Saturday, April 23, 2016

Why Disney's Original 'Jungle Book' Is Germany's Biggest Film of All Time

(By  Scott Roxborough, Hollywood Reporter, 22 April 2016)

Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book did great in Germany on its opening weekend, pulling in $5.6 million on 655 screens with nearly half a million tickets sold, the best opening for one of Disney's classic reboots here since 2010's Alice in Wonderland. The film has grossed a total of $6.3 million in the territory so far.  But the new Jungle Book has a way to go if it's to catch Disney's 1967 original in the country.  The first Jungle Book, directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, is not just the most successful animation film in Germany. It's not just Disney's biggest-ever release in the country. In Germany, The Jungle Book (1967) is the biggest movie of all time.

Germans have bought 27.3 million tickets to watch the original Jungle Book in theaters, nearly 10 million, by admissions, more than Titanic, the second-most successful film here with 18.8 million tickets sold. Avatar is a distant third with 11.3 million. More than three times as many Germans have seen The Jungle Book in theaters than Disney's Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, which sold fewer than 9 million tickets here. Outside the United States, (around 62 million tickets sold), nowhere has The Jungle Book done better.

German film statistics from the 1960s did not track box-office results, so it's impossible to make a direct comparison with later films but given the gap in ticket sales, and taking inflation into account, it's a safe bet The Jungle Book is the country's number one earner as well.  The film's amazing teutonic success story is attributable to talent and lucky timing, and of a group of irreverent German musicians and cabaret artists who freely adapted the original Disney songs to suit their generation.

It is, most of all, the story of Heinrich Riethmuller, the German composer and music producer who, after producing the German dub work for Disney's Mary Poppins in 1964, got offered the Jungle Book gig. For the first time, Riethmuller had full control: he wrote the German translation, adapted the film's songs and directed the dubbed version of the film.  “I don't tend to like dubbed versions, I prefer the originals, but in this case, in this one case, the German version is better,” says Daniel Kothenschulte, film critic for the Frankfurter Rundschau and one of the leading experts on animation film in Germany. “Riethmuller makes the song lyrics to The Jungle Book better than they actually were.”

Take, for example, Baloo's signature song: "The Bare Necessities." Riethmuller's German version, "Probiers mal mit Gemutlichkeit" (or, roughly translated, Try Taking it Easy), changes the original meaning, from “be satisfied with the simple things in life” to “chill out and you'll be happy.”  “The original version, by the American folk singer Terry Gilkyson, has a pretty conservative message, when you think of it, of making due with less,” says Kothenschulte. “Riethmuller's lyrics are more liberal and positive, they promise both freedom and comfort, the jungle as a sort of boundless utopia.”

It also helped that Riethmuller assembled a team of exceptional voiceover talents, many of them artists in their own right. Klaus Havenstein, who voiced King Louie, was a founding member of the pioneering German cabaret troupe Munchen Lach- und Schießgesellschaft. Edgar Ott, the voice of Baloo, was arguably the most famous voice in German children's films. In addition to the Jungle Book, he lent his dulcet tones to French cartoon hero Obelix and German animated elephant Benjamin Blumchen, as well as voicing several Disney productions, among them voicing the lead in Robin Hood (1973) and King Triton in the Little Mermaid (1989).

Before The Jungle Book, U.S. films tended to be dubbed into serious high German, with an emphasis on correct, received pronunciation. Riethmuller's translation, and his troupe's voiceover performances, embraced slang and local dialect, as well as irreverent humor. When The Jungle Book was released in West Germany on Dec. 13, 1968 (Disney took a full year to do the local version), this style was perfectly in tune with the country's swelling hippie counterculture. A generation of young Germans, many now with young kids of their own, were rejecting their parents' strict authoritarian ways.

The Jungle Book also filled a void in the German theatrical market, which in the late 1960s was dominated by adult fare, including a lot of low-budget, homegrown soft porn. Disney had a virtual monopoly on family-friendly films. In 1968, The Jungle Book was just about the only film in German theaters the whole family could enjoy.  Those baby boomers turned out in droves, making Jungle Book a hit. They did so again in 1979, and 1987, and 1993, and 2000, as Disney re-released the film in Germany.

The film has had a lasting impact on German film culture. In 2003, it was the only animated film included in list of 35 titles chosen by German filmmakers, critics, historians and educators to be part of an official film canon to be used by German schools and universities. Alongside other films in the canon —among them Shoah, Taxi Driver, Vertigo and Fritz Lang's M—The Jungle Book stands out.   “There's no child who doesn't immediately love Baloo, who doesn't grin watching the vain (elephant) Colonel Hathis or recognize British colonial posturing behind Shir Khan's slippery snobbery,” wrote film critic Cristina Moles Kaupp in her official defense for including the film in the cannon. “Even now, The Jungle Book enchants...the young with its dazzling colors and simple plot, grown-ups with the wonderful songs and phenomenal characters, which let one see past the film's many antiquated clich√©s, including its depiction of women. ”

Disney was so impressed by the German version of The Jungle Book, it hired Riethmuller to rework the dubbed version of previous releases, including Bambi, Dumbo, Pinocchio, The Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians, all of which were successfully re-released in German in the 1970s and 1980s. (A footnote to The Jungle Book's German success: the film's director, Wolfgang Reitherman, who also helmed 101 Dalmatians, Aristocats and Robin Hood, was himself German, born in Munich in 1909).  Kothenschulte argues those Disney films, adapted by Riethmuller, set the template for what works in Germany when it comes to animated movies.  “Light, funny stories with talking animals, that's basically what works here. Animation for grown-ups, or anything too dark, has a hard time,” he says. “German audiences just want The Jungle Book, over and over again.”

Even the original has lost little of its appeal. The Jungle Book had its free-TV premiere in Germany only in 2014, 46 years after its original release. It drew 5.3 million viewers, a phenomenal 16.1 percent of the viewing audience.  Ironically, all that could work against Favreau's new Jungle Book in Germany.  Kothenschulte is one of many German critics who took the 2016 film to task for being significantly different, and significantly darker, than the 1967 version, suggesting that could turn off German families with young children.  The new film is still a hit but, in Germany at least, it won't be replacing the original as king of the jungle anytime soon.

My Favorite Prince Songs

After hearing about Prince dying this week, I ended up thinking about some of my favorite Prince songs and started writing them down as I thought about them.

Let’s Go Crazy- I'm not really a fan of the songs Purple Rain or When Doves Cry from the Purple Rain album but I loved this guitar rave-up.
If I Was Your Girlfriend / Strange Relationship- A totally weird and funky set of songs that segue into each other.  The style is so bizarre that I played part of the Sign O' The Times album over and over.  

Erotic City- A nice stomping dance track that is what Prince really does well
Raspberry Beret- A personal favorite because of the memories from the time period when it was on the radio.

Pop Life- Another bizarre pop cut that is done so brilliantly  that it is perfect.
Take Me With U- A great melody wrapped shot through with a tinge of longing and an enjoyable female vocal.   

Delirious- I think psychedelic Prince is my second favorite Prince, right after guitar god Prince.
U Got The Look- The start of a great set of collaborations with Sheena Easton (along with Sugar Walls, The Lover In Me).

Darling Nikki- The sex-laden funk-leaning Prince that I enjoy but with more overtness then the usual lascivious innuendos.

My Name Is Prince, Sexy MF, Guitar-  Basically, any song where Prince tells us how bad-ass he is.)
I Wanna Be Your Lover- A straight forward pop song that nicely straddles the decline of disco and the re-emergence of traditional pop.

Little Red Corvette- another pop classic.  In the video, I loved seeing Wendy And Lisa grinding on each other and the keyboards.  It was a big turn-on for a teenager.
1999- Pop immortality.

Love Bizarre (Sheila E)- Funky pop, made better with the female vocals. the single edit is better though because the seven minute albums version loses focus halfway through and my attention wanders away from the groove.
Jungle Love (The Time)- As I understand it, Prince wrote most of the songs for The Time but I think the vocal delivery on the songs are what make them so appealing. 

The Bird (The Time)- See above.
Jerk Out (The Time)- A barnstormer of a pop song.  My all-time favorite Time song.  The Time are a great band, and have great producers in Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and they really make this song amazing.

Nasty Girl (Vanity 6)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why I Don't Have To Worry About Anorexia

(Richard Goodman, April 2016)

A few years ago, I was dieting and lost a decent amount of weight.  During this period, a couple of friends said “Don’t lose too much weight!“  This made me laugh since I’ve never worried about being too skinny before and I don’t imagine anorexia will be an issue for me at any point in the future.  In fact I’ve unfortunately gained back a lot of the weight I lost and the reasons for why that happened are why I will never worry about losing too much weight if I ever diet again.  Here are ten reasons why this will not be a concern.   

1)    Dark chocolate- If I had to, I could resist milk chocolate.  Dark chocolate is a different matter though.  Something about the slight taste of bitter enhances the sweetness of the confection and I’m powerless to resist it.  It can be a basic square of chocolate or something that has been dipped, coated, smothered or infused with dark chocolate and I’ll happily ingest it.

2)    Ice cream- People have been making great things with staples like milk, eggs and sugar for centuries.  Ice cream is one of the big successes to come from those culinary experiments.  There are hundreds of different flavors, and then you throw in fruit, nuts, chocolate, etc… and you have an irresistible treat.  From plain vanilla to Americone Dream, from the Neapolitan flavors all kids debated to luxurious Dove Dark Chocolate covered bars, ice cream is a comfort food essential.          

3)    Bread- plenty of people here have done their variation of the Forrest-Gump-shrimp-speech for bread and I’m in total agreement with them- fresh from the oven, toasted and buttered, turned into French Toast, dipped in oil as an appetizer, turned into pretzels, used for grilled cheese sandwiches and so forth.  It is good any way and almost any style but there is such a thing as bad bread (for example if it is soggy, mealy, undercooked, processed, rosemary infused, etc…) so don’t waste calories on anything less than excellent bread.. 

4)    …and speaking of (grilled) cheese, I could live off of just bread and cheese.  It wouldn’t be the healthiest thing for me but it would be delicious.  Some days for supper I’m happy to just snack on Edam cheese and smoked Gouda Triscuits.  I love all the standard cheeses- Gouda, Edam, Havarti, Cheddar, Swiss, Mozzarella, Asiago although I’m not a fan of the runny Brie-ish or smelly cheeses.  Cheese makes everything better. 

5)    Processed sugar- I have a sweet tooth and have to stop myself from picking up my favorites whenever I see them.  Temptations include Red Vines Family Mix bags; Take 5 candy bars on Halloween clearance;  Whatchamacallit bars from in 7-11; gummi anything- bears, sharks, rats, worms, frogs, Ferrari race cars; Cadbury Mini-Eggs; Swedish-style marshmallow (Skum) like Bilar cars.  And then if I can resist all those, there are M&M's.  I adore them, every kind.  Yes, even the crispy, peanut butter, pretzel and almond M&M’s.  All of them.  Sugar addiction is the closest I come to experiencing something like alcoholism.  I just can’t quit it.

6)    Steak & shrimp & crab- Yes, these are a bit better for me then processed sugar or bread but portion control is the issue here.  I feel like I could almost eat my weight in shrimp and steak.  If I go to Outback, I laugh when they ask if I want the 6, 9 or 12 ounce steak.  How about putting an 18 ounce steak on the menu? 

7)    French fries & chips- I can do without potatoes if I put my mind to it, but every now and then I just really want some shoestring fries and ketchup.  Or crispy kettle-style jalapeno flavored potato chips.  A touch of a salt, a potato flavor and a crunchy mouth-feel is what I’m looking for.  Although the occasional steak fries smothered in cheese or a baked potato with butter is nice too.  Lots of empty calories and the excess salt isn’t very beneficial either.

8)    Pasta with Alfredo sauce- I enjoy pasta with white sauce, butter or cheese sauce.  With a red sauce, I can take it or leave it and if it is cold, like pasta salad, I just skip it.  Doesn’t matter what type of pasta though- spaghetti, cannelloni, bow tie, elbow, shells, it is all good.  This is something I eat until the plate is clean which is unfortunate since pasta is fairly cheap so serving sizes are usually generous.  When I was at Noodles and Company last week, I opted for the small size since I wasn’t sure I could keep from eating all of the large size in one sitting.  I still ended up taking some of the small size home so good for me!       

9)    Pizza- Since I love bread, cheese, and meat I of course have to love pizza.  I really like white sauce pizza but red sauce and BBQ sauce are also good.  It’s hard to make bad pizza if you start with good crust (bread).  I only have it once a month or so but in just one slice there are so so so many calories and since I don’t live in New York, it is hard to find places that will serve by the slice. 

10) Chocolate chip cookies- Do I even have to discuss this one?  You can debate whether chewy or crispy is better or how many chips should ideally be in the cookie or what a real-life serving size is, but everyone has loved chocolate chip cookies since they were a kid.  If that wasn’t bad enough, some evil genius decided to add M&M’s to the chocolate chip cookie.  M&M’s in a chocolate chip cookie!  What a sick, twisted, delicious idea.  I want one right now!

An honorable mention has to go to Vegetables & fruits, by the way.  I love fruits and veggies too, but I don’t eat as much of them as I should because unfortunately the things that are best for you are more costly than the things that are bad for you.  I can get a tub of 36 cookies for $3 but a pint of raspberries out of season will cost at least $5.  Plus, fruits and veggies have their own issues.  Bananas can go bad within two days, Brussels Sprouts need a dose of butter to taste really good, salad ingredients need to be mixed fresh- you can’t really stockpile salads for a week at a time, I put too much butter on my broccoli and add cheese to a baked potato, and some restaurants don’t have good lowfat salad dressings.  Even if I’m eating things raw, having six big Navel oranges in a sitting isn’t a great idea since they contain natural sugars and citric acid. 

So you see, temptation is everywhere.  I have no fear of anorexia but rather of that sneaky cousin- obesity.  I know I have to use discipline and consume things in moderation to avoid both of these extremes but if it was easy, it wouldn’t require discipline.  It’s cheese, and bread, and shrimp and M&M’s- they take lots of willpower!  For the record, if anyone ever thinks I’m getting too skinny, just wave a grilled cheese sandwich in front of my face and then offer me some Red Vines.  That will get me back to normal in a jiffy.

What Would Have Made The Academy Awards Less #OscarsSoWhite?

(By Richard Goodman, 09 February 2016)

Since the Academy Awards are just around the corner, that means #OscarsSoWhite will soon start trending heavily again.  I think the lack of diversity at the Awards is more an issue of a flawed movie making system ( ) than it is of the Oscars voting process but just to confirm, or rebuke, this theory, let’s see if we can come up with some non-white movies/actors/directors/writers that were realistically viable nominees that the Academy should have nominated for an Oscar.  (And just so we are playing by the same rules those voters are supposed to follow, please only nominate a movie you have actually seen.)

Director: Ryan Coogler (Creed)

Actor: Michael B. Jordan (Creed)

Actor: Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation)

Director: Cary Fukunaga (Beasts Of No Nation)

Actor: Will Smith (Concussion) Since I didn’t see this one though,  I shouldn’t nominate it regardless of how deserving I THINK it might be.

Movie: Straight Outta Compton

Director: F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton)

Actor: Benicio Del Toro (Sicario)  I didn’t see this one either so I can’t vote for it.

Actor: Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight)

Am I missing any other viable candidates?  Are there other movies you've seen that should have been nominated and were likely to have been seen by Oscar voters?

Who would you remove from the actual nominees in order to make room for some of these choices?