The Jungle Book

Director: Jon Favreau (2016)

I’m the world’s foremost fan of Disney’s 1967 animated classic, so I had my claws out ready to savage this glossy remake.

But I was disarmed from my first footstep into this spectacular jungle, a terrifically realised mix of live action and state of the art CGI.

The astonishingly lifelike landscape are computer generated by the team who made sci-fi epic Avatar (2009). The animals are from The Lord Of The Rings (2001) WETA Workshop.

Next year’s Visual FX Oscar must surely be in the bag.

This warm hearted, fleet footed, big budget beast is a hybrid spliced from Rudyard Kipling’s novels, Uncle Walt’s original film and his company’s latter day smash The Lion King (1994).

It’s an exciting, funny and touching adventure, though perhaps too scary for the very little ones. Likeable characters are killed, though we never see the blood.

A confident and charming Neel Sethi plays resourceful man cub Mowgli, the only actor on screen.

Mowgli bravely chooses to leave his home and save his family from Shere Khan the tiger.

Idris Elba is tremendous as the clever and vicious villain. He’s blind in one eye and myopic in his pursuit of his prey.

Mowgli sets off to the man village accompanied by Bagheera the panther and Baloo the Bear.

Respectively played by Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray, the pair are enjoyably wise, brave and comic.

En route they encounter angry elephants, seductive snakes, stinging bees and aggressive monkeys.

As a representative of a now endangered species, from a 21st century perspective Shere Kahn almost qualifies as the good guy.

He’s a prophet of doom whose violent fate proves the accuracy of his apocalyptic predictions concerning the dangers to the jungle from the unfettered technology of man.

The script can’t bring itself to embrace the scar faced usurper despite being more far-seeing and independent minded to the allegiance pledging wolf pack. To a British ear the wolves behaviour is eerily fascistic.

Apocalypse is hinted at again in the Brando-esque introduction of the enormous King Louie, not an Orang utan but an outsized outspan Gigantopithecus. He commands an army from the ruins of a long dead civilisation.

Christopher Walken is an inspired and deranged casting choice and delivers a performance to match.

Scarlett Johansson and Lupita Nyong’o have small roles with the former’s husk put to effective use.

When Mowgli learns of the death of a loved one, he decides to return and confront his mortal enemy.

The soundtrack includes the fabulous songs The Bare Necessities and I Wan’na Be like You.

So follow the jungle drums down to the cinema for a swinging good time.






Robot Overlords

Director: Jon Wright (2015)

In this determinedly old school sci-fi adventure, a British teenager rallies the resistance against giant alien robots.

It has an energetic and engaging cast and some nifty design but with a story which might just squeeze as a last minute filler into the pages of 2000AD – still the galaxy’s greatest comic – it feels and looks too much like an extended episode of Dr Who.

For three years alien invaders have locked up the Earth’s population in their own homes. They claim they will leave when they have finished studying the human race.

Incineration is the penalty for breaking the nightly curfew, it’s enforced by heavily-armoured robots who patrol the streets and the skies.

Electronic implants are used to identify the population and track their whereabouts.

When an accident leads to the discovery of how to disconnect his tagging device, teenager Sean (Callan McAuliffe) goes looking for his Dad who went missing in action fighting the initial invasion.

He’s accompanied more or less willingly by friends Nathan and Alexandra (James Tarpey and Ella Hunt).

Meanwhile his mother Kate (Gillian Anderson) is left to fight off the attentions of collaborator Robin Smythe (Ben Kingsley).

The robots are nicely designed in a Robocop Ed-209 kind of way which is definitely this year’s most popular model.

Nor can there be enough sci-fi films using WWII Spitfires in an airborne attack.

Anderson and Kingsley add a touch of acting gloss and there’s an undoubted effort to entertain – but charm and enthusiasm can only engage or interest for so long.

A couple of characters are pointedly seen reading an old copy of 2000AD.

Shotgun toting, bullet-headed cockney hard-man Wayne (Tamer Hassan) seems based on Invasion!’s Bill Savage. He even looks a little like Stanley Baker on whom the character was originally modelled.

I’ve read 2000AD since Prog 64 and would love to see more films adaptions of its characters but It’s possible the complexity and scale of the writing defeats Hollywood’s finest.

2012’s excellent Dredd was a vast improvement on Sylvester Stallone’s maligned 1995 effort.

Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 Robocop which comes closest to capturing the comic’s manic satirical spirit and this year’s Ex Machina shows how intelligent and entertaining sci-fi can be done.

Robot Overlords is as straightforward as it’s title, I just wished I enjoyed it more than I did.


Director: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi (2014)

Funny and exciting from the off, this delightfully dark fairytale is a painstaking miracle of old school stop-motion animation.

For ten years since the Trubshaw baby was kidnapped there’s a nightly curfew in the cobble-stoned city of Cheesebridge.

Despite the horror stories about them devouring children, the Boxtrolls are actually peaceful, kind and incredibly inventive.

Their subterranean grotto is a Heath Robinson paradise, a magical place full of weird and wonderful contraptions built out of all the junk the city-folk have thrown away.

Living with the Boxtrolls is a boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright). They’ve raised Eggs so successfully he thinks he’s a troll and the well-intentioned ‘trolls have difficulty explaining the painful truth.

Meanwhile First citizen Lord Portley-Rind and his white-hatted councillors employ the ferocious red-hatted exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) to hunt down the cardboard box-wearing trolls.

If he can hunt down and destroy all the creatures, social-climber Snatcher is promised a white hat – an honour only bestowed to the cheese-gobbling upper classes.

Cheese-eating is the ultimate in conspicuous consumption for these burghers who drip with delicious self absorption. In the best tradition of Roald Dahl the films designers and animators delight in every exaggerated ill-mannered slurp.

One night as Eggs and the Boxtrolls venture out to tidy the city, his adopted dad Fish (Dee Bradley Baker) is captured by the fearsome Snatcher and his crew.

As the voices of Snatcher’s henchman Pickles and Trout, Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost are a curious casting choice with neither offering much energy or spark, they’re adequate with added whimsy.

Pickles is the more interesting of the two, constantly questions the validity of his dark deeds even as he perpetrates them. This is a lengthy set-up for a beautifully crafted gag which pays off tremendously in the final reel when Ayoade provides a wonderfully delivered monologue culminating in a brilliant reveal.

Eggs attempts to rescue Fish, teaming up with Portley-Rind’s spoilt, headstrong and argumentative daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning) along the way.

Breaking into Snatcher‘s factory they discover the captured Boxtrolls and the truth about the fate of the Trubshaw baby. It’s dangerous information and the resulting battle threatens to tear Cheesebridge apart in an action-packed finale.

Unwrap these Boxtrolls with care and you won’t be disappointed.