The Jungle Book

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The jungle is a dark and scary place. Oh, it didn’t really seem that way back in 1967. Then it was more of a swinging place full of quirky characters and memorable music. Almost fifty years later, however, things in the jungle have gotten a bit edgier and more dangerous; and yet, despite that, it’s still a place of fun adventures and warm friendships. Disney’s update of their own classic take on Rudyard Kipling’s short stories re-captures much of the magic of the animated original while adding the darker tone of the stories it was based on, and that mixture works really well; for the most part.

The opening scene sets the tone for this new Jungle Book perfectly; the score hints at the memorable music of the original as the camera pans through the dense jungle foliage. It’s beautiful and serene, and yet (perhaps because this time it’s not animated), there is an ominous sense of danger. Then Mowgli literally bursts onto the scene and the film is off and running. Again, by the mere fact that this time Mowgli isn’t just some cartoon character, there is a more pervading sense of danger as we watch this young scamp during his adventures in the jungle. Yet, despite that (or perhaps because of it) Mowgli’s new adventures are always a delight; they are in turns thrilling, funny, intense, adventurous, scary and heartwarming.

Indeed, perhaps this remake’s biggest flaw is just how much it’s beholden to its animated predecessor at times. Including “The Bear Necessities” song may seem like a necessity (see what I did there?), but it disrupts the flow of the movie just a bit. However, King Louie’s new rendition of “I Wanna Be Like You” is more problematic. Not only does it derail the film’s momentum, it undermines what was a very different and enjoyable take on King Louie. He was scary, and thanks to Christopher Walken’s perfect voicing, perhaps even a bit unbalanced and crazier than the animated, swing version. It made Mowgli’s scene with him quite uneasy, until the song starts and much of that sense of uncertain dread and danger is drained away. Pity. Those are the only two songs included. Kaa’s “Trust In Me” plays during the credits, as does a fuller version of King Louie’s song, and this seems like it would have been the right place for it, as opposed to shoehorning it into the film itself.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) MOWGLI and BALOO. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) MOWGLI and BALOO. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Those minor flaws aside, the rest of the film is a rollicking adventure as Shere Kahn mercilessly tries to exact his revenge on the young man-cub. While the wolf pack initially wants to defend him, they’re challenged with the question of how many lives is the young man-cub worth? It’s a threatening and thought-provoking question; exactly what is a life worth? It should come as no surprise that the Bible addresses that very issue. There’s a very interesting verse in Isaiah 40:2 where it says that Lord has paid double the price for all our sins. That’s rather fascinating, as basically what’s being inferred there is whatever our lives may be worth (and considering that Jesus eventually died on a cross for our sins, it’s quite a lot), God was willing to pay twice as much because of his great love for us. What is your life worth? It’s worth double to God. How many lives is your life worth? It was worth the life of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. In short, to God we are worth a lot, and then a whole lot more. The Bible even talks about how Satan, like some sort of demonic Shere Kahn, stalks like a lion those he might devour (1 Peter 5:8), but God is always there to put his life for ours and to keep the lion (or tiger for the sake of a Jungle Book analogy) at bay.

As for the worthiness of Disney’s “live action” remake of the Jungle Book (“live action” is in quotes because Neel Sethi is pretty much the only “live action” part of the film), this truly is another worthy addition in Disney’s growing catalog of animated-to-live-action remakes. It’s easy to assume that celebrity voices are used just for box office draw or as stunt casting, and while some of that may be true here, the fact is all of these celebrity voices are pitch perfect. From Sir Ben Kingsley’s noble Bagheera to Idris Elba’s refined and frightening fierce Shere Kahn to Scarlett Johannsen’s spooky and seductive Kaa to Christopher Walken’s on the verge of crazy King Louie, all of the voices work well for the characters and never distract. And as for Bill Murray, it’s no easy to task to fill in for the great Phil Harris (just ask John Goodman), but he makes the role of Baloo his very own and brings some much needed levity, heart and humor to the film; just as Baloo should. Despite my skepticism (which you think would have dissipated after Disney proved themselves with Cinderella), this new Jungle Book is a worthy, and dare I say at times an even better, predecessor to the beloved animated original.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the most theological superhero movie I think I’ve seen. It explores topics such as whether the world truly needs a savior, can anyone truly be good in a world so filled with evil, and whether or not an all-powerful God can also be all-good. They are fascinating themes explored through the lens of Superman’s struggle to do what’s right in a world that’s struggling to trust him, and through Batman’s struggle with cynicism and distrust in a world where he’s seen so much pain and destruction that’s he’s been powerless to prevent. Eventually these two heroes find themselves confronting each other (and not necessarily for the reasons you might think), and then the movie quickly dives into an almost entirely different plot, (too) quickly resolving character arcs and plot developments in order to move on with the world-building that both Warner Bros. and DC hope will lead to a rival cinematic universe with Marvel’s. It’s hard to say that any movie approaching three hours moves too quickly, but Batman v Superman (BvS) teeters on the side of being overstuffed, which leaves much of its more interesting philosophical musings and character development feeling frustratingly rushed while it pushed forward with its Justice League-building mandate.


Zootopia

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Disney has always done an excellent job of marketing; they are truly one of the best at it. Still, I’m still in awe at the marketing coup they’ve pulled with their most recent movie, Zootopia. Coming right on the tail (pun intended) of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Disney is releasing a film that, not so subtlety, addresses issues of prejudice; albeit with talking animals. The timing for the release really couldn’t be more apropos (how they pulled that off, considering that animated movies take a couple years or more to complete, still baffles me), but politics aside, Zootopia is also a fun and entertaining movie for all ages.


London Has Fallen

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Perhaps the biggest testament to the quality of Olympus Has Fallen is the fact that it got a sequel, while the bigger, more star powered White House Down did not. Personally, I think what set the two apart was Olympus hailed back to an era where over-the-top action movies were taken seriously, where as White House Down tried to be a mis-matched buddy version of a Die Hard movie. Olympus was tightly paced, had stellar action sequences that were gritty and brutal but also gleefully over-the-top, and while for the most part a serious film, it knew exactly when to stop for a well-timed, tough-guy action movie one-liner. London Has Fallen follow that formula for success, but as is often the problem with action sequels, it’s also compelled to go bigger, which causes the delicate balance that the first movie achieved to teeter precariously.

Olympus Has Fallen benefited from the fact that the action was largely confined to one location; the White House. This added a tension to the proceedings because of the confined space. Moving things to the entire city of London, some of that tension dissipates because one would think it would be fairly simple to slip away from a group of terrorists. However, that proves not to be the case, as with every turn our heroes make, the bad guys are there. A bit unrealistic? Perhaps, but it wouldn’t be a very exciting action movie if the bad guys and good guys never collided. In fact, the overall expansion in scope stretches any suspension of disbelief the first movie was able to maintain to the breaking point, but if one is willing to just go with it, there is plenty of fun to be had (just try not to think too hard).

While the “This Place has Fallen” series obviously draws a lot of comparison to Die Hard, this time around it added another element, but it’s one that I’m not quite sure I enjoyed as much. In the first movie, Butler’s Mike Banning was an extremely skilled, efficient, and at times ruthless, agent determined to do his job; protect the president. This time, however, he channels a bit of Martin Riggs’ unbalanced craziness. There times where Banning didn’t just seem proficient at his job, but rather somewhat psychotic as well; which, at least for me, made him a bit less likable and harder to root for. I like the character better as the ruthlessly efficient and skilled protector of the President; it was fun to have a character who was really just that much better and more competent than his adversaries, which made his character somewhat unique. Really no need for him to crazy as well.

Now in some of the reviews I’ve read, there have been some concerns about the lack of political correctness in this film. Can’t say I found that surprising, as I was watching I figured that would be a source of some criticism. However, and I may be in the minority here, I actually found that lack of PC-ness to be rather refreshing. Far too often movies try to make the bad guys more sympathetic by providing backgrounds that reveal their motivations aren’t necessarily evil, just different due to cultural and societal differences that we may not understand. In short, there no bad guys, just people with different motivations and ideologies that unfortunately clash due to a lack of understanding an ignorance. Well, there’s none of that here. The bad guys are just that bad guys, and the film unapologetically states in no uncertain terms, “DON’T MESS WITH AMERICA!” In today’s relativistic, globalized, non-black-and-white world that may not be a popular sentiment, but it was refreshing to see a movie unabashedly proclaim it.londonhasfallen-butler-gun-radio

Just to pull on that thread a bit more, we’ve almost reached a point in our culture where it’s impossible to have any sort of opinion at all because no matter what your opinion is, it’s bound to offend someone, and that’s just not acceptable in a relativistic society where everyone needs to be right. Unfortunately, I think that attitude has leaked in to the Church as well. We’re hesitant to talk about hell, or sin, or that people need a Savior; you know, just the fundamentals of what the gospel is about. We avoid terms like evangelism, gospel, redemption, and anything else that sounds too “religious.” Now, I’m not saying we need to go out and be “jerks for Christ,” but I am saying perhaps we need to be a little bolder, and yes, a little less politically sensitive. After all, these are eternal souls at stake, not just the life of the President. Banning goes to an almost insane level to keep the President safe; how far are we willing to go to keep someone from an eternity hell? How determined are we to get the Good News out to a world in need?

As for London Has Fallen, its action is as bold as its machismo. No, it doesn’t always quite makes sense. Yes, a lot things seem to conveniently happen “just because.” No, there’s no way any ordinary man could take the kind of beating Banning takes in this movie (unless their name is John McClain). But yes, London Has Fallen is still good fun for anyone looking for an old-fashion, rollicking action movie that isn’t afraid to go big and have fun doing it.

Score: 5 of 7 – It’s not the most plausible of films, but then, that’s not why we’re going to see it. What it does well, it does so in Spades. Beware, though, there is some pretty rough language throughout, and some pretty grisly violence to boot. Plus, there’s plenty of dumb, painfully obvious “twists”, as well as a few awkward moments of “character development.” Not as tight or slick as its predecessor, but still a worthy action flick.

 


Risen

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Where’s the body? Everyone saw him die. The body was put in a tomb; a tomb that was sealed, no less. The problem is now that tomb is empty, and there are some who say he’s risen from the dead. The facts are clear; the man was dead, he was buried in the tomb, and now the tomb is empty. So what is the real answer? Why is the tomb empty? Was it some elaborate plot to help perpetuate a movement? Was it some sort of grand hoax? Or could have the man in that tomb really walked out; alive? That’s the challenge facing one Roman Tribune Clavius as he’s tasked by Pilate to get to the bottom of one of the most spectacular, and most debated, events in history.


Deadpool

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The best way to sum up the experience of watching Deadpool is to quote a line from The Dark Knight. (Which I know is mixing Marvel and DC, but isn’t that exactly the kind of anarchistic movie that Deadpool would like?) This is the Deadpool movie fans deserve, but not necessarily the Deadpool movie the rest of us need. It’s as wacky, violent, and over-the-top as any fan could want from a Deadpool movie. It’s also gratuitous, and unfortunately, quite salacious as well. Now, I’ve heard the argument that’s also what one would expect from a “properly” made Deadpool film, and while the point is taken, that doesn’t make it necessary, or even proper, for that matter. Truthfully, I did enjoy Deadpool for the most part (it’s funny and has some epic action sequences), even though ultimately I felt wrong for doing so.


13 Hours

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13 Hours tells the story of the Benghazi attack in which a US Ambassador was killed and US forces were called to defend a secret compound in Libya.  Most viewers have probably seen or at least heard what a political screw up the Benghazi situation was in 2012.  Thankfully, this movie avoids the political maelstrom and instead focuses on the six heroes who defended American citizens from overwhelming opposition.  That’s the first bit of good news, the second is the movie is not overly “Bayified”.  One can imagine countless slow motion scenes of explosions, over the top action sequences with impossible stunts, and maybe even some hyper weapons thrown in to boot. Thankfully, the movie avoids these over dramatizations and delivers a solid story of the soldiers who go above and beyond the call of duty. 


Concussion – Powerful and Challenging

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Alec Baldwin , left, and Will Smith star in Columbia Pictures' "Concussion."

I love the NFL. I‘ve been watching the Denver Broncos for pretty much all my life. However, after watching Concussion, I’m now rethinking my devotion to the NFL. Now don’t hear me wrong; I’ll still watch my Broncos, I’ll still watch football, but I’m rethinking just how much support and devotion I’ll show to the business of the NFL. Concussion is one of those rare movies that is not only powerful and emotional as a drama, but is one that may also have you rethinking how you approach some things in the real world. Anchored by a stupendous performance from Will Smith, Concussion entertains as much as it informs and challenges what we think we know about the NFL, and even some of the ideals of this nation we know as America.


In the Heart of the Sea – An Epic Tale that Lacks Some Heart

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“Based on a true story” shows up in movies and TV so often these days that it’s no longer the hook for watching a particular story that it used to be. Seems like anything not involving superheroes is “based on a true story” these days. However, that’s not a recent story-telling convention. In fact, a couple hundred years ago a young novelist by the name of Herman Melville used a similar approach in penning is classic, Moby Dick. What’s that? You didn’t know that Moby Dick was also “based on a true story”? Well it was, and as is sometimes the case with such tales, the truth may actually be more fascinating than the fiction. In the Heart of the Sea doesn’t quite capture that fact as well as it could, but it is a fascinating epic in its own right as it reveals the story behind the story of Moby Dick.


Creed

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I don’t know how Ryan Coogler got Sylvester Stallone back into the Rocky franchise, but thank God he did. I heard Stallone as quoted saying how impressed he is with the franchise, “What’s amazing is that this character and these stories have stayed around without any special effects, without any car chases, without blowing anything up, which is what I usually do, no bullets, no cursing, no sex scenes.”  And that my friends is something to be proud of in this day and age.  Rocky received a much needed update compared to the last release.  I mean, does anyone really remember Rocky V?  Yea, thought so…