The Jungle Book (2016) (Walt Disney, Blu-ray, DVD), Jon Favreau’s live action (or at least photo-realistic) version of the Rudyard Kipling stories, offers far more than the bare necessities as it combines Kipling’s stories and Walt Disney’s 1967 animated musical adaptation for a marvelous new version of the classic story of a boy quite literally raised by wolves.
The basic story is the same we’ve seen in adaptations going all the way back to the 1942 Technicolor jungle fantasy starring Sabu as a teenage Mowgli raised from infancy in the animal kingdom, growing up in a wolf pack, mentored by the wise panther Bagheera, and steeped in the law of the jungle (and specifically Kipling’s poem “The Law of the Jungle,” which is recited at the wolf pack meetings—a terrific addition that this film adds to the big screen mythology). We’ve got the vengeful tiger Shere Khan, the amiable goof-off Baloo the bear, the majesty of the seemingly eternal elephants, and so on. The differences are in the details. Newcomer Neel Sethi is a younger Mowgli (or at least he seems so) than even the 1967 animated musical, a spirited adolescent with the energy and impetuous spirit of a schoolboy in an eternal summer, brimming with both loyalty to his adoptive wolf family and rebellion against Bagheera’s who insists leave the jungle and become part of the human society—for his own safety.
Technically speaking, this marvelously immersive version of The Jungle Book is an animated film with a single human actor in a computer generated world, but the jungle denizens feel so physical and tactile, brought to life with superbly-rendered virtual performances (the body language and animalistic movement are both evocatively naturalistic and supernaturally expressive), that it feels more real and grounded than even some superhero movies. The voice actors take it to the next level: Ben Kingsley as a paternal Bagheera, the protective father figure concerned that Mowgli’s human “tricks” will set him apart from the animal ways; Bill Murray’s amiable con artist of a jungle bear pulled out of his indolence by his genuine concern for Mowgli; Lupita Nyong’o as the den mother who raised Mowgli as her own cub and treats him as blood; Scarlett Johansson’s silky hypnotizing voice as Kaa; Christopher Walken bringing a sinister edge to King Louie, the orangutan monarch as bizarro King Kong; and Idris Elba as Shere Khan, his voice dropped to a threatening growl as he terrorizes the jungle into handing the man cub over.
The film has the scope of a myth and the playfulness of a folktale and Jon Favreau, the actor-writer-director who essentially defined the big screen Marvel Comics Universe with Iron Man, proves himself an old school storyteller with 21st century tools and he brings the two together in another of the film’s original touches. As Kaa hisses a mesmerizing tale of Mowgli’s origins, the camera tracks into the snake’s black eye and the shadows of the pupil becomes a cave where find how Mowgli was orphaned and Shere Khan’s face was scarred by the red flower that humans call fire.
Against that drama (and the red fire indeed makes a dramatic appearance in the climax), Favreau and his collaborators give the film a sense of adventure and a playful spirit. They also work two of the original Disney songs into the film, with Baloo and Mowgli singing “The Bare Necessities” while floating down a river and King Louie singing a more threatening version “I Wanna Be Like You.” A more playful version can be heard in the closing credits, which also features Scarlett Johansson doing a torchy version “Trust in Me.” You’ll want to watch these credit all the way through. The film is framed by the classic storybook flipped open to begin the tale and the end credits turn the pages into CGI pop-ups. It is expressive of the movie itself: a call back to the classic Hollywood era of storytelling with creative flourishes of modern technology.
On Blu-ray and DVD, but the supplements are all on the Blu-ray edition. It includes commentary by director Jon Favreau and the featurettes “The Jungle Book Reimagined,” “I Am Mowgli” (about the young actor Neel Sethi), and “King Louie’s Temple: Layer by Layer,” plus a bonus DVD and Digital HD copies of the film.
The Nice Guys (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – Shane Black, who helped remake the modern American action movie with his screenplays Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, slips into flashback mode for a tribute to the old school action movies and private eye thrillers of the 1970s mixed with Black’s knowing sense of humor. Ryan Gosling is Holland March, a screw-up of a private eye in a constant alcohol stupor, still reeling from the death of his wife and a lousy (if loving) father to his whipsmart-beyond-her-years adolescent daughter (Angourie Rice). Russell Crowe, who has gotten heavy in his middle years, is heavy-for-hire Jackson Healy, a man with a code even as he skirts the law with his own fistfuls of justice. So no, they’re not really nice guys but they are a match made in buddy movie heaven and they are on a longshot hunt for the missing daughter of the Los Angeles DA (Kim Basinger) that takes them to the mansion of a porn kingpin and land them in the crosshairs of a trio of hitmen.
It’s a bit sloppy as private eye movies go and Black is all over the place, with slapstick antics (including Gosling doing a wheezing Lou Costello in one bit that probably sounded better in the pitch meeting) mixed in with his smart-ass attitude, exaggerated seventies style crimes, splashy action scenes, and a tongue-in-cheek approach to tough guy tropes. But Black likes his characters and loves the genre and that’s enough to make the tribute / pastiche / affection parody work. Not as well as his superior Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, mind you, but better than you might expect.
Blu-ray and DVD with two very brief EPK-style featurettes. The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.
Two Orson Welles films make their long-awaited home video debut in the U.S. in newly-restored Criterion editions. Welles developed Chimes at Midnight (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) from a stage production drawn from Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” and “Henry V” (as well as “Holinshead’s Chronicles”) centered on Falstaff (played with bedhead and bulbous nose red with drink) and his bad-father relationship with young Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), the heir to the crown of England, is his wastrel years. “If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, that’s the one I would offer up,” Welles said of the film, which suffered from distribution issues, competing claims of ownership, and degraded prints almost from the time it was completed. Now it has been lovingly remastered from the negatives and Janus films (a partner with Criterion) has applied digital technology to create a new digital restoration for the U.S., which is the source of Criterion’s special edition, which features commentary by film scholar James Naremore and new interviews with Keith Baxter, Welles’s daughter Beatrice Welles (who has a small role in the film), and Welles historians Simon Callow and Joseph McBride among the supplements.
The Immortal Story (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, is Welles’ first color film and his final completed fictional feature (barely qualifying as a feature at 58 minutes). It’s a small jewel of a film, dreamlike and ephemeral and gorgeous, and it used to play in arthouse repertory calendars paired with Luis Bunuel’s Simon of the Desert (which also ran just under an hour). It arrives with both English and French language soundtracks, commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin, the 1968 documentary Portrait: Orson Welles by François Reichenbach and Frédéric Rossif, and interviews with actor Norman Eshley, cinematographer Willy Kurant, and film scholar François Thomas.
The Night Manager (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD), a six-part mini-series from the BBC that played on AMC in the U.S., is a riveting adaptation of the John le Carré novel directed by Susanne Bier. Tom Hiddleston is Jonathan Pine, the night manager of the title, a former soldier who has made his profession serving in the most exclusive hotels, which is where he crosses paths with Richard “Dickie” Roper (Hugh Laurie), an arms dealer to the despots with a ruthlessly efficient entourage who leave a corpse in their wake. So Pine becomes a trusted member of Dickie’s entourage for British Intelligence, determined to get the evidence needed to shut him down. Pine is a little too good at playing the part as an amateur spy, so icily in control in the most savage situations, and the romance between Pine and Dickie’s gorgeous American girlfriend (Elizabeth Debicki) isn’t particularly convincing, though they do make a gorgeous couple in a handsome small screen production of modern espionage. Otherwise it is a compelling thriller in the key of le Carré, where international arms deals are protected by the very people charged with shutting them down.
The new restoration of Fritz Lang’s Destiny (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) and the Blu-ray debut of Lang’s The Spiders (Kino Classics, Blu-ray, DVD) and John Ford’s 3 Bad Men (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) are reviewed on Cinephiled here.
Classics and Cult:
A Taste of Honey (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Woman in the Dunes (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Commitments (RLJ, Blu-ray)
Midnight Run (Shout! Factory Select, Blu-ray)
Modesty Blaise (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Chandu the Magician (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Psycho IV: The Beginning (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
The Bloodstained Butterfly (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD)
TV on disc:
Roots (2016) (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
Superstore: Season One (Universal, DVD)
Lucifer: The Complete First Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete First Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Narcos: Season One (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Walking Dead: The Complete Sixth Season (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Strain: The Complete Second Season (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Endeavor: The Complete Third Season (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
Scandal: The Complete Fifth Season (ABC, DVD)
Elementary: The Fourth Season (ABC, DVD)
Castle: The Complete Eighth and Final Season (ABC, DVD)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season Three (Universal, DVD)
Grey’s Anatomy: Complete Twelfth Season (ABC, DVD)
NCIS: Los Angeles – Season 7 (Paramount, DVD)
Criminal Minds: Season 11 (Paramount, DVD)
19-2: Season 2 (Acorn, DVD)
Blunt Talk: Season One (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Shameless: The Complete Sixth Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Series 1-3 (Acorn, Blu-ray, DVD)
Clean Break (Acorn, DVD)
More new releases:
The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Maggie’s Plan (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Man Who Knew Infinity (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD)
Me Before You (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Phenom (Image, Blu-ray, DVD)
Citizen Soldier (Broadgreen, Blu-ray, DVD)
Weiner (MPI, DVD)
Clown (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Duel (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Ratchet & Clank (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)