Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Hologram for the King and The Jungle Book [2016]

                    Life of a Salesman (along with a return to another kind of jungle)

                                                        Reviews by Ken Burke

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                A Hologram for the King (Tom Tykwer)
A beleaguered IT salesman, Alan Clay, goes to Saudi Arabia to sell the king on a holographic presentation system for the new, sprawling city being built where the sand meets the sea, but problems recur when his contact keeps failing to show up, the contact’s assistant just wants to drink and have sex, and Alan’s daughter back home needs college tuition money.
What Happens: Some years ago, Alan Clay was a vice-president with Schwinn bicycles, one of the oldest, most-loved-producers in America of this hallowed transportation device.  Then the competition started cutting significantly into their profits so the company began outsourcing their manufacturing to China in an attempt to cut costs (laying off hundreds of American workers in the process, a memory Alan’s father [Tom Skerritt] refuses to let him forget—as if it doesn’t still haunt him enough already as shown in a couple of flashback shots), only to find that the Chinese starting making their own versions of these bikes which practically put Schwinn out of business (my research shows this information to be largely true, with the clarification that the company was ultimately acquired by Canadian conglomerate Dorel Industries after declaring bankruptcy in 1992; however, the time placement for this story is set a few years back from now [one source says 2010 but I recall nothing in the film that verifies that; however, it’s based on Dave Eggers’ 2012 novel of the same name set in 2010 so this is likely the case] because we see TV news of the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge being built in China as a contemporary event even though this mammoth structure’s [now recognized as a compromised construction, considerably worrying those of us who drive over it] been in operation since 2013).  Since that time, Bostonian Alan’s struggled to find his former level of success both professionally and personally, in that he’s gone through a bitter divorce, now can’t afford his daughter Kit’s (Tracey Fairaway) college tuition (she’s on his side concerning Mom’s nastiness, though, as well as not minding waitressing for a couple of semesters in order to build up some cash while Dad gets better set back on his feet).  

 It’s clear that Alan’s current job with Reyland Industries is on the line as well, as he’s heading a team sent to Saudi Arabia to convince the king to purchase Reyland’s IT system (featuring sophisticated holographic capabilities) for the monarch's very-much-still-barely-in-construction-Metropolis of Economy and Trade being built on the Red Sea shore (with nothing but barren desert around it, nicely emphasizing Alan’s “fish-out-of-water” status in a place where workers uselessly sweep sand off of roads and signs in this monolithic culture proclaim “Lifestyle Diversity” for the emerging city) somewhere near Jeddah.  Despite Alan’s boss’ constantly-demanding-phone-calls, though, no progress at all is happening with the sale—or even the much-needed sales pitch.

 For starters, there’s only one building somewhat finished at this new site, so despite a large, clean, sparsely-filled lobby (the very-nice-but-basically-useless-receptionist sits at a desk surrounded by vastly-empty-space) and a beautifully-furnished-office on the difficult-to-access-5th floor there’s not much information nor help to be found here, with the further problem that Alan’s team (already there when he arrives) isn’t even in that main building but instead is in a large nearby tent where power, WI-FI, food, and even air-conditioning are in sporadic supply, preventing them from even being marginally ready for the king, whenever he might show up (a question with nothing but obtuse answers from anyone that Alan asks).  For that matter, Alan’s assigned contact isn’t there when he’s supposed to be either, nor does he show up (as promised) on either of the next 2 days (a friend of mine worked some years ago in hospital administration in Jeddah; he assured me that this type of confusion and obfuscation was, sadly for him, a part of business as usual in this culture; I don’t mean to further inflame anti-Muslim-sentiments which are already getting out of control in the U.S. at this point, but I—like Alan—can see how this sort of undependability is crazy-making for Western capitalists [maybe not so much for Alan’s Chinese competitors, whose odd form of mercantile-Communism now results in Beijing sporting the most billionaires of any city on Earth], especially when they need every little advantage possible to make a positive impression) so Alan finally sneaks up to a higher floor where he finds Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the Danish assistant to his mystery-contact-man; she can’t aid him with logistics but does provide some whiskey hidden in an olive-oil-bottle which at least helps Alan ease his frustrations in a country where alcohol is officially forbidden but seems easily available for those in the know, both foreigners and Saudis (my friend verified that also; drinking easily takes place in foreigners’ compounds and embassies—such as the Danish one where Hanne invites Alan for a party [that's much wilder than he anticipated, with her being much more available for sex than he assumed, an offer he graciously refuses, but he never gets a chance to reconsider because the next time he barges up to her floor her whole team has been sent somewhere else]).

 It’s likely that Alan has this sales opportunity only because he met the king’s nephew in some large public restroom some years ago (Alan’s a constantly affable guy, always beginning a conversation with the “Where are you from?” question), but his lack of progress (or hopeless attempts to even find out what to do next) has led to draining as much of that cheap booze as he can hold, resulting in constant oversleeping, missing the daily shuttle from his swanky Jeddah hotel out to the hoped for-presentation-site, followed by regular calls to the driver he located on his 1st-overslept-day (jet lag that time)—a very interesting guy named Yousef (Alexander Black) who gives him much more accurate, skeptical insights on what’s going on around them, even allows Alan to accompany him to his home village in the hills outside the city in order to escape a jealous husband who’s angry that Yousef’s been romancing his wife (no sex, the driver assures Alan, but here even such flirtation could easily result in death)—to keep returning to the slowly-emerging Metropolis (being built by imported Filipinos because Saudis have a wealthy-enough-economy so that their people don’t do such manual work) in hopes of making any progress toward that prized sale.  Finally, he does accidently meet his long-delayed-contact (even though the receptionist said the guy was in NYC) after barging upstairs again, resulting in agreements to fix all of Alan's logistical problems although it’s still not clear when the king might show up.  Before that can be worked out, though, Alan finds himself with another crisis when he attempts to lance a large growth on his back resulting in a lot of bleeding overnight, leading Yousef to insist they visit the local (highly-sophisticated) hospital where he’s treated by Dr. Zahra Hakem (Sarita Choudhury*)—a shock to Yousef that Alan met alone with a female physician (even the fact that she’s a doctor is a further shock to this Saudi man)—then later finishes off that whiskey only to become sick and delirious so he’s brought again to the hospital where she surmises that the combination of cheap booze (she says there’s better stuff available in Jeddah) and a bad anxiety attack has created his self-imposed-physical-crisis (soon resolved).

* Not the 1st time she’s starred in an intercultural romance story (hold on, I’m getting to that part; see, I even put spoilers in the spoilers) as in her younger, equally-attractive-days she played a young Indian woman becoming connected to Denzel Washington’s character in Mississippi Masala (Mira Nair, 1991).  Maybe her character in A Hologram …’s supposed to be South Asian as well, possibly accounting for her ongoing-defiance (within limits) of Saudi customs and restrictions.

 A bit later Alan returns to the hospital to have the pre-cancerous-cyst on his back removed but finds a male doctor assigned to do the procedure which is interrupted by Zahra who has harsh words (in Arabic) with her male colleague, then sends him away to do the operation herself.  In the process of conversations between Alan and Zahra, we find that she’s in the process of divorcing her husband, that she will tolerate the restrictions on women in her society as she must but doesn’t support them (director Tykwer's interview far below in the links for this film notes that such semi-independent women aren’t as fictional in Saudi Arabia as we might think—especially now, as a few female-freedoms are starting to emerge [including voting and running for office, although still not allowed to drive—so that this character’s not as impossible as Western understanding might indicate, despite Yousef’s being incredulous about her unusual self-sufficiency, which might have been more scandalous in 2010), and that there’s a mutual attraction between her and Alan.  She even arranges for him to visit her marvelous seaside home (obviously the husband’s no longer there) where they do some scuba diving (although she has to be topless while they’re face-down in the water so that anyone noticing them will think it’s 2 men without calling the morality police [no joke] on them).  Finally, the big day swings into place unannounced so that Alan’s team meets the king as he comes to the large tent to be impressed by their hurriedly-put-into-place-presentation; however, they don’t end up in 1st place to seal the deal because a group from China (where else?) is able to offer the same technology at ½ the price.  This doesn’t mean disaster for Alan, though, because somehow he gets a well-paying-job in Jeddah which allows him to continue developing his relationship with Zahra while now having enough income to get Kit back into her college classes.*

* Again echoing what I learned from my friend about his work in both Saudi Arabia and Qatar that there are numerous professional opportunities for Westerners there, with generous wages, housing allowances, and vacation options to tour nearby regions of the globe so it can result in attractive offers if you’re willing to accept the fierce religious environment that dominates all public activity, doing what you will as long as it’s quietly performed in private (a female academic colleague of mine also took up a similar offer in the United Arab Emirates a few years back to teach in an all-women’s-college, again because of the income and extensive support being offered despite similar [but not quite so harsh] public restrictions on women’s freedoms in this Saudi-neighboring-Islamic-culture).

So What?  In that I’ve already worked in a good bit of what would fill this section of my review with parenthetical comments I’ve made in the section above, I find the only things left to note here are just those that have already been emphasized in other reviews that I’ve read but are still too dominant for me not to mention: (1) The great marvelously-stunning-opening-scene where Hanks is singing the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” about realizing “This is not my beautiful house” and “This is not my beautiful wife” as those background images go up in puffs of purple smoke behind him before the location changes to him on a roller coaster followed by his actual presence in an airplane cabin when he wakes up from this dream surrounded by Muslim men saying group prayers as he realizes that “you may find yourself in another part of the world” (more on this in the next section below), and (2) the thematic (if not plot-detail) resemblance between A Hologram … and Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003) where not 1 but 2 fish-out-of-their-normal-water (but still well-supplied with whiskey)-Americans are in a high-rise-hotel in a distinctly-foreign-culture-city (Tokyo in that case) trying to make sense of lives that seem to be spinning out of control through little fault of their own.  Especially young Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) more so than older Bob (Bill Murray—a bit more on these actors in the review below where they provide voices for jungle animals in yet-another-non-Western-culture, although I guess that jungles may be pretty much the same worldwide with just different dynamics among the local species) because in her case she doesn’t have much concept of why her marriage is already deteriorating (as her newlywed-husband’s away on photo shoots all the time, even though he brought her along on the Tokyo job) while Bob’s a noted movie star who would seemingly be much more in command of whatever’s not jelling properly in his life; Alan’s more like Charlotte as forces are in motion around him that he’s struggling to get a firm grip on.*

* There were some complaints that the Japanese characters in Lost in Translation were treated as mere silly stereotypes while other reviews said just the opposite, that Coppola was portraying them as an American tourist (which both of her lead characters were) would superficially understand them.  Similarly, some might find the portrayals of many of the Saudis in A Hologram for the King to be stereotypes as well, a decision I will leave to those who know this society’s culture better than I do; however, based on what we learn from Yousef and the business contacts that poor Alan eventually makes I’d say that we get a reasonable spectrum of presentations, especially in a land where public executions are seen as some form of entertainment and no one in charge of those who are actually in charge of the country seems to know what to expect from one day to the next (at least as I interpret what I read in the news about international relations between the Saudi monarchy and the U.S. government).  Further regarding demeaning stereotypes, often these representations in media presented as commentary or satire are wrongly interpreted as ridicule, leaving decisive understanding in the mind of the beholder without awareness of creative intentions.

 On a more objective negative side of this film, I'll agree that some scenes in A Hologram ... have pacing that seems a little odd in that they end with another confounding situation of abrupt confusion and/or desperation for Alan so the camera just lingers on his tensely-befuddled-face, but this is all properly in keeping with a man who outwardly exudes charm, extreme confidence, and control but internally is aware that his life has never been properly on track since the Schwinn debacle, his future’s hanging by a thread if this huge sale isn’t completed (while Saudi circumstances obliviously-conspire against him just as he keeps messing up his own aura of invincibility by oversleeping every day for various reasons).  Bob’s determined to not end up like the pathetic, beaten Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman (written by Arthur Miller for Broadway in 1949; made into a film several times with the one that still haunts me the TV movie from 1985, directed by Volker Schlöndorff, starring Dustin Hoffman) but realizes constantly (in the words of initial-song “Once in a Lifetime”) “Well … How did I get here? […] After the money’s gone.”  While we see no illustrations on screen of what’s going on in Alan’s mind as we did in the opening partial-music-video we see in that still, stunned face the terror he keeps hidden (and tries to drown with the cut-rate-whiskey) so as to not allow his team members nor his daughter to realize how close to failure he is, how he’s teetering above the abyss holding on for dear life.

Bottom Line Final Comments: I must admit that sometimes 
I’m stunned about the gap between my own reactions to a film vs. the critical consensus to be found at sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic; in the case of A Hologram … I’m way off from them with my 4 stars (the highest honor I normally give, as I’m very stingy with those top 5’s) compared to their low, respective 62% of positive ratings, 59% average of scores, all of which just goes to show how much better a critic I am than all of these more-well-known guys and gals, a burden they’ll just have to bear.  All I can say further (believe it or not, although I am about out of ammo here) is while praise for Hanks’ performance has been uniformly high there are plenty of complaints including that the story surrounding him is mediocre, characters have too-frequent a habit of simply disappearing, the ending is too sentimentally easy, etc.  To this I say some of it may be due to adherence to the source novel (I haven’t read it nor have I yet found a detailed summary, but one respected reviewer from the New York Times, in an extensive review in which he makes comparisons of Eggers to Norman Mailer, calls it “a clear, supremely readable parable of America in the global economy that is haunting, beautifully shaped and sad”), yet from what I’ve found about this book there seem to be notable changes that possibly director-screenwriter Tykwer needs to be held accountable for in his narrative; however, nothing of what I saw on screen hit me in any manner as mundane, flat, nor grasping for substance.  (Although Alan does get a quick salvation for his middle-aging-life from a new, easily-found-love-relationship enhanced with a decently-paying-job but since when does mainstream artistry demand personal tragedies of Lomanesque-proportions in order to be effective?)  As for the story’s disappearing characters, I see that as reflective of the ephemeral nature of the culture Alan’s now embedded in, where people and priorities shift like the desert sands as events evolve (especially Yousef who’s probably still hiding from that angry husband.

 So, despite any other reviews, I remain quite pleased with what I saw in A Hologram for the King (storybook ending or not—and certainly not a traditional sappy fairytale storybook in that unless Alan and Zahra marry and/or move away from Saudi Arabia [not so likely on the latter, unless his new career makes for an easy carryover; possibly she’d be accepted with her professional medical credentials in another country but I’ve seen full-fledged-doctors from abroad put back to intern level when starting over in the U.S.] they’ll still have to live under the cultural radar of a most-repressive-environment in order to fully appreciate being with each other, but as some closing voiceover advice tells us, “There must be time” for the aspects of life that we demand to pursue), once again find Tom Hanks to be a superlative actor (who proudly hails from my marvelous transplanted home in the San Francisco East Bay), and take heart in connecting with a story where unfulfilled people find opportunities to better their situations by refusing to take “not today” for an answer.  I'll return again to “Once in a Lifetime” (on the 1981 Remain in Light album), but this time as my official Musical Metaphor for this film, at because while Alan (and you) at times “may say to yourself My God! … What have I done?” you can also take solace that “Time isn’t holding us” so that if you’ll just “find yourself … Letting the days go by” that it’s all the “Same as it ever was,” which may be better than we previously realized as we move “Into the blue again."
(Can I convince you this next review belongs in) Short Takes (?  Well, it’s shorter than the one for ... the King at least, but that evidence might not even hold up on the Judge Judy show.)
                                 The Jungle Book [2016]* (Jon Favreau)
Mowgli, a human boy has been raised in the Indian jungles by wolves after losing his father to a tiger attack, with all being peaceful until the vicious tiger returns to this part of the wilderness to demand that the “man-cub” be returned to his own kind; Mowgli’s adventures intensify from there, as Disney remakes their animated classic with dazzling computer imagery.

* In case you're wondering why I note the 2016 release year when I normally don't for reviews written just when a movie comes out, it's because I'm planning for this blog to be read by untold future generations (when my reputation will be even bigger than it is now in France [no joke; latest Google statistics—for some unspecified time frame—show 1,071 unique hits from there vs. 688 from the U.S. {and several others from a wide selection of critically-discerning-countries}]) so I want them to know this review isn't about the 1967 Disney animated feature; isn't that thoughtful of me?
What Happens: In an unspecified time long ago, a man (Ritesh Rajan) and his baby son (Kendrick Reyes) venture into the jungles of India; that night they’re attacked by a fierce Bengal tiger, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba; the rest of the cast here are all voice talents connected to fabulous Computer Generated Imagery [CGI] of the story’s animals), who kills the father but is scarred by a burning log from their campfire so he runs away, not knowing that the baby’s survived. About 10 years later we find that the boy was rescued by a kindly panther, Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), who gave him to a wolf pack run by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) to be raised, but Mowgli (Neel Sethi) often irritates his animal elders by attempting tool-use-“tricks” that only humans can accomplish, not acting in the proper “man-cub/wolf way," where “The strength of the pack is the wolf, the strength of the wolf is the pack.”  Each year, a prolonged dry spell occurs, with water resources becoming scarce; as the level drops in a well-known lake, a “Peace Rock” appears, reminding the jungle inhabitants of the common law that all may drink here without any hunting happening from the carnivores.  One day, Shere Khan returns to this section of the jungle, smells Mowgli, declares that he’ll observe the law until the rains return, but then the boy must be sent back to the “man-village” or they’ll all pay a price for defying him (he also notes how dangerous humans are, with their “red flower”—fire—which often lays waste to the jungle habitat).  When the rains come, the wolf pack debates whether Mowgli must leave (implying our well-known-human-reluctance to stand up to oppressors, after being asked by the tiger, “How many lives is a man-cub worth?”) until the boy ends the arguments by volunteering to leave so Bagheera’s in the process of taking him to the village when Shere Khan attacks; after a frantic chase, the boy manages to escape with a large stampeding herd of water buffalo, then falls into a river where he’s washed far from his home.

 In his new surroundings, Mowgli’s hypnotized by a cunning python, Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), who also talks of the deadly-destructive “red flower,” tells the boy the story of his origin, then is about to eat him when he’s gladly rescued by big Baloo the bear (Bill Murray).  Baloo demands that Mowgli help him get some honey off a high cliff in return for the bear’s action so the boy finally gets to use some engineering “tricks” to accomplish this feat (despite getting stung a bit in the process).  Bagheera finally catches up with them, he and Mowgli argue about the boy staying with Baloo in the jungle, an opportunity arises for Mowgli to use his vine-ropes (that helped him get the honey) to pull a baby elephant out of a pit (earning him the respect of these true lords of the jungle), but Bagheera and Baloo sadly decide that Mowgli must go to the village or Shere Kahn will eventually find and kill him.  Before they can move on, though, Mowgli’s captured by the monkey army of enormous King Louie (Christopher Walken) who reigns in an abandoned temple up on a mountainside—evoking images of Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) from Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), insisting that Mowgli must help him command fire so that he can rule the entire jungle (he looks big enough to battle an elephant as it is, but I guess when you’re ambitious you can never have enough “fire”power)—in an ironic twist on the Greek myth of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods for the benefit of mankind.  Bagheera and Baloo climb up the cliff (very difficult for the bear), then create a distraction so that Mowgli can escape; in the ensuring chaos, part of the temple collapses on Louie, allowing our heroes to depart, but Louie’s told Mowgli that Shere Kahn visited the wolf pack demanding the return of the boy after
which he killed Akela to emphasize his power.  Mowgli wants revenge so he slips into the village at night, steals a torch, and runs back into the jungle (however, sparks ignite the brush starting an inferno, just as the tiger had warned as this movie’s message gets a bit more complicated); all of the animals gather at the Peace Lake for their protection, Mowgli joins them as does Shere Khan who tells the boy he’s created the disaster that humans always cause so Mowgli throws the torch into the lake then runs into the burning forest to escape the tiger while Baloo, Bagheera, and the wolves attempt battle with the enraged tiger but to no avail (and injuries to Baloo).  Ultimately, Mowgli’s tricks win out, as he prepares a vine-rope for an escape route, lures Shere Khan up to a weakened limb on a very tall tree where the branch and the tiger tumble into the fire just as Mowgli swings away from the danger on his rope.  Then the mighty elephants arrive to push rocks and trees into the river, diverting its flow to the forest, extinguishing the fire.  When calm returns at a later time, we see Mowgli’s wolf-mother, Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), taking command of the pack while her son’s still with them instead of joining the humans, with Bagheera and Baloo now napping in a tree with Mowgli as well.

So What? For anyone familiar with the original 1967 Disney animated version of this tale (overall direction from Wolfgang Reitherman, although Walt Disney himself took a major hand in the story development before his death in 1966) or even read the original Rudyard Kipling book (1894), a collection of short stories 3 of which involve Mowgli, you’re going to find differences from these originals; primarily, the Kipling stories present separate accounts of aspects of Mowgli’s life, with the latter one finally having him living in the human village, adopted by parents who believe him to be their long-lost-son, Nathoo, while the 1st Disney version puts these stories into linear form, ending with Mowgli voluntarily entering the village as he’s smitten by a young girl from there, but gives a mostly light-hearted, musical structure to the boy’s adventures (except when he’s almost eaten by the snake or the tiger—if you want to refresh yourself a bit on the 1967 Disney … Book, here’s the original trailer [3:41, quite long by our current standards], along with a video that claims to be a comparison of that trailer with the current one [although it’s really just the 2016 trailer with side-by-side-parallel-scenes from the earlier movie]).  I had hoped to provide you with a site where you could watch some or all of the 1967 animated feature for free but I’ve yet to find such that works properly; one that I originally thought was useful turned out to be virus-infected (which cost me several hours and several hundred dollars to fix; beware anything that might come up with "The Jungle Book 1967 full movie" search, although there is one on YouTube which is somehow missing about 11:00 from the officially-stated-running-time and has the original squarer-format transformed to our wide-screen-standard if you're interested in that one, despite losing some of the image and getting an overall glare on the screen) so if you wish to see the proper older Disney version of The Jungle Book please feel free to pay for a purchase of a disc or a download.

 In contrast to the source-stories that inspire the new ... Jungle Book, our current narrative retains the linear plot of the previous Disney structure but adds some powerful-on-screen-deaths (Shere Khan killing Mowgli’s father in the shadows of a cave then later tossing Akela over a cliff, Mowgli plotting Shere Khan’s steep fall into the burning forest) along with the twist of Mowgli’s return to the wolf pack rather than the human village (maybe at least until he grows a little older and realizes that mating with one of his clan wouldn’t fit the lupine code very well).  Given this darker attitude (including how Mowgli accidently starts a raging forest fire, underscoring the danger that the jungle animals feel humans represent to their existence [taking us back to another Disney classic, Bambi {supervising director David Hand, 1942}]) this PG version of the story may be a bit intense for younger kids, especially with the fearsome animals looking so lifelike as opposed to the earlier cartoon appearances.  Further, this movie may raise some Oscar-nomination-questions in early 2017 as to whether it belongs in consideration with other live-action-stories or should be considered as a feature-length-animation given that Mowgli and his human father are about the only photographed elements in it, with the animals (and almost all of their surroundings) being generated, then put into motion by computer.  I’ll leave that one for the Academy experts to figure out (I’ll also leave it to you to decide if you want to spend the extra cash for a 3-D-screening or not; I didn’t make that choice, but I read that it’s quite spectacular in that mode, one of the few 3-D’s to actually warrant such technique).  

 You can also decide if these animals all speak English in far-off-anticipation of India’s later inclusion in the British Empire or if they actually talk in some dialect of Hindi which has been converted into the universal tongue of today for our benefit just as older Hollywood movies did for stories set anywhere outside the Empire's-heritage-environs (such as in Casablanca [Michael Curtiz, 1942] where a host of nationalities all speak the modern version of Anglo-Saxon so that Rick Blaine [Humphrey Bogart] could converse with them in north Africa's Morocco), allowing monolingual American audiences (including me) to avoid struggling through “the horror, the horror” of subtitles.

Bottom Line Final Comments: I was initially not too overly-interested in this lavish remake of The Jungle Book aware that it’s primary a kid’s moviebut a solid combination of massive-box-office-response (about $191.5 million domestically after just 2 weeks in release, another $337 million overseas, impressive even knowing that movies aimed at kids usually do quite well because there aren’t that many of them so when placed properly across the calendar they usually boost the bottom line for any studio, although with a $175 million production budget, … Book needed to be a triumph), solid critical response (94% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, 77% at Metacritic [more details in the links farther below], considerably better for both survey services than many other options so far this year), and encouragement from my marvelous wife, Nina (especially given that we could support our local, refurbished, single-screen Castro Valley, CA CineLux Chabot Cinema), I found myself watching it last weekend, thoroughly delighted with the never-ending-action as Mowgli and various companions/pursuers race through the jungle on various quests, brought back to nostalgic memories of the earlier version (although I was no kid when I saw it; I was in college at the time, but I’ve always been a fan of Disney animation from my youngest days—despite all of the social-conditioning-critiques I’ve been made aware of since then), and generally-flabbergasted by the photographic quality of the computer-generated-animals (although still a bit mystified by Favreau’s decision to replace the older-animated-King Louie [in that orangutans aren’t native to India’s jungles] with the huge Gigantopithecus who did roam Asia in ancient times but died out about 100,000 years ago [like King Kong, Louie must be a very long-lived-but-lonely-last-survivor of his species—except for the earliest telling of Kong’s story where the smaller, cuter Son of Kong {Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933} met his end through the flooding of Skull Island after Dad had departed]).  

 It made for a very enjoyable couple of hours for me (and Nina), an opinion seconded by the hearty applause from my child-filled-theater-crowd at the end (heartier than the smattering of such cheer following A Hologram … the night before, but that audience was considerably older [like me again], maybe saving energy for lifting the post-screening-dinner-fork [or hamburger bun in our case]).  I always struggle a bit in terms of rating such a cinematic offering when I know that it's perfectly aimed at its target audience in terms of intent, content, and execution but does that mean it's worthy of my (normally) highest rating of 4 stars, as something worth watching again and enduring as cultural gold for future generations?  In the case of this new version of The Jungle Book I'd say yes; where things like standard teenage romance or horror movies (in the worst case scenario, a mixture of the 2 such as in the Twilight series) I'd normally find fewer stars to be more appropriate.

 In my ongoing ambition (usually a losing cause) to keep comments in my sometimes-used (or is it just attempted?) Short Takes section to a bare minimum I’m also trying to keep research time for reviews in this section less-all-consuming so I’ll take a short cut to a Musical Metaphor by using one of the 3 songs to survive from the original animated feature into this newly-honed-manifestation, “The Bare Necessities” (sung by Phil Harris in this great older version) at https://www. ogQ0uge06o because that’s the method Favreau’s used here to keep his story successful: generally following the plot lines of the animated original (except making the elephants into revered figures of the jungle rather than another form of comic relief, presenting death as a reality rather than an implication, keeping Mowgli in the jungle at the end) as well as focusing the conflict simply on the tiger’s desire to kill what he sees as a natural enemy vs. the boy’s desire to remain a creature of the wild, ultimately taking revenge upon a more powerful predator for needlessly killing both of his fathers (natural and adopted) rather than confusing things with any further subplots or even location shooting when computers can create fantastic environments as well as characters.  Favreau takes Baloo’s advice to “don’t spend your time lookin’ around For something you want that can’t be found” because “When you find out you can live without it And go along not thinkin’ about it […] The bare necessities of life will come to you.”  (In this current … Book, Murray and Sethi sing this song, with a reprise by Dr. John and the Nite Trippers under the closing credits while Johansson sings “Trust in Me” also under those credits; Christopher Walken croons “I Wan’na Be Like You” in the movie [Louis Prima sang this latter one in the 1967 version, Sterling Holloway the former]).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepageIf you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

Here’s more information about A Hologram for the King: (5:56 interview with actor Tom Hanks from CBS This Morning but he talks about the film for only about half that time; I had a nice behind-the-scenes-featurette for you but it got removed from YouTube a day after I found it so if you speak Arabic here’s a guy at giving commentary in what seems to be a 16:18 review although I have no idea what he’s saying so please don't hold me accountable for it)

Here’s more information about The Jungle Book: (extremely long featurette—1:37:12—of extensive behind the scenes aspects of this movie [be prepared to be interrupted by ads at times] if you want to watch aspects of the production process and various statements from director Favreau along with many of the actors that go on almost as long as the actual movie [note that some of it gets repetitious so you may need to speed through those parts but in short bits so that you don’t miss something new toward the end; there’s a lot to appreciate here but it’s not a well-edited-collection of background bits, so my apologies if it’s more trouble than it’s worth, although the foundational parts are quite interesting])

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Criminal and Elvis & Nixon

                                                               Mind Over Matter

                                                         Reviews by Ken Burke

 This week’s subjects of focus are competing (losing, actually) against my weekly Netflix disc, which happens to be the superb 5-star-masterpiece Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980), so these current remarks may not be as supportive as they could be; still, the 1st movie’s got enough constant action to keep you properly tense and distracted from your normal routine for its duration while the 2nd one (based on oddball-facts) is just silly and charming enough to maintain its welcome over a crisp 87-min. running time, so either one could be useful entertainment for you if you so choose.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                                        Criminal (Ariel Vromen)
A superlative computer hacker has knowledge that could devastate our planet, as he’s pursued by a ruthless anarchist who wants to use the software for massive destruction; the CIA’s trying to protect the hacker but his guardian agent’s killed by the villains, so the only hope is to transplant the agent’s memories into a rare qualified donor—a vicious convict.

What Happens: 
A mastermind-computer-hacker, Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt)—known as “the Dutchman”—has invented a “wormhole” program that allows him access to anything in cyberspace, including the U.S. military system that controls our arsenal of nuclear-tipped-missiles; he’s seeking $10 million and protection which the London office of the CIA, headed by Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), is quite desperately willing to provide, especially because Stroop is under pursuit by his former employer, a maniacal Spanish anarchist, Xavier Heimbahl (Jordi MollĂ ), intent on using the “wormhole” to launch devastation around the globe, essentially bombing mankind back into a primitive state so that we’ll have to start over, presumably with better results.  Things get ever worse, though, when we’re aware that Stroop’s CIA handler, agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds), has stashed both Stroop and the cash somewhere but is being trailed by Heimbahl’s forces through London; the Spaniard must have some potent programs at this command already, because when Pope’s cab is identified this master terrorist is able to hack into the vehicle’s GPS, sending faulty information that directs Pope into the hands of Heimbahl rather than the intended safe house; despite brutal torture, Pope refuses to divulge anything so he’s left for dead when the CIA team finally finds him, although his body’s kept on life support until a sci-fi-type-solution to the problem (of where to locate Dutchman and the cash) is attempted with Dr. Mahal Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) pressed into action to see if his experiments with transferring a mammal's memories to another can work with a human.  Unfortunately for all concerned, the human subject needs to have a specific brain condition—unformed frontal lobesfor the transfer to even have a chance to seep into this open cranial receptacle; such a subject exists, but he’s a vicious convict, Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), kept chained in solitary confinement in the U.S. because he’s missing the mental capacity to feel emotions or make judgments on any basis except survival (he was injured when thrown from a car as a child by his father, furious at his mother [she was killed] for having an affair).

 Following the operation, Jericho seems to have no sense of Pope’s identity, despite Wells’ frantic attempts to jar something loose because somehow (I forget) he’s aware that Stroop (not knowing of Pope’s death) feels he’s been betrayed by the CIA so he’s now shopping his wares to the Russians but still dodging the manhunt by Heimbahl and his thugs, including the attractive but ruthless Elsa (Antje Traue).  Jericho manages to escape in a most violent manner (characteristic of this movie as a whole), his awareness of Pope begins to emerge as he finds his way to the agent’s home to tend to his wounds but has to tie up Pope’s wife, Jill (Gal Gadot), in order to keep her quiet long enough to explain how he’s now carrying her deceased husband’s memories (including their wedding day on a lovely beach), which she ultimately, reluctantly accepts even as her daughter, Emma (Laura Decaro), warms quickly to this strange new guy.  Jericho manages to catch Dr. Franks (using Pope’s ongoing-CIA-skills-emergence) in order to get some painkillers needed after the invasive operation, but Heimbahl’s henchmen almost capture him (determined to beat the Dutchman’s hiding place out of him) until he saves himself by driving off a bridge.  Eventually, Jericho realizes that Stroop’s in Jillian’s office at the University of London, with the cash bag hidden in the locked rare books section of the library, but before he can act on these crucial memories he’s under the control of Elsa because Heimbahl has Jill and Emma captive, even as both the CIA and Russians have hit squads following him to the university all in desperate need of finding the Dutchman.  Jericho seemingly kills Elsa and her henchman with a homemade bomb in a chemistry lab, then finds Stroop to finally tell him what’s happening; however, Elsa’s not dead so as she takes Jan’s flashdrive with the “wormhole” program (which he’s previously demonstrated by launching, then destroying a missile from a U.S. submarine off Portugal) she kills Stroop, only to be beaten to death herself by Jericho with a table lamp.

 Jericho grabs a car, makes a mad dash to the rural airport where evil Heimbahl has Jillian and Emma in order to save them (even though near-frantic-Wells isn’t much concerned with their lives if he can keep the horrid flashdrive away from the madman), takes out the Spaniard’s remaining bodyguards but throws the flashdrive into the plane in order to distract his adversary enough to get the captives safely away from this demented, determined-anarchist.  Heimbahl flies off just as Wells arrives by helicopter, telling Jericho that the world will now be destroyed only to find out (in the small slip of time between Jericho blowing up Elsa—so he thought—and locating Stroop) that the Dutchman agreed to reprogram the deadly “wormhole” so that whenever it fired the 1st missile (which Heimbahl did as he flew away, directing it back to the airport where Jericho and Wells are still standing on the tarmac) that weapon would “return to sender” (to cite an Elvis Presley song [1962 hit single—certified Platinum {selling at least 1 million units}—on the 1962 Girls! Girls! Girls! Album] in acknowledgement of our next review) so it’s Heimbahl’s plane (and the “wormhole” weapon) that are blown to bits.  After all of this trauma, though, Jericho more or less shuts down, showing no further aspects of Bill Pope until Wells brings him to the beach where the agent and Jill had their honeymoon, which shakes Bill loose in him again as Jill and Emma accept him as some sort of avatar of their lost husband/father, with the final bit of reconstitution being that Dr. Franks has stabilized the procedure so that his unique patient won’t lose the implanted awareness (originally the effect was going to wear off after 48 hrs.) while Wells may offer Jericho a job as Pope’s memories and emotions are changing Jericho’s very nature.

So What? If nothing else in what happens here shows it, our man Jericho demonstrates that he’s what Texans (in my case by birth, no longer by residence, thank heaven) call “one tough son-of-a-bitch” (a badge I proudly wear from my actively-painful experience back in San Antonio a few years ago getting my arm returned to its proper place after a dislocated shoulder from a stupid trip-up on a sidewalk) as he survives multiple injuries (including a bloody, vicious shoulder gunshot wound—which was probably even more painful than my experiencethat he has to endure the whole time he’s driving frantically to save Jill and Emma, then taking out their captors while being shot at some more), manages to escape twice while his hands are bound in front of him (fortunately, with plastic cuffs that he’s able to cut loose), and drives wildly through London with no damage during his 1st  escape, even though he’s never been to that city before (Pope’s memories must have selectively emerged after Jericho sped away in his stolen car, maybe as those reflexes paralleled the instinctive responses that had previously “driven” Jericho throughout his post-childhood-life to that point).  If that all seems extreme (Well, this is a hybrid sci-fi/crime/international-espionage-thriller after all, so what do you expect?), then add to it Heimbahl’s already-effective-command of Internet-security-devices (which rarely leave Jericho off the grid no matter how untraceable he tries to be) and you know that if you need logic
(and viable physics) to get you through this narrative then you’re in the wrong theater, but if you can just accept whatever’s thrown at you at face value, rushing along with Jericho for the ride, then you should have an expectedly-enjoyable-experience, along with enough adrenalin pumped to help clear the cholesterol out of your blood stream at least until you have another temptation-breakdown over a box of donuts.  For that matter, you might also have to clear your own memory banks of more intriguing sci-fi along this line such as you’ll find in either version of Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990; Len Wiseman, 2012—review of the later version in our August 15, 2012 posting [although, as with many of my older reviews, there’s too much text per paragraph, which should have been broken up more with additional photos; sorry about that but it would take way too long to re-edit all that fall into that situation] even as I recommend the earlier one) where the protagonist finds that one of his most-deadly-antagonists is himself prior to a brain-wipe or just in an intentionally-silly-comedy, All of Me (Carl Reiner, 1984), where the soul of bossy-millionaire Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin) is transferred into lawyer Roger Cobb’s (Steve Martin) body so that he has to fight with himself as 2 internal-consciousness’s collide.  Once those stray distractions are under control, Criminal can keep you entertained, at least at a visceral level, until you have something more important to do. 

Bottom Line Final Comments: Now that I’ve gotten a good ways into 2016, reviewing truly current cinematic encounters (rather than the several 2015 catch-ups needed the 1st couple of months as Oscar-contenders finally worked their way past their LA and NYC opening-plateaus) I find that of 20 reviews I’ve done (counting the next one, just below) I’m in alignment with the critical consensus of either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic (never both, but their disagreements are often rather broad as well) only 5 times, with this one being no help as I’m way more generous (as I often am) than my collective colleagues (Tomatoes, a dismal 27%; Metacritic, barely better at 37%—whereas my 3½ stars of 5 are more like 70%).  Sure, the hand-to-hand-combat-scenes are a bit disgustingly brutal at times; the whole idea is wacky that a body that’s brain dead still has its memories intact so that they can be siphoned off into a computer program that can be implanted into a brain deficient in aspects of its physiological development; and the sheer survival skills of virtual-1-man-army-Jericho may all reach into extreme directions  (just as the idea that emotions from Bill Pope accompany his memories so that their presence will bring about a worldview-change in Jericho Stewart, even though he retains all of his own memories of his heinous crimes, not to mention how he’s now functioning as more of a dual-personality than a split-personality so that he’s essentially 2 different men in 1 body, constantly negotiating with himself about who he is, what he wants, what he'll do next, not to mention how Jill and Emma can just accept this potentially-rough-beast just because he can share Bill’s memories with them—which gets us into the body-possession-aspects of Ghost [Jerry Zucker, 1990] when the soul of Sam Wheat [Patrick Swayze] takes command of Oda Mae Brown [Whoopi Goldberg]), so I can’t argue that Criminal is inarguable-entertainment, but it’s still mostly fun to watch (although a bit violently graphic at times; still, if the fate of the planet hangs on your actions, it’s hard to not make desperate decisions and brutal R-rated-acts), further providing excellent fodder for post-viewing discussions about the individuality's nature, where it resides (soul or brain?), and what could happen when the essence of one person is housed within the physical manifestation of another.

 As noted in previous reviews, I hesitate to draw from the same well when choosing my Musical Metaphors to speak to the content, impact, and/or essential significance of whatever I’m reviewing but even though I’ve used The Who’s “Who Are You” (from the 1978 album of the same name) before it’s just too appropriate in its lyrical content not to be called into service again so here you go at com/watch?v=PdLIerf XuZ4 (a video that shows you how a recording comes together in the studio, even as different musical and vocal tracks have to laid down separately rather than the whole thing being done at one time as you see in live performance with additional musicians often needed to fill in the various elements that are multi-tracked/overdubbed in the studio) as you can consider the appropriateness of lyrics such as “I woke up in a Soho doorway A policeman knew my name … I remember throwin’ punches around And preachin’ from my chair … I spit out like a sewer hole Yet still receive your kiss How can I measure up to anyone now After such a love as this?” with the constant refrain of the chorus, “Well, who are you? I really wanna know Tell me, who are you? ‘Cause I really wanna know,” even if Jericho’s still working on the answer to that critical question.  Besides, after being aware of my wonderful wife, Nina’s, devotion to the CBS procedural TV drama, the original CSI for many years (sometimes watching episodes with her when my schedule allowed), I’ve also got a solid connection to this song and its association with brutal crimes, as it accompanied the opening credits of that show which I heard while washing the dinner dishes even if I didn’t see much of an episode, so it’s used in tribute to all of the big-or-small-screen-crimestoppers, searching for needed identities either within themselves or among the public-at-large.  Now, you can move on to my other movie of this posting where there’s no question of the identities involved nor of their motivations.
Short(ish) Takes
 I remind you of my Spoiler Alert from the beginning of this posting, especially because Elvis & Nixon’s just now (April 22, 2016) opening nationwide in the U.S., but, really, there’s nothing here in general structure that’s not known fact already anyway so you can easily read my review and still comfortably see it play out on screen (or you could save some bucks by just reading my review, skipping a screening altogether because I don’t think you’ll miss much).
                                               Elvis & Nixon (Liza Johnson)
This is a fictionalized version of an actual meeting in late 1970 between Elvis Presley and President Richard Nixon in which Elvis offered his services to infiltrate Communist-infested groups in the U.S. by being made a Federal Agent At-Large, something that Nixon has to ponder the propriety of even as he’s growing more fond of the famous singer.
What Happens: In late 1970 Elvis Presley’s (Michael Shannon) sitting alone in his Graceland mansion, sadly getting progressively more angry with the 3 TVs he’s watching as he sees news about Vietnam War protests, youth drug use, the rise of the Black Panthers, and other affronts to his sense of American identity; finally, he releases his pent-up-frustrations by firing his gold-plated-pistol into one of the TV sets, then followed by a decision to slip away from his wife and entourage on a quest to make a difference in the midst of such chaos.  After startling Memphis airport workers by showing up alone (he’s never flown by himself before), he’s off to LA to recruit long-time-friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) back into that entourage, even though Jerry’s trying to strike out on his own doing editing at Paramount Studios.  Elvis convinces Jerry that he’s needed for "the King’s" grand project so off they go to Washington, D.C. (along with Elvis’ LA security head [he’s got a mansion there as well], Sonny [Johnny Knoxville]), with Elvis scribbling an in-flight-letter to Nixon.  They show up unannounced at the White House on the morning of December 21, finally securing special treatment for the letter (Elvis calls on his Army service to butter up an ex-Marine security guard) which makes its way to young Presidential aides Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) and Egil “Bud” Krogh Jr. (Colin Hanks) who are eager to schedule a Presley-Nixon meeting to generate positive PR for their boss with the generally-disinterested-younger-demographic of the country;
however, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman (Tate Donovan) takes some convincing, as does Nixon (Kevin Spacey), who’s not interested until his aides secure the help of Nixon daughter Julie who quickly convinces Dad that he needs to do this (as well as get her an autographed photo of her idolElvis, not her unhip-father)After stunning the Secret Service with the number of weapons they’re (legally) carrying, Elvis, Jerry, and Sonny are brought close to the Oval Office but only Presley’s allowed in (after being briefed by Bud on how to comport himself in Nixon’s presence), where he immediately breaks protocol by munching on the M&M’s, drinking the Dr. Pepper reserved for the President (at least they both have good taste in soft drinks), then rambling on about his desire to be a Federal Agent At-Large with a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (predecessor to the current Drug Enforcement Administration) not only because he can move unsuspected through left-wing-groups who don’t see him as an enemy but also because as a movie star he claims to be a master of disguises who could infiltrate Communist-influenced-organizations (although I don’t recall any of his movies where he looked like anyone but Elvis Presley, no matter what role he played).

 Over the course of their intended-as-courtesy-5-minutes-that-stretched-into-an-hour-meeting, Nixon really warms up to his supposed-intruder, authorizes the deputation and badge for Presley, persuading Elvis in return to sign some photos as well as have some taken to commemorate the event (Elvis initially objected, not wanting to publicize his “secret surveillance” options).  Closing graphics inform us, though, that even with his new federal position Elvis never went undercover for the BNDD nor did anything else with this newfound-status that he seemingly at this time craved so desperately.  (You can go here to read a more fully-factual-account of this event, although the current movie mostly follows all of the critical details of the actual Presley-Nixon encounter.)

So What? As the movie notes with opening graphics the infamous recording by Nixon of Oval Office conversations that factored into the Watergate crisis didn’t begin until early 1971 (although it was actually previous-President Lyndon B. Johnson who had a recording system installed sometime back in the mid-1960s [note this article’s author, as I attempt to present a perspective different from my own intense-anti-Nixon-bias]) so what this account presents is based on true events (including all of the mid-career-Beatles-haircuts and bushy-pork-chop-sideburns; I, unfortunately, can testify directly for use of those styles) but fictionalized in many on-screen-details (there was also an earlier attempt at a docudrama of this event, a Showtime made-for-TV-movie called Elvis Meets Nixon [Allan Arkush, 1997]; you can see a brief comparison of it and this current version, but it shows only still photos so just to enliven the earlier one a bit here's its trailer [I’ve never seen this older version; however, it seems to be largely played for farce, different from the overall tone of the new rendition]).  While there’s much to be admired in Spacey’s personification of Nixon (the body language, the intonations, the grouchy and profane attitude toward just about everything—except his daughter [at least when he’s on the phone with her]); the sympathetic-connections that quickly evolve between Jerry and Bud (based on their mutual acknowledgement of how difficult it is to work for their mercurial, obsessive bosses); and the gleeful irony (at least in viewers of my far-left-wing-persuasion) of knowing the fates that would later befall this President and those of his men we see here (as a result of crimes committed by the cover-up-“Plumbers” unit and/or related to the Watergate break-in/disinformation tactics, Krogh [ironically now well-known for his work in legal ethics], Chapin, and Haldeman all did jail time while Nixon resigned the Presidency in 1974 as impeachment proceedings were heating up), I’m not as convinced by Shannon’s portrayal of Presley (although I think he’d be a great fit for a biopic on Roy Orbison) which presents “the King” as easily stymied, petulant, and just not nearly as dynamic as would seem to be more appropriate to at least how Elvis would seem to have presented himself to the guardians he’d have to intimidate to get what he wanted from Nixon (it takes the [likely fictional] intercession of Julie Nixon to even get the plan into action, just as Elvis himself has no impact at all on the BNDD Deputy Director when he attempts a direct request for the agent status).

 However, one scene in all of this silliness does offer some heartfelt-poignancy, when Elvis is explaining to Jerry why this agent-and-badge-quest is so important to him.  Presley tells his friend that when Jerry walks into a room people see him for whom he is, whereas when Elvis appears he’s simply a manufactured image (he shows Jerry the makeup kit he carries around with products to keep his hair so strikingly-dark, remove the puffiness around his eyes, etc.), the singer of songs that each person he meets can connect to some specific event in their lives about found-romance or bitter-breakups but he’s not a real presence to them, just a conveyor of memories that have no room for actual information about the flesh-and-blood-person who’s become such a pop-culture-icon.  This brief interlude really humanizes an oversized-figure who yearns for real contact, seeking it out from the few true friends he’s had since before international fame changed his life forever.

Bottom Line Final Comments: The overall-impact of Elvis & Nixon is a pleasant-enough-diversion that’s picked up some mildly-positive-responses from “critics (cinematic agents?)-at-large” so far (based on a few very small samples of pre-release-analyses: 68% at Rotten Tomatoes but from just 28 reviews; 55% at Metacritic from a mere 14 reviews, so you might want to revisit the links to this movie noted below after it’s been in release for awhile to see if any additional commentary causes any changes), although—beyond Spacey’s engaging performance (it takes a hell of a lot for me to say anything that supportive about anything connected to Nixon; my main solace in thinking about this Chief Executive who turned out to be “a crook” after all is taken from transposing an old bit from the early Saturday Night Live TV fake-news-broadcasts where Chevy Chase would announce that Spain’s former-dictatorial-ruler, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, was “still dead” to joyfully remind myself that’s also true for Nixon)—this whole concept seems mired in the incongruity of the famous photo (shown in the previous section of this review), along with the event that generated it, then fleshing out a story explaining how that bizarre Oval Office encounter came to be.  There really doesn’t seem to be much purpose in this movie, even as hard as everyone involved worked to create some needed significance.  So, I’ll stop working so hard as well to move to closure with my Musical Metaphor, which is Elvis’ 1960 big-hit-single (#1 on Billboard’s Pop chart for 6 weeks; certified Multi-Platinum, at least 2 million 45’s sold) of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” (on his posthumous 1987 compilation album The Top Ten Hits, probably others as well) at https://www. chosen because it evokes some of the loneliness that this mega-celebrity felt before his early death (age 42, 1977*) so that the overt lover’s-lament also has some connection to his own lost-homeboy-persona (“Are you sorry we drifted apart? …Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there? … Now the stage is bare and I’m standing there With emptiness all around And if you won’t come back to me Then make them bring the curtain down”)—as long as you don’t think I’m implying some autoerotic interpretation of Presley’s ego here, which I promise I’m not.

*Here's another Elvis performance of “… Lonesome Tonight?” which seems to have been recorded at some point in his final year, in which he either forgets some of the song’s lyrics (a problem he was having toward the end of his career—a reason why I passed up my only chance to see him in spring 1977 because he’d become a bit of a joke, playing afternoon concerts for swooning “old lady” fans [like my mother, although she never saw him live either]) or simply messes around with them because he knows his audience will accept whatever he does.  In truth, though, “…Lonesome Tonight?” is also just a better choice to wrap up Elvis & Nixon than Elvis’ actual late 1970, early 1971 minor pop hits—another direction I was considering for a Metaphor tune until I researched them a bit—“You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” “I Really Don’t Want to Know” (although those respectively hit #1 and #2 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart which helped them both go Gold status [at least 1 million records sold then, now that standard’s been lowered to 500,000 units], while the former got to #11 on the Pop chart), “Where Did They Go, Lord,” and “Life” (all of which, except for the 1st one, I’ll admit I don’t even know so, Elvis fans, if I’ve missed something obvious here, please tell me [in whatever fierce terms are necessary]).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
 Here’s something of unique fascination, an official selection from the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival with 100 shots from 100 years of cinema (101 actually; count 'em), from The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915; begins U.S. features); I thank Diana Bebbington, my friend and former Film Studies student at Mills College (Oakland, CA), for passing this on to me to share.  I’m able to identify most of them but not all (at least not yet) so see which ones jump from your memory and which remain a mystery. I had to look up a couple to verify but I simply don't know the following clips—even if you (or I) think I should recognize them: can’t confirm 1918 (except that it's Charlie Chaplin using a dog for a pillow) although it's probably A Dog's Life; not positive on 1924 (except it's Buster Keaton) but it's probably Sherlock, Jr.; don't know 1932 (between Frankenstein and King Kong; image is the shadow of a man on a door); don't know 1936 (between The Bride of Frankenstein and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; image is a woman walking away from the camera); don't know 1961 (between Psycho and Lawrence of Arabia; image is a man [seems to be William Holden?] and woman kissing in the rain); also, I can’t place 2000 (between Fight Club and the 1st Lord of the Rings; image of a hand passing through a wheat field), 2002 (between LOTR and the 1st Pirates of the Caribbean; image is a couple kissing), or 2007 (between 300 and The Dark Knight; image of a burning platform).  But that's only 8 of 101 not (fully) identified, so I'm quite pleased with my level of recognition.  If anyone can identify the ones that eluded me please do so, with my gratitude, or let me know if you need help with any of the others.

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Here’s more information about Criminal: (7:41 interview with actor Kevin Costner; he’s answering on-screen-questions which you may need to pause the video to read before you get into his comments because they’re not up long before the answers flow)

Here’s more information about Elvis & Nixon: (6:56 mini-documentary about the actual meeting between Elvis Presley and President Richard Nixon on Dec. 21, 1970)

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.