Review: The Lion King (2019)

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The Lion King.

Disney has a hit or miss track record with these remakes. Luckily, the highlight for me so far as been The Jungle Book, which is directed by Jon Favreau (who also directs The Lion King). So if The Jungle Book was a test for how to create realistic talking and singing animals, that should mean The Lion King is a surefire thing right? Well, we’ll see.

The gist.

As “Circle of Life” plays, we see the African plains unfold, introducing us to the king Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and his queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard). Their newborn son Simba (JD McCrary) is the next in line for the throne, which Mufasa tries to prepare him for throughout our first act. You know who’s not happy about this new addition to the family? Mufasa’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who recruits a pack of hyenas to help him take the throne. If you’ve seen the animated The Lion King, what happens next should not be surprising to you.

We cut to Simba all grown up (and voiced by Donald Glover), who is reunited with his childhood friend Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter). Also voicing characters, we’ve got Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, John Oliver as Zazu the bird, and John Kani as the monkey Rafiki.

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What works?

The star of the show here is how absolutely breathtaking this film looks. If I didn’t know any better, it appears like actual live animals have been trained to sing and dance, it looks that good. The Jungle Book really paved the way for this and The Lion King delivers in very much the same way. BUT. These are two very different movies. In The Jungle Book film, they cut a lot of the music numbers, whereas The Lion King, they fully embrace them. So how does a photorealistic lion cub emote and dance and sing in the same way as its animated counterpart? It can’t and that poses some problems, which I’ll get to in the next section.

In terms of our immense voice talent, the (surprise) highlights are Timon and Pumbaa, voiced by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen. You know Rogen but if you don’t know Billy Eichner, welcome aboard and check out his hilarious Billy on the Street YouTube channel. These two bring the movie to life, after a somewhat slow first half. Once they arrive, the second half of the film is drastically more electric and more interesting.

The recent Aladdin divided fans because that film made some significant changes to the original, including a few new songs, new characters, and more. Here, if you want the exact same story as the animated film, you’re in luck. It’s nearly shot for shot, even line for line, the same. My audience even quoted the movie as it was happening because the dialogue was lifted right from the animated film. I wouldn’t say this a pro, but a lot of you, this may be what you want.

What doesn’t work?

Like I said, this movie does nothing new. There’s a new Beyonce song that plays over a travel montage and the song “Be Prepared” was drastically changed, but most of the movie is absolutely the same. So is this movie necessary? I’d argue no.

I also mentioned that these animals are incredibly lifelike. But that becomes a problem here, as it’s impossible to mimic the sort of range and emotion that we need. When major tragedy occurs (you know the one), it’s hard to get any sort of emotion from a lifelike cub face. It’s hard to believe that John Oliver’s voice is coming from a bird that only clack its beak together, appearing more like a dub over an Animal Planet special, than a real Hollywood film. It takes away the impact and kind of distances you from these characters, as you’re always cognizant of this voice dissonance.

And while Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner stole the show, almost every other voice was somewhat forgettable to me. Unfortunately the weakest link was probably Donald Glover, who did a decent job with the songs but faltered on his normal dialogue, undercutting the massive climax.

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Overall…

They mastered the art of making photo-realistic animals with The Jungle Book, but I think they pushed it too far here, expecting these lifelike animals to sing and dance convincingly. It doesn’t work and an especially slow first half of the film suffers from this inability to really connect with them. The movie comes to life in the second half, with the killer duo of Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner, who are this movie’s saving grace and probably the biggest reason to see it.

3

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Review: Stuber

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Stuber.

This is a refreshing movie at this time of year. Most big summer blockbusters have high stakes or are part of massive franchises, so this feels nice, to have a one-off simple comedy. But that being said, does this deliver on that promise?

The gist.

LAPD officer Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) has a vendetta out for a heroin trafficker named Tedjo (Iko Uwais). And it just so happens that a big shipment is being delivered on the day that Manning receives Lasik surgery, so he can’t drive himself. His daughter (Natalie Morales) shows him how to use the Uber app on his phone, which is how he connects with Stu (Kumail Nanjiani). Stu hopes to do one more ride and then connect with the woman of his dreams (Betty Gilpin), who he’s loved forever and has finally broken up with her boyfriend. However, this ride takes much longer than expected as Stu now has to drive Vic throughout Los Angeles to track down and stop this heroin supply.

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What works?

We know from experience that both Bautista and Nanjiani have comedic chops but it’s their dynamic together that really elevates this film. Bautista delivers plenty of great moments, both comedic and action, and he actually gets a few moments to really shine in ways he hasn’t before. Nanjiani doesn’t have to try so hard, his comedic style is dry and flies under the radar, little quips that sneak up on you. Together, you’ll laugh a lot and have a generally good time here.

It’s also a refreshingly quick-paced film, with the opening scene immediately throwing you into the action. Things happen quickly and you shouldn’t feel bored or be checking your watch, it all flows perfectly.

So if you want laughter, you’ll find it here. This is R-rated, so some of the comedy can be a tad raunchy, but most of you likely expect that going in.

What doesn’t work?

While there is some action here, the fight sequences weren’t as impressive as I would’ve hoped, considering Bautista’s experience paired up with The Raid‘s Iko Uwais. Director Michael Dowse hasn’t done many films, nonetheless films with an action emphasis, so he likely just didn’t know how to capitalize on these two talents.

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Overall…

This is a brief review because it’s a simple one. This is a great comedy and is a no-brainer if you’re looking for some hilarious escapism. The action moments fell a little flat, considering who they had at their disposal, but it still makes for a great time at the movies. It’s all made even better seeing Nanjiani and Bautista’s real life friendship that has developed after this film.

4

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Review: Yesterday (2019)

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Yesterday.

Imagine this. One night, the power goes out all around the world for 12 minutes and when the power comes back on, only one man in the world seems to remember the band The Beatles. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) makes the most of this, performing all the hits of The Beatles and eventually becoming the world’s largest singer songwriter, burdened by the guilt that he’s stolen all of these songs. His manager Ellie (Lily James) pines for Jack the whole movie, wishing he would just notice her, but he’s become too distracted by fame to see her.

The first big name to recognize Jack’s newfound talent is Ed Sheeran, playing himself, and Sheeran’s agent (Kate McKinnon).

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What works?

If you’re a fan of The Beatles, this movie should be really intriguing to you. The music is great, with Himesh Patel putting his own spin on many of the songs. He’s charismatic and likable, though it’s really Lily James who is the heart of the movie. I didn’t especially like her in other films (like Cinderella or Baby Driver), but here, she’s absolutely perfect and really puts Jack’s fame in perspective, what he’s missing out on while searching for the spotlight.

I also really appreciated Ed Sheeran, who is really just playing an exaggerated version of himself, but he stole the scenes he was in and provided much of the movie’s comedic relief.

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This movie is quirky and weird but I think a lot of you may like it. It reminds me actually of my favorite movie Stranger Than Fiction. It’s not the best movie, but it’s niche and it’s weird and it will appeal to a certain set of people. A lot of you may love this movie, while others just don’t get it. That makes it hard to put a score on this.

What doesn’t work?

Why some of you won’t like this film… It leaves a lot of mysteries unanswered. You expect the other foot to drop during this whole movie and you don’t really get resolution for a lot of the questions that the movie has you asking. And they make it more complicated by revealing that The Beatles aren’t the only things that no longer exist, yet we aren’t offered any sort of answer as to why that is.

This lack of resolution can go either way. Some folks might find it jarring and dissatisfying. Others might find that it doesn’t go the predictable route and instead takes you somewhere else, providing a different climax than you likely expected. How you react to this will likely determine your overall happiness with this film.

Overall…

I found Yesterday to be really charming and unique, with both Hamish Patel and Lily James doing incredible work. The music is great and the comedy almost always lands. Some folks will love the absurdity and this will become a cult classic for them, while others might get hung up on the lack of answers and resolution, saying this film absolutely missed the mark. For me, I found it delightful and a great time at the movies.

4

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Review: Anna (2019)

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Anna.

Director Luc Besson has a very rocky reputation. He’s directed gems like The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional, and La Femme Nikita. However, he’s also directed films like Lucy and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. He’s written action films such as the Transporter series and the Taken series. So it’s hit or miss whether he’ll actually deliver. Let’s see how he does this time.

The gist.

Anna (Sasha Luss) is a Russian model who gets trained by the KGB to become an assassin. Her contacts in the KGB include Olga (Helen Mirren) and Alex (Luke Evans). Eventually the CIA started looking for her, their point of contact being Lenny (Cillian Murphy). Anna just wants out, but how can she do that with both the CIA and KGB following her every move?

What doesn’t work?

We need to start with the negatives, which isn’t usually a good sign. This is a painfully boring movie and is not at all what the trailers lead you to believe. There’s only two action pieces in the film, both in the second half, and those are almost entirely the trailers you’ll see for this 2 hour behemoth of a film. This is not an action film, this is a character drama about a Russian woman trying to escape this life she’s found herself in.

And let’s talk about our lead, Sasha Luss, who director Luc Besson discovered while shooting Valerian. She’s convincing enough in these few action moments but she should not be relied on to deliver intense drama, so the most emotional moments of this film ring false. She’s not likable, not charismatic, you don’t feel anything for her character.

And for some reason Helen Mirren and Luke Evans play KGB officers and they both have horrible accents. I wish the movie was captioned because the accents in general are incredibly difficult to understand.

Also, just to add a dose of confusion to this slow journey, the movie repeatedly jumps through time, but not always in the same direction. Six months earlier. Five years later. Two years later. Two months earlier. It gets incredibly confusing trying to keep track of where these events happen in relation to what we know. And several times, we get a big moment with a twist, then we go back in time to see how that twist came to be. It’s confusing, though the movie would have been even more boring had it been linear, because nothing interesting would’ve happened till the last few scenes.

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What works?

After all that, does anything work? The two fight sequences we do get are pretty awesome, though frankly they were edited better in the trailer, here they lack a certain punch. Still, it’s something. Once these scenes are posted somewhere on YouTube, check them out.

And aside from the accents, Helen Mirren and Luke Evans help legitimize this film a little bit. Not enough to really save it however.

Overall…

You would think this film is an action film, like the next Transporter. It’s not. It’s a character piece with a few moments of suspense and intrigue. The movie has a painfully dull first half, which even a fun second half can’t redeem.

2

 

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Review: Late Night (2019)

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Late Night.

Mindy Kaling hasn’t really carried a film like this before, so I was definitely curious going in. She had ensemble roles in both A Wrinkle in Time and Ocean’s Eight, but carrying a comedy like this as the lead is quite a different story. Let’s see how she did!

The gist.

Molly Patel (Kaling) is hired on as a new writer on the longstanding late night show hosted by Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), who has just discovered they’re planning to replace her. So, Newbury needs to find a way to bring this show into relevancy again, while Patel struggles with being the only woman of color in a white male-dominated office.

We also have John Lithgow as Newbury’s husband, Ike Barinholtz as a rude upcoming comedian, and Amy Ryan (The Office) as the President of the network who is shutting Newbury down. We also have a writing staff including Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Denis O’Hare, and Paul Walter Hauser.

What works?

While Kaling does a fine job here, it’s really Emma Thompson’s movie. She is the heart of this thing, struggling to reinvent herself amidst all sorts of personal tragedies. Kaling’s Molly helps her grow and confront these things, but seeing Thompson’s performance here is the highlight of the film. Emma Thompson is great in nearly everything she’s in, but this might be up there with some of her best work, even if the movie itself isn’t elevated that highly.

In terms of comedy, I found this movie pretty funny and clever, though it hits many of the same notes as the television show 30 Rock, so it can feel a bit redundant if you’ve seen that show. I laughed a lot, so if you’re looking for escapism, this will do it for you.

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What doesn’t work?

Like I said, Mindy Kaling is billed as the lead here but it feels like she’s just supporting Thompson’s performance. Not bad, just maybe misadvertised. You won’t get anything from Kaling that you haven’t seen from her before, which can be a good thing if you’re already a fan.

This movie falls right down the middle for me. I laughed but even now as I try to write this, I have a hard time remembering the jokes and what parts I enjoyed, which usually indicates that a movie doesn’t have much staying power.

Overall…

This is a fine movie, with a decent performance from Mindy Kaling. The real star is Emma Thompson, though the movie itself isn’t really memorable enough to stand out in the long run. If you want some laughs and a few hours of escapism, this will do it, but don’t expect much more.

3

 

 

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Review: Toy Story 4

toy story 4 headeradam reviewToy Story 4.

It’s been awhile now since the Toy Story trilogy capped off with the incredible Toy Story 3. We all thought it was over, one of the finest trilogies in movie history. And then we get the news that there’s a Toy Story 4 in the works. What could this movie add? Is it worth it to go back to that mine for a fourth time? Let’s see!

The gist.

When Toy Story 3 ended, our toys were passed on to a new child, a young girl named Bonnie. Woody (Tom Hanks) feels very protective of her and wants her to be safe, so he stows inside her backpack as she goes to her first day of kindergarten. She isn’t allowed to bring toys, so she creates one out of art supplies, resulting in Forky (Tony Hale), who isn’t meant to be a toy and has a major conflicts about his place in the world. On a vacation, Forky flees from the family’s RV, resulting in an adventure to find and bring Forky back to Bonnie.

In this adventure, Woody finds his old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts), alongside new toys voiced by Keanu Reeves, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, and Ally Maki. The villain of the movie is a doll who wants something that Woody has (voiced by Christina Hendricks).

Returning voices for the other toys include Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kristen Schaal, and more.

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What works?

The question of “Should this have been made?” will come up, questioning if this movie will undercut the punch at the end of Toy Story 3. To put your mind at ease, this movie tackles issues and topics that weren’t addressed in the first three, so this does feel like a unique film. In general, it feels more like an epilogue to the third film. “What now?” How do the toys cope with moving on from Andy? Is it so bad to be a “lost toy” without a child? This movie also features themes of attachment to toys, when the girl Bonnie can’t go on without her favorite spork Forky. There’s some interesting and new ideas here that justify this movie’s existence.

For children, they’ll love this movie, though it does feature (like the other movies have) some terrifying moments, of dolls and ventriloquist dummies coming to life. Most of the movie though is bright and funny and I’m sure kids will love some of the new additions such as Key and Peele as two stuffed animals rescued from a carnival attraction and the stunt driver Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). There’s plenty of repeatable jokes and lines that kids will love.

So this, like most Pixar films, manages to walk that fine line of appealing to both adults and children, there’s definitely something here for everyone.

When talking about the voice performances, Tom Hanks carries this film. Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear has a few moments to shine but is really just a supporting character here. Christina Hendricks gives us an amazing performance as Gabby Gabby, the “villain” for most of the film. There weren’t any poor performances, generally stellar stuff here. The most surprising performance was Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Veep) for his role as Forky. He is hilarious and he has an incredible back and forth with Tom Hanks, often stealing whatever scene he’s in.

I also need to applaud the visuals here, as this movie’s settings appear almost photo-realistic. There’s an antiques shop that especially feels real, full of details that make it seem incredibly authentic. Pixar is truly the best at what they do.

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What didn’t work?

First off, there is no animated short before this movie begins, marking the first time they haven’t included one since the original Toy Story! I can only imagine something came up late that stopped the short from being included. it’s definitely a bummer.

Out of all the new characters, I think the most divisive pick will be Key and Peele’s stuffed animals. Yes, I laughed, but I also cringed. And I remain skeptical on how important their addition was to this film, as they are kind of dragged along throughout the plot with no real importance. I think the movie might have been a bit tighter without them.

And while I acknowledge the film offered something that the past three films didn’t, I still don’t know if this is a better ending to the franchise or not. I liked it, but would this franchise as a whole be better ending with Toy Story 3 instead? I don’t know but I’d venture to guess many people might still prefer how 3 ended.

Overall…

This is a great movie, though I’d argue not as great as the first three entries. This feels like an epilogue, like a “what happened to…” story that adds to the mythology but isn’t ultimately necessary. If you have kids, they’ll love it but they may be traumatized by some of these horrifying dolls (I know I am). The addition of Tony Hale is inspired and Forky is a character I didn’t know I needed in my life until now.

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Review) Men in Black: International

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Men in Black: International.

Now I remember liking the original Men in Black films but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say they’re good. I think we often have rose-colored glasses for franchises that meant a lot to us as kids. It’s been a long time now since that trilogy wrapped, so it’s finally back with a soft reboot, revealing a more global perspective of the Men (and women) in Black. We know that Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson have chemistry from Thor: Ragnarok but does that necessarily mean they can carry another film? Let’s see.

The gist.

When she was young, Molly (Tessa Thompson) witnessed an alien encounter and it was never erased from her memory. She’s dedicated her life after that to finding (and joining) the Men in Black, eventually ending up in the office of O (Emma Thompson), who gives her a probationary mission in London. While there, newly minted agent M (formerly Molly) teams up with their hotshot agent H (Chris Hemsworth) to get to the bottom of an alien conspiracy, led by a shapeshifting alien race called the Hive. The London branch is spearheaded by Agent High T (Liam Neeson) and Agent C (Rafe Spall). M and H also partner up with a living chess piece, voiced by Kumail Nanjiani.

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What works?

The world of Men in Black is still very much alive here, full of interesting alien races and unique ways to portray life. One of my favorites here is an alien arms dealer (played by Rebecca Ferguson) who has a third arm growing from her back. Aaaaand I just realized how clever it is that she’s an arms dealer. Everything looks interesting, including the main villains, a race called the Hive. They can change matter, so they’ll turn solids to liquid and back again, using these powers in really interesting and visually cool ways.

I also appreciated the chemistry between Hemsworth and Thompson, as they had a very natural back and forth. Nanjiani was an interesting addition, though it was hit or miss whether his comedic moments really landed.

What didn’t work?

While I chuckled, the comedy didn’t hit as often or as hard as I would’ve wanted. It’s a little rocky, so we often get silent reactions to a joke. Hemsworth is funny most of the time, likewise Kumail Nanjiani’s living chess piece, but they both have plenty of jokes that fall flat. It’s not really consistent.

The biggest eh factor is that this movie doesn’t really do anything new or interesting, other than inhabit an already interesting world. I think it’ll be ultimately forgettable, a mid-tier action comedy that you’ll see on TBS in a few years and think “Oh I forgot about this” and play it in the background as you prepare for dinner. It’s not bad, but it’s fine. It doesn’t try to risk anything or do anything outlandish for it to actually fail. It’s safe, relying on the name brand to get it by.

There’s also a big problem with the villain here, who for 90% of the movie is a pair of mute twins who follow our heroes around the globe. We don’t really understand their motive. Even as the credits roll and we’ve had the big plot laid out for us, it’s still a little messy and unclear why this whole adventure transpired.

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Overall…

You’ll have a fine time here. Big explosions, cool aliens, and a lot of nostalgic throwbacks to the original trilogy. However, that’s it. The plot doesn’t really pay off, the humor is hit or miss, and it ultimately doesn’t feel necessary. With reboots or remakes, you often wonder “Why are they doing this?” and that’s a question that will pop into your head a few times no doubt. That’s not always bad, as you can still have a few laughs and enjoy a few hours in the air conditioning, just don’t expect much more than that.

3

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