Tag Archives: Jon Favreau

The Jungle Book (2016)

Finally! I got to see The Jungle Book!

The film had been high on my anticipation list ever since I heard about how footage screened at Disney’s D23 celebration blew everyone away, even more so than the Star Wars and Captain America: Civil War sneak peeks.

I actually don’t remember much about Rudyard Kipling’s original story or the 1967 animated version, and to be honest, it didn’t seem like something I’d be particularly interested in anyway. A “man-cub” named Mowgli raised by wolves and living with a bunch of talking animals? Not exactly my cup of tea.

Nonetheless, I was still itching to see a film being lauded as the most technically advanced ever made, given that everything — apart from kid actor Neel Sethi (and a couple of extras) — was computer generated. In fact, the whole film was shot on an LA sound stage.

And watching the film, you’d never be able to tell. The visuals in The Jungle Book are as spectacular as advertised — the sharpness of the jungle and vibrant colours of the scenery, the lush greens and fluid waters, the hyper-realistic animals. And yet, as real as they look, there’s also a surrealism to the animals because they talk and have other human traits. It’s a strange blend but one that works to perfection. Your eyes will not be disappointed.

That said, no matter how good the special effects are, The Jungle Book wouldn’t be anything without solid characters and a compelling story. In this regard I must admit I was not confident before I watched the movie, though these fears turned out to be unfounded. It’s a simple coming-of-age story of self-discovery and redemption, but Favreau manages to keep it compelling through a fantastic mix of thrilling action, intense drama, light comedy, and a sense of adventure. I was very sleepy before the movie began (it was early in the afternoon and I just had a big lunch), but minutes into the film I was wide awake and stayed that way until the end.

Apart from Favreau’s deft storytelling, the cast also does a great job of selling us this unique world. Young Neel Sethi, who is 12 now and probably a couple of years younger when he performed, has received mixed reviews as Mowgli. I think he did pretty well, considering he had no prior acting training and had to carry the entire film from start to finish with no one else but him and a green screen. There were a few moments where he comes off a little rough around the edges, but you have to balance that with the naivete and innocence he brings to the performance. On the whole, I lean towards the positive.

I remember back in the old days,  voice actors were just voice actors. Now, they’re getting all these massive stars to fill such roles, and I’m starting to think that it’s more than just for marketing purposes, because the voice cast in The Jungle Book is absolutely wonderful. Apart from being distinctive voices, they each bring surprising depth. Huge props for getting Idris Elba to play ferocious tiger villain Shere Khan, who oozes menace with every word. Bill Murray as sloth bear Baloo provides almost all of the timely humour, while Ben Kingsley voices the austere black panther Bagheera. Christopher Walken also does a great Chistopher Walker as King Louie. On top of that there’s Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito, the late Garry Shandling, Russell Peters, and Favreau himself. The only voice talent that was a little wasted was Scarlett Johansson, who plays Kaa the Burmese Python. Her voice is great, but she’s in it so little that there’s not much of a point other than to throw her name (and photo) on the posters.

As I said before, I don’t remember the beloved animated version and I doubt I’ve read the source material, but by all accounts this version pays respect to both without being slavish to either. I could have done without the couple of song numbers from the animated film that have been thrown in, but to Favreau’s credit at least they don’t come across as jarring.

In short, The Jungle Book met my very high expectations. The visuals are worth the price of admission alone (I went 2D, but apparently this is one of those instances where 3D IMAX is commendable), and the handling of the story, action, drama and tension once again demonstrates that this man

eric_the_clown

is one of the best blockbuster directors around today. There have been rumblings that Disney is looking to get him on board with Star Wars, possibly with the Han Solo or Obi Wan standalone movies, and if that’s true, fans have every reason to be excited. In fact, The Jungle Book is so well put together that I think that Jungle Book — the Warner Brothers version of the live-action adaptation to be directed by motion capture king Andy Serkis and set for release in 2018 — should probably be scrapped completely. Yes, the film will star Serkis himself (as Baloo) alongside Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch and Cate Blanchett, but it’s hard to imagine that topping Disney’s version either in box office or critical success. This may be as good as Rudyard Kipling’s story can be adapted to the big screen.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Chef (2014)

Chef-Poster-Movit.net_

Chef is 100%, completely unabashed, unapologetic food porn. Written and directed by Iron Man director Jon Favreau, it tells the story of a master chef (Favreau) who loses his way before rekindling his passion for scrumptious cuisine by starting a food truck. On its face, Chef is a road trip movie about one man’s quest for redemption, but in reality it’s more or less one delicious course after another that will probably make viewers extremely hungry and foodies like myself spray their shorts in uncontrollable excitement (and envy) .

No one will deny that Chef is a vanity project. Favreau clearly loves his food (as evident by his sizable girth) and he has a passion for making it. There are lots of big names in the film, from Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson to Dustin Hoffman and Sofia Vergara, but you get the feeling that all of them agreed to appear as a “friendly” favour to Favreau.

But as another great self-indulgent piece of entertainment once said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” In fact, some of the best movies and TV shows of all-time are self-indulgent, and it is in my humble opinion that one of Favreau’s greatest claims to fame lies in his role as Eric the Clown on the show that made the abovementioned line famous.

Anyway, Chef is essentially a very simple, family-friendly story about a guy who likes to make food. While working for a top gourmet restaurant in LA, Carl (Favreau) becomes engaged in a very public spat on social media with a prominent online food critic (Oliver Platt), resulting in a humiliating fall from grace. Then, with the help of his buddy (John Leguizamo), son (Emjay Anthony), his ex-wife (Vergara) and her other ex-husband (Downey Jr), he starts a food truck selling Cuban sandwiches. This time, he uses social media to his advantage in promoting the new venture as he makes a road trip back to LA via some other cities known for their culinary delights.

The story and the script could not be simpler, and you get the feeling watching the film that everything is secondary to the food. I saw the movie after a big meal and I was still getting hungry. Whether it’s gourmet cuisine or basic roadside snacks like Cubanos, Chef makes the food all look scrumptious enough to die for. It’s not as easy as it seems because I’ve seen plenty of food shows where all the grubby hands and sweaty chefs have turned me off. Watching Chef,  however, I felt like I could channel Favreau’s passion and almost smell the saliva-inducing aromas.

If you take away the food (no pun intended), Chef would be a barely passable movie with a cliched message telling everyone to do what they’re passionate about (with a side message about the dangers and powers of social media). There are some poignant moments between Carl and and his son, the core relationship in the film, but apart from that the film’s just an excuse to keep shoving delicious stuff in our faces.

My main problem with Chef is that after Carl’s initial fall from grace there’s almost no tension or conflict the rest of the way. It’s all just one big, smooth-sailing ride back up to the top. Even the ending is too neatly tied up into a perfect bow, and the cynic in me couldn’t help but cringe at all the mushiness. I guess it will work for audiences who are after nothing but a feel-good experience — which the film delivers expertly — but personally I wanted my emotions to be challenged a little more.

At the end of the day, Chef is what it is. Feel-good food porn that should be a hit with families and foodies alike. The foodie in me thinks it’s sensational, while the movie critic in me says “Meh.” My overall impression probably falls somewhere slightly above the average of the two (I am, after all, a pig).

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Han Solo/Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in a western fused with nasty aliens, directed by John Favreau (Iron Man), with producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and executive producer Steven Spielberg.  In terms of expectations, they don’t get much higher than Cowboys and Aliens (adapted from the graphic novel of the same name), which could explain the lukewarm reception the film has received thus far.

But was it really that bad?  No.  I actually thought it was okay.  Big stars, freaky monsters, large-scale battle scenes and some well-executed action sequences.  But given what this film could have been, Cowboys and Aliens was ultimately somewhat of a disappointment.

The story is relatively simple — Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of the desert with an alien bracelet on his wrist and no recollection of who he is or where he has been.  Stuff happens, and along with Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell and Clancy Brown (everybody’s favourite prison guard from Shawshank), he goes on a mission to rescue some humans while trying to piece together his shattered memory.

All the requisite elements for an engaging motion picture are there.  Craig is excellent as the kick-ass, “don’t mess with me” protagonist, while the supporting roles are adequately filled by legend Ford and rising star Wilde.  The film has that dusty, gritty western feel, along with old fashioned bravado and gun fights — plus the strangeness and unknown feel you get from alien invasion films.  The special affects are fine by current standards.  The story is formulaic enough for a typical summer blockbuster but not to the extent that it becomes a distraction.  The character development and subplot boxes are also ticked.

And yet Cowboys and Aliens feels like an empty blockbuster — all style, (to be fair) a little substance, but no soul.  If I had to pinpoint what went wrong, I would probably say that the biggest problem lies with the aliens, who are menacing but that’s about it.  They’re just there to kill and be killed, monsters with no personality whatsoever, and as a result don’t invoke genuine suspense.

Another problem is that everybody in the film seems to play their roles too straight — there are some elements of humour but for the most part it’s all about being cool.  There’s nothing wrong with that per se, though I feel with such a potentially fun premise they should have had more fun with it than they did.

(And I’m not sure if it was just the cinema I attended, but many of the night scenes in the film came across as incredibly dark, to the point where it became irritating.)

Having said all that, Cowboys and Aliens is better than a lot of the criticism suggests.  I was never disengaged during the 118-minute running time, and I almost wished they could have dedicated more time to certain plot points (especially those involving Ford).  As far as action blockbusters go, it’s certainly a lot better than say Transformers 3, but given the crew involved I should never have even considered comparing the two films.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Iron Man 2 (2010)

It was always going to be an uphill battle for director Jon Favreau in creating a sequel to Iron Man that lives up to the original, one of the best superhero films of all-time (along with The Dark Knight, depending on personal preferences).  Despite a valiant effort, as expected, Iron Man 2 falls short of its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a fun, thrilling superhero action film.

Iron Man 2 begins where the first one ended, when weapons genius Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) reveals to the world that he is indeed Iron Man.  To be honest, there’s not a whole lot in terms of plot.  Most of the film is about the brilliant and cocky Stark as he struggles to deal with being a superhero and facing his own mortality.  Meanwhile, he has the US government pressuring him to give up his invention, a couple of new villains on his back, and dealing with a range of difficult personal relationships all at the same time.

The cast is again brilliant.  Apart from the sensational Robert Downey Jr as Stark/Iron Man, there is a brand new Russian villain, Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), a new competitor by the name of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), and a sexy and mysterious new assistant Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson).  Characters returning from the original include secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), supportive friend Happy Hogan (John Favreau), and army buddy Lt Colonel James Rhodes (played this time by Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard).  Samuel L Jackson, who appeared in a cameo after the end credits in the original, has a slightly bigger role this time as Nick Fury of SHIELD.

Robert Downey Jr shows once again why he is getting all the biggest and best roles in Hollywood.  He is totally believable as a genius, a narcissistic prick and a superhero, sometimes all at once.  For me, Sam Rockwell absolutely steals the show as jealous rival Justin Hammer.  He is equal parts pathetic and dangerous, but always hilarious.  Mickey Rourke is also very good as Whiplash, his performance giving the character a dimension not achievable from a lessor actor.  Scarlett Johansson felt somewhat underused, though she did get to strut her stuff for a brief moment.  If there is a weak link, it’s Don Cheadle, whose straight-faced performance doesn’t live up to the deadpanning foundations laid down by Terrence Howard.

As for the action, most of Iron Man 2 felt more subdued than what I remembered from the original.  That is, of course, until the final battle, which is insanely exhilarating.  There’s more machines, more weapons and more explosions than the first film, but because it lacks that unexpected freshness and attitude, Iron Man 2 has less of a “wow” factor.  And for some reason, I felt there were a few moments where the film sagged a little.  A stronger script with less subplots and fewer characters may have served the film better, but these are relatively minor complaints.

The first Iron Man film blew me away because it was so different and fun.  Being a sequel, Iron Man 2 started from a disadvantaged position because it is stuck with the parameters it has set for itself and consequently has become so much harder to surprise.  That said, it’s still a solid film which is a lot of fun and about as well as you could have expected under the circumstances.

3.75 stars out of 5!

[PS: If you want to stay till after the credits there is a short scene which introduces us to Thor’s hammer, which I believe is for a different franchise.  It’s a long wait and a short scene that doesn’t show much, so only stay if you really want to see it.]