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Beatriz At Dinner, The Hero, The Creep Behind the Camera, The Big Sick

Sunday, September 10, 2017

THE LION KING: THE CIRCLE CONTINUES



Believe it or not it’s been 23 years since we first heard the story of Simba, the lion cub who would be king one day. With each passing year as Disney rolls out their classic films with new editions, cleaning them up the best ways possible and offering them to a new generation who’ve heard of these movies but never seen them I am surprised at how much time has passed.

But more amazing than that is that with the passage of time these movies remain timeless. They never grow old. They never cease to amaze not just children being exposed to them for the first time but to me, someone who’ll be 60 in two months. Classic Disney movies, especially the animated features, have always held a special place in my heart and make me 5 years old again.

THE LION KING: THE CIRCLE OF LIFE EDITION gives fans of the movie a new take on the film with new extras and a clear vision of the film on blu-ray. If you’ve never seen the film the story revolves around Simba, a young lion cub newly born to mother Sarabi and father Musafa, the king of Pride Rock. Held for all to see by shaman/mandrill Rafiki, he is welcomed into the world by all. With the exception of his uncle Scar.

Scar still holds a grudge against Musafa, the lion who gave him the mar on his face that brought about his name. Still feeling he should be kind this newest member of the family adds one more block to hi taking the throne. With a little maneuvering and a few lies he places Simba in jeopardy and when Musafa comes to rescue his son SPOILER ALERT he kills him, blaming Simba. He suggest Simba leave and never return.

Fortunately Simba comes across an odd couple, Timon the meerkat and Pumba the warthog. These two rescue him in the desert and soon the three are best friends. Simba grows up with these two, never looking back at his past. But it will eventually catch up to him.

At the same time Scar has taken over as king surrounding himself with the dreaded hyenas as his guards. With Pride Rock in ruins and the subjects under Scar hoping for help, will Simba return to reclaim the throne? Will he abandon the lifestyle he’s chosen?

Like all classic Disney animated films the movie is filled with so much for the eye to see. More so than prior films this one pulls out the color palette and lets it explode on the screen. It also features songs throughout that have become favorites for many including “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, “Hakuna Matata” and “Circle of Life” courtesy of Elton John. A word of warning to the more sensitive that also takes its cue from classic Disney films, there is some amount of violence on hand as well as scenes involving death. But that’s what the concept of circle of life is about.

The movie is made more in the vein of classic Disney animated features and less the current style of computer animation. While I enjoy the new computer generated films having grown up with this style it remains my favorite. The differences in generations it appears. But kids of all ages will still love this film.

What makes this edition different? The extras and there are plenty of them. They include but are not limited to:

-Audio Commentary by producer Don Hahn and co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff.
-Visualizing a Villain – Against a backdrop of live dancers and the animated “Be Prepared” sequence, artist David Garibaldi paints a masterpiece of evil.
-The Recording Sessions – Watch rare footage of the actors recording their roles, matched with the final animation. Intro by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff.
-Nathan and Matthew: The Extended Lion King Conversation – Nathan Lane (Timon) and Matthew Broderick (Adult Simba) offer candid and hilarious insights into their Lion King experiences.
-Inside the Story Room – Co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff present archival footage of five original story pitches.
-Circle of Life – See how color creates emotion and meaning in the film’s iconic opening.
-Simba & Nala – See how elements proposed in story meetings evolve into what appears onscreen.
-Simba Takes Nala Out to Play – …And, sometimes what seems funny in story meetings never makes it into the film!
-Hakuna Matata – Co-directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff sing, act and dance their hearts out as they pitch the “Hakuna Matata” sequence.
-Rafiki and Reflecting Pool – Co-directors Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff pitch a sequence that became the emotional heart of The Lion King to Producer Don Hahn.
-Music & More – Sing along to your favorite songs from the movie: “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Be Prepared,” “Hakuna Matata,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
-Galleries: Visual Development – Explore a gallery of striking artwork that inspired the movie’s look and feel; Character Design – Trace the development of the film’s unforgettable characters through early concept art drawings; Storyboards – Examine storyboards created in the development of “The Lion King.”; Layouts – Feast your eyes on layouts created in the development of “The Lion King.”; Backgrounds & Layouts – Journey through a gallery of landscape paintings that shaped the world of “The Lion King.”

This new edition comes with both regular and blu-ray copies of the movie as well as the code for a digital version for those with things like Vudu. In other words this is the most complete edition of the film you will find.

There is no way you can go wrong with a classic Disney animated film. It brings out the child in the adult and entertains children at the same time, something rare in most films these days. The story will offer lessons to be discussed with children as well, another thing that those movies always allowed for. In the end you will find yourself transported to the African plain, the life of the pride and singing along with the songs you remember. What more could you ask for?

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ALL EYEZ ON ME: TUPAC’S STORY



The life of climbing rap star Tupac Shakur was one that ended in tragedy when he was gunned down on the streets of Las Vegas on September 13, 1996 at age 25. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long since it happened. Since that time there have been a number of documentaries based on what happened and his life. It’s a surprise that it’s taken this long for a biography to be made about his life.

ALL EYEZ ON ME takes its title from the double album he made of the same name. The film opens with Tupac yet to be born as his mother Afeni (Dania Gurira) is released from jail with her fellow Black Panthers after being acquitted on various charges. It then moves on to a young Tupac who witnesses atrocities to blacks in his neighborhood while being raised to protest by his mother and his stepfather Mutulu. Throughout his young years his life is one of constant surveillance due to his mother’s activism.

When things begin to go wrong and his mother’s idealism is replaced with drug dependency, Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) takes out on his own, attending the Baltimore School for the Arts. As he begins to develop his inner voice and ability to rhyme, he eventually finds himself in a position to work with the group Digital Underground. He eventually sets out on his own, his songs controversial but as he says these are songs from the streets that he lives on.

As he becomes successful he takes care of his mother and younger sister, becomes friend with rap star Biggie Smalls and begins to find roles in films like JUICE offered to him. But even as a star he still encounters racism from the police and more problems as well. Befriending a local hood things run smooth until he finds himself in a hotel room with a young woman screaming he raped her. While not convicted of rape he is sentenced to 18 months for “illegal touching”.

No, this is not the entire movie and actually by this point it might just be halfway through. The movie is told in flashback to this point as Tupac is telling his story to a documentary crew while in prison. From this point forward we begin to see things as they take place. The film moves forward to his involvement with Death Row Records owner Suge Knight as well as the violence that plagued him from this point forward. It talks about his successes, his problems with management and his frustration at being cornered by the business. The end is his death, no spoiler since most know going in what happened.

The movie isn’t great but it’s not terrible either. It feels like it’s trying to cram so much movie into 2 hours and 19 minutes but still touches on things in the life of Tupac in snippet fashion. Scenes jump from one to another in a linear mode but still feel disjointed. With so many characters to get used to and know it only makes it more difficult to follow at times. For those who know the whole story it might be easy, for those of us who don’t not quite.

Shipp’s performance suffers here but I don’t blame him for that. There are moments when he presents a caring and thoughtful Tupac but they are overshadowed by the outburst of temper that most will not remember seeing when it came to this man. And those sequences are always played the same way, as if they are just taken from one moment and stuck in again later on. This is the fault of the editing and directing, not the actor.

The standout performance here is given to Gurira. In part that’s because this role is so far removed from that of Michonne the character she plays on THE WALKING DEAD that most of us have grown accustomed to seeing her in. But even while a good performance like that of Shipp it becomes one note for the majority of the film, the outraged activists constantly yelling. Once more it would have been nice to see her allowed to do more or at least have allowed those scenes to remain in the film.

In the end I finished this film feeling I knew bits and pieces about the life of Tupac but only surface material. I have no doubt he was exposed to bad policemen but the depiction here in this film is that all police are corrupt and looking to inflict damage on any black person they see. On the opposite side of the scale it makes it looks as if all rappers do is smoke grass, drink, party and have sex with any female in the room and those in charge are little more than gangsters employing the same techniques at keeping their artists down that major record labels do.

Having recently watched the documentary TUPAC ASSASSINATION: THE BATTLE FOR COMPTON I felt like I got more information from that film than this one. At the same time that movie could have been nothing more than a collection of conspiracy theories. And yet it felt more real than this film when it came to the life of Tupac Shakur.

Fans of Tupac will certainly want to make a point of watching this film. Those curious about Shakur will likely enjoy it as well. Know going in that the film does not paint a pretty portrait of the man who was one of the most acclaimed rappers of all time.

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FIRST KILL: A DECENT THRILLER



When writing about new releases there are a number of things to consider. One of those is knowing the intended audience for a movie. Cinephiles will most likely not be fond of Marvel superhero flicks. Marvel fans will not want to watch foreign films. But there is a medium out there, a base level of movie fan who just wants to sit back and be entertained. If you can at least offer a quality product then odds are good people will watch your movie. Such is the case with FIRST KILL.

Hayden Christensen stars as Will, a financial high roller married to surgeon Laura (Megan Leonard). The two of them have a young son named Danny (Ty Shelton) whose been having bully issues at school. Thinking that perhaps they’ve allowed careers to interfere with family duties, the couple decide to return to Will’s hometown to visit his aunt. Once there he also plans to take Danny on his first hunting expedition, an experience that bonded Will with his own father.

As is often the case, things don’t go as planned. While out in the wild Will and Danny come across two men arguing, one pointing a gun at the other. They’re arguing about a heist of the local bank that took place earlier when the unarmed man pulls out a key and tosses it aside. The first man shoots him and Danny gasps alerting him to their presence. He begins firing at them and in self-defense Will shoots him only to discover he has killed a police officer.

Taking the wounded man home for his wife to help, he tries to figure out what to do next. Before he can put a plan into action Levi (Gethin Anthony), the wounded man takes Danny hostage and tells Will to retrieve the key he tossed with instructions of where to find out what to do next. Before he can follow through the police get involved. The chief (Bruce Willis) doesn’t believe that will knows nothing and keeps an eye on him.

Now trying to avoid the police as well as locate the key, Will must do everything he possibly can to see that his son is returned safely. But when you’re not sure who you can trust, when members of the police force seem to be in on the heist, how do you know where to turn?

No spoiler alert but from the get go you can pretty much tell who you can and can’t trust thanks to the trailer and to the performance of Willis here. I love the man’s movies but lately he seems to be taking on roles for the paycheck and nothing more. This being a fairly low budget picture my guess is most of it went to him. That’s not a good thing because honestly his performance was the weakest seen here.

Christensen does a fine job here. I’ve seen reviews of him for this and other films where he’s been raked over the coals. When your first major role is as the father of Luke Skywalker it’s difficult to recover and move forward into other roles. For me he did a great job here and the haters online who seem determined to wish him ill will while touting performances by lesser actors is uncalled for.

But standout among the cast is young Ty Shelton. Some child actors are terrible, trying to portray characters and roles they are completely unable to understand let alone carry off believably. Shelton does a great job here and I’m hoping he gets more offers. In addition to his performance, Anthony does a great job as well. Good thing because a sub-story here involves the two of them bonding throughout Danny’s captivity encounter. Levi doesn’t want to hurt him and would rather find another way to get his money. Danny just ends up caught in the middle.

The movie looks far more impressive than its budget would have you believe. The cinematography is great although a few less sky flying drone shots would have been nice. New technology is wonderful unless it is overused and that’s the case here. The chase sequences however look fantastic and help propel the movie forward.

On the whole this movie is not Oscar material but then it never shoots for that lofty goal. Instead it offers a good story, solid performances and looks better than most movies with such small funds. It’s a movie worth renting to watch and enjoy. Hopefully we’ll see more from the members of this cast.

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