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.

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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.

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Men in Black: International

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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.

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The Light Between Oceans

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After a lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia rescue a baby from an adrift rowboat, they must decide whether to keep her and raise her as their own or report her to the police. Derek Cianfrance has brought us something truly beautiful with The Light Between Oceans, a poignant, tear-jerking, well-acted piece of film that will impact you emotionally like no other movie this year. Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander are astonishing in the film’s lead roles. Fassbender conveys every little emotion his character feels without having to use words. I don’t know if his performance here can beat what he gave us in last year’s Steve Jobs, but this film is undoubtedly another great example of how incapable Fassbender is of delivering anything less than great. Vikander fabulously helps carry the film and delivers what is by far the greatest performance of the year. It was hard to imagine her out of character for a moment because of how impeccably and marvelously she portrayed her role. She brings so much emotional strength that it even becomes disturbing in a few scenes. I haven’t seen too many performances like her’s in recent years. Rachel Weisz is also emotionally exquisite in her strong supporting performance.

The Light Between Oceans doesn’t only bring the best out of its A-list actors. The cinematography is dazzling and the score from Alexandre Desplat is easily the best this year. Every shot in the film is captured so gorgeously and perfectly, and it’s all accompanied very well to Desplat’s marvelous soundtrack. The movie tries very hard to get you emotional and depressed, and thankfully it doesn’t miss. Some scenes in this film managed to break my heart and almost made me shed a few tears. There are parts that are very tough to watch, so I’d only recommend this film for teens and older, but every one of these scenes are boasted by the cast’s strong performances and nearly flawless directing. I’m so impressed by how Cianfrance was able to put all of this to film and capture it so powerfully. All of this is what ultimately makes The Light Between Oceans a modern cinematic achievement.

The Light Between Oceans is gorgeously shot, acted, and directed, and is easily one of the best and most depressing films I’ve seen in theaters this year. It slows down a tad in the final act, but there’s no doubt to say this is the first true Oscar contender of the year. I can’t understand what critics find to be so mediocre about this movie, and I’d highly recommend you go see it if you’re 14 or older.

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War Dogs

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War Dogs is based on the true story of two young men, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.

War Dogs is surprisingly one of the smartest and most entertaining movies of the year. With two excellent leading actors and superb writing, this movie is very hard not to enjoy. Jonah Hill and Miles Teller both kill it as two twenty-something-year-old arms dealers who became millionaires by forging their way to million-dollar deals and eventually, driving Porsche’s too. Hill is unforgettable, bringing so much fun and wit to his role, and Teller is filled with soul as Hill’s partner-in-crime, as well as the film’s narrator.

This movie is being sold as a comedy, and as much gut-busting humor that’s included in the film, I would look at it in a more broad way as a hybrid of The Big Short, The Wolf of Wall Street and Catch Me If You Can. I was especially reminded of Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can because of the idea of young men making bad decisions, as well as an awful lot of money, with Hill and Teller’s roles resembling DiCaprio’s portrayal of con man Frank Abagnale, Jr. Although the characters in this film weren’t always in illegal business, but in both films the characters decide to cheat their way to the American dream. Even though this movie is from the director of the Hangover trilogy, don’t expect goofy and nonsensical humor, because War Dogs is a LOT more than that.

If you like watching movies about true stories that you wouldn’t believe actually happened at first, then this is the movie for you. The plot is heavily fictionalized but the overall story is true, and it was a story that was not just interesting to watch, but entertaining as hell to sit through. The movie is less than two hours long, but not a moment felt rushed. The script never provides a dull moment, and there are some scenes and lines that will be difficult for you to forget. Don’t expect much action from this film either, because that’s not what War Dogs is about. War Dogs is a dangerously true story, that’s more of a dramatic than a comedic or thrilling movie, and that may be hard to believe but also very hard to forget. Please give this one a watch in theaters if you want a remarkably awesome time at the movies.

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Pete’s Dragon (2016)

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A reimagining of Disney’s cherished family film, Pete’s Dragon is the adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliott, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Disney is continuing their surprising streak of great live-action remakes with Pete’s Dragon, which is based on the 1977 live-action classic, instead this time, the dragon is given a visual update with CGI instead of being hand-drawn. And once again, Disney succeeds at bringing a charming, family-friendly world of CGI to life. Although there isn’t as much visual weight and realism to the dragon as there was to the incredibly photo-realistic environment and characters in this year’s Jungle Book, there’s enough charm and fun to make it another solid and spirited Disney family flick. The is a splendid cast that helps carry the film that includes Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, and Robert Redford. Oakes Fegley, the child actor who plays Pete, does a remarkable job acting in front of his costars and sometimes in front of nothing (in the scenes in which his character must interact with Elliot). The majority of the film, however, didn’t require as much interaction with computer-generated surroundings as the leading child actors from The Jungle Book and The BFG, hence making Fegley’s performance less impressive and unique as the other actors and overall, I felt much more connected to the leads from the other two films. The standout of the cast is definitely Howard, who brings lots of life and energy to her character and delivers a notable performance from the film.

This movie may be a great time for families and especially younger kids, but that’s really the only target audience for the film. If you watch this film looking for a great story, you might not be satisfied. The story has lots of soul, but the film’s second half starts to slow down a little bit before entering familiar territory and following a formula used by too many family films.The story of a kid trying to protect an extraordinary being while the adults’ greed and fear prevents them from understanding the situation as well as the protagonist has already been used plenty of times. E.T. and How to Train Your Dragon are just a few examples of films that follow the exact same formula during most of their runtime. When the movie tried to get exciting during the final act, it was hard for me to care because of how cliched it mostly was. However, the film concludes with a great message about family and preserving your surroundings.

Although it does get too familiar at times, I can bet you Pete’s Dragon will be a great time if you go see it with your family, with lots of soul and great underlying messages, as well as outstanding cast members and writing. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re looking for the best movie out there, but if you want to see a fun and touching family film, then Pete’s Dragon is unlikely to disappoint you.

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Jason Bourne

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Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), the CIA’s most dangerous former operative, is drawn out of hiding when old ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) finds him, to uncover more explosive truths about his past.

Jason Bourne reminds us that the series it belongs to is still one of the greatest action franchises out there, especially with Paul Greengrass in the director’s chair, and Damon in the spotlight. In 2012, we got The Bourne Legacy, which starred Jeremy Renner instead of Damon and failed critically because it didn’t feel much like a Bourne movie because of Damon’s absence and the lack of everything that distinguishes a Bourne movie from a regular action movie. In this film, Greengrass shows us that this series can still return to form after a mistake like that. Jason Bourne follows the formula set by the first three films, with lots of impressive shaky-cam action while Bourne is running from the CIA. However, it gets even more personal this time around, as he starts to uncover a final secret from his past. The story isn’t very new but as a huge fan of the series, I never lost interest thanks to the pacing and intense action. Damon is still fantastic as the titular character, even fourteen years after portraying the character for the first time. He never loses character both physically and emotionally, and it’s so much fun to watch him constantly kick ass in all four of these films. Tommy Lee Jones portrays a ruthless CIA director who’s as perfectly written and developed as Chris Cooper’s antagonist in the first film, while Alicia Vikander is superb as a CIA agent that, in a way, resembles Joan Allen’s Pam Landy from the previous movies. Although both characters feel familiar, they are most skillfully portrayed by two excellent casting choices for their roles. Vincent Cassel is also a great villainous newcomer to the series, with an interesting backstory and great writing to his character. It’s so impressive that even though the main characters are part of the franchise’s formula, each one of them was written so profoundly, and I loved the way they were developed and portrayed.

If you’re hoping to get some spectacular action sequences from this movie, then you won’t be let down because there is plenty of intense bone-crunching and heart-racing action that’s just as great as what Greengrass gave us in Supremacy and Ultimatum. There’s an epic motorcycle chase during a riot that glued my eyes to the screen, as well as an enormous car chase in Vegas that kept me on the very edge of my seat. The incredible use of practical stunt and shaky camera work definitely hold up. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd is more reliant on shaky cam than Oliver Wood, who shot the original trilogy; Ackroyd has however proved to be a master at capturing exquisite action and scenery with his style in films like The Hurt Locker and Captain Phillips. Here, his style may feel overdone to some, but I believe the camerawork was done impeccably, especially during the action scenes. A lot of critics have sadly been disappointed by this movie, saying it doesn’t live up to the previous work of Damon’s Bourne pictures, but let me tell you that skipping this movie is not the right move for fans of action movies and especially of the saga. Jason Bourne gave me everything I wanted and even more. It’s strikingly written, phenomenally acted, and stunningly shot and directed. It’s definitely on par with the first three films, probably even better than Supremacy. The Bourne movies have truly raised the bar for action movies, and I haven’t seen many others like them. Jason Bourne is another fantastic example that did not disappoint, so please, despite what many critics have said, go see this movie with an open mind like I did, and who knows how much you may end up liking it?

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