Posts Tagged ‘family’

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I have zero connection to Disney movies.

Even as a child, I was already too grown-up for their fake worldview.

I am a better person for it. Disney is a disease that infects children with unrealistic expectations. Director Jon Favreau does an admirable job subverting the classic expectations of Disney movies as much as possible. But the cheese is overwhelmingly ham-handed and inescapable.

Of course, this is still a children’s movie—first and foremost. Like most kids movies, they sell audiences on the bullshit line that it’s for children but can also be enjoyed by adults. While Favreau performed substantially better than most would in his position, that balancing act is very visible.

Neel Sethi

Before we get into spoiler territory, let’s talk about what works. Above all, The Jungle Book is a success because Disney nailed their casting of Mowgli. Neel Sethi was phenomenal and picture-perfect for the role. Few child actors could pull of the physicality needed for Mowgli to move throughout the jungle in a realistic fashion while also believably interacting with CGI animals. Apparently, The Jim Henson Creature Shop was wisely brought in to fabricate puppets to serve as reference points for Neel Sethi. However, this movie probably doesn’t work remotely as well with any other child actor.

You have to love Mowgli because this is his journey and you are with him every step.

Baloo and Mowgli

Bill Murray is always a welcome presence, and he does a superb job bringing Baloo (the bear) to life. The character depiction perfectly matches Bill Murray’s voice and delivery. The third casting choice that Disney had to perfect was Shere Khan (the tiger) because he’s the villain that you must fear and despise. Idris Elba reveled in this opportunity and he chews ample scenery. As a result, Shere Khan is the correct mix of menace and power. I could do without every other casting decision.

I understand why they would want to cast Ben Kingsley as Bagheera (the panther)—especially considering the backstory of the book in the context of India. I mean, he’s fucking Gandhi. But it felt like a decision obligated more out of politics/commercial incentives instead of a character-based decision. Personally, it feels like Ben Kingsley mailed it in—either that or he’s not a good voice actor. Emotionally, Bagheera feels flat. While he may have intended for it to come across as regal, Ben Kingsley’s delivery feels like he’s bored and divorced from what is happening on the screen.

Bagheera

For a completely computer-generated movie (except for Neel Sethi), The Jungle Book breaks new ground and deserves praise for being a technological achievement. As usual, the 3D is completely unnecessary and I think it would drastically detract from the visuals. While there is a certain disconnect between the voice actors and CGI animals moving their mouths, I was able to forgive and forget that these were actors in a sound booth. You just have to go with it because you can only do so much to replicate how voices echo through the space and density of a computer-generated jungle.

Although it may look silly 5-10 years later, this is an important step in CGI development.

Now that I’ve praised this enough, let’s get down to talking some shit about a children’s movie.

Spoilers galore.

A surprising amount of death occurs in The Jungle Book.

However, no real violence is shown when a death happens, but the character completely disappears from the story without so much as a lingering shot. This occurs multiple times. Maybe I’m guilty of overanalyzing, but I believe you negate the impact of the death you’re showing by just breezing right past it. Mufasa’s death in The Lion King makes a monumental impression because they show the act and direct aftermath—Simba seeing the body of his dead father and mourning him.

Whereas in The Jungle Book, it’s impossible to tell whether or not some characters actually died—specifically Kaa and King Louie. Both of these characters feel shoehorned into the movie. I have no idea what their previous roles were in the animated movie or book, but the screen time for Kaa and King Louie appears to primarily serve as clumsy exposition to further plot points.

Kaa

Kaa is a massive python s-s-seductively voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She is in one scene where she basically tells Mowgli the story of the red flower (Shere Khan killing Mowgli’s father and getting burnt badly in the process) and then tries to devour Mowgli. Somehow, Baloo silently climbs up an extremely high tree and I guess he viciously kills Kaa to save Mowgli. Remember, Baloo is a lazy, obese bear—but evidently he can climb really high steathily undetected. Kaa never reappears in the story, but you also never see Baloo kill Kaa. It’s just a roar, heavy implication, and quick cut.

King Louie appears in a similar yet even more bungled sequence. King Louie is voiced by Christopher Walken, which is so weird that it works. While King Louie is an orangutan in every other incarnation, Jon Favreau turned the character into a Gigantopithecus. Essentially, he is King Kong as an orangutan with all of the quirky personality traits of Christopher Walken. King Louie wants to learn the secret to controlling the red flower from Mowgli so he can use it for his own sinister devices.

King Louie

Bagheera and Baloo track Mowgli down after he’s kidnapped by the monkeys and taken to King Louie. With their help, Mowgli escapes, but they all have to outrun and outwit King Louie. This leads to King Louie destroying his kingdom so he can try to grab Mowgli. As a result of his greed, the whole kingdom literally crumbles down on top of King Louie. These scenes make it seem like Kaa and King Louie only exist to talk about the red flower (fire), threaten to kill Mowgli, and then die.

It seems very odd as an adult, and I would imagine children must also be confused.

And apparently, all life is precious in the jungle except monkeys. Countless monkeys presumably get slaughtered—or else we’re supposed to pretend they’re made of rubber and have no bones so they can get clawed and trampled without any repercussions. Why did the monkeys get fucked over? As far as I can recall, the monkeys are also the only animals that aren’t given human voices.

That is some fucked-up shit to do to our closest DNA relatives, Fatreau.

Finally, Mowgli learns from King Louie (before he is crumbled to death) that Shere Khan killed Akela. That was also another glossed-over death because Khan attacks Akela and throws him off a cliff. It is incredibly quick, but at least that is a death that has an impact. While the wolves let Shere Khan reign supreme over their domain, Mowgli is immediately out for blood when he hears the news.

Shere Khan

Mowgli runs to the man village to steal fire and sprints through the jungle with a lit torch.

In his haste, embers from his torch fly off and ignite the jungle. This all leads to a very stilted final stand after Mowgli miraculously runs back home in a matter of minutes (the same ground that it took him days to flee). Inevitably, Mowgli kills Shere Khan with fire—using the blaze he created by burning the jungle. But it’s all cool because elephants are natural firefighters. Problem solved!

So the lesson here is don’t play with fire…unless you have an elephant around.

I don’t know why they intentionally made the hero (Mowgli) destroy part of the jungle—even if it was by mistake. Apparently, that fire didn’t kill any other animals or destroy their habitats. Remember, elephants are magical and can fix any situation by knocking down some trees.

Despite all its faults, The Jungle Book is a good movie.

But everyone should relax on the instant classic bullshit.

Red Flower

3.5 out of 5 stars

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An Ode to Deuce

Posted: September 15, 2015 in In Queue
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My writing has always been an act of catharsis. Right now, I need it more than ever after losing my dog yesterday to bone cancer. So excuse me while I engage in a little self-indulgence. Remember: this is for me, not you. Any other eyes that may read this is merely coincidental and not a true concern.

Let me start by saying I don’t understand people who claim they just aren’t “dog people.” I can only assume you are a horrible person if you don’t love dogs. Man’s best friend is a cliché, but a well-deserved moniker. I simply cannot fathom my life without animals—especially dogs.

Every dog that’s been part of my family has had its own personality. Deuce was the kindest and gentlest dog you could find. Always warm to every person. Even if you only met him for a fleeting moment, you couldn’t help but fall in love. You can be sure he would back his ass into you in hopes you would give him the sweet relief of scratching his back. A hand hanging off the couch would surely be welcomed with his head pushing against it to be petted. Deuce loved to chase down a tennis ball. You’ve never seen a dog so graceful. If you left an inch next to you on the couch, he would definitely jump up and squeeze himself into positions that couldn’t have been comfortable. And like almost any dog, a nice belly rub made you his instant buddy. Anyone who owns a dog should understand these things and be able to relate.

The unconditional love from a dog cannot be quantified. They are always there.

Deuce was always there. The one constant in my life when almost nothing else was constant.

Growing up, we always had Border Collies—a whole family named Mandy, Spook, and Patches. A piece of my heart broke each time we lost one. It felt like the end of the world every time fate struck. After that heartbreak, I couldn’t stand to have another Border Collie. Too much pain conjured up.

Enter: Deuce.

Deuce 1

Deuce joined our family a little over 9 years ago—some time after my parents divorced. A beautiful, playful Black Labrador mixed with some type of Shepherd. It was love at first sight. Although I was around 19 at the time, it was the stereotypical relationship of a boy and his dog. One of the earliest memories I have is falling while heading downstairs to the basement. Before I could even gather myself, Deuce comes running and plops down with his head on my chest while I’m still on the ground.

Deuce was so damn smart and dumb at the same time. I taught him to sit, shake, high five, lay down, and roll over. All with the aid of classic American staples like bologna, cheese, and hot dogs. If you put your hand up anywhere near him, you might just get clocked in the face as he tried to give you a high five. He could leap straight up into the air past my head to snatch any snack held at its highest point.

Deuce 2

That dumb goofiness I referred to landed Deuce in danger when he was younger and nearly ended with him on death’s door far too early. Either he got into mop water or some other stupid, horrendous household chemicals. Curiosity almost killed the dog. To this day, I have no idea what happened. But he wouldn’t eat and was fading fast. After taking him to the vet, I had to give him water and food (mostly mashed potatoes) shooting it through a syringe into his mouth so he would consume it. I can hardly remember being so scared. I held him in my arms and thankfully he was nursed back to health.

I’m grateful for every moment we had. Even those times when he chewed up my baseball glove or destroyed a computer cable. Dogs just have that magical ability to make you forget a shitty day. Not all people love dogs and not all dogs love people. Deuce loved people. Whenever he saw me, he was so enthusiastic that his tail would helicopter around. How can that not put a smile on your face?

Deuce 4

I will miss so much about him. I already do. I’m sad that Deuce will no longer be coming when I snap my fingers repeatedly. I won’t be able to say goodbye to him when I go to work. And it kills me that he’s not going to excitedly rush to the door whenever I come home. It just doesn’t feel the same.

But it’s all part of owning dogs. If you’re lucky, you get to play with them as a puppy and nurture them into adulthood. When their time comes to an end, you need to be there with them until the last breath. You owe it to them and you owe it to yourself. To some, this may seem like melodrama or an overreaction to an animal passing. They are family. When there’s a being who can look at your face and decipher your emotions, I cannot imagine how you can’t bond and form a close connection.

When the time comes, you know it. A few weeks ago, Deuce coughed up blood. A lot of bright red blood. After taking him to the vet, we found out that he had bone cancer and it spread to his lungs. Never feels good to pay hundreds of dollars to find out your dog is dying. That was a rough day.

But I’m appreciative of the opportunity to truly appreciate these past few weeks.

Thanks to medicine hidden in cheese, we were able to keep him comfortable and enjoy the time we had remaining. It’s difficult to watch a loved one struggle and start to deteriorate. But he was still happy. I couldn’t let things end when he was still so happy. Slowly, his ability to walk decreased and he moved at a snail’s pace. With cancer, you have your good days and you have your bad days. Deuce wasn’t in pain, but you could tell when the clock is winding down. It became a struggle to keep down food and his breathing was more of a chore. Throughout all this, we were also giving Deuce medicine for Valley Fever in the very small, rare chance that it could have been the worst case of Valley Fever in a dog.

Last week, things were looking bleak. Out of nowhere, Deuce rallied near the end of the week and he started moving around as if there was no issue. It was truly remarkable. He gave us one last great weekend with everything he had left. I got to enjoy one final (bittersweet) lazy Sunday of football hugging my dog on the couch. But his panting become more hurried that night. Deuce spent all day burying his head in my hands. One of our other dogs (the intelligent Yorkshire Terrier not the manipulative, fat Chihuahua-Dachshund) could tell something was wrong and he never even truly got along with Deuce.

After holding him in my arms through the night, I knew Monday would have to be the day and I took the day off work. We enjoyed one last day together. You could tell he knew it was time. Cheese was no longer enticing as he sussed out any medicine with his tongue and disapprovingly spit it out.

We had so many high fives yesterday and one more nap on the couch.

Deuce 3

Later that day, we drove to the vet. The typically sunny and violently hot Arizona summer turned into a grey overcast evening where the sunset was peaking through clouds in an odd scene of orange with a slight drizzle. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was all for him.

When we found out Deuce had cancer, he weighed about 55lbs in the office. Nearly a month later, he was down to nearly 40lbs with only a small reserve of energy left. My heart was sinking when he was still trying to wag his tail as we got out of the car. That’s just who he was, a goofy weirdo. A puppy in spirit forever.

You almost take it for granted, but the people at the vet clinic couldn’t have been any more caring and compassionate. It’s important to be walked through the process because it’s difficult and strange enough as it is. And I hope that you too will be there throughout and see the process until the end.

Deuce 5

Deuce was always there for me. I had to be there for him. You should too.

In the middle of the room, there was a big body pillow that I laid near with Deuce’s head on my chest. Like damn near every day for the last 9 years, I held him in my arms. I hope he didn’t hear my heart racing, but the tears streaming down my face gave it away regardless. We knew these were our last moments.

More high fives were had. My wife and I got one last kiss from him.

After being injected with a sedation medicine, he slowly started to drift away. But every time someone knocked or the door opened, Deuce popped his head up. His protective nature still intact. He wanted to make sure we were alright until the end. A few minutes later, he was asleep. Then the final medicine entered his system and he was gone. It was so peaceful and painless. We were together.

One final nap with him in my arms and my wife holding his paw.

For better or worse (for better and worse), I’ll never forget that scene. Saying goodbye was so hard. Leaving to go home didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t. In that moment, another piece of my heart broke off. But I have no regrets. He was family. I will never forget him.

I’ve broken down several times today. That’s why I needed to release this through writing. Leaving for work felt impossible and I dreaded coming home to just two dogs instead of our unique trio. When I was getting ice for a drink, an ice cube fell and I instinctually called his name since Deuce loved chomping on fallen ice cubes. My house is quite literally littered with his shedding hair as a final reminder. I’m sure we won’t ever be able to scrub away every loose hair until we finally leave this forsaken place.

Right now, everything is too raw and fresh. Time will help heal the wounds. With the help of my wife and our little family of dogs, we’ll get through this and continue to make memories. Eventually, I’ll be able to remember all of these moments without hyperventilating. I hope that those of you who have dogs will be able to treasure the moments you share and can also be there when their time ends.

As hard as it is to experience, it is worth every moment. Each person grieves in their own way.

On this occasion, this is how I need to do it. I’ll try not to shed any more tears.

I love you so much, Deuce. I miss you already.

Don’t mind me, just let me be
My eyes so far away
I don’t need no sympathy
The word gets overplayed

I’m alright, it’s just tonight
I can’t play the part
I’m alright, it’s alright
It’s just a broken heart.

Don’t have eyes for the world outside
They’re closed and turned within
Trying to find a light inside
It’s there and growing dim

I’m alright, it’s just tonight
I can’t play the part
I’m alright, it’s alright
It’s just one broken heart…

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Animated movies typically do nothing for me.

The cold cockles of my heart are not warmed by song and dance. If anything, the whole charade annoys the shit out of me. Maybe it would be different if I had children. But my hatred grows whenever I see a movie that’s supposedly made for children yet advertised as if it is also for adults.

The Book of Life masquerades as adult entertainment, but this is really a children’s movie at heart. All the pee and poop jokes make it easy to tell. Somehow, it still manages to not be so horrible.

As a story, The Book of Life is unremarkable. Situated as a story within a story, the opening introduces the audience to a ragtag group of misbehaved children arriving at a museum for a school field trip. However, the tour guide (Mary Beth voiced by Christina Applegate) leads the children through a special entrance and to a hidden room that houses the Book of Life—a tome containing every story in the world.

Book

Mary Beth tells the children about a struggle between the forces of good and evil. In this story, La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo) rules over the Land of the Remembered while Xibalba (voiced by Ron Perlman) rules over the Land of the Forgotten. It doesn’t take a genius to find out which side is good and evil.

Like all great Mexican children’s stories, it’s all about gambling. In this particular piece of folklore, the focus centers around a bet between La Muerte and Xibalba over which young boy—Manolo or Joaquin—will win the heart of our young beauty, Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana). If Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) marries Maria, then Xibalba will reign supreme in the Land of the Remembered while La Muerte is banished to the Land of the Forgotten. If Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) marries Maria, then La Muerte will rule over both realms and Xibalba must never interfere in human affairs again.

LaMuerteXibalba

Not exactly the most interesting stakes, but let’s forgive that fault from a children’s movie.

It’s all about managing expectations, which can get carried away when you learn about Guillermo del Toro’s involvement. The Book of Life is written and directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez, but you can certainly see Guillermo del Toro’s influence as a producer. While the story plays out in rather standard fashion, there are enough entertaining wrinkles that can capture the imagination of adults.

In particular, The Book of Life surprised me by not succumbing to the temptation of the song and dance routine. The story isn’t interrupted every few minutes by a light-hearted melody. Instead, there are only a handful of songs that sporadically break up the plot points and there’s mostly a reason for the song.

When Manolo breaks into a cover of “Creep” by Radiohead, I immediately bought into this movie at that exact instance. It was a perfect rendition of a widely recognized song that’s used to propel the story—elevating the sequence above more than the typical pointless song and dance dribble.

There’s nothing here that will escalate to Frozen’s “Let It Go” tune, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as The Book Life is an infinitely better movie than Frozen. Walking a fine line between schmaltzy and serious, The Book of Life brings vibrant Day of the Dead visuals to life that everyone should enjoy.

World

With the correct concoction to satisfy both children and adults, The Book of Life is the rare type of movie for everyone. Don’t expect this movie to be on the same level as the all-time classic Pan’s Labyrinth because it’s not a direct product of Guillermo del Toro. Blended with equal portions of elements from Nightmare Before Christmas and Romeo and Juliet, The Book of Life is a quality film with substantially better presentation and execution than most animated movies—including The Lego Movie earlier this year.

Now a generation of children will grow up with Ice Cube telling them to write their own story.

Churros

4 out of 5 stars