A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.
The Jungle Book (Walt Disney)
Cast: Neel Sethi, voice talents of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba
Director: Jon Favreau
Producers: Jon Favreau and Brigham Taylor
Screenplay: Justin Marks; based on the books by Rudyard Kipling
Disney never seems to tire of The Jungle Book, as they take a third adaptation and second live-action version (you can totally forget about the weak 1994 take with Jason Scott Lee as the feral wild child Mowgli) of Rudyard Kipling’s beloved tales about the survival of the fittest against the Indian backdrop and its fauna, only this time it sticks a little bit more to the original storyline while retaining just a essence of their 1967 animated musical classic as not to lose its heritage to remain enjoyable.
As told from the viewpoint of the panther Bagheera (Kingsley), who took on the role as a guardian-mentor to Mowgli (Sethi) ever since he found him orphaned as an infant and has allowed the wolf pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) to act as his adopted parents as he teaches his charge the skills needed to survive in the wilds.
Setting him apart with his tool-making abilities – to what his protector calls “tricks” – among the animals makes him a target of the jungle’s most feared predator, Shere Khan (Elba), a tiger who’s more of a psychopathic bully than a hunter. Bagheera feels the time has come to return Mowgli to his own species for his safety much to the wild child’s reluctance, but becomes separated en route to the nearest human village when Khan attacks them out in the open.
Rescued from the grip of seductive boa constrictor Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) by layabout sloth bear Baloo (Murray), the two become quick friends. Then things take quite a complicated turn as Mowgli soon gets kidnapped by the simians of King Louie (Christopher Walken) who evens out the struggle over the boy for almost the opposite reasons as to why Khan wants him dead: the knowledge to create fire.
Mind you, it would be hard-pressed not to think of their cartoon that’s pretty much part of pop culture to believe that another live-action version of The Jungle Book would be a necessary one. However, Disney’s current trends of flesh-and-blood remakes of their animated masterpieces have usually hit the mark (Maleficent; Alice in Wonderland; Cinderella) and this one’s no exception under the direction of Jon Favreau (Chef and the first two Iron Man films) who isn’t all bad in maintaining the action, adventure and humour involved at a even pace.
Justin Marks’ script respects both Kipling’s books and the Disney versions which never compromise too much over each other from its thrill-ride chase scenes to explaining the yin-yang of fire’s potential is philosophically intelligent. And the songbook department gets a chance by allowing the chestnuts “I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)” with new lyrics added by surviving composer Richard Sherman and “The Bare Necessities” – Murray does alright with his singing of it, as well as Dr. John’s end credits cover and even Johansson’s sultry take of “Trust in Me” could easily pass for a top-notch Bond theme song are the film’s best tunes; not so much for Walken and his flat warbling on “I Wan’na Be Like You” that just can’t compete with Louis Prima’s original – to have a place in the film to give it some lightness without going overboard.
They get it right with having twelve-year old newcomer Sethi to play the agile man-cub with some gravitas and childhood innocence all at once amongst the CGI-created animals for his role and does it real well and professionally with the celeb voice line-up with Kingsley’s gracefully honourable Bagheera; a fun, if grounded sensibility out of Murray to be Baloo; Johansson’s highly “hypnotic” (however brief) Kaa; one meticulously mercurial feline villain from Elba; Nyong’o’s motherly Raksha and a relatively good performance of the fire- and power-obsessed Gigantopithecus orang-utan Louie by Walken (except for his singing).
The real importance behind this Jungle Book is what makes us – and separates us – in the food chain and being human for all our flaws and assets in this more than substantial remake that’s very much its own film. While it may not ever beat their first film for all its comical and artistic aspects that made it so memorable, it’s just as good to stand shoulder to shoulder with it.
Portraits in Motion (Harbourfront Centre)
Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queen’s Quay West
Saturday, April 16; 8 p.m.
Having toured with his “thumb cinema” production Portraits in Motion for over ten years and seen in sixteen countries, photographer Volker Gerling brought his collection of flipbook series to Harbourfront Centre Theatre for a four-night run of a unique form of cinema that doesn’t include special effects, sound, editing or any big names, but packs a lot of story and emotion in mostly under thirty seconds, which is a more than one can say about most over-bloated major studio flicks themselves.
Gerling is also a pretty good storyteller as he presents onstage with his flipbook animations and the genesis behind them, starting out during his student days at the Deutsche Film-und Fernsehakademie Berlin (Berlin Film Academy) in his native Germany about thirty years ago mostly as an experiment by shooting thirty-six frames for twelve seconds. What seemed like a failure initially turned out to be character studies captured within a short timeframe that he’s built his career on.
Taking this further, he spent summers walking back and forth from Berlin to Basel, Switzerland along with his “travelling exhibit” on his back of his flipbooks and taking photos of the people he meets along the way for show and sale, finding new and interesting subjects and stories to share with his audiences. Covering 3,500 kilometres should have plenty of things to find and Gerling does that in what he conveys in those books.
Mostly in black and white and hand-flipped over a projection screen, the artist has a diverse repertoire be it in a series of larger books that work as time-lapse photography like a dusk-‘til-dawn overview of a block of apartments near a highway, a yearlong study of the iconic Fernsehturm (a.k.a. Berlin TV Tower) from his kitchen window, a passage of men among urinal rows and the passing phases of the moon over the Berlin Cathedral. Or to simplistic plebeian moments of the everyday, like the graceful smile spreading on the features of a elderly man and a two-part exposé of one freckled subject at thirteen and then six years later at nineteen respectively, seeing the difference of how one has grown comfortable with her looks from the slightest motions that can say a lot.
Subtle humour and straightforward yarns is the true backbone behind Gerling’s Portraits in Motion of short-lived moments forever captured to appreciate the smaller things in life and the everyday is a quiet triumph to view. Pity that the CONTACT Photography Festival couldn’t have cornered this production during its upcoming festival, as this would make a great compliment for its line-up.
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