The Lion King

It is still the “Summer of Disney” at movie theaters everywhere, and we’re seeing our share of new or re-imagined Disney stories. When considering why they seem so intent on remaking old classics, often morphing from animation to either 3D or live action, I considered an event in my own life. Skip the next five (red) paragraphs if you don’t care to read my thought provoking analogy.
In high school I was the quiet kid in the back of the classroom who dreaded being called on - a virtually unknown student even by year’s end. As such, during my senior year English class following a segment on Shakespeare, we were given the challenge of a final project on any topic the Bard leveraged in the plays we studied. We could act out a scene – eee gads! – write and read a poem to the class – yikes!, write a paper or make a movie. Wait, what?
I chose to make a movie on the topic of “death,” since it factors prominently in Romeo and Juliet, and, well, just about any of Shakespeare’s works. My father died the year before, so it was morbidly therapeutic. Alas, poor Yorick, I knew some stuff about the topic first hand. I’ll skip the production and scheduling details of my filmmaking debut, and cut to the showing of my masterwork on the last day of high school. Keep in mind this was 1972. I used a Super 8 movie camera and an audiocassette recorder to get the job done. Mine was the last project shared that day, and we very nearly ran out of time with no next class for carryover. I was stressed, having worked for weeks with a manual film splicer, adjusting timing. Frantically working to thread the film into a clunky Bell & Howell projector I lugged to school on the bus, queuing the tape player with a poor quality external speaker for my audio track, I nodded to the teacher to shut off the lights.
Four minutes later, the short film ended to applause just as the bell rang on my final English class of my final semester. The teacher approached me, swimming upstream toward the back of the class amid the excited chaos of classmates chattering about summer vacation, just hours away. They said their goodbyes to the teacher, who was beaming.
“I can’t give you any better than an A Plus,” he apologized. I was grateful he hadn’t asked me for my name. He was at a loss for words, but those he spoke were effusive. So this point of recounting this fond memory is, as technologies rapidly changed through the years I periodically considered making the movie again with modern editing methods. But ultimately it was an entirely worthless collage of deathly images that really had no audience outside of 7thperiod English.
But the people at Disney think back too, and designers no doubt get really jazzed about re-creating classics such as the originally hand-drawn Lion King using 3D editing tools like the complex and expensive Maya software used for the 2019 reincarnation just released.
Director Jon Favreau really knows his stuff, which is kind of an obvious statement, but he learned a lot from making The Jungle Book, and freely admits that it was a learning experience that taught him about optimizing different “lighting” angles within a virtual environment on things like – well, Lion fur.
If you grew up with the 1994 version of The Lion King, or watched your kids grow up with it, you no doubt have fond memories of the story, its lessons, the clever animated characters that act it out, and the academy award winning music written by Elton John and Tim Rice.
The 2019 version of The Lion King is not live action, but you’ll swear it’s real. Computer animation has become so photo-realistic, beginning-to-end, that you forget to marvel at the texture and movement of muscles beneath fur and feathers. Water rippling, splashing and falling is no longer a one-off showcase of a multimedia designer’s best effort – the whole film is a showcase. There are no doubt shortcuts used to capture and template physical characteristics and movements of the many animals in The Lion King. After all, this is the age of digital image libraries. But instead of using the software to have the animals do things they can’t do in nature, the goal here was to have them perform in the most lifelike manner possible. And there are so many animals – you know the scene where they gather around Pride Rock to view baby Simba as he’s held up by Rafiki for all to see? There is scene after scene where so much is going on, layer upon layer in a Noah’s Ark of African species, bowing and trumpeting to welcome the future king, that you feel the need to watch it again and again.
James Earl Jones returns (his voice) as Mufasa, the only carryover from twenty-five years ago. As is usual with Disney, all the latest pop stars and personalities of the moment are lined up behind the characters. I honestly wish they wouldn’t do that. Does Beyonce have to be in everything? And I found it distracting to have Seth Rogan show up yet again with his Pumbaa voice. But then, he is the human embodiment of a warthog, so you can’t fault Disney entirely. But some of the best voices are often those you don’t recognize. Still, in Disney's defense, many years from now, the stars will be forgotten but the voices will live on, much like Edward Everett Horton (Fractured Fairy Tales), Paul Frees (Bullwinkle characters) and Daws Butler (Yogi Bear and others.)
The story is familiar and the music was not tampered with – in fact it has been produced with more conventional orchestration when compared with the original, more synthetic instruments. And one fun tribute came when Timon and Pumbaa began to launch into the Beauty and the Beast song, “Be Our Guest,” which was promptly cut short. It’s a nice little Disney-within-Disney nod.
The original animated film was rated G. This time around, the rating has been upped to PG, no doubt due to the intensity of animal fights and killing, though blood was nowhere to be seen. In fact, some of the major conflicts, especially on a cliff against a background of raging fire are so intense and the hyenas are so numerous and sinister I’d be reluctant to take a very small child to see this.  
The Lion King (2019) runs 1 hour 58 minutes and is rated PG.
Shoud I see this movie?  

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

Signing up for the Regal Unlimited movie pass has resulted in our first questionable movie choice using this method. This film was not at the top of our list, but was showing at a suitable time and was more appealing to our visiting thirty year old son than Toy Story 4 or Aladdin.
I have not seen any of the Fast and Furious films, which have apparently spawned a franchise that includes films, soundtracks, video games, a TV series, merchandise and theme park attractions. It has become the tenth largest grossing film franchise and is Universal’s hottest property. And again, I’ve never seen a single movie. I feel negligent.
Because of this, I feel compelled to answer a few questions before reviewing the film:
1.    How many films are there in this franchise and what are they called?
2.    Where is Samoa, location of the final battle in the film?
3.    What universities have Badass curricula?
4.    When did “The Rock” get involved?
5.    What happened to Paul Walker?
Question 1: This is straightforward, given a fast and furious trip to Wikipedia. Here are the nine films in the franchise, ten counting Hobbs and Shaw, which is considered a spinoff. 
·     The Fast and the Furious
·     2 Fast 2 Furious (this is grammatically suspect)
·     The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
·     Fast & Furious (faster without the extra words)
·     Fast Five (even faster)
·     Fast & Furious 6 (right to the point)
·     Furious 7 (just plain furious)
·     The Fate of the Furious (where have they been?)
·     Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
·     Fast & Furious 9 (to be released in 2020)
Question 2: Samoa is more than 2500 miles south of Hawaii in the middle of the South Pacific. It is almost 10,000 miles from the center of the film’s action in London. Interestingly, Hawaii was used as the set for the “Samoa” location, and Johnson’s mother is Samoan.
Question 3: I enrolled in a little known Badass program at the University of Illinois in 1973. At 6 foot 1 and 190 pounds, I was too small to succeed. I lacked the necessary tattoos, had an aversion to pain, and was generally unmotivated when it was suggested that I work out for eight hours per day, ride a motorcycle, cut all the sleeves off of my t-shirts and learn martial arts. I faired poorly in the classes, “Leveraging your rage,” “Screaming at people who are trying to help you,” and “Taking punches and crashing through windows.” I am unaware of other colleges with this offering.
Question 4: Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson got involved in the fifth film, a turning point for the floundering franchise. This is where Fast and Furious departed from a street racing theme, focusing on heist action involving cars. Gun fights and brawls became central, with only one car chase.
Question 5: Paul Walker, star of the first film, tragically and ironically died in a car crash in 2013, halfway through the filming of Fast and Furious 6. His scenes were completed with some rewrites and his brothers serving as stand-ins. His character was then retired.
This brings us to the movie at hand. The relationship previously established between Johnson (Hobbs) and co-star Jason Statham (Shaw), steeped in badassity and fighting that defies numerous laws of physics, works well if you like laughing during action films. The two are recruited in the US and England by CIA agents played respectively by Ryan Reynolds and Rob Delaney (Catastrophe). Reynolds, though uncredited, is a highlight, employing his snarky Deadpool humor to great effect.
In a more Mission Impossible approach than is typical for this franchise, the reluctant heroes (refusing to work with each other) are enlisted to retrieve a humanity-ending virus from the arm of Shaw’s sister, an MI6 agent framed for the murder of her team. This requires the assistance of a dorky scientist who invented and lost control of the virus, intending it to be used for vaccinations (see, vaccinations ARE bad). Enter Idris Elba as Brixton, a genetically and technologically enhanced “Black Superman” who takes orders from an unseen digitally masked and sinister voice. This voice is last heard at the end of the film, teeing up a sequel along with Ryan Reynolds’ frantic call to Hobbs for help.
An effective drinking game could be played based either on the frequent plot-supporting shouting directives out noisy vehicle windows between Hobbs and Shaw (they never say, “What?”) or each time a vehicle is going to accelerate, when the camera shifts to a close-up of Shaw’s foot hitting the accelerator. It seems Hobbs never drives and the Director never tires of this shot.
There is plentiful use of drones that are capable of far more than is realistic, software activated guns that can be hacked, and head’s up displays with analytics built into Brixton’s bioengineered eyes. These topics are newsworthy but no longer really the stuff of science fiction.
Helen Mirren makes several appearances, all in prison, as Shaw’s mother. She seems to have home schooled Shaw and his sister in espionage protocols and battle tactics that the kiddies gave code names like “The Mick Jagger” and “The Keith Moon.” I bet the tricks still work…wink, wink.
Several troubling relationships are worked out in the heat of battle: Hobbs and Shaw, Shaw and his sister, Hobbs and his brother, that all contribute to the unnecessary length of the movie. One particularly cringe-worthy scene has Hobbs kissed by Shaw’s sister. He then asks if they can do it again the next day after they save the world. Chuckle, chuckle, omg.
If you like action films, this one delivers a ton of chases, fights and shooting. Brixton’s interactions with his self-driving, morphing motorcycle are nicely animated, though it seems they repurposed old sound effects from a Jedi Starfighter.
Early in the movie, Shaw drives a McLaren 720S, with a sticker price of around $300,000 It is a joy to behold. I would be nervous parking this car. He uses it in chase scenes and drives it under a truck and out the other side.
In the end, the world is saved, the good guys win, and the bad guys lose for now. Sadly, the hapless female is strapped to a digital 30 minute countdown timer most recently parodied in M&M commercials, and although she does her share of ass kicking, inevitably she is saved by the big strong men. Oh, and a countdown timer? Fortunately that cliché didn’t lead down the path of “red wire or blue?”
The eventual trip to Samoa takes place without even a wardrobe change. This would be a grueling all-day series of flights. An earlier plane sequence served as an opportunity to introduce Kevin Hart as an Air Marshall and eager wannabe assistant to the perpetually bickering Hobbs and Shaw. His usual comic flair is welcome relief in a scene that otherwise should have been cut.
Despite the annoying, ceaseless bickering that defines the Hobbs and Shaw relationship, the two stars work well together. But the next time The Rock pulls a chain with a helicopter on the end of it, like some big green metallic balloon, I’m going to write him a strongly worded letter. From a distance.

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (2019) runs 2 hours, 17 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie?  

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

This is one of those films with a difficult title to remember. Even the ticket taker at Regal stumbled over it as he confirmed our purchase....