THE LION KING – All Roar, No Heart

LK Poster

My relationship with the 1994 Disney animated classic The Lion King has been rather tumultuous over the years. I knew it was a great film, but that fact was often overshadowed by its overplay in the public consciousness to the point where there didn’t seem to be anywhere in the cultural sphere that the film didn’t permeate.

That my sister, who was seven years old at the time, played The Lion King on a seemingly endless loop in our house also contributed to my ambivalence toward the film.

In preparation for this review, I rewatched the original film the day before seeing the new “live-action” remake. I found myself rediscovering why The Lion King has the staying power it does and why the film is truly timeless. The 1994 film is an animation masterpiece on par with what was done by Walt Disney himself and his original set of genius master animators. The Lion King has a wonderful mix of drama, comedy, music, charm, and a story that is both epic in scope and intimate enough to be relatable.

The same cannot be said for this “new” version of The Lion King. Oh sure, it goes through the beats of the story, and the animation is impressive enough, but this film had no heart and no soul. The charm was gone, and it left me asking the question, “Why does this film exist at all when the 1994 original is vastly superior?” Then I saw the box office news and it all made sense.

Disney’s recent string of live-action remakes of its classic animated features has been hit-and-miss. I’ve enjoyed a few of them (Cinderella in particular) and really disdained others (Beauty and the Beast). My feelings for the latter category stem from a frustration with the Disney talent pool’s refusing to do something new or interesting with these properties while still maintaining the spirit of the original. And The Lion King (2019) was probably the worst of these.

I WOULD SAY “SPOILERS AHEAD,” BUT…

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APOLLO 11 – Miracle on the Moon

Apollo 11 PosterFew events defined the modern age quite like when Neil Armstrong set foot upon the moon and declared his one small step “one giant leap for mankind.” At that moment, the world was unified and celebrated a truly amazing human achievement. Americans, in particular, were extremely proud of their country and what the nation’s best and brightest minds were able to accomplish.

50 years later, the Apollo 11 mission still fascinates historians, scientists, and regular folks alike – be it the aforementioned brainpower that dreamed and designed the larger-than-life rockets and spaceships or the spirit of the American people and will of the nation’s leadership to shoot for the stars – literally. This spirit and fascination are perfectly captured in the new documentary, Apollo 11.

This film was outstanding in almost every measure. Partially created from newfound 70 mm footage of the titular mission, Apollo 11 soared with amazing visuals that captivated the viewer and filled them with a sense of excitement and emotion that probably mimics what all of America and the world felt during those few days in July of 1969.

Apollo 11 also reminded me of an axiom of human nature, and how our own perceptions affect our belief in the occurrence of real historical events.

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TOY STORY 4 – A Purpose-Driven Plaything

TS4 Poster

There have been few movie series so perfectly ended as Pixar Animation Studios’ Toy Story Trilogy. The third entry tied up all the loose ends, pulled at our heartstrings almost to the breaking point (that furnace scene…), and left all our favorite characters in a great spot where they would be taken care of and happy.

But I suppose that, given how well Toy Story 3 fared at the box office, there was no way Pixar, and its parent company Disney, would leave that money-making potential alone. There would eventually be a fourth entry in this venerable series. And now, it’s here.

Toy Story 4 reunited us with all our favorite toy friends that we’ve grown to love in the past 25 years and took them on a new adventure that indeed had its moments that were genuine and heartfelt. But ultimately, this movie seemed unnecessary and even hindered the legacy of the previous films. Perhaps Pixar should have just left well enough alone.

Despite its superfluousness, Toy Story 4 had a strong, quality thematic core to it that made it one of the deepest Pixar films to date – containing questions about the very nature of existence and what we are here to accomplish. Thankfully, we have a Creator who gave each of us a reason for being.

SPOILERS AHEAD

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SHAZAM! – A Worthy Champion

MV5BMjIyNTkwODY1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUyMTA5NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has been playing catch-up to Marvel Studios pretty much since the DCEU’s inception. Man of Steel was a good, if somewhat flawed, first entry. What came next were half-baked films that had interesting concepts but poor execution (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), just plain stinkers (Suicide Squad), and stylistically schizophrenic messes (Justice League).

There have been enjoyable and fun films in the DCEU (Wonder Woman and Aquaman), but they still are in the minority. And now it seems that Warner Bros. and DC are attempting a new strategy to downplay the “shared universe” aspect of the franchise – which could be good or bad, but generally frustrating for a continuity nerd like myself.

Shazam!, the newest film in the DCEU, was definitely on par with the two enjoyable DCEU films. It’s a fun story full of youthful exuberance and wonders, with a charismatic lead, an intriguing concept, and some really entertaining set pieces.

One cannot help but compare Shazam! to the MCU’s latest entry, Captain Marvel. They were released within a month of each other and both titular characters have historically held the title “Captain Marvel” (Shazam was originally called Captain Marvel when the character debuted in 1939, but decades worth of legal challenges now prevent DC from using the name). But if there’s one hero truly worthy of that moniker, it is definitely Billy Batson – a more interesting character who actually changed, matured, took time to develop his powers, all of which made his journey interesting.

Can’t say the same thing about Carol Danvers.

Shazam! was also one of the most spiritually poignant DCEU movies, with lots of subtle and blatant theological references peppered throughout the narrative and the main character’s DNA. It made Billy Batson’s journey similar to that of many biblical heroes.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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Why THE LAST JEDI is Terrible…in Detail

TLJ

Ever since it was released in December 2017, I’ve wanted to write a review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This film was so bad – not just because of its construction and execution, but because of what it has done to fundamental parts of the Star Wars franchise and mythos – not to mention the schism it created with the franchise’s loyal fanbase.

I really wanted to break down all the minutiae of why The Last Jedi is awful – if for nothing but my own catharsis. But I hesitated because I had a lot going on personally and professionally at the time and several other people who are much more talented than myself have done a better job of explaining why The Last Jedi doesn’t work than I ever could.

At first, I thought that Red Letter Media’s take on The Last Jedi was the best – both their initial review as well as their “Plinkett Review.” RLM is a favorite of mine because they take the time to explain exactly why a film doesn’t work and have actual examples to back up their claims. Their dissections of the Star Wars prequel films, in particular, are a master class in bad storytelling.

But then, I saw this two-part, three-plus-hour piece of brilliance from HackFraud Media. They were obviously riffing on RLM’s Plinkett reviews, which is pretty funny in and of itself. But this review went into even more detail than the exceptional RLM version – taking apart all the film’s absurd characterizations, lazy storytelling, half-baked subversions, and long-term damage done to the saga itself in a clinical, profound, and entertaining way.

Just a warning that, like RLM, there is some profanity.