Friday, April 29, 2016

Rachet & Clank [2016]

MPAA (PG) CNS/USCCB (A-1)  ChicagoTribune (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing

Darren's World of Entertainment  review of the new PS4 game
FanBoyNation (K. Fenix) review of the new PS4 game

LanceGaming (Big Al) live stream of new PS4 game (Note that while the gamer's language as he plays / reviews the game is perhaps "quite realistic" ;-), it's also kinda appalling ;-/)

CineMagazine (M. Meijer) review
CineVue (J. Neish) review (J. Zunker) review* (C. Moll) review*

CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
BeliefNet (N. Minow) review

ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Rachet & Clank [2016] (directed by Kevin Munroe and Jericca Cleland, screenplay by T.J. Fixman, Kevin Munroe and Gerry Swallow) based on the Ratchet & Clank video game a new PS4 [2016] version of which rolled-out in conjunction with the movie) is _both_ NOT AS BAD as the NON-GAMING MOVIE REVIEWERS (above) make it out to be, _and_ WILL CERTAINLY HAVE ITS FANS.  There's a whole generation of young parents who played the PS2 version as kids and have something to share with their own kids now.

The film basically follows the trajectory of the original PS2 game with a number of expansions taking into account characters that entered the story in subsequent modules.

Conceived as a "Star Wars" like scenario (only for kids under 10, hence necessarily "dumbed down" a bit) the story plays out in the distant "Solana Galaxy" far far away.

Main character Rachet (voiced in the film by James Arnold Taylor), a Lombax that is an intelligent if relatively small, big-eared "mousy" being, has been growing-up, working as a mechanic's apprentice (fixing hovercraft / space-ships) on a remote, quite desert planet.  But, of course, he has been "dreaming of greater things..."  Well, one day, one quite random day, his dreams begin to come true as he finds himself pulled-into story of cosmic (or at least "galactic") importance after the craft of a small talking refugee-robot, who he names "Clank" (voice by David Kaye), crash-lands near his home.

Clank had been a "reject" of a "war-bot" factory run by an evil slug-like alien named Chairman Drek (voiced by Paul Giamatti) and his "mad" (or more precisely "vengeful") scientist cohort Dr. Nefarious (voiced by Armin Shimerman) who've designed a giant "deplanetizing" starship that would blow-up planets, shatter them really, allowing the two to pick-out pieces from the remains which they would use to build a new planet for themselves and "their kind" (apparently, evil, slug-like beings ...).

The only ones standing in the way of their quite "nefarious plot" would seem to be the four "Galactic Rangers" -- Captain Qwark, Cora, Brax Lextrus, and Stig (voiced by Jim Ward, Bella Thorne, Dean Redman and Alexandro Giuliani) -- who Rachet (and half the galaxy) idolized, but who proved to be just a bunch of "preening for the cameras" "shoot 'em up" (if they _must_ do anything at all, 'cept bask in their previous glory) showboats.

So it's actually Rachet & Clank who (quite accidentally) "save the day" the first time that Chairman Drek's / Dr. Nefarious' army of War-bots comes to attack the "Galactic Rangers" "Justice League" HQ, allowing Rachet to be hailed (by the grateful populace) as a _fifth_ "Galactic Ranger" to the irritation of the other four and especially Captain Qwark who didn't like to share the spotlight.

Well immediately after becoming said fifth "Galactic Ranger," the "glory of it all" starts going to _his head_, and the internal battle within him begins as well (even as he and the other Rangers are being tasked to "save the galaxy" from the clutches of Drek / Nefarius): Is RACHET _also_ going to be LAZY about his task and just expect to "shoot himself out of complex problems" (like the other four preening Rangers) or is HE at least going to listen to the advice of his intelligent but soft-spoken robotic friend Clank as well as the capable / insightful but previously largely ignored Elaris (voiced by Rosario Dawson) of the Rangers' technical / intelligence support staff?  The rest of the story ensues ... ;-)

Again, it's actually _not_ a bad story, kinda reminding one of both Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy [2014].  Yes, purists of all kinds of stripes -- some gamers, most cinephiles, probably "a lot of confused civilians" ;-) -- will find the film irritating.  But I do believe that as long as one understands that this film is intended for TEN YEAR OLDS, one will probably appreciate it for what it is. 

And it does actually have a message that's not altogether bad: To be a hero does involve more than just preening for camera or "shooting up an enemy" ... it means TO LISTEN TO ADVICE and then to REALLY WORK FOR THE BENEFIT OF EVERYONE (not just for oneself).

Again, not altogether a bad lesson to teach / learn ;-)  

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Elvis & Nixon [2016]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing

U.S. National Archives exhibit "When Nixon met Elvis"

Smithsonian (P. Carlson) article about this famous if odd encounter between Elvis and Nixon at the White House on Dec 21, 1970

ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Elvis & Nixon [2016] (directed by Liza Johnson screenplay by Joey and Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes) is a rather funny comedy of sorts about an encounter between Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll (played in the film by Michael Shannon) and the famously brooding even paranoid President Richard Milhous Nixon (played in the film by Kevin Spacey) immortalized in a picture of the two together that, strangely enough, has become the requested picture from the U.S. National Archives in history.

The film begins with a caption noting that only in February, 1971 did Nixon install his (in)famous audio-recording system that subsequently recorded every single conversation that occurred in the White House's oval office.  So ... with a wink and a smile ... the caption teases, there is _no_ definitive record of this meeting (except for the picture(s) (them)selves ;-). 

No matter, no matter at all ;-)  This is story that just _cries-out_ to be told ;-) and there were witnesses ... both Elvis associates (played by Alex Pettyfer and Johnny Knoxville) and Nixon staffers (played by Colin Hanks and Tate Donovan the latter playing the infamous H.R. Haldeman who ended up spending time in jail for his role in the Watergate affair) who had recollections of this strange encounter with _no lasting impact_ ;-) except to put smiles on the faces of those trying to wrap their heads around it ;-). 

So WHY did this encounter happen at all?  Well the story goes that Elvis, rock star Elvis, rock God Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll, was becoming "increasingly frustrated with the way things were going in the country," and he simply decided that he'd like talk to the President about it and offer his services "to help out in anyway."  That, and then he apparently wanted to be given a title (and a badge) of "Federal Agent at Large."  Apparently, a fair number of local police departments, including that of his native Memphis, TN had given him honorary titles / badges as well.

But, of course, to get an honorary title / badge from the Memphis P.D. is one thing, to get a similar title and badge from the F.B.I. or Bureau of Narcotics is another ... But then, he was ... "The King" ;-)

So Elvis decided to pick-himself-up one day, fly-out (from Memphis - in the Midwest on the Mississippi) first to L.A. (on the West Coast) to pick-up his friend Jerry (played by Alex Pettyfer) and then fly-out (cross-country ...) to D.C. to "talk to the President."  Did he have an appointment?  Of course not ;-).  But who's gonna say no to ELVIS... even if, well, apparently kinda a gun nut ... he wanted to take a GUN ON A COMMERCIAL PLANE (even in the 1970s ;-), and then A GUN OR TWO (or FIVE ...) to the White House ;-)

On the other side, if you were a staffer for Nixon ... How do you get THE PRESIDENT especially THAT PRESIDENT to take a _spur-of-the-moment_ meeting with someone like Elvis? Best line in the film (after his staffers tried to sneak-in a meeting Elvis on the Nixon's schedule on that (random) day: "Who the F... put that on my schedule?" Nixon asks ;-)

But Nixon's staffers think that a meeting "with the King" could actually be good for his image "with the youth" (and even THE SOUTH) so ... they "find a way..." to make it happen.

It's a 1 1/2 hour telling of a joke ... but ... for many the smiles it repeatedly produces _may be_ well worth the ticket price / time ;-)

Elvis has entered the White House ... LOL, LOL indeed ;-)

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Planeta Singli [2016]

MPAA (UR 'cept for language would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (A. Tatarska) review* (H. Komerski) review* (M. Żuraw) review* (K.) review* (K. Śmiałkowski) review review* (H. Jasonek) review* (N. Gorzołka) review* (A. Kyzioł) review* (K. Polaski) review*

Planeta Singli [2016] [IMDb] []* (directed by Chicago based Slovenian born director Mitja Okorn [IMDb] []*, screenplay by Sam Akina [IMDb] []*, Jules Jones [IMDb] []*, Mitja Okorn [IMDb] []*, Peter Pasyk IMDb] and Łukasz Światowiec [IMDb] []*, story by Urszula Antoniak [IMDb], Michał Chaciński [IMDb] []*, Radosław Drabik [IMDb]) is a SPECTACULARLY GOOD POLISH ROM-COM that recently made its North American premiere to a weekend's worth of sold-out audiences here in Chicago.  Now there are _a lot_ of people of Polish descent here in Chicago (some 4 million), including _a lot_ of recent (post-1989) arrivals (nearly 2 million).  Still, it's IMPRESSIVE and the film DESERVES ITS PRAISE.

Mitja Okorn [IMDb] []* first made his mark on Polish cinema with the release of his previous Valentine's Day [2010] / New Years' Eve [2011]-like RomCom Letters to Santa (Letters do M) [2011]. That film played here to enthusiastic audiences at the 2012 (24th-Annual) Polish Film Festival in America held here in Chicago.  Present at one of the screenings, the Slovenian-born director explained that he had gone over to Poland from his native Slovenia because he felt that Poland's movie industry was more open to taking risks.  Offered then the script to Letters to Santa (Letters do M) [2011], he quickly gave his Polish backers the opportunity to prove their reputed openness:  He asked them if he could have the script translated into English, sent to some friends in Hollywood for some rework, and then have re-worked script re-translated back into Polish.  THEY AGREED and the result was THE (THEN) MOST COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL (IN POLAND) POLISH FILM IN HISTORY and the MOST COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL FILM IN POLAND SINCE JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC [1997].

Folks, THE CURRENT FILM, which uses a similar approach, leaning on both Polish and Hollywood screenwriting talent IS EVEN BETTER.  Why?

Well the two leads -- Agnieszka Więdłocha [IMDb] []* as Aina, a humble, if often put-upon elementary school (music) teacher, and Maciej Stuhr [IMDb] []* as Tomek, a jaded from recent overwhelming success as the host of a somewhat crass if still "cutish" (muppet driven) Jimmy Fallon-like late night talk show -- are both excellent. 

They meet at a quite swanky Warsaw singles bar on Valentine's Day: She's there, waiting for an internet date who never shows-up (yes, she's reduced to taking a chance _on an internet date_ for Valentine's Day ...).  He's there (not needing or even particularly wanting a date) seated with his producer partner Marcel (played by Piotr Głowacki [IMDb] []*) at a table on something of a balcony overlooking the establishment's "main floor" watching this evening of "forced 'high romance'" play-out.  When he sees Ania in the process of being stood-up, he decides comes down (in good part as a joke...) and pretends that he's actually her internet date.   

Since, she's a _school teacher_, she doesn't watch a lot of TV.  So she doesn't immediately recognize him (though soon enough every other woman in the place does and this becomes an increasing distraction as a parade of young women come over to interrupt their conversation, asking HER to take a picture of THEM with "the famous Tomek" with their cellphones).   Well with these distractions and his generally condescending attitude -- he asks her: "So was this your first internet date?"  She answers "No, I've had five."  To which he laughs, "Well then it must be your first, because if this was your fifth, you'd NEVER admit that." ;-) -- she just thinks that, "famous" or not, he's a real jerk and leaves.  Worst Valentine's Day ever ...

To her horror, the next night, Ania's older sister Ola (played wonderfully throughout by Weronika Książkiewicz [IMDb] []*) calls her up and tells her to turn on the TV.  There's the famous Jimmy Fallon-like Tomek, WITH A MUPPET looking A LOT LIKE ANIA that's he's calling HANIA and he's recounting the "terrible encounter" he had with her the night before at that Warsaw hot spot.   And the audience is LAUGHING and LAUGHING.

OMG ... the whole world must have seen this (amusingly, most of the teachers at her school, as they are _school teachers_, DON'T ;-).

But anyway, Ania's humiliation seems to be a "one-off" thing, until Tomek to his own surprise / horror is told by his rather ruthless studio boss Octavia (played by Ewa Błaszczyk [IMDb] []*) that the "Hania segment" was "a hit" and that the network wants more of them.  So Tomek and Marcel have to find Ania, and when they do ... after nearly being clobbered by her for embarrassing her like they did, they ask her actually to work for them:

They tell her that they'd pay her to go out on various internet dates using a service called Planeta Singli (Planet Single).  And then she'd recount to them how the dates went and they'd build skits around her stories accordingly.  "But what if I find that I like one of the dates?"  "Well if you fall in love, you can quit and I'll buy you a Steinway Piano for your school."  Somewhat reluctantly she agrees.

Well, of course, a parade of spectacularly awful dates ensues ... spliced together in a spectacularly funny collage to Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild [YouTube-EasyRider] [Amzn] playing in the background (remember Ania's been up to this point _a quiet_ put-upon _elementary school teacher_ ;-)

Of course, Tomek has to fall in love her somewhere in the process.  And then, what of that initial internet date who had stood-up Ania at the beginning of the film?  There has to be a story there too, right?

Then part of the fun in the film is that while Tomek / Marcel are clearly internet and even internet-dating savy (they're part of "the media world" so they know and have even become cynical of all this stuff), Ania and her hairdresser sister Ola are not.  Who is internet savy is Ola's seemingly ever-in-a-funk, always texting, mildly "socio-pathic" teenage STEP-DAUGHTER Zośka (played wonderfully by Joanna Jarmołowicz [IMDb] []*) who both "kinda helps" Ania and Ola out in explaining how how all this "new" technology works and "messes with their heads" in the process.  Indeed, there's an extended sub-plot in which Zośka uses her tech abilities to really mess with her mild-mannered dad's (played by Tomasz Karolak [IMDb] []*) and more impulsive Ola's lives and even marriage.  (I just loved Ola and "kinda respected" (actually mostly _feared_ ;-) Zośka in this film ;-).

There's a climactic scene in the film that's BOTH "Rom-Com worthy" AND honestly POLISH / CENTRAL EUROPEAN (I honestly DON'T believe it would work nearly as well if the film were American, British or even French).    And one of the _remarkable aspects_ of the film is that with the exception of the language (and that could be in part because of the subtitled translation) despite being a film largely about "the internet" / "internet dating" the film could LEGITIMATELY be PG-13 ... all those dates that Ania was on "exploded" in the initial encounter "at the bar" / "coffee shop" ;-).

Anyway, THIS IS A _GREAT_ AND _VERY VERY FUNNY_ FILM !!!!  Honestly, is there an "International Rom-Com Film Festival" out there to submit this film to??  And my hat off to the director Mitja Okorn [IMDb] []*.  This film ought to "open doors" for you in Hollywood, that's of course, if you'd even want them to.  For now though just bask in the glory of becoming a Polish Film God ;-)  Great, great job!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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Friday, April 22, 2016

The Huntsman: Winter's War [2016]

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

The Huntsman: Winter's War [2016] (directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin characters by Evan Daugherty) is a SPIN-OFF (BOTH prequel AND sequel to) Snow White and the Huntsman [2012] MINUS Snow White (which means minus Kristen Stewart who had played her in the first movie), AND feels like a cross of The Lord of the Rings [2001-3] / Game of Thrones [2011-16] and "a more grown-up" and more problematically darker version of Frozen [2013].  So there :-)  That's essentially the movie in a nut-shell;-)

Now a question could be asked: WHY?  Why make a "spin-off" of "Snow White" and NOT INCLUDE "Snow White"?  At first look (or even second or third looks) it seems kinda odd.  But for at least several decades now, it has been clear that Fans "enchanted" with _the worlds_ (or comic book speak "universes") created by writers of fairy tales / fantasy fiction have _generally_ happily greeted prequels, sequels and spin-offs from previously successful stories.

One thinks here of "Wicked" the novel (1995) [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Gregory Maguire [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] and subsequent highly successful stage musical [wikip] [Amzn-STr] [GR] [WCat] by Stephan Schwarz [wikip] [Amzn] and Winnie Holzman [wikip] [GR] [WCat] which sought to tell the back-story of the "Wicked Witch of the West" from The Wizard of Oz [1939].  Indeed, Maguire proceeded to write an entire series of books [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] telling the stories of a fair number of characters from the original story.

Consider then the various prequels, sequels, spin-offs both officially sanctioned and not of J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Ian Flemming (James Bond), Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek), George Lukas (Star Wars), to say nothing of the "Universes" owned/controlled by Marvel and DC Comics, and the idea of creating a movie about "The Huntsman" a character actually _invented_ for the film Snow White and the Huntsman [2012] (itself a rather dark post LOTR / "Twilight Saga" re-imagination of the traditional Central European fairy tale of Snow White) wouldn't seem _necessarily_ "so odd" after all.

Yet, who then is "The Huntsman" (given the name Eric in this film and played by Chris Hemsworth)?

The current film tries to give him a back-story.  But he's basically Hugh Jackman's "Wolverine" character of the Marvel Comics' X-Men franchise (only played here by similarly hunky Chris Hemsworth).  He's presented in the current film as originally a "medieval Ranger / Special Forces-like" Warrior, abducted as a child (kinda like in the children taken by the Turks as tribute in Dracula Untold [2014]), and forced then to serve a Frost Queen named Freya (played here by Emily Blunt), the jilted / angry / cold (note that in Spanish: "fría" means "cold") younger sister of Snow White's later Evil Step-Mother (named in this series Ravenna and played by Charlize Theron).

Why did Freya (an obvious if more Evil or at least far more "messed-up" knock-off of Elsa from Frozen [2013]) become a "Frost Queen"?  Well, when young, she had a _really bad experience_ with Love.  Hence, she became _wickedly_ "Cold" and spent most of the current film having abducted little children brought to her and teaching them (1) there is NO SUCH A THING AS LOVE, and (2) it's best to just put their energy into dominating / killing people and conquering lands FOR HER so that her "Frost Kingdom" could expand.  (Gotta put all that frustrated / repressed energy somewhere, right? ;-)

Well the young, hunky "Huntsman" Eric does have a love named Sara (played by Jessica Chastain) also once a child abducted for Queen Freya and trained as a Medieval Ranger-like Special Forces Warrior.  Together the two young, fit (!), 20-somethings would like to make a-life-of-it together, but of course the Frost Queen "steps in the way."

Much then ensues ... including a seven year separation where both Eric ad Sera thought that the Other was either dead (or a jerk).  And it turns out that the previous film  Snow White and the Huntsman [2012] would have taken place somewhere in the middle of that seven year separation (when Eric would have encountered Snow White as a something of a loner, still mourning for the loss of his great love Sara ...)

Now why would Freya, who started life being far warmer and indeed one who experienced Love (if lost) end up so Cold?  Of course, her Evil or again, very "messed-up" older Sister had to have something to do with it ... and all that has to play-out as well.

Readers, this is not a terrible movie, and indeed both Emily Blunt and especially Charlize Theron get to _really enjoy_ playing terrible (Evil or at least very, very messed-up) characters.  But many / most Viewers may find the characters here derivative of better drawn / better conceived characters elsewhere.

As such, many Viewers may come to feel that the movie drags and look forward to its end.  In the end,  the "world" or "universe" created by the film-makers in these "Snow White and the Huntsman" films may be too Dark, one that _not many_ Viewers would particularly enjoy ... Instead, the "world" of Elsa of Frozen [2013] is simply happier.  Hence I would assume that far more people (even of teen / young adult age) would prefer Disney's conception in Frozen [2013] to the current film here.

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Heirs to the Soil (orig. Los del Suelo) [2015]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing*
TodasLasCrí listing radio interview w. Irmina Kleiner and Remo Vénica whose story was portrayed in the film* (R. Gallego) interview w. the director and Irmina Kleiner / Remo Vénica about the film* (M. Chiavarino) review* (D. Enz) review*
Clarí (H. Bilbao) review* (M. Pérez) review* (E. Basile) review*
Espectador Avenzado (H. Gallegos) review*
Leedor (A. Portela) review* (D. Ciccotta) review* (Pedro Squillaci) review* (J. Porta Fouz) review*

Heirs to the Soil (orig. Los del Suelo) [2015] [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]* (directed and screenplay by Juan Baldana [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]* based on the book Monte Madre [WCat] by Jorge Miceli [WCat] [IMDb] [CN] ) is a COMPELLING and to CATHOLICS HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT ARGENTINIAN (RECENT) HISTORICAL DRAMA that played recently at the 32nd (2016) Chicago Latino Film Festival.

The film tells story of Irmina Kleiner (played in the film by María Canale [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]*) and Remo Vénica (played in the film by Lautaro Delgado [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]*) TWO ACTUAL ARGENTINIAN CATHOLIC ACTIVISTS OF THE 1970s, members of the "Movimiento Rural de Acción Católica" who had to flee for their lives into the forest jungles of Northern Argentina (and STAYED THERE FOR YEARS) during the Argentinian 1970s Civil / Dirty War because the Civil / Minitary Dictatorship of the time simply took ALL Activists to be "Communists."

One COULD SAY that "The Authorities" didn't declare their "War" to be "Dirty" for nothing ... 'cept, of course, people like these two, then 20-something Activists, MOTIVATED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH'S PRONOUNCEMENTS OF THE TIME (Mendelin [wikip], [docs]*)  FOUND THEIR LIVES RADICALLY DISRUPTED and REPEATEDLY NEARLY CUT SHORT because of "The Authorities" _laziness_ in trying to make even the _most basic of distinctions_.

Basically, to be opposed to even the most obvious / grievous injustices at the time made one "a Communist," forget that the Catholic Church itself found itself in a bind:

The injustices / radical inequalities in Latin America were patently obvious and endemic.  TO SAY NOTHING would play EXACTLY into the hands of ACTUAL COMMUNISTS who were saying at the time 1960s-80s that the Church was an "Ossified, fundamentally Backward even Reactionary organization" that REALLY "DIDN'T CARE" ABOUT THE POOR and WAS "IN LEAGUE WITH THE RICH" of these Societies.

Yet, TO SAY ANYTHING AT ALL in opposition to said injustices / radical inequalities in Latin America made the Church "SOUND COMMUNIST" to the Rich / Powerful of these societies (as well as to the CIA / the United States, which were TERRIFIED that the whole of Latin America would just "up and go Communist.")

And so it was: In 1968 at Mendelin [wikip], [docs]*, CELAM, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Latin America _chose_ to speak-out against the social / economic injustices existing in Latin America, inspiring young educated Catholic activists like Irmina and Remo portrayed in the film to stand-up and help organize the poor out there "in the campos" of NW Argentina...

... and by 1977, during the height of the "Dirty War" in Argentina, the two had to flee for their lives and live _foraging in the jungle_ FOR FOUR YEARS for fear of The Authorities who were out to kill them.  In the film, we see Irmina giving birth TWICE, DURING THEIR TIME IN SAID JUNGLE (!).

Finally (after giving birth to the second child ... out there ... in the jungle) with help of an otherwise not particularly effectual and certainly thoroughly humiliated local Priest (because he could do so little for them, after having previously inspired them ...), Fr. Dougast (played by Pierre Marquille [IMDb]), they were at least able to get the (forged) documents together to flee across the border to neighboring Brazil.

We Servites know something if this kind of a story as well, as our own men and women knew Brazilian seringuero activist Chico Mendes personally (he was our parishioner out there in Acre, Brazil) and he was murdered in a political assassination at his modest seringuero's home in 1988

Thankfully, we in the Church _continue to inspire_ people to stand up for what is right.  The tragedy is that, often enough, it's these people who we inspire who come to suffer the consequences of our words.  But what then to do?  Do we then shut up for fear as well? 

Sigh ... an _excellent_ (!) and _very thought provoking_ film.

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Broken (orig. Rotas) [2016]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Official Facebook
Official Dance Company Page

Cine y Tele article* story about stage production artículo sobre producción teatral* entrevista con Luis Lorente / Paloma Gomez*

Broken (orig. Rotas) [2016] (written and directed by Luis Lorente) is a SPANISH FLAMENCO-BASED film about domestic violence that PREMIERED recently at the 32nd (2016) Chicago Latino Film Festival.

I went to see the premiere -- in attendance being both the director Luis Lorente as well as the two lead ballerinas Paloma Gómez and Raquel Gómez -- in part because this Festival showcases not only dramatic films from Latin America but also film homages to other Latino contributions to the Arts.

In years past, I've seen two wonderful documentaries about the rich musical traditions of Cuba [2012] and Peru [2013] (the first I reviewed, the second though _excellent_ I did not); a surrealist homage to a, well ;-), surrealist artist (Alejandro Colunga) from Mexico [2014]; and a Chilean biopic about poet Pablo Neruda [2015].  This year's [2016] program featured a couple of documentaries about the music of Paraguay [1] [2] as well as a documentary named Gabo: La Magia de lo Real [2015] about the life and work of famed Colombian writer Gabriel García Marquéz.  Ever having to choose, I chose to go with seeing the lovely / fascinating Cuban "indie" film Espejuelos Oscuros [2015], and then the current film (from Spain) which presents its story, in part, in the idiom of Flamenco dance.

The current film is adapted from a stage production with the same name and about the same theme.   Yet as a top quality screen adaptation, the film takes advantage of the possibilities offered offered by film medium as opposed to simply the stage.  Thus the film weaved together three types of presentation:

There are stage-acted vignettes that set-up the the stories of Celia (played / danced by Raquel Gómez and voiced by Amparo Climent) and Consuelo (played / danced by Paloma Gómez and voiced by Luisa Gavaza) two women abused by men in their lives.

There are the danced emotional responses of these two women to the situations that they find themselves in.

Finally, interspersed in the film are testimonies of various women who actually endured the kind of suffering / abuse portrayed in the story.

Further, the film makers took full advantage of the possibilities offered by presenting the story by means of a camera:  Thus Viewers are offered visual (point of view) perspectives on the story as it plays-out that would be simply impossible to offer to Viewers simply seated in a theater watching a stage production. 

North American Readers here with some experience of watching some of the "Met-Live" productions offered by would understand some of the benefits (closeup / alternative POVs + interview possibilities) offered to Viewers watching a staged event in this, a screen form.  Further, as opposed to a "Met-Live" video production, the film here is a well crafted, definitive, indeed "canonical" product.  Hence it has also taken advantage of the possibilities of multiple takes / editing.

The lovers of Stage productions will, of course, find some sadness in that -- the Spontaneity _inherently present_ on the Stage has passed through and been largely Removed (except where it has been Approved) by a Censor (er ... "Editor" ;-).  Yet a film print of such a Production becomes that Production's "Final" or "Best / Canonical" product.  And a film offers advantages (some enumerated above) over those possible on Stage.

So this is a very interesting and thought-provoking production about a theme -- domestic violence -- that itself produces much to think about / discuss as well. 

As such it is a truly stellar quality product and I do hope it becomes available on DVD or various streaming platforms (vimeo, iTunes, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video) soon enough.

Excellent job!   

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dad (orig. ¡Pa! ¡Por mis hijos lo que sea!) [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/4 Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity/es listing* radio interview w. director*
Vangardia.cine article about director* review* review*

Dad (orig. ¡Pa! ¡Por mis hijos lo que sea!) [2015] [IMDb] [FAes]* (written and directed by Harold Trompetero [IMDb] [FAes]*) is a very funny and very sweet FAMILY DRAMEDY from COLOMBIA that played recently at the 32nd (2016) Chicago Latino Film Festival.

Viewers will find it in a similar bittersweet vein as Roberto Begnini's Life is Beautiful (orig. La vita è bella) [1997] and Eugenio Derbez' more recent Instructions Not Included (orig. No se Aceptan Devoluciones) [2013].

The film's about Enrique (played by Júlio César Herrera [IMDb] [FAEs]*) initially some sort of a big-shot manager for some sort of a Colombian bank or enterprise.  At the beginning of the film, he's told by his boss that he's being promoted to lead the enterprise's office in Lima, Peru.  Just a few formalities needed to be completed -- some paper work, a medical exam -- and then he'd be set.

Well, Enrique comes home beaming to his wife Luz (played by Nöelle Shönwald [IMDb] [FAEs]*) and his teenage daughter (played by Grace David [IMDb] [FAEs]*) and slightly younger son (played by Juan Sebastian Parada [IMDb] [FAEs]*) and they're, of course, very excited.  The daughter in particularly with all the certainly of a 14-15 year old exclaims "Dad, and we're going to have to get completely new [iphones, etc] because you know PERU is at the _leading edge_ of the tech world in Latin America" (Nice try daughter, trying to get me to buy you a new iPhone ;-).

All this excitement comes to a screeching halt when the medical test comes back, and the boss tells him, "I'm sorry Enrique, but with a medical test like this we can't send you to Lima." (What does the test say, it's unclear).  Things get even worse when the boss informs him that _unfortunately_ they had already hired someone to replace him, SO ... not only does Enrique NOT get the promotion to Lima, but effectively HE'S LOST HIS JOB.

SO ... Enrique has to go home and tell the family that not only are they not going to Lima but now he's unemployed and ... at minimum his age it's not necessarily gonna be easy to find another job.

Much of the rest of the film is about Enrique coming-up with increasingly desperate ways to bring home some money, AND ALSO the family progressively adapting / chipping-in to try to make the situation better.

Notably the Colombian "valley girl" of a daughter who initially (and mindlessly) looked-down upon the young people her age working at the mall, "rolling her eyes" and so forth when they got something wrong ... now GETS A JOB AT THE SAME MALL (and finds herself putting-up with similar "eye rolling" customers ;-)  BUT SHE DOES THIS HAPPILY FOR THE SAKE OF THE FAMILY ... that is, SHE'S GROWN UP A BIT in the process ;-)

Luz, Enrique's wife becomes a real supportive trooper as well.

Of course, there's a reveal that has to occur, which I'm not going to reveal here.  But I do want to say that THIS WAS A REALLY NICE MOVIE.  Yes, the family was rich (certainly initially) richer than the vast majority of Colombians (or even North Americans) BUT IT WAS ALSO A FAMILY THAT REALLY SUPPORTED EACH OTHER WHEN TIMES GOT TOUGH.

It was just a really nice film and one that reminds Viewers of the place of Family in Latino Culture.  Rich or poor, everybody chips-in in times of need.

In that regard this is an excellent film, which turns out to be an homage that the writer / director Harold Trompetero [IMDb] [FAes]* was making TO HIS OWN DAD who went through many of the difficulties described in the film.

Good job!  Very good job!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dark Glasses (orig. Espejuelos Oscuros) [2015]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
AdoroCinema listing*
PeliCuba listing*

Diario de las Americas (L. Lionel León)  article*
Miami Herald (R. Rodriguez) article (R. Piralta Riguad) interview w. director* (A. Martín Pastrana) interview w. director*
NewTimes-Miami (N. Martinez) interview w. director interview w. director (M. Hernández Martínez) review*
NewTimes- Miami (A. Martinez) review

Dark Glasses (orig. Espejuelos Oscuros) [2015] [AC]* (written and directed by Jessica Rodríguez [IMDb] [AC]*) is ANOTHER TRULY REMARKABLE FILM -- here a CUBAN (and SPANISH) "small indie" film (a characterization which when talking about a place like CUBA immediately takes on a VERY INTERESTING SIGNIFICANCE) -- that played recently at the 32nd (2016) Chicago Latino Film Festival after making stirs at both the Havana International Festival for New Latin American Cinema in Dec. 2015 where it played for three round-the-block sellout audiences (despite it being generally considered doubtful that it'll receive a license for general theatrical release in Cuba anytime soon...) and then at the Miami International Film Festival in March 2016.

Indeed, the film crosses all kinds of boundaries:  The Cuban-born but now Spain-residing writer-director  Jessica Rodríguez [IMDb] [AC]* who got her initial degree in film-making in Cuba but has since studied in Spain and even in the United States, using Spanish crowd-sourced money, nonetheless filmed this movie in Cuba utilizing the services of two very well known Cuban actors -- Laura de la Uz [IMDb] [FAes]* and José Alberto García [IMDb] [FAes]*.  Further, her script, which she penned while still a student in Cuba, leans on both the story of Scheherazade [wikip] of a 1001 Nights [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] and the classic Cuban Communist Era film Lucia [1968] the latter which she arguably subverts.   Again, this is one heck of a film ;-).

So then, to the movie itself:

It tells the story of Esperanza (played by Laura de la Uz [IMDb] [FAes]*) who finds herself in a terrible situation.  An escaped criminal named Mario (played by José Alberto García [IMDb] [FAes]*) had broken into her home in the Cuban hinterlands to hide from police and has made it clear that he plans to rape her before making his next move.

Playing for time, Esperanza asks Mario to read to her ... three stories (from different periods in Cuban history) all interestingly involving both rather steamy situations (which interest Mario) and female empowerment or at least putting powerful men in their place (which is why Esperanza had collected them).

Now why would Esperanza get Mario to do this?  Well ... Mario quickly comes to feel sorry for Esperanza because she appears to be almost blind.  He may be a desperate man, but he's not completely Evil, even though, of course, he really wants to rape her, but then not necessarily "beat her over the head and take her" (he'd like her to at least partly want him).  Anyway, she tells him that she loves hearing these stories (and since she's blind, she can't read them herself).  AND she promises him that they're steamy enough that HE'D enjoy them too.

So ... Mario decides to "read her a story or two ..." ultimately three, and, well, they're compelling stories:

One's set in the 1970s (during the height of the Communist Era) involving a hot "hooker" / "seemingly Communist informer" Marlene who eventually gets her revenge (quite amusingly) on her lecherous Communist Party-member boss.  (This is why I personally don't think that this film will play anytime soon in regular Cuban theaters ... or if it does, then honestly Cuba will have changed quite a bit ...).

The second is set during late 1950s just before the fall of the Battista regime in which a Battista police officer tortures young Cuban (left-wing) student who's in love with the same woman as he.  However, by the time the police officer is done with the student, he's probably revealed more about himself than he'd like ...

Finally, the last story is set during the 1890 Cuban War for Independence and again a Cuban revolutionary (or perhaps loyalist it's not necessarily clear) is outsmarted by a Cuban woman (who incidently, like Esperanza, lives alone out in the Cuban countryside) who turns out to be able to keep her loyalties closer to the vest than he.

And by the end of the third story Esperanza, in fact, is able to find a way to outwit Mario as well.  (I'm not going to say how ...)

Readers here who know something of Scheherazade [wikip] of a 1001 Nights [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] and then the signature Communist Era film Lucia [1968] will see the obvious similarities / references to both.

Anyway, it makes for one heck of a film and it'll be very interesting to see if the film does find its way to play not merely at a rarified Havana Film Festival but out in the Provinces to general Cuban audiences as well.

Great job!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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The Moving Forest (orig. A Floresta que se Move) [2016]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
AdoroCinema listing* (L.F. Gallego) review*
A Folha do São Paulo (C. Starling Carlos) review*
O Globo (S. Schild) review*

The Moving Forest (orig. A Floresta que se Move) [2016] [IMDb] [AC]* (directed and cowritten by Vinicius Coimbra [IMDb] [AC]* along with  Manuela Dias [IMDb] [AC]*) is a CONTEMPORARY BRAZILIAN (URUGUAYAN SET) DRAMA based on the Shakesperean play Macbeth and was made in honor of the recent 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's birth.  The film played recently at the 32nd (2016) Chicago Latino Film Festival.

Elias (played by Gabriel Braga Nunes [IMDb] [AC]*) and César (played by Ângelo Antônio [IMDb] [AC]*) come home from a distant business trip.  At the airport they run into a strange "knitting lady" who greets Elias as the "Vice President" of his Bank.  Taken aback (he does not know her, and she's wrong) he corrects her that he's but a Financial Officer of the his Bank.  She repeats that today he's the "Vice President" and that tomorrow he could be "President" of the Bank.

The two arrive at their Bank's Headquarters and the Bank's President Heitor (played by Nelson Xavier [IMDb] [AC]*) tells them that indeed both of them are being promoted.  The previous VP had been forced to resign because of scandal, Elias is to take the VP's job and César, Elias'.  Elias is both surprised and impressed, that old woman had been right.

He comes home and tells his beautiful wife Clara (played by Ana Paula Arósio [IMDb] [AC]*) the news, that he's become Vice President at the Bank and that he's invited Heitor over to dinner at their stunning, modern, if certainly "cold" stone-steel-and-glass mansion at the outskirts of the city.  On hearing this, all that Clara can think of is how to knock-off Heitor when he comes over, telling Elias "a chance like this WON'T come again."

Elias initially discounts Clara's suggestions.  Yet, as with ... ambition starts to get the better of him.  Clara's right, there won't another chance like this ever again, and that strange old knitter was right as well.  He COULD become President (of the bank) "in a day."

The rest of the story ensues ... ;-)

I did find the film to be a very good adaptation.  I also have to say that Elias / Clara's citadel, sleek, modern but (air conditioned) COLD was a REMARKABLE re-imagination of an "Old Scottish Castle" even if it was located in a quite WARM WEATHER location like CONTEMPORARY BRAZIL / URUGUAY today ;-).

Anyway, I do think that MANY Shakespeare lovers would enjoy what the film makers did with the play here in this film.

Good, good job! ;-)

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >

The Greatest House in the World (orig. La Casa más Grande del Mundo [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing listing*

Celuloide Digital (F. Flynn) review* (R. Rosales Santos) review* (AP) review*
Revé (A.C. Guzmán) review* (J.F. Caballero) review*

The Hollywood Reporter (J. Mintzner) review

The Greatest House in the World (orig. La Casa más Grande del Mundo [2015[ [IMDb] [FAes]* (codirected by Ana V. Bojorquez [IMDb] [FAes]* and Lucía Carreras [IMDb] [FAes]*, screenplay cowritten by Ana V. Bojorquez [IMDb] and Edgar Sajcabún [IMDb], story by Edgar Sajcabún [IMDb]) a small "indie" GUATEMALAN / MEXICAN COPRODUCTION, is among this year's Chicago Latino Film Festival's offerings ONE BEST / MOST EMOTIONALLY COMPELLING FILMS that I've seen since beginning my blog

The film tells the very simple story of a ten year old girl named Rocio (played magnificently by "a local" Gloria López [IMDb] [FAes]) growing-up with her mother (played by Mexican actress Miriam Bravo [IMDb] [FAes]*) and grandmother (played by "local" Fabiana Ortiz [IMDb] [FAes]*) out in the cragy and often mist covered hinterlands of N.W. (Huehuetenango / ) Guatemala close to the border of Mexico.

Neither Rocío's father nor _any_ other males of working age appear in the entire film, even though, Rocio's mother was very much pregnant in the story.  Why weren't there any young / middle age males in the story, I asked the director present for Q/A at the end of the screening, believing sincerely (and not necessarily unsympathetically) that there probably a feminist statement being made there.  Instead, the director quite sincerely responded that this is a part of Guatemala where almost all the working-age males _go up north_ (to Mexico and beyond to the United States) in hopes _to find better work_ to support the families that they leave behind at home.

So ... Rocio, who up to this point has been going-out with her mother each morning, herding the family's 15-20 or so sheep, playing with rocks on the (rocky...) pastures pretending that she's gonna build "the grandest house in the world" up there with those rocks ... comes to a day when, ma' is simply too close to delivery to go out with the sheep anymore.  And so ma' and grandma entrust Rocio to take the sheep out that day; ROCIO's "growing up" ;-)

'Cept, PUT YOURSELVES IN ROCIO'S SHOES ... this proves to be a pretty awesome responsibility.  Those 15-20 rather stubborn, not particularly bright sheep (and they have no dog to keep them together) represent a fair amount of this family's wealth (sheep aren't called LIVE STOCK for nothing).  And so poor Rocio who soon runs into a friend named Ixchumil (played by "local" but unrelated María López [IMDb] [FAes]*) perhaps a year or two older also tending her family's 15-20 sheep, and then a little boy their age (played by "local" Elder Escobedo [IMDb] [FAes]*) with a sling-shot and after being little kids out in the field, alone, playing, acting like regular 10-12 year olds, Rocio finds to her horror that she's "lost lone of her sheep," the littlest one in fact.

What to do?  She has to look for it.  Ixchumil and the little boy help her out for a bit, but then Ixchumil as only a 12 y.o. could say, tells Rocio that SHE has to go home with HER sheep or else SHE will get into trouble with HER family.  Sho Rocio's soon "out there, all alone" with her remaining 14-19 sheep looking for "the lost sheep."

She comes to the hut of an old man (played wonderfully, if not particularly helpfully it turns out by "local" Daniel Ramirez [IMDb] [FAes]*) who tells her that he _may_ have heard a sheep bleeting by a nearby ravine.  Rocio runs there and finds her lost sheep, but when she gets back to the old man's hut, her other sheep are now gone.  What happened?   Well, the old man is not Evil, just not particularly useful / reliable (anymore) ... the sheep just seemed to run away.

Sigh ... PUT YOURSELVES AGAIN IN 10 Y/O ROCIO'S SHOES ... this is the first day that Rocio was out with the family's sheep and ... SHE'S LOST MOST OF THEM.

You just want to cry ...

I asked the director about obvious Biblical allusions (this past Sunday, was, in fact "Good Shepherd Sunday" - 4th Sunday of Easter) as well as a possible influence of a WONDERFUL CLASSIC ITALIAN FILM, Vittorio DiSeca's Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di Biciclette) [1948], and the director responded that certainly I was not the first to ask about the possible Biblical allusions, or about other films that touched on similar quite universal themes.  However, she said that she and her collaborators, who incidentally studied in Cuba, were _most inspired_ by Iranian cinema, and specifically a famous Iranian, similarly minimalist (and Oscar Nominated) film named Children of Heaven [1997] which was also about children, responsibility and the facing of frightful / unfairly significant loss.

Anyway, this is one heck of a film ... and as a MINOR (but IMHO _necessary_) SPOILER I just want to assure Readers here that when Rocio comes home after a clearly VERY ROUGH "FIRST DAY" ... the story DOESN'T END in an altogether sad way.  After all, she's coming home ... to family.

Again, wow, what a story!  And I do hope that after it completes its festival rounds, this film will happily become available on DVD / for streaming.  It's well worth the cry and the view.

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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Monday, April 18, 2016

The Jungle Book [2016]

MPAA (PG) CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

The Jungle Book [2016] (directed by Jon Favreau, screenplay by Justin Marks, based on the classic children's book [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] by Rudyard Kipling [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a remarkable testament to the potential of our times.  What else could one say about a hyper-REALISTIC ... children's tale complete with talking, indeed SINGING bears (thanks Bill Murray ;-)  that look like the ones one'd run into in Yellowstone.

Yes, I can immediately imagine how technology could soon disemploy all future generations of actors, doomed soon to compete against Studio-OWNED eternal CGI hyper-realistic "clip art" versions of Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson, or even an army of Computer-Enhanced Kumars (er Kal Penns) or Woody Allens ;-).   But that's for another more dystopic SciFi-ish film to explore (Attn: film-makers, I'd want some credit and my Order could certainly use the royalties ;-)   For now, let's just bask in THE AWESOMENESS of watching Bill Murray voicing a good-natured (if somewhat morally lacking ;-) SINGING CGI bear who looked like he _could_ have been just as ferocious (if he tried ... ;-) as the CGI bear that nearly tore-to-pieces Leonardo DiCaprio's character in The Revenant [2015].  Again, what a remarkable time we live in!

The story?  Oh, yes, the story ... ;-).  It follows the basic outline of the story of  Mowgli [wikip] [IMDb] (played here by Neel Sethi) from Kipling's original Jungle Book [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] with obvious influences from the Disney's 1967 animated version as well as The Lion King [1994]

Mowgli [wikip] [IMDb] was a human baby that was left abandoned and defenseless in the Indian jungle of the British Raj Era after his parents were killed by a tiger Shere Khan [wikip] [IMDb] (voiced in the current version by Idris Elba).  Saved by a panther named Bagheera [wikip] [IMDb] (voiced here by Ben Kingsley) and given-over by said panther to a pack of wolves led by Akela [wikip] [IMDb] (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha [wikip] [IMDb] (voiced here by Lupita Nyong'o) for raising. 

The film begins with 10 y/o Mowgli happily running about the jungle with his follow wolf-step-brothers nobody caring (much) that he was "a bit different" than the other wolf cubs, 'cept when Mowgli occasionally just does one of his "human tricks" (spontaneously using _some item_ like a shell or a stick as a tool).  At those times he's told quite forthrightly that his behavior (human trick) was "inappropriate" for "life (among animals) in the jungle" ;-).

All seems to be going well until ... Shere Khan the tiger reenters (after a many year absence) Mowgli's life, wanting to kill him, and Bagheera then to wolf-mother Raksha's dismay tells Mowgli that they're going to have to get him to a human village so that he could be safe (from said tiger).

Much then ensues ... including Mowgli's much above mentioned encounter (followed by somewhat complicated friendship) with Baloo the Bear [wikip] [IMDb] (voiced with splendid ever slothful "this is soo much work" disconcern by Bill Murray ;-), as well as a temptress snake named Kaa [wikip] [IMDb] (and voiced wonderfully by Scarlet Johannson) and a true "800 pound of a Mobster gorilla (er orangutan)" King Louie (from Disney's 1967 adaptation) [IMDb] (voiced by Christopher Walken).

It all makes for one heck of a story ;-)

Great job folks!  Great job!

< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>