May movie roundup

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If you’ve been paying attention then you’ll know that I already did a post a couple of weeks ago rambling about the movies I had seen up to that point in May. This post adds to that list. I’m staying at home like I was asked and so I have more time to watch more films than usual:

The Lion King (2019) is a photo-real animated version of the original animated classic directed by jon Favreau after the success of his The Jungle Book remake in which pretty much everything is CG apart from the boy. In The Lion King everything is CG apart from the opening shot of the film. The movie is breathtaking in its technical wizardry but suffers from exactly the same pacing issues as the original (not surprising since it’s pretty much recreated scene for scene).  

The most fun characters and best voice-acting of the movie come from Seth Rogen as Pumbaa the warthog and Billy Eichner (Parks & Recreation) as Timon as the meerkat. Donald Glover is Simba, Beyoncé does the voice of Nala, James Earl Jones is Mufasa (which was jarring for me because for me he is the voice of Darth Vader and not a lion), Chiwetel Ejiofor is Scar but doesn’t really stand out (perhaps Benedict Cumberbatch would’ve been better).

After the criticisms levelled at the casting for the original (where all the baddies were black) it’s nice to see some revision this time around. This time around criticism was aimed at the ‘same face’ and expressionless lions, but if you look at real lions they all look the same right? And there face are hardly built to express a wide range of human expressions. Or am I being species-ist? I didn’t find these criticisms particularly well-founded, but then that’s true for a lot of trolling on social media isn’t it.

Adult Life Skills (2016) stars Jodie Whittaker as Anna, a woman approaching her thirtieth birthday, living her mother’s shed and making ‘talking thumb’ videos for an amateur website as she deals with the loss of her brother who set the site up with her before his death. Whittaker is great in the role and is far better in this touching film of a late coming of age than she is in Doctor Who. I was happy to see a woman cast in the role of the Doctor but I have not enjoyed the latest series one bit.

Brett Goldstein (who I’ve seen most recently, i.e. not recently at all in Ricky Gervais’s comedy Derek) plays the initially overlooked love interest. It’s a very British interpretation of a slacker comedy with lot of scenes shot outdoors in the countryside. Anna’s dead brother is her twin which added an extra level of heartache to the story, especially when I watched it with Siggy, who is also a twin.  

Now on to another Anna… Anna (2019) is a Luc Besson action film and with the exception of his science fiction outings, if you’ve seen one of his films you’ve seen them all. Anna seems like a rehash of his 1990 Le Femme Nikita female assassin film (remade as The Assassin aka Point of No Return starring Bridget Fonda in 1993) which may have been somewhat of a novelty back then but is now a trope that is wearing rather thin, and it’s hard not to compare to the thoroughly enjoyable Red Sparrow and Atomic Blonde. Anna doesn’t come out well from the comparison to be honest.

The violence is cartoon-like and clearly choreographed with black-clad stooges on several occasions reacting to (not) being hit by Anna before they actually are (not). Anna is played by model turned actor Sasha Luss. Sasha made her film debut as Princess Lïhio-Minaa in Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and making models into movie stars is something Besson likes to do regardless of their acting abilities. Luss’s abilities are not really stretched by Besson’s script and if seeing a woman kick as while wearing lingerie floats your boat then hop onboard. 

A rather more convincing helping of female bad-assery is Steve Soderbergh’s Haywire (2011) starring The Mandalorian star and one-time queen of MMA and Gladiator, Gina Carano as the delightfully named Mallory Kane, a highly skilled private security contractor who ends up in a tangled web of deceit where she is being framed for the death of someone she was sent to Barcelona to protect.

She is part of an all-star cast including Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, and last but not least a rather typecast Michael Angarano who I recently saw in Wild Card. Carano is by far the star of the show and is quite rightly given most of the screen time as she climbs around the rooftops of Dublin, kicks serious ass in Barcelona and puts things to rights in close combat situations back in America.

I guess you could say that it’s a lot like a Bourne film with the same kind of gritty realism, but with the extra attraction of Carano doing her own stunts and just having an ominous powerful presence throughout the film. Watching it made me think that she was woefully under-utilised in The Mandalorian and I hope she comes back in the second season.

Bottle Rocket (1996) is Wes Anderson’s first feature-length film and stars regular collaborators Luke Wilson who plays Anthony, Owen Wilson as the more criminally-minded Dignan and third brother Andrew Wilson as ‘Future Man’. Owen Wilson collaborator Robert Musgrave plays their friend Bob to form a bungling criminal gang. 

Dignan wants to distinguish himself in the dicey world of crime and pulls Anthony and Bob along in his wake. While they’re on the run Anthony falls for a motel maid and the story is concerned both about an ill-fated heist at a meat-packers, the relationship between maid and criminal and between the gang members themselves. Owen Wilson has by far the stand-out performance as a serious troublemaker while Luke plays the romantic lead pretty well. As a Wes Anderson film there are hints of the greatness to come in terms of his directorial style, but Bottle Rocket isn’t typical of his later canon of work.

Rushmore (1998) is Wes Anderson’s second feature-length film and already you can see signs of the director’s style beginning to develop. Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman plays Max Fischer who is a star pupil in terms on non-academic activities at the titular school but has piss-poor grades. Rather than getting his head down and working on his grades, he falls in love with the new teacher played by Olivia Williams (who I recognise from yet another female assassin show Dollhouse).

Bill Murray plays Herman Blume a local businessman and the third point in the developing love triangle. Where Max is too young for teacher, maybe Herman is too old. Murray is absolutely brilliant as Blume and for all the depth of writing for Max’s character, it’s Blume that is to be remembered thank’s to Murray’s performance. Luke Wilson and Andrew Wilson pop up in the film as you might expect and Brian Cox is pretty good as Dr. Nelson Guggenheim who describes Max as “one of the worst students we’ve got”.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) is another Wes Anderson film (yes as you might have guessed, I recently bought them all digitally) this time a wonderfully inventive stop-motion animation based on the book by Roald Dahl.

I saw Anderson’s animated Isle of Dogs over a year ago and had been looking forward to seeing Mr. Fox based on the quality of that film. I love stop-motion animation and it is a treat. It’s also very funny and has some great voice-acting from the likes of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman.

In a film which feels rather like the opposite of Nick Park’s check Chicken Run, Mr. Fox cannot resist a triple-bill final farm raid, but he’s not ready for the awful repercussions of his misdeeds which put the wildlife community around him in danger of being wiped out by the angry farmers. 

By this point Anderson is fully developed in his inventive and colourful choice of shots and comedy visuals, and I’d say this film is probably more visually satisfying than The Lion King remake

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