Thursday, April 28, 2016

Semester Updates

I know it's been a while since I posted anything related to the final Darkwoods book, and part of the reason for that is that it's been a while (though not quite as long) since I did any work on that. I've had two extremely stressful semesters, and my creative writing has been cut to a minimum. That's an important plan for this summer - write more on Arashna. I have no idea when it'll be finished, or when you can read it. I will try to make it closer to Graystone than Graystone was to Pasadagavra, but don't hold your breath. The real world loves to intrude on my plans.

Anyway, like I said, my last two semesters were pretty stressful. Fall semester was my first semester overloading, an experience I am relieved I never have to repeat. As much as I enjoyed my classes, I have never been so busy or had so much stuff all due at once.

Spring semester was stressful because the stuff I've been working on is really difficult. I don't have quite as many assignments, but the assignments I do have feel like they're specifically meant to be as frustratingly nitpicking as possible. The subjects are pretty tough, even though I've had some background in most of them. Then there's my Honors class, which studies modern literature. I think the point of most modern literature is that it is not supposed to make sense. Things aren't supposed to add up, the reader's supposed to think the people in the story are weird. Ugh. I don't mind a book or two like that, but unfortunately, it seems to be a trend. Not a good trend. That's something I like about fantasy literature, actually - the world they're in makes no sense (talking trees, dragons, etc.) but the story and the characters actually end up making sense.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Review of the Live-Action Jungle Book

Remember when I said this?
The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling's most famous work (which, incidentally, includes "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi") directed by the guy who did Iron Man, produced by the studio that trainwrecked the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and apparently starring Black Widow as Kaa - who thought that was a good idea? What was wrong with the original?
I still stand by that. The casting was ridiculous, there was absolutely no new music that didn't sound like Pirates of the Caribbean, and there was so much pandering to not just the cartoon Jungle Book but also to other Disney animated movies that it would embarrass the Hobbit movies.

And yet...

I was favorably impressed. The movie managed to do something that I honestly did not expect it could do: it justified its existence.

What I mean by that, is that it was not just simply a retelling of the already-perfectly-fine animated movie, now live-action with exactly one thing that's different from the original,just to be re-released and make more money. (That would be especially stupid to do with this movie, since most of it has to be CGI anyway. Seriously, the difference between a live-action Jungle Book and an animated Jungle Book is one actor on screen, if you don't change up the story.) No, this movie actually tried to tell the same story but in a very different way, and I think, for the most part, it succeeded.

When I asked "What was wrong with the original," what I mostly meant is, "What is a live-action remake by that crew going to improve upon?" And, in my defense, I think it was a justified skepticism. The original animated movie was a goofy, lighthearted movie, with passable animation, funny characters, and a few moments that were serious but what I would hardly call deep. I think, for a goofy movie, it was a very good goofy movie. Part of that means that it does sort of lack depth, though. For example, they never really do explain why Shere Khan hates fire in the animated movie. There's also a lack of jungle mythology and lore in the animated movie, and no mention of the Law of the Jungle that was a really big deal in the book. That's fine for the animation, because it wasn't the type of movie to deal with hatred, lore, and law - it was a goofy movie, and hatred, lore, and law are pretty heavy stuff. Imagine seeing those in Tom and Jerry - it would be totally out of place

I think I was perfectly justified in being skeptical of the guy who directed Iron Man being able to make a movie that somehow improved on any of those things, but, to my utter amazement, he did. The law of the jungle gets recited by characters a few times, and when it did, it sent chills up my arms. There's also a sort-of myth about how elephants made the jungle, which I thought was a nice addition. And, I think very cleverly, they give a reason why Shere Khan despises Man and fire.

The problem with this movie is that I cannot, for the life of me, give it an overall rating. Parts of it were amazing, and parts of it were shockingly terrible. So, I'm just going to talk about stuff individually.

Shere Khan and Bagheera were amazing. Bagheera was a stick in the mud in the animated, and he was meant to be laughed at, but in this version, he was the personification (pantherification? sure, why not) of tough love. You could just see there were points when his heart was absolutely breaking. Shere Khan was threatening and hardcore, and every time the two of them fought, I was really excited because it was cool.

On the flip side, Baloo. Was. TERRIBLE!

In the animated movie, he was a bit of an idiot, but he was also kindhearted, compassionate, and true to the end. In this movie, he starts out as a con artist who gets Mowgli hurt a lot and keeps trying to take advantage of him. My blood boiled with nearly every line Baloo said.

The other characters included Mowgli's wolf mother, who was cool but didn't have a ton of depth, and King Louie (who wasn't an orangutan because those aren't indigenous to India, but for some reason had a Chicago accent as strong as Al Capone), Akela the Alpha wolf (who I don't think was in the original animation) and of course Kaa. Kaa was every bit as terrible as I expected but only present for one scene, and Akela was okay. King Louie was almost the polar opposite of his character in the animated movie; he was terrifying, power-hungry, and absolutely ruthless. I kind of liked it, but my friend with me said she really hates it.

Voice acting in general went from Bill Murray as Baloo and Lupita Ngola as Rakshaa, at passable, to Scarlet Johansen as Kaa, at downright terrible. The two exceptions were Idris Elba and Ben Kingsley as Shere Khan and Bagheera, respectively - they were great. (But what's with the Marvel actors again?!)

The one actor on screen, Neel Sethi, was ... actually, pretty darn good. I mean, for a child actor who's never been in a movie before, he turned in a pretty good hand. Way to go, kid. You have a future ahead of you.

The cinematography was gorgeous, and the angles were great. The camerawork looked highly ambitious, and sometimes it was hard to follow. The editing wasn't very spectacular - there were some cuts that made no sense, like from place to place in the middle of a sentence, and from day to night with really no explanation of the passage of time, but it wasn't so bad that I couldn't keep up. There were parts where I couldn't figure out what was going on, but I wasn't left confused by the end of the scene.

The dialogue was okay, but kind of awkward at times. But it got a lot, lot better towards the end.

As I said before, the songs and most of the music were rehashed from the animated movie. That bothered me.

The CGI was consistently terrible and horrible (but, to be fair, the animation in the original wasn't that great either).

Possibly my favorite part is that there was no one "twist", like all the other live-action movies so far. Actually, within the movie itself, I thought there weren't really any twists, per se. (It wasn't the prince who had to kiss Snow White, it was the Huntsman! It wasn't the prince who had to kiss Sleeping Beauty, it was Maleficent! Ha! Psych! First of all, not really. Secondly, those were the only differences worth mentioning.) I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that this movie has a different ending than the animated movie, but it didn't feel like the ending was supposed to be that one pivot-point from the original. It just felt like the story they were telling would come to that conclusion anyway, logically and emotionally. This story really felt like its own story. Well done. (And there was a much heftier plot than the animated movie, by the way.)

Unlike the goofiness of the original, there was a sense of wonder and awe in this one that I was not at all expecting. I wouldn't go so far as to call it magical, like I guess some critics have, but it was serious in a beautiful and creative way.

If I had to give it a rating, I'd have to split it into two parts. The first two-thirds to three-quarters were anywhere between mediocre and terrible. The last part was easily between four and five stars. That was the best cinematography, acting, voice acting, characters, and action, no doubt. I have no clue why Rotten Tomatoes is giving it such a good rating, because I don't think it's that good - but parts of it are.

Honestly, I was so surprised to see a live-action remake that so thoroughly justified its own existence. I'm not sure I liked it. It definitely wasn't so good that it challenged in any way my overall skepticism of live-action remakes. But I don't know that it was bad, either. Either way, it's definitely worth watching at least once.