Tag Archives: Donald Glover

The Lion King (2019)

I’m still unconvinced by all these Disney remakes, and I’m particularly skeptical about “live action” remakes that aren’t actually live action at all, but just fancier animation. That said, I didn’t hate The Lion King (2019), and that’s head and shoulders (or can I say mane and tails) ahead of where I thought we’d be. I was fully prepared to hate this but instead the CGI animation’s beauty and realism swept me away. But while that sounds like a strength, it’s also the movie’s weakness.

The thing about traditional animation, like the original The Lion King (1994), is that literally ANYTHING can happen in a cartoon. They’re not constrained by any limitations. Your heart can awooooooga out of your chest when you’re in love, your feet can pedal a car, you can literally levitate off the ground in sheer happiness. And yes, a cross section of jungle animals can come together in perfect harmony.

The problem with this gorgeous, accurate, and photo-real animation is that these lions, who look exactly like the ones you see on National Geographic (minus the buttholes and genitals, Sean wants you to know), are still being made to talk. And sing. But not dance. That would be crazy. So director Jon Favreau and company are asking you to embrace the realism of Scar, who has none of his cartoony presence, but suspend your disbelief enough to invests in his sibling rivalry and Hamlet-style ambition, but then not be too disappointed when they drastically cut his big musical number.

Recently, while reviewing the earlier Toy Story movies, I noted, with some wonder, that Woody has 229 animation points of movement in his face. But while The Lion King’s animation WILL astonish you down to the dew drops in a spider’s web, the animals’ faces remain nearly blank. Their mouths move minimally, to indicate that they are speaking, but there’s not a lot of expression going on there, and I can’t help but feel that this gets in the way of my investing in them emotionally. The original Simba cried when his father died. He was a mere cartoon character, but I felt for him. When I re-screened the movie recently, that scene nearly broke me, reminding me of my nephew and his relationship with his dad. The new movie just couldn’t move me in the same ways.

And it’s not just the emotion that’s lacking, it’s the joy. I Just Can’t Wait To Be King is one of my all-time favourite Disney songs, but it’s not quite the same because in “real life,” ostriches don’t allow lions to ride them. So I’ve heard. And it’s hard to get zebras and giraffes and hippos to agree on choreography. So the song still sounds great, but there’s a little less pizzazz to the musical number.

Speaking of songs: you may have heard Beyonce is on board, voicing the grown-up Nala, and contributing an Oscar-eligible brand new song to the film’s soundtrack. I sort of thought I might miss some the iconic voice work from the original film: Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Jeremy Irons. But in fact, the 2019 film does an excellent job of filling those roles. It’s different, but it works. Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Oliver, Alfre Woodard, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner: it’s a tall list, packed with talent, and everyone’s working at peak capacity. But I will say: it’s actually really great to have James Earl Jones return in his role as Mufasa. First, it seems impossible to replace him, and harder still to find someone with balls enough to try those step into those paws. But mostly it feels like he is passing the baton; he’s a link from the old to the new (it’s been 25 years!) and it is comforting as heck to hear that voice again.

Most of The Lion King 2019 edition is a toned-down recreation of the original, but there are a few new scenes, expanded roles for Timon & Pumbaa, and especially for some of the female members of the pride, drawing inspiration from the Broadway musical where Nala and Sarabi are featured more prominently. I mean, if you get Beyonce, you use her, ya know?

I suppose if you’ve never known another Lion King, this one has a lot to recommend it. For fans of the original, this one won’t really compare. But if you’ve got room in your heart for two Lion Kings, you might just feel the love (tonight).

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The Muppet Movie (2011)

This weekend, I was babysitting my two adored and adorable little nephews, Brady, who is 7, and Jack, who is 5. We went to the trampoline park and the toy store, and then we came home to bake a cake for their dad, who was celebrating a birthday. We mixed and measured and layered on nearly 5 pounds of candy, which they insisted their dad would love, including banana cannons and a candy fence we dubbed the fortress of bananatude (I know, this cake sounds banana heavy).

Anyway, the kids were discussing The Muppet Babies for some reason, which Jack pronounces ‘Muffin Babies’ and is pretty sure he’s saying the same thing we are. I’m thinking about Jack a lot today because he’s being brave and having a little surgery. Mostly I’m thinking about my sister, Jack’s mom – the surgery will likely be harder on her than on him. But anyway. After we discussed which muppets were our favourites (Kermit for Jack, Fozzy for Brady, who does work in an errant “wocka wocka” into random conversations), and how we’d recently seen them at Disney World, we decided that our pre-bedtime movie would be Lego Batman. Haha, just kidding, they watched that in the car (imagine as a kid having a movie screen in your car!) – we watched The Muppet Movie!!

It’s about two brothers, the human Gary (Jason Segel) and the muppet Walter, who is obsessed with THE Muppets, who they’ve compulsively watched on television since they were kids, but who have sadly been absent from show business in recent years. Gary and his human girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are celebrating their tenth anniversary and plan to visit L.A. to celebrate, and Walter is thrilled to be invited along with them (by Gary, and a much more reluctant Mary) as it is the home of the Muppet studios. But once there, he discovers that an evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is about to buy both the studio and the Muppet name right from underneath them. So he enlists Kermit to go on a roadtrip to assemble the old gang in an effort to raise the money to save the day.

Jason Segel showed his puppet fetish in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and went full kink with this script, clearly a loving tribute to a beloved franchise. There’s joy being spewed all over the screen in this film, the movie is dripping with it, and it’s fun just to sit back and get soaked in nostalgia. The script introduces a new character, Walter, with whom we re-experience the magic of the Muppets, and it’s great to see them back in action, recreating a lot of acts that we remember so fondly, in a format that we know and love. They work in plenty of celebrity cameos, both human and Muppet, and the whole thing feels like a love letter – not just to the Muppets, but to a new generation of kids just discovering them, two of whom were cuddled next to me in my bed.

At the end of the movie, when asked how they liked it, Jack exclaimed “I didn’t know Kermit had a car!” Because when you’re 5, even the most mundane things can seem momentous. The Muppets are that elusive thing that can bring out the kid in all of us.

Guava Island

Donald Glover dropped a 55 minute short film this weekend – it streamed on Amazon Prime, and at Coachella. Music, TV, movies: there seems to be nothing he can’t do, and do extremely well, at that. His multi-facetedness might be annoying if he wasn’t so actually talented.

MV5BYWVhMGViNzEtMjRiZC00ZmRlLWEzZTUtYTVlYjAwYzBlMDYxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTAxMTcwMTEz._V1_The film, Guava Island, is hard to describe. It’s really more a parable than a traditional narrative, so don’t get hung up on that. And all praise to Childish Gambino: do not be surprised when a LOT of his music inevitably pops up.

He plays Deni, just a dude on this fictional island who is about to bring his music to an all-night music festival that’s super frowned upon by the island’s big boss, Red Cargo. Red can’t tolerate a music festival that might mean the island’s factory workers call in sick for the work the next day, a Sunday, including Deni’s girlfriend Kofi (Rihanna) and friend Yara (Letitia Wright).

It’s the perfect setting to talk about corruption, and the influence of art, its ability to unite a people. But it’s not the perfect medium. It’s not that the film is too short, it’s that the idea is both half-baked and heavy-handed. It made me wish it was less of a movie and more of a visual album, like Beyonce’s Lemonade, because that’s when the movie truly came live for me, when Glover lets his music take over and the reasons we love him and frequent collaborator/director Hiro Murai are allowed to shine down upon the island.

Rihanna and Wright are criminally underused; their main purpose is to smile admiringly at Glover. Rightly so, perhaps, but to have both of these women on hand and not give them something to do seems wasteful, and a tease. Maybe this concept works better for a Coachella audience. Few are likely to have stood in place to watch the film straight through, but maybe just standing under its shadow is enough.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

SoloThey pulled it off! Despite the director change and the “creative differences” and the reshoots, Solo: A Star Wars Story is not only a coherent film, it’s a film that lives up to the legacy of the best Star Wars character, hands down: that loveable scoundrel, Han Solo.

Solo is a prequel done right. We get to see those legendary events referred to in the original trilogy, which is what you’d expect. But what you can’t count on, and what Solo delivers, it that those moments live up to the hype AND  fit into a grand adventure that doesn’t feel like a dull connect-the-dots exercise the same way Episodes 1-3 did. Clearly, Lawrence Kasdan should have been writing all the Star Wars films. The script for Solo is a masterful work by Kasdan and his son Jon. The elder Kasdan has stated this was his last Star Wars script, which makes me sad mainly because that feels like the final nail in Han’s coffin.

At least we will always have Solo. While Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t exactly channel Harrison Ford, his take on Han is a credible version of the charming smuggler we know and love.  Woody Harrelson is solid (as always) as Han’s mentor, and Emilia Clarke adds a lot as Han’s childhood sweetheart, but it’s Donald Glover who steals the show as a note-perfect Lando Calrissian (and kudos to both Glover and the Kasdans for maintaining Lando’s hard-A spin on Han’s name). Here’s hoping that rumoured Lando spinoff gets greenlit soon. Lando’s so much cooler than the bumbling Boba Fett, whose spinoff is already in production!

Don’t been dissuaded by the (relatively) poor box office results. Solo: A Star Wars Story is a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon and a great way to spend an afternoon at the movies, which is, after all, what the original Star Wars aspired to be.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

spidey11Spider-Man: Homecoming may not be the best movie in the franchise (since my favourite Spidey villain is Doc Ock, I have a soft spot for Spider-Man 2) and may not even be the best superhero movie of the summer (Wonder Woman is undeniably great).  But the fact that those were the conversations the assholes were having after we saw Spider-Man: Homecoming last night shows that Homecoming is a great movie in its own right.

Most importantly, Homecoming GETS Spider-Man.  This is a movie that is fan service from start to finish.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe features prominently in the story as the events in the Avengers and Civil War are built on (and Iron Man plays a pretty big role).  There are also a ton of familiar names for fans to find, from Ned Leeds to Flash Thompson to Mac Gargan, and one or two more that I’ll let you discover for yourself.

Even better, the story calls back to several classic comic moments, including this one from Amazing Spider-Man #33 (1966), which is a defining moment for Spidey:

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I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Spider-Man finds a way to succeed even when it seems there’s no chance, and the final battle in Homecoming is a great display of what I love about Spidey, from start to finish.  The conclusion of that battle especially reminded me of the first Spidey comic I ever read, and really, every Spidey comic since.  Spider-Man’s desire to do the right thing is what makes him my favourite and I was extremely happy to see that made a focus of the film (“with great power comes great responsibility” is never actually said, but it’s the movie’s underlying theme and that’s a far better approach than giving us another depiction of Uncle Ben’s death).

Fittingly for Spider-Man, the hero who can’t stop saying corny one-liners as he fights the bad guys, this may also be the funniest superhero movie ever made.  It captures the light-hearted, good-natured awkwardness of Peter Parker and the awkwardness of high school in general.  There are a lot of laughs from start to finish, and like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy before it, Homecoming always finds a way to entertain the audience in between the action (often at our hero’s expense, as it should be with Spidey).

(SPOILER: sometimes the humour even comes at the audience’s expense, as you will find out if you stick around to the very end.)

Spider-Man: Homecoming met my high expectations, and then some.  This is how you make a great superhero movie, by staying true to the character, and when that character is your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, you’re in for a treat.

Mystery Team

The Mystery Team was a trio of childhood friends who biked around their neighbourhood to find mysteries to solve – a missing diary, a marble down a drain, a windowsill pie tampering. They communicated via walkie talkie and charged their clients just a dime. The Mystery Team is in fact still the same trio, only now they’re high school seniors and if they have no idea how creepy and childish and inappropriate their behaviour has become, everyone else certainly does.

mysteryteam2_lgThey manage to still get clients though, usually referred by Jamie (Ellie Kemper) but a new family on the block leads to their first ‘adult’ case – a double homicide with a side of stolen jewels. Again, everyone else knows that Jason (Donald Glover) aka The Master of Disguise, Duncan (D.C. Pierson) aka The Boy Genius, and Charlie (Dominic Dierkes) aka The Strongest Kid in the Neighbourhood are in way over their heads, but they’re gung-ho – especially Jason, who might feel his first ‘adult’ stirrings for the new girl next door (Aubrey Plaza).

Is this a good movie? Bottom line: no. There’s definitely humour in just how pathetic these guys are, how clueless, and in some ways, how sweet. But it’s really the only fish in the barrel, so they stretch it out of necessity, and it inevitably wears quite thin. They bumble around foolishly, stumbling upon clues apparently faster than the cops due. Suspicious? About as suspicious as a stripper’s cesarean scar, and yes, that will come up.

I suppose if you have some sort of Scooby Doo fetish, this might be up your alley (sorry, no dog). I enjoy Donald Glover (no relation to Danny) so I tolerated this. I’m not sure that everyone will be able to say the same, and I wouldn’t blame them for a second if they couldn’t.

TIFF 2015: The Martian

Since I read for leisure less than I’d like, it is rare for me to be hoping that Hollywood does justice to a book I absolutely loved.  Andy Weir’s The Martian is that book. Jay handed it to me a while back and the way she did, I knew it was something special.  The Martian is both the most accessible and most science-heavy science fiction novel I have ever read.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour at some point and check it out.  You won’t regret it.

When I heard that Ridley Scott’s adaptation of The Martian was premiering at TIFF 2015, it went to the absolute top of my list.  And it quickly became clear I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.  Despite having a good window for our premium selections, the red carpet premiere was gone before we even had a chance at it.  But fortunately, Matt used his window to grab Jay and me a pair of tickets for the next (and only other) TIFF screening of The Martian.  We got to see it yesterday and it did not disappoint!

The movie is everything it could possibly be.  My only question as we were leaving the screening was whether there was a way they could have kept more in the movie, because some of the problems that arose in the book did not make it into the movie’s two-hour-plus run time.  But that’s inevitable and it’s not something I can criticize because the movie was expertly paced and there was nowhere to expand without losing momentum.  It’s a reason to re-read the book but not a fault of the movie.

The best part of the whole experience was seeing the spirit of the book preserved and celebrated.  As Jay pointed out afterward, while we lost a little Mark Watney time, we gained some time with the other characters, and it was a pleasure to get to know them better.  It might even be a better fit with the theme shared by the book and the movie, namely that when we all work together, we can accomplish remarkable things.  All we need is a little motivation.  There’s no villain here.  There are only challenging problems to be solved by the people who are determined to save one unlucky botanist, most notably the botanist himself.  It’s a joy to watch it all play out, especially against the backdrop of a Mars that is both desolate and vibrant.  The visuals are incredible from start to finish.  See The Martian in 3D if you can – it’s simply spectacular.

The Martian is perfect.  I can’t wait to see it again.