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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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Non-Review Review: Thor – The Dark World

Thor was a gem. I’d argue it remains the best of the Marvel Studios films, expertly and enthusiastically embracing the heightened melodrama of comic book storytelling and boiling it down to faux Shakespearean elegance. With Kenneth Branagh directing and a fantastic cast, the film hit on a lot of the old-fashioned comic book spectacle. Yes, it was sheer nonsense, but there’s something surprisingly affecting about hearing Anthony Hopkins intone Stan Lee’s decidedly corny dialogue. This is sheer unadulterated pop, filtered down and distilled.

A lot of that carries over to Thor: The Dark World. “Some believe that before the universe, there was nothing,” Hopkins’ Odin assured us in the trailer, in a narration omitted from the film. “They’re wrong. There was darkness…” Sure, physicists and scientist might weep at the suggestion, but Hopkins is able to imbue the ridiculous line with a surreal gravitas. “I like the way you explain things,” Jane tells Thor at one point, and the British accents lend the goofiness a strangely convincing air.

It doesn’t make any sense, and it’ll hurt your head too much if you think about it, but that’s entirely the point. This is a movie about a Norse god with an English accent and flying hammer.

It's... wait for it... hammer time!

It’s… wait for it… hammer time!

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Non-Review Review: Iron Man 3

Where do you go after The Avengers? Marvel brought together four separate superhero franchises to produce one mega-blockbuster last summer, producing the most successful film of 2012 and one of the most lucrative films in the history of the medium. It’s a tough act to follow. If Iron Man 3 is any indication, it seems like Disney and Marvel understand how they want to progress from here. Shrewdly deciding not to compete with The Avengers on scale, Iron Man 3 is instead a character-driven action thriller specifically tailored for the character of Tony Stark, with writer and director Shane Black very clearly having his own idea for the hero who first launched Marvel’s shared universe.

While Iron Man 3 isn’t quite perfect, it’s a solid superhero blockbuster, and perhaps second only to Kenneth Brannagh’s Thor as the best superhero film produced by Marvel Studios.

Who da Iron Man?

Who da Iron Man?

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Non-Review Review: Iron Man 3

Where do you go after The Avengers? Marvel brought together four separate superhero franchises to produce one mega-blockbuster last summer, producing the most successful film of 2012 and one of the most lucrative films in the history of the medium. It’s a tough act to follow. If Iron Man 3 is any indication, it seems like Disney and Marvel understand how they want to progress from here. Shrewdly deciding not to compete with The Avengers on scale, Iron Man 3 is instead a character-driven action thriller specifically tailored for the character of Tony Stark, with writer and director Shane Black very clearly having his own idea for the hero who first launched Marvel’s shared universe.

While Iron Man 3 isn’t quite perfect, it’s a solid superhero blockbuster, and perhaps second only to Kenneth Brannagh’s Thor as the best superhero film produced by Marvel Studios.

Who da Iron Man?

Who da Iron Man?

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Non-Review Review: Identity Thief

It must be very difficult to balance the demands of a road-trip comedy. You need two solid leads with a definite sense fo chemistry, but with enough conflict between them to keep things interesting. You need a compelling objective for at least one of the characters to strive towards. You need a tightly-constructed scenario which rules out any easy use of mass-transit. You need a cast of quirky supporting characters to give the movie a distinct flavour, and to occasionally do a bit of heavy-lifting if you decide to develop your leads.

Identity Thief seems to realise this, but it fumbles a bit in the execution. Too many plot points and characters feel too convenient, inserted to either pad out the movie’s runtime or to construct a reasonably believable set of statistics to force the plot into motion. Identity Thief almost seems to try too hard to justify itself and to meet those requirements of a road movie. It’s best when it focuses on the two lead characters, even if it does overplay its hand slightly. It’s not a bad little comedy, but it’s not an especially strong one either. There are a few light chuckles, bu the film mostly runs on the charm of its two leading characters.

Not quite a breakout hit...

Not quite a breakout hit…

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Non-Review Review: People Like Us

People Like Us has an endearingly earnest premise and a solid enough cast, but it’s let down by clumsy writing and somewhat awkward direction. People Like Us is never sure whether it’s only getting started or nearing an emotional resolution, to the point where it seems like there’s a string of false endings in this under-two-hour feature. Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks make for two endearing leads, but they find themselves struggling against an overly melodramatic script and direction that never seems to entirely trust the cast.

A close shave…

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Non-Review Review: Cowboys & Aliens

This movie was seen as part of Movie Fest, the rather wonderful film festival organised by Vincent and everybody else over at movies.ie. It was well worth attending, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Good job all.

It’s a testament to Jon Favreau’s skills as a filmmaker that Cowboys & Aliens ends up as a watchable, if entirely forgettable, addition to an ever-growing summer schedule. The movie is plagued by fairly fundamental problems, from a miscast lead to a failure to follow through on an interesting premise, right down to being one of the more blandly predictable blockbusters in quite some time. Favreau plays the best hand he can with the cards he has been dealt, offering a passable imitation of Steven Spielberg, but the problem is that none of it adds up to a win.

Not quite a blast...

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