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 1990-1999, Film Review

The Lion King (1994)

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Image is property of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

The Lion King – Film Review

Cast:  Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly, Niketa Calame, Ernie Sabella, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg

Directors: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Synopsis: A young cub is being prepared by his father, the king of a pride of lions, to become the future king, while the King’s brother secretly plots to seize the throne for himself.

Review: If ever there was a studio that could perfectly demonstrate the enduring power and appeal of animated films that are almost universally adored for their brilliant characters, gorgeous animation and emotional scenes that really threaten to tug at your heartstrings to such an extent you become a big blubbering mess of happy and sad emotions, then Walt Disney Animation Studios and their extraordinary collection of films could be just the studio you were looking for. Yet, if there was one film that does all of the aforementioned things, and a film that has stood the test of time with flying colours, and has built itself an enduring legacy, loved universally by all generations, 1994’s The Lion King certainly ticks all of those boxes, in an emphatic manner.

A soaring and stirring musical number opens proceedings, and for the next ninety minutes or so, you are taken on an enthralling journey set in the heart of Africa, specifically on a pride of Lions, ruled over by Mufasa and his wife Sarabi, and their young cub Simba. The young cub is taught all about life, and more specifically the great Circle of Life, via one of many absolutely brilliant and powerful songs, of which there are aplenty to be found here. Of course, life has its ups and downs and as Simba finds out, sometimes things can take a significant turn for the worse. With little choice, he goes on a journey that anyone watching can and will relate to in some way.

The screenplay, inspired by the works of Shakespeare and more specifically Hamlet, packs plenty of powerful and emotive themes into it. It is profound and deeply moving, that will almost certainly leave a lasting impression on the viewer. the characters have a great many layers to them, perhaps none more so than Simba. Initially a brash, cocky cub, through time he becomes this wise, powerful Lion just like his father Mufasa, voiced by the one and only James Earl Jones. Like most animations, these days, there are more than a few scenes that get the audience emotional, and if you have seen this film, you certainly know what scene in particular here will ensure the audience will be looking for something to wipe away the tears. The voice cast is excellent from Matthew Broderick as Adult Simba, to Rowan Atkinson as Zazu, to Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timone and Pumba. Jeremy Irons as the villainous Scar was another excellent casting choice. Last but not least is Robert Guillaume as the hilarious Rafiki (friend in Swahili).

Disney animations have certainly become known for their great and extremely effective use of music in scenes. From the soaring opening number, to the more jovial tunes like Hakuna Matata, to the powerful Can You Feel the Love Tonight, the great songs are aplenty and they’re all extremely memorable. The great songs are exquisitely matched by the score from Hans Zimmer, which as usual, is near enough perfect. Disney has for a while been what some may argue as the champion of animation in cinema, and for an animation that came out over two decades ago, the animation has stood the test of time, and still remains absolutely excellent and breath taking to watch.

The Lion King has ensured it will remain a staple of animated entertainment for a great many years to come. Having generated a very popular  production that has also been on for several years now. It is safe to say that through all of their spectacular and brilliant animated features, there may not be a film that has stood the test of time and left its mark on numerous aspects of popular culture to such an extent, like the Lion King has. Disney has made many movies since, and although their greatness is undoubted, it is worth considering if any since have reached the remarkable heights that have been set by The Lion King. Hakuna Matata indeed!

Beautifully animated, with rich and complex characters, with incredible music and a wonderful score, this is truly one of Disney’s most undisputed masterpieces.

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Posted in 1980-1989, Film Review

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

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Image rights belong to 20th Century Fox and LucasFilm Ltd

Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi – Film Review

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Frank Oz, David Prowse, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid

Director: Richard Marquand

Synopsis: With the Empire seemingly victorious, the small band of surviving rebels must retrieve Han Solo from Jabba the Hut, and prevent the Empire from claiming total victory over the Rebellion by destroying the Empire’s brand new Death Star battle station. While Luke is battling to try and restore his father to the good side.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!

 

 

Review: When the previous film in your franchise got pretty much everything right and made one of the best movies anyone has ever made ever, the sequel to said film was always going to have a very tough act to follow. Thus sadly for Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi, it doesn’t live up to either The Empires Strikes Backnor George Lucas’s original. It does have its shortcomings, yet despite this, it does have something to say for itself. There is plenty of enjoyment to be had and it does wrap up the original trilogy nicely.

The Empire struck back hard in the last film, and aims to move in for the kill with the construction of a brand new Death Star in a bid to defeat the Rebel Alliance once and for all. Similarly, the Rebels seek to make a last ditch effort to destroy the Empire’s brand new battle station. All the while, following the revelation at the end of Empire, Luke is determined that he can bring his father back to the good side.  With Empire, the tone was understandably a lot more darker with the Empire claiming a glorious win over the rebels, Han Solo trapped in carbonite, Luke’s hand chopped off, and while that tone is maintained in numerous parts, there is a return to a bit more jovial and upbeat moods, starting with the scene in Jabba’s Palace.

R2D2 as a waiter, ridiculous music by some sort of 80s style pop band, dancing, it’s all a bit ridiculous at times, but you cannot help but laugh and smile, for the most part, as there are some more annoying changes (we’ll get to more of that later.) Unnecessary CGI creatures but they’re thankfully not on show for very long. The true introduction of Jabba the Hutt and he’s this slimy nasty slug like being that you just detest every time you see him on screen, and cheer when he duly gets strangled by Princess Leia in her slave outfit, which quite possibly make some people lose their minds. Criticism has been aimed at the fact that she’s being totally devalued and reduced to a sex object, which is fair enough but ultimately that is the point, and it’s one of many reasons to dislike Jabba.

It’s here that we come to the crux of the story. We have seen Luke transition from a whiny brat (remind you of anyone?) to an awesome badass Jedi, courtesy of Yoda, who we see again briefly who has some more vital information to part before he goes to “forever sleep.” The scene with Yoda is enjoyable and there is more humour to be found, but it is ultimately a bit too short. There could and should have been more scenes with our little green friend before his passing. His training complete he goes off to try and turn his father back to the good side, enter Emperor Palpatine, the one who is truly pulling Vader’s strings and the one who has overseen all the death and destruction in the Galaxy. Ian McDiarmid plays him brilliantly, from his posture, to the make up to his voice. Like Jabba there is something just abhorrently grotesque about him, but he provides some fascinating viewing with some more memorable dialogue, and another very emotional ending with Vader redeeming himself by saving Luke from being fried by the Emperor’s Force Lightning.

While all this is happening, the Rebels are preparing their attack on the second Death Star: from space in the Battle of Endor, and down on Endor itself with Han, Leia, Chewie and co aiming to take down the shield that is protecting the Death Star. All these scenes are very well handled but mainly the Battle of Endor. It doesn’t quite reach Battle of Hoth levels of awesomeness but it isn’t far away. Similarly, the ensuing battle on Endor is also thrilling, albeit the presence of those fuzzy bears, otherwise known as Ewoks, does irritate some, and it is easy to see why. Although cute and fuzzy, these bears do feel somewhat out of place, and the fact that they helped to topple the evil Empire with sticks and stones, does leave some scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Empire was spared from a lot of changes, just because it was so damn good, but Jedi has had some rather grating changes. The aforementioned CGI creatures in Jabba’s Palace. The stupid “noo” Vader makes when throwing the Emperor to his doom. The brilliance of that scene is that even though he has a mask on, you can see from the camera work that Vader is conflicted as he watches his son seemingly die in front of him. The addition of the stupid “noo” just ruins the greatness of the scene. But by far the most infuriating change is the replacing of Sebastian Shaw as the ghost Anakin right at the end, with the actor who played him in the prequels  (I refuse to even say his name.) With Obi Wan and Yoda in their older bodies, the change to make Anakin his younger self just makes ZERO sense.

But with all that said, there is still much to be enjoyed with the closing chapter of the original trilogy. John Williams’s score remains as perfect as ever, and there’s plenty of action to keep the pulses up right to the end, and it closed the book on the trilogy that remains to many one of the best trilogies ever put to film, and for good reason, because it deserves to be.

Not as good as Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back, and with probably the most amount of annoying later edition changes, but there’s still plenty to enjoy with some solid thrilling action, and a good deal of heart and emotion too. 

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Posted in 1970-1979, Film Review

Star Wars (1977)

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Image rights belong to Lucasfilm Ltd and 20th Century Fox

Star Wars – Film Review

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guiness, David Prowse, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew

Director: George Lucas

Synopsis: A young farmer gets recruited by an old Jedi along with two droids and a smuggler in a mission to stop the evil Galactic Empire from bringing death and destruction in the galaxy, and to rescue Princess Leia from the clutches of the evil Darth Vader.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!

Review: If ever there was a debate on films that have left their marks on the film industry, and indeed the entertainment industry in general, you would be hard pressed to find a film that has had the extensive impact that a film that was released in 1977 did. This film is of course Star Wars, and its impact is almost immeasurable. From the revolutionary effects, to the wondrous score, to the exciting story and instantaneously memorable characters, not to mention knocking Spielberg’s Jaws out in terms of the box office. This film had everything a film fan could want, and it is easy to see why it is still loved by legions of fans across the world, and remains insanely popular, nearly forty years after it was first unleashed on the world.

Immediately, right from the off, the sheer scale of this universe is just mind blowing. With every hint of dialogue, the universe is grown and becomes more and more expansive. The iconic “In a galaxy far far away…” is fully realised as it is made to feel that this is a world in which you can go and visit, but ultimately you can’t (sob.) With the incredible world set up, we need our characters, and back when Lucas could write compelling and exciting characters and not have some whiny kid moaning about how much he hates something.

Although having said that our main hero, Luke does have this attitude to begin with, but through some tragic circumstances, he is changed and grows as a character.  Before long we meet a character who many (for good reason) see as one of the finest characters put to screen, Han Solo. A smuggler by trade, cocky, but awesome and a lot of fun to watch, and for the record, it has been said many times, but it’s worth saying again: Han DEFINITELY shot first! Of course, there are lots of other popular characters, the likes of Princess Leia,  Obi Wan Kenobi,  Chewbacca, R2D2, C3PO,  and all are played brilliantly by their respective actors in what is one of the greatest ensemble casts ever assembled. The connection between the audience and these characters is very strong, much like the force!

Of course with all the good characters, there are the villains. We have a character many consider to be one of the greatest and most iconic villains the world of film has ever seen, Darth Vader. Ruthless, menacing and very frightening, with the booming voice of James Earl Jones. However initially he is not top of the tree of the Dark Side, that honour belongs to Grand Moff Tarkin, brilliantly played by the late Peter Cushing, the man keeps Vader in check, preventing him from force choking everyone. All the while, the Empire is making their mark with the colossal Death Star they have constructed, that has the ability to devastate planets with just one shot, and the Rebel Alliance and their attempts to destroy this space station of terror.

The film boasts plenty of memorable scenes and lines, from “that’s no moon! It’s a space station!” to “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” to “I find your lack of faith disturbing!” With these great lines of dialogue, there are more than a few great scenes: Han VS Greedo, The Mos Eisley Cantina scene, Vader VS Obi Wan,  and the final Rebel Assault on the Death Star to name but a few. Iconic and brilliant film-making all round, with effects that still hold up today and will do for a very very long time to come. What is also iconic is John Williams’ score, so recognisable and so loved by all. Like all great scores, it adds so much to the events on screen, giving certain events so much more impact and make them that more memorable and iconic in equal measure.

For sure, since its release, there has been much tampering with the original theatrical release, and a lot of those changes have irked fans. For good reasons, there are some changes that just don’t make much sense, namely the Han VS Greedo scene, and the addition of a bunch of unnecessary CGI creatures that just add nothing to the plot. Yet for all of the unnecessary changes, the core elements of the film remain unchanged, and the film remains one of the most iconic pieces of film making ever. Even more so considering the problems that were experienced in the production of the film, with many wondering if all of the efforts were even going to come to fruition. They did, and in terrific style. Star Wars remains timeless, and it will probably remain so for decades and decades to come, even more so with the planned trilogy and spin off films that audiences have got coming their way over the next decade.

A classic in every sense of the word, great characters, exciting story, terrific action and an iconic score will ensure this film will never escape the galaxy that is popular culture.

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