Ghostbusters II

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1989

Columbia Pictures

Directed and Produced by Ivan Reitman

Written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd

Based on characters created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

“On Our Own” written by L.A. Reid/Babyface/Daryl Simmons and performed by Bobby Brown

It’s five years after the events of “Ghostbusters” and they haven’t been entirely good years for our heroes. Even though they saved the world from being destroyed by Gozer, that didn’t stop everybody and their mother from suing The Ghostbusters for property damage. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve been forced out of business due to a truckload of court orders. Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) runs an occult used bookstore and entertains at children’s parties along with Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson). They sing the “Ghostbusters” theme song while the kids shriek that they’d rather have He-Man singing. Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) has gotten his job back at Columbia University doing more conventional research into human emotion (a curious line of research for Egon, I would think) while Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a television show about psychics and UFO’s.

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But the boys are drawn back into paranormal investigations by their old friend Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver.) In those five years she’s gotten married, divorced and a new job at the Manhattan Museum of Art resorting ancient paintings under the supervision of Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) who has a serious crush on her. But Dana’s primary concern is providing for her son Oscar (William T. Deutschendorf & Hank J. Deutschendorf II) Once again Dana is the focus of paranormal activity such as her baby’s carriage taking off on it’s own power and careening through rush hour Manhattan traffic. She’s also unnerved by the painting she’s working on, a portrait of the 16th century magician and tyrant Vigo The Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg/voiced by Max Von Sydow.)

The boys agree to help Dana and an illegal excavation on First Avenue where the baby carriage went wild enables them to discover a vast river of psychomagnatheric slime filling the long abandoned and experimental pneumatic transit system running the length of underground Manhattan. During their investigations the Ghostbusters cause a citywide blackout and are arrested. On the verge of being sentenced to jail, a sample of the slime reacts to Judge Wexler’s (Harris Yulin) near hysterical angry tirade directed at the boys and it conjures forth the spirits of two murderers Wexler sentenced to the electric chair. In order to save his life from the ghosts, Wexler dismisses all charges and restraining orders against The Ghostbusters who capture the ghosts and they’re back in business.

But can they stop the spirit of Vigo The Carpathian who has already possessed Janosz Poha and is using the river of slime, which feeds off the ill will of eight million New Yorkers to fuel his ever-growing power? What do you think? They’re too hot to handle, too cold to hold. They’re called The Ghostbusters and they’re in control. Try to battle these boys? That’s not legal.

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Whenever I read reviews or talk to people about GHOSTBUSTERS II, this is what I come away with: people don’t like it because it’s not “Ghostbusters.” But there’s no way it could be. “Ghostbusters” was so unique, so fresh, so unlike any movie we’d seen before. Me, I give the cast a lot of credit for giving it their best (well, most of them anyway…we’ll get to that) considering that most of them didn’t want to do a sequel and it had taken Columbia Pictures five years to persuade them to do a sequel.

But just like the first one, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis provide a story that feels like a story and not just something they tossed off during lunch. I like how the story picks up with The Ghostbusters having been sued out of business even though they saved the world (I wonder if that was intended as a homage to “Son of Kong” which found Carl Denham in a similar situation due to Kong’s rampage) and how the boys get back into business. I like how, just like in the first one, the Ghostbusters actually investigate the river of slime and Vigo’s history, putting clues together to uncover Vigo’s ultimate ambition of reincarnating himself in Dana’s baby Oscar (what, wouldn’t any baby do?)

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Unlike the first movie, Bill Murray doesn’t steal any scenes and his energy level here is way, way down. Oh, sure, he’s still the snarky, sarcastic Peter Venkman we know and love but the con-man/used car salesman hustler is gone. Thankfully Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson dial up their energy to compensate and it works. And we have Peter MacNicol who’s this movie’s MVP as Janosz Poha. I have no idea where MacNicol got that accent or that unusual way of phrasing that he uses but it leaves me limp with laughter every time he opens his mouth. Sigourney Weaver’s Dana really doesn’t have much to do except once again half-heartedly fend off Venkman’s advances and worry about her son. Annie Potts and Rick Moranis return as Janine Melnitz and Louis Tully and their characters are given a romance so that they’ll something to do while the boys are off busting ghosts.

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I’m well aware that I hold a minority opinion but I just can’t find it in me to dislike GHOSTBUSTERS II. It still has the quirky charm of the first and that goofy mixture of science fiction and the supernatural. The cast is extremely likeable and they all have great chemistry together. I watched it earlier today, damned if it still wasn’t a more entertaining and fun movie than 75% of the movies I’ve seen this year so far. No, it’s nowhere near as funny or as quotable as the first but there’s still a lot of good laughs to be had in here. Maybe it’s a sign of me getting older and more forgiving but more and more I’m judging movies on two things: was the movie fun and did it entertain me? GHOSTBUSTERS II does indeed entertain me and it’s a lot of fun.

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108 Minutes

Rated PG

Ghostbusters (1984)

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1984

Columbia Pictures

Directed and Produced by Ivan Reitman

Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Music by Elmer Bernstein

“Ghostbusters” written and performed by Ray Parker, Jr.

Parapsychologist Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting important ESP research at Columbia University (which involves tricking one of his students into believing she has psychic powers so he can get into her pants) when he’s called to the New York Public Library to investigate a genuine ghost sighting. Despite his best efforts to avoid going, he’s dragged to the library by his colleagues, Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) They encounter the spirit of a dead librarian and are thrilled that all their theories about the existence of the paranormal is validated. They dream of unlimited funding and academic success.

Unfortunately, Columbia University doesn’t see it that way as the trio are considered to be nuts. Well, Ray and Egon are. Peter is considered to be little more than a hustler and cheap con man. They’re fired from the university but that doesn’t phase Peter. In record time he’s persuaded Ray to mortgage his house (“Don’t worry about it! Everybody has three mortgages nowadays.”) in order to get the funds to develop and build equipment capable of capturing ghosts, buy a dilapidated firehouse one inspection away from being condemned and establish a ghost elimination service known as GHOSTBUSTERS. Their secretary, the sarcastic Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), mans the office. Ray buys a broken down ambulance he works on and refurbishes to transport their equipment they name “Ecto-1.” Although they’re initially looked upon as bunkum artists, the increase of paranormal activity in New York soon proves that they are legitimate and have to hire help, Winston Zeddmore who becomes the fourth Ghostbuster.

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Turns out that they really need the extra help. Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) seeks help from the Ghostbusters because a demonic spirit has possessed her refrigerator. And not long afterwards, possesses her as well. It’s Zuul, the servant of Gozer the Gozerian (Slavitza Jovan) the Sumerian god of destruction. Being The Gatekeeper, Zuul must join with The Keymaster, which has possessed the body of her next door neighbor, nebbishy accountant Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). In the meantime, the Ghostbusters have learned that Ivo Shandor, a mad scientist designed the building Dana and Louis live in as a gateway to bridge our world with that of the dimension Gozer inhabits, granting it access to Earth and thereby causing the end of the world.

Time to strap on the proton packs, heat ‘em up, make ‘em hard and show that prehistoric bitch how things are done downtown.

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What can possibly be said about GHOSTBUSTERS that you haven’t heard or read before? Well, how about this; if Neil Simon and Don Coscarelli had ever decided to get together and make a movie, it might have turned out something like this. It’s a uniquely New York movie in attitude and tone that reminded me of Simon what with that unique New York way of looking at things and how New Yorkers talk while the blend of the supernatural with science fiction reminded me of Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” movies. The unique blending of comedy, science fiction and the supernatural shouldn’t have worked but due to the talent behind and in front of the camera and the exceptionally strong story, it does so in magnificently successful fashion.

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And that is the key to GHOSTBUSTERS; the story. Writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis didn’t think up a bunch of gags and then write a story around the gags. They wrote a story first and let the gags grow out of the situation and the characters. And make no mistake about it; the movie has terrific characters, all of them. I especially like how the Ghostbusters themselves are portrayed as blue-collar scientists. Just because they have Ph.D.’s and IQs off the charts doesn’t mean that they’re not regular guys. They smoke cigarettes. They drink beer. They like working on cars and machinery and getting their hands dirty. They eat a lot of junk food (this love of eating junk food carries over into 2016’s “Ghostbusters” where we see the all-girl team share that trait with these guys). They investigate the case of Dana’s hauntings using their particular skill sets; Ray researches the history and construction of the building, Egon consults Tobin’s Spirit Guide to find out who Zuul is while Peter…well, Peter is being Peter. And if you’ve seen GHOSTBUSTERS (and I can’t imagine anybody who hasn’t) you know what that means.

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As good as the entire cast is, it’s Bill Murray that puts the movie in his hip pocket and walks out the door with it. He gets the majority of the funniest lines in the movie. But let me say that Harold Ramis can get just as much of a laugh out of me with his facial expressions. And Dan Aykroyd is a master of technobabble that is bewilderingly comical. All four of the Ghostbusters have distinct personalities and Dana Barrett is right on the money when she says that Peter Venkman acts more like a game show host than a scientist. He’s a hustler, always on the make for a quick buck or a even quicker lay but when the chips are down, he’s the first one to make a deal with The Mayor of New York to give the Ghostbusters a chance to save the city and the world. And everybody plays the material straight. If anybody had broken character or winked at the camera it would have spoiled the movie. But the don’t and because they treat what’s happening as real, we do as well.

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Over the years, GHOSTBUSTERS has come to be hailed as a classic. It’s rightly considered one of the funniest movies ever made and the United States Library of Congress has preserved it in the National Film Registry. Like I said earlier, I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t seen GHOSTBUSTERS. And I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. It’s rare that a movie is a perfect blend of genres married with a terrific story and solid acting. GHOSTBUSTERS is that perfect blend.

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Ernie Hudson, left, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in a scene from the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters.” CREDIT: Sony Pictures [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Rated PG

105 Minutes

Ghostbusters (2016)

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2016

Sony Pictures/LStar Capital/Village Roadshow Pictures/The Montecito Picture Company/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Paul Feig

Produced by Ivan Reitman/Amy Pascal

Written by Katie Dippold/Paul Feig

Based on the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters” Directed by Ivan Reitman and Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Particle Physicist Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) once completely believed in the supernatural and the paranormal due to her having experienced a haunting as a child. But now as an adult, a teacher at Columbia University and anxiously awaiting word on her tenure she’s more concerned with her standing and reputation in academia.

Which explains her hysteria when she learns that a book she co-wrote years ago with her then best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has resurfaced and is being sold on Amazon. The book threatens her tenure so she goes to visit Abby and persuade her to take the book down. Abby is still researching the paranormal along with her partner, brilliant engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) who has the IQ of a Time Lord and the eccentricity to match. Abby agrees to take the book down if Erin will assist her on an investigation. The investigation fires up Erin’s belief in the supernatural again and gets the three of them fired from their teaching positions.

However this just gives them the excuse to open up shop as “The Department of Metaphysical Examination” (don’t worry, that name doesn’t last very long) above a dilapidated Chinese restaurant along with dim-witted himbo Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as their secretary/receptionist/Man Friday. While the three scientists get to work building equipment to study and capture ghosts, MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) has some pretty frightening encounters with subway ghosts herself which lead to her contacting the three scientists and after discovering she enjoys the excitement and camaraderie, joins the team. She brings with her not only an encyclopedic knowledge and history of New York but transportation for the team, a hearse that Holtzmann lickedy-split pimps out into a custom ride to tote their equipment they dub “Ecto-1” and The Ghostbusters are born.

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And just in time because occultist Rowan North (Neil Casey) is planting devices all over Manhattan. Arcane devices that stimulate the mystic energies of ley lines that intersect at a key point, The Mercado Hotel in Times Square, itself a building with a grisly and horrendous history of paranormal activity. North’s purpose? Nothing less than to bring about The Apocalypse and rule a world of ghosts. Time to fire up those proton packs and save the world, ladies.

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The Ghostbusters Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones) in Columbia Pictures’ GHOSTBUSTERS.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: it’s a waste of time arguing if the 2016 GHOSTBUSTERS is better movie or even equal to 1984’s “Ghostbusters.” It’s like arguing about who the best James Bond is. It’s not fair to any of the other guys to compare them to Sean Connery because his performance is so iconic that there’s no way you can honestly and fairly put him up against anybody that followed him because they just can’t win. No way. (And watch how much feedback I get on this from the fans of George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.) Same thing with these two movies. The 1984 “Ghostbusters” is such a landmark that it has rightfully become a classic. It’s a damn near perfect movie in terms of balancing humor with horror, acting and story with imaginative verbal and visual jokes that are still gut-bustlingly hilarious today.

But here’s the thing; 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS doesn’t even try to go toe-to-toe with the earlier movie. We have the basic set-up and the familiar props such as the proton packs (along with new weapons based on the same technology). Ecto-1, the Ghostbusters logo and callbacks to the earlier movie such as the cold open where an innocent bystander just happens to encounter a malevolent spirit. And The Ghostbusters having their first major victory in capturing a ghost in a public place where everybody can see that ghosts are indeed real. So there’s an awful lot that’s familiar here. But everything else is brand new as far as the characters and the story is concerned and that was the best move the director and writers could have taken with the movie. These characters aren’t copies of the originals and we don’t get a rehash of a story we’ve seen before.

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I’ve got no problem with the acting. Kristen Wiig doesn’t know how to be anything but funny and she and Melissa McCarthy are a delight to watch work together. They have a number of scenes where they engage in humorous back-and-forth double-talk that I’m half-convinced they improvised. And I’m always happy when Melissa McCarthy doesn’t take the lazy way out and fall back on being The Funny Fat Girl as she’s way too funny for that to be her default comedy mode. Leslie Jones is more manic than her co-stars but that’s okay because we love it when Leslie Jones is manic and gets some of the movie’s biggest laughs as a result. Chris Hemsworth is nothing less than hilarious playing a big, dumb, good-looking hunk and you can tell he had a lot of fun in this movie.

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But it’s easily Kate McKinnon that walks off with the MVP award for this movie. She effortlessly steals every scene she’s in. Like I said earlier, Holtzmann must have the IQ of a Time Lord since she comes up with the wildest and coolest gizmos, gadgets and weapons with no trouble at all. Nothing The Ghostbusters encounter phases her, freaks her out or surprises. She, however, takes a manic delight in freaking everybody else out. Holtzmann is, more than any of the other characters cut out for this life. She’d be right at home with Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers, she’s just that cool.

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So should you see GHOSTBUSTERS? Absolutely. It’s not a remake at all. Re-Imagining is the best way to describe it and it’s done with respect and admiration for the original. It loves the original so much that it doesn’t try to be that movie and instead works hard at being it’s own movie and it succeeds. GHOSTBUSTERS is a welcome two hours of fun in what has been a dismal movie year. Go see and enjoy.

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116 Minutes

PG-13

Stripes

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Produced by Daniel Goldberg/Ivan Reitman

Written by Len Blum/Harold Ramis/Daniel Goldberg

Ask most people what they consider THE Definitive Bill Murray Comedy and you’re going to get many answers. Some will go all the way back to “Meatballs.” A whole lot will say “Caddyshack” or “Ghostbusters.” A lot more will say “Scrooged” or “Groundhog Day.” Then you’ll have those that will cite “Rushmore” or “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Seeing as how I’m not a fan of either one of those we’ll just push on.

But if you were to ask me what my definitive Bill Murray Comedy is, I’d always answer with STRIPES. Why? Maybe because it appeals a whole lot to who I was back in 1981 when I saw the movie. I was irreverent, foolhardy, undisciplined and more than a bit of a total asshole which is exactly what the John Winger character that Bill Murray plays in this movie is. So I identified a lot with that. But it’s also more than that. STRIPES is a superior comedy that highlights the team of Bill Murray and Harold Ramis to their comedic utmost. I mean that everything these cats do in this movie is funny. STRIPES is one of those rare comedy movies that just doesn’t run out of steam. The longer it goes on, the funnier it gets. And it’s the best kind of comedy. The kind in which we’re laughing with the characters and the situations they get into and not at them.

John Winger (Bill Murray) loses his job, his girl and his apartment all in the same day and on an impulse decides to join The Army and be all the best that he can be. His best friend Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) joins up with him because he’s that Best of Best Friends: the one that will totally and completely assist you in making a stupid mistake.

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Winger and Ziskey are a little older than your usual recruit so they’re not as down with the gung-ho attitude of their younger platoon mates (John Candy, John Diehl and Judge Reinhold). And Winger soon finds himself in serious contention with their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates) who is having his own problem with the platoon’s new commanding officer, the supremely incompetent Captain Stillman (John Larroquette). But Winger and Ziskey soon find the rigors of basic training softened by their blatantly sexual relationships with female MPs Hansen (P.J. Soles) and Cooper (Sean Young).

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Through a series of misadventures I would not dream of revealing here just in case you have never seen STRIPES (and if you haven’t then what is wrong with you?) Winger, Ziskey, Hansen and Cooper find themselves in the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle, which is basically a tank designed as a family RV invading Czechoslovakia to rescue Captain Stillman and their platoon who themselves mistakenly invaded Czechoslovakia thinking that Winger and Ziskey were Russian spies. Look, just watch the movie, okay?

I truly enjoy watching Bill Murray at work in every single scene in this movie. Not only is he as funny as we expect him to be in the funny scenes but there are actually a couple of scenes where we see flashes of the dramatic actor we would see in later movies such as “Lost In Translation” “Get Low” and “Hyde Park On Hudson.” I really like how Harold Ramis ended up with the Hot Chick in this movie instead of his co-star. And STRIPES is the movie that will make you wish that he and Murray had co-starred in a lot more movies. In this movie he shows how he was truly the perfect foil and balance for Murray’s type of humor.

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What else can I say about STRIPES? There’s Warren Oates and his understated performance as Sergeant Hulka. Oates is funny here because most of the time he’s on screen he’s not trying to be funny. But when he is trying, he knows how to sell the scene. And he knows how to play dramatic in a comedy movie such as in the scene where he and Murray have a confrontation in a bathroom. The scene isn’t played for laughs and in the context of what we have come to know about the two characters and their relationship to each other, it works. John Candy and John Diehl have some great scenes together that I enjoyed a lot because I know from interviews I’ve read and seen with him I think I have a good sense of how smart John Diehl is and I appreciate that you have to be really smart to plat really dumb. The Classic “Army Training, SIR!” scene where Murray and his platoon totally kick all kinds of ass in drill techniques in front of the Army brass.

The bottom line is this: I consider STRIPES to be one of the smartest and funniest comedies to have come out of the 1980s. You want to see Classic Bill Murray at his best, watch this one.

106 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

 

The Jungle Book

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2016

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Jon Favreau

Produced by Jon Favreau and Brigham Taylor

Screenplay by Justin Marks

Based on “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling

I am honestly not a fan of 3D at all. I consider it a novelty, a gimmick. Most of the time it’s distracting me from what I really want to do. Which is to get into the movie and enjoy it. I don’t get the fun of having things flying off the screen at me. On top of that, I wear glasses and I really don’t like to have to wear another pair just to watch a lousy movie. And I’ve really been pissed the past couple of years with what I perceive as a deliberate effort on the part of movie theaters to force people to see a movie in 3D. You know the scam: a theater will schedule multiple showings of the 3D version of the movie that you want to see and relatively few showings of the same movie in 2D (is that the correct term?) Nine times outta ten I opt to walk away from the movie or go see something else rather than be forced to see the movie in 3D.

Now, I say that to say this: if you can, then see THE JUNGLE BOOK in 3D.

As a baby, the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is found wandering the savage jungles of India by the majestic black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) who acts as his teacher/mentor. Bagheera gives Mowgli into the care of a wolf pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and his mate Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Mowgli is raised in the ways and laws of the wolf. But try as he might, Mowgli cannot quite keep up with his wolf siblings and has to resort to his human ingenuity at building tools to even things up.

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During the dry season, there is a truce called during the seasonal drought. This means that all the jungle denizens can gather at the local watering hole to drink in peace without fear of being eaten by the predators. It is here that the viciously bloodthirsty Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) learns of Mowgli’s existence. Shere Khan hates all men since they know the secret of making fire, which the animals call The Red Flower. Shere Khan’s scarred face is the result of his being burned by men. Shere Khan vows to keep the truce but only until the drought is over and then he will kill Mowgli.

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Not wishing to place his adoptive family in danger, Mowgli elects to leave on his own. Bagheera volunteers to escort Mowgli to the nearest village of men where he will be safe among his own kind from Shere Khan. But the wily tiger has anticipated this move and follows the pair. He ambushes them and while Bagheera holds off the tiger, Mowgli escapes. While waiting for Bagheera he falls under the hypnotic spell of the giant python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson). Mowgli is rescued by Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). The two become fast friends and Mowgli agrees to stay with Baloo. Life is good until Bagheera shows up and convinces Baloo that he can’t protect Mowgli from Shere Khan. While they bark and bite over the fate of the man-cub, Mowgli is kidnapped by the Bandar-log (monkeys) who take them to their leader, the Gigantopithecus ape King Louie (Christopher Walken). The panther and the bear set off to rescue Mowgli. But even if Bagheera and Baloo can save their human friend from King Louie and his army of monkeys, Shere Khan is waiting for his opportunity to take his revenge…

You wanna know how much I enjoyed THE JUNGLE BOOK? Would you believe I actually forgot about the 3D? For one of the very few times I was watching a movie where the 3D did the job it’s supposed to do and pulled me into the movie and immersed me and enabled me to truly get lost in the story. And the CGI is spectacular. There’s just no other way to describe it. Visually this is one of the most impressive imaginary worlds I’ve seen on screen.

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Neel Sethi is a wonderful young actor. Although I’m sure he must have been reacting to a lot of things that weren’t there, this young man sells it without blinking an eye. He’s charming and looks as if he’s having a lot of fun and his expressive face works with his dialog in communicating to us at all times exactly what Mowgli is thinking and feeling.

I’m curious as to why such a big deal was made of Scarlett Johansson’s role as Kaa since it amounts to nothing more than a glorified cameo. Idris Elba steals every scene he’s in as Shere Khan and makes the character a truly terrifying, unpredictable force to be feared and reckoned with. And even though the movie isn’t a musical, I mean, c’mon…how can you not have Bill Murray sing “The Bare Necessities” and Christopher Walken sing “I Wan’na Be Like You”? Some will complain that the songs throw off the tone of the movie but I don’t think so. They’re lighter, whimsical moments that are nice homages to the 1967 animated “Jungle Book” as well as giving us a break from the more serious, darker elements of this version.

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So should you see THE JUNGLE BOOK? If you’re a fan of the original (and breathes there a living soul who isn’t?) then don’t waste anymore time. Go see it. People BMW about remakes but if they’re done with as much respect for the original as this one and with this level of technical, artistic and creative talent they can truly be a joy to watch and great way to spend an afternoon at the movies. Enjoy.

106 Minutes

Rated PG: But parents, be advised…there’s still some stuff here that might frighten the little ones, especially the scenes with Shere Khan. But then again, kids are pretty jaded these days and watch far more violent stuff at home so what do I know? Anyway, just thought I’d let you know.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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2014

American Empirical Pictures/Fox Searchlight Studios

Directed by and Screenplay by Wes Anderson

Produced by Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steve M. Rales and Scott Rudin

Story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness

One of the main characters in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL works in Mendl’s, a bakery that is renowned throughout the fictional European alpine country of Zubrowka. The confections that come out of Mendl’s are famous for not only tasting as if the angels themselves had baked them but they are also glorious works of art for the eye as well as for the tongue that one can spend hours just looking at, debating whether or not it’s too beautiful to be eaten.

That’s kind of an apt metaphor for this movie as well. Because THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is like a very rich cake or dessert that looks absolutely amazing and goes down very sweetly. Like other Wes Anderson movies, this one is an ornate visual treat.  A Wes Anderson movie doesn’t look like anybody else’s movies and I am thankful for that. He uses practical effects in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL such as miniatures, rear projection and matte painting. Right now some of you reading this are scratching your head and saying, “Why go through all that trouble? Why not just use CGI?” if so, then THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL in particular and Wes Anderson movies in general are not for you.

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The story of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is told in a flashback of a flashback and while that might sound confusing, it isn’t, trust me. We meet a Young Writer (Jude Law) in 1968 staying at the almost empty Grand Budapest Hotel. This once elegant establishment is slowly and stubbornly decaying beautifully. The Young Writer makes the acquaintance the hotel’s owner, Mr. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who takes a liking to the Young Writer and over a long dinner tells him the story of how Mr. Moustafa came to own The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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We now go to the 1930’s where Mr. Moustafa worked as a lobby boy at the hotel. Zero (Tony Revolori) is taken under the wing of the hotel’s concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) who acts like a benevolent monarch to the staff and an extraordinarily capable servant to the guests. Especially the ladies. And most especially the ones who are old and rich. M. Gustave reserves very special services for them (and a few men as well, it’s implied)

The plot (such as it is) gets going when one of M. Gustave’s conquests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies under mysterious circumstances. In her will she has left M. Gustave a priceless Renaissance Painting. Gustave’s claim on the painting is put in jeopardy by accusations from Madame D.’s son Dmitri (Adrian Brody) that Gustave himself murdered Madame D. Gustave takes the painting and goes on the run with the faithful Zero by his side, determined to clear himself and restore his good name.

And that’s really all you need to know about the plot because Wes Anderson doesn’t seem very interested in it himself. As usual, the strength of a Wes Anderson movie is the visuals and the characters. And Ralph Fiennes is indeed quite the character. Ralph Fiennes without a doubt delivers the best performance in the movie. On one level the character is totally ridiculous, delighting in his own pomposity, given to reciting or making up poetry on the spot. But on the other he’s supremely devoted to his position and his respect for the tradition of The Grand Budapest Hotel that is both endearing and in its own way, quite noble.

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His chemistry with Toney Revolori is delightful and one of the pleasures of the movie is to watch the wonderful friendship that develops between Gustave and Zero. The movie is chock full of interesting, quirky characters played by many familiar faces from Wes Anderson’s usual repertory of actors who appear in his movies such as Willem Dafoe, who is blackly hilarious as a hit man, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. But there’s a whole host of other actors who pop up in cameos that will give you a nice thrill when you see them.

How does this stack up with the other Wes Anderson movies I’ve seen? I wouldn’t put it on the same shelf as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” “Moonrise Kingdom” or “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” all of which are my favorite Wes Anderson movies. But I do rate it way higher than pretentious pap like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited”

It’s a luxurious and downright opulent movie that presents us with an entire world that has weight and depth and texture. I truly appreciate movies that don’t look like other movies and present stories a little bit skewed and makes me cock my head a bit to the side while watching it. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is well worth your time if you’re the type who likes your desserts just a little bit richer than is good for you. Enjoy.

Rated R

100 Minutes