The Lion King

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Cute cubs and cool tech. That’s what’s most impressive about the new version of The Lion King. And the voice work, particularly Seth Rogen and John Oliver.

The Lion King has been a gold mine for Disney. The original film in 1994 was that year’s 2nd biggest film behind Forrest Gump and the stage productions on Broadway and elsewhere have run for decades will still be performed when you and I are long gone.

So don’t ask why this new version was made. It was made because computer animators are ridiculously adept with natural-looking renderings. It was made because director Jon Favreau and crew did such a good job with 2016’s The Jungle Book remake. And it was made to allow a more contemporary cast of voices.

The 1994 version remains a classic. But the new telling of the same story provides a fresh take for fans of the original with new versions of The Lion King’s classic songs. For a new generation, this is their version.

The appearances and the movements of all the animals are stunningly realistic. At some points, this film resembles a Disney nature film. The baby lions Simba and Nala are cuter than your own cute kitty at her/his cutest. If they sold plush toys at the theater, you’d want to get one on your way out.

Regarding the voices: I missed Robert Guillaume’s wonderful work as Rafiki the mandrill from the original and Jeremy Irons’s menacing voice as Scar. Other than those characters, the new voice acting crew is does a nice job.

Donald Glover and Beyonce Knowles-Carter are the voices of the mature Simba and Nala. John Oliver is Zazu, a bird. (If you watch his Sunday night HBO show, it’s weird to hear him without an occasional F-bomb.) Seth Rogen is Pumba the warthog. Billy Eichner as Timon the meerkat is just a strong as Nathan Lane was in the ’94 TLK. Hakuna Matata, indeed.

The great James Earl Jones is Mufasa in both versions. Couldn’t find anybody to replace him!

If the first version hadn’t been made in 1994, would this new version have the impact in 2019 that the original had? I think probably not. But that’s a discussion you can have in the car on the way home from the movie.

Then have it again in 20 years when the hologram version is presented in your family room with a whole new cast of voice actors. The Lion King, you see, has its own Circle Of Life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Martian

Is there such a thing as too much comic relief? Yes, and The Martian is plagued by it.

The Martian has a heck of a story. A NASA mission to Mars chooses to begin its journey home to Earth hurriedly as a giant storm stirs on the red planet. One of the astronauts, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is blown away by the high winds and left for dead as the others blast off for home.

But, wait! Watney’s not quite dead. He heads back into the Mars mission habitat the next day and evaluates his chances of surviving until the next NASA Mars mission occurs. He constructs an indoor potato farm to provide an ongoing food source and makes other accommodations to stay alive.

Meanwhile, the NASA crew in Houston (Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Donald Glover and others) eulogizes Watney but soon realizes that he is still alive. Watney manages to communicate, crudely at first, with the crew back on Earth.

As the other members of the departed Mars crew (including Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena and Kate Mara) hurdle through space on the long journey home, they learn that Watney is alive and that he does not blame them for abandoning him.

Will Watney stay alive? Will NASA rescue him? Will NASA send him food and supplies? Will NASA move up the next scheduled MARS mission? How will Mark Watney’s story end? The tension builds. But each time it begins to crescendo, here comes the comic relief.

The funny stuff IS amusing. But it lightens the mood a bit too much, in my opinion. (This was an issue with 2013’s Gravity where George Clooney’s jokey character seemed more like the real-life Clooney than a believable astronaut. In 2000’s Cast Away, a similarly stranded Tom Hanks had some lighter moments—notably with a volleyball—but the underlying peril level was maintained throughout his ordeal.)

The Martian looks great, particularly in 3D. It is directed by one of our best directors, Ridley Scott. Matt Damon, as usual, is solid in the title role. The script is by Drew Goddard from the popular novel by Andy Weir. (That’s the one that started in 2011 with the author sharing one chapter at a time online, followed by a Kindle version, followed by publication in hardcover last year.)

The Martian comes close to being a home run, but doesn’t quite clear the fence. It’s a solid three-bagger, however, and that is not a bad thing. (Baseball is on our minds these days here in St. Louis.)

The To Do List

There has never been a movie with as many totally non-erotic sex scenes as The To Do List. The sex is sometimes quite funny, but it’s doubtful that anyone could be turned on by what happens.

The To Do List reverses the normal pattern of teen sex movies: this time it’s a girl, not a guy, who’s anxious to become sexually active. Writer/director Maggie Carey brings many teen sex comedy staples to The To Do List, but delivers them from a different point of view.

Recent high school grad and virgin Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation) is told by her older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) that she, Brandy, needs to learn everything about sex before she gets to college.

The To Do List is hardly wholesome, but it’s not sleazy. Brandy’s list of sex acts (some of which end with “job”) is composed not with an attitude of unrestrained lust, but with an almost innocent curiosity. The To Do List is, appropriately, rated R, but there are no bare boobs to be seen here.

Bill Hader of SNL-fame has become, for me, one of those actors whose mere presence onscreen makes me primed for laughter. He plays Willy, the manager of the pool where Brandy works as a lifeguard. Also in a lifeguard perch at the pool is Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), who Brandy has targeted to be her deflowerer.

As with most teen sex comedies, there’s that person who’s always been a friend but has kept unrequited love for the main character hidden. In The To Do List it’s Cameron (Johnny Simmons). He is the beneficiary of a certain sexual favor on the list, the conclusion of which prompts him to shout out to Brandy, “I love you!”

Brandy’s mom and dad also weigh in on their daughters’ sexual exploits. Mom (Connie Britton) is realistic and helpful. Dad (Clark Gregg) is a straight-laced judge who wants to know as little as possible. Also vital to the story are Brandy’s gal pals, Fiona (Alia Shakwat) and Wendy (Sara Steele), who offer feedback, but are impressed by Brandy’s exploits. Donald Glover and Andy Samberg each have minor roles in the film.

The To Do List is set in Boise in 1993. Brandy, Fiona and Wendy are anxious to watch chick flick Beaches together. Email is referred to as “electronic mail.” And Brandy’s first “all the way” time is to the accompaniment of “Dreams” by the Cranberries.

Aubrey Plaza is a funny woman. As anchor of a strong ensemble, her talent and charm shine through. The To Do List should help her move up a notch or two on the comedy casting pecking order.

The To Do List is not for those who are offended by sexual terminology. It’s probably not a good first date film. But it is pretty dang funny!