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Non-Review Review: The Lion King (2019)

It’s a very strange comparison to make, but the film that most obviously comes to mind when watching Jon Favreau’s The Lion King is Gus Van Sant’s infamous nineties remake of Psycho.

This is Favreau’s second “live action” adaptation of a classic Disney animated film, even if that descriptor is somewhat misleading. It might be more accurate to describe The Lion King (which was shot entirely in virtual reality) as “verisimilitudinous.” It is designed to approximate “live action”, rather than being live action itself. On that note, the film is a technical triumph. On the level of pure craft, The Lion King is a staggering accomplishment. It is a virtual reality film that is in many ways indistinguishable from reality itself. However, the onion has even more layers to it. It is a virtual reality film approximating the reality while meticulously and faithful reproducing a beloved animated film.

Join the cub.

As such, and much like Van Sant’s Psycho, there is an element of reflexive postmodernism to The Lion King. Both the Psycho and Lion King remakes feel more like conceptual art installations than movies in their own right. They are certainly more interesting as abstract objects than as actual stories. After all, the stories in question were so closely wedded to form and context the first time around that the idea of remaking them so literally and so faithfully seems absurd from a creative point of view. As such, the process of replication becomes intriguing of itself. Both Psycho and The Lion King are incredibly faithful copies that consciously lean into their uncanniness.

Favreau’s Lion King looks beautiful, but largely feels like a limit case. It is a certain approach to modern filmmaking taken to – and perhaps pushed beyond – its farthest extreme.

Pride of the Pridelands.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #13!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Grace Duffy, Ronan Doyle and Jay Coyle to discuss the week in film. There’s a lot to cover this week, most obviously the passing of Agnès Varda, who was something of a patron saint of the podcast. However, the film news also covers the United States Justice Department’s intervention in the row between Netflix and the Academy, big announcements from Cinema Con, news about Disney’s purchase of Fox, the Newport Beach Film Festival, and the Celtic Media Awards.

All of this plus the top ten and the new releases.

The top ten:

  1. How to Train Your Dragon III: The Hidden World
  2. Die Walkure – Met Opera 2019
  3. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
  4. Green Book
  5. Instant Family
  6. Lucifer
  7. What Men Want
  8. Captain Marvel
  9. Us
  10. Dumbo

New releases:

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #27!

Your podcast, should you choose to accept it…

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin to discussion the week in film news. There’s a host of interesting stuff here, from the James Gunn controversy over Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 to the film noir compromise of Gilda to the divisive Dublin Oldschool. Along the way, we take a side-trip into discussions of vaguely unsettling YouTube algorithms aimed at children. However, perhaps the real reason to give it a listen is to hear Luke’s “grand unified theory of Tom Cruise” as part of a broad discussion about Mission Impossible: Fallout.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

63. Coco – This Just In (#37)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina’s Coco.

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57. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (#244)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week joined by special guest Grace Duffy, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, J.J. Abram’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, the First Order and the Rebellion struggle for control of the cosmos. Against this backdrop, three unlikely heroes ascend, embarking upon a mythic journey that will reveal dark secrets and promise new hope.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 244th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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52. Thor: Ragnarok – This Just In (#179)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Taiki Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok.

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Non-Review Review: Doctor Strange

Some Marvel films succeed by pushing against the house style to provide a clear and unique artistic sensibility, like Iron Man III and Guardians of the Galaxy, films that are undeniably informed by the stylistic sensibilities of their directors as much (if not more than) the concerns of the shared universe. Those films are never distinctive enough to compare to the work done by Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan, but they stand out from the rest of the Marvel production slate for their willingness to tell a different story in a different style.

Some Marvel films suffer from their adherence to the production company’s house style. Just about anything interesting was smothered out of Thor: The Dark World, which frequently seemed to have been written and edited by a computer algorithm designed to amplify the well-received elements of the first film and graft them on to a familiar structure. Even some of the relatively strong films on the slate are not immune, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War unable to follow their bolder ideas to conclusion.

It's a kind of magic...

It’s a kind of magic…

However, there are also films that succeed through their understanding of the studio’s house style and sensibilities, working firmly within the structures and boundaries of what might be termed “the Marvel Cinematic Method.” These films do not just acknowledge the expectations imposed upon these blockbusters, they play towards them. In doing so, they embrace the stability and consistency that such a tried-and-tested approach affords, affording the production team the opportunity to craft enjoyable adventures starring likable actors doing fun things.

The original Thor is perhaps the best example of this approach. Often underrated and overlooked in assessments of Marvel’s cinematic output, Thor ranks among the very best of the company’s feature film slate by virtue of its willingness to embrace the stock superhero story at the heart of the script and focus upon making its cast likeable and its plot moving. There is a solid argument to be made that Thor is the purest solo superhero movie produced in quite some time, dating back to Richard Donner’s Superman. No irony or deconstruction in sight. Just simplicity.

Hair today...

Hair today…

Doctor Strange wisely opts for a similar approach. There are very few surprises to be found in the plotting and structuring of the film. The movie unfolds almost exactly as the audience expects. All the pieces are there, and they are assembled with the reliability of the very expensive watch that the title character chooses to carry around as a memento. The arrogant lead character humbled by tragedy. The nihilistic opponent who embraces the end of all things. The romantic co-lead. The stoic supporting character immune to our hero’s charm. The fallen mentor.

Doctor Strange is not particularly interested in subverting or twisting these stock elements. Instead, it focuses on honing them to a fine point, executing them with the help of a spectacular cast and a knowing grin. More than that, the relative simplicity of the plot framework allows director Scott Derrickson to hang some really impressive choreography and set pieces. The Marvel films have been (fairly) criticised for a certain textural “sameness”, and so the visual and aural stylings of Doctor Strange come as a breath of fresh air.

Strange fascination.

Strange fascination.

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