Idris Elba is a busy man. He’s released seven movies this year and has several more on tap for 2017. He’s on track to join Dwayne Johnson, Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio as one of the world’s highest earning actors after turns in the mega-grossing The Jungle Book, Finding Dory and Zootopia.
If you don’t know the name you haven’t been paying attention. Rev up Netflix and check out his work on TV shows like The Wire or Luther and movies like RocknRolla or Beasts of No Nation and become a fan. You should know he was once voted one of People magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People in the World and more than one twitter friend of mine refers to him as a “pretend boyfriend.”
Not only busy but good looking as well! I was pleased to be granted a fifteen-minute phone interview to discuss his debut in the Star Trek franchise as Krall, a hostile alien who causes trouble for Kirk, Spock and company in Star Trek Beyond.
I don’t usually write questions but I thought I might ask him if he watched Star Trek as a child. Would he consider himself a Trekker? Did he have a favourite Star Trek character growing up? Did he wonder what Star Trek fans would think of the predatory new character? Are there parallels between the film—and his character—and our world today? Has he considered what being part of the legacy of the show means?
If there was time at the end I might even follow up on the rumours and ask if he even wants to play James Bond.
Then the first call came in. “Idris is running behind.” Cool. This happens all the time on press days. Then another call and another and another. My phone hasn’t gotten this kind of workout since a Nigerian Prince called over and over to solicit my assistance in moving his fortune to North America. Each time a publicist announced another delay with the assurance the interview would still happen. As the time wore on the actual length of my interview began to tumble downhill from fifteen minutes down to seven.
In all two hours passed from my scheduled start time until my phone rang for real.
“Hi Richard, I’ll connect you with Idris,” said the perky voice on the other end of the line.
A minute passed before Elba’s familiar husky London accent filled my ear. Hallelujah! Better late than never. We talk over one another. “Hello… HELLO… Can you hear me?” It’s a bad cell phone connection. It sounds as if we’re talking through two tin cans connected by strings but I’ll take it.
I ask him about his childhood memories of Star Trek.
“It was a show me, my mum and my dad watched together,” he says. “They both liked it. It was a show that really took your imagination places. That’s my early memory of it. It was a really imaginative show that showed space travel in a way that was different, you know?”
It took him 23 seconds to speak the 50 words that told me his parents liked Star Trek. I mention this because as soon as he stopped talking and I started asking the next question I heard a strange beep beep sound followed by… nothing. The great void. No more husky voice. And like that, poof. He’s gone.
“Are you still there? I think we just lost him,” the eavesdropping publicist said. “Let me get him back for you. Just one second.”
I had visions of the actor walking around Fifth Avenue desperately yelling into his phone, “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” but in my heart I knew that wasn’t happening.
Minutes later she’s back. “I’m so sorry. We lost him. I know you only had a couple of minutes to speak with him…” actually it was twenty three seconds… “Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with him.”
My interview with Idris was over. Still born. Terminated before it even really began.
Was I mad? Not really. Frustrated? Yes. Not only had I wasted the afternoon waiting for Idris but now I didn’t have a story to file.
My friends on social media didn’t exactly see it my way. “What do you expect?” wrote one person. “He is the hottest man alive.” Another chose to look on the bright side. “That’s 45 seconds more Idris than the rest of us.” (I hadn’t yet timed the actual quote when hit facebook to vent.)
In the end it’s not a big deal. I’m choosing to look at the bright side. I didn’t get to chat with him but I do have a contender for the Guinness Book of World Records for Shortest (And Least Satisfying) Interview Ever.
Richard and CP24 anchor Rena Heer talk about the weekend’s big releases, the revamped “The Jungle Book,” a third visit to Calvin’s in “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” the jazzy notes of “Miles Ahead” and the mind altering ‘Criminal.”
Richard and “Canada AM” host Jeff Hutcheson kick around the weekend’s big releases. They find out if “The Jungle Book” is appropriate for all ages, if “Barbershop: the Next Cut” makes the cut and if “Criminal” should be put in movie jail.
In 2009 I hosted an on-stage event with Disney legend Richard Sherman.
The co-writer (with his brother Robert) of classic songs like It’s a Small World (After All), Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and the Oscar winning Chim Chim Cher-ee, was seated behind a piano and after regaling us with stories from his career, asked if anyone had any song requests.
I took advantage of my position as host and butted in, asking if he’d sing the hippest children’s song ever written, I Wan’na Be like You (The Monkey Song) from The Jungle Book.
As his fingers danced across the keyboard, he began, “Now, I’m the King of the Swinger’s Ball, a Jungle V.I.P…” and I was transported back to being a kid, wearing the grooves off the soundtrack record, playing it over and over. I was reminded of that memorable moment earlier this week as I watched the new, updated version of The Jungle Book. The song gets a remake, this time sung by Christopher Walken, but the magic is still there.
In the animated 1967 original, Louis Prima — playing the raucous orangutan King Louie — sang the upbeat tune but Richard Sherman says when they wrote the song they didn’t have Prima in mind.
Walt Disney hired them to help “Disnify” Rudyard Kipling’s original stories about a feral child raised in the jungle by wolves.
“Our assignment was to find crazy ways of having fun with it,” says Sherman.
For King Louie’s big moment the brothers went with a New Orleans inspired musical arrangement, complete with scat-singing.
They played the swingin’ song at a story conference and it was decided the singer should be the most swingin’ jazz act in the country. “When we first got an idea for I Wan’na Be Like You, we said an ape swings from a tree, and he’s the king of apes. We’ll make him ‘the king of the swingers.’ That’s the idea, we’ll make him a jazz man.”
The brothers presented the song to Prima who reportedly said, “You want to make a monkey out of me? You got me!”
It was a perfect marriage of performer to character, so much so that Disney animators filmed Prima live on a soundstage as a guide to animate his movements in the movie.
The I Wan’na Be like You (The Monkey Song) sequence is a standout in a film filled with great songs and has made a lasting impression on a generation or two of musicians.
Everyone from Phish and Voodoo Glow Skulls to Los Lobos and Fall Out Boy have covered the song. There’s a Hungarian version called Egy ilyen majom embernek való by Gyula Bodrogi & László Csákányi. And O Rei do Iê-Iê-Iê was a hit in Brazil for Márcio Simões & Mauro Ramos.
Of all the covers, Sherman says he likes the version by Smash Mouth featured in The Jungle Book 2. Almost 50 years after he originally co-wrote the song Richard Sherman revisited the tune. On the red carpet at The Jungle Book’s premier last week Sherman said he wrote new lyrics, “because it’s not the King Louie you saw in the first movie. This is a gigantopithecus, the greatest ape there ever was.”
Louis Prima’s version will always be the classic, at least for me, but Sherman says, “Chris Walken does a great job (on the song).”
The Disney animated classic “The Jungle Book” has been given a high tech makeover. The colourful characters are gone, as are most of the songs, but what the new version lacks in nostalgic kitsch it makes up for in eye-popping action adventure that’s part Rudyard Kipling, part “Apocalypse Now.”
A mix-and-match of Kipling’s stories and the 1967 Disney film, the new movie opens with Mowgli (Neel Sethi) racing through the jungle, running, climbing and jumping as a pack of animals chases. Turns out it’s a family outing. You see, Mowgli is a man-cub raised by wolf mother Raksha’s (voice of Lupita Nyong’o) and father Akela (voice of Giancarlo Esposito) who treat him as one of their own. The only animal who doesn’t welcome the young boy is human hating tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba).
The majestic tiger was once badly injured by a human and firmly believes that men have no place in the jungle. He threatens violence if Mowgli isn’t handed over. “Ask yourselves,” he purrs, “how many lives is a man-cub worth?”
To save his kin Mowgli sets off into the jungle with his mentor Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley) at his side and Shere Khan in hot pursuit. Bagheera’s wants deliver the boy to a human village where he’ll be safe, but first they must navigate jungle and its denizens, like the hypnotic python Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), ape King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken) and loyal Baloo (voice of Bill Murray), the brown bear who becomes Mowgli’s friend and ally.
The end of the journey brings Mowgli a resolution to the Shere Khan problem but also a new understanding of his place in the jungle.
Director Jon Favreau uses state-of-the-art technology to bring the story to life but never allows the computer-generated imagery to get in the way of the story. He’s crafted a beautifully cinematic film, with exciting action scenes—and, it should be noted some circle-of-life stuff that young animal lovers might find upsetting—and wonderful animation but the stars of the show are the characters.
Sethi is the only flesh-and-blood on display, all others are artfully arranged photorealistic pixels. Fan favourite Baloo looks as if he just lumbered off the set of “The Revenant,” but is rendered charming and harmless by Bill Murray’s voice work. When he threatens a small animal for stealing his honey with the words, “You have never been a more endangered species,” it’s pure Murray and pure fun.
The stand out character is Shere Khan, the best feline villain since “The Lion King’s” Scar. Muscular and menacing, he’s expertly voiced by Idris Elba, who, like the rest of the cast, avoids doing cartoon voices. It’s naturalism in a natural setting and it works wonderfully.
“The Jungle Book” is a worthy and entertaining remake of a classic that gives us much of what we want—the songs “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” both make appearance—and more.
The director who used elaborate special effects to make Iron Man soar through the night sky and a spaceship land in the Wild West says, “there is nothing more cinematic and exciting than watching food be prepared.”
Jon Favreau, helmer of blockbusters like Iron Man 1 and 2 and Cowboys & Aliens, adds, “Modestly budgeted films like Eat Drink Man Woman or Jiro Dreams of Sushi are as compelling as any big budgeted Hollywood movie.”
In his new film Chef (which he wrote, directed, produced and stars in), Favreau plays Carl Casper, a chef set on a new culinary path after an influential food critic gives his restaurant a savage review.
The nugget of inspiration for the movie came two decades ago when Swingers, another film Favreau wrote and starred in, became a hit.
“The Big Night came out the year Swingers did,” he says, “and I remember seeing that film and feeling like they had really accomplished so much. With Swingers we had certain modest accomplishments. I was satisfied with it, but Big Night felt like a movie and felt like they had captured something larger.
“Maybe that was in the back of my head for the last 20 years. There was an envy that I had of what they were able to accomplish with the music, the culture, the performances, the food and how delightful it was. So I finally got to make my food movie.”
In those 20 years, Favreau has been in the Hollywood trenches as a producer, director, actor and writer and is quick to note the similarities and differences between the story of Chef and his real-life work in the movie business.
“The archetypes of the players on the stage in the food world and the movie world are very similar,” he says.
“The stakes are a bit higher in the food world, which is why it is dramatically appealing. One bad review can shut you down. Right now, the way reviews work in movies is that you’re reading 90 reviews. It’s all on Rotten Tomatoes, a compilation of numbers and you don’t really have that personal relationship with a specific critic as you do in the theatre world or the food world. In the food world you are eye-to-eye with that critic and you are eye-to-eye with the customer and when that food gets sent back to the kitchen you are looking at that plate. It’s a lot different.”
Favreau’s next film is a live-action remake of The Jungle Book, but he says he’ll likely flip-flop between big- and small-budget films in future.
“If I knew I could come up with a small story that I’d be excited about, next year I’d do this again but honestly, it hasn’t been since Swingers that I’ve been able to sit down and write something so fully formed so quickly.
“I somewhat envy the filmmakers who can come up with a small story each year because this was the best experience I’ve ever had.”