The Jungle Book

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

By the time the animated version of The Jungle Book came out in 1967, I considered myself "too old" (16) to see Disney movies. Nearly 50 years later, they're must-see. It's a funny old world.

Even better, this was a free showing, put on at the Memorial Union Building at the University Near Here. The 3-D version was playing in the theatre next door, but we opted for the 2-D version. I think that may have been a slight mistake.

Anyway: it's the story of "man-cub" Mowgli, orphaned at a young age by the evil tiger Shere Khan, rescued by the good panther Bagheera, adopted by a pack of wolves. (Mowgli's one of those rare kids who, when asked if they were "raised by wolves", can answer "Yeah, you got a problem with that, bigot?")

Years later, Shere Khan puts Mowgli in his sights, a very dangerous place to be. It's decided to return Mowgli to civilization, but that plan goes awry when the good-hearted but lazy bear Baloo enters the picture, and decides to use Mowgli's man-resourcefulness for his own purposes.

The movie is fun, the kid playing Mowgli is fantastic, and the actors providing voices to the various animal heroes (Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong'o, Giancarlo Esposito) and villains (Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken) are outstanding.

There are also a lot of sly and subtle gags. Favorite: Mowgli finds an old cowbell, rings it, and… who does it summon but King Louie, voiced by Mr. Walken.


Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I noticed this was streamable from Netflix, and with Mrs. Salad out of the house for the evening, why not? I was shocked to discover that I'd watched the original Sin City back in 2005; was it really that long ago?

My comment at the time: "Not recommended for anyone under 45, or over 55." Now I'm well over that suggested age limit.

In any case: this movie connected to the original through some of the characters. There's Marv (Mickey Rourke); Nancy (Jessica Alba); Gail (Rosario Dawson); Dwight (Josh Brolin here, was Clive Owen previously); the evil Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). And Hartigan (Bruce Willis). There are multiple subplots revolving around new characters: cocky gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and manipulative Ava (Eva Green, also providing nudity).

It's all sordid and violent. Most people seem to think it's not as good as the original; it also seems to not be as original as the original.


Into the Storm

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Did you see Twister? I saw Twister. I liked Twister. And, Into the Storm, you're no Twister.

The plot is so formulaic that it might have been sketched out by algorithm. Monster tornadoes threaten Midwesterners. Documentary filmmakers are under pressure to get gripping video to please their corporate masters, and the leader is willing to risk everything to further his career. A widowed father struggles to raise his two teenage sons, one a whiner, one a troublemaker. Needless to say, the events bring them Closer Together.

It was never easier to pick out victims and survivors. The only question is: will that one guy perish in an act of (a) greed-driven stupidity or (b) redemptive courage. (Spoiler: the latter, as it turns out.)

Richard Armitage, Thorin Oakenshield himself, plays the dad. I think he may have gobbled up 80% of the acting budget. Everybody else is pretty generic. How much acting talent do you need to shout "Get down!", or mutter "Ohmigod"? Over and over. I didn't keep exact count, but I think these two lines were repeated dozens of times.


Room

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Room is, as I type #124 on IMDB's list of the top 250 movies of all time. Brie Larson won an Oscar for Best Actress, and it got nominated in three other categories, including Best Picture. And I thought it was pretty good too.

I kind of wish I'd seen it knowing even less than I did about the plot. If I'd gone in knowing nothing, there would have been a certain amount of oh-that's-what's-going-on realization.

If you think you might feel the same, I urge you to stop reading now.

Still here? Fine. Five-year-old Jake and his mother are being held prisoner by "Old Nick", limited to a few dozen square feet. The only connection to the outside world is a small skylight and a door they can't open. It becomes apparent that Jake has never, ever, been out of the space. He hides in a small closet when Old Nick comes to drop off groceries and rape mom.

I was somewhat surprised that the movie didn't end when I thought it would.

Confession: I thought there would be a Shocking Plot Twist along the lines of the "elaborate but incorrect" theories described here. (It's not really that elaborate.)


Deadpool

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Deadpool was quite the sensation when it came out. A dirty superhero movie! Yay! And (as I type) #199 on IMDB's list of the Top 250 Movies of all time. Above Annie Hall! Above The Wizard of Oz!

And… above Groundhog Day? No, sorry, I don't think so.

Deadpool is Wade Wilson (played by Ryan Reynolds). Unfortunately kicked out of his Special Forces unit, he bums around as a mercenary. Fortunately, out of the blue, he meets hooker-with-a-heart Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and falls in love! Unfortunately, he also gets cancer, so that's bad. Fortunately, he volunteers for a procedure that might cure him, and it does! And also unlocks his mutant superpowers! Unfortunately, it also leaves him looking (in the words of his buddy) "like an avocado had sex with an older, more disgusting avocado." Also, the people running the show are evil. So Wade is out for revenge and (possibly) a cure to restore his good looks.

There's a lot of cleverness in the movie, but as was pointed out in Spinal Tap: there's a fine line between clever and stupid, and this movie doesn't seem aware of that. Entertaining, didn't live up to the hype.

Rated R for (MPAA says) "strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity". And (good news) some of that is contributed by Morena Baccarin.


Last Modified 2016-07-10 9:17 AM EDT

Zootopia

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

The Memorial Union Building at the University Near Here hosts a few free movies during the summer, so Mrs. Salad and I decided to check out Zootopia, a non-Pixar Disney animation feature issued earlier this year. Spoiler: it's funny and good-hearted. (And as I type it is #172 on IMDB's top-250 movies of all time.)

Zootopia is set on an Earth free of humans, but all the mammals have (roughly) human-level smarts and language skills. And—fortunately—the carnivorous ones have learned how to get along without feeding on the others. Old stereotypes die hard, though: there's a lingering mistrust of predators among their once-prey. Things aren't helped by the behavior of some bad eggs.

In addition, our bunny heroine, Judy Hopps, has to deal with breaking down a different longtime prejudice. Rabbits simply don't go on the police force in Zootopia. That's Judy's dream, though, and she's full of spunk and determination. Soon she's put on the case of a missing mammal: the meek Emmet Otterton has joined over a dozen mysteriously-vanished sharp-toothed once-predators. Judy dragoons a fox con-artist into helping her out, and (of course) he turns out to be unexpectedly useful.

So there's lots of action, clever lines, and (Disney animation, remember?) visual stunners. The ideological symbolism—diversity, tolerance, can't-we-all-just-get-along, yay!—is a little heavy-handed. "Biology" is used as near-synonym for bigotry, which probably is a relief to the trans-gendered audience segment.

But it's not a consistent message. A wonderful gag involves lemmings—well, acting like stereotyped lemmings. (Something Disney has done before!)


The Revenant

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Another one from the Netflix DVD pile. The Revenant won the Best Actor Oscar for Leonardo DiCaprio, Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu) and Best Cinematography. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy), and seven more. And it's a pretty good yarn too.

Most probably know the story by now: it begins with a party of fur trappers up in the wild American frontier of the 1820s. They are decimated in an impressively gory Indian attack, and must rely on guide Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his son to get them back to the nearest fort. That plan quickly goes awry, as Glass gets seriously mauled by a big ol' bear looking for his pic-a-nic basket. That would be bad enough, but inner dissension and betrayal cause Glass to be left for dead. (And his son is left actually dead.) What follows is a tale of survival and revenge. Cool!

I had to look up "revenant": "a visible ghost or animated corpse that is believed to have returned from the grave to terrorize the living." On target there.

A long movie, 2 hours and 36 minutes, according to IMDB, but it certainly held my interest. For a Best Actor winner, Leo doesn't actually say that much, and most of his expressions are hidden by facial hair, blood, and grime. I think the Oscar is more like a Purple Heart in this case: selling the audience on Glass's physical and mental anguish.


Jodorowsky's Dune

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

If you're like me (and why wouldn't you be?), you:

  1. Read Frank Herbert's Dune when it was serialized in Analog back in the 60's, savoring the yarn, accompanied by John Schoenherr's magnificent covers and illustrations.

  2. And (of course) got the book when it was published, for even more geeky goodness. (Even though the Ace paperback cost an outrageous $1.50!)

  3. Gave up on the series after reading Dune Messiah. (Sorry.)

  4. Nevertheless, was excited when the Dune movie came out in 1984, and…

  5. Whoa, it was weird. Visually stunning in parts, but… weird. And not in a good way. David Lynch took the perfectly good sci-fi adventure and made it Lynchian. And also stupid. Lynch reportedly hates the film also.

As it turns out, back in the 70's, before Star Wars, another serious run was made to film Dune, by then-famous surrealistic director Alejandro Jodorowsky, and that's the subject of this documentary. The most notable thing about this version: it would have been much, much, weirder. Jodorowsky wanted to make the movie a hallucinatory trip. He cast his own son as Paul Atreides, recruited Orson Welles as Baron Harkonnen, Salvador Dali as Emperor Shaddam IV, Mick Jagger as Feyd-Rautha.

Also involved were folks who went on to more successful projects (Dan O'Bannon, H. R. Giger, Chris Foss, Pink Floyd). Hints are given that the whole enterprise was drug-fueled, which makes sense.

Jodorowsky's talking head is featured throughout, and he's charmingly insane, in a senior-citizen way. The documentary is set up to sell the point that the movie would have been fascinating and wonderful, ahead of its time, etc. People muse about how the timeline of science fiction movies might have been altered if this version of Dune had made it into existence before Star Wars.

Yeah, no. The movie would have been a stink bomb, an embarrassment to all involved. Yes, many of the ideas were mutated/resurrected in subsequent movies. Better movies.

I can't recommend the movie, it's pretty dull even for a documentary.


The Frozen Ground

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One of Mrs. Salad's Netflix pix. She loooves John Cusack. But he's not very nice here.

Specifically, he plays Robert Hansen, noted Alaskan serial killer. The movie opens with what should have been near the end: hooker/junkie Cindy Paulson (played by Vanessa Hudgens), frantic and terrorized, tells the cops her tale of horror. Hansen arranged for a simple episode of whoring, but then kidnaps her, chains her up in his den, repeatedly rapes her, and is about to fly her off to a remote wilderness location when she barely escapes.

Unbelievable, but apparently true: the local Anchorage cops do not believe her. Hansen is an unassuming baker, seemingly pleasant, and has an alibi they don't bother to shake. Paulson, on the other hand, is an unreliable junkie who doesn't get along well with cops. So the case goes away.

So it goes, but female bodies keep turning up in the wilderness, all with disturbing forensics suggesting a single perpetrator. A diligent investigator, played by Nicolas Cage, links things up and suspects (correctly) that Paulson has fingered the culprit. But how to get enough evidence to get a warrant?

It's been a long time since Cage and Cusack were in Con Air together. This movie did not make it into A Theatre Near You, pretty much direct-to-DVD. It's a competent police procedural, though.


The Homesman

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Despite a number of big-deal stars (e.g., Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, John Lithgow, James Spader, Meryl Streep) in major and minor roles, this movie went to DVD after a few microseconds in movie theatres. It is based on a 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout, which I won't be reading anytime soon.

It starts out in a small community in 1850's Nebraska, a bleak and inhospitable place, which nonetheless attracts settlers trying to eke out a living from the unforgiving soil. It's a soul-rotting place for men, and even worse for women: three of them have (to use a clinical term) gone totally bonkers, and the only humane solution is to pack them up and ship them back to civilization. (Surprisingly, Iowa.)

Taking up the challenge is Mary Bee Cuddy (Ms. Swank), a single woman of steely determination. She enlists/extorts the assistance of Briggs (Mr. Lee Jones), a lowlife claim-jumper who she rescues from a frontier-justice hanging.

Things don't go well.

Friends, if your tastes run to feel-good movies that show the noble human spirit triumphing over adversity, against all odds, you'll want to look elsewhere.