STORY WRITTEN BY AMY LONGSDORF
For Digital First Media
Not since “Avatar” and “Life of Pi” has a movie with such a gargantuan special effects budget been so heartwarming. But with “The Jungle Book,” director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) remakes the Disney cartoon as a live-action saga and retains the buoyancy of the original while managing to imbue the tale with shivery suspense and emotional heft.
The talented Neel Sethi stars as Mowgli, a “man-cub” raised by wolves who goes on a journey of self-discovery through the jungle. He winds up outwitting snakes, tigers and monkeys while also finding time to befriend a lazy bear (Bill Murray). It’s a real treat. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu
Also New To Streaming
The Phenom: After having a meltdown on the mound, a promising pitcher (Johnny Simmons) is sent to see a sports psychologist (Paul Giamatti) who tries to figure out how and why the wunderkind lost his mojo. Hint: It has a lot to do with the baseballer’s abusive father (West Windsor-reared Ethan Hawke). At first, writer/director Noah Buschel’s unreeling of the plot feels haphazard but the unconventional approach works, at least until the too-abrupt ending. Buschel is particularly lucky to have three very talented actors on his team, all of whom hit home runs, particularly Hawke who portrays Simmons’ macho dad as a charismatic creep. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.
Jane Wants A Boyfriend: If you’re in the mood for a movie that delivers plenty of emotional fireworks, check out this compelling indie about a struggling actress named Bianca (Eliza Dushku) who’s debating whether or not to ask her autistic sister Jane (Louisa Krause) to move in with her. At the same time, Jane takes a shine to one of Bianca’s womanizing friends (Gabriel Ebert), much to Bianca’s dismay. Deceptively simple, “Jane” cuts a direct path to your heart thanks both to director William Sullivan’s knack for creating intimacy and the actors’ ability to craft fascinating characters. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.
Bridgend: A rash of teen suicides in a small Welsh mining village inspired this thriller which was shot in Wales with many non-actors in pivotal roles. The result is strangely hazy, formless movie which never seems to figure out what it’s trying to say about suicide or adolescence. “Game of Thrones” vet Heather Murray stars as the daughter of a police officer (Steven Waddington) who is dispatched to Bridgend to investigate. But precious little police work is done and, after nearly two hours of darkly lit scenes and emotional thrashing, you’re left with more questions than answers. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu
How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change: For his follow-up to “Gasland” and “Gasland: Part II,” anti-fracking filmmaker Josh Fox ponders the effects of continued global warming on the world. In addition to interviewing experts, he monitors rising sea levels, record droughts, superstorms, dying coral reefs, species extinction, food insecurity and increased conflicts over limited resources. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.
A Royal Affair: Who says they don’t make ‘em like they used to? This old-fashioned period epic from 2012 has a David Lean-esque grandeur as well as keen understanding of what makes powerful people tick. It begins with an English girl’s (Alicia Vikander) marriage to the King of Denmark (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), a clueless ruler who allows the religious establishment to run his country. Both the King and the Queen’s lives are upended by the appearance at court of a progressive, German-born physician (the magnetic Mads Mikkelsen). In no time, he’s captured the Queen’s heart and is manipulating the King into reforming Denmark. On Amazon.
The Night Manager: Whatever its storytelling flaws, this BBC limited series sparks to life every time Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie face-off. A Bondian tale of espionage, “The Night Manager” stars Hiddleston in the title role of a hotel clerk who is recruited by a spy chief (Olivia Colman) to bring down an international arms dealer (Laurie). The six episodes have their share of slow spots but director Susanne Bier unravels the complicated plot, which is based on a John le Carré best-seller, without dumbing it down. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu
Herzog: Ecstatic Fictions: German visionary Werner Herzog is being feted with a full-blown retrospective of his best feature films, including “Nosferatu,” “Woyzeck,” “Stroszek,” “Heart of Glass” and “Fitzcarraldo.” All five features are challenging and worth a look. On Mubi.
For The Kids
DC Superhero Girls – Hero of the Year: In this original animated feature film, the spotlight is on a bunch of young girls from the DC Comics universe who are all enrolled at Superhero High. The characters include Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Bumblebee and Katana. Can the gal pals band together to stop the ominous Dark Opal from going ahead with his plans to rule the world? On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.
Star Wars Rebels Complete Season Two: The latest season of the animated series pivots on Ezra as he continues his journey to become a Jedi under Kanan’s guidance. Also watch for ex-soldiers from the Clone Wars to form an alliance in hopes of restoring peace and freedom to the galaxy. But guess who’s lurking in the wings? Darth Vader, of course. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.