Category Archives: movies

Battle of the Jungle Books

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Originally ran in GeekMom Jan. 13, 2016.

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Image: ©Walt Disney Studios, 2016.

Rudyard Kipling’s beloved short story collection, The Jungle Book, was written in the 1890s, but is still the inspiration for big screen interpretations today. Currently, there are two notable versions coming in the next two years, including the much-anticipated Disney production this month.

The new Disney project is actually the second live action Jungle Book film Walt Disney Studios has done in recent years. Brandon Lee starred in the 1994 live action version, but the best known is still the original 1967 animated masterpiece. The 2003 animated sequel Jungle Book 2, was pretty forgettable.

This latest Disney version comes out April 15, keeping with their trend of large-scale live-action reimaginings and reboots of their own animated classics, from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.

Following in October of 2017 is the Warner Bros. film Jungle Book: Origins, which also promises to be a larger-than-life effort, judging from the cast list.

As far as the story, which is really the important part when taking on the work of Kipling, the Disney version will remain true to its own earlier adaptation, based loosely on The Jungle Book chapter known as “Mowgli’s Brothers.” Although there has been no official announcement on the story’s plot, the Warner Bros. looks to follow a similar story.

Here are some interesting things that should make both of these versions worth seeing on the big screen:

John Favreau and Andy Serkis. Images: ©Disney (left), and Gage Skidmore.

The Directors. This pair of directors is enough to make any movie fan want to see both of these versions. Actor and director Jon Favreau helms the latest Disney film, as well as serves as a producer. He already has some experience under his belt as not only the director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, but for portraying Happy Hogan in all three Iron Man films.

Jungle Book: Origins serves as Serkis’s directorial debut, but he will also voice and perform as fan favorite bear Baloo, who will be portrayed in the Disney version by fan favorite actor Bill Murray.

Who has the edge: Favreau. Serkis has proven himself an incredible actor and comedian, and  was able to handle secondary directing duties in The Hobbit trilogy, but it’s his first time in the main director chair. Favreau has some great successes to draw from.

There is one element that Serkis has over Favreau. Not only is Serkis himself master of performance capture work, as demonstrated with his portrayals as Gollum (Lord of the Rings), Caesar (Planet of the Apes) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), but The Imaginarium, Europe’s leading Performance Capture studio co-founded by Serkis, will partner with Warner Bros. on their film.

The Female Kaas. In the original Kipling book, Kaa is a male 100-year-old python, but even more interesting Kaa is one of Mowgli’s friends and mentors. In the original animated Disney film Kaa is a manipulative side-villain voiced by Disney regular Sterling Holloway (Winnie The Pooh, Cheshire Cat).

Both new Jungle Book projects will feature a female-voiced Kaa. Disney’s will be portrayed by Scarlett Johansson and Warner Bros.’s will feature Cate Blanchett.

Based on Disney’s trailer and description of the new film, Kaa is “a python whose seductive voice and gazes hypnotizes the man-cub,” but is one of the creatures who don’t “have his best interests at heart.” It looks like Kaa will still be a bit of an antagonist in the new Disney version. No news on how Kaa will be portrayed in the 2017 story.

Who has the edge: Blanchett. As popular as Johansson is right now, and as sultry as her voice can be, Blanchett will add a touch of sophistication to this character that will go far beyond just a femme fatale.

A fantastically-cast Shere Khan. The story’s primary villain, the large, man-fearing tiger, Shere Khan, will be voiced by two of Great Britain’s most formidable voices: Idris Elba for Disney and Benedict Cumberbatch for Warner Bros. Elba and Cumberbatch are responsible for two of the BBC’s most popular detectives, Luther (Elba) and Sherlock (Cumberbatch).

In addition, both Elba and Cumberbatch share the honors of portraying major villains in the new Star Trek movie series, with Elba in the role of Krall in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond and Cumberbatch as, well, Khan, in Star Trek: Into The Darkness.

Who has the edge: This one is a draw, as both these actors have incredible, deep and imposing tones perfect for the intimidating tiger villain. Please, oh, please don’t make us choose.

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Lupita Nyong’o and Naomi Harris. Images: ©Disney (left), and ShareAlike.

An equally wonderfully cast for Mother Wolf. Mother Wolf has always been an important, yet underrated character in the Jungle Book movies, although she is the primary reason Mowgli survived past his infancy in the jungle. In the Disney version, Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o will play the Mother Wolf, known as “Raksha.” This character in the Warner Bros. version will go by the name “Nisha,” with James Bond’s current Moneypenny, Naomi Harris, as her voice.

Who has the edge: Nyong’o. Naomi Harris a great actress, and is no stranger to Disney fans (Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean series), but if Nyong’o’s voice work in The Force Awakens is any indication, her Mother Wolf will be simply outstanding.

Other voice notables will be Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera in the Disney version, and Christian Bale in the Warner Bros. version, and Christopher Walken should be a hilarious King Louie. King Louie is a Disney creation, which was not part of Kipling’s original tale, so there will be no King Louie in the Warner Bros. version.

Young actors Neel Sethi and Rohan Chand, both natives of a different “jungle,” New York City, will portray Mowgli in the Disney and Warner Bros. films respectively.

The big question is, which version will do better with fans and in the box office? Disney is certainly on a roll with their new live action storybook tales, but the Serkis production stands to properly capture the sensibilities of fans of the India-born British favorite Kipling.

No matter what the box office ultimately decides, as long as they both stay true to the exotic lure of adventure Kipling always envisioned, there should easily be reason to return to the jungle more than once in the near future.

Find That Prop!: Terry Gilliam’s Outré Animation

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In honor of April Fools Day and National Humor Month, here’s a look series that I originally ran in 2014 on the “props” of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

tgartmainTerry Gilliam’s Oddball Animation:

Even the boys of Python should appreciate the irony the weirdest member of the troupe that defines British-style comedy is American. Terry Gilliam was born in Minnesota, but became an ex-pat in the 1960s like many of the counter-culture teens and young adults.

Once there, he fell into a rather silly crowd, worked as a strip cartoonist for magazines (including one photo strip featuring John Cleese), and did some animation for a children’s program called “Do Not Adjust Your Set” featuring his soon-to-be Python pals Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones.

Gilliam is often known today by many film buffs as the director of several cult classic films including what he called his 1990s “Trilogy of Americana” that included “The Fisher King,” “12 Monkeys” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” but his eye for the surreal and the off-beat that was so prevalent in his animation, remains true to his work today.

He liked to mix his own original art (the giant foot, and 16-ton-weight, for example) with movable cutouts, often taking advantage of the seriousness of Victorian era antique photos and illustrations, or even well-known fine art images, to create the unexpected, madcap and sometimes just freaky weird style that Monty Python’s Flying Circus just wouldn’t be the same without.

Where to Find It:

The bottom line on finding original artwork, especially work signed by Gilliam himself is, well “Good Luck.” His work is not easy to find.

Any “cels” or images used in the Monty Python movies or series are even more elusive. There are atgbooks few signed pieces from time to time on sites like Comic Art Fans, and even eBay, but these will fetch well over $500 for a simple line drawing. Not unreasonable for original work, but out of range for the standard Python fan.

Don’t let this be discouraging, because it isn’t hard for find concentrated examples of Gilliam’s work. A&E has released a series of “Personal Best” DVDs for each member of the Python clan, and the Terry Gilliam version features 45 of his best ‘toons. These retail for $19.95, but can be found on Amazon for $10.95, and Barnes & Noble for $14.86.

Gilliam also wrote sort of how-to book called Animations of Mortality in 1978, later turned in to a CD-Rom edition in 1996. The book features words and sketches that give a glimpse of what goes on inside the head of an animator. The hardcover edition isn’t cheap (about $97 on Amazon), but paperback versions will run around $31.

In 1999, author Bob McCabe released Dark Knights and Holy Fools: The Art and Films of Terry Gilliam: from Before Python to Beyond Fear and Loathing. If you can get past the overwhelmingly long title, the book is a good look at the evolution of Gilliam’s work. This book ranges in price from around $3 to $6 for used hardback and paperback versions, to about $17.99 for new paperback versions and $73.99 for new hardbacks.

Later this year, Gilliam will have his own say with a new autobiography Gilliamesque, a Pre-posthumous Memoir. Pre-orders are currently being taken on Amazon and other book sites.

A great online source for Gilliam’s animation and other work has been compiled by someone who knows the man best, his daughter, Holly.

The site, Discovering Dad, hasn’t been updated since 2013, but still has plenty of Gilliam facts, art and wonderful personal memories from Holly Gilliam. She also maintains a Twitter feed that is more current.

Now for something, completely different…Make Your Own Art:

dancingbeibThe beauty of Gilliam’s work lies in its simplicity. He manages to take a simple, portrait or drawing and turn it into a crazy storyline, just by adding a few extreme movements or features.

There are plenty of vintage images and illustrations to play with on the Internet. The easiest method is to take a portrait and make it “talk.” Cut out the image along the mouth and down both sides of the chin, like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

processAttach the cutout “mouth” to a thin piece of paper, and tape it slightly at the top (see image above).  This will make a nice little handle for a picture puppet. Add a couple of googly eyes or other painted or glued on features to make them even sillier. This is the type of animation popular sites like the eCard business, JibJab have mimicked.

Gilliam and the Pythons also did their share of poking fun at current events and celebrities. Go through old catalogs or magazines for full-body images of over-publicized persons — singers, politicians, actors, reality stars, over-memed cats — who you feel might be in need of some humbling.

manly-menNow you have our permission to cut them up….NO! not the actual people, that’s horrible, but go crazy on their images. Cut them off at the neck, shoulder, groin, knee and elbow, ankles and wrists.

Now they can be assembled on paper like your your own personal marionettes. Take a series of pictures of them in different poses for a photo animated strip like Gilliam liked to do in his early years.

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“The whole point of animation to me is to tell a story, make a joke, express an idea,” he said. “The technique itself doesn’t really matter. Whatever works is the thing to use. That’s why I use cut-out. It’s the easiest form of animation I know.”grumpydragon

 

Find That Prop!: The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch

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Find That Prop!: The Classic “Silly Walks” Bowler Hat

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In honor of April Fools Day and National Humor Month, here’s a look series that I originally ran in 2014 on the “props” of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Find That Prop!: Gumby Couture

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In honor of April Fools Day and National Humor Month, here’s a look series that I originally ran in 2014 on the “props” of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

gumbymainThe Prop, well Costume Really…The Gumbys:

The Gumby, the not-too-bright, but exceedingly loud Python recurring character, who utters choppy and sometimes monosyllabic phrases, is one of the best-known Python characters. The name Gumby comes from their footwear, Wellingtons, or “gumboots.”

One of their signature sketches, “Gumby Brain Specialist,” inspired the catch phrase..”MY. BRAIN.gumcosplay-300x268 HURTS!”

The very first Gumby to appear on screen was played by the late Graham Chapman, although the most frequent Gumby portrayor was Michael Palin. Every Python has played a Gumby at least once, and when the Pythons reunited in 2014, veteran comic actor Eddie Izzard stood in for Chapman to don the white hanky hat.

It seems there was a Gumby in almost every Python episode. They helped bridge the segments together, were often part of the Man on the Street segments, and Palin’s Gumby was the voice that announced the show title in Series 3. There were even animated Gumbys…courtesy of Terry Gilliam.

These characters all pretty much referred to each other as Mr. Gumby, but there were instances when their name was listed in subtitles…often with the title “Prof.” before it. Of course!

These lovable morons have a favorite place in fans’ hearts, and Python audience members were often not shy of dressing full Gumby to attend their live shows, including their recent reunion show in 2014.

tumblr_nch8q2Nm7b1rugg8io1_500How to Cosplay It:

If there’s one thing about thing about The Gumby, he is easy to find clothes for.  Any or all of these items can be found in a second-hand store, discount retail store or even in an old attic box.

The key isn’t what to get…it’s how to wear it. Pretty much everything in Mr. Gumby’s world looks like he’s ready to wade into the steam and hunt for tadpoles..or lost change.

Here are The Gumby basics:

• White long-sleeved button down shirt, sleeves rolled up haphazardly.
• Sweater Vest: tucked into pants.
• One pair or suspenders, any color
• One pair of polyester slacks or khakis, rolled up above the knee
• One white hanky, tied at all four corners and worn on the head
• One set of round wire glasses
• One Charlie Chaplin or “Hitler” mustache (the official term is “toothbrush” mustache, but nobody knows that. Well, now they do). This can be painted on, if you can’t find one.
• One pair of Wellingtons (rubber rain gumboots, preferably black)

Most importantly. The stance. Stoop your shoulders. Bend your knees. Toes out, heels together. Clench your fists like and angry gorilla in front of you. Congrats! You’re a Gumby!

For a little extra prop…carry two foam bricks around to bash together.

For all those fashionistas, we’ve even put together some modified Gumby Couture for men and women, using popular fashion-builder sites like Polyvore:

gumbycouturePlus, it’s not to hard to piece together doll-size clothes for Build-A-Bears, Barbie or fashion dolls, American Girl-sized dolls or even sock monkeys.

For those who want to show their Python pride, but don’t want to go all out, “My Brian Hurts” t-shirts can be found on several sites like Cafe Press and TV Store Online, although Zazzle has a design in Latin that’s the perfect inside joke.  Planet Minecraft even has a Gumby-inspired skin design for digital cosplay.

There was once an officially-licensed plush version available, but that is long out of production. Keep an eye out on eBay or collectible shops for this rare find.So, Gumby-up! It’s so easy to do…it will make your brain hurt!

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