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.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Doctor Strange (2016)

Image is property of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios
Image is property of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios

Doctor Strange Film Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong

Director: Scott Derrickson

Synopsis: After a car accident ruins his hands and his career, brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon Dr Stephen Strange, travels across the world in search of a cure and discovers mystic powers beyond anything he could have ever imagined.

Review: You have to hand it to Marvel Studios, and in particular its president Kevin Feige. Under his stewardship the MCU has blossomed into a very powerful cinematic machine, and certainly they have maintained audience interest by crucially throwing some variety in there. The studio is clearly choosing to take risks, rather than just pump out Iron Man 4 or 5. These risks that might not have paid off, but paid off they most definitely have. The likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are perfect examples, and while there is usually some big superhero team up film or a film with heroes turning on each other. Nevertheless, the studio delivers, and they have managed to do so yet again with their fourteenth entry into the MCU, this time, they decided to go a bit mystical and dabble in the world of magic.

We meet Doctor Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon and a rather good one at that, until a car accident leaves his career and life seemingly in ruins. Driven by desperation, he travels across the world in the hope of finding a cure but instead finds a temple of sorts, governed by the Ancient One, and she teaches Strange all about the mystic arts and dabbling in a world that has not graced the MCU stage up to this point, and it is rather thrilling to watch the MCU go in new directions and make a solid success out of it.

Marvel were desperately keen to recruit Cumberbatch for the titular role, going so far as to alter their schedule to accomodate him after he was committed to a theatre run as Hamlet, and it is easy to see why, as Cumberbatch really does shine in the role. After playing the role of the brilliant and cocky but ultimately tragic Alan Turing in the Imitation Game, he shows that cockiness again to great effect. Initially, Strange is about as arrogant as they come, but with good reason. Post-accident however is where Cumberbatch really shines, having truly realised how little he really knows.

Tilda Swinton might have seemed a strange (pun most definitely intended) choice to play The Ancient One, but she also delivers a capable performance. Yet besides these two characters, not one else really gets their chance to shine. Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor do not get the screen time and development actors of their immense talent deserve. Also the Achilles Heel for Marvel lets them down again, this being their villain. Mads Mikkelsen is without question a fine actor, but his performance as the villainous Kaecilius whilst menacing, does leave a lot to be desired.

Director Scott Derrickson, of horror movie fame, also on screenplay duties along with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill deliver a solid script is but certain things could have been better developed. Marvel have made their name delivering some great humour in many of their films, and this is no exception. There are more than a few great moments that will make you laugh out loud. Yet despite the great humour, the script does lack in a number of places as some scenes do feel a bit rushed. Yet the action sequences are directed exquisitely well and the special effects are mind-bendingly brilliant. It’s almost as if the film makers rolled Inception, The Matrix and Harry Potter into one and the end result is some REALLY trippy shit, but an absolute blast to watch, aided by great cinematography and a superb score by Michael Giacchino.

Marvel have shown they are not afraid to take risks, and while that does deserve praise, it does mean that there could be some trips further down the line. For some, Strange could have been this film that doesn’t deliver the goods, but thankfully that just isn’t the case. It’s another unique and incredibly interesting dimension that has been added into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and you certainly get the feeling that we will be going back into this world somewhere down the Phase 3 (or maybe even Phase 4) line. Yet so far it’s 14 and not out for Marvel Studios.

Anchored by an excellent performance from Cumberbatch with some astounding visuals, Marvel took their biggest risk to date, but the end result is one mind-bending and thrilling ride. 

Rating: A-

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

12 Years A Slave (2013)

Image rights belong to Fox Searchlight Pictures, Entertainment One, Regency Enterprises, River Road Entertainment, Plan B, New Regency, Film4
Image is property of Fox Searchlight Pictures, Entertainment One, Regency Enterprises, River Road Entertainment, Plan B, New Regency, Film4

12 Years A Slave – Film Review

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulsen, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Paul Giamtatti, Brad Pitt

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis:  The extraordinary true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in the United States who is one day deceived, abducted and sold into slavery, facing the remaining years of his life in captivity.

Review: The slave trade is a dark part of the history of the United States and rarely, if ever, has a film captured the sheer brutality and injustices that existed within this vile trade. Previous films have glossed over these details. However,  in this heartbreaking true story, it absolutely does not hold back in showing to the audience the horrific hardships and cruelty that people endured as a result of this barbaric business.

Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) along with an adapted screenplay from Solomon Northup’s memoirs by John Ridley, gives us a moving and powerful telling of the story of one man’s struggles against slavery that went on for more than a decade. Solomon Northup, a talented violinist who when offered work in Washington DC, is tricked and sold into slavery.  McQueen does not deceive the audience by sugar-coating the situation. He shows the horrendous treatment that Northup received once he had been sold into slavery. Locked in a tiny cell, in chains, intense whippings, and made to work for long hours by malicious and evil people that took great pleasure in beating these people up. Furthermore, the terrible abuse and hardships that these people suffered at the hands of slave owners has rarely been put onto the big screen. There is no hiding from the situation, it is in your face and it reminds you from a very early point in the film that this trade was monstrous and brutal and even now, it still leaves its mark on the people of the USA in particular.

The acting on offer here is among the best acting to appear on the big screen in 2013. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a fantastic performance as Solomon Northup. In the early scenes, he is a man who is free to do as he pleases, but then he wrongly becomes a captive man. His body language once he has been captured breaks your heart as it displays a man who is broken, devastated by the fact that he has lost his freedom. From a mere  look in his eyes, he is a man who despairs  in the fact that he is more than likely to be a slave until his death. Michael Fassbender collaborated with McQueen in both of his previous films. He appears here as the malicious slave owner Edwin Epps. A man who believes it is his right to beat and torture his slaves as he believes they are his “property.”

There is no restraint on his part and he viciously takes it out on slaves who dare to defy him. Patsey, played by newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is one of those slaves who feels the full force of Epps’ cruelty. Everyone in the film was phenomenal but Fassbender, Ejiofor and Nyong’o were the stand-out performances and all three have landed Oscar nominations in the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories, and all deservedly so.

When watching this film, some may draw comparisons between this and Django UnchainedWhile it can be argued that Epps is like Calvin Candie from Django Unchained, Epps is a far more realistic representation of a slave owner.  Django Unchained was undoubtedly a very enjoyable film. However, it used slavery as a backdrop to give a signature Tarantino style story about vengeance, filled with dramatic violence. It did really illustrate story of  the brutality of slavery, certainly not to the level that McQueen does.

On the other hand, 12 Years A Slave is a hard-hitting, disturbing story. It captures the awful situation that many black people found themselves in during this period, and really illustrates the brutal nature of this business. This film has a great chance of winning some Oscars this March, with a total of nine nominations and it deserves every one. It is being tipped by many to win this year’s coveted Best Picture Oscar.  It is a film that should be shown to every pupil learning about slavery in school and a film for everyone to remind them of the inhumane slave trade. It is by no means an easy watch and some scenes are particularly horrific in nature. Nevertheless, it is a very moving and very powerful film that will have you thinking about it for a long time once you have finished watching it.

The film is dark, and is not a pleasant watch for sure, but the brilliant acting and emotional story make it a must see.

a