Tag Archives: John Oliver

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).

Wonder Park

June and her mother (Jennifer Garner) have expansive imaginations. Together they created a pretend theme park called Wonderland, a special place that peopled by June’s favourite toys: a warthog named Greta (Mila Kunis), a hedgehog named Steve (John Oliver) a blue bear named Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), and brought alive by the pictures and blueprints that June and her mother draw together, wallpapering June’s room with their designs.

But then June’s mother gets sick, and June can’t bring herself to play their favourite game without her. June’s dad (Matthew Broderick) thinks it’s a good idea that she spends her summer at math camp, but halfway there, she gets cold feet and heads back. But she gets so turned around she ends up in – Wonderland? But how is the amusement park in her imagination a real place? And how are her toys talking, breathing characters?

One thing’s for sure: Greta the pink warthog and friends feel abandoned by the “voices” who inspired their adventures and brought life to their home. June realizes that she’s been so afraid to lose her mom that she’s somehow lost herself. But in the meantime, saving Wonderland presents itself as a real thing. We don’t know how June has wandered into the actual iteration of the park, but she’s there, and must contend with the consequences of her neglect. Luckily, as the inventor of Wonderland, there’s no one better to fix it up and save it from the darkness.

It’s hard to make a movie with colourful, talking stuffed animals in a fanciful amusement park address grief, so the script does not, not in any meaningful or profound way, even though grief is the catalyst for June’s neglect, and her need for escape, and for pretty much 80 of the film’s 85 minute runtime. It also talks about the nature of play, and what happens when you shut down an integral part of yourself, but without really saying anything about it. The movie is really content just to a diversion for kids than to be something with a moving story or a plot that makes sense. But it’s fun and full of energy and perfectly likable if you’re 5 and think bendy straws are the shit.

Sidebar: it’s shocking how many animated kids movies have erection jokes in them. Like, it’s pretty much all of them. This one’s no exception. In fact, it’s not exceptional in any way.

Tom Hanks & John Oliver at Tribeca

The line to see Tom Hanks and John Oliver in conversation together wrapped well around the venue on Friday night. Sean and I had just seen High-Rise over in Chelsea and had 3374991A00000578-3555220-image-a-136_1461420263964braved a crowded rush-hour subway to get back down to Tribeca and run right past the Ghostbusters building to arrive breathless at the Borough of Manhattan Community College only to be redirected to another entrance that meant dragging my swollen, sprained ankle several more blocks with the remnants of my back surgery burst open and freely bleeding just so that we could stand in line for 40 minutes and then be denied a seat. Denied a seat? But we had tickets in hand – tickets we’d paid for three weeks prior! But us, and the two people in front of us, and the hundred or hundreds behind us (hard to tell) were denied entrance because they’d way, way, way oversold the event and we were shit out of luck. We were also really, really pissed.

We weren’t yet yelling at the security guys because lots of other people were beating us to it. But when someone came out to the velvet ropes to say that one single seat had been found and was there a single person in the crowd, most of us just looked at our partners and shrugged. Except Sean. What Sean did was slap a ticket in my hand and shove me large_large_tom-hanks-2toward the guy with the clipboard. He unclipped the rope and I was being ushered alone up a sad, empty red carpet, the very one we’d just watched John Oliver and Tom Hanks ascend, me still lumping my sore and swollen ankle along. I wasn’t happy to be going in alone and it was only the element of surprise that made me do it. I felt awful that Sean would sit outside with his $50 ticket to nothing, after having driven all the way from another bloody country, while I would be tickled fairly pink. Maybe even almost red. But the guy with the clipboard was so impressed with Sean’s self-sacrifice he basically invented another seat for him and got him in, even though he had to stand. I felt a little guilty because the couple in front of us rightly deserved those seats but hadn’t thought to split up (and actually, we’d already seen a few other singles be plucked from the line behind us) and a little guilty about the dozens and dozens behind us who hadn’t gotten in either, and super mad at the fuckfaces at Tribeca who oversold the event and didn’t tell anyone. But mostly I just felt elation the minute those two men took the stage, and fuck everyone else.

Some highlights of the evening:

-Tom said that without Oliver, our lives would be “void of outrage”

-He then made a reference to the Merv Griffin show so random and outdated that Oliver claimed that the lady holding the “Kiss Me” sign had slowly lowered it.

-Hanks cautioned us against asking “lazy journalistic questions”, basically anything starting with “What was it like…” and claimed that he was often accosted on red carpets

Tribeca Talks Storytellers: Tom Hanks With John Oliver

with “Just one question from Argentina!” and that one question invariably being something incredibly insipid. Oliver agreed that really Argentina should be asking for advice on their desperate economic situation.

-Hanks said that his distaste for social media was because he’d “peaked in the 90s” and Oliver ribbed him about using Twitter as a lost and found (you can Google it- Tom often posts pictures of wallets or lost gloves and tries to reunite them with their owners).

-Hanks and Oliver spar over the American Revolution, and we all find out that Hanks does an atrocious British accent.

-Hanks discusses the first movie he remembers going to the theatre to see – 101 Dalmations – and how it scarred him ever so deeply. Oliver then asks “So how the fuck did you become an actor?”

-Oliver claims E.T. as the first movie he saw in theatres, and his ensuing heartache over Elliott not joining E.T. in the end, which prompts Hanks to ask “How old are you???” (he’s 38).

-Oliver asked what kind of people Hanks prefers to work with, other than them “not being a giant asshole” to which Hanks replied “Sometimes that works.”

-Hanks did an awesome impression of Ron Howard, and confessed to learning about camera angles from Kevin Bacon on the set of Apollo 13. Bacon would suggest Howard use a “BFCU” of KB, which, for those of you not in the know, is a big fucking close up of Kevin Bacon. “God bless Kevin Bacon,” said Hanks.

-To see him do an impression of Robert Zemeckis (director of Forrest Gump, who he calls “Bob”), listen to what he learns from his failures.

-The work Tom’s most proud of? That Thing You Do, which featured his whole family, and was basically one giant love-in to make. He is particularly proud of the scene where the band hears their single on the radio for the first time because – name drop! – Bruce Springstein once told him that he’d experienced it himself exactly like that.

-Hanks told us that the genius of Invictus was that Clint Eastwood never taught us a single thing about rugby.

-The most obscure thing a fan ever yelled at him? “Little boat!” –  a line from the movie Splash which Tom himself had a very hard time placing, and almost had to IMDB himself just to scratch the itch.

-Which of his characters would he most like to have a beer with? Charlie Wilson, hands down.

-On the Disneyfication of characters:

-Hanks said “Movies that celebrate their own nostalgia are a waste of time” and I hope to god he meant Everybody Wants Some!!

-His most exhausting role? Woody, from Toy Story.  “It’s hideous making those movies” he claimed.

Anecdote after anecdote, Tom Hanks proved himself worthy of storyteller status. To those of you who didn’t make it in, I wish I could tell you you didn’t miss much, but the truth is, it was an unforgettable evening.