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Non-Review Review: Mowgli

Watching Mowgli, it very quickly becomes clear why Warner Brothers sold the film to Netflix, rather than pressing forward with a theatrical release.

Mowgli was always going to suffer in comparison to The Jungle Book, Jon Favreau’s live-action reimagining of the animated Disney classic. When the two projects were in development, they seemed like obvious dueling movies; like The Prestige and The Illusionist, or Deep Impact and Armageddon, or Volcano and Dante’s Peak. It seemed like a game of chicken between two major studios; two rakes on the same beloved property arriving in cinemas at close proximity to one another. When it became clear that The Jungle Book would hit cinemas first, the fear was that Mowgli would look like an inferior imitation.

Bagheering belief.

Those fears were misplaced. Indeed, the most striking thing about Mowgli is how different and distinct it is from The Jungle Book. Despite the similar premise and being based on the same material, there is little chance of any casual audience member confusing them. Ironically, this ends up being an issue of itself. Mowgli is distinct from the iconic Disney film, but for good reason. Andy Serkis’ film is drawing more directly from the work of Rudyard Kipling. This explains the significant differences in terms of tone and narrative. These differences are intriguing and engaging, revealing in their own ways.

However, these differences are also informative. Mowgli‘s relative fidelity to its source material ultimately serves to underscore just how effectively Disney changed the underlying story in The Jungle Book, and just how carefully crafted that other film is to a larger audience. Mowgli is not a bad film, although it does have some serious flaws. However, it is a much less appealing and much weirder film than The Jungle Book. As a result, it makes sense that the film would end up at home on Netflix, where it can afford to be a little stranger and a little more eccentric than the perfectly calibrated Jungle Book.

Bear with me.

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Non-Review Review: Wild Bill

Wild Bill is the charming directorial debut from veteran character actor Dexter Fletcher. The established actor, who has worked on projects as diverse as Band of Brothers, Press Gang and The Three Musketeers, also wrote the screenplay for this slightly quirky British domestic drama, which sees an absentee father fostering an emotional connection with his abandoned kids. It’s a fairly conventional plot, and Fletcher doesn’t cram too many surprises in there, but the movie is wry enough and has a thinly-cynical exterior that makes the pill easy enough to follow. It’s not  quite a masterpiece, but it’s engaging and diverting enough to leave a pleasant impression.

Wild at heart...

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Non-Review Review: Death of a Superhero

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012. This was the closing gala.

Cancer is a tough topic to address in film, if only because mortality offers a thin line to walk between sincere reflection and blatant emotional manipulation. It is an even greater problem when you’re dealing with a younger protagonist, one who has barely had a chance at life before the disease conspires to rip them away from the world and their loved ones. Death of a Superhero is far to schmaltzy for its own good, often pandering to its audience while trying to distract away from its cloying manipulations with predictable doses of humour and a wry cynicism that the hero must vanquish before his untimely passing.

Holding out for a hero...

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Non-Review Review: Paul

Paul is a charming little film. It’s not the most consistently hilarious comedy of the year, and it occasionally gets a little bit too hung up on a particular joke, but it does have a few chuckles and an affable quality that allows it go down easy. There’s a genuine sense of affection in the film, following two British nerds and the eponymous alien escapee on a road trip across America, but there’s also enough of a bite the film never wallows too much in sentimentality. It’s hard to find a single quality that Paul excels in, but it has a broad enough mesh of qualities that it makes for a pleasant enough viewing experience.

Ap-paul-ling behaviour...

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My Best of 2011: Rise of the Planet of the Apes & Hailing Caesar…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is number seven. Check out my original review here.

If you had told me last year that one of the best summer blockbusters would be a prequel to The Planet of the Apes, I would have laughed at you. Hell, I’m still chuckling a bit now, trying to get over how such a strange concept on paper managed to work so well. After all, a movie about a bunch of damn dirty CGI apes taking their share of the planet from us humans, led by a chimpanzee on Alzheimer’s medication, sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. And yet, for some reason, it works incredibly well. I’ll concede that the plot is a bit ropey, and the human characters are quite underdeveloped, but I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes managed to grab its audience so well purely because it creates a fascinating and compelling three-dimensional lead character who we completely understand to and relate to.

Did I mention that the lead character is a CGI ape?

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Non-Review Review: The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn

It’s Indiana Jones, but for kids! It’s fascinating that the collaboration of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson should produce something that feels much more like the earlier Indiana Jones films than Spielberg’s most recent collaboration with George Lucas. Adapting Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin was always going to be a challenging proposition, and it’s to the credit of everybody involved that it turned out so well. While it’s not quite perfect, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is undoubtedly Spielberg’s most entertaining family film since Jurassic Park.

Franchise launcher?

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Tintin: The Broken Ear (Review)

In the lead-up to the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, I’m going to be taking a look at Hergé’s celebrated comic book character, from his humble beginnings through to the incomplete post-modern finale. I hope you enjoy the ride.

The Broken Ear is a strange little Tintin story. On one hand, it begins as a sort of a mystery adventure, with an artifact stolen from a museum and then replaced the following night, a little note apologising for a childish prank. As seems to be the case in these kinds of stories, the authorities decide “no harm, no foul” and go on about their daily business, but our boy Tintin is not convinced. However, over the course of his investigation, the story develops into something a bit more substantial, allowing Hergé the opportunity to indulge some of his wonderfully broad political satire. It wouldn’t be among my favourite entries in the franchise, if only because I was too young to appreciate a lot of the commentary when I first read it.

Hergé doesn't go overboard...

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