Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Rohan Chand, Matthew Rhys, Freida Pinto
Directed by: Andy Serkis (“Breathe”)
Written by: Callie Kloves (debut)

Although Warner Bros. waited patiently for two years to release “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle,” so that it wouldn’t have to compete with Walt Disney’s highly enjoyable 2016 live-action take on “The Jungle Book,” the subsequent fantasy adventure based on English author Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories feels needlessly glum and irrelevant.

The narrative framework is basically the same. “Mancub” Mowgli (Rohan Chand) is raised by wolves and must find his place in the pack before tiger villain Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) makes a meal out of him.

It’s obvious actor-turned-filmmaker Andy Serkis (“Breathe”) is working from a darker script than director Jon Favreau did during production of his 2016 movie. Favreau’s film was closer in tone to the original 1967 Disney animation, but Serkis seems more concerned with providing “Mowgli” an ominous atmosphere than he does with building on the classic tale’s message of friendship and zest for life.

Even when Serkis and first-time screenwriter Callie Kloves try to spin the story in their own direction, the decision to stray away from a kid-friendly movie poses some problems. Primarily, who is Mowgli’s intended audience? Now that Netflix has bought the rights, one might assume the answer is everybody with access to a Netflix account, but Mowgli is too cruel for kindergarteners and, at best, a curiosity for adults who will probably just end up comparing it to superior versions.

If you do decide to plop the little ones in front of the screen, know that “Mowgli” isn’t a musical, so there are no new renditions of “Bare Necessities” or “I Wanna Be Like You.” In fact, King Louie, who Christopher Walken voiced phenomenally in Favreau’s contribution, is completely cut out of this newest adaptation. Baloo is still included, although he’s more of a drill sergeant than a happy-go-lucky, honey-smacking bear. And main antagonist Shere Khan is designed to look like a devil-cat who at one point in the film describes tasting the blood of Mowgli’s mother.

Mowgli also shows its title character living among other humans when he is banished from the jungle. He meets a hunter (Matthew Rhys) contracted to kill Shere Kahn and a young woman (Freida Pinto) who cares for him during his stay. Neither of these storylines offer any emotional impact to the film, and the fact that Mowgli can speak to the animals in the jungle but not to the villagers makes about as much sense as picking a prickly pear by the paw.

The Seagull

June 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Annette Bening
Directed by: Michael Mayer (“Flicka”)
Written by: Stephen Karam (“Speech & Debate”)

During her decade-long career, three-time Academy Award nominated actress Saoirse Ronan has been a champion of independent cinema. While some of those films have reached incredible heights like “Brooklyn,” “Lady Bird” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Ronan has hit a small rough patch with her last two less-than-stellar outings – “On Chesil Beach” and her most recent, “The Seagull.”

Adapted from a late 19th-century play of the same name by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, “The Seagull” is a narrative that is probably fine as a stage production, but when put on film feels inelegant and amateurish. Many of the film’s problems lie at the feet of director Michael Mayer (“Flicka”), whose career successes have come mostly from his work on Broadway, where he won a Tony Award for the musical adaptation of 2006’s “Spring Awakening.” Sadly, Mayer is unable to create much of a pace or focus during what is, thankfully, a fleeting 98-minute stopover with a cast of particularly grating characters.

Set in a country estate not far from Moscow, the film stars Ronan as Nina, a love-struck young woman who lives nearby and comes for frequent visits to see Konstantin (Billy Howle), an aspiring playwright who views the modern theater as “trite and riddled with clichés.” He lives there with his uncle Sorin (Brian Dennehy) and the estate’s manager Ilya (Glenn Fleshler), his unhappy wife Polina (Mare Winningham) and their even unhappier, vodka-drinking daughter Masha (Elisabeth Moss), who is also in love with Konstantin.

Family dynamics are thrown into disarray when Sorin’s sister and Konstantin’s mother Irina (Annette Bening), an aging stage actress, comes for a visit after learning that Sorin has fallen ill. In tow with Irina is her lover Boris (Corey Stoll), a celebrated writer Konstantin grows jealous of, and who begins to get closer to the impressionable Nina as she hurls compliments his way.

If all those elements sound like a classic setup for a melodramatic tragicomedy — where all the characters mope around wishing that somebody who didn’t love them loved them and complaining about the misfortune of making art — then “The Seagull” has found its audience. For others, “The Seagull” is a pity party that can’t be salvaged by the couple of scenes where Bening’s Irina, who is disappointed in her son for wasting his time making pretentious plays, is able to really show off her character’s cruel and critical nature.

Aside from Bening — and a few of Masha’s one-liners (“I’m in mourning, for my life,” she says when asked why she always wears black) — there’s not much that makes “The Seagull” notable. It’s a film about tiresome characters telling tiresome stories. Everything else is lost between all the pouting.