The Lion King (2019)

Disney has been dominating the decade with Marvel, Star Wars, animation (both Pixar and their titular studio), but their series that has divided people the most is their live-action remakes of animated classics. So people were most excited but also nervous when it came to the photoreal-but-actually-still-animated remake of their defining animated feature from the 20th century, The Lion King. First off, on a visual standpoint, this movie is an achievement. It follows the same reign of The Jungle Book in recreating iconic characters and setting to look as real as possible, and it really delivers. All the animals and sets look like an actual picture, even though not a single frame was actually there. It’s amazing to see how far visuals have gone these days, and Disney has been headliner these last few years in consistently breaking the boundaries of what can be done with a computer, whether it’s the amazing action in Avengers and Star Wars films or breathtaking animation in films like Toy Story and Incredibles — but the feats of the CGI completely pay off here in making the illusion unnoticable and making it feel like a more immersive journey. The film is perfectly casted with Donald Glover shining and making something of his own out of Simba’s role here, and it helps that he’s experienced in both acting and singing. Also huge standouts are Timon and Pumbaa, who are scene-stealing and Seth Rogen’s voice espeically fit for Pumbaa. Also worth pointing out is John Oliver who is hysterical as Zazu. However, for some characters, like Scar for example, it’s sometimes hard not to make comparisons to superior versions, like Jeremy Irons who was perfect in the 1994 version. Perhaps neither he nor James Earl Jones needed recasting (the latter of which was thankfully able to return as Mufasa). Speaking of roles from the original, Rafiki’s role was unfortuantely reduced this time around so he feels like less of a mentor to Simba and barely even has dialogue.

The musical numbers are still very fun, espeically the classic “Hakuna Matata”, and the “Lion Sleeps Tonight” gag is extended and made even funnier. The shame is that they shortened the Scar’s menacing anthem “Be Prepared” to be much slower but as a result feels more like a whispered spoken word poem than a song. The Lion King is stuck in a loophole in terms of delivering for fans because people want a remake to somehow reinvent the story but at the same time poeple get angry as soon as something major is changed. Unfortuantely, some of the changes made in this remake are for the worse, and other than that, a lot of sequences in the film or a shot-for-shot copy-paste of what we’ve already seen. A lot of the dialogue is the same as well, and I just wish they had added some more story to what we already know because the fact that we recognize every scene and line so well will eventually make things boring. On the bright side, it manages to retain some of the soul that reminds us why we love the original so much (themes like confronting your past or lines from Mufasa about the truth of being a wise king). The problem is that once these characters are animated to look photorealistic, they can no longer exaggerate emotions like the original iterations do — Scar is no longer a charismatic Shakespearean character, and every character just looks like an animal talking. This movie has incredible visual technology that deserves plenty of praise for Jon Favreau, maybe next time he could have used it to make original content rather than remaking known stories, or just added a little more that we haven’t seen before to do something new with the story.

The Lion King is a visual marvel and filled with nostaliga, but it’s greatest strength and weakness is that it’s almost exactly the same as the original. If the original Lion King was so perfect, why change anything? But why do we want to see the same movie over again? That’s the problem that this new remake finds itself in which is why despite being nice to look at, the script is beat for beat the same, which is why the only way this movie can really be appreciated is in 3D and on the biggest movie screen you can find. Does it offer much new? Not really, or even at all to be honest. But in terms of recommendation for the theaters I have to say go for the visuals and for the story which still stays strong, but the emotional expressions that came through the original versions of the characters (which didn’t need to feel photoreal and therefore could be exaggerated for animals) is exactly what will make the original Lion King forever superior.

Disney The Lion King 2019.jpg
Advertisements

Yesterday

Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, until a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, after which Jack wakes up to discover that nobody except him can remember The Beatles. Soon Jack makes a life-altering decision that sends him to fame as he starts taking credit for the band’s forgotten songs.

Yesterday is a movie with a fantastically original premise, compared to the same recycled formulas in a lot of genres. Though it does sometimes get stuck in mediocre rom-com tropes, like a cheesy romance in the second act that doesn’t know where it’s going until the very end, this movie takes advantage of its genius idea and makes for a fun, humorous, and interesting two hours. Himesh Patel is not only fun and charming but also sings really well and was well-cast — he hasn’t been in much before but may soon make a name for himself after his starring role here — and also entertaining are Lily James as his best friend, and Ed Sheeran as himself — the singer who helps Jack skyrocket to stardom. However, one character I found to be annoying was his manager played by Kate McKinnon, whose comedic turns I usually enjoy on Saturday Night Live, but here her character was simply irritating and unlikable. It’s no surprise the music is so enjoyable — they chose the best band to make this movie about, and as a huge Beatles fan myself, it’s great to hear them all through the film, and luckily they cast a great actor who can sing as well. There’s also plenty of humorous moments I didn’t expect and the jokes almost always land. Like I said, the second half does lose a little bit of steam but once you see where it all ends up, you get to take in some of the themes the movie is going for. There’s also another sweet theme about how the most iconic of pop culture is what touches people’s hearts and should be kept alive. As one character says, “A world without the Beatles is a world infinitely worse.” So I have to applaud director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curits for creating one of the most original films of the year that sometimes doesn’t avoid genre tropes but the fresh plotline makes for some truly great moments, and there’s also plenty of excellent musical moments as well. When everything that’s out has to do with killer toys, superheroes, and animated animals, why not try something new for a change and support this one-of-a-kind film I bet you won’t regret seeing in theaters.

Yesterday film.jpg

Spider-Man: Far From Home

After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker goes on a school trip to Europe with his friends, only to be recruited by Nick Fury to take on the Spider-Man mantle once again and team up with interdimensional hero Mysterio to fight new threats known as the Elementals.

Spider-Man: Far From Home marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and had a lot of expectations to fill consider it not only has to follow the grand phenomenon that was Endgame but also follow up on the story of Spider-Man: Homecoming and make a story that still feels new and exciting. Well not only does Spider-Man: Far From Home live up to the expectations for a good Homecoming sequel but it also introduces new concepts and unexpected turns even after 23 Marvel films, proving that they haven’t yet lost their steam. Tom Holland still carries the film wonderfully and continues to convince me that he’s the best Spider-Man yet. Peter is now trying to hold onto his youth and is afraid to accept new and bigger responsibilites after losing an important figure in his life. Peter must learn to mature and step up throughout the film which makes for a strong arc in the film. Also great is his chemistry with Zendaya, who is also really great in her role as MJ, who we didn’t see enough of in Homecoming but is a leading part here. Watching their connection blossom throughout the film is really sweet and was done well by the writers and actors. Also really fun parts of the film are Jacob Batalon as Peter’s hysterical best friend Ned, and Jon Favreau as Tony Stark’s assistant Happy who is still played with plenty of charm, and he and Peter once again have great scenes together.

What director Jon Watts is once again able to do with this sequel is maintain that “high school movie” tone with Peter facing issues like bullies, crushes, etc., but Watts also makes sure to bring us a high-stakes superhero movie with threats and responsibilites that Peter must face as Spider-Man. He keeps the tone light and adds plenty of humor as we’re used to seeing from Marvel, and keeps the signature Marvel hero, villain, and conflict tropes. However, one thing I was underwhelemed by was the visual look of the film. Marvel has always impressed me with the production design, cienamtography, and visuals in their films, espeically lately with the gorgeous Captain Marvel and Avengers movies, but here the movie feels very boringly shot and there is no color scheme or visual style that will keep your eyes in awe like the past Marvel movies this year have. The battles often feel well-realized but the green screen also sometimes doesn’t blend in and the design for the Elementals villains as well as the final battle are also less impressive visually. Also, the fact that Sony oversees these Spider-Man MCU films while Disney controls all the others leads to some questionable or unexplained references to the bigger universe, which are sometimes welcome but sometimes a bit much or raise unneeded questions rather than serve as world-building. While Homecoming had fun small appearances from Iron Man and Captain America, here some of the connections to the rest of the MCU feel like Sony trying to constantly remind the world that their property is part of Disney’s Marvel universe as well. Other than the obvious impact Infinity War and Endgame have on the main character, some of this world-building raises more questions than it needs to and possibly tampers with the consistency Disney has been keeping so smoothly through its MCU films. I feel like there were also some underdeveloped plot points throughout the film, and they could have extended the runtime by only 5 minutes to help establish these more, like we don’t see much of how the world is readjusting after Thanos’ actions shook the universe, and we also hear peoople repeadetly mention a large character from Endgame but I think we needed a bit more about how Peter is affected by that character’s loss. Also, the timing of the release was way too soon (only 2 months) after Endgame, which was the big conclusion to many years of MCU films — so why not wait a bit longer and let us take in the first big chapter instead of diving right into the next one? Hopefully this won’t undermine the effect of Endgame as a finale as time goes by, because both these films are still great on their own. What Spider-Man: Far From Home does best, however, is remind us why we love this incarnation of the character and why he resonates with audiences, as well as provide new challenges and growth for the character as well deliver on the tone of a film that has to feel large-scaled on small-sclaed at the same time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a satisfying sequel that ups the scale and stakes for Spidey with more locations and more cdhallenging foes than before, even though it’s visually dull compared to the other big Marvel movies this year, and the pacing could’ve been slightly improved. However, the performances, storyline, and humor all deliver as expected and there’s an awesome mid-credits scene that changes the game for the future of Spider-Man.

Spider-Man Far From Home poster.jpg

Toy Story 4

When a new toy called “Forky” joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy. Soon, Woody runs into an old friend and must rediscover his own purpose as a toy as well.

After the marvelous ending of Toy Story 3, the saga felt over. It was as if a terrific 3-part story had come to a close so perfectly and should never be touched. So it was a surprise to hear that the franchise would continue for one more film, but what was even more surprising was how well everything in Toy Story 4 delivered. Rather than feeling unnecessary, Toy Story 4 crafts an intriguing story of its own that makes it feel exciting yet still deep. Tom Hanks is always perfect as Woody. Over the last four films he’s helped bring to life such a brilliant character who first must commit to being Andy’s toy, then gets passed on to a new kid, and now he questions if his purpose as a child’s toy has already been fulfilled. Also really enjoyable are comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Ducky and Bunny, as well as Keanu Reeves as the sensational Duke Kaboom. Another element of the film I loved is the score. Randy Newman has done a spectacular job of composing catchy themes that are beautiful to the ear and unifying them over four films and he lets the music grow and develop just as the story does. I’ve always loved the music in these films but here it always stands out and almost feels like a character of its own. One thing I noticed is that the film has significantly lower stakes than the last film — in the third film the toys were hold hostage in a daycare and then nearly burnt to death but here they just have to get toys out of an antique shop and get back to an RV. Thing is, this film is less about “good guy vs bad guy” or “will they make it” — instead of that kind of suspense, this movie is more about Woody’s internal dilemmas that he must resolve. Also, I feel like the animation was less impressive this time around but there are still some sequences I thought were very visually pleasing — just not as much as Inside Out, Finding Dory, Coco, Incredibles 2, or most of Pixar’s recent outings. That’s pretty underwhelming considering I found Toy Story 3 to be one of the most beautifully animated films of all time — and that’s not saying the work of hundreds of Pixar animators over five years didn’t pay off, it’s just saying that there are less eye-popping or breathtaking moments than its gorgeous predecessor. And finally, the ending was a very emotional moment that brings a 25-year arc to a close — hopefully for real this time — and reminds us why we care so much about Woody, Buzz, and the entire gang.

I thought Toy Story 4 would be very unnecessary but instead it’s a welcome follow-up and (probably) conclusion, with some deep moments that remind us why Pixar is so great at crafting stories that audiences of all ages can be equally moved by. So go watch Toy Story 4 and let Pixar take you and your family on another adventure — well, you know where this is going — to infinity, and beyond.

Toy Story 4 poster.jpg

Men in Black: International

ratings2

In this Men in Black spin-off, new agent M arrives at the MIB London headquarters and teams up with senior agent H to find a mole in the organization and stop an alien being from destroying all life on Earth.

The Men in Black movies have been very unique and enjoyable in the past, with moments that many generations can remember or quote — so it’s a shame this new installment is just pretty standard. It’s a movie we’ve seen god knows how many times — two agents/cops have to get along and fight bad a guy, but turns out it’s not who it seems. One golden aspect of the MIB films is the main duo, agents J and K, so they really needed to nail that without Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones around. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are the saving grace of the film and play off each other well, like they have in the past as a lovable duo in Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame. Thompson especially delivers a great performance as the rookie agent discovering a huge world of extraterrestrial friends and foes. Kumail Nanjiani is also clearly having fun voicing an alien named Pawny, because… well, he’s a pawn. Get it? But the thing about cast members like Hemsworth and Liam Neeson are that they basically play the same types of characters we’ve already seen them play — give Agent H a magical axe and I would’ve certainly thought he was Thor. Some of the exposition gets uninteresting and the villain does nothing for the film, and barely any of the humor lands, whatever does was already shown in the trailer. Also, this is an action movie, and while the action here will keep most viewers in their seats, that’s just about the best compliment I can give it. I found the action to be dull and boring and it feels too much like the other films — or any action film, in that matter — to be praised, but most viewers will find it not bad enough to at least sit down in front of. The visuals are sometimes serviceable but there are even moments when the green screen and set design seem too obvious and stand out in a bad way. There’s also a huge plot twist in the final act that, well, I saw coming before the movie even began. The final battle is the most boring part and the ending is also very silly. I don’t know if they’re planning on making more of these films, but they should get new writers and directors, and also the original titular duo, on board to make it better.

Men in Black: International hits all the familiar notes, and you won’t really remember it after watching it. It has an enjoyable cast and some moments the general audience will enjoy if you’re looking for a light-hearted action film, but if that doesn’t necessarily mean a good film in your books, then you should just give it a go.

Men in Black International (Official Film Poster).png

Dark Phoenix

The X-Men have become global heroes, taking on riskier missions, and when Jean Grey is hit with a solar flare on a space rescue mission, it unleashes an unimaginable strength in her that threatens the X-Men and the entire world.

As the conclusion of this Fox X-Men saga, Dark Phoenix is somewhat enjoyable with a fascinating cast and characters that are stayed true to here. Sophie Turner does a solid job as Jean, and even if she sometimes overacts, she does a good job of delivering fear, uncertainty, and pain in her performance. Despite the title though, the real standouts are actually the supporting characters played by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult. These characters really get moments to shine and the writing from the previous films is carried down to keep them effective characters like they are here. However, there are some writing choices that make Charles and Mystique feel a bit out of character, like Raven’s constant doubting of the X-Men’s mission which was there before but in this film’s situation is a bit of a stretch. Also, Charles clearly introduces some of the conflict in the movie but it also feels like the other characters treat him too poorly for the sake of the story. Also, one of the coolest characters from the last few films, Quicksilver, is hardly in the film, which is a missed opportunity considering how much enjoyment he brings to the screen and the fact that X-Men: Apocalypse also revealed him being Magneto’s son, which has absolutely no payoff (not really a spoiler, it’s a fact revealed early on in the predecessor which was released in 2016).

It’s surprising that the real reason this film works is besides the main story and the fact that this is a Phoenix adaptation, it feels above all like an X-Men movie and the character relations are what work best. Jean’s internal conflict which is the central arc of the film actually falls second to the world-building and the connections between the other characters, as well as nods to themes that even have allegories of WWII events, like the idea of one incident drawing fear towards an entire group of people. The action works at times, especially a fun space rescue scene at the beginning that has striking visual effects, as well as an exciting battle in New York City later on which does an impressive job displaying the characters’ powers. The score from Hans Zimmer is also remarkable and helps bring a darker tone than most superhero films which isn’t really ever interrupted by light humor, something most Marvel movies like to include. Unfortuantley however, one of the hardest parts of the film to enjoy comes when an alien race is introduced, led by Jessica Chastain in what is sadly one of her least notable on-screen performances. This shape-shifting alien race feels too familiar, as we just saw the same idea with the Skrulls in Captain Marvel, and their designs and powers are so inconsistent and boring, as well as their overall presence which was just unwelcome. There’s also some lines and moments that feel out of place, like Halston Sage singing a modern pop song at a party in the 90s, or cringeworthy dialogue like a random moment in which Raven says that “The women always save the men around here so you should really think of changing the name to X-Women,” a line that comes out of nowhere, has no context and serves no purpose to the story.

Also, after some interesting drama and action, the film takes a drop in quality during a final battle where suddenly a lot of the excitement is lost and I didn’t really care about where it was going. This final battle was poorly choreographed and obviously felt like a last-minute reshoot, and sacrificed any convincing emotion the previous two acts may have had, and it culminates in a horrible and laughable climax that might be one of the worst scenes in the entire franchise. The ending to the film, which is now supposed to end the entire franchise, feels pretty abrupt and anticlimactic as a conclusion and I wish they had made one or two more films after this before bringing the story of the X-Men to a proper close. The way the film ends also leaves lots of plot holes in the timeline and unresolved things that make no sense when looking at the ending of X-Men: Days of Future Past, and this film is now supposed to be a prequel to that film’s final sequence but instead it diverts away from that to make the story in the franchise even more confusing. There’s also a huge plot hole in this film that completely ignores the events of X-Men: Apocalypse — if Jean used the Phoenix force in the ’80s, how does she only get the Phoenix force in the ’90s? Dark Phoenix feels darker than the other films and focuses more on character and plot than large world-ending scale, but by the end, I wasn’t really sure what it wanted to be. What redeems Dark Phoenix as a film though is the acting, music, and action (sometimes), as well as some interesting dilemmas and character arcs raised that may or may not appeal to both fans and non-fans, but personally I found it to be a lot better than the critics are calling it, though it’s still disappointing considering how awesome I’ve seen this series become before.

Dark Phoenix (film).png

Rocketman

Rocketman is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. Taron Egerton proves that he was perfectly cast as the titular role. His singing voice is so fitting and perfectly delivers on these classic Elton songs which are not only integrated into the film through his concert performances but also by musical and dance sequences where Elton’s lines connect to the situations in certain scenes. Egerton also delivers on showing how the leading character felt pride, love, anger, and rejection at certain points in his career. Also great is Jamie Bell as Elton’s best friend, and Bryce Dallas Howard who was an odd choice to play Elton’s mother but still does a solid job. Dexter Fletcher was the one and only person who should’ve directed this film and he brings so much style to the film that makes it easy to enjoy. The sets, cinematography, and editing add to an already interesting script with an artsy feel that heightens the audience’s connection to the protagonist and will make you want to sing and dance along to some of your favorite Elton John songs. What the film does so well is depicting both the highs and lows of Elton’s career and also spends a lot of time addressing and depicting his sexuality, so expect some strong sexual content as well. We see Elton display talent and receive fame, but we also see him deal with rejection from those closest to him, as well as suffering from addiction resulting from a downward emotional spiral. Yet by the end, Rocketman will feel like a rewarding time at the movies with great music, acting, and story that those who love his music will very much enjoy.

My only gripe about Rocketman is that despite its 2-hour runtime, I think a few aspects could have used a little more screentime, like how audiences were affected by his music or how those around him reacted to his addiction, which we could have seen a bit more of. Other than that, Rocketman is entertaining and emotional yet uplifting and very well-directed and acted.

Rocketman (film).png