The voice cast is amazing. The music remains some of the best ever composed for an animated film. The story continues to be compelling.
Why are many so worked up about The Lion King.
After hearing the mantra of “who was asking for this movie” on Solo: A Star Wars Story, I wondered why many care so much. My theory: if you do not want to see a movie, do not see it. Why some seem to get personally offended by this kind of thing is very, very far beyond me.
2019’s The Lion King is a perfectly charming return to the 1994 original. While it is not a beat-for-beat recreation of the classic, it hews very closely to the source material which results in a comfortable, easy experience. The movie is not a revelation. It doesn’t uncover a ton of new ground. Rather it puts one at ease as it entertains. That seems just fine to me.
The cast (no one save James Earl Jones is a holdover from the original) brings gravitas and star power to their work. Billy Eichner and John Oliver are particularly good in their roles as Zazu and Timon, respectively and, while Chiwetel Ejiofor cannot sing a lick, his Scar is an impressive creation. Beyonce and Donald Glover are wonderful as the adult Nala and Simba and the new song Beyonce composed for the film fits seamlessly into the narrative.
Some of the themes are a bit updated and the circle of life gets a visual shout out in a new scene that illustrates the power of the life cycle. Director Jon Favreau knows what he is going for and he pulls it off.
Much more appealing, to this viewer anyway, than a re-release of the original would have been, The Lion King took me back to a place and time in my life decades past while charming me with new images and energy and a new interpretation of the story.
I am still trying to figure out what is wrong with that.
THE LION KING receives THREE PASSING CRAZES out of a possible FIVE
I cannot think of a movie I have recently seen that left me with one immediate impression upon leaving the theater that morphed into a different impression within a few days. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of the strangest, weirdest most self-indulgent movies I have ever seen. I defy anyone who has seen it to describe the plot of the movie in one sentence.
First, let me state that I understand having a discernible and clear plot is not the point of the movie. I do get that. There were, however, multiple times – especially during the first two acts of the movie – where I wondered just what in the hell was going on. And, upon reflection, I understand, too, that that is part of Quentin Tarantino’s point.
I am not a Tarantino aficionado. No expert in his movies (I’ve not seen his classics), I came to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood not knowing what to expect but excited by the story (I am interested in the Manson story), by the director’s renown for brilliant use of music (and the soundtrack is so very well composed and evocative) and by actors assembled for the movie. What a shockingly stocked set of performers Tarantino had with which to play.
The cast does not let one done. Leonardo DiCaprio has been labeled the last real movie star in America for all kinds of reasons – from his acting choices to his image to his talent. He is a towering presence in the movie in a role that requires far more bravery from him than one might gather watching the previews. Paired with Brad Pitt, whose Cliff Booth is just as an indelible creation as the actor’s Rick Dalton, DiCaprio shines even as his character is supposed to be fading into the background. His friendship with Pitt’s Booth – the character I loved best in the film – is the through line of the picture, and it’s a good one. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is at its best when the two are on screen together, although Pitt’s solo scenes – especially as tension mounts as he tours the infamous Spahn Movie Ranch – is commanding.
Rounding out the trio of mega stars is the ubiquitous Margot Robbie. Playing the ill-fated actress Sharon Tate with a light, comedic and blissful air, Robbie is captivating. As pressures mount towards the end of the movie, the mind juxtaposes this beautiful creation of Robbie’s with the end that is coming. Robbie’s work here is a love letter not only to the actress, but to a time in Hollywood that has passed by and will never return.
And this, clearly, is one of the themes on which Tarantino built the movie. In 1969, Hollywood was being blown apart by forces within and without and actors like Rick Dalton were discovering they no longer had a clear role to play. One wonders if Tarantino in this age of CGI and superhero franchises and re-cycled concept after sequel films wonders if his time is almost up.
I believed this was on his mind right up until the last act of the movie. In that last act, Tarantino through his 3 lead characters issues a most visual and visceral middle finger to the idea that his time is up. And the last act is simply stunning.
The more time that passes the more I want to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood again. It is a lyrical sledgehammer that remains with the viewer far after the brilliant closing credits wrap.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD receives THREE AND A HALF SPAGHETTI WESTERNS out of a possible FIVE
No movie is perfect but, for my taste, Yesterday comes very, very close. It is the most fun, most feel good, most fulfilled time I have had at the movies this summer. Without question.
Hamish Patel, delightful and charming, plays frustrated singer/guitarist Jack Malik. After a decade of playing D-List gigs at dumps and to empty rooms, he has all but given up his hope of becoming a professional singer when something strange happens. Hit by a bus during a strange, world-wide event, Jack awakens to discover that he is the only person on Earth who remembers the Beatles and their music. He begins to share their songs as if they were his own and rockets to stardom as a result.
In the process, he leaves behind his old friend and manager Ellie Appleton, played by the ubiquitous and delightful Lily James. Jack and Ellie have been working on his career ever since they were kids and knew each other in school and, as things finally take off for Jack, Ellie – a school teacher – has no choice but to stay behind and watch him from afar. The movie manages, however, to keep them onscreen together quite a lot, and this is a good thing. The two have great chemistry.
One cannot discuss the movie without a brief mention of the scenery chewing turn by Kate McKinnon. She is wonderfully terrible as Jack’s new manager and injects friendly venom in every line reading. And Ed Sheeran should be saluted, too, for his persona mocking work as himself.
Yesterday is a movie that is pure fantasy and knows it. It does not try to explain why people have forgotten the Fab Four (and forgotten other, amusing things, too) or what the global event was. It does not need to do so. It asks the audience to go along for the ride and quite a pleasant ride it is.
Richard Curtis, the writer of Love Actually is behind this movie and there are more than a few pleasant resonances from that film in this one. He has a knack for romantic comedy and a love of high concepts (as evidenced by his criminally underrated About Time). He imbues his characters with a sweetness that never crosses into cloying. He also is a lover of coincidence and that plot element is on display in Yesterday.
Directed with much style and a sure hand by Danny Boyle, the movie is a rollicking romp. It only asks for a suspension of disbelief and a desire to get caught up in a little magic. If you cannot do that, Yesterday is not the film for you. But, if you want some joy, want some romance and want some great music, this is the film for you. Yesterday knows exactly what it is. It also knows exactly what it wants to do: it wants to take its audience down to Strawberry Fields, where nothing is real, but everything is wonderful.
YESTERDAY receives FOUR AND A HALF YELLOW SUBMARINES out of a possible FIVE
Once the full trailer for Spider-Man Far From Home was released and it became clear that the post-Avengers | Endgame setting was critical to the story, my expectations were altered. I went in to Far From Home feeling I was about to see an extension of Endgame that would clear up some ambiguities (like Spider-Man’s entire class was snapped out of existence?) and answer some questions (like how is the world coping with all the returning people?). The movie supplies some of those answers but flips the script and the tone from the Wagnerian epic that was Infinity War and Endgame so readily that I was caught off guard.
I shouldn’t have been. It is clear that these Spider-Man movies are meant to be, first-and-foremost, high school comedies. That the main character has super powers and is involved in a wider narrative is secondary to the story. Settling in to that perspective and watching Far From Home in that mindset changes my reactions to the movie.
In a bit of meta-casting, Jake Gyllenhaal, who was once rumored as the replacement for Tobey Maguire for Spider-Man 2, plays Mysterio, a superhero from a newly discovered alternate dimension. He has come to Spider-Man’s earth to warn of a new cosmic threat and to pitch in in defeating it. Gyllenhaal is game for the role and somehow seem at home in what is – without a doubt – the most silly Marvel costume yet. Dude is wearing a fishbowl on his head and he makes it work. He also shares a very nice chemistry with Tom Holland, who remains absolutely spot-on as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
In this film, Peter is dealing with the events and the deaths of Avengers | Endgame and not even the quirky and engaging Aunt May (Marisa Tomei is ideal and having a great time in the part) and the suddenly gruffly lovable father figure Happy Hogan (played by Jon Favreau in increasingly and amusingly “I’m too old for this S%^& manner) can help. Peter is questioning his place in the superheroing world, the demands of an oddly out-of-character Nick Fury (always perfectly embodied by Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (once again realized by Cobie Smulders) notwithstanding. Rather than join Fury for superheroics, Peter dedicates himself to his fun group of classmates (Zendaya as MJ and Jacob Batalon as Ned are standouts) and to their summer trip to Europe. Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man no more!
It’s in Europe that things get complicated – really, really complicated – and Peter realizes, as any audience buying a ticket for a Spider-Man movie knew he must – that with great power comes…
The movie is breezily directed by Jon Watts and he clearly loves the material. Packed full of Easter eggs, Marvel comics references and clever dialogue, this is the most family friendly of the Marvel movies and the most action figure friendly, too. Spider-Man wears no fewer than four different costumes and faces more than a handful of adversaries in the course of the movie. Let’s mold plastic!
The drawback of the film might be a problem that challenges all Marvel movies going forward. Spider-Man Far From Home is the mind-boggling twenty-third film in the series and the baggage it carries is significant. With each passing installment, the pressure to amaze and thrill the audience while staying true to a broader tapestry is building and it makes this movie too clever by half. Many of the things that seem odd or out of place or shoehorned into the narrative only make any kind of sense when the after the credits sequences rolls (and I do mean AFTER the credits – stick around!). Don’t get me wrong. I love these movies and I love the interlocked nature of them. I am so impressed by the scope. It is simply that, for the first time in a long time, I felt the overall story of the main character was compromised by the needs of the franchise.
That does not mean I won’t be seeing Spider-Man Far From Home again, however!
SPIDER-MAN FAR FROM HOME receives THREE AND A HALF TINGLES out of a possible FIVE
Captain America: The First Avenger|Iron Man |The Incredible Hulk|Iron Man II | Thor |The Avengers |Iron Man 3 |Thor: The Dark World |Captain America: The Winter Soldier |Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 |Avengers: Age of Ultron |Ant-Man |Captain America: Civil War |Doctor Strange |Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther | Avengers: Infinity War | Ant-Man and the Wasp | Captain Marvel
Spider-Man | Homecoming
Tom Holland is perfect as Spider-Man. Perfect. Marvel directors seem to have unerring instincts in casting and their choice for Spider-Man (who debuted in Captain America: Civil War – a film creatively revisited in this one) in Tom Holland is spot-on. This is a very fun film and does a massive amount of world building while telling a compelling Spider-Man story, too. The filmmakers based their take on the high school movies of John Hughes, and they do a great job generating that vibe.
Spider-Man | Homecoming is absolutely jam-packed with delightful easter eggs… Bruce Banner’s picture on a classroom wall display of famous scientists, the principal of Peter’s school is the grandson of a solider who fought with Captain America in World War II, Captain America’s educational videos, the Sokovia Accords, Donald Glover (soon to explode as Lando Calrissian is on hand), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is on screen, and Jennifer Connelly – the wife of Paul Bettany who provides the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. and is the Vision – is the voice of Peter’s suit, which he names Karen. There are many more and, somehow, they do not overwhelm the movie.
Spider-Man | Homecoming also features one of the best Marvel villains in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Fun, breezy and suitably Marvel, this is the second best of all Spider-Man movies (it does trail Spider-Man 2 by a pretty wide margin). It is also the most multi-cultural of all the Marvel movies (prior to Black Panther) and that casting serves it very well. There are a series of great set pieces here and the interplay between Spider-Man and Iron Man is fun to watch. It is so pervasive, however, that it does lead one to question whether Spider-Man will be able to carry his own movie.
Oh, and the twist ending is very, very well handled.
ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!
Captain America: The First Avenger|Iron Man |The Incredible Hulk|Iron Man II | Thor |The Avengers |Iron Man 3 |Thor: The Dark World |Captain America: The Winter Soldier |Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 |Avengers: Age of Ultron |Ant-Man |Captain America: Civil War| Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther | Avengers: Infinity War | Ant-Man and the Wasp | Captain Marvel
Captain America | Civil War
If you can get over the fact (and I think I have – it has taken me four years) that the plot of this movie hinges on the heroes acting exactly as the villain intends and that a two-decade old VHS tape must play in order for the movie to work, it is almost perfect.
Civil War transcends the typical trappings of “make heroes fight each other” and pits the Avengers against each other with stakes that seem real. While the team disintegrates, the movie, somehow, manages to perfectly introduce two major new characters: Black Panther and Spider-Man, both of whom who have since headlined movies of their own.
Add to the proceedings humor, brilliantly staged action and pathos, and you have an excellent movie and one of the best Marvel films. To paraphrase the title character: “I could watch this all day.”
By-the-way, though I think his plan would never have worked, the villain won in this one. The Avengers are, for all intents and purposes, no more at the end of this film.
I gave Captain America: Civil War FIVE VHS TAPES out of a possible FIVEwhen it came out. It deserved all five.
T’Chaka; king of Wakanda
T’Challa; The Black Panther
Baron Helmut Zemo
CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:
Of all the films preceding it, Captain America | Civil War prepared for Infinity War in the most clear fashion. It left the Avengers broken and scattered. It leaves them ultra-vulnerable to an attack, like the attack Thanos mounted. They will come back together – we hope – in Endgame.
The Vision has a conversation with the Scarlet Witch about the Mind Stone embedded in his head which came from Loki’s staff and also created the Scarlet Witch’s powers.
The Winter Soldier is left in Wakanda at the end of the film. He will be there in both Black Panther and was there in Infinity War. Until he wasn’t.
“That shield doesn’t belong to you…” I do not know that the filmmakers knew what a key line that would be when they wrote it, but it set up Black Panther’s terrific “get this man a shield” line in Infinity War.
ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!
Captain America: The First Avenger|Iron Man |The Incredible Hulk|IRON MAN II |Thor |The Avengers |Iron Man 3 |Thor: The Dark World |Captain America: The Winter Soldier |Guardians of the Galaxy Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 |Avengers: Age of Ultron |Ant-Man |Captain America: Civil War |Doctor Strange |Spider-Man: Homecoming |Thor: Ragnarok |Black Panther | Avengers: Infinity War | Ant-Man and the Wasp
Four: IRON MAN II
Excessive. Of all the adjectives one can apply to Iron Man 2, “excessive” might be the most accurate. On re-watching it this week, I was stunned by just how much is going on in this movie. Quicker! Faster! More!
Unfortunately, none of those things make Iron Man 2 better. It is not a bad movie and I happen to really groove on Sam Rockwell’s performance as Justin Hammer. It is just that there is far too much happening: too many plot lines, to much fan service, too many drones. And I was very surprised to see what a complete jerk Tony Stark is in this movie – like a repulsive, dangerous jerk. That this character has become the bulwark of the Marvel movie universe is really something else. This Tony is dismissive, mean and drunk – not the lovable rogue we have come to enjoy. The movie, while it has some good moments, is also mean. It is that snarky teenager who thinks he is smarter than everyone: he can be clever, but a little of him goes a long way.
A little of Iron Man 2 goes a long way. Your memory of the movie is, likely, enough.
You can read my full review but the end run is that Iron Man 2 received TWO AND A HALF exploding watermelons out of a possible FIVE.
Natasha Romanov/The Black Widow
Captain America’s shield
Howard Stark as Tony’s father (we saw him in Captain America, but he is so much more important here)
Don Cheadle as War Machine
Thor’s hammer (post credit stinger)
CONNECTION(S) TO ENDGAME:
Don Cheadle assumes the role of Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes and dons the “War Machine” armor. War Machine is a major player in Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War
Tony and Nick Fury further discuss the Avengers Initiative.
Iron Man is deemed suitable for the Avengers team, Tony Stark is not. Somehow, between this movie and The Avengers, that caveat is conveniently forgotten.
There is a (retroactive) Spider-Man connection: it is, apparently, canon that the young man that Iron Man saves at the Stark Expo by destroying a drone is Peter Parker, who becomes Spider-Man.
The Stark Expo is, clearly, on the site of the World’s Fair at which Steve Rogers met Doctor Erskine which began the events that led to the former becoming the super soldier in Captain America: The First Avenger.