise. Particularly the opening segments revolving Mewtwo's birth, and rampages in which Mewtwo kinda just...kills a large number of scientists. And that's not even the only death in this movie.  When Mewtwo is conjuring up this storm, there's a trainer flying across the sea on their Fearow (God help me for remembering all these names), and they doesn't make it to the island...did they drown?

Now there are a few moments I found myself laughing at watching this again.  Particularly regarding the legends of Pokémon tears and whatnot...which serve as absolutely nothing more as a hint as to why the silly revival of Ash Ketchum at the end makes sense...oh by the way Ash kinda dies too. I'd say spoiler alert, but if you haven't seen this movie by now that's your own fault.  However another thing that kinda gets me is the missing Nurse Joy plot.  Throughout the series, we are led to believe that Nurse Joy is part of a very large...identical family of numerous cousins, sisters, sister-in-laws, etc etc etc...yet one Nurse disappears for one month, and they shut down the Pokémon Center she's a part of? Couldn't transfer another employee temporarily at all?  I'm certain they got someone laying around...

Team Rocket...While we'll get to their roles in these movies, they ironically have their biggest role in this film if you ask me, in which they have...albeit very small character development, but seeing how Mewtwo erases everybody's memory at the end of the film, I guess it's pretty much pointless. Though the fact that this is actually one of the few instances in which our heroes mingle with Team Rocket, and they don't just serve as background fodder for the film. Though the Vikings thing? "They mostly live in Minnesota!" ....har har har....come on. I don't think even our heroes can be that incompetent. Oh who am I kidding?

I may be nitpicking a lot here, but as far as whether or not I like this film...well I do.  You can say there's a nostalgia factor here, but for the most part, the story is competent enough, and I gotta say that the origins of Mewtwo in this film are some of the best storytelling elements of the franchise. It's also worth noting that the debate over who is more powerful between Mew and Mewtwo remains undetermined, and an iconic debate in the fandom...though future films will kinda glorify Mew. And there are some legit jokes that keep me chuckling, like when James verbally asks "Who's that Pokémon?" And the change that Mewtwo goes through in this film, from a raging angry Pokémon, hellbent on purging the world to a more understanding Pokémon towards the end is something that the fandom still holds in high respect. The message for the younger viewer is solid and understandable.  And some of the sound effects I gotta say...they sound like they came straight out of Star Wars. Pretty cool.

Factor in the classic action of Pokémon in battle, and an actually pretty cool musical score, and you got a fun movie that remains a solid favorite and steady movie amongst the franchise.  Maybe some don't like or understand it...but hey...I guess it only makes us like it a little more. All this factored in...I'm gonna go ahead and jump to the final verdict.

Mewtwo Strikes Back earns a three star rating out of four.  Despite some silly aspects, and black and white morals, and character problems, the story is still fun, the action is still pretty impressive to watch, and the message is still regarded as one of the franchise's finer messages it's ever attempted. If you're a fan, and you've not seen this film, it's a must see.  And though for a while, it was out of print and hard to find recently it's found its way back onto the shelf, even if the new cover isn't at all as cool as the old...but that's not too much a factor in the movie itself.  

Well...thanks for reading my thoughts on Mewtwo Strikes Back, I'll return next week to talk about movie two, while I search for the rest of the movies I need, and try to write some stronger reviews (I found myself slightly distracted on this one).  Please feel free to suggest any movie you'd personally like me to take a look at in the near future.  Leave a comment down below, discussing your own thoughts on the film, and as always, thanks for reading. 

Final Verdict: 3/4