Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
Starring: Wendell Pierce, Greg Kinnear, Kerry Washington, Jeffrey Wright, Mamie Gummer, and Zoe Lister-Jones
Synopsis: This is the latest original film from HBO, this one centering on the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas (Pierce) as he was trying to be appointed to the Supreme Court. His confirmation hearings are derailed by allegations of sexual harassment from a former co-worker, Anita Hill (Washington), and both are brought before the Senate to testify. The film chronicles the few days of hearings and the treatment of both Thomas and Hill. True stories like this have become incredibly popular. "The People v OJ Simpson" was the best new show of 2016, and this film follows a similar track in chronicling the real people involved and the sequence of events in front of and away from the cameras. We all know what happened here — Thomas was confirmed and continues as a Supreme Court justice to this day. But this story of politics, race, and these hearings is still fascinating. It re-opens discussions of what happened, what ifs and what to make of all of it. The film is entertaining and engrossing, but not great. It's faithful to follow what happened, but the bigger question of why and what we learned come in a few paragraphs of text over the closing credits. That feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. This is a good and engaging film, and it's worth a watch. But in the end, the fact I'm not sure what to make of it tells me it falls a bit short of great.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.
The Jungle Book
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong'o, Christopher Walken and Neel Sethi
Synopsis: In 1967 Disney released an animated film called “The Jungle Book.” It told the story of a man cub — Mowgli — and his adventures in the jungle. It was fun, had catchy songs and became a classic. Nearly 50 years later, Disney is going to the well again. This new incarnation of “The Jungle Book” is about Mowgli the man cub and his adventures in the jungle, but much about the presentation has changed. It’s not longer a cute kids cartoon, but rather a blend of live action and CGI meant to bring a more real feel to the story. There are still familiar characters, jokes and even a few songs, but much about the presentation has changed. Disney hopes that more of these live action re-makes of classic cartoons will continue to catch on with a new generation of moviegoers. This isn’t the first Disney cartoon to get the live-action treatment. Last year “Cinderella” did quite well bringing the magic to life with flesh and blood performers. Now “The Jungle Book” is going for the same thing. Jon Favreau, who directed “Iron Man,” takes the reigns in bringing this hybrid of live action and computer animation to life. He’s blessed with a strong voice cast that includes Murray, Elba, Kingsley, Johansson and Walken. And there are parts of the film that work well. It captures the spirit of what endeared the original to generations of younger viewers. But part of the presentation didn’t work for me. This is a more serious take on the story, yet the film tries to shoehorn in key callbacks to the animated film, including its most famous songs. Those sequences, while well meaning, didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the action. In addition, Sethi has to carry a lot of the action on film since he’s acting opposite computer-generated creatures. That, at times, makes it difficult to give the jungle animals a lot of personality, which ends up leaving the film feeling flat. The target for “The Jungle Book” is likely younger viewers, and I think the film will accomplish that well. It’s nicely crafted and put together. But for adult viewers, it feels a little long and dry. It’s a noble attempt, but it lacks some of the magic that made the live action version of “Cinderella” pop.
Rating: PG for some sequences of scary action and peril.
Verdict: Two stars out of four.
Friday, April 22 — "The Huntsman: Winter's War," "Compadres"
Friday, April 29 — "Keanu," "Ratchet and Clank," "Mother's Day," "The Green Room"