The Jungle Book ****
Not your mom & dad’s The Jungle Book animated film of the 1960s, in the all-new remade CGI masterpiece by Disney the stakes (and the terror) is raised for young man-cub Mowgli and his animal family. Based on the classic fables of Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book (2016), like all its predecessors, is set in an unnamed jungle land that most closely resembles rural India and its immediate environs, circa the late 1800s. All the familiar characters are here, voiced by some of Hollywood’s best: Bill Murray as Baloo the bear, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Christopher Walken as King Louie, Idris Elba as Sheer Kahn, Scarlet Johannson as Kaa, and the only live character, 10-year old Neel Sethi as Mowgil. The CGI is so perfect that you will forget to marvel at the animated creatures that interact so seamlessly with the real Mowgli, and the jungle that surrounds them. There are some very frightening scenes and ferocious animal fights, though the only blood that shows up is on Mowgli in the form of scratches. Most of the sweetness and light-hearted fun of the original animated musical has been replaced by realism and graphic violence, but still with a few tender and funny moments, and even a song or three. This $175 million epic, directed by John Favreau, will likely attract a teen and adult audience, but families should be warned not to take very young children, instead rent the 1967 classic and save this one for when they’re older—much older.
Barbershop: The Next Cut ***
A franchise built around the trials and tribulations of a beleaguered mostly African-American neighborhood, set inside a Chicago barbershop, is back with what could be called “Barbershop 3.” Plenty of clever comedy, especially from Cedric the Entertainer as Eddie, and J.B. Smoove as One Stop, also offers plenty of social commentary. Chicago’s South Side, which is making international news for the level of gang violence, becomes the centerpiece for the families living there, including barbershop owner, Calvin Palmer, played by the always-sneering Ice Cube. Written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, the script feels authentic, with plenty of urban vernacular that requires close attention. Written by African-Americans arguably for a predominately African-American audience, the film’s themes of family strife, entrepreneurship, urban decay, and political inaction should be enjoyed by all. One overtly racist line, delivered by Indian-American actor Utkarsh Ambudkar (Raja) seemed out of place and offensive. Though it was supposed to be funny, no one laughed when Raja said: “I don’t like white people, either…” The comment became a hotly debated topic on Twitter, and has been referenced by others criticizing its place in the movie. Racism is ugly regardless of the perpetrators. Anyway, this film, which is filled with rap and Hip-Hop stars, is usually friendly enough for all, and makes good points about a community’s need to police itself.