‘The Lion King’ (2019) REVIEW

Recently director Jon Favreau defended his remake of the animated classic, The Lion King, to USA Today saying it is ‘not completely a shot for shot remake‘. Upon hearing this, I became hopeful that this remake might be similar to his version of The Jungle Book, which had its flaws but took a new approach to Mowgli and to the ending that I appreciated. Now having seen new remake, I am quite baffled by Favreau’s words because aside from the visuals, I saw no noticeable story differences between it and the animated classic. It’s as close to a shot-for-shot remake of a film as I’ve ever seen (Critic David Ehrlich compared it to the remake of Psycho by Gus Van Sant, and he’s absolutely correct.) Of course, the new version of The Lion King will make boat-loads of money but if you are asking for this critic’s advice I would give it a definite skip.

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Let’s start off talking about the film’s greatest strength, the visuals. Despite Disney’s reticence to use the term, they are an incredible achievement in ANIMATION! (The reason I believe they haven’t wanted to use the word is because it is one thing to remake an animated film with live action but to remake an animated film with another animated film feels like even more of a copycat than all the others!). Particularly in wide shots the photorealism is impressive. It seems hard to believe that everything down to the smallest blade of grass is fabricated on a computer and yet that is the reality. If people want to see this film for the visuals alone I wouldn’t fault them, but I guess I was hoping to have more to recommend given the original film is such a favorite of mine.

There are other positives like the voicecast is all competent and the music/songs are well executed. However, I was a little disappointed only one song from the Broadway musical is included as a song over the credits and the one original song ‘Spirit’ is just an accompaniment to a transitional scene when the characters are walking. I was hoping it would be part of a new narrative for Nala but that is not the case.

The only song I did not like was their rendition of ‘Be Prepared’, which felt like such an after-thought. It’s one of my all-time favorite Disney villain songs and it came and went without making any impact. There was no spectacle or gravitas, which made Scar a much less interesting villain.

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The best part of the film character-wise is Timon and Pumba (Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen). Their scenes, while identical to the original, have the most energy and life to them. They are also the closest to being believable as actually talking and singing animals. With the lions and other characters, their mouth movements never quite worked, with their faces not matching the words/lyrics in a natural easy way (maybe because real animals make individuals sounds like a purr or a roar rather than formulating whole words).

There’s also a problem with the photo-realistic character’s inability to emote in the way a 2D animated character can. Little Simba in the original can have big tears well up in his eyes, and his whole face can be full with the emotion of losing his Dad. That’s not possible with a photo-realistic lion; thereby, rendering the scenes one note and flat.

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Coming out of the film I felt it might actually be a better choice for young children (under 5) than the original for this very reason. The tense scenes feel more clinical when realistic; therefore, they aren’t as devastating to the viewer. If a child can handle a nature documentary where animals are in peril, they should be able to handle what they see in this remake.

I know when my brother used to watch the original he would get very upset at the dramatic scenes, and I don’t think that would be the case here. (My friend disagreed with me and felt it might be scarier to young kids because it is more realistic so I suppose it depends on the child). It is less emotionally manipulative than the original but that also means it is less impactful.

Unfortunately this lack of emotional investment strips The Lion King of what makes it special. It becomes an exercise in checking off boxes for the story we know and love instead of anything remotely memorable. The recent version of Dumbo had lots of problems but at least there was some attempt to offer a new take, with different visions for the characters. This is just bland. There are no two ways around it. It’s bland, bland, bland.

My advice is save your money. Stay home and watch the original classic film!

frown

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Watcher in the Woods 2017 Review

I’ve always said if you are going to remake a movie pick a flawed movie that has potential. Then you have something to improve upon. The 1980’s Disney film The Watcher in the Woods is a good example. The original is entertaining but it is saddled with bad acting and cheesy dialogue. A new version aired last weekend on Lifetime Channel and it does make some improvements to the original. Unfortunately it also makes odd choices that made it less interesting as a narrative.

Spoilers below

If you want to hear my thoughts on the original film here is my review:

The biggest improvement the new film makes is in the acting. Tallulah Evans is a serious step up as Jan. She is beautiful, expressive and a much better actress than Lynn-Holly Johnson. She also looks like she could be Britt Robertson’s doppleganger.

I honestly thought all the acting was better in this new version. The little girl was better. The boyfriend was better. The parents were better. You get the idea.

Anjelica Huston is about as good a replacement for Bette Davis as you could cast. Unfortunately she’s not in the movie near as much. I wonder if they only had her for a few days of shooting? It feels that way. Still she makes good work of the scenes she is in and elevates the film just as Davis did. You feel for her as this wounded mother and yet those big eyes are terrifying.

The story of Watcher in the Woods focuses on a family that moves into an old house with a weird old woman living in the guest house. Years before the woman’s daughter Karen went missing and ever since the woods nearby are full of creepy goings-on. As the family lives in the house, the mystery of the daughter starts to unfold putting them all at risk.

The problem with the remake is it takes this basic premise and makes it very conventional. Where the original made strange choices, that added mystery in this version you see everything coming a mile away. For example, in the original the teens make a conscious choice to hold a seance and experiment with the occult. Then Karen is taken by an alien known as the Watcher. Even though the acting is hokey this is interesting because it was their choice to become involved. It’s hard for Jan and crew to figure out what happened to Karen when it is shrouded in an eclipse with the occult.

In this new version the Watcher is a puritan doctor who was killed by townspeople because they feared he had the plague. Now he stalks the forest waiting for the townspeople to recognize him and the work he did. This is less interesting because it is a monster movie. There is no sense of mystery at why the students had the seance and what Karen was all about. She’s just an innocent girl who was taken by a monster.

There were other little things that were less interesting. Like when the glass shatters it is a cross instead of a triangle. This is probably a nitpick but to me a triangle is more unusual. What does a triangle mean? Where it is obvious what a cross means. Another example is the ‘Nerak’ scenes aren’t as interesting. In the original the little girl randomly writes Nerak backwards before anyone knows about Karen and names her dog Nerak. This is more interesting than writing it on the window 30 minutes in and then waking up and screaming the the name once the investigation has started. It doesn’t leave you as the viewer asking questions which is part of what makes the original scary. This new version has family friendly scares but it’s not as thoughtful a narrative as the original. Oh well.

All that said, if you are looking for a family friendly horror movie you could do worse than the new Watcher in the Woods. It’s a pretty bland movie but it does have good performances and some scary sequences. It’s a little frustrating because with just a few changes it could have been special but it’s an okay watch.

Just barely smile worthy.

My friend AJ did a podcast comparing the 2 films

Beauty and the Beast 2017 Review

It’s an interesting predicament I find myself in with this latest live action remake from Disney, Beauty and the Beast. Because I detested the marketing, some think I have a vendetta against the film and would never like it. On the other hand,  the animation fandom cries “traitor” if I like anything about it. Oh well! Looks like I will just have to be honest with my response as I always am. So here goes…

So far these Disney live action remakes have been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved Cinderella and Pete’s Dragon because they felt small and intimate and gave a new vision to the story without bastardizing the original as Maleficent did. Jungle Book I thought was solid and entertaining and the 2 Alice films I didn’t care for. Maleficent I hated with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. Where does this Beauty and the Beast lie? Well, I’d say like the remakes as a whole it is a bit of a mixed bag. The average moviegoer looking to be entertained will be but that doesn’t take from some problems I had with the film.

Let’s talk about strengths first. My favorite thing about the film was the strong production design and the large musical set pieces. I can’t think of a musical in a long time that had such satisfyingly staged musical sequences. Be Our Guest, Belle, and Gaston were the particular highlights. The costumes, scope, dancing and ensemble singing were first rate. It was easy to get swept away in the moments and that’s what you want in a musical.

I also really liked what they did with Gaston. Luke Evans was hilarious in the role and while he may not be the size of a barge it didn’t matter. He worked for the part. They made him a bit more sympathetic without completely changing his character like they did with Maleficent. He’s still the cocky guy we know and love but he seemed to actually be in love with Belle, which I appreciated. Also Lefou was a well done character. I liked his story arc through the film and Josh Gad did a good job in the role. He isn’t just a literal punching bag that he is in the animated film.  By the way, the whole “gay moment” is nothing that should offend anyone in any way. His character arc is satisfying not because of his sexuality but because of how he deals with questions of loyalty and friendship.

They also work in a lot of humor into the script, which I enjoyed. I found myself laughing quite a bit especially with Lumiere and Cogsworth but a lot of the characters were funny.

But that’s about where my positives end and some problems start. My biggest problem with the film is in the character design. All of the household objects were difficult to connect with emotionally. Lumiere and Cogsworth were designed in a way that made it difficult to see their faces and expressions. Mrs Potts was literally flat so you had no sense of movement or personality to her.  It is all left to the voice cast to sell the emotion and they just couldn’t do it. The Beast looked like Krampus and his face was flat and dull. And Harry Potter fans will hate me for saying this but I also found Emma Watson to be flat and wooden in her performance as Belle. There wasn’t much chemistry between the two of them because they were uninteresting and bland, which is a big problem selling this story.

I also had some problems with the new additions to the story. For the most part they didn’t add anything that wasn’t super obvious or predictable. It just made scenes feel stretched out and kind of boring. They should have picked one or two backstories to focus on, but instead they did a lot and none of them feel very developed or satisfyingly fleshed out. For example, we learn something about Mrs Potts’ marriage but it feels very tagged on and not emotional like it should.

The best of the additions is the new peril the household objects face with the curse but I didn’t really like that they are somehow blamed for the Beast’s behavior and the curse. This seemed like a major stretch. I can see blaming parents for the behaviors of a child but servants in a castle? That is tough to believe. It’s certainly a very harsh enchantress.  That’s for sure.

Other new story involving Belle’s mother and the Beast’s backstory just did nothing for me. Also the new songs were very forgettable and flat. They aren’t bad songs but the only reason I remember one of them is because Josh Groban sang it in the credits and I’m a huge fan of his.

Speaking of music, the other major problem I had with the movie was in the singing. Emma Watson’s singing was frankly awful. She not only sounds autotuned but her vocals don’t mesh with the rest of the strong ensemble vocals. It’s one thing for a terrible vocalist to be in Mama Mia or Phantom of the Opera but most of the singing sucked in those movies. Here the ensemble is great and classic Broadway sound, so to have an electronic sound as the lead didn’t work at all. It was such a bummer because if she had been dubbed I think I would have LOVED those songs. If I was Emma Watson I would be very mad with Disney because it is their job to make their star sound good and they didn’t.

Most people will go see Beauty and the Beast and have a great time, and so I have to give Disney credit on that level. There is entertainment to be had here and I think as a whole it is a harmless movie. Does it live up to the 1991 original film? Of course not but it’s certainly not awful. I thought the musical set pieces and Gaston/Lefou were fun enough to recommend the film despite some of my problems and issues. In a way it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity because elements  were there to make it truly great but oh well. It’s not an atrocity like Maleficent so I’m grateful for that.

Overall Grade- C

Here is my youtube review. I would really appreciate it if you gave it a watch and a thumbs up if you have a minute.  Thanks!

Ghostbusters 2016 Review

ghostbusters_ver6Today I saw the movie that broke the internet. For months the battle over the Ghostbusters remake has been raging strong.  It has a female cast, some idiots trolled, people involved overreacted and then a bunch of lousy trailers came out. Plus, like Independence Day it’s another movie that others feel much more nostalgia for than I do. You can see my best shot pick and thoughts on original Ghostbusters here.

So is this new version the monstrosity that some people hoped for? (Yes some idiots hoped it would be bad). No, in fact, I liked it very much!

ghostbusters6Going into Ghostbusters I looked for a few things. 1. I wanted charismatic, likable female cast, 2. I wanted to laugh, 3. I wanted some entertaining ghostbusting action. This film gave me all of that. I left with a big smile on my face.

ghostbusters reactionSo let’s start with our leading ladies. We have Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. I like that they aren’t exact copies of the 4 original Ghostbusters. McCarthy and Wiig are long time friends who have written a book on the paranormal. They had great chemistry together and I thought McCarthy stole every scene she was in. I know some are tired of her shtick but it’s really not here. There isn’t a single fat lady joke in the whole movie. She’s just funny.

ghostbusters1All of the ladies have great chemistry together and things like Leslie Jones being from the street was actually well done. For the most part character-wise what worried me in the trailer didn’t come to fruition.  Kate McKinnon verges on being a little annoying but I was ok with it.

A lot of people have complained about the depiction of men in the film. I think this complaint misses the subtle humor these roles have. I can’t even tell you how many movies I’ve seen where every female character is a dimwit, shrew or hooker. Now they turn it around. That’s part of the joke! It’s called turning the tables to make people think and maybe laugh a bit at the way we see gender played out in film. Chris Hemsworth isn’t just the idiot, he’s a satirical jab at every dopey receptionist babe we’ve seen in a thousand other films.

ghostbusters3Let’s get to the humor. I must own I actually haven’t seen many Paul Feig films because they are usually hard R ratings. Here he is working in PG-13 territory and for the most part I laughed a lot. The banter between the ladies was very funny and dry.

Also Chris Hemsworth is hilarious in every scene he is in as the dopey receptionist. I also liked little moments like when Melissa McCarthy can’t get her broth to wanton ratio right from the Chinese restaurant. Things like that made me laugh.

ghostbusters8Now the action it is not as horror influenced as the original but I liked it. I thought some of the designs of the specters was cool and how the women had to use their brains to take them down was also cool. I particularly liked a set of ghosts that were giant balloons that felt very day of the dead influenced.

ghostbusters10It was also cool to see all of the new gadgets that McKinnon’s character invents. I think young girls will see this movie and have fun playing scientist and killing those ghosts! It’s the same thing that makes me excited to see girls playing Rey. I had Ariel and that’s basically it. Nothing tough and fighting like this.

ghostbusters wiigThat does bring me to a negative I had in the movie. Most of the movie is so kid-friendly that it bummed me out when unnecessary crude and vulgar humor was thrown in for no reason. Like a character gives another the middle finger repeatedly. Why did that have to be in there? I don’t need that for my little girl. You also had a joke about female anatomy I could have done without. That said, those crude and vulgar jokes are much worse in the original so it’s not really a surprise.

ghostbusters9There are also a number of cameos and callbacks to the original and some of them do feel forced. It didn’t bother me that much but it is definitely fan service. I particularly could have done without Slimer and his wife driving around.

I honestly hope there is a sequel because I think that will be even better. I think these fan service moments are out of the way and we can move on to an entirely fresh story.

Overall, if you can turn off the critics I think you will have a good time.  Is it the greatest movie of the year? No but honestly neither was the original- at least to me.  They are both fun summer movies with quippy dialogue and scientists taking down ghosts! Give it a shot. I don’t think you will regret it.

Overall Grade- B+

I did something new with my youtube video this time. I hope you guys like it

Jungle Book Review (2016)

(My Youtube review)

I know some of you have been wondering when I would finally post my Jungle Book review here on the blog. I posted my youtube review on Thursday night, so make sure you are subscribed to both the blog and channel because sometimes I don’t have time to update both at same time (I’m only one person friends 🙂 ).

I also wanted to wait to see the Jungle Book a second time on IMAX today before posting this review. I find on these big films it is often helpful to see the movie twice just to make sure my first read was accurate. I can confidently say I had the same experience in both screenings, so I’m pretty assured about my feelings.

It’s a good movie. I liked it a lot. Is it perfect? No but what movie is? Let’s talk about the pros and cons.

jungle-book-2016-posters-mowgli-balooThe biggest pro is the world building. Especially in IMAX 3D it was such an immersive experience.  I don’t think since Avatar I have been so immersed in a world at the theater. Maybe Gravity might be a good comparison. This is made all the more remarkable by the fact that it is all digitally created- down to the smallest blade of grass! Recently I have seen some terrible green screen work in films like In the Heart of the Sea or Gods of Egypt. Not here. There is no other word to describe the visuals but amazing. This is one to see on the big screen in 3D (which I almost never recommend).  Trust me on this one.

jungle book castThe voice talent is also all superb. Everyone from Bill Murray as Baloo, to Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, and Idris Elba as Shere Khan nails their characters.  It doesn’t feel like they are copying the iconic performances of the animated film either.  They are their own characters both in the script and vocal performances.

jungle book33I also really enjoyed the darker take on the story because even though I love the original animated film I admit it I like it mostly for the songs. This is more accurate to the book and particularly the beginning and ending I was really engaged with the story.

Mowgli is also a much more empathetic character (less whiny) than in the animated film.  Speaking of Mowgli, Neal Sethi is excellent in the part.  To think he did all his acting in a green screen room with puppets is remarkable, but even without that knowledge it’s a good, heartfelt performance.

THE JUNGLE BOOKNow to a few things that didn’t work for me. Both times I saw the film I got a little bit sleepy in the middle. Particularly in the sequences with Baloo and King Louie. I loved Bill Murray as Baloo but just the story kind of stalled there.  The King Louie stuff was almost one too many villains  and he was a little bit too mean for my taste. He’s supposed to be a smooth talker and he’s more of a bully in this film.

The other problem I had was in this section.  This is where we get both of the songs- Bear Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You. I love both of those songs in the animated musical but in this darker version (especially with King Louie) it didn’t really fit to have them break into song. It kind of took me out of the movie to see them singing all of the sudden.

Once Mowgli goes back to the wolves then it starts to pick back up again and I was engaged but I’ve seen it twice and both times that middle section lost my interest. Sorry…

jungle book2The other concern is that it is very scary. I know the animated film isn’t perfect but at least it is something you could watch with your entire family.  There is no way I could take my 6 and 7 year old nieces to this film. Shere Khan is very scary and attacks and kills characters. Louie is very scary and Kaa for her brief moments is scary. It kind of bums me out a little bit that it can’t be more of a family film but oh well.

Finally, there will be some people who will be annoyed at some stuff that is missing. Kaa is only in the film for about 5 minutes. The elephants are briefly seen. No vultures or their cheerful singing. I am willing to forgive and accept this new version but that may annoy some purists.

It might sound like I didn’t like the film which is untrue. I did like it. It was a magnificent experience, and I thought it was all done extremely well. But for me I still think Cinderella was better. It was more engaging from start to finish with no middle act lull.  Plus, it was more consistent in tone  throughout, and I just thought it was very magical. I also like that it is a family film that teaches a lovely message of kindness and courage to young girls. This film excludes those young kids because it is so scary.

But for a visual experience and for something new I definitely recommend seeing Jungle Book. I think you will really enjoy it.

Overall Grade B+

Pete’s Dragon Teaser Trailer Response

Everyone is talking about it so I might as well add my two cents.  They just put out the teaser trailer for this summer’s Pete’s Dragon remake.  I have to be honest- I like the trailer.  I think it looks kind of magical.  Now I thought the Maleficent trailer looked promising and you see what that brought us…

I would certainly rather there be no remakes at all and get new and exciting content but that’s not happening any time soon.  The best we can hope for is these remakes are more of the Cinderella vein and less Maleficent/Alice in Wonderland (and no the new Looking Glass trailer does nothing to excite me).  I guess I’m more positive about Pete’s Dragon because I’m not super attached to the original; although, I do enjoy it.

What does seem cool about Pete’s Dragon is they are doing more of a reimagining than a remake, which begs the question- why call it Pete’s Dragon in the first place?  Fair enough, but at least it isn’t like Maleficent where they restage our favorite scenes but ruin the characters and story.  At least that doesn’t appear to be the case.

One thing I don’t understand in these remakes is why they shy away from the music?  I understand not wanting to make everything a musical but why not have a soundtrack?  Candle on the Water is a great Disney song and I feel it at least should be in the closing credits.  You had no Bibbity Bobbity Boo in Cinderella.  No Once Upon a Dream but in credits in Maleficent.  That is so bizarre. Why not take full advantage of the properties you are remaking? It’s not like Oz where they don’t have the rights to the original music.

Either way, I thought it was an effective, enticing trailer that didn’t tell me too much but just gave a spirit of the film.  This movie has been very hush-hush so I’m glad to see some images of the dragon and what the story is going for.  The fact Pete is a feral boy living in the forest for 6 years is interesting and Robert Redford being in your movie never hurt anything.

So I’m hopeful.  What say you?  I know some people are very upset about it and I can see their points.  Share in the comment section.