THE CIRCLE OF MOVIE LIFE – Rich Paschall

The Lion King, a review, Rich Paschall

In the world of the Disney movie magic, what goes around will go around again. This is especially true for the beloved animated classics. You may have noticed this by their calculated re-release program.

Disney has employed what is is known as the Vault program. When they released a movie for video sales, first by VHS and then DVD and BluRay, it was limited in nature. The very fact that it was limited created an instant demand. When it was gone, it was gone forever.  OK, it was not really gone. Every 7 to 10 years they would bring it out of the vault, so to speak, for another limited release. There could be Gold editions, anniversary editions, Platinum editions. There might be interviews and other bonus material included. Each would be different and therefore the Disney fanatic would need the next version of something they already owned.

Original Snow White

Consider Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, one of Disney’s oldest and most endearing classics. It was released in 1937 and re-released in 1944. The success of the re-release set the precedent for what would be crafted into the Disney Vault Program. Snow White came around for a visit in theaters again in 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1993. In this time period, something wonderful happened for Mouseland. The VHS player became standard home equipment.

In October 1994 Snow White appeared in homes on VHS. She was also released on the short-lived LaserDisc format. Seven years later it was the Platinum edition on VHS and also on DVD. In 2009 it was the Diamond Edition with two discs on DVD and BluRay. What could be better than a Diamond Edition? The Signature Edition!

The Signature Edition came out on BluRay in 2016. Disney must have felt that they were missing out on a big piece of the audience and released a different Signature Edition on standard DVD in 2017.  In between all of these you can find some foreign language releases for other countries. Is a live version coming soon? What do you think?

Among the many Disney animated classics is The Lion King. The 1994 release is the 11th highest-grossing animated film of all time. What’s number 1? Hang on by your claws for a moment. We’ll get there.

Lion King was released on VHS and laserdisc in 1995 in various editions after its spectacular run in the theaters. Those editions were gone in a few years and into the vault went the King. Before he could come back to the home video market, The Lion King returned to the theater in standard and IMAX release in 2002. The following year saw various editions for VHS and DVD.

In 2011 the King came to life in a 3D theatrical release followed a few weeks later by BluRay release including 3D. The Signature Collection release came out in 2017 on HD Digital, DVD and BluRay. If you thought all bases were covered, think again. The Lion King was so popular, he came out again in 2018 in Ultra HD BluRay and 4K digital download.

You may think you don’t need any of these various Lion King media presentations.  You can stream it on Hulu or Netflix. But the Mouse King has a surprise for you. Disney bought a controlling interest in Hulu and has bought their way out of the Netflix agreement.  Why end the Lion King’s reign in the streaming world? Did you really think the King was going to run away to another land? Just like Simba, the film will return because Disney will soon have their own streaming service, Disney+.

The Lion King also rules over the Broadway stage. He made it there in 1997 and never left, but I digress. We were talking about movies, weren’t we?

This year we received the live action version. OK, it’s live action if you believe those animals are really singing and dancing. Disney has employed CGI (Computered Generated Imagery) to make a realistic looking version of The Lion King. This sort of thing was inevitable. Movies have been using CGI for years. Video games get their realistic look from this remarkable computer wizardry.

The 2019 version of The Lion King is actually an animated remake of the original.  The story is the same. Much of the dialogue is the same. The songs are the same, except they added one more to the mix. Some things are added or lengthened for affect, but you are getting the same story with a new kind of animation.

Simba

The Lion King, Mufasa, from the beginning of the story is the same. Let’s face it, James Earl Jones is so memorable in the role, why get another actor? He is King of the story. All of the other parts have been recast. Some are just as good or at least equal to their 1994 counter parts. Others are not.

Holding up their parts as the Warthog, Pumbaa, and his little friend meerkat, Timon, and Seth Rogan and Billy Eichner. They are the comic relief, which is absolutley needed in light of the darker, more realistic looking, death and fight scenes. While the original performers were great, these guys do quite well.

The villian lion Scar was Jeremy Irons the first time around. This time  it is Chiwetel Ejiofor as the scary one. Ejiofor sounds to me at times like Alan Rickman at his evil best.

Donald Glover does not match Matthew Broderick as Simba. Others fall short of the original all-star cast as well. Critics have not been kind to Beyonce as Nala. We know she is there both to add star power and to sing a song. The part is lengthened to explain exactly how it is Nala found Simba, but the voice work lacks the energy and passion of Moira Kelly as the original.

When you compare the casts, you may wonder why more than James Earl Jones was not retained from the original. In many places they did not do better. The Circle of Life opening is performed by different singers in the two movies, and the 2019 version fails to add the Elton John version to the soundtrack at the end. I think they missed the mark there too.

Still, this is a version worth the time, if only for the stunning visuals. By the way, I promised to mention the number one animated box office hit and here it is: The Lion King 2019.

Sources include: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (video),” disney.fandom.com

 

THE WIND AND THE LION (1975) STARRING CANDICE BERGEN AND SEAN CONNERY – Marilyn Armstrong

wind and lionThe Wind and the Lion is an old-fashioned, romantic adventure tale set in turn of the century Morocco and Washington DC. Parallel stories, an ocean apart, the interlocking of which in many ways foretells the world we live in today.

President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is facing an upcoming election. The nation is not thrilled about his handling of the Panama Canal project and although he is among the most popular presidents in many long years, re-election is anything but certain. Meanwhile, in Morocco, an American woman, Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children are kidnapped by Berber brigand Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli (Sean Connery), triggering a variety of international incidents.

All of this is taking place not long before the opening of the first world war, after which nothing will ever be the same again. All the European powers, as well as the U.S., Japan, Russia, and Turkey,  have their eyes on strategically placed Morocco, headed by a weak sultan who is beset by civil unrest. The Pedecaris incident has given the various nations an opportunity to send in the troops.

And they do. All of them. Including, of course, America.

Meanwhile, out in the desert, there is Mrs. Pedecaris riding with the Berbers.

“You are a great deal of trouble, Mrs. Pedecaris,” says the Raisuli, sounding deliciously like James Bond. Indeed she is.  Ah, but what a woman! My kind of woman, one who will take up a sword and fight — for herself, her children and what is right, by golly.

Out in the desert are the Raisuli and Mrs. Pedicaris. He’s brave, handsome and sits a horse like nobody’s business. And she’s beautiful, fearless and proud. What a pair. I have always thought Candice Bergen among the most beautiful women ever. In this movie, she is magnificent as is Connery. They play off each other wonderfully. I don’t know if you could call Sean Connery, as a Berber Chieftain, exactly believable, but he is stunning. Flashing eyes, sharp tongue. A master of wit and charm.

It was probably the best role Brian Keith ever got too. He is entirely believable as Teddy Roosevelt. I’m ready to vote for him. Why not? At least he was straightforward about wanting the United States to militarily dominate the world and he created the national parks system.

They don’t make’em like that anymore.

The score was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith who used an ensemble including a large percussion section and many Moroccan instruments. The music is haunting and although Jaws composer John Williams won that year’s Oscar, the score for The Wind and the Lion is stunning, possibly Goldsmith’s best; it was one of the American Film Institute’s 250 nominees for top 25 American film scores.

Filmed in Spain where the director, John Milius, had previously filmed his spaghetti westerns (even the scenes set in D.C. were actually shot in Madrid), the cinematography is breathtaking. Broad vistas, magnificent sunsets, deserts and battles on horseback with scimitars at the ready.

The film is accurate and sympathetic to Islam, making it one of the few American movies to become popular in Arab countries. It’s refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t automatically assume the only possible valid religion is Christianity.

When I say romantic, I mean it in the epic sense of the word. It’s a world filled with heroes and heroines who are larger than life. There’s not a superpower among them, but nonetheless, superheroes abound.

It’s a great movie. Without a bit of gore, grit, or gristle. No zombies, chain saws or special effects. No CGI. Just great photography, a delicious script, and terrific acting.

Because that’s what it takes to make a wonderful movie. Everything else is wrapping paper and ribbons.

INHERIT THE WIND (1960) – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Inherit

I can’t hear the word “Inherit” without thinking of “Inherit the Wind,” the Spencer Tracy – Frederic March classic. The movie, although historical, is not the “real” event. A lot of changes were made to give it the kind of tension a movie needs and which are often lacking in ‘real’ life.

Much of the language used in the movies was taken directly from the court’s transcripts. Despite this, there were also significant changes that are inevitable in making movies. It remains one of the great movies of our past and future. Definitely worth watching today — maybe even more than it was in 1960.

From “Inherit the Wind” 1960, Directed by Stanley Kramer, based on actual transcripts of the 1925 Scopes’ “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee, where the teaching of evolution had been banned. As far as I can tell, we are going back there again.

DUMBEST BAD GUY IN THE WEST – Marilyn Armstrong

Open Range (2003) stars Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Abraham Benrubi and a lot of other people, but notably Michael Gambon (Professor Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter) as the stupidest villain in the old west.

Mind you, Open Range isn’t a bad western, as these things go. It’s pretty standard, with a rather better cast than most westerns. All the good clichés are included and the movie builds up to a massive shootout between Duvall and Costner against Gambon and his thugs.

Open Range Poster

Here’s the plot. It contains spoilers, but I feel safe in saying the movie has no surprises, so really, there’s nothing to spoil.

Old West, 1882. “Boss” Spearman (Duvall) is an open range cattleman, who, with hired hands, Charley (Costner), and Mose (Benrubi) (et al), is driving a herd cross-country. Charley, a former soldier who fought in the Civil War, feels guilty over his past as a killer. 

Boss sends Mose to the nearby town of Harmonville for supplies, a town controlled by a ruthless land baron, Denton Baxter. Mose is beaten and jailed by the marshal (owned body and soul by Baxter). The only friendly resident owns the livery stable.

Boss and Charley worry when Mose doesn’t return. The get him out of jail but are warned to not free-graze on Baxter’s land. Mose’s injuries are severe, so Boss and Charley take him to Doc Barlow where they meet Sue Barlow, the doctor’s sister.

Killing and skullduggery follow. Charley and Boss vow to avenge the various murders and injustice. Charley declares his feeling for Sue and she gives him a locket for luck. 

Boss and Charley are pitted against Baxter and his men. A gun battle erupts in the street, with Boss and Charley heavily outnumbered … until the townspeople begin to fight.

It’s a shootout of Biblical proportions. Epic. Costner is the troubled hero, which is just as well because he directed and co-produced the movie. Gambon, a murderous Irish immigrant with a killer brogue, is a brutal tyrant with no compunctions about slaughtering anyone. Everyone. He owns the sheriff, he owns the town. He has a lot of cows, but it’s not enough. It will never be enough.

He is the consummate villain of the old west, an out-of-control, power-mad cattle baron. You just know there’s going to be a lot of killing.

Skipping over the early individual killings to get to the big battle, it’s now the final quarter of the gun battle. It’s a high body count. I’ve lost count and I swear some of the actors died more than once, but maybe it’s just me.

The first seriously stupid bad guy moment comes when Baxter’s ace hired gun stands in front of Costner — who is loaded for bear and hates the son-of-a-bitch — and taunts him. So Costner shoots him through the head. One shot, dead center of his forehead.

I look at Garry and say “Well, what did he think was going to happen?” The fight was on.

A few minutes later, corpses litter the landscape. Heads are exploding right, left, and center. The townsfolk are unhappy about being under the thumb of Baxter, the power-mad cattle baron, but they’re too wimpy and cowardly to do anything about him.

Until asshole Baxter stands up in front of the whole town (they’ve come out to watch the shootout because they don’t have anything else to do) and tells them that as soon as he gets through killing the good guys, he’s going to start killing them.

“All your children will be orphans” he rants.

Say what?

Guess what happens next? Right you are! The townspeople, realizing they have nothing to lose, pick up their guns and start killing Baxter’s men. What a shock.

Costner marries the pretty sister of the doctor. Duvall offloads the cattle. Costner and Duvall take over the saloon and everyone lives happily ever after.

I assume they bury the corpses.

This one gets my vote for the dumbest bad guy in the west. But maybe you know something I don’t know …


AND NOW, HERE’S OUR MODERN VERSION …

If POTUS is the power-mad cattle baron … and “Baxter” is Miller (the gun-crazy killing machine) while the rest of the “crew” are the usual morons with big guns and few brains — are we the cattle?

You could follow the plot almost exactly, just change cities. Just wait for it, wait for it. Dumpf will make one of those speeches … you know, how “he knows everything and only HE CAN FIX IT” — Alex Baldwin could play the role.

Then Costner could shoot him between the eyes. Great ending. Kevin could be president. Why not? Hasn’t he done it before? Pretty sure he did or maybe I’m thinking of Michael Douglas … hard to remember sometimes. And there’s always Morgan Freeman.

Has anyone asked Kevin? His career hasn’t been doing all that well. This might be a terrific piece, proving comedy is hard but worth it. We could have a good, long hysterical laugh. I know I sure would. I’m laughing already.

A COLLAPSING WORLD IN “SAN ANDREAS FAULT” – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Tuesday: Fault

Last night, tired of the endless depressing, appalling, horrible news from around the world, Garry played a movie he had previously recorded.

San Andreas Fault is not merely a disaster film. It is every disaster film you have ever seen in one film. It’s earthquakes that will turn Kansas into the Pacific beach capital of the nation. It’s crashing buildings, towering infernos, the hugest Omigod tsunamis. We get to see the bravest heroes and most craven cowardice.

It’s all there. Everything you can pack into a movie is in this one. From CGI to humor (parts are so bad they are funny) to the end of the world, to the final line we all know is coming.

The crashing bridge

Every cliché from every disaster movie made in the past century are in this film.  I’m pretty sure we’ve seen all of them, but we’d never seen this one before.

I think it was originally filmed in 3D. Everyone said it was drivel, but it made more than $300,000 million at the box office, so clearly drivel sells well.

Crashing cruise ship

It certainly sold well at our house last night. When the intended second husband of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson‘s wife (Carla Gugino)  played by Ioan Gruffudd (aka “The Asshole”) abandons Rock’s daughter to her fate, trapped under fallen cement in a parking garage, it’s no less than you expect from the cowardly CEO of a major corporation.

Hollywood crashing

We know they are cowards because … well …that’s what they always do in the movies, right? Have you ever seen a brave, manly CEO stand up to anyone or anything outside a boardroom? Especially when they are trying to marry the hero’s ex-wife who we all know should be with the hero.

Even though The Hero can’t utter a coherent sentence (and probably hasn’t since he came back from The War) (insert name of war here), he’s a hero (with medals to prove it) and would never run. Not even when a million tons of water and a complete cruise ship is about to fall on his head.

The Rock watching everything crash

Ultimately, the family reconnects. The entire west coast is smoldering ruins covered by about half the Pacific Ocean. There isn’t a bridge, a building … nothing. Total, absolute devastation from Canada to Mexico.

Garry is giggling to himself.  Because he knows. I know. We both know. It’s coming. That final line.

The Rock (who is no longer the Rock), arm around his wife, his daughter  (having been saved by him of course), is gazing over the wreckage of the world and Garry murmurs sotto voce: “Now … we rebuild.”

[Beat. Beat. Beat. Pause about 3 seconds.]

The Rock says: “Now … we rebuild.”

Garry collapses into laughter. The last time he laughed that much was when Trevor Noah had Ben Carson on the show and Trevor did a better Ben Carson than Ben Carson.

Garry was still howling while the credits rolled. It was a perfect ending.

san-andreas-fault-with-dwayne-the-rock-johnson-000

We’d seen the world end. We’d see the best, the bravest. The worst. We’d seen the most depraved cowardice imaginable and in HD wide-screen. In our own living room, no less.

But now, we will rebuild. We have to rebuild … because … SAN ANDREAS 2 is coming! 

As the headline says, this will finally allow The Rock (who no longer calls himself “the Rock”, so you have to call him Dwayne) (it’s a long way from being ‘The Rock’ to being Dwayne) to punch an earthquake.

Then, we will rebuild.

INTOLERANCE: REEL AND REAL – Garry Armstrong

A friend today posted a review on Facebook about the film, “Schindler’s List” which he had just seen for the first time, 25-years after the acclaimed movie’s release. My friend talked about the film’s haunting power, its narrative about one man’s brave quest to save a number of Holocaust victims from death.

It’s based on a true story and Schindler holds a special place in Israel for his efforts.

Charlottesville rally

Stephen Spielberg said he made the film to honor its hero, Oscar Schindler and remember all the Holocaust victims, those who were saved and the many who weren’t.

The film — with current headlines about neo-Nazi and white-supremacist rallies in the United States and elsewhere — feels more relevant than ever. The recent attacks on Synagogues in Pittsburgh and anti-semitic incidents in Massachusetts — leave people wondering: “Have we forgotten?”

Wounds are raw from last year’s ugly Charlottesville KKK rally that claimed one life and left our President issuing comments about “perpetrators on both sides.”  Antisemitism and racism continue to be headline stories more than 75-years after millions gave their lives in a war that should have ended those injustices.

Obviously not. There have been a few “message” movies that deal with those still festering issues which many insist no longer exist. Dissidents say it’s more “fake news” from the liberal media.  So many ostriches with their heads in the sand.

The other night I revisited the movie “Crossfire” which was released by RKO in 1947, the year before the more acclaimed “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was released. This drew public attention and “surprise” about Antisemitism in post-war America.

“Crossfire” is an excellent, understated film about this virulent subject matter. Its director, Edward Dmytryk (a victim of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous “Blacklist) used the plot of a small group of GI’s, just mustered out of the war and trying to fit back into society.

Circa 1955: Studio headshot portrait of Canadian-born film director Edward Dmytryk (1908 – 1999). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

They encounter a friendly civilian at a bar who listens to their complaints about readjustment and offers sympathy where others just tune them out. One of the GI’s — lonely for his wife and exhibiting PTSD symptoms — is befriended by the civilian who invites him home for drinks and quiet conversation.

The other soldiers – uninvited — crowd into the apartment and lap up the booze.  One of them, a very obnoxious vet — sneers at men who avoided combat, who got rich running banks and law practices. He looks at one of his confused pals and yells: “Jews, man! You know those people! They get rich while we fight and die. Jews!”

The civilian referred to as “Sammy,” is tolerant. Veteran actor Sam Levene who played many similar roles is perhaps overly patient with the bigoted GI. This is Robert Ryan in one of his most chilling villain roles.

Robert Ryan

The secondary plot has “Sammy” murdered by one of the GIs. The PTSD soldier is fingered as the suspect but we know better. Robert Young, in a pre “Father Knows Best” role, plays the tough, weary cop who sifts through all the alibis. This is one of Robert Mitchum’s early films. He is excellent as the soft-spoken, no-nonsense veteran who is suspicious of the venomous Ryan character.

Ryan is ultimately outed as he rants about “those people.” He gets what he deserves and is gunned down during a police chase on a rainy New Orleans Street.

The final scene with Young and Mitchum in conversation about Ryan’s demons ends quietly as they go their separate ways, both wondering what World War Two was really all about.

Robert Mitchum

In an early 1970s interview, Robert Mitchum remembered “Crossfire.” He was in Boston shooting “The Friends Of Eddie Coyle,” so I had the good fortune to spend a long afternoon into the evening over drinks with “Mitch.”

In a wide-ranging conversation, Mitchum recalled what it was like working in the 1940s, especially with “The Blacklist” hovering over Hollywood. He said some pals urged him not to do “Crossfire” because it would hurt his career.

“Mitch” grinned at me “You know what that was all about, Don’t ya?”   I nodded.  Mitchum continued, “There were so many hateful bastards —  there were always dissing Negroes (he looked at me and I nodded an ‘okay’) and Jews. They always thought I was with them. I had a few fights and dumped a few jobs because I couldn’t stand the two-faced bastards.”

Robert Mitchum, older portrait

I looked at Mitch and confirmed: “Not much has changed.” He shook his head sadly and ordered another round.

That was almost 50 years ago. No, not much has changed.  Not on the silver screen or in real life.

“BEING THERE” – A MODERN DAY REVIEW – Garry Armstrong

Last night, Marilyn and I watched “Being There.” We hadn’t seen this comedy from 1979 in a long time, probably years. What a difference time has made!

I recall seeing “Being There” when it opened. I enjoyed the farcical Hal Ashby film about a mentally challenged man who somehow influences high and mighty power brokers including our Commander-In-Chief and his aides. It seemed like a Capra-esque flight of fantasy in 1979.  Couldn’t happen in real life. Our political leaders couldn’t be so naïve or vulnerable. We were caught up with Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan. Many laughed at the notion of an actor becoming President.

It wouldn’t happen, we smart folks reasoned with our historical savvy. No way a B-movie actor, revered for his roles as a beloved college football player and pal to a chimp named Bonzo — no way that guy could become the most powerful political figure in the world.  So we smugly thought.

Being There, 1979 poster

Peter Sellers is “Chance.” AKA Chauncey Gardner, a middle-aged gardener. The simple-minded assistant to a wealthy man who dies at the beginning of “Being There.” We don’t know much about Chance except he apparently has the mental capacity of a child. He is a brilliant gardener and likes to watch television. Chance is a sweet-tempered fellow whose world revolves around tending the garden — and watching television. He can’t read or write. He just gardens. And likes to watch …. television.

Chauncey Garden walking through Washington DC

Through a series of farcical plot twists, Chance becomes the house guest of an elderly, dying business tycoon and political king-maker (Melvyn Douglas) and his capricious wife (Shirley MacLaine).  The new benefactors mistake Chance’s observations about gardening as metaphors for Wall Street and fixing what ails our government.

The President (Jack Warden), a close friend of the tycoon, thinks Chance — now accepted as the mysterious Chauncey Gardner — is his benign Henry Kissinger. Chauncey’s garden recipes become talking points for the President’s economic directive.

Peter Sellers & Shirley MacLaine in Being There (1979)

There’s one hilarious scene in the middle of the film where the Black maid who raised Chauncey from infancy — and knows he has “rice pudding between his ears” — rails at her friends and points out that “all you need to become president is to be white.” That was a joke in 1979. Not so funny these days.

In 1979, the movie plot seemed outrageous and outlandish. In those days,  many of us didn’t believe Ronald Reagan could be taken seriously. None of us conceived of him as what we called “a president.” We would have deemed it impossible. I still do.

As “Being There” reaches its conclusion, Melvyn Douglas’ tycoon dies. At the cemetery, as he is laid to rest, the tycoon’s pals and the President’s aides quietly share anxiety about the country’s future. They don’t think the President is strong enough to lead the country out of its economic swamp. There’s a final quiet agreement that only one man can save the country, the man with the savvy garden metaphors, Chauncey Gardner.

Closing scene

The man who would be President is seen wandering through the woods and into a lake, staking his umbrella in the water, perhaps divining a miracle. The end credits roll with outtakes of Peter Sellers laughing his way through many retakes of plays on words.

Marilyn and I laughed as the credits rolled by. Then, we looked at each other. Quietly. Very quietly. Through some bizarre upside-down ill-starred event, during the heart of a perfect political storm, Chauncey Gardner became America’s president after all. Not benign — and definitely not a gardener, yet surely as stupid and illiterate.

A gardener would have been a better choice. At least he could have grown a few roses.