Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Lion King (2019)

Image is property of Disney

The Lion King (2019) – Film Review

Cast: Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, James Earl Jones, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Jon Favreau

Synopsis: A live action retelling of the story of the king of a pride of lions, who prepares his son to become the future king, while the King’s brother plots to usurp the throne for himself.

Review: It is unquestionably, one of the most iconic openings to a film ever. The sun rises, and the unmistakable intro to The Circle of Life starts playing. The 1994 version of The Lion King remains to this day, one of the finest animated films ever made. Hence with Disney seemingly intent on remaking its entire animated back catalogue, Jon Favreau, after going into one Jungle with his live action reinterpretation of The Jungle Book, this time goes into the mighty jungle, where the lions sleep tonight.

After working wonders with Jungle Book, Favreau once again produces some visual magic with the recreation of these animals and the habitats in which they dwell. It all looks and feels as though the film was shot somewhere on the blessed plains of Africa. There’s not much deviation in terms of the story, as it sticks closely to its animated predecessor, as young Simba (JD McCrary) is being prepared by his father Mufasa (voiced by the one and only James Earl Jones) to rule the Pride Lands one day. However, in the shadows, the King’s dastardly brother Scar (Ejiofor) is secretly scheming, with his hyena chums, to depose Mufasa and seize the throne for himself.

Given that the animated film ran at just shy of 90 minutes, Favreau and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, have tweaked certain elements of the story to make it a couple of hours. There are some alterations to some of the dialogue, and some extra scenes have been added. However, it is by and large, the story you know and love. Much of the original’s music and songs have been recreated, but the results are decidedly mixed. Most regrettably though is the fact that there’s a serious dearth of emotion with the film’s more emotional, heart-breaking moments (if you have seen the original, you know the ones). It just goes to show that while something may well work in animation, it doesn’t always translate perfectly to “live action.”

Apart from James Earl Jones, no one else from the animated film reprise their roles, which does help the film stand on its own four paws, to a certain extent. The standouts of the new additions are Seth Rogen’s Pumba and Billy Eichner’s Timon who, as they did in the animated film, give the film an injection of much needed humour. Though they have strong support in that department from John Oliver’s Zazu, who gives his own snarky, hilarious interpretation of the little Hornbill. Donald Glover and Beyoncé give solid leading performances as Simba and Nala, but disappointingly, no one really outshines anyone from the animated film. Though Chiwetel Ejiofor comes close with his very intimidating interpretation of the villainous Scar.

The trouble with these films is that no matter what they do, they are always going to be compared with their animated counterparts. This can be a problem for this film when its animated counterpart is cinematic perfection. Yet, even if one has (somehow) never seen the 1994 flick, there’s still enjoyment to be had, even if it all feels a bit hollow. For those who were born in the 1990s and grew up loving the animated film, they probably won’t feel the love for this re-telling. In that case, Hakuna Matata, because the original animated film, is and always will be, a classic.

Visually stunning, but even with a super talented voice cast, a lack of emotional connection to these photo-realistic characters prevents this re-imagining from roaring to those great heights set by its predecessor.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Image is property of Marvel Studios, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: Far from Home – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smoulders, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: Following on from the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker is preparing to go on a school trip with his friends around Europe. However, in a world that will never be the same again, a new threat is lurking in the form of the mysterious Elementals…

Review: After twenty-two films and an utterly incredible journey, the Marvel Cinematic Universe culminated in Avengers: Endgame, a film that has changed the MCU forever more. However, even after all that drama and heartbreak, the MCU is not slowing down. Previously, after their flagship Avengers ensemble showdowns, Marvel turned to the smallest hero in their roster, namely Ant-Man. Now though,  it’s up to everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man to pick up the pieces in the wake of the earth-shattering events of that climatic battle with the Mad Titan Thanos.

In the months since that intense battle, Peter is in an extremely tough spot, having lost his friend and mentor Tony Stark. On top of that he is trying to balance school life with his superhero web-slinging duties. With an upcoming school trip to Europe, Peter hopes that will take his mind off things and allow him to live a normal life. However, whilst he is off seeing the sights of Europe and trying to tell his crush MJ (Zendaya) how he really feels about her, a terrifying new threat emerges in the form of the Elementals. Whilst simultaneously, a mysterious new force in the form of Quentin Beck (AKA Mysterio) emerges, who claims to be from an alternate dimension.

“Karen, activate stealth mode….”

This is his fifth outing as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, and Tom Holland proves once again that this is the perfect role for him, as he turns in another excellent performance . He’s got the bravado that a hero should have, but he’s still a lovable, if slightly awkward, dork. Though she had a relatively minor role in Homecoming, Zendaya’s MJ has a lot more screen time, given that she is now the subject of Peter’s affections, and the duo have solid chemistry. Similarly, the bromance between Peter and Ned is as strong as ever. Indeed, all of the class from Angourie Rice’s Betty to Tony Revelori’s Flash Thompson, have a lot more to do, likewise for the ever-reliable Happy Hogan.

Given how many Spider-Man films that have graced the big screen, it’s clear that director Jon Watts is aiming to broaden the horizons of Spider-Man. We have almost never seen him venture outside of the Big Apple, so to see him spin his webs around the globe is an extremely refreshing change. As these ominous Elementals threaten to wreak havoc on our world, which is where Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio comes into the picture. Mysterio by name, mysterious by nature as on first glance he seems like the kind of hero to fill the void that was left by Tony Stark, but that is just scratching the surface. When you get an actor of Gyllenhaal’s talents, it can only be a positive, and Gyllenhaal excels in this very intriguing role.

The screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, carries over the John Hughes esque high school comedy vibe from Homecoming, and the jokes remain witty and hilarious. With each movie that Marvel has made since they were able to incorporate him into the MCU, they have taken the character in directions that haven’t been attempted before, especially with a truly mind-bending, and awesome, third act. In a post Iron Man/Captain America MCU, Marvel will need heroes to step to fill that void as we move into Phase 4, and in everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, you have a hero who is more than capable of taking on that mantle.

Closing out Phase Three of the MCU, Far From Home is another fast paced, entertaining, globe trotting adventure that cements Tom Holland’s status as the best live action Spider-Man we’ve had to date.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Midsommar (2019)

Image is property of A24

Midsommar  – Film Review

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia, Will Poulter

Director: Ari Aster

Synopsis: After personal tragedy strikes, troubled student Dani travels to Sweden with her boyfriend Christian, and a group of their friends. What starts out as a pleasant trip, quickly descends into a nightmare as they become involved with a sinister pagan cult…

Review: Quite often, when you picture the setting of horror films, the scene of a house, set in the pitch black night-time may come to mind. However, this doesn’t have to always be the case. Case in point, in his follow up feature to Hereditary, Ari Aster proves that you don’t necessarily need the dead of night darkness to make something seem scary, as something just as horrifying or unnerving can occur when the sun is shining in the bright summer sky.

Dani (Pugh) is going through an extremely difficult time in her life in the wake of an unimaginable personal tragedy, and it’s having an adverse effect on her relationship with her boyfriend Christian (Reynor). When she finds out he’s heading off to Sweden with a few of their friends for a festival that only happens once every 90 years, she decides to join them hoping to take her mind off things. Upon arrival, while things start off nice and peaceful, it doesn’t take long for things to go sour as the festival quickly descends into a hellish nightmare, basking in the hot Swedish Summer sun.

There is no sense of urgency in which Aster chooses to tell his story. His screenplay deliberately bides its time so this enables each act of the film to serve a purpose to the story, though this slow pace could be problematic to some viewers. The first act is solely concentrated on Dani’s testing relationship with Christian that is on the brink of collapse, fuelling a sense of dread for Dani that lingers throughout the film.  Through all of the ensuing horror that the festival’s activities bring later on in the film, the relationship of these two people is at the centre of this sun-soaked nightmare.

Once we get to Sweden however, and the festivities have begun that things start to get deeply disturbing for Dani, Christian and their friends. To say that this film is not for the faint of heart would be an extreme understatement, due to quite the large amount of disturbing imagery. Though it would be easy to be shocking for the sake of being shocking, the imagery is thought provoking, with the themes of grief, loneliness and rejection are all present. With just about every frame, there’s a lot of symbolism to be extracted from the unnerving festivities, so much so that one could write pages upon pages of analysis of what is being depicted on-screen.

There is not a single false note in any of the performances, but without doubt Dani is the heart and soul of the film, and Florence Pugh gives a wounded, layered, awards worthy performance. Among, Christian and the rest of their gang, it’s Will Poulter’s Mark who comes closest to stealing the spotlight as a man who’s less than impressed with the festival’s activities. This is something that the locals don’t take kindly to, and they consequently give off  sinister vibes to send a shiver (or two) down your spine.

Aster has crafted something that will be analysed for many years to come. The direction, combined with extremely beautiful cinematography and immaculate production design are all beautiful to look at. These juxtapose perfectly with the trauma of the events playing out in front of us, it manages to be simultaneously haunting and mesmerising to look at, with an unsettling score from The Haxan Cloak. Nightmares definitely can happen in broad daylight, hence, we should all just stay in doors.

Thematically thought-provoking, and visually immaculate, with a haunting but powerful lead performance from Florence Pugh. Ari Aster’s second foray into horror film-making is a beautiful nightmare come to life. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Yesterday (2019)

Image is property of Working Title Films and Universal Pictures

Yesterday – Film Review

Cast:  Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry

Director: Danny Boyle

Synopsis: Struggling musician Jack Malik (Patel)  finds that he’s the only person on Earth who remembers the Beatles. Sensing an opportunity, he makes an attempt to pass their songs in a bid to achieve worldwide stardom…

Review: It’s almost inconceivable to imagine a world in which one of the greatest bands of all time had never existed, indeed the thought of such a world alone is a horrifying one. Given that two musical related biopics about two hugely influential British musical icons have recently graced the big screen, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a Beatles biopic. Though that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, this film is unique in that it’s not that, though the iconic music that Messrs McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starr created is front and centre.

Jack Malik is a talented musician doing little gigs here and there, desperately looking for his big break. He’s on the brink of giving his music career up but after a freak accident on his way home, he soon discovers that he’s the only one in the world who remembers the Beatles and their wonderful music. With this knowledge, he tries his best to reconstruct the iconic songs of The Beatles discography, and passes them off as his own work. As the whole world discovers this great music, seemingly for the first time ever, his popularity goes through the roof and he becomes an overnight superstar.

Of course the music of a great band alone, does not make a great film. With that in mind, screenwriter Richard Curtis crafts a very sweet story around this clever concept. Like any great song or piece of art, it all comes together (pun definitely not intended…) rather sweetly thanks to a very warm leading performance from Himesh Patel. He comes across as a very sincere, genuine hard working bloke just looking for that big break that he craves. However, as his career turns from pub singer to huge international superstar, it begins to test his relationship with his best friend/manager Ellie (James), who also gives a very sincere performance. Whilst at the same time, doubts begin to form in Jack’s mind as to whether he should admit the truth about the songs.

The screenplay blends the music of the Beatles with an insightful look at the music industry and what constitutes a successful career in that industry, with one current pop star in there for good measure. Danny Boyle on first glance might not seem the most obvious choice to direct a film like this, but he keeps everything moving along in a very light-hearted manner. Though the concept behind the film is extremely clever, it falls short in that certain things could could have explored in much more detail. In addition, it can’t help but be somewhat formulaic in terms of the ensuing drama and how everything plays out. It can come across as a bit saccharine, but if you are a fan of one of the Beatles, just let it be because Boyle and Curtis will sweep you along for a joyous ride.

No matter who we are, or what we do, music is an integral part of our lives, and our culture, and this film celebrates that in abundance. It just so happens to celebrate the music of one of the best bands to have ever graced our eardrums to tell its story, and you will find it difficult to not sing along and be smiling from ear to ear when the credits start to roll.

Taking some of the best songs ever recorded, and combining them with a sweet story about the music industry, and the end result is a charming, delightful ode to the Fab Four from Liverpool.