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Friday, April 15 2016 08:00

Film Review: Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK

As I said upon leaving the World Premiere at the El Capitan Theatre, Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK is an unexpectedly astonishing and beautiful film, not only in terms of visuals, but in terms of content and weight. To say it must be seen on the big screen and in 3D is an undeniable truth, a testament to the technological marvel created under the direction of filmmaker Jon Favreau (ELF, IRON MAN) - a modern digital film that pushes the boundaries of what can be done with photo-realistic CG to new heights, but also retains the feel of an organic, handmade film. Despite my unabashed appreciation for much of Favreau's back catalog, when the film was first announced a few years back, I must admit that I was apprehensive as to how, exactly, it would play out. As a fan of the 1967 original (reviewed here), and as a moviegoer that's sometimes burnt by the overuse of CG, how could it be done? Fortunately, many of these same issues had been considered and addressed early-on in the process, and the end result is wonderful. Could THE JUNGLE BOOK be every bit as good, if not better than the classic that inspired it? I say yes.

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With all the news and features that I've been sharing about Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK this week, the time to finally see the film is upon us, and for those in select states, one viewing experience that should be at the top of your list is to see it in Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime. I was supposed to enjoy a screening of the film in Burbank last Sunday with Stuart Bowling, Director, Content and Creative Relations at Dolby Laboratories, but thanks to an 8-hour delay on my flight out of Chicago, I missed it. Fortunately, I have experienced Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime a the AMC Hawthorn 12 in Vernon Hills, Illinois - not far from Rock Father HQ. It's a premium cinema offering, and the first that my wife and I ever found that offered reserved seating. Curious what it's all about? Read on, friends!

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Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK is as much a movie about what it means to be a family, as it is a family film. An action-packed re-imagining from director Jon Favreau (IRON MAN, CHEF) and based on both the 1967 animated feature and the original stories from Rudyard Kipling, at the heart of the story is Mowgli, the man-cub found and raised by Panther Bagheera, a protector who placed the child in the care of wolves Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong'o) and Akela (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito), who welcome the youngster into their pack, and raise him with the same love and values as their own flesh and blood. At the recent JUNGLE BOOK press junket, I joined a group of fellow writers to spend some time with Nyong'o and Esposito to gain a little insight into their creative process for the film, and how their own familial experiences helped shape what they brought to these famed wolves.

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When audiences finally witness Jon Favreau's big-screen reimagining of Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK when it opens this Friday, those who stay through the credits will notice an interesting line for a film set deep in the heart of India... "Filmed in Downtown Los Angeles." That line is a testament to just how good THE JUNGLE BOOK is, a film that beautifully captures the spirit of such exotic locales, while being a completely digital creation aside from the work of its young star, newcomer Neel Sethi. Last week, I sat down with Sethi and Favreau at the Beverly Hilton to discuss the new film, all in an informal setting alongside 24 friends and fellow writers. For me, the meeting was particularly exciting, if only because I've been such a fan of Jon Favreau dating back more than two decades - a creative talent whom I've always viewed as being sort of a kindred spirit, and one who my wife and I have sort of watched "grow up" from an actor, to one of our generation's top filmmakers. From the very 90's performances in PCU and SWINGERS, to his 2001 theatrical directorial debut, MADE (which my wife and I saw on opening night at an art house theater in Highland Park, Illinois), his career behind the camera has been has been impressive - with the ability to balance cinematic spectacles like ZATHURA, IRON MAN (and IRON MAN 2), with smaller fare like CHEF, and TV projects like REVOLUTION (a short-lived series which I loved). And then, of course, there's his perennial holiday classic, ELF. With THE JUNGLE BOOK, Favreau's storytelling has reached a whole new level, a marvel of technological toys that has spawned a few plastic ones, too.

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There was a time as a kid growing up, when I, like so many, had dreams of attending a "Hollywood Premiere." You saw it on television - the excitement, the stars, the glamour, the ideals that one typically thinks of as being "Hollywood." As an adult, my life and career has gone in many directions, and often in waves. I went after a serious career as a screenwriter and film director for awhile, aspirations that didn't quite work out as planned (or promised - long story) - but I did find some work as an actor and occasional crew member, and those are skills that still serve me well today as "The Rock Father," a position where sometimes it feels like I have to be everything. I still direct and edit music videos, I can't shut up write daily, I pop-up on-camera on YouTube (and sometimes television), but the closest I'd ever come to attending a Hollywood Premiere was back in 2002, when my wife and I attended the "green carpet" premiere of Pete Jones' Matt Damon/Ben Affleck-produced STOLEN SUMMER, the first movie to come out of HBO's PROJECT GREENLIGHT, when it made a huge debut at the Chicago Theatre. But my main gig now is that of a work-from-home parent, so how, in 2016, am I in Lake County, Illinois one day - then walking the red carpet at The World Premiere of Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK in Hollywood the next? Well, my life is wonderfully strange sometimes, and my I've been very fortunate to be in a position that allows for somewhat uncommon adventures. 

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