As soon as we left our screening, my friend turned to me in the car and said, “I feel like we both just went on a Disneyland dark ride, where it’s pretty but it’s all really fast and doesn’t really tell the story of the movie that well. It ended and I’m just like, ‘how did we get here?'”
To me, that accurately describes the experience of watching The Lion King (2019), the hyperrealistic remains of the golden age Disney animation. A remake that evokes the feeling of an unknown stranger breaking into your home to move the furniture just a little bit; enough to gaslight you into thinking everything is cozy and familiar and then you trip over a misplaced carpet. Everything about the movie is exactly the same save for minorly altered scenes, and the story is told infinitely worse— a collection of numbingly boring and non-emotive Kingdom Hearts cutscenes stitched together to make up a two-hour piece of content. Modern Disney remakes have always struggled with justifying their motive to reimagine these beloved classics, and even though I have criticized many of these blockbusters for their lack of new perspective or artistic flair in the past, not a single one tries as little as The Lion King (2019) does.
Believe it or not, we are halfway through 2019. We’ve seen Brie Larson kick ass as Captain Marvel, we’ve witnessed the end of an era with Avengers: End Game, Julia Hart gave us a new kind of superhero film in Fast Color, Ari Aster has scarred us all with Midsommar, and Olivia Wilde has given us the teen comedy we’ve been waiting for with Booksmart. It’s already been a wild year for film, and we still have five months left. With that in mind, here is Much Ado’s favorite films of 2019 so far and why we love them.
Booksmart, dir. Olivia Wilde
‘The night to end all nights’ is a tagline often found attached to tales of raucous frat bros, to the pursuit of the loss of their virginities, and to their final evening of partying, which comes just before the dawn of adulthood. Rarely, in teen comedies that revolve around sex and physical frankness, is said semi-mythical night centered on two rather awkward high school girls. More often than not, it has been the boys in Superbad and American Pie that have not only been permitted but openly encouraged to discuss their sexual desires, appetites, and experiences without so much as a hint of a blush on their cheeks. In Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, this kind of agency is transferred from the obnoxious characters found in the aforementioned teen classics and awarded to Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein): two friends on the eve of high school graduation, for whom discussion of Malala Yousafzai and intersectional feminism sits as comfortably in conversation as the topic of masturbation. After realising that they have spent their entire adolescence burying their heads in their studies — in a fruitless attempt to gain the upper hand over their popular peers in search of places at prestigious universities — Molly and Amy decide that they must embark on the wildest evening of all if they are to truly ‘experience’ teenage-hood. And thus, absurdity, wild goose chases, and chaotic sexual encounters ensue.
To be totally candid here, it’s difficult to separate my thoughts on Far From Home as a film and my thoughts on it as a die-hard Spider-Man fan. Since the MCU is progressively becoming less stand-alone, I feel it is necessary to give my thoughts on previous entries. Homecoming remains my favorite Spider-Man film, and I am lukewarm at best towards Avengers: Endgame, and if you’re not a fan of either, if you dislike the MCU’s interpretation of Spider-Man, then Far From Home will do very little to change your mind. What we’re dealing with here, is a new, modernized re-interpretation of Peter Parker/Spider-Man instead of a definitive version of the character; the sooner you accept that, the better. You will also read me clarifying “live-action” when I make any bold claims because Into the Spider-Verse still remains the best Spider-Man film and possibly the best comic book film ever.
I argue this mainly because Far From Home follows Peter Parker in a far different mindset than one would normally expect from him. This is a young, sixteen-year-old Peter that has gone through an enormous amount of trauma from the last two Avengers movies, and in the aftermath, has developed an exhaustion with superheroism; a Spider-Man that has a lot to learn about maturity, responsibility and a lot of emotional baggage to sort through. Jaded with the weight of Iron Man’s passing, Peter (Tom Holland) decides he wants to take a break; to go on his summer field trip in Europe with his classmates and pursue a romance with MJ (Zendaya). Along the way, he runs into Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and a mysterious… Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the balance between being Spider-Man and being Peter Parker becomes an even more complicated weight to burden.
Pixar’s sequelitis phase comes to an end with Toy Story 4, possibly the most worrisome sequel of all. Not only do you have the pressure of following up Toy Story 3, the most respected bookend to a nearly-perfect animated trilogy, but it is the newest sequel in a chain of “generally enjoyed but lacking long term impact” sequels from a studio that is lauded for its originality. It also marks the feature-length debut of director Josh Cooley. Greenlighting this film was like opening Pandora’s box, for once you create another addition to this story, the reputation and concept of creative integrity of the brand hangs in the film’s response. It’s a scary, extremely tall order to fill. Luckily, while Toy Story 4 will never quite shake off the label of “the sequel we never asked for,” it still manages to charm, delight, but most importantly, find a way to take its concept to infinity and beyond. And in this summer movie slump, I’ll gladly accept it as a knockout.
Toy Story 4 kicks off with a cold open: the formerly off-screen separation of Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo-Peep (Annie Potts) right before moving onto where we left off at the last film—Bonnie and the toys playing throughout the years until her student orientation at kindergarten. Woody, feeling not as relevant with his new owner as he did with Andy, decides to keep a watch on Bonnie on her first day. She creates Forky, a spork with googly eyes and a young mind haunted with existential terror, and Woody is determined to keep him safe through Bonnie’s summer road-trip. When a stop is made in a small town with a carnival and an old antique store, some old friends and flames come back to offer a new perspective of the past, of toy responsibilities, and when to move on. The Toy Story franchise has never been a stranger to themes of identity, but this is a deeper and even bigger step in interrogating what greater purpose toys (and/or, we) have in life.
Talking about Bohemian Rhapsody when discussing Rocketman, unfortunately, feels inevitable. Both are music biopics, both showcase extraordinary, proudly flamboyant gay icons from the 70s, and both launching relatively fresh-faced talent in their leading roles. I want to get it out of the way here, Rocketman easily puts Bohemian to shame, though that’s not a very high bar to pass. It’s more productive to focus on what Rocketman strives to be, what it fails to achieve, and what leaves to be desired as its own film. However, the music biopic genre is rigid and formulaic in general; so it would be helpful to use Bohemian, the most highly praised cookie cutter music biopic of them all, as a reference for the limitations of the genre.
Rocketman is the story of the legendary Elton John; singer, songwriter, gay, fashion icon with a troubled childhood. Directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton as our titular Rocketman, this movie is based on a ‘true fantasy’ of music stardom. What sets this film apart from all the other music biopics on the shelf is the ‘true fantasy’ angle, which consistently is the best part of the film’s two-hour runtime. Breaking the formula are surrealist musical sequences and setpieces, which are loud and bright and expressive just as Elton John himself. The concept of itself seems brilliant on paper: let’s make a film that is just as over-the-top as the man it’s based on. Unfortunately, while the movie makes a valiant effort to revitalize some life into the music biopic, there are far too many genre constraints holding Rocketman from being a true home-run.
If you’ve seen the original 1992 Aladdin, which is probably most of the people who are reading this, then you know that this new remake has some big shoes to fill. Most likely, we all have the same exact reason why— the late Robin Williams simply makes Aladdin what it is. I rewatched the original just the other day, and I was only mildly enjoying it until Genie lit up the screen with his big, blue energetic personality, taking in the ‘Friend Like Me’ number in all its technicolor glory, I fully remembered why the 2D-animated film was so cherished. Though, even in its original form, there’s a lot that is problematic with Disney’s take on Aladdin, from the ethnic hodgepodge of cultural tourism to the pop culture references that keep it from transcending the early 90s release date. But, one special quality that made the film stand out from a well-established canon of fairytales, was Williams as Genie, and his raw sincerity.
And how could this remake ever recapture that spirit? Well, it simply doesn’t. I don’t think anyone truly expected it would. We know the story of Aladdin, the titular underdog street rat with a heart of gold, who learns the importance of staying true to oneself as he wishes on a magic lamp for a more extravagant life with Princess Jasmine. I’ll save the spiel. Although, I wish Walt Disney Studios would also give us the same amount of faith in our intelligence. Instead, we’re presented with a passionless retelling of the original Aladdin, the same, general, basic plot beats with only minor alterations (hold on, Genie fucks?!) that don’t seem to add anything besides runtime. Director Guy Ritchie does make sense for a more action/adventure based Disney story, but his directorial influence is only hinted at in small sequences of spectacle. So, we’re left with a question often raised whenever a new one of these remakes release, but seriously, what’s the point?
This article contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.
It’s been over a year since I’ve witnessed Gamora, one of the most strong-willed women of the Marvel universe, die by the hands of her own abuser.
I know that Avengers: Endgame is a three-hour film with an ungodly amount of baggage to sort through. I know that not only were directors Anthony and Joe Russo challenged with crafting a satisfying conclusion for our original six Avengers, but they were also tasked with forging a new direction for all other characters within the 22 movie franchise, post the aftermath of the cosmic-shattering events of Infinity War. Knowing all this to be true, and all that was at stake, I entered the theater aware that there was no possible way all of the Marvel fan community, with their own favorite characters and unique emotional investments, could realistically walk out of Endgame fully pleased with what they had watched; and yet, despite knowing all of this, even despite enjoying most of what I saw in Endgame, I’ve still had a festering, empty feeling in my heart over one character: Gamora.
I am aware that I will always carry a bias here. The Guardians of the Galaxy movies mean a lot to me. I love how over the top they are, from their nostalgic needle drops to their sometimes overbearing amounts of sentimentality. I love that they are two calculated, messy movies about scarred and lonely people full of regret, who realize that they are stronger together and that there is a greater meaning of life in the family connection they choose in each other. I’ll save you the specific details, but as someone with a messy relationship with my own blood family, and as someone who’s strongest emotional connections are amongst friends from all sorts of different places, these themes especially ring true. Gunn’s two Guardians films often pass boundaries (i.e. “green whore” line from Drax in Vol. 1, or the many jokes about severed limbs from Rocket) but despite all of that, they’re always being told from a place of sincerity and genuine growth that has struck a chord with me since seeing them on their opening weekends.