Saturday, October 29, 2016

"Penny Dreadful," Year Two

Minor spoilers ahead.

Well, I'm completely won over now. Going back over my write-up of the first season, I don't think I got across how unusually high-end the production of "Penny Dreadful" is. As an example, this year there's a throwaway scene in one of the early episodes where two characters visit a Victorian table tennis parlor, which is filled with period extras and historically accurate fixtures and props. The scene could have taken place anywhere - a shop or bar or restaurant we've already seen, perhaps, but instead the creators went to extraordinary lengths to show audiences something new and unique for less than five minutes of screen time. That's the way I feel about "Penny Dreadful's second season as a whole. Everyone involved really goes the extra mile to make the show something special.

At the outset, I expected "Penny Dreadful" to be a quasi-anthology show, but it has settled into being the story of Vanessa Ives, with everyone else playing distinctly secondary parts. And this is not a bad thing, as Eva Green continues to be scene chewer extraordinaire, and by far the most interesting character in the show's catalogue of monsters. This year, the war for her soul escalates with the introduction of a coven of witches, lead by the vicious Mrs. Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory), as the season's major villains. They not only attack Vanessa, but her allies. Mrs. Poole sets amorous designs on Sir Malcolm, and her daughter Hecate (Sarah Greene) targets Ethan Chandler. Ethan is one of several characters much improved this season, as he and Vanessa slowly circle each other romantically, and we get more insight on the particulars of his curse.

The other big winner is Brona, renamed Lily, who is now at the center of the Frankenstein plot, After a wonderful slow burn, Billie Piper just takes that role and blows it up into something unexpectedly horrific and magnificent. I wasn't sold on Rory Kinnear's Creature last year, now renamed John Clare, but he gets some more interesting material and scene partners this time around. There are also a wealth of minor characters who frequently steal the spotlight. Sir Malcolm's African manservant Sembene (Danny Sapani) and the foppish linguistics expert Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) were among my favorites. Lyle in particular is a great source of comic relief The third episode of the season is a flashback to Vanessa's tutelage in magic by a witch played by Patti LuPone. LuPone only appears in that single episode, but she leaves such a strong impact that it can be felt throughout the rest of the year.

Sadly, the show does have some significant weak spots. The biggest is Reeve Carney's Dorian Gray, who spends most of the season with a new love interest, Angelique (J. Beauchamp). Their story feels completely divorced from anything else going on in the rest of the series, and frankly the two actors are not strong enough to hold my interest. Most of the sequences with the witches also frequently teetered on the edge of absurdity. I love the look of them - in battle the witches appear as hairless, scarred demonic creatures - but they get very little character development. Frankly, most of the material of "Penny Dreadful" would be pulpy, risible stuff in other hands. There are literal talking dolls, bloody cloudbusts, and a werewolf who doesn't look right at all. But with writing and performances and lavish production values this good, it's easy to ignore a few flaws. The series rarely feels indulgent, and somehow doesn't come across as a guilty pleasure like 99% of horror-themed television.

And here I have to correct my previous mistake of not singling out the show's creator and main writer, John Logan, for praise. It's obvious how much he loves this universe, and how much effort he's put into breathing life into the characters. I love that he incorporates literature and poetry references everywhere. I love that he puts some progressive twists on familiar characters, even though they don't all work. I love that he tackles religious themes head on. And I know he's trying to do his best, which is why I'm going ahead and watching the third season of "Penny Dreadful," even though I've been forewarned that it's not going to be a satisfying finale.

If the rest of the show manages to maintain even a semblance of the same quality, it'll be worth another nine episodes to find out for myself.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Rank 'Em: The "X-men" Films

I'm pretty sure that "X-men: Apocalypse" is the last "X-men" film we'll be seeing for a while, so I figure it's time to look back on and take stock of the influential superhero franchise. There have been six films in the main "X-men" series since 2000, with three spinoffs so far, and at least two more on the way. I'll be leaving the spinoffs out of this list, but briefly, I didn't care much for either of the Wolverine films, so they'd be ranked pretty low. "Deadpool" would be in the middle of the pack somewhere. The following entries are ranked from best to worst. Minor spoilers ahead.

X-Men: First Class - Matthew Vaughn is the best thing to have happened to "X-men" since Bryan Singer, packing the cast with strong talents like Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and James McAvoy, and really digging deep into the psyches and philosophies of the main characters. Putting the struggle for mutant rights in the tumultuous 1960s adds so much resonance, and the whole series benefits greatly from the care and attention given to examining the friendship between Professor X and Magneto. I'm also a big fan of the filmmaking itself, full playful '60s throwbacks and stylish references. There are some things that don't work, and everyone was clearly pressed for time and money, but it still surprises me how effortless this one felt.

X-Men: Days of Future Past - It was a close race between this and "X2," but there's just so much in this movie that is handled so well - the time travel, the huge cast of characters, and so much plot to juggle. And yet somehow, there's time for the Quicklsilver sequence, and the meeting of the two Xaviers, and that immensely pleasing ending. This is the sendoff that the old cast deservew, while also making great use of the "First Class" cast, and ensuring that Wolverine's return feels truly justified. While not the classic that the original comics story was, the film version of "Days of Future Past" absolutely does it justice, and works in its own right as a film. And if I had my way, the "X-men" film series would have ended right there.

X2 - The best film of the original "X-men" trilogy delves into Wolverine's past and escalates the conflicts that were featured in the first film. I enjoy this one for its good balance between the time spent on character relationships and the action scenes. The opening scuffle with Nightcrawler is still breathtaking, while Iceman's awkward coming out to his parents remains the funniest scene in the whole franchise. You really get a sense of character progression and growth in this installment, which is something that I've found wanting in far too many superhero films lately - including other entries on this list. I'm still disappointed at how the Phoenix Saga played out after how well it was set up by the end of "X2."

X-Men - I've lost a lot of my affection for the original "X-men" film over the years, as it was quickly surpassed by so many other superhero movies. However, it remains a solid genre exercise that blazed the trail for every comic book movie that followed. Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, Patrick Stewart's Professor X, and Ian McKellan's Magneto are as charismatic as ever, but it's easier now to see the flaws in the script and the weaknesses of some of the other performers. Some of the effects really haven't held up well - Toad is especially hard to take seriously. I still love a lot of the little moments of humor, but this almost feels like a prequel to the rest of the series, providing introductions and setting up the pieces for larger conflicts in the future.

X-Men: Apocalypse - We've seen everything in this film done better in an earlier installment, and frankly too much of this one just feels pointless. It's overlong, overstuffed, playing too many old hits, and feels like it was written by committee. With so much great talent involved, it's inevitable that there are some good scenes and character moments. Alas, they're few and far between. I think "Apocalypse" is fine as a generic summer action film when it finally gets down to the brawling, but it's a real disappointment as an "X-men" film.

X-Men: The Last Stand - Oh Brett Ratner. You're not a bad director, but you certainly didn't help matters when it came to "Last Stand." First of all, this is one of the most poorly conceived superhero films I've ever seen, indiscriminately killing off major characters left and right, and mucking up the basic premise of the series. Several characters behave in downright irrational ways. it's no wonder that Bryan Singer and others took great pains to distance themselves from this movie, and "Days of Future Past" essentially negated it.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Please Let "X-men: Apocalypse," Be the End

The "X-men" films have had a very impressive run, and even managed to reinvent themselves out of a bad rut more than once. However, as far as the main series of "X-men" films is concerned, I think we're really due for a break from them. Bryan Singer returns to direct his fourth film in the franchise, which is a direct sequel to the alternate history "First Class" and "Days of Future Past," and happily rewrites many events that happened in the original trilogy of X-films.

Now we're in the year 1983, and the idea that twenty years has passed in the "X-men" chronology since "First Class" while the actors have only aged about five years is completely ludicrous, but that's the corner that the writers have backed themselves into. Life isn't bad for mutantkind at the moment. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) are running their school for mutants students, including teenage Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan). Even Magneto (Michael Fassbender) seems to have moved on, living a quiet new life in Poland. However, the X-men's old CIA friend Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byre) is back, investigating reports of a newly reawakened ancient mutant named En Sabah Nur, or Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) in Egypt. He's trouble, to put it mildly. This means that everyone gets roped into another big adventure. The good guys reteam with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and we're (re)introduced to young mutants Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp).

I'm really starting to resent all the recent superhero movies clocking in at around 150 minutes. And like "Captain America: Civil War," the latest "X-men" is stuffed to the gills with characters, plots, and subplots. Among the good guys, we get four different POV characters, which was probably two too many. This isn't new for the series, but Bryan Singer doesn't manage the juggling act so well this time. Pains are taken to make sure that all the major characters get their due, but the material for this outing simply isn't very compelling. Apocalypse's modus operandi is behaving like a god, wreaking havoc on humanity with his matter-manipulating powers whenever he feels they're getting out of hand. To this end, he recruits four "Horsemen," powerful mutants who he gives enhanced powers to. We see each of these recruitments in detail, and though everyone involved is trying mightily, spending so much time with Apocalypse doesn't help make him a more interesting character. He's just another pontificating cartoon character, spouting exposition and completely failing to display anything resembling a personality. Oscar Isaac is apparently playing him, but he's invisible under all the makeup and latex for the duration.

This is a far cry from the previous films in this timeline, which were so good about mining recent history for parallels to the mutant experience, and really using the different eras to their fullest. "Apocalypse" almost totally drops the social commentary and historical fiction in favor of telling a very simple, basic story about everybody we liked from the previous films getting together to beat a big bad. While there are some amusing '80s references, the Cold War only really features for about a scene and a half. Instead, most of the heroes' journeys come down to minor personal issues being hammered out. Professor X wants to reconnect to Moira. Mystique considers being a good guy. Quicksilver has family drama. The exception is the introduction new batch of X-youngsters. Scott and Jean probably have the most full and successful arcs as they grapple with their powers and come into their own, though Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner deliver some of the shakier performances.

More interesting is the material with Magneto, who suffers more tragedy and more horror to provide a reason for him to turn against his friends again. It feels awfully repetitive by now, watching Michael Fassbender giving a performance that outclasses everything else in the movie, and the movie completely failing to live up to him. Magneto's actions ultimately make no sense, but we're obliged to follow along anyway, to get us to the inevitable final showdown. And speaking of that showdown, the massive scale destruction looks great and provides some fantastic moments of popcorn fun. On the other hand, it also feels a little out of date, after two other superhero movies this year had plots that specifically repudiated this kind of ending. And as previously stated it takes over two bloody hours to get there.

At the end of the movie, I just felt relieved it was over. "Apocalypse" is an underwhelming film, but I enjoyed quite a bit of it - especially some of the big, fancy set pieces. But more than ever, it feels like the "X-men" franchise is treading water, and the creators are struggling to find reasons to keep going on. After "Apocalypse," we've more or less caught up to the original timeline, which makes this a logical place to stop. I certainly want to see more of this universe and I'd love to see some of the characters spin off for their own adventures, but this is the last I want to see of the X-films for a while.

If they do insist on a '90s Dark Phoenix redo, actually wait ten years this time, okay?


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Timeless "Dumbo"

Today marks the 75th anniversary of "Dumbo," the fourth animated feature from Walt Disney Animation, and an unlikely box office hit. It runs just over an hour in length, too long for a short subject and too short to be a feature presentation, according to distributor RKO. Still, Disney persisted and "Dumbo" got his star billing, which proved to be greatly deserved. Audiences loved the little elephant, and he's become a perennial favorite. The movie was aired often on television, usually paired with a few cartoon shorts. That's where my copy of the film came from.

"Dumbo" remains one of my most primal, foundational movie viewing experiences. I watched our VHS copy countless times as a small child in the 1980s, and distinctly remember it being the only movie that I knew how to ask for while being babysat, before I knew how to read. I knew every frame of it vividly, even if I didn't comprehend what some of the images meant at the time. What really stuck with me, though, was the strength of the emotions that the movie evoked. Dumbo playing with his mother. The mother being taken away. The frightening elephant pyramid scene. The humiliating act with the clowns. The sinister "Pink Elephants" number. And finally, learning to fly and a happy ending.

I recently rewatched "Dumbo" with a two year-old relative on my lap. I picked it out for its short length and for the animal characters. We could point to and identify all the circus animals together. A choo-choo train. A rainstorm. Bubbles. The kiddo didn't make it through the whole movie, wandering off around the point where the crows showed up. I watched to the end, however, appreciating that I could now take in the little details, like Dumbo and his mother waving goodbye in the last shot, and a few more of the song lyrics were now comprehensible. However, most of the experience felt the same as it did when I was four years old. "Baby Mine" still made me sniffle. "Pink Elephants on Parade" still looks utterly strange and incongruous with the rest of the movie - and any other Disney movie.

I also made a couple of connections that I hadn't as a child. Though the quartet of gossipy elephants who ostracize Dumbo are mean, I never thought of them as villains. This was because all the elephants are treated terribly by the circus, and I found myself thinking more than once this time, that you could never get away with showing something as sadistic as the elephant pyramid act today. No, the Ringmaster was the villain, for taking Dumbo's mother away. The clowns were villains for exploiting him. The kid with the big ears, representing all the bullies in the world, was a villain too. A year later, "Bambi" would spell out that Man was the enemy, but the sentiment was already alive and well here. The rise of the big top during the roustabout song always struck me as foreboding, and I understand now it's because the circus is an awful place from the animals' point of view.

"Dumbo" has a joyous ending, but it's terribly sad throughout - much sadder than any modern children's film I've seen. Dumbo spends most of the running time separated from his mother, lonely and miserable. Calamity after calamity keeps being piled on his head, and Dumbo can't fight back. He's only a baby, who doesn't even speak. Timothy the mouse is the active one, far more active than the similar Jiminy Cricket. All Dumbo can really do is feel, the way that children do. He's a perfect audience surrogate for kids, and the reason why I think the film still works so well for them. The two-year old remarked more than once that "The little elephant is crying" during our viewing.

I guess I have to talk about the crows. The charges of them being racist always struck me as ridiculous. They're absolutely caricatures of black Americans of the era, but they aren't negative caricatures even by modern standards. More importantly, the crows become Dumbo's friends, the only ones willing to help him aside from Timothy. A more recent equivalent would be the Beatles-esque vultures in "The Jungle Book," and I've never heard anyone object to them.

All too soon, the hour was up, "Dumbo" was done, and it was time to vacate memory lane. The two year-old, however, was livid when she wandered back to the couch found out that the movie was over. She threw a tantrum when I wouldn't put it back on, and I had to promise to come watch it again with her next week.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Movie Trendspotting 2016

Time for a little wild speculation. Back in 2013, I wrote up a post with some predictions about trends in media that I expected to see in the future. Well, the resurgence of westerns and the rise of mecha didn't happen, but three out of five ain't bad. So I thought I'd look ahead again and make a few more predictions. Just for fun, you know, and to get some of my own recent observations about the industry down on the digital paper.

Chinese Spinoffs - China is one everyone's minds lately, and studios are falling over themselves trying to ensure their blockbusters are friendly to Chinese audiences. However, the awkward product placement, token Chinese heroine, and pandering extra material in Mandarin haven't been going over so well. Neither have the predominantly Chinese films that have shoehorned a Caucasian movie star like Christian Bale or Matt Damon into the lead. I expect that more studios will start considering the "Now You See Me" option, where a Chinese-language sequel was recently announced, starring one of the Chinese characters. The franchise is a hit in China, but inly a modest performer elsewhere, so this makes sense. I wonder if they could get away with something similar for "Warcraft."

Television and Web Cross-Pollination - Rob Howard's epic "Dark Tower" plan, which would have told the story through interlocking theatrical film and television series didn't get off the ground. However, this year we did see the "Divergent" series turn to television as an option for its flagging fortunes, and rumors continue to swirl about whether the inevitable "Game of Thrones" spinoffs might include a few theatrical films. As the line between web and television and theatrical content continues to blur, I think it's inevitable that we're going to see more direct platform-crossing in the future, not just spinoffs and tie-ins like Marvel's "Agents of SHIELD." Though if the rumors are right, the bumpy third season of that series is apparently the reason why the "Inhumans" movie got delayed indefinitely.

Gender and Race Swapped Remakes - The "Ghostbuster" reboot wasn't a bomb, and apparently that was enough to push several gender-swapped remakes forward. The "Oceans 11" spinoff with Sandra Bullock is going ahead full steam, and now Channing Tatum and Jillian Bell are going to remake "Splash" - with Bell as the schlub and Tatum as the merperson. Reboots remain popular with studios, but most of the recent ones have fallen flat due to poor execution. Race and gender swapping the leads is an easy way to make the old stories look newer and more interesting, even if they aren't. So I expect we'll see more of this in the future, especially if audiences keep warming up to non-white male leads in films the same way they have with non-white male leads on television.

Augmented Reality - Pokémon Go! was massive this summer, and it's inevitably going to have an impact on the wider culture, including film and television. A "Pokémon" film is in the works, of course, and we're already seeing films about mobile gaming like "Nerve," but I'm more interested in the game's successful use of augmented reality. AR, which adds a layer of extra information on top of the existing world instead of being generated out of nothing, like VR, has been explored before in the mainstream media, but only in fairly shallow, simplistic terms. Be on the lookout for adaptations of existing sci-fi stories about AR, like "Memories with Maya" and "Denno Coil," and the new ones that are surely on the way. Smartglasses and visors are likely to show up in the big screen soon.

The Hamilton Effect - it's going to be quite a while before we see the big screen adaptation of "Hamilton," but its influence is already everywhere. I fully expect more hip-hop musical numbers in the media landscape, especially as the studios are still trying to capitalize on the success of "Straight Out of Compton." Lin Manuel Miranda, meanwhile, may conquer Hollywood the same way that he conquered Broadway. He's already helped to write songs for upcoming Disney musical "Moana," and has signed on for the "Mary Poppins" reboot with Emily Blunt and a live action adaptation of "The Little Mermaid."

And... Anime - This one's a stretch because we've seen so many failures and delays over the past few years. However, at least two major titles, "Ghost in the Shell" and "Death Note," actually are getting made. If they do well, that opens the door to more, and the studios have the rights to plenty of other titles waiting in the wings. Despite the whitewashing controversy, I expect that we won't be seeing more Asian leads soon, but the studios will probably be much more careful about localizing the material. Maybe my dreams of more mecha will still happen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Preacher," Year One

Six years ago, one of the first posts I wrote for this blog was a rundown of the many attempts to adapt Garth Ennis's "Preacher" comic for the big screen and the small screen. I concluded that it was not likely that any kind of faithful adaptation would ever get off the ground, because the source material was too extreme for mainstream audiences. Well, I was wrong.

AMC's "Preacher" television series, spearheaded by Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, has toned down quite a few things from the comic book series, and substantially changed others. However, it has captured a great deal of the anarchic spirit of "Preacher," the shock, the schlock, and above all, the gleeful irreverence of a monumentally screwed up universe. The humor is blacker and sicker than just about anything I've ever seen aired on television. Even the disfigured Arseface is there in all his glory, subtitled sputterings and all.

"Preacher" is the tale of Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), who heads a small church, inherited from his father, in the tiny southern town of Annville. Jesse is a former crook, and his old partner/girlfriend Tulip O'Hare (Ruth Negga) is back in town, trying to tempt him to do another job with her. And Jesse is tempted, as his efforts in Annville seem futile. The church is poorly attended, barely staffed by Jesse and a single mom named Emily (Lucy Griffiths), and commands little influence. Then one day, Jesse wakes up with the ability to command anyone to do anything, his body having become the host for a mysterious power called Genesis. Due to this, he's being hunted down by a pair of sinister law enforcement agents, DeBlanc (Anatol Yusef) and Fiore (Tom Brooke). Also, totally unrelated to any of this is the sudden arrival of Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), an Irish vampire on the run.

In the biggest departure from the comics, the story stays in Annville for the first season for budgetary reasons. So the writers do their best to flesh out the various townsfolk and have Jesse try to help them. We spend more time with Sheriff Root (W. Earl Brown) and his son Eugene (Ian Coletti), the aforementioned Arseface whose ghastly mug is the result of a botched suicide attempt. And we get to know local reprobate Donny (Derek Wilson) and the weaselly Mayor (Ricky Mabe). And then there's mean old Odin Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley), the local proprietor of Quinncannon Meat & Power, and the most powerful man in the county. Even without all the supernatural goings on, there's plenty to chew on here. The trouble is that the creators aren't really interested in doing more with them than filling time. The first season is ten episodes, but it seems like it should have been eight, or even six.

Now, "Preacher" is a lot of fun, but it's also very uneven. I give the show's creators all possible credit for translating so much of the comic to the screen, and making some good changes, but there are major systemic problems with the execution. The pacing is all over the place, with some episodes full of wild set pieces and big revelations, followed up others mired in tedious filler. The writing is frequently sloppy, jumbling motivations and squandering the promise of many minor characters. It doesn't help that the series is so haphazardly structured from the outset. The pilot episode is practically incomprehensible if you aren't familiar with the comic. Lots of crazy, violent things happen, but are difficult to piece together into a cohesive narrative. A final major character, currently referred to as the Cowboy (Graham McTavish), appears in flashbacks to the late 1800s, with no explanation as to what he has to do with the story until the second-to-last episode of the season.

What actually keeps the series rolling along, or lurching along really, are the performances of the lead actors and the willingness to deliver big shocks. This version of Jesse Custer may be extremely inconsistent and impulsive, but Cooper keeps him charismatic and intriguing. I think Ruth Negga's Tulip is a significant improvement on the original, now a badass with a record and a hilariously pugnacious attitude. Cassidy's the one character who is almost identical to the comics version, and he frequently steals the show. Joseph Gilgun is definitely my favorite of the cast, especially when he's nonchalantly getting himself horribly injured. I was also gratified to see how well Arseface actually translated to screen. Ian Coletti somehow makes him quite likeable.

It's obvious that the "Preacher" television series was created by fans, and thus I'm hopeful that it will improve as we move past the preliminaries and into more familiar territory in the seasons to come. They have all the pieces assembled, and have displayed the guts necessary to do something really special with them, but so far the series has been very rocky. I'd recommend it to those who like westerns, nasty humor, and a little blasphemy - and who also have the patience to see it through its significant growing pains.

Monday, October 17, 2016

[Your Favorite Celebrity Here] Isn't Dead

It's become a bit of a morbid running joke that 2016 has seen the passing of an unusually large number of especially beloved celebrities, and there's been persistent speculation about who might be going out next. Still, as I was scanning the Yahoo Mail login page, trying to remember which icon would lead to a half-forgotten account I used for spam E-mails, the last person I expected to be suddenly and tragically deceased was Kelly Ripa. There were two text ads in one of the sidebars that appeared to lead to articles about her demise. I didn't click on them, but after I finished with my Yahoo mail account, I checked Google News for any report on Ripa's death. So I googled for more information, and came up with several links stating that Ripa's recently announced death was a hoax.

I thought nothing of it and didn't investigate further. However, yesterday it happened again. This time I spotted a sponsored ad on a news site proclaiming the demise of Melissa McCarthy. I ran her name through Google, and came up with another list of links stating that McCarthy's death was a hoax. What struck me was that these looked almost identical to the ones I'd gotten for Kelly Ripa. So I started clicking links, and sure enough the articles were almost identical, aside from swapping out the celebrity names. The whole point was to get you to visit the particular website that hosts these articles. The main perpetrator is, a Chinese site that purports to be a "satire" site, which automatically generates fake news stories about celebrities. Their "death hoax" template, credited to "Jessica Simpson," even includes a photopshopped magazine cover for each newly deceased celebrity. The advertisements on the site, however, are quite real.

And, amusingly, the fake articles have been scraped by bots for use on other sites. The Melissa McCarthy one is being used to draw unsuspecting reader to a site called "JobsNHire," which is actually a targeted advertising site run by IQ Adnet. They apparently specialize in spoofing legitimate news sites and blogs. And then there are the sites with names like "Dead or Alive Info" and "Who's Alive and Who's Dead" that specifically aim to help those confused by these hoaxes. And if a particular hoax gets enough attention, of course, the real media sites will often weigh in. These hoaxes have become so common, that people barely blink an eye when they happen anymore. I imagine that they're an awful annoyance to the celebrities who are targeted, though. Betty White seems to be constantly reassuring people that she's still with us.

My first instinct is to just roll my eyes at these hoax sites. However, digging a little further into this, Mediamass has managed to do some actual damage since it started up in 2012. If you search the names of many celebrities, along with the word "dead" or "death," often the first result is from Mediamass. So after the deaths of Paul Walker and Philip Seymour Hoffman, people fell for the "death hoax" stories that were automatically generated by the site, leading to confusion. Mediamass's owners have put up plenty of disclaimers and insist that what they're doing is not meant to be taken seriously. But they're still paying for ads on other sites, like the one I spotted on Yahoo, and still taking the money from the page views.

I've watched the development of advertising strategies online with great interest, and I feel I'm getting a little more cynical each year. As advertisers keep looking for new ways to grab my attention, I keep adjusting my own perceptions to avoid them. Celebrity deaths are one blind spot that I've now readjusted for. Frankly, I've started to treat everything I see in a site's advertising sidebar as a lie, because they so frequently, blatantly are. And the most ironic part is that after these extreme efforts to lure me to click on these links and visit these other sites, I have no memory of the advertisements they featured.

All I'm left with is a feeling of mild disgust about the death hoaxes, and unease toward the sites in general. I don't think that's the kind of feeling that most advertisers want associated with their products.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

80 Films From the '80s

Somehow, the numbers worked out just right. As part of my Top Ten Project, I watched eighty films from the 1980s this year, to fill my quota of watching at least fifty films from each year before making my lists. And there were a lot of disappointments, a lot of surprises, and just a lot to think about in general. I wanted to put down some thoughts before moving on to the films of the 1970s.

I had a lot of fun filling in some gaps in my pop culture awareness, like the Timothy Dalton 007 films, "Flashdance," and "Risky Business." There were quite a few nostalgic favorites like "Buckaroo Banzai" and "The Howling," that I thought were pretty awful. On the other hand, I was surprised at how much I liked "Battle Beyond the Stars," "The Fourth Man," and "Yentl." I expected, and was consistently happy to spot younger versions of familiar faces in many films - Benicio Del Toro playing a henchman in "License to Kill," David Strathairn cat-hissing at people in "Brother From Another Planet," and Michael McKean up to no good in "Used Cars." What I wasn't prepared for were the resurrections. One of the first titles I watched was Steven Spielberg's "Awakenings" from 1989. It was a mediocre film, but I was absolutely bowled over at the sight of Audrey Hepburn, as lovely as ever, in her last film appearance as an angel. And then came Sammy David Jr. and Dean Martin (and Jackie Chan!) in "Cannonball Run." And then Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda in "On Golden Pond."

The stars were very differently aligned thirty years ago. I expected to be watching a lot of Burt Reynolds movies, since he'd topped the charts for most of the early eighties. Instead, I found myself watching a lot of Steve Martin movies: "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," "Pennies From Heaven," "All of Me," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," and "Parenthood." Other recurring faces included Nicholas Cage, Michael Caine, Kurt Russell, Jeff Bridges, Diana Scarwid, Melanie Griffiths, and Karen Allen. I should note that my viewing choices were influenced by my efforts to find titles that I suspected might have fallen into my cinematic blind spots, and I looked to Icheckmovies lists for suggestions. While I did watch the obvious classics like "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Gallipoli," and the infamous stuff like "Cannibal Holocaust," and "Cruising," I also wandered off the beaten path for auteurist titles like Ann Hui's "Boat People," Carlos Saura's "Bodas de Sangre," and Peter Greenaway's "The Falls." I was also more likely to pick movies from directors I knew, especially their debuts, like Luc Besosn's "Le Dernier Combat," Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It," and Wayne Wang's "Chan is Missing."

Getting lost in the '80s was a nice change of pace from modern films. While the auteur age was over, the era wasn't nearly as crassly commercial as critics liked to make out. The pace of filmmaking was slower, ordinary people were generally seen in much more rural environments, and there was more care and attention given to human dramas and romances. I found the 1988 film "The Accidental Tourist" with William Hurt and Geena Davis a real slog, but I was impressed that such a mature, even-handed romantic film had found success with audiences at the time. Vietnam was still on everyone's mind, and I kept coming across film after film that either referenced the war directly ("Birdy," "Cutter's Way," "The Ninth Configuration") or indirectly ("Southern Comfort," "Breaker Morant.") And there absolutely were brilliant, daring, original films being made. Some of my favorites include "Pennies From Heaven," "Coal Miner's Daughter," Jerzy Skolimowski's "Moonlighting," "Sid and Nancy," and "The Mission." But more on that in a few months.

I ran into trouble a few times trying to find certain movies, but I never ran short of titles to watch. I'm leaving the '80s for now, to start digging into the '70s, but I'll surely be back. Though there were a few that I regretted sitting through, like "The Star Chamber," I managed to take something interesting away from just about every movie. My biggest complaint is really with the quality of some of the prints and the videos that I watched. Several of these films are in desperate need of restorations, or just decent releases. There's an awful lot of good cinema to rediscover and enjoy.

And the final tally:


The Ninth Configuration
Cannibal Holocaust
Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers
The Gods Must Be Crazy
Coal Miner's Daughter
Forbidden Zone
Battle Beyond the Stars
Dressed to Kill
Breaker Morant
Melvin and Howard
Used Cars
The Falls


The Howling
The Cannonball Run
For Your Eyes Only
Southern Comfort
Vernon, Florida
On Golden Pond
Absence of Malice
Pennies from Heaven
Modern Romance
Bodas de Sangre
Prince of the City
Cutter's Way
Mommie Dearest


Chan is Missing
The Atomic Cafe
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid
An Officer and a Gentleman
My Favorite Year
The World According to Garp
Boat People
Le Beau Mariage
The Year of Living Dangerously
Un Chanbre en Ville


The Keep
Never Say Never Again
Risky Business
Sudden Impact
The Dresser
Rumble Fish
The Star Chamber
The Fourth Man
Le Dernier Combat


All of Me
The Brother From Another Planet
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
A Soldier's Story
Stop Making Sense
Places in the Heart
A Passage to India
Body Double


A View to a Kill


Peggy Sue Got Married
The Mission
Sid and Nancy
She's Gotta Have It
Ruthless People


The Living Daylights


Working Girl
Mississippi Burning
The Accidental Tourist
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels


Dead Calm
Drugstore Cowboy
License to Kill
The Fabulous Baker Boys


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Podcast Recommendations 2016

Here are a couple more podcast recommendations I didn't want to put off for too long, as some of these have turned out to be distressingly finite. Television is terribly underrepresented here, as I'm still searching for a replacement for "Firewall & Iceberg" with no success, though I take comfort in reading Alan Sepinwall's recaps regularly. The picks this time include two review podcasts, a retrospective show, and some "Game of Thrones." Enjoy

The Next Picture Show Podcast - I completely missed the Dissolve website's podcast, which I kept putting off until the site was gone and it was too late. Fortunately, several of the site's critics, Keith Phipps, Tasha Robinson, Scott Tobias and Genevieve Koski, launched a new podcast, The Next Picture Show, as a way too keep in touch with a joint project. It's technically a spinoff of the long-running Filmspotting podcast, and uses some similar bits of their format. Next Picture Show, however, has installments that use a two-part structure, pairing a new release with a related classic film. So far, pairings have included discussing "Spotlight" with "All the President's Men," "10 Cloverfield Lane" with "Assault on Precinct 13," and the old "Ghostbusters" with the new "Ghostbusters." The discussions have been great, but the podcast is still going through some growing pains with an irregular schedule and some technical issues. I'm absolutely rooting for its success.

Junkfood Cinema - I really missed C. Robert Cargill after he left to go and become a big shot novelist and Hollywood screenwriter. However, he and fellow Spill alumnus Brian Salisbury have since teamed up for the Junkfood Cinema podcast, a tribute to their favorite older genre movies, stars, and filmmakers. On each episode, they just talk about movies, sometimes related to a particular theme, like "Die Hard" knockoffs, or mostly just for their own sake. It's a complete fanboy love fest, intended to bring more attention to older films that have fallen into obscurity. The hosts are very easy to listen to, and I've picked up some good recommendations from them, especially as I've been digging into '80s cinema this year. Junkfood Cinema is hosted by the Filmschoolrejects website.

The Double Toasted Movie Review Extravaganza - While we're on the subject of, I want to send some more love to Korey Coleman and Martin Thomas, more Spill refugees who started the Double Toasted website and have been continuing their podcasting in a similar format to what they did on the old site, except without the pseudonyms and cartoon avatars. Yes, now you can watch Korey and friends rant against bad movies in real time and real life. The Movie Review Extravaganza is the site's weekly movie review show, often presented in multiple parts over several days. Several new voices have joined the cast of characters, including a second reviewer named Korey for the movie reviews. One change that I really appreciate is that reviews for individual films are excerpted from the main show, and posted separately a few days later, for the listener's convenience.

Cast of Kings - Finally, this is awfully niche, but I've now been listening to the "Game of Thrones" podcast "Cast of Kings" for four seasons, and it's about time they got a shout-out here. /Film's David Chen and Vanity Fair's Johanna Robinson host an aftershow podcast, discussing each episode the day after it premieres on HBO. Johanna has read the books and Dave hasn't, so we get perspectives from both types of fan. There are a lot of these podcasts out there, but I like "Cast of Kings" for the hosts' rapport, the way they handle talking about fan speculation, marketing, and controversies, and that nobody is scared about voicing unpopular opinions. And with a fanbase as rabid as the one around "Game of Thrones," that's no small accomplishment. I'm hoping that when the podcast inevitably ends in 2018, the hosts will move on to more podcasts in the same vein.

Also, I want to give a quick plug to the /Fimcast podcast, which I previously wrote about in 2011. It has drastically improved since Jeff Cannata became the third host back in 2014. It was perfectly fine before, but Cannata's personality just adds so much that I honestly can't picture the show without him on it anymore.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

My Top Ten Films of 2003

This is part of my continuing series looking back on films from before I began this blog. The ten films below are unranked and listed in no particular order. Enjoy.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring - The cycle of human life is juxtaposed with spiritual lessons tied to the natural world. Buddhist teachings are at the heart of the film, but prove to be no guard against the fallibility of our main characters, an elderly monk and his impetuous novice. It's the pace of the film that makes it so memorable, its patience and its matter-of-factness in relaying each step of the multi-decade journey as it unfolds.

The Triplets of Belleville - Nobody else makes films that look like Sylvain Chomet's, with their wildly exaggerated characters and darkly humorous stories. "Triplets" feels the most reflective of his personal style, with its many sight gags, silly plot, and the appealing oddity of its heroes. Best of all, it's absolutely uncompromising in its use of painstaking traditional animation, almost totally visual storytelling, and rejection of political correctness.

Whale Rider - A coming-of-age story that pits a young girl against her stubborn, traditionalist Maori grandfather. The performances of Keisha Castle-Hughes and Rawiri Paratene are excellent, keeping both sides sympathetic, and the portrayal of the fading Maori community is careful and considered. This is the kind of wistful, hopeful, and ever-so-slightly magical film I wish I had seen when I was young enough to really take its messages to heart.

American Splendor - The eventful life of writer Harvey Pekar is brought to the screen through appropriately meta dramatic recreations, with regular fourth wall breaking and commentary from the actual Harvey Pekar and his wife. Paul Giamatti handily embodies the schlubby American everyman, and the directing team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman have no difficulty capturing both the mundanity and the beauty of his world.

Lost in Translation - It's the tone of the film that makes it work, the strangeness of being stuck thousands of miles from home in an alien place, disconnected from everyone and everything around you. Eventually, though, the jet lag wears off, and tentative connections are made. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson turn in humorous, touching performances as they wander their hotel, and eventually the dreamlike Tokyo cityscape together.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World - Meticulously recreates the Napoleonic era of and maritime warfare to an astonishing degree, resulting in an unusually immersive cinematic experience. The action and battle sequences are especially strong, full of grand scale spectacle achieved with almost entirely practical effects and stunts. Russell Crowe also delivers what may be his best performance to date as Captain Aubrey.

Oldboy - I had a very difficult time getting me head around this one, but I have to admit that the movie brilliant in its own demented, misanthropic way. It hums with energy, as Oh Dae-su struggles to unravel the mystery of his imprisonment, resorting to devastating violence when he must. What initially threw me was how little sense the plot made, especially the villain's scheme, but to the lunatic characters caught in the web, that may be exactly the point.

Dogville - My first encounter with Lars Von Trier, which I still find fascinating to this day. Presented as a critique of the American way of life, the highly stylized film reveals the savagery of a small town hidden under its veneer of civility. It's extremely difficult to watch, due to its length, subject matter, and unblinking portrayal of all the abuse heaped upon the heroine. Ultimately the film says more about its director than the troubled society it's criticizing.

Capturing the Friedmans - One of the most memorable "true crime" documentaries ever made offers plenty of facts and insights, but few answers about the actual culpability of the accused. The home video POV allows us not only an intense view of a witch hunt as it unfolds, but also to examine the Friedman family's dynamics up close. It has lost some impact over time, largely because of how many other subsequent documentaries have been influenced by it.

The Station Agent - Tom McCarthy's directing debut was also the major breakthrough for Peter Dinklage. Like most of McCarthy's films, it's about a small group of strangers who become friends through chance encounters and form a makeshift family. It's the quiet, low key atmosphere and the chemistry of the cast that give this so much charm. Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale all do great work humanizing their trio of lonely souls.

Honorable Mentions

Love Actually
Tokyo Godfathers
The Five Obstructions
Kill Bill Vol: 1
A Mighty Wind
Good Bye Lenin!
Touching the Void


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Stopping in at "The Good Place"

Minor spoilers for the pilot episode ahead.

I'm not going to be doing too many review of new shows, but there were a few that piqued my interest enough to check out. I watched four episodes of NBC's new sitcom, "The Good Place," starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson as denizens of the afterlife. So far it's very weird, existential, entertaining stuff.

Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, who finds herself in a neighborhood of The Good Place after her death. Ten Danson plays Michael, an affable, bow-tied guide who reassures her that she's one of the few who did enough good during her lifetime to win a spot there, and not be sent to The Bad Place like everyone else for eternity. Eleanor discovers perks of being in The Good Place include being united with her soul mate Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a West African ethics professor, access to Janet (D'Arcy Carden), an on-call personal assistant, and endless frozen yogurt. Unfortunately, Eleanor quickly realizes that Michael has made a mistake, and she's not the do-gooder he thinks she is. Even worse, her presence in The Good Place seems to threaten its existence. Desperate not to be sent to The Bad Place, Eleanor enlists Chidi to help her learn to be a good person, and to get along with new neighbors Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jianyu (Manny Jacinto).

"The Good Place" was created by Michael Schur, a veteran of "Parks & Rec" and "Brooklyn Nine Nine." It's really impressive how well the show ties a very high concept premise to the interpersonal dynamics of a small group of regulars. The Good Place is a fantasyland where anything can happen, where the visuals are whimsical, and the impossible is commonplace. However, the characters are very real, and the dilemmas they face are very real. Kristen Bell is a big reason the show maintains just the right tone - she's a selfish, inconsiderate, infuriating person - but in a very relatable way. And while the do-gooders like Tahani and Chidi might be very admirable for what they accomplished, they also have their not-so-insignificant flaws. Then there's Michael, a big, goofy, not-human idealist who seems to have all the powers in the universe, but Eleanor's neighborhood is revealed to be only his first solo assignment by whoever is running things upstairs.

And who is running things upstairs? And what is The Bad Place really like? The first four episodes have already slowly started chipping away at some of these mysteries, each ending with a minor cliffhanger. The show is so watchable because there's clearly a bigger story unfolding in addition to Eleanor's moral lessons of the week. While watching Kristen Bell try to talk her way out of sticky situations is always fun, I was so happy to discover that Eleanor's efforts to be a good person, with Michael's wacky hijinks as a B plot, wouldn't be the standard template for every episode. It's still very early in the season, and a lot of shoes that haven't been dropped yet, so who knows what the show is actually going to look like by the end of the year?

As with Schur's other sitcoms it's the ensemble that's its biggest selling point. It's calculatedly multiethnic, but intelligently so, and helps drive home the point that you can't judge people by first impressions. Bell and Harper are my favorites currently, squabbling over the finer points of moral behavior, but it's part of the show's DNA that new facets of the characters keep being revealed, and everyone is less perfect than they appear, so I'm not going to say anything definitive about any of the performances yet. However, with only five real regulars in the mix so far, the cast could do with some expanding. Then again, since the show is pretty free-form, there's plenty of places the series could go simply doing things like digging into everyone's past lives, a la "Lost."

While the show's visuals are a lot of fun, presenting a cheerful paradise full of bright pastels and silly puns, that reminds me a bit of "Pushing Daisies." I expect that we won't see much more of the expensive CGI eye-candy from the pilot, though. And frankly, the writing is good enough that it doesn't need them. The fundamental worldbuilding is so nicely thought out, with little details like curse words being automatically replaced with benign alternatives, and Michael unable to resist fiddling with the universe and the lives of his charges. And while all of the cast may not be fully revved up yet, they're clearly getting there quickly.

I expect I'll be seeing "The Good Place" through at least the first season.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Holding "The Nice Guys" at Arm's Length

I consider myself a fan of Shane Black and of "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" in particular. So I'm very reluctant to tell you that "The Nice Guys," which closely resembles "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," and is the most uncompromisingly original film I've seen all summer, left me with mixed feelings. It's got a lot of great things in it, and I expect that those who have liked Black's other films will have a fun time. But for me, this particular mix of Black's writing, the performances, and the '70s LA detective neo-noir elements just didn't come together quite right this time.

The opening scene encapsulates my problems with the whole film. One night in 1977, a boy played by Ty Simpkins sneaks a look at a nudie magazine. Moments later, he witnesses a terrible car crash where a nude woman (Murielle Telio) dies, while splayed out in a bloody cheesecake pose. it's a disturbing image, one that sours the playful naughtiness of the film's opening moments. "The Nice Guys" keeps doing this throughout. For the most part it's a light, funny buddy comedy about a bored, directionless enforcer for hire, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) who crosses paths with a private investigator, Holland March (Ryan Gosling). Holland has been a mess since the death of his wife left him a single father to bright, thirteen year-old Holly (Angourie Rice). Both men are looking for a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) for different reasons.

The trouble comes when the movie keeps dipping into darker, sleazier territory involving pornography and vice. This isn't unfamiliar ground for a Shane Black movie, but with guileless Holly tagging along to the adult entertainment stars' parties and Holland being a little too much of a walking mess around her, it gets really uncomfortable to watch in a hurry. Also, frankly, the twists and turns of the plotting make absolutely no sense. When you go back and track exactly what Amelia's plan was, it's ridiculous, and not in a good way. "The Nice Guys" doesn't work very well as a murder mystery, which undercuts a lot of what's going on in the rest of the movie. I also found both of the leads oddly underwritten. The performances are fine - and in the case of Ryan Gosling more than fine - but both of these poor schlubs feel like echoes of Black's earlier, better characters.

Thankfully what does work is the humor. It is so much fun watching Holland and Jackson bumble their way into and out of all kinds of trouble. The little subversions of common action movie tropes are especially gleeful - Holland is constantly injuring himself trying to do the usual cool badass maneuvers, and even loses a fight to a bathroom stall door. Ryan Gosling is hysterical throughout, with absolutely no fear of making himself look like an idiot. Extra points for the recurring girly screams. Russell Crowe, by contrast, is mostly playing straight man, but he's got good chemistry with both Gosling and precocious little Angourie Rice. There's also a good collection of minor characters. Matt Bomer shows up as a stone-faced hitman, Kim Basinger plays a Department of Justice suit, with Yaya DaCosta as her assistant, and Beau Knapp and Keith David get to be the sinister goons.

Honestly, I'm really tempted to give this one a pass because there's so much in the film that I like - the weird jaunts into fantasy, the fantastic fight and chase sequences, the colorful recreations of 1970s Los Angeles, and especially the smarter bits of dialogue. And then I think about those scenes of Holly and Jackson interacting, that are supposed to be the heartwarming center of the film emotionally, and assure us that the "nice guys" really are heroes inside. They simply do not work, at least not in the context of the movie surrounding them. It seems so petty of me to get stuck on this, because so much else in the film does work, but if the basic underpinnings of the story are faulty, the whole movie suffers. Somewhere there's a darker, grittier version of "The Nice Guys" and there's a lighter, more comedic version of "The Nice Guys," and I suspect both of them would be better than what ended up onscreen.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Yes, You Can Remake an Animated Film

I've been following the development of Disney's live-action adaptations of their animated films for a while now. Nearly all of the old classics were being revisited in one form or another, but I had mentally put aside the films that primarily featured animal characters like "Bambi," "Lady and the Tramp," and "Oliver & Company." I didn't really take the reports of Tim Burton working on a "Dumbo" movie seriously. Well, now comes the news that Jon Favreau will be directing a CGI version of "The Lion King," probably in the same style as his version of "The Jungle Book." It makes sense, as "The Lion King" was Disney's highest grossing film for ages, and we're in the thick of '90s nostalgia.

However, there are some significant differences between "The Jungle Book" and "The Lion King." First, "The Lion King" is an original Disney property, not based on anything else. There's no original book or fairy tale to go back to for additional material. Secondly, unlike all of the other adaptations up to this point, "The Lion King" has no humans, so it's going to be a primarily animated film. The characters might be rendered with photorealistic CGI, and they might use real world locations for settings, but there's not likely to be much live action in this adaptation. "The Jungle Book" was shot entirely on green screen sound stages in Los Angeles. "The Lion King" isn't even going to need a physical set.

I've touched on this topic before, wondering whether "Shrek" would get a reboot since his franchise went on hiatus several years ago. A big barrier to animated films being remade is that they tend to age very well, and kids don't usually care if they're several decades old. I watched many of the same cartoons that my parents and grandparents did. And with a company like Disney, that has heavily depended on the longevity of their animated classics in the past, they understandably want to avoid competing with their own products. The live-action adaptations they've made so far of their animated films have been very distinct from the originals. "The Jungle Book" has an entirely different ending. "Maleficent" only has one scene in common with "Sleeping Beauty." "Cinderella" barely takes anything from the animated film, aside from a few references to the cartoon mice. The change in medium has also been emphasized for some of the films, allowing Disney to use their technological innovations as a selling point.

There were some rumors a few years ago about some the traditionally animated Disney films being remade as CGI animated films, which never happened. I'm sure that they considered it, especially after the "Special Edition" rereleases that we got in 2002 and 2003 for "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" that had partial conversion to 3D for IMAX. My guess is that there simply wasn't enough of a difference between the two styles of animation for Disney's comfort. However, it looks like there is enough of a distinction between hand-drawn animation and the photorealistic mo-capped animation used in "The Jungle Book" for the studio to agree to move forward. Having recently watched both versions of "The Jungle Book," I'm inclined to agree. Thanks to some clever writing and good visuals, at no point during the 2016 "Jungle Book" did I find myself missing the 1967 version, or drawing too many direct comparisons. More than the animation, the tone of the new film was completely different.

So the new "Lion King" is probably going the same route. It will be sold as a visual spectacle first and foremost, with a cast full of celebrities, and aimed slightly older than the original. We'll probably get one or two of the songs reimagined, but the film will be more action-oriented than a musical. That means the filmmakers are going to have to come up with more story to fill in the extra time, which will be a challenge. Despite the rumored influence of "Hamlet" and "Kimba the White Lion," "The Lion King" is a pure Disney creation. Since the original film is still relatively recent, I wondered if some of the original talent might return. It's hard to think of anyone but James Earl Jones voicing Mufasa, for instance. But looking at Bill Condon's upcoming "Beauty and the Beast" adaptation, this seems unlikely. The only familiar name is Alan Menken, who has a music credit.

So, in the end, am I looking forward to the new Jon Favreau "Lion King"? I don't know. I've liked pretty much all of the recent live-action Disney remakes, aside from "Maleficent." I was surprised how well "The Jungle Book" worked, and I'm sure Favreau will do a great job with "The Lion King." However, "The Lion King" wasn't one of my favorites as a kid. I watched it so often because it was my mother's favorite. Maybe that makes me a more receptive potential viewer for the remake, though, because I know that there's definitely room for improvement.