Hammerle on ... 'The Jungle Book,' 'Elvis & Nixon'

May 4, 2016

bob hammerle movie reviews“The Jungle Book”

Disney has now hit two gigantic home runs in 2016. First there was the magnificent “Zootopia,” which still is drawing crowds in theaters weeks after its release, and now we have the very special “The Jungle Book,” directed by Jon Favreau. It is in every respect a tribute to the original film released in 1967.

hammerle-rating-junglebook.jpgAs most of you know, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a child/cub raised by wolves in the jungle after his father was killed by Shere Khan, a vicious tiger voiced by Idris Elba. (Ironically, he was also the arrogant police chief in “Zootopia.”) As fate would have it, the monster cat reappears and seeks to devour Mowgli, forcing him to escape with the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) on a journey to return to human civilization.

Along the way they experience some great adventures, the most notable meeting the demonic boa constrictor Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and the loveable, incredibly lazy bear Baloo (Bill Murray). The friendship formed by Baloo and Mowgli is truly inspirational, and seeing them drift down a river using Baloo as a raft while jointly singing “The Bare Necessities” will leave you quietly mouthing the words in your seat.

However, one of Mowgli’s most compelling encounters was with the giant Bandar-log ape known as King Louie (Christopher Walken). Set in ancient ruins long lost in the jungle, Louie and his minions seek to force Mowgli to return with fire, the source of human power. Mowgli’s escape with the help of both Bagheera and Baloo is a load of fun to watch, particularly as you listen to Walken sing “I Wan’na Be Like You.”

The ending involves majestic special effects combined with a plot that will bring you to the edge of tears. On top of that, it is likely to scare the daylights out of children under the age of 8.

More to the point, Mowgli discovers that his wolf father has been killed by Shere Khan, and he returns with fire to seek retribution. Though you all know the likely outcome, the encounter between our antagonists unfolds to the point where you are left in doubt to the very end.

Ironically, “Zootopia” and “The Jungle Book” share an underlying theme, namely a place where all animals, even deadly foes, can join together in a spirit of friendship. In “Zootopia,” it was the city whose name is reflected by the film’s title, and in “The Jungle Book,” it is a small lagoon that is the only place for animals to find water during a terrible drought.

As I sat in the theater as the film ended, I thought we humans could learn something from the animal kingdom. As I dictate this review, my wife and I just returned from the vet where one of our rescue dogs dying of cancer was put to sleep. Her name was Cookie, and we loved that little spud. Wouldn’t it be inspirational if all human beings treated each other with the same love and respect we do our little pets?

“Elvis & Nixon”

Don’t ask me to explain it, because it is fundamentally impossible. You’ll just have to trust me when I say “Elvis & Nixon” is a hidden, cinematic gem. There is a reason why laughter repeatedly permeated the theater, and you’ll simply have to see it to find out for yourself.

hammerle-rating-elvisnixon.jpgDirector Liza Johnson’s film focuses on one day in 1970 when President Richard Nixon overcame his initial disgust and met with The King in the Oval Office. Seeking to end the youthful strife permeating our country at the time, the delightfully deranged Elvis Presley sought the president’s approval to be appointed a secret undercover agent for the DEA.

Sex, drugs, rock and roll, racial tensions and the Vietnam War had turned our country on its collective head, and Presley thought he could make a contribution. There were a lot of things that upset The King, not the least of which was his belief that the Beatles were communist conspirators.

Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey are a treat to watch with their portrayals of Elvis and Tricky Dick. Sure, neither physically resembles their character, but both capture recognizable nuances that remain familiar to this day.

Presley is a legend, and you need look no further than the fact that his home at Graceland remains a large tourist attraction. Songs like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “All Shook Up” are unforgettable, and he proved himself to be a talented actor with his initial release, “Love Me Tender” (1956).

The years were not kind to Presley, and he became a walking caricature as he neared an early death in 1977. I saw him in his last concert here in Indianapolis at Market Square Arena on June 26 of that year, and I still recall women screaming as he threw sweaty scarves to the crowd during his performance.

Yes, I know that President Nixon opened the door to China as well as initiated the Environmental Protection Agency, but more young men my age died in Vietnam following his election in 1968 than did under President Johnson. His fall from grace as a result of Watergate was a fitting dénouement by any definition.

While this film is largely a two-man show, there were some supporting roles that should not be overlooked. Alex Pettyfer stands out as Presley’s old friend and personal assistant Jerry Schilling, a gentleman who went on to represent The Beach Boys and Lisa Marie, Presley’s daughter. Johnny Knoxville plays Presley’s longtime assistant Sonny, a character largely resembling himself. In addition, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters and Tate Donovan are pitch-perfect as presidential assistants Egil Krogh, Dwight Chapin and H.R. Haldeman.

Nixon had not begun secretly taping everything in his office when our boys met, so the interaction between him and Pressley is based on the guesswork and speculation of screenwriters Joey and Hanala Sagal. Even so, you see the president’s nasty side, and Presley’s decision to ignore instructions and consume the president’s M&Ms and soda pop are moments of pure joy.•

Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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