Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Lion King 3D

I know that the 3D boom that has hit in the last few years is about to burst. Too many films have used the effect to try and sell an mediocre movie as something special. It worked for Disney's Alice in Wonderland, which became a big hit despite being a big mess. There have been a number of movies in the last few months that have not increased box office because of the presence of 3D and they have alienated the audience with the unnecessary intrusion of the optical glasses. However, just because it is a gimmick that is too often unwelcome, does not mean that it can't be used in select circumstances. This is one of those cases. The truth of course is that "The Lion King" did not need any real buffing up for an audience. When it came out seventeen years ago, it was the first animated movie to make over three-hundred million at the domestic box office. It was the culmination of the Jeffery Katzenberg era at Disney and the start of animation box office avarice ever since. Dreamworks exists because the vacuum created at Disney by the death of Jeffery Wells, Disney's then President, was not filled by the guy who was largely responsible for the revival of the animation studio. His acrimonious departure and lawsuits, set the stage for other animation studios, particularly Pixar, to step in and steal the marketplace away. "The Lion King" was the last great roar of traditional hand-drawn animation before the thunderbolt of Toy Story and the dawn of the computer animated age.

So it might seem ironic or blasphemous, to use digital tools to turn "The Lion King" into a 3D special presentation. I did not find the 3D effect disconcerting during the viewing we went to this morning. In fact there were several traditionally drawn scenes that the added depth made more beautiful without becoming simply a novelty. The flock of flamingo like birds flying over the savannah looked more spectacular with the 3 D. The elephant's graveyard seemed a more dangerous place as Simba and Nala tried to flee the hyenas. The wildebeest stampede did not seem more threatening to me with the added 3D, but Rafiki's tree, and the vision of Mufasa in the water did seem richer with the extra depth. So much of the movie is bright, that the drawback of dim projection, which is inherent in a 3D presentation, was not noticeable. The best reason for the release of the movie in this format however, is to get parents to pull their kids into a theater to see a classic, animated movie on the big screen. I know I just paid to watch a commercial for the Blu-ray release of the Lion King, but I was glad to do it because many movies deserve to be enjoyed in a theater. The added 3D will not be enough to make me commit to a 3D television. Life is already complicated enough. There is no anger however from having been hooked into the theaters by the 3D gimmick.

We originally saw this movie in it's release in 1994. That was the year all hell broke loose in our lives. My mother had passed away, my Dad was living with us and he was suffering Alzheimer's related dementia. We were buying a house, and the move is beyond almost anything you can imagine. My parents had a three bedroom apartment filled with the equipment from their lives (having been professional entertainers for nearly fifty years). We had our own three bedroom apartment to move as well. Also, every storage unit in the apartment building we lived in was filled with my parents possessions as well. As were the two large storage rooms in the garage. During the escrow process, my wife and I spent every week night packing material. I moved hundreds of boxes back and forth from our apartment to the new house twenty miles away. Sometimes I made two or three trips a day in our overfilled mini van. This was all in advance of the real moving day that would not occur until late July. Father's Day weekend however, we took off and went to see this with our fiends ans my Dad in tow. It was a great break from all the work we were doing. The story of Simba, losing his father really pulled at my heart at that time. My Dad no longer called me by name, and he did not know exactly who we were most of the time. He did however love all the kids we went to the movie with, and it was a little bit like Mufasa in the stars when he was laughing and talking to us that day.

Revisiting a movie that you love and have not seen for a while is a wonderful experience. There is so much about the Lion King that is memorable and worth enjoying again. The exuberance of "I Just Can't Wait to be King", is energizing. The whole sequence of Scar and the hyenas plotting a take over of the pride land was so reminiscent of a Nazi rally in Germany of the thirties that it is a wonder it made it into the film. Of course the humor of Timon and Pumba is broad but also very clever. The story works it's wonders from the very opening. In fact I remember that the trailer for the Lion King in it's original run was not really a trailer at all. They simply ran the first few minutes of the movie with the "Circle of Life" section ending with a crashing title card to punctuate at the end. Today, I heard the people behind me, suck in their breath, just as I had done we we first saw that opening.

The songs from Elton John and Tim Rice were just as charming today as they were seventeen years ago. Hans Zimmer did the score and the African themes are so effectively used that they sound familiar, even if you don't listen to world music on a regular basis. I had completely forgotten that Johnathon Taylor Thomas provided the voice of the young Simba. I don't think I ever knew that Moria Kelly was the voice of the adult Nala. Like most animated movies, the voice actors are the key to making the images come to life for us. Everyone was well cast and I don't mean to diminish their work, but Jeremy Irons and James Earl Jones just completely own this movie. Iron's Scar is one of the truly evil characters in the Disney stable of villains. His oily delivery and bored indifference to the suffering that comes later in the film is just right. Jones had already cemented the title of world's greatest voice casting in the Star Wars movies. It seems unfair that he should get to be the voice of Mufasa also, but there could never be anyone else that would have been right.

I understand if you don't want to give in to the Disney marketing machine and see this in 3D in the theaters. It may appear to be manipulative to add the unnecessary third dimension, and it takes hutzpah to ask people to pay to see a commercial. I however can live with my choice because I got to relive a wonderful movie, remember my father in better times, and I did not even get a headache from the experience.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Over the years, I have seen a lot of movies that were successful that are largely bits and pieces of ideas. There is so much crap out there that a certain amount of it is likely to draw flies if it meets some minimal elements demanded by today's audiences. The last three "Pirates of the Caribbean" films are all gassed up by the presence of Johnny Depp in the role he has played so perfectly. I myself am willing to give into a sloppy film if there is something about it that I can hang onto. Those kinds of movies come out nearly every week and they drain my wallet almost as often. I can't begrudge the machine it's due too much, since I am a willing participant at times in feeding it, despite the fact that it is delivering inferior entertainment.  That mea culpa aside, I get incredibly frustrated when the opposite happens. Good and even great films get ignored by the movie going public way too often. Sometimes it is because they are small films that will need to be sought out. Very often it is the marketing of a movie that keeps people from going to see a movie that is worth their time. Once in a while, it might be that a great film has a tough subject matter that people can simply not wrap their head around.  Today however, we have the most frustrating of all such experiences. A movie that has been marketed well, is available on all your local theater screens, and has a setting that is widely popular in the culture; mixed martial arts.Despite these things going for it, "Warrior" is likely to be out of theaters in another week, and hoping to do some bushiness on video.

This is one of the two or three best films of the year. It is a high quality production which tells a solid dramatic story, and it is told in a crowd-pleasing dynamic manner which should have people lining up to see it. Instead, Amanda and I saw this in a nearly empty theater. Three other people came in just as the movie started so five of us got to enjoy it together. I don't think the movie would be better if more people were there, but the experience would have been terrific if the audience was packed. There are moments of high drama, tension, and an occasional light humored touch that would all go down together as a collective moment if more people were there to share it.  I really wanted to stand outside the theater after the movie and tell everyone who was buying a ticket to something else this weekend, to open their eyes and go see this film.

I am making an exception to my usual format for these posts. There is no trailer included for this movie, because the trailer gives too much away. You will like this film more, the less you know about it. I loved it and I knew quite a bit about what was going to happen. It still worked for me, but if you are not clued in to the story as much, there will be more suspense and pleasure for you as a viewer. I can say that it is a film that focuses on family dysfunction in a way that seems really accurate for the events that are supposed to have occurred outside of the timeline of the story. We get hints here and there, and large pieces fall into place as the narrative moves through the events of the film, but there is not a huge amount of exposition. We find out what has set all of this up in pieces of character, or dramatic dialog in an active context. I really like the tools the screenwriters used to fill us in on the characters. It feels much more organic and it build to surprising emotional reactions.

This is ultimately a story about the redemption of a family, not just a single character. We know what has happened and we largely know who's fault it is. In another movie, that characters story arc would be the main focus. Here, we see some of that characters attempts at making things right, but we are not lead to feel that his restoration is the key element of the film. Nick Nolte has aged, and not entirely well. His skills as an actor are used well here and I suspect that his performance will be remembered at the end of the year, even if the film is not. Yet, it is a testament to casting as well as acting that makes him so perfect for the role. His beefy frame, and bloated facial features, are a perfect match for the character and circumstances.

The two younger actors are not familiar to me, I am sure they have passed my radar before, but they did not stand out in whatever roles I might have seen them in. I will definitely remember them in their future movies because they are both terrific in this movie. I have never watched a mixed martial arts match in my life, and I probably will never become a fan of it to the degree that so many others have. The work it took to stage the bouts and the physical prowess of the actors to pull it off are awe inspiring. I know how movie magic can work and that editing can fix a lot of problems, but these guys need to be in the ring for the fights and they had to sweat to get the performances that I saw. Sometimes there were pieces of business that I did not understand, but there was never any confusion about what was happening and what it all meant.

There are strong themes of family, responsibility, determination and country in the movie. There were moments when I could not keep my face dry, and there were moments when I would have wanted to engage in the same kind of smackdown with some of the characters that I saw on screen. There is so much anger in the characters that it might seem like the movie is going to be unpleasant, and then a moment of tenderness shines through. All three of the main characters go on a journey in the story. It has many traditional elements that any sports story would have. The best sports movie however are rarely about the accomplishment in the big event at the climax of the story. The best sports movies are about the challenges that the character faces, the demons that drive them, and the ways in which they try to reach their goals. If "Rocky" had just been a boxing movie, no one would remember it today. If "Miracle", had only been about hockey, I would never have seen it. Warrior is a Mixed Martial Arts movie, the same way that "Pride of the Yankees" is a baseball film. If the idea of Mixed Martial Arts is what has kept you out of the theaters, KNOCK IT OFF!!! This is a film that is much more than some kickboxing Jean Claude Van Dame crud. Let's all celebrate that a real movie has sneaked into theaters and see this while you have the chance.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Twin Towers in Movies

Twin Tower Cameos from Dan Meth on Vimeo.

This is a different movie related post on the 9/11 events. Appearances by the Twin Towers in Movies. It did not include the Spiderman Teaser that disappeared right after the tragedy.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

9/11 Tribute

This has the Jerry Goldsmith music I mentioned from my post a couple of weeks ago. I have added some images in memory of that day. I wept for a week and still feel pain in my heart every time I hear about the families that had to go on without a loved one. Thousands have stepped forward in the intervening years to stand guard and protect us in a number of awful places. Each of them deserves our respect for the valor they have shown on our behalf. Please feel free to share this with anyone who might appreciate it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Shark Night 3D

The end of summer is the perfect time for a stupid, gore laden horror film that involves animals attacking humans just for the fun of it. Five years ago we had Snakes on a Plane, last year there was Piranha 3D, and now the highly anticipated "Jaws" rip-off "Shark Night" in 3D. It's Labor day weekend, let the mayhem begin. This movie was directed by the same guy that did "Snakes" and you can tell by the performances and the cheesy set ups and payoffs. David Ellis may not be an Auteur, but he can tell a solid scary story with broad enough appeal to bring in the audience for this kind of movie and satisfy them. I think he also did the first "Final Destination", so you know he can make a gruesome set up work.

I doubt that this movie will do a great deal of business, it is Labor Day weekend and one of the slowest dates of the year in the film business. This kind of silly horror is an acquired taste and there may be limited appeal to a mass audience. It is my oldest daughter's birthday however and she and her sister have learned well in my shadow. They enjoy the heck out of this kind of stuff. Allison is a little more discriminating than Amanda on these things. Amanda will watch all the cheap SyFy made for cable movies with me, in fact, she is now usually the instigator, but Allison likes the cinematic extravagance of a visceral disembowelment. Last year, at the Midnight Showing of "Piranha 3D" we were the only three people in the theater and we still laughed and hooted like you could not believe.

There was a slight hesitation on my part in queuing up for this movie. It is rated PG-13, which means that the gore level will be very low, the cursing will not exceed one or two F-Bombs, and there will not be any nudity, (or it will be racy TV from the side nudity). All of that was required last year because that is all there was in the killer fish movie. This movie does try to tell a little bit more of a story. It is a stupid story, but it does have one. The plot helps create a lot of the suspense because without all the bells and whistles of an "R" rated horror film, you need something to hold stuff together. The performers here are not thespians, most of them come off as pretty people hired for the shoot. They are however ten times more effective than any performer in one of those SyFy movies, so this is at least tolerable. I will also add, that at the very end of the credits, there is a stinger section that made me appreciate the actors a helluva lot more. If you do manage to see this, make sure to stay for the extra at the end. It does not add to the movie plot, but it does add to the movie experience.

The characters are cardboard but each one at least has a function in the story. The two leads are not bad, they just have little to do beyond reacting to the CGI sharks and assorted other bad guys. I was a little let down by the lack of additional gore when some of the truly evil characters get their comeuppance. We have been given good reason to want to see some of these characters die, and their deaths while appropriate, needed to be done with more flair and panache than the deaths of characters with which we are supposed to sympathize. It is limited by the rating that the movie makers were seeking. I understand but I yearned for more dismemberment. The shots of the sharks are fine, they never look as frightening to me as "Bruce" did in Jaws, but they do sometimes look more real.

The makers of this movie are having a laugh. They know that the plot is not serious and they treat some of the scenes with the appropriate tone. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that when a shark attack victim, who has lost too much blood to transport on a boat, walks out into the water with a spear in his one hand and swears to kill the shark that has wronged him, well, it is a moment of absurdity to savior. To me, this is exactly the kind of movie that should be in 3-D, viscera is splashed in the screen and explosions launch pieces of wreckage at the audience. We get a corny experience that draws attention to how corny it is. No one is pretending that the 3-D here is anything other than a gimmick, and they use like a gimmick should be used.  I enjoyed this thoroughly despite the limitations of the rating. It is exactly what you want, if you are attracted to this film at all. It is a sign of mental health if you avoid it, but if your sense of humor is twisted like ours is, you will be waiting for the sequel.