Tag Archives: movies

The Jungle Book (2016)

Neel Sethi as Mowgli
Ben Kingsley as Bagheera (black leopard)
Bill Murray as Baloo (bear)
Idris Elba as Shere Khan (tiger)
Giancarlo Esposito as Akela (wolf)
Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha (wolf)
Christopher Walken as King Louie (orangutang)
Garry Shandling as Grey Brother (wolf)
Scarlett Johansson as Kaa (python)
Ritesh Rajan as Mowgli’s father

I was a fan of Disney movies as a child. Haven’t seen any in a long time, though. When Disney decided to remake The Jungle Book, I ignored it. But after the rave reviews for it (and the new Beauty and the Beast), I gave it a shot. I’m glad I did. While the original wasn’t one of my favorites growing up, I must say that this is a brilliant new take on the old story.

Fear the “red flower!”

The story is that in what seems to be ancient times, a human named Mowgli is lost as a baby and raised to childhood by wolves. All goes well until Shere Khan, mightiest of tigers, finds out about him and, fearing that he will grow up to be a hunter, threatens to kill his adoptive family if he is not turned over to Khan. Instead, family friend Bagheera attempts to take Mowgli to his village of birth. But Mowgli doesn’t want to leave the Jungle he’s come to know as home. He meets a carefree, fun-loving bear named Baloo who encourages his defiance. Not that any of this matters to Khan, who makes it clear that he is not flexible on Mowgli’s death.

Voice-overs are excellent! Names like Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, and Scarlett Johansson can be found. For the most part, everybody tries to imitate the voices of the original, and finds great success there. The exception is that Bill Murray is not nearly as energetic as Phil Harris (and Ed Gilbert in the later TV series, Talespin), had ever been. This version capitalizes on more Baloo’s laziness than his partying.

Big blue Baloo looks like a real bear. Odd. more realistic, but odd.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, that Hollywood can’t impress you anymore… I was sure that real animals couldn’t have the mouth movement for talking that the ones in this movie do, but I wasn’t sure. That’s how realistic the CGI in The Jungle Book looks! Incredi-f*cking-ble!

It’s a wonder that CGI hasn’t rendered traditional action movies obsolete, but those Fast & Furious movies keep cleaning up at the box office. At any rate, the action sequences with CGI animals are very exciting and believable.

There really isn’t much to criticize, quite honestly. I do wonder why, since this movie’s King Louie is so big, he needs fire to take over the jungle, but that’s nit-picky stuff. Besides, it’s a children’s movie. Gotta be a little lenient.

Hail to the Chimp!

No, this new version of The Jungle Book is pretty much a classic. Even an adult can enjoy it.

Overall: 9 out of 10

Dracula: Dead and Loving It

Leslie Nielson as Count Dracula
Peter MacNicol as Thomas Renfield
Stephen Weber as Jonathan Harker
Amy Yasbeck as Mina Seward
Harvey Korman as Dr. Seward
Lysette Anthony as Lucy Westenra
Mel Brooks as Dr. Abraham Van Helsing

Back in the 1990’s, one of the most frequent comedy stars was Canadian actor Leslie Nielson. He really had a knack for this genre. His acting, timing, and sense of humor were always just right, and I enjoyed all the movies that he headlined. Well, OK, Mr. Magoo kind of sucked, but we all have ups and downs.

All vampires must have wild hair, one way or another.

Here Nielson teams with director/star Mel Brooks, whose career hadn’t been the same since the bomb that was Life Stinks. Like many Brooks movies, Dracula: Dead and Loving It is a parody of another movie. Although it came not too long after Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it seems more the ancient, trend-setting Dracula from 1931. In any case, Dead and Loving It is a very funny, underrated lampooning of the horror icon.

The acting is really good. Despite his advanced years, Nielson generally played caricatures of action heroes. Here he is instead playing the most famous of vampires, Dracula. He takes to this role like a fish to water, and his version of the majestic Dracula voice is a funny parody. Other standout performances include Peter MacNicol as a bumbling idiot under Dracula’s control, Mel Brooks as a wise but eccentric old doctor, and Lysette Anthony as a seduced, unsuspecting victim of Dracula.

Of course, what drives a comedy is the humor. Thankfully, Dracula: Dead and Loving It is a pretty funny spoof. The humor focuses on lampooning the aforementioned 1931 classic, right down to mocking numerous lines, like when Dracula says “children of the night” before motioning to bat shit and adds, “what a mess they make.” And this movie has perhaps the most hilarious death scene ever!

And believe it or not, it’s not this.

The critical reception to this movie was surprisingly negative. But then again, it was for a lot of Brooks’ movies. And really, comedies just don’t have the same luck with the critics that dramas and comic book adaptations do. Maybe the critics just take things way too seriously?

At any rate, I personally find Dracula: Dead and Loving It to be a fine parody worth seeing even today.

If you saw this in your neighborhood, you wouldn’t think it was a dance. You’d dial 911.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Fight Valley

Susie Celek as Windsor
Miesha Tate as Jabs
Cris Cyborg as Church
Amanda Serrano as Vivian

Most independent movies suck. There, I said it. And I know some are going to call me a Hollywood shill for saying that. First of all, I have given high marks to another independent movie, Excision, along with an Asian movie, Killers, that I have reviewed in the past. Second, there’s a reason you can’t find a lot of good movies on Sundance or Lifetime, both of which are crawling with indy films. I’ll agree that those that are good can be very, very good, since they don’t have the limits that Hollywood productions do. But most fail to overcome their budgets and lack of experienced casts and crews.

Breaking Glass Pictures presents Fight Valley. This is an attempt to cash in on the surging popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s women’s division. It’s about how a martial artist named Tori Coro has been killed in a rough town called Camden, New Jersey, her sister, Windsor comes to town to avenge Tori’s death.

Bandanna, ’cause Camden’s so f*ckin’ urban!

The plot doesn’t go so well. Emotional moments are handled badly so the revenge story doesn’t work. Also, they spend way too much time on Windsor figuring out how odd and fierce a town Camden is. As a result, the training part of the movie is so brief as to seem forced.

There’s particularly a lot of overacting in these training scenes.

Performances aren’t the best, either. Everybody is below average, always either sleepwalking through their lines or overacting.

The fight scenes are done well. This movie reportedly has legit martial arts talent. I believe that. But almost everything else is bungled.

This leaves me right back where I started when it comes to independent cinema. While it can be a boon to the industry, it’s not a boon often enough.

Overall: 3 out of 10

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

batmanvsupermantitle

The box office, duh!

Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent
Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Amy Adams as Lois Lane
Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor
Holly Hunter as Senator June Finch
Gal Godot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman
Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White
Diana Lane as Martha Kent

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was one of the most criticized movies of 2016. It shouldn’t have been but at the end of the day, this movie is only worth a rental. That said, I think it’s only the combination of these pop culture icons jacking up expectations that has people hating the film. Because there’s nothing that elevates BvS to megafilm status.

Three years after Superman emerged in Man of Steel, people have formed different opinions about him. Some see him as a hero. Others see him as a villain in the making. Senator June Finch wants Superman to speak in public so he can explain himself. But Batman has concluded that the alien is a threat to us and plans his end. Meanwhile, eccentric and opportunistic CEO/mad scientist Lex Luthor has discovered Superman’s greatest weakness: kryptonite. Luthor figures that his best plan is to help “God” and “man” kill each other so both will be out of the way.

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The God analogy works with the fancy costume material, that’s for sure.

I have to say, this is a very good plot. Fear of the corruptibility of power makes for an interesting story. The viewer can see the controversy surrounding Superman and choose whether to side with him or Batman.

Performances are quite strong. I knew Henry Cavill would make a great Superman again. Same with Amy Adams as the tough reporter that is Lois Lane. I was as worried as anyone that Ben Affleck would be a terrible Batman, but the opposite happened. He displays both intimidation and intelligence in the role (unlike Christian Bale who only showed the former in the role). Jesse Eisenberg appears to be playing homage to Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in his mannerisms and it serves him well, particularly with his analogies to “man” and “God.”

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Some say that Luthor must have giant balls to fight a superdude. Turning the back to him is pretty much the final proof.

So what keeps this from being a great movie? The ending. First of all, they (spoiler alert) reenact Superman’s death a decade too late for it to have the desired impact. Yes, once upon a time, he died in the comic books and the world was shocked. But that was too long ago. At this point, it’s just a death scene that we know will be less than permanent.

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The Bat-stubble shows even in smoke.

A more nitpicky issue is the cameos. A lot of people liked seeing Wonder Woman in this movie, but let’s be realistic: this is commercial for her own movie, and frankly, it shows in Gal Godot’s performance. Aquaman makes an even more superfluous appearance as well.

All said, BvS isn’t the awful movie some have called it. It’s not particularly good, either. It’s worth renting from Netflix and that’s all.

Overall: 6 out of 10

Central Intelligence

centralintelligencetitleKevin Hart as Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner
Dwayne Johnson as Robbie Wheirdicht/Bob Stone
Amy Ryan as CIA Agent Pam Harris
Danielle Nicolet as Maggie Johnson-Joyner
Aaron Paul as Phil Stanton

Central Intelligence is an action comedy that is very fun to watch. Its character development is quite strong, the performances are great, and the jokes make you laugh.

Twenty years ago, Calvin Joyner was a cool kid with an unpopular, fat, frequently bullied friend named Robbie Wheirdict. They lost touch over the years but have now met up again. Calvin is surprised to see that Robbie has started regularly working out since high school, enough to become a badass. But part of the reason why Robbie set the reunion in motion is because Calvin’s job gives him information that Robbie, now a CIA agent, needs. Turns out the authorities want Robbie for selling information to enemies of the U.S. Calvin has to decide whether to trust Robbie or the authorities.

Face to big face.

Face to big face.

I’m not a fan of stand-up comedy. About the only comedians of this kind  that I ever watched regularly were Chris Rock and George Carlin. But if this film is anything to go by, Kevin Hart must have been a good one. His timing is strong, his portrayal of a normal guy thrown into overwhelming situations convincing. Dwayne Johnson isn’t as solid, but he is still pretty solid. He’s not great, but give him a good script and he’ll deliver.

The action is also really good. This gives Johnson a chance to do what he does best. While he doesn’t do any wrestling moves, the fisticuffs are executed well.

Why you should "know your role and shut your mouth."

Why you should “know your role and shut your mouth.”

As far as the jokes go, they’re funny. Hart’s reaction to being thrust into a dangerous world are a hoot! This is among other very funny stuff in this movie.

Central Intelligence is a very funny comedy. Not quite a classic, but worth seeing or even buying.

Overall: 8 out of 10

American Mary

americanmarytitleKatharine Isabelle as Mary Mason
Antonio Cupo as Billy Barker
Tristan Risk as Beatress Johnson
David Lovgren as Dr. Alan Grant

Gender politics have been in the spotlight recently. The women’s marches happening as I type are just the latest example. So it’s fitting that gender issues are utilized the subject of this week’s Gimili’s Palace review, American Mary.

americanmary1

Mary had a little arm.

Does that mean that I specifically planned this film for such an occasion? Hell no! It just happened to be the movie I’d received from Netflix recently.

American Mary is about a med school student named Mary Mason. Mary is struggling to pay her schooling and even living expenses, so she takes up a variety of jobs that include mini-face lifts for members of a stripper group led by a weirdo named Beatress Johnson, who’s modeled herself after Betty Boop, and the granting of low-key sexual favors for men. Personal degradation and frequent association with the abnormal take their toll. When Mary is gotten drunk by her medical teacher, Dr. Alan Grant, she finally snaps and starts to kidnap those that she feels have wronged her and uses them as medical experiments. The practice this gives her as a doctor soon enables her to start a successful career in private medicine.

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From this to a mad doctor.

And yes, this is one of those kinds of movies. Socially relevant or not, it does not serve the faint of heart well.

Mary’s descent into madness is done well. We see someone trying to learn and eventually make an honest living but takes questionable decisions to this end. Writers Jen and Sylvia Soska show us that female degradation can drive a woman over the edge. And like the great stories using blue collar men turning to crime to feed their families, this one also shows that questionable shortcuts may not be worth it.

The other characters are used mainly for dark humor. Beatress Johnson is a true odd, annoying person who means no harm but adds to Mary’s frustration anyway. Another example is Dr. Alan Grant, who seems like an evil version of the character from Jurassic Park. Both have the “doctor” title and never seem to show any emotion. Only one would commit sexual assault, though.

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Homage to Psycho as well. These ladies must really love movies.

The acting is not so good, though the great writing covers that up at times. Timing and feeling are sub-par in the performances. Which makes for a typical horror cast.

American Mary makes its points well. It works even better as a scary, macabre gore horror movie. Just be sure that you’re into that kind of stuff.

Overall: 8 out of 10

A Very Murray Christmas

murraychristmastitleBill Murray as himself
Michael Cera as Jackie the Travel Agent
Paul Shaffer as himself
Dimitri Dimitrov as himself
David Johansen as The Bartender
Jenny Lewis as The Waitress
Miley Cyrus as herself

Did the star cast get you going? Don’t get your hopes up.

A Very Murray Christmas is about Bill Murray running a Christmas special. Only problem is that a snowstorm has caused most of the guests to cancel, including Chris Rock in a cameo appearance. So Murray makes do with who he’s got. Hilarity ensues. Well, not really, but let’s just pretend.

A Very Murray Christmas

Paul Shaffer and the Netflix orchestra!

In spite of the star cast, this movie’s performances are lame. These actors are very halfhearted. It’s like they don’t care. So they give us no reason to care either.

The humor sucks as well. The jokes are both unoriginal and uninspired. There wasn’t a split-second of laughter that it got out of me.

murraychristmas2

No thanks.

But humor is not all there is to this film. It’s a musical in which members of the cast sing Christmas carols and certain points. Sadly, they’re just as lazy in these musical breaks.

To be fair, this movie isn’t horrible, just boring. Sorry this was a very short review, but there’s not much to say about a Very Murray Christmas. It lasts less than an hour.  Suffice to say, I cannot recommend it.

Overall: 3 out of 10