Review: The Lion King

Jon Favreau is having quite the year in 2019. Starring in both Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, he’s certainly reaping rewards for his work and his year is not done just yet as his CGI-adaptation of The Lion King finally roars into theaters this weekend.

Essentially, Favreau created a visual-effects laden shot-for-shot remake of the beloved Disney animated classic. For those who don’t know the story, the film follows a lion-cub prince named Simba, who is eager to follow in the pawprints of his father Mufasa as the great king of the Pride Lands. After witnessing the death of his father, Simba runs away from his destiny only to return to see his birthright tainted by his sinister uncle Scar and sets out to take back his homeland and take his rightful place as king.

I went into this with somewhat tame expectations considering that the appeal of most of the live-action adaptations Disney has produced over the years has either been lost on me or hasn’t piqued my interest. I came out relatively un-phased and overall un-excited by Favreau’s CGI remake, thinking I could have watched the original animated classic on television and been rewarded with a slightly higher degree of satisfaction. It’s not boring, but it’s redundant and practically pointless when you look at the finished product.

There are some moments that genuinely honor the spirit of the original film and some moments just felt like they were cheaply downgraded, in the sense that this version knew it couldn’t pull off the splendor and grandeur of feats from the animated version and that dulled the overall visual appeal, which is still spectacular but essentially that is all that this movie has going for it! Jeff Nathanson adds a few minor wrinkles to the story here and there for the sake of refreshment but nothing new is brought to the table; it’s all visual aesthetic and nothing beneath the surface.

The vocal talents should be commended for giving their characters the only degree of personality in this vast computer-generated ocean of repetition. Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, John Oliver, Alfre Woodard, John Kani, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, Florence Kasumba and James Earl Jones are altogether decent.

The camerawork by Caleb Deschanel is rather positive, Hans Zimmer’s music is excellent as usual, Adam Gerstel and Mark Livolsi’s editing is fine, James Chinlind’s production design is vivid, Vlad Bina and Helena Holmes’ art direction is impeccable, and visually this movie is breathtaking but beyond what you see there is hardly anything worth taking away from this version of The Lion King that hasn’t been done before.

Once again Jon Favreau should take comfort in knowing that he had involvement in a cinematic endeavor that will certainly pay off for him but once again Disney made a pointless endeavor to make a live-action rendition of a classic that did not need to be made. The Lion King that was released in 1994 will always have a special place in my heart but this 2019 remake, though beautiful and honors the original, will go down reinforces my belief that some movies don’t need to be remade.

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Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

The dust has essentially settled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe now that the events of Avengers: Endgame have been etched into history and now we’re left with the fallout. What happens now that Thanos is gone, his plan ruined and the Avengers seem to be no more? We get a first look with the film that essentially closes the Infinity Saga: Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Everyone seems to be looking to Queens’ friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to take up the late Tony Stark’s mantle in a post-Avengers world. The problem? It’s a bad time because Peter Parker is really looking forward to his European vacation with his classmates and has big plans that he wants to see come to fruition but alas an Avenger’s work is never done.

Nick Fury interjects to inform the young wall-crawler that new threats called the Elementals pose a serious threat to the Earth and Peter must join forces with the new hero Mysterio to protect his friends and the world.

To be the film that follows up Avengers: Endgame? That’s almost impossible shoes to fill but I’ll say that Spider-Man: Far From Home is unquestionably a bigger and bolder adventure than the first MCU Spider-outing.

Is it the best Spider-Man film to date? No. Is it as good as Avengers: Endgame? Definitely not. Is it entertaining and does it hold audiences’ interest from start to finish? Absolutely!

Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have crafted a story that is funny, surprising, intricate and it’s very true to who Spider-Man is but at the same time, it’s a little unbalanced when it comes to the story but it does close what we know about the MCU rather effectively and opens the door to what may be coming next, which is precisely what audiences are hoping to see.

There are a lot of strong points to take in regarding Spider-Man: Far From Home. How the main character is continuing to grow into the hero fans know he is and how he is navigating the aftermath of what has transpired before and how this movie (somewhat) answers questions as to what is to come later, is probably this film’s strong suit.

I think what really held this film back was how some of the humor in this picture felt forced and how the story leaped from subplot-to-subplot but despite these errors, the sum total of this picture equals a fun time for the audience.

This cast is aces from top to bottom! Tom Holland continues to be exemplary as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Zendaya does a great job, Jacob Batalon is good, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Remy Hill, Martin Starr, J.B. Smoove, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Numan Acar, the voice of Dawn Michelle King, I was amazed at the talent in this film.

Michael Giacchino’s music is terrific, Matthew J. Lloyd’s cinematography is splendid, Leigh Folsom Boyd and Dan Lebental’s editing is solid, Claude Paré’s production design is not overly exciting but respectable, the art direction was dazzling, Tina Jones’ set decoration is fine, Anna B. Sheppard’s costumes were good, the visual effects were trippy; overall this was a well-done technical feat.

Spider-Man: Far From Home was a wild ride! It’s a bit bumpy to sit through but it gets you to its destination and has a few surprises along the way that make you enjoy the trip!

Review: Yesterday

Truth be told, I cannot fathom the idea of what the world would look like if Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr hadn’t formed the musical act that changed the world of music forever. Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle and renowned film-scribe Richard Curtis attempt to paint a picture of what a world without The Beatles would look like in the new feature, Yesterday.

Yesterday, follows a struggling musician named Jack Malik who is at the doorstep of calling it quits on his career as a singer. One night, a freakish phenomena blanketed the world virtually removing all traces of The Beatles and their iconic song catalog but Jack is the only one in the world who knows who Paul, John, George and Ringo are and the impact they made on music. Jack seizes this opportunity to bring the music of The Beatles to a world that no longer knows who they are and finally get the big break he has been waiting for in the process.

Yesterday has a very gripping hook that will most certainly bring audiences in. The problem, is that the film willingly allows itself to be swallowed up by all the clichéd trappings you could possibly expect and as the film progresses, the interest wanes and you are ultimately disappointed because this movie could have been more than what it turned out to be.

I felt that Richard Curtis’ screenplay really bogged down the appeal of this feature. I felt that I had an idea of what this movie could be, what it was advertised to be but you feel like it intentionally takes a wrong turn and you end up at a different destination than what you were promised and the disappointment stings. I confess, I should have known where Curtis and his story collaborator Jack Barth, would take this film before I went in, considering Curtis’ body of work, but it may not have changed anything; the appeal of Yesterday dimmed as the plot went along.

I felt that Danny Boyle’s visual storytelling prowess attempted to elevate the film as best as possible but I think this is probably Boyle’s most disappointing feature to date. Boyle did what he could to bolster the appeal of this film visually, but sadly he could not save a movie with a story that just deflated as time went on.

The cast does a fair job even though I wasn’t overly impressed with most of the performances. The lead performances from Himesh Patel and Lily James were good but I was not enthralled by Joel Fry, Kate McKinnon, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Sophia Di Martino, Harry Michell, Alexander Arnold, Ellise Chappell and the cameos from Michael Kiwanuka, Ed Sheeran and James Corden weren’t exactly exciting either.

I can’t exactly find fault in Daniel Pemberton’s music, I also thought Christopher Ross’ cinematography was impressive, Patrick Rolfe’s production design was fine and James Wakefield oversaw art direction that was nice to look at as well. Editing makes or breaks a film and I felt that the editing of Jon Harris didn’t do Yesterday any real favors, Cathy Cosgrove and Naomi Leigh’s set decoration was very plain, the costumes from Liza Bracey failed to catch any true attention.

When it came to Yesterday, I had hoped to be just blown away. Disappointing is all I can say. I was let down by Yesterday.

Review: Toy Story 4

Leave it to the magic of Disney-Pixar to make me eat my words! When Toy Story 4 was announced, truth be told, I was livid because I initially thought it was an unnecessary installment to an animated film franchise that I believed was concluded in the most pristine way. Even though I was against the idea of a Toy Story 4, I was going to see it anyway because I may as well see how the story can carry on from where Toy Story 3, which I thought was one of the most perfect animated achievements in recent history, left off.

So, Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Rex, the Potato Heads, Rex, Slinky and Ham are now Bonnie’s toys but Bonnie comes home with a new friend named Forky, who finds life as a toy rather distressing and can’t help but find himself drawn to a trash can. When Forky tries to escape life as a toy, Woody, being the hero we all know and love, goes after him and tries to make him see that life as Bonnie’s primary toy is worth living but along the way, treacherous foes obstruct Woody from reuniting Forky with Bonnie and the reappearance of Woody’s old friend Bo Peep presents Woody with new perspective on the role of toys in the world.

As someone who was skeptical of the thought of Toy Story 4, Disney-Pixar made me eat crow! This movie was pure wonder from start to finish!

Toy Story 4 features beautiful animation and a story that is rich with humor, heart, sincerity and beautifully ties the entire franchise with a bow! Josh Cooley and screenwriters Anthony Stanton and Stephany Folsom have crafted a film worthy of the highest praise you can imagine; if you grew up a fan of the Toy Story series like myself, you’ll fall head over heels in love with Toy Story 4!

The plot weaves between previous installments to answer questions from the first three movies to pick up where it left off and takes audiences on an amazing ride with familiar faces and new characters that just embellish an already prolific franchise. Disney-Pixar has crafted yet another classic, hands down!

The vocal cast is once again, outstanding! Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, Estelle Harris, Jeff Pidgeon, John Morris, Jack McGraw, Laurie Metcalf, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, Madeleine McGraw, Ally Maki, Christina Hendricks, Jay Hernandez, Lori Allen, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal and Jeff Garlin are aces! I especially liked the fact that the film utilizes recorded voice-over work from Don Rickles, the voice of Mr. Potato Head, who passed away a few weeks ago.

Randy Newman once again provides stellar music to this picture. Axel Geddes’ editing is fluid is seamless, Bob Pauley’s production design is impeccably detailed and truly highlights Laura Phillips’ wonderful art direction. The camerawork from Jean-Claude Kalache and Patrick Lin was outstanding as well. The visual effects, the sounds are all brimming with vivid splendor and the animation is top of the line.

No matter what expectations you may have for Toy Story 4, this movie will effortless meet your challenge and excel! If anything Toy Story 4 added more special beauty and charm to an already unforgettable franchise that I am sure will stand the test of time.

Undoubtedly, one of the most excellent and entertaining films I’ve seen so far this year!

Review: Dark Phoenix

Ever since Dark Phoenix was announced a few years ago, I’ve been calling it “The X-Men movie no one asked for.” We’ve seen Jean Grey go bad in X-Men: The Last Stand, but Simon Kinberg, who has scribed several X-Men features already, wanted to revisit this story about Jean Grey going bad guy.

In this take on the highly popular X-Men series written by John Byrne, Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, the X-Men are pitted against their most powerful adversary yet: Jean Grey. After Jean was exposed to a volatile and powerful cosmic phenomena, her latent telekinetic abilities are awakened and she descends into her dark impulses which causes her to become a significant threat which puts the X-Men into a very dangerous dilemma: risk the safety of the world to save a friend or kill her to keep the world safe.

In what appears to be the final cinematic installment of the X-Men franchise, Dark Phoenix is exactly what I believed it to be: the X-Men movie that no one asked for and for damn good reason because it’s nonsensical, it’s tedious, it’s blunt, it’s a downright disaster of a movie in every fathomable way! As someone who has watched every X-Men movie, I say that Dark Phoenix is unquestionably on par with X-Men Origins: Wolverine as the most boring installment of the franchise.

Simon Kinberg has written for X-Men movies before; he’s credited with writing The Last Stand, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. As I was watching this movie, I was thinking “What the actual f***?!” Dark Phoenix is just void of any sense of continuity in this franchise, the material in this screenplay is just atrocious and numbing to take in and utilizes concepts that just make no sense in the grand scheme of things and I could not take the story seriously! We’ve seen Jean Grey go “dark” in The Last Stand and I think I would watch that over this!

Kinberg also took the initiative to direct this unnecessary extravagance. It’s my understanding that this was his debut as a director and good grief he failed miserably! I tried to give this movie a chance hoping that the success of the prequel series could carry over but there was just no getting past the fact that we were getting a story that did not need to be made and was just dead on arrival!

It’s like the producers of this movie subconsciously knew that this movie should have never seen the light of day and looking at this movie you could just tell that this was a cheap and tawdry experiment. I do think this movie was doomed to fail and it succeeded at failing.

This cast, has most certainly done better! James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Jessica Chastain, Scott Shepherd, Ato Essandoh, Brian d’Arcy James, Summer Fontana, were given cheap material and essentially delivered wooden performances across the board. It’s disappointing to see that this was their last outings as these characters.

I think the only aspect of this movie that I enjoyed was the fact that Hans Zimmer provided the score. It’s not the best work he’s done but I have nothing but love and respect for Hans Zimmer. Everything from Mauro Fiore’s cinematography, Lee Smith’s editing, Claude Paré’s production design, the art direction, the set decoration, the visual effects, to Daniel Orlandi’s costume designs all amount to meh levels of overall quality.

If you were counting on anything good to rise from the ashes of the end of the X-Men’s cinematic franchise, I’m sorry to tell you that your expectations will go virtually unmet. Dark Phoenix allows the X-Men franchise to fall flat on its face on its way out.

Review: Rocketman

The man, the myth, the legend behind iconic songs like “Tiny Dancer”, “Saturday Night’s Alright”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Bennie and the Jets” and “Crocodile Rock” to name a few has his fantastical life story deconstructed and reassembled again to highlight the pivotal moments and figures in his remarkable life and phenomenal career. Rocketman chronicles the metamorphosis from shy and introverted piano virtuoso Reginald Dwight into the dazzling and energetic showman Elton John.

From his turbulent childhood years with his parents Sheila and Stanley, to ascending superstardom, to self-destructive tragic genius, Rocketman follows John and highlights the figures who left an imprint on his life and career, from his best-friend and collaborator Bernie Taupin, to his former manager/lover John Reid, Dick James, etc. and covers the peaks and valleys of his musical and personal career. Rocketman is thoroughly honest, wonderfully executed, heartfelt, excited and like the man himself, a showstopper!

Dexter Fletcher went the distance to bring Elton John’s colorful life to the big screen and his efforts were not wasted in the slightest. The detail that went into this production was lavish and exhilarating and his vision to model this into a musical/retrospective therapy session actually worked for we actually saw the main figure of this movie stripped down and bared his essence and who and what drove him. That detail that went into this could reach beyond the screen and made a genuine impact on the audience.

Lee Hall’s screenplay is “outta sight!” In the way this movie was written, with such care and devotion, you could tell that they had such respect for the subject of this film, Hall and Fletcher wanted to get it right and they did with aplomb! They wanted to get to the main details of John’s story, the pure honest truth, and I came away with such respect for their storytelling prowess in this film.

Taron Egerton went above and beyond to do Elton John justice on the big screen and he is downright explosive in Rocketman from the first second you see him! I have nothing but admiration for performers who just dive right into the role he/she is playing and emerge only to transform into the characters he/she portrays and Egerton performance is of that caliber! Truly one of the best acting performances I have seen this year!

This movie featured a rock-solid ensemble from Jamie Bell who does a great job as Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Tom Bennett, Charlie Rowe, Stephen Graham, Celinde Schoenmaker, Ophelia Lovibond, Sharon D. Clarke, Jason Pennycoke, Alexia Khadime, Matthew Illesley, Kit Connor, Evan Walsh, Ross Farrelly, Peter O’Hanlon; this is a very good acting ensemble.

Matthew Margeson’s music certainly livens things up, I really like George Richmond’s cinematography and Chris Dickens’ editing is very seamless and flows effortlessly throughout. Peter Francis and Marcus Rowland’s production design is eye-catching, the art direction is superb as is the set decoration by Kimberley Fahey and Judy Farr and Julian Day’s costumes are fantastic!

In summary, Rocketman covers the defining moments in Elton John’s life that ultimately shaped who he became, both personally and professionally, and it does touch on the dark aspects of who he was during certain periods of his life and it is indeed a wild ride!

Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

The monster, the myth, the mega-legend returns to wage war on an even-grander scale since we last saw him five years ago. This time, he fights monsters who seek to usurp his standing and claim to make a mark that will change the course of this world forever. Enter Godzilla: King of the Monsters!

Apparently, the events that occurred in the last Godzilla movie, kickstarted the plot of this feature. Godzilla’s appearance in San Francisco triggered an awakening of superspecies called Titans and they are making their presence felt all around the world. Scientist, Dr. Emma Russell, theorizes that mankind’s penchant for self-destruction, pollution and overpopulation is what started this Titan resurgence and believes that mankind’s greatest true chance at warding off extinction and planetary oblivion lies in awakening every Titan on Earth.

Her plan however depends on one thing: who the Titans answer to. For Godzilla to truly be crowned King of the Monsters, he has to contend with the presence of powerful monsters on his own level, including Rodan, Mothra and his arch-rival Ghidorah.

This movie had four of the most renowned movie monsters in history. This movie had dazzling visual effects. How could it become so boring? Aside from a chuckle here and there and a flinch or two, I was not enthralled or excited by the final product of this movie at all!

Director Michael Dougherty had a fairly promising premise that certainly brought in audiences but I felt that the plot was very stiff. The screenplay by Dougherty and Zach Shields was a monster-sized runaway train that had no clear idea where it was going.

I also felt that the movie was rather flat in how it was written. I ultimately believed that I could not get on board with the “saving the world at the expense of mankind” ploy and I thought that the visual splendor would ease my reservations about the film as it unfolded. I was wrong.

This movie had good players but the material they were working with ultimately doomed them and how they were utilized. In the last Godzilla feature, I felt that there was a lack of balance between the creatures and the human characters; this time, I felt that there was more of a balance but the humans were so dismal in the roles they played. There was no surprise. Also, I felt that unlike other creature features of this caliber, the monsters who headlined this weren’t given a proper chance to showcase their splendor.

Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobbie Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Aisha Hinds, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Thomas Middleditch, Jonathan Howard, CCH Pounder, Bradley Whitford, all good actors who suffer due to a weak screenplay and story and their performances are left very wooden and blunt.

Bear McCreary’s music didn’t catch my attention truth be told, Lawrence Sher’s cinematography is hot and cold throughout, Roger Barton and Bob Ducsay’s editing is all over the place, Scott Chambliss’ production design has its moments but is ultimately forgettable, the art direction team does a fair job, Amanda Moss Serino’s set decoration was barely noticeable, and Louise Mingenbach’s costumes were drab. The only technical sell were the visual effects.

I wanted to enjoy Godzilla: King of the Monsters but the more I watched it, the more it wanted me to enjoy the monsters instead of the movie, while I felt that part of the movie was successful, the movie was a royal snooze. Maybe the next battle it was repetitively teasing throughout the movie, will be more entertaining.