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Fri11152019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The zombie genre gets the Jim Jarmusch treatment with mild levels of success in The Dead Don’t Die, an often funny, sometimes scary and always amusing horror-comedy effort from the famed director.

Jarmusch has done horror before, most notably with his atmospheric vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive and, some could argue, the disturbing death-meditation Dead Man. His latest effort is as close to full-on satire as the director has ever come: The world is falling apart politically, socially and environmentally, and its inhabitants are too slow and dimwitted to really do anything about it.

Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny play sheriff Cliff and his deputies Ronnie and Mindy in a typical American town called Centerville. The town is severely laid back, with a typical day revolving around when to get coffee and donuts from the cultural hub, the local diner.

Then things go awry: Due to polar fracking, the Earth spins off its access, and the dead begin to rise. The days become longer; the electronic gadgets we rely upon go dead; and people start getting unsolicited neck bites from formerly live neighbors. Some characters, including those played by Murray and Driver, react in a way that is so disorganized and disconnected that they practically deserve to die.

This, perhaps, is a not-so-veiled statement about our current administration’s strange attitude toward global warming. Actually, there’s no doubt: Jarmusch hates Trump, and this is an anti-Trump zombie movie. Steve Buscemi plays a racist resident who dons a red and white MAGA hat, except his actually says “Make America White Again.”

The pacing of this movie is really slow … Jarmusch slow. In fact, the pacing is so slow that the lumbering George Romero-style zombies are almost sprinting compared to what is going on around them. Your ability to like this film depends very much upon your willingness to let the things happening onscreen linger and, in some cases, get dragged out.

The film does contain a moment of genuine terror when a zombie couple takes out two waitresses at the diner. The zombies feast upon the dying with—yes, I’ll reference the zombie master again—Romero-like goriness, right down to intestine-chomping. The moment is ultra-creepy because one of the victims does not die immediately, and she expresses her agony loudly. The zombies are played by Iggy Pop (often a Jarmusch collaborator) and Sara Driver as rock groupies with caffeine addictions. Live flesh is great when it comes to feasting, but what they really need is a good cup of joe, like many among the multitudes currently crowding Starbucks and indie cafes across our great nation.

Murray and Adam Driver are both very funny, with Murray’s Cliff representing the old-school, I’ve-had-enough-of-this-to-the-point-where-I-will-barely-react part of society, and Driver’s Ronnie providing the semi-hipster outlook. It is Ronnie who calmly declares that they are in the midst of an apocalypse while never losing his deadpan face. He’s a lot younger than the equally deadpan Cliff, and will probably catch up to Cliff’s level of disinterest very soon.

Other Jarmusch stalwarts include Tilda Swinton as a samurai-sword-wielding funeral-home director, a role only Swinton could play. Tom Waits (Down by Law) plays the mystic homeless guy commentating on Centerville’s demise, of course. Who else would he play?

I am a big fan of Jarmusch’s work, and even I couldn’t get past the pacing at times. A couple of days later, when I reflected upon the picture, it hit me that I liked the movie a lot more after I saw it than I did while watching it. His films tend to get that sort of delayed reaction out of me.

The Dead Don’t Die opens Friday, June 14, at the Century Theatres and XD at The River (71800 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

If you’ve been sitting around waiting for a Wes Anderson film featuring a stop-motion cast of animated dogs, influenced by Akira Kurosawa and the guys who made Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer … your wait is over!

Isle of Dogs is one of the strangest—and coolest—experiences you will have in a theater this year. Anderson’s second foray into stop-motion animation (after 2009’s excellent Fantastic Mr. Fox) is another visual masterpiece, and while the story goes a little flat for stretches, the film is visual splendor during its entire running time.

Two decades in the future, Megasaki, a fictional Japanese city, is ruled by the evil Mayor Kobayashi (the voice of Kunichi Nomura). Kobayashi is a cat person, and after the nation’s dogs come down with a strange strain of dog flu, all canines are banned to Trash Island to live out their days, scavenging through garbage and rumbling in the junkyards.

Kobayashi’s nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), misses his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), and sets out to find his beloved pet on Trash Island. The island is occupied by various dog gangs, one of them consisting of Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). Whether it’s live action or stop motion, you can count on Anderson’s usual gang of performers to show up—and welcome to the Wes Anderson party, Bryan Cranston!

There’s some squabbling among the gang members for leadership honors, with Rex often calling for votes that the rebel Chief always loses. When Atari shows up on the island, Chief winds up spending the most time with him—and he learns a little bit about bonding with a boy, as dogs do.

There’s a very sweet “love your dogs” message at the center of Anderson’s story, which he wrote with story contributions from Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Nomura. This is one of the rare Anderson films in which neither Schwartzman nor Owen Wilson appear.

Of course, there’s a budding love story, with Chief coming across Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), who, unlike Chief the stray, has papers and can do tricks. (A bit in which Nutmeg reluctantly shows off a few tricks provides some of the film’s best laughs.)

The story elements are secondary to how damned good this movie looks. While Fantastic Mr. Fox had a better overall story, Isle of Dogs is, hands-down, the best-looking stop-motion-animation film ever. Each one of the dogs is a marvelous creation, and their human counterparts are just as amazing. Anderson and crew get extra credit for taking fight scenes and explosions to a new level through their use of what appears to be … cotton?

This is a Wes Anderson film, so, yes, you are going to see a stop-motion-animation kidney transplant with a bird’s-eye view. Hey, it wouldn’t be a PG-13 stop-motion Wes Anderson film without something like a detailed—yet somewhat tender—kidney transplant toward the end of it, right? The man is a beautiful nut.

Other voices that show up include Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono and, most notably, Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker, an American exchange student with a crush on Atari.

Much of the film is spoken in Japanese with no subtitles, but it’s never hard to understand what is going on. (Thankfully, all of the dog barks have been translated into English.)

With every passing second of this movie, I was thinking, “How the hell does Anderson even think this stuff up, let alone get it onscreen?” This movie is a feat that will never be duplicated. I seriously doubt anybody in the future will make a movie that reminds us of Isle of Dogs. It’s off in its own, unique cinematic zone.

Isle of Dogs is showing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Traffic is increasing on Highway 111. Pumpkin spice lattes (ew!) are here. Yep … fall has arrived, and that means season is here, too—and October has plenty of events great for locals, snowbirds and tourists.

The McCallum Theatre is reopening for the season—and it is opening with a bang. The first event of the McCallum’s season, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7, features comedian/actor Bill Murray performing with cellist Jan Vogler, violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez. This collaboration will meld Bill Murray’s love for classical music with the world of literature. Tickets are $57 to $107. At noon, Sunday, Oct. 22, the McCallum will be holding its Sixth Annual Family Fun Day. The event will feature Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live. Tickets are $10 to $30. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28, get in the spirit (no pun intended) with Dia de Los Muertos Live. The Day of the Dead celebration will feature the Grammy Award-winning Latin band La Santa Cecilia; the Latin tribute to Morrissey and the Smiths known as Mexrrissey; and the Grammy-nominated Mariachi Flor de Toloache. Tickets are $27 to $67. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a very busy month. At 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 6, get ready to get physical, because Olivia Newton-John will be stopping by. The Grease star is still in high demand and just released a new album, Liv On, with Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky. Tickets are $39 to $69. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7, it’ll be a double bill when The Isley Brothers and The Commodores perform. I’ve seen the Commodores perform before, and I can say this: The group puts on a show that you will never forget. Tickets are $39 to $79. At 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 20, Fleetwood Mac members Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie will take the stage. It appears Fleetwood Mac will be going on a farewell tour in 2018. That’s great … but I don’t believe it will be a “farewell” by any means. Tickets are $49 to $99. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has a packed October that includes two sold-out Van Morrison shows, so consider these other great events. At 9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 20, country music singer and songwriter Randy Houser will be performing. He’s known for penning the hit country song “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” with Jamey Johnson, which was recorded by Trace Adkins. He’s also had success with his song “Boots On.” Tickets are $45 to $65. At 8 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 26, blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa (upper right) will be in concert. Bonamassa is on the list of modern greats in the blues world, and he’s performed with Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Buddy Guy and many others. He was opening shows for BB King before he was 18. Tickets are $89 to $149. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28, renowned crooner Johnny Mathis will be stopping by. After 65 years in the industry, Mathis is Columbia Records’ longest-signed artist. He’s never had a slump and has continued to perform sold-out shows all over the world. However, this show hadn’t sold out as of our press time, so get your tickets quick! They’re $90 to $120. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 has some compelling Saturday events in October. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 14, Latin-music star Espinoza Paz will be performing. In Mexico, they call him “the people’s singer-songwriter.” He’s one of the most popular performers there, and if you’re a Latin-music fan, this is one you won’t want to miss. Tickets are $45 to $65. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28, controversial comedian Andrew Dice Clay will do his act. The Diceman is known for his extremely raunchy comedy, and he smokes while offending the masses. Women’s groups have put him on their hit lists, and he’s been banned by many television networks. Warning: His comedy is not for the faint at heart. Clay also believes that Donald Trump stole his comedy routine and used his persona during his presidential campaign. Tickets are $30 to $50. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has a busy October—but it seems most of the shows are already sold out. However, at noon, Saturday, Oct. 7, you can get out your lederhosen for Oktoberfest. There will be authentic Bavarian brews and brats, as well as some fun and games. Tickets are $20 to $30. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Stop me if I am repeating myself: Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has a busy October … but some of the shows have already sold out. However, as of this writing, there were still tickets left for some great events. At 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7, jazz organist/pianist and gospel musician Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles will be performing. He’s a two-time Grammy Award winner, and he played the Apollo Theater when he was just 6 years old. His 2016 album The Revival reached No. 5 on the Billboard gospel chart. Tickets are $20. At 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 20, indie-supergroup The Skiffle Players (below) will visit. This band includes Cass McCombs and members of both Beachwood Sparks and Circles Around the Sun. This is a fantastic-sounding folk project that will be perfect for a night at Pappy’s. Tickets are $15 to $20. At 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28, the Los Angeles string-band Moonsville Collective will play. Plan on hearing a lot of harmonies, mandolin, banjos and upright bass. Tickets are $15. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

Now, for some shameless self-promotion: The Hood Bar and Pizza is where you will want to be at 9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7, for CV Independent Presents Sinner Sinners, Throw the Goat and Dali’s Llama. Sinner Sinners is a fantastic punk-rock band from Los Angeles—but its founders, Steve and Sam Thill, are from Paris, France. They’ve collaborated and toured with Eagles of Death Metal, and recently recorded a new album, Optimism Disorder, at Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree. Admission is free. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220; www.facebook.com/thehoodbar.

The Purple Room Palm Springs is back in action. Just so you know, at 7 p.m. every Sunday, owner Michael Holmes performs The Judy Show, a comedy-based drag show devoted to Judy Garland. Tickets are $25 to $30. At 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 6, Kal David and Lori Bono and the Real Deal will take the stage. Kal David has had an impressive career; the native Chicagoan and his wife are residents of the desert and perform locally often. Tickets are $25 to $30. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28, Iris Williams will be performing a benefit show for the Love and Love Tennis Foundation. The Welsh cabaret-style singer is well-known for her performance of the song “He Was Beautiful,” and she had her own television series on the BBC. Tickets are $35 to $40. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

Published in Previews

Even though Mitch Gershenfeld has been booking shows at the McCallum Theatre for 18 years now, he admits he gets nervous whenever subscriptions for a new season go on sale—as they did on Tuesday, April 4, for the theater’s 30th anniversary 2017-2018 season.

“I get this pain in the pit of my stomach, thinking: What if nobody buys tickets?” he told me on Tuesday as we talked in his office. Of course, he had nothing to worry about—there were dozens of people at the box office snapping up season subscriptions.

Yet another reason Gershenfeld had no reason to worry: Every year, the McCallum is one of the busiest theaters in the world. Despite being dark for almost half of the year, and having a modest 1,100-seat capacity, industry publication Pollstar ranked the McCallum as the No. 58 theater in the world in terms of 2016 ticket sales.

Finally, there is one more reason Gershenfeld has no reason to worry: Seeing as he’s been booking shows at the McCallum now for 60 percent of the time its doors have been open, Gershenfeld knows what shows work, and what shows don’t work at the Palm Desert theater. As a result, about 86 percent of the seats available during 2016-2017 season were sold, he said.

As for the upcoming season, Gershenfeld said he’s happy with how it turned out, adding that he thinks the Broadway-show lineup is one of the theater’s strongest ever.

“Three shows we’re bringing in have been on Broadway within the last 12 months,” he said: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Nov. 24-28), Motown the Musical (Jan. 16-21, 2018) and Kinky Boots (Feb. 2-4).

Gershenfeld expressed excitement about another Broadway show, Circus 1903 (March 27-April 1). You may have seen a performance from the show recently on The Late Show With Steven Colbert. (Scroll down to see a clip.) The show is exactly what the title says: It’s a circus-style show from 1903—except the elephants are products of puppetry, not real animals … although they sure do look realistic.

Other Broadway shows include the legendary A Chorus Line (Jan. 26-28), Dirty Dancing (Feb. 16-18), MAESTRO: The Art of Leonard Bernstein (March 20-21, in conjunction with the Leonard Bernstein centennial) and a concert performance of the music from West Side Story (March 9-11).

“I think it’s the best musical ever written,” Gershenfeld said about West Side Story, adding that a 40-piece orchestra, assembled by conductor Richard Kauffman, will join Broadway-level cast members as assembled by the McCallum’s own Chad Hilligus, himself a former member of the Ten Tenors.

The 30th anniversary season kicks off with a bang on Oct. 7, when acting and comedy legend Bill Murray will take the stage in a show called New Worlds … with a bunch of musicians?

“Bill Murray is one of those guys you just want to meet, and hope he’s cool,” Gershenfeld said.

Yeah, of course. But … with a bunch of musicians?

“The show is the result of a friendship with (cellist) Jan Vogler,” Gershenfeld explained. “They got together to do the show as a one-off in Germany … as a corporate thing.”

Turns out New Worlds features Murray reading from the works of Hemingway, Capote, Twain and other American literary icons, while Vogler, violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez perform classical music. The goal is to showcase American values in literature and music. Oh, and Murray is going to dance a tango, too.

Speaking of American values: In these … uh, deeply interesting political times, the Capitol Steps—a long-touring humor group consisting of former and current congressional staffers—will perform an afternoon show at the McCallum on Sunday, Jan. 14.

“I thought that if there were ever a time to have fun with politics, on both sides of the aisle, now is the time to do it,” Gershenfeld said.

About a month or so later, the McCallum will become the week-long home of classical/jazz/everything-else-you-can-imagine band Pink Martini, for eight shows from Feb. 9-15. The group, featuring singers China Forbes and Storm Large, was here for five shows last year—all-sellouts. What makes this band such a Palm Desert favorite?

“They’re very unpredictable and very diverse in what they do,” Gershenfeld said. “They do songs in eight different languages. … (Bandleader) Thomas Lauderdale is brilliant at finding these great songs from all over the world.”

All of the series for which the McCallum is known—including Fitz’s Jazz Café at the McCallum, curated by desert radio icon Jim Fitzgerald, and Keyboard Conversations With Jeffrey Siegel—are back, as are Mitch’s Picks, a series of shows by performers who may not be well-known, but who have earned the endorsement of the McCallum president and CEO. Mitch’s Picks are now in their fourth year, and Gershenfeld said the series has allowed him to book great acts that he may have hesitated to book before.

“We’re saying, ‘You know, if you trust me to make good decisions, try these,’” he said. “Fortunately, it’s worked.”

This year’s Mitch’s Picks include All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, a play/concert about a moment when Allied and German soldiers in World War I stopped fighting to celebrate the holiday together (Dec. 3).

“It’s an amazing story, but it took place in such a terrible time,” Gershenfeld said. “I wasn’t going to book it, but I kept coming back to it.”

Australian diva Meow Meow will bring her combination of cabaret music and physical comedy to the McCallum on Jan. 31. On March 2, Davina and The Vagabonds will share the stage with swing-band greats the Squirrel Nut Zippers. On March 6, the fourth Mitch’s Picks show is Gobsmacked!, an all-a capella show featuring seven singers and beat boxers. Finally, on March 12, MozART Group, a string quartet that combines classical music and comedy, will make the trip to the McCallum from Poland.

While season-subscription sales have been brisk since Tuesday morning, putting Gershenfeld’s mind at ease, he expressed frustration about a growing number of ticket brokers and re-sellers that are gobbling up tickets and then re-selling them with high mark-ups—that is, if the tickets are real at all. Some of these re-sellers use deceptive names and URLs to make it appear that the tickets are being sold directly by the McCallum—so make sure you’re only getting tickets from mccallumtheatre.com.

Gershenfeld said he’s honored that so many people keep coming back to the McCallum year after year.

“Our subscriptions and series are one reason that people have been keeping the same seats for 30 years,” he said.

For more information, or to purchase season subscriptions, visit mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

The first Ghostbusters was a magnificent movie miracle.

Some of the greatest comedy actors of the time (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis and Dan Aykroyd) joined forces under the guidance of a hot director (Ivan Reitman, coming off Stripes and Meatballs) to merge horror, science fiction, comedy and big-budget special effects. They balanced these elements perfectly—and turned out a classic.

I was not expecting anything near the brilliance or originality of the 1984 original from Paul Feig’s reboot/remake/whatever-you-want-to-call-it entry into a movie franchise that has remained dormant since the miserable 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters 2. Considering the cast that Feig assembled—Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones—I did expect to have a good time.

That didn’t happen. I was bored … super bored. I laughed a total of 2 1/2 times at the new Ghostbusters, and I did not laugh once due to anything the headliners did. It’s as if Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy, The Heat) figured, “Hey, I have these stars and a big budget for special effects. I don’t really need a funny script, do I? These stars can just stand in front of a camera and be funny, right?”

Perhaps they can, but that didn’t happen this time out: Ghostbusters is a stale facsimile of the original. If you watched those lousy preview trailers and worried that the franchise was creatively bankrupt, know that the stupid jokes in that trailer (“That’s gonna leave a mark!”) are about the best laughs the film has to offer. I found myself really annoyed with the haters who judged this movie by those lousy trailers before they saw the completed project. Sadly, I have now joined that camp: I really hated this movie.

The normally reliable Wiig, as the “sensible scientist,” basically stands around looking lost. Comedic firecracker McCarthy, as the trailblazer scientist of the group, bumbles her way through the role with a smile but no material. My current favorite Saturday Night Live star, Kate McKinnon, is the brainy yet eccentric science wizard; she’s allowed to mug like a crack addict on an New York City subway full of inebriated, unarmed billionaires. Leslie Jones, as the street-smart member with no science chops, seems to equate volume with humor. She’s just loud.

After a promising start featuring Zach Woods (Silicon Valley), Ed Begley Jr. and a haunted house, the plot switches to a geek (Neil Casey) looking to cause a ghost apocalypse in Manhattan. He’s planting traps around the city that attract paranormal activity, perhaps because he’s lonely. The new Ghostbusters then band together to conquer the geek and save the city.

The ghosts are dull, fluorescent things bolstered slightly by some decent 3-D effects, if you should choose the more-expensive viewing route. The folks putting together some of the 3-D action did a pretty good job: There are moments where stuff seems to be coming out of the movie frame and suspending in the air in front of you. Those moments won’t make you laugh, but they might wake you up a little.

Andy Garcia as the mayor made me laugh … once. Begley as a paranormal enthusiast made me laugh … once. Chris Hemsworth as a brain-dead receptionist almost made me laugh once, but it was more like a chortle. That’s it for the laugh count.

Aykroyd, Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver all make useless, remarkably lame cameos. Ramis also makes an appearance in one of the movie’s few inspired moments.

To say this film is a disappointment would be an understatement. So far, this summer has blown it with Spielberg, Superman, Batman, Independence Day aliens and now the Ghostbusters. Will Suicide Squad return some dignity to DC? Will Star Trek Beyond give the summer the big-budget fun boost it needs?

Let’s hope the movies get a lot better when it gets cold outside. Let’s also hope that the people steering this franchise have a much funnier script in their hands before they make any further adventures involving proton packs.

Ghostbusters is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Jungle Book, Disney’s latest live-action take on one of its animated classics, is clever: It actually contains sly nods to Apocalypse Now and Saturday Night Live.

Jon Favreau’s delightful and funny take on Rudyard Kipling’s tale of a boy raised by wolves is an all-around winner. Kids and adults will love the talking (and sporadically singing) animals, while adults and some of the cooler kids will enjoy the movie references and clever Easter eggs.

The story is pretty simple: A young boy, Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), raised in the jungle, is pursued by a pissed-off tiger (the voice of Idris Elba) who had his face burned by a human when he was young (shades of Darth Vader). When plans to leave for a human village are rudely interrupted, Mowgli winds up staying in the jungle longer than he planned. He encounters Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), an evil temptress snake, and other perils while building a special friendship with a big bear.

As far as I could see, he never stops to wash his red shorts. A swim in the river doesn’t count. You need detergent.

Bill Murray is a masterstroke of vocal casting as Baloo, the big bear who befriends Mowgli on his extended jungle trek. But casting Christopher Walken as King Louie, the Kong-sized master of all apes, actually tops the Murray casting feat. It gives Favreau’s film an opportunity to become truly weird, very funny and even a little scary.

Favreau finds some clever ways to mix musical performances into the movie, even though it’s not a bona fide musical. Baloo and Mowgli happily sing part of “The Bare Necessities” together while floating down a river, accompanied by a full orchestra led by John Debney. It’s great, but it’s not the film’s musical highlight: That comes when Walken’s King Louie, portrayed with undertones of Brando’s Col. Kurtz, suddenly busts out “I Wanna Be Like You.” Walken is perfect for the song and perfect for the character, making the scene an instant classic. Johansson performs another song from the animated movie, “Trust in Me,” during the credits.

Incredible special effects seamlessly mesh with live animals, motion-capture work and puppetry. The talking animals actually look like they are really talking.

Other voices include Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, the panther who raised Mowgli, and Lupita Nyong’o as the wolf, Raksha, who acted as his mother figure. Giancarlo Esposito, aka Buggin’ Out, lends his chords for Akela, leader of the wolves, and Garry Shandling voices Ikki in what turned out to be his final film.

If you have a couple of extra bucks, shell out for the 3-D or, better yet, IMAX version of the movie. Favreau was very conscious of the technology, and he gives the movie some nice extra scope. Tree branches look like they are going to poke you in the face, and it almost seems as if Kaa might get you into her death coil. The 3-D also makes the pop-up-book end credits all the more fun.

It’s worth noting that the movie, which appears to be very outdoorsy, was filmed entirely on studio sets and made within computers. Every landscape you see is artificial, making the filmmaking achievement something of a miracle.

Sethi, the only live actor with a big part in the film, is good enough as Mowgli, although interest in his character’s plight is diminished by the fact that the film is so much cooler when the animals are at the center of the action.

Talks are under way for a Jungle Book 2 already, with Favreau returning, so the adventures of Mowgli look to be continued. Perhaps a main plot point could be Mowgli finding some new shorts or a bathing suit. He’s going to get a fungus in those red shorts!

Hopefully, Murray will get over his sequel stigma and be back as Baloo. And Walken … I gotta have more Walken!

The Jungle Book is playing at theaters across the valley in various formats.

Published in Reviews

In St. Vincent, Vincent (Bill Murray), a reclusive, crotchety old guy, reluctantly finds himself interacting with his new neighbor, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), and her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), after her movers break his fence, tree and car.

Vincent eventually winds up baby-sitting Oliver, which leads to them bonding inside bars and hanging out with a “lady of the night” (Naomi Watts)—much to the eventual chagrin of Maggie.

Murray and Lieberher are great together, which allows one to forgive the sometimes-schmaltzy direction and writing from Theodore Melfi. Vincent is the meatiest role Murray has gotten in almost a decade, and it’s exciting to see him firing on all cylinders.

I’ve complained about the fact that McCarthy seems to far too often get stuck in insulting slapstick roles. This movie gives her a chance to show off the fact that she can really act, and she makes the most of it.

Lieberher is one of those child actors who seems like he’s been acting for 30 years, well beyond the amount of time he has spent on this Earth. Watts takes the pregnant Russian prostitute role and runs with it, getting some good laughs through a wildly overdone accent. The actors put this one over the top with their performances.

St. Vincentis playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Director George Clooney’s war epic about historians racing to save art from the Nazis looks and feels like it was taken out of a time capsule buried in 1958.

The Monuments Men is quite breezy for a war movie, and is peppered with laughs provided by a strong cast, including Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and John Goodman, as men trying to thwart Hitler’s plan for a giant museum.

The film has one of those whistle-infused soundtracks, and it doesn’t hurt that Clooney and Dujardin remind of Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly. The movie moves briskly—in fact, it may be a bit too weightless for a movie with such heavy subject matter. It also has a useless subplot involving characters played by Damon and Cate Blanchett that was deserving of the cutting-room floor. When they are alone on screen, the film comes to a dead stop.

Still, Clooney has a great command of the camera here; the ensemble (especially Murray and Goodman) shines; and the film is fun to watch. This is an interesting piece of World War II history, and it’s good that somebody has made a decent movie to cover it.

Initially, this was expected to be a big awards contender last year. However, the release date got moved, with producers claiming they needed to do some more special-effects work. They may have taken a look at it, realized they had a good but not great movie, and decided to give it a less-competitive opening date in 2014. The film wound up taking in $154 million worldwide on a $70 million budget, so things worked out just fine on the money front.

Special Features: A relatively meager gathering of supplements that includes deleted scenes and some short making-of docs.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Director George Clooney’s war epic about historians racing to save art from the Nazis looks and feels like it was just taken out of a time capsule buried in 1958.

The Monuments Men is quite breezy for a war movie, peppered with laughs provided by a strong cast, including Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and John Goodman. They all play men trying to thwart Hitler’s plan for a giant museum. The film has one of those whistle-infused soundtracks, and it doesn’t hurt that Clooney and Dujardin look like Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly.

The movie moves briskly, and is perhaps a bit too weightless for a movie with such a heavy subject at its heart. It also has a useless subplot involving Damon and Cate Blanchett that is deserving of the cutting-room floor.

Still, Clooney has great command of the camera here; the ensemble shines (especially Murray and Goodman); and it’s fun to watch.

This is an interesting piece of World War II history, and it’s great that somebody has made a decent movie to cover this chapter of Hitler’s insanity.

The Monuments Men is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews