Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Jungle Book

I saw the new Disney movie this weekend and thought it was great. I still can't really believe that all the visual effects and characters besides Mowgli were CGI; the environment looked very real and convincing. The only thing that was hyper-unbelievable was the giant King Louie. He claimed that he was a "gigantopithecus" (an extinct ape species) but really he just looked like a massive modern orangutan. It was interesting that Christopher Walken played him as a gangster-type, somewhat of an improvement on Walken's bad portrayal of Captain Hook on the Peter Pan Live musical. The rest of the cast was great, and I loved Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, though I couldn't always hear his dialogue over the music and people talking in the theater. (I only got a vague impression of why the panther told Mowgli that elephants created the world, therefore other animals must bow to them.) The writers did a good job trying to make a coherent dramatic story about Shere Khan hunting Mowgli down. I've read the Kipling book long ago, and found it was loosely connected short stories alternating with "songs" which were merely poems or chants spoken by the characters. I liked that Baloo commented that the Law of the Jungle was not a song, but propaganda. There were nice moments of levity and fun in the movie, and the end credits had some cute stuff.

At home, I watched part 2 of the Jackie Robinson special that I recorded last week. After his first couple of seasons in the major league, he began to speak up for himself more and not just passively take abuse and discrimination. The Dodgers hired other black players on the team, but they disagreed on how much they ought to actively protest their unequal treatment. One of the commentators observed that it's a common tactic to try to pit minorities against each other. In fact, this also happened when Jackie was asked to testify against Communists, particularly the singer Paul Robeson. Jackie thought he was doing a good thing, confirming that blacks were loyal Americans, but of course nobody should be asked to speak for his entire race, like they're a monolith with one opinion. (Not to mention the whole witch-hunt against Communists was un-American in itself.) When Jackie's wife tried to get them a house in the suburbs, the realtors were biased against them until they got some celebrity help to settle in Connecticut. There were other family problems too. Eventually Jackie's health declined from diabetes, so he retired from baseball and started working at the Chock Full of Nuts coffee business.

As the Civil Rights movement emerged in the 1950s, Jackie became politically active, writing a column in the newspaper and lending support when Martin Luther King Jr. asked him to come to the south. I was surprised to learn that Jackie liked Nixon initially in the 1960 presidential election. His wife Rachel was a Democrat, but he was more stubbornly independent. I can understand why he'd go for the Republican then because JFK really was cautious and tepid in his support for civil rights at first. (Much like Abraham Lincoln didn't initially try to emancipate the slaves until later in the Civil War, frustrating abolitionists who wanted him to move faster on these issues.) But after Nixon refused to help get King out of jail, Jackie was disappointed in Nixon though he still seemed to have hope to change the Republican party from within. In the 1964 election, Jackie supported the moderate New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, but the Republican nomination went to Barry Goldwater instead (who lost to LBJ in the general). As Malcolm X and more militant movements like the Black Panthers rose, Jackie disapproved and was accused of being out of touch with the current generation. They were impatient for more radical progress in racial equality, and they didn't like his conservatism I guess. Overall the biography was a balanced, in-depth look at Jackie Robinson's whole life, not just his baseball career or the mythology around him as an icon.

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