Sunday, April 17, 2016

Rapid Reviews: The Jungle Book and Criminal

Praise has been awfully high for Jon Favreau's live-action adaption of the Disney classic, The Jungle Book. The actor turned filmmaker follows up his wonderful indie comedy, Chef, with another solid effort. In all honesty, I don't recall watching the 1967 animated version of Rudyard Kipling's classic written work. However, Jon Favreau and company manage to create another winning interpretation all on their own.

Newcomer Neel Sethi stars as man-cub Mowgli, a boy raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves. But when the powerful tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba) threatens the young boys life, Mowgli must return the human civilization for protection. However, his trek back to a populated village gets sidetracked and Mowgli meets a slew of characters on his heroic journey through the jungle.

Favreau's live-action retelling opens with an energetic tempo that certainly levels off as the story progresses, but never grows tiresome. There's a deep story at play within Kipling's writing that is transferred to the big screen wonderfully by screenwriter Justin Marks. Debut performer, Neel Sethi, delivers a convincing performance for such a youngster and it serves as the foundation for the rest of the film. Despite the many winning attributes of The Jungle Book, I will say I was a bit puzzled when they break out into song about halfway into the movie with a rendition of "Bear Necessities". Like I mentioned above, I'm unfamiliar with the original source material, but featuring only a pair of scattered songs throughout the film made them feel very out of place. Yet, a large crop of lovable jungle creatures headlined by Bill Murray's wonderful voicing of Baloo helps make The Jungle Book another successful endeavor from Jon Favreau.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Another film opening which opened this weekend is the crime-action flick, Criminal, starring Kevin Costner, Gary Oldham and Ryan Reynolds. With The Iceman director, Ariel Vromen, at its forefront, I expected some violence and bloodshed and, apparently, so should you. Mixing in a bit of scientific ingenuity into its plot, Criminal is merely a mediocre and undersold film that boasts a more intriguing premise than what it ultimately delivers on screen.

After the murder of a CIA Operative (Reynolds) in Germany who possesses the knowledge of some valuable information, U.S. officials engage in a groundbreaking neurological surgery that will place the agent's memories into the mind of a compatible patient. Yet, since the requirements for a patient are so rare, the only choice becomes a dangerous and emotion-less criminal named Jericho (Costner) who happens to fit the bill. But after the surgery concludes, Jericho goes rogue and the mission becomes personal as the memories force him to finally develop a sense of right and wrong.

Kevin Costner stands front and center with a memorable lead performance in Ariel Vromen's Criminal. However, the entirety of the story feels overly animated in all regards and never feels grounded in reality. As a result, this clunky film pushes along solely as mindless action fluff that never exudes any legitimate depth to its characters. Furthermore, the movie's main villain lacks the necessary appeal of a quintessential "bad guy". Therefore, Criminal comes and goes as a run of the mill effort that, in many ways, squanders a very thought-provoking premise.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

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