A simple bear necessity

Tigers, horses, seals, children and other animals: you know that it must be half-term again. One can understand why animals figure so large in fiction for children: both fauna inhabit a parallel universe in close proximity to, but separate from, the adult world. I'm not complaining: these days, when actors are more likely than animals to have a personal trainer (and frankly more likely to need it), and when the words put in their mouths are rarely worth hearing, it's a pleasure to spend a little quality time in the bestiary.

The Jungle Book, a new live-action version of Kipling's stories, boasts a small army of animal wranglers. The impressive results are on view in the near dialogue-free early scenes, which find the child Mowgli growing up under the benign tutelage of panthers, elephants and monkeys. Soon, however, he sprouts into Jason Scott Lee and discovers the grandeur and folly of the British Raj: John Cleese plays the tutor who initiates him into the absurdities of late 19th-century etiquette (teaspoons always to be stirred clockwise).

Lee's all-purpose exotic looks have landed him a range of tricky parts (the title role in The Bruce Lee Story, a Polynesian prince in Rapa Nui, an Eskimo in Map of the Human Heart) from which he has mostly emerged with honour. He's an ingenuous, likeable Mowgli. Stephen Sommers, the director, made last year's The Adventures of Huck Finn; like that movie, the new film is good-humoured and witty without (at least until the final reels, which sink into a sub-Indiana Jones romp) turning facetious.

Black Beauty also has the advantage of a classic source text and the dilemma of whether to tailor a century-old story to modern sensibilities. The Jungle Book performs some sleight of hand, miraculously translating Kipling's book into an anti-colonialist polemic. The latter plays it straight, going all-out for high melodrama.

The film is a Dickensian roller-coaster ride through the late Victorian caste system: Beauty begins life well, falls into bad hands (Eleanor Bron and the late Peter Cook as two cruel snobs), then good ones (David Thewlis as a poor-but-honest cabbie) before narrowly escaping the knacker's yard.

Caroline Thompson tells her story from the horse's point of view (his voice is by Alan Cummings), which makes for some striking effects - everyday sounds preternaturally magnified as they grate on the sick Beauty; a shot which lingers on the gentleness of a friendly hand. At times, though, it also slows down the movie: this is for viewers who like to watch lyrical footage, lots and lots of it, of horses cantering through meadows.

But at least the animals are treated with respect, which can't be said of Andre, by a good way the worst of the week's three family movies. It spins the most threadbare of storylines: animal enters dysfunctional family and sets everyone to rights (animals are the shrinks of poor America). Andre is a seal, impersonated in the film by a sea lion, although that's the least of the indignities he has to suffer: others include getting togged up in sunglasses, a beanie hat and Hawaiian shirt. His main, indeed his only party trick is blowing raspberries, a social accomplishment that makes him a national hero. The end titles run over a rap song which goes: "When you hear that funny sound / You know Andre is around." Basta.

The cinema documentary is an endangered species, ignored by the American Academy, rarely allowed out on the big screen. A few years back, Michael Moore's commercial hit Roger and Me was snubbed at the Oscars; this year it's the critically lauded Hoop Dreams (the Feature Film Company is bravely giving it a UK cinema outing next month). Osaka Story isn't nearly in the same class, but welcome anyway to this film diary about a young British- based director's trip home to his traditional Japanese family. The serenity of the opening scenes cracks to reveal a bigamous father, a profoundly unhappy mother and a son steeling himself to confess that he's gay. A little overstretched, but a warm and humane little film.

The best thing in Camilla, a rather dull road-movie about the friendship between an elderly musician and a much younger one (Bridget Fonda), is the late Jessica Tandy whose radiant beauty and commanding presence carries all before her. One would have to be churlish not to melt to the love scenes between her character and Hume Cronyn (her husband in real life) - a rare example of older characters allowed a sexual tenderness.

Holy Matrimony is a dud. Patricia Arquette reprises her True Romance role as a floozie on the run. In hiding in a strict Anabaptist community, she is married off, for reasons too silly and implausible to go into here, to a 12-year-old boy. The film dwells on her ritual humiliation at his hands (at root, this is another Macaulay Culkin-ite paean to brat power) and skirts unhappily around the perverse implications of the union.

The week's real booby-prize goes to Russell Meyer, breast fetishist and cult director extraordinaire, who is being honoured with a retrospective. It includes the sublimely titled Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1966) (see listings for reps, below), wherein three tough go-go dancers rip through the Californian desert, abducting a fluffy little teenager for purposes left unexplained (Meyer's film is surprisingly discreet on matters erotic).

Technically impressive - much more elegant than the drive-in trash it was meant to be lampooning - mockingly funny, it still looks suspiciously like a one-joke movie.

n All films open tomorrow

Sheila Johnston

other RELeASES

The Jungle Book (PG)

Dir: Stephen Sommers

Black Beauty (U)

Dir: Caroline Thompson

Andre (U)

Dir: George Miller

Osaka Story (no cert)

Dir: Toichi Nakata

Camilla (PG)

Dir: Deepa Mehta

Holy Matrimony (PG)

Dir: Leonard Nimoy

Faster Pussycat! (no cert)

Dir: Russell Meyer

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat