CULTURE

Rihanna's Fenty Show Provokes Muslim Outrage

Rihanna's Fenty lingerie event featured a song that sampled a sacred Islamic verse. I understand why people are upset. I'm upset, too.

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In Islamic culture, anything to do with the prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H. is held sacred.

His image, his habits, and his words must all be regarded with great reverence. And reverence is not what Rihanna's Fenty lingerie show was about–not even a little bit.

But while I understand why many people are upset and offended by the show's sloppy disregard of cultural beliefs, I have to take a step back and look at the whole picture. To me, this is less an example of a corporate entity exploiting an under-represented culture and more like a disastrous case of telephone.

Let's start with the song in question. "Doom" is a 2016 dance/electronic song by British music producer Coucou Chloe. The entire song's hook, chorus, and verses are built around a cropped and sped-up sample of a Hadith (narrated by Mishary bin Rashid Alafasy). For my non-Muslim readers, a Hadith refers to reports of statements or actions of prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H., or of his implied approval or criticism of something said or done in his presence. If this sounds vague and open-ended, that's because it is.

If you really dig into it, there are actually different levels of authenticity to Hadiths; some are regarded with mild skepticism and some are as sacred as the Quran itself. The specific Hadith that's sampled in "Doom" references a conversation between Mohammad P.B.U.H. and his followers, wherein he describes a period of time before the Day of Judgment called Haradge, or, "The Killing." He goes on to describe this Haradge as a period of chaos (or "doom") when you aren't killing your enemies, but killing yourselves: friend killing friend, neighbor killing neighbor, brother killing brother. Frankly, I'm surprised Blumhouse Productions hasn't optioned the rights to this Islamic nightmare yet.

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FILM

The Awkward Racial Undertones of "Maleficent 2"

Who knew xenophobia was routine in Disney movies?

Gifycat

Maleficent 2 really missed the mark with fans, critics, and general movie-goers, bringing in a disappointing $36 million at its box office opening weekend.

All the charm and female empowerment themes from the original seem to be missing in this installment, with Director Joachim Rønning instead opting for a princess-wedding-warfare mess of epic proportions. But where the bloodshed and pageantry fell short, two obtuse colonial narratives emerged: people of color represented as mythical monsters, and the colonizer instigating war against the colonized. It's hard to overemphasize how obtusely this film handles its oppressed people, so let's just dive in.


1. The Marginalized Fairies

Let's start with Maleficent herself. She's a powerful fairy, vilified by the townsfolk, and self-appointed as the protector of the Moors––a mystical forest where all other fairies, tree giants, and assorted mythical creatures live. She's attacked by the Queen and subsequently rescued by a mysterious creature, revealing itself to be a fairy just like Maleficent. They're actually part of a special fairy race called Dark Feys. The Fey once roamed the entire world, inhabiting deserts, jungles, and grasslands, until the warmongering humans drove them underground to live in massive caves below the earth. Now the Fey have lost their lands, their culture, and their prosperity.

As far as the casting and wardrobe choices go, most of the Fey are portrayed by people of color, a smattering of Asian, Black, and Brown folk from myriad colonized diaspora (with the occasional White Fey tucked in the corner, out of focus). Their clothes are awkwardly tribal, mostly consisting of woven animal skins, feathers, and wrapped fabrics resembling buckskin dresses and breechcloths worn by indigenous people of the Americas.

Of all these eccentric characters, we only get to know two names...

The tribal allegories go further, with the Fey communicating to each other through howling, indiscernible chanting, and chest-beating. Tribal drums and guttural shouts accompany every scene with the Feys, and they go so far as to bow down on their hands and knees when honoring a fallen Fey comrade, eerily imitating an Islamic prayer pose (or "downward dog" for you yogis out there). Every character's hair is long or dreadlocked, and as they prepare for battle they lather up with face paint. The only narrative we get for what these people want comes from two comically hackneyed characters: Cornal, played by academy-award winner Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Borra, played by English rapper and actor Ed Skrein.

Apparently Conall is the name of an Irish mythical warrior... so this could have been an even more awkward casting

I won't belabor this point, but basically Cornal is all about making peace with the humans and getting their land back with peace and peacefulness and more peace, and Borra is all about f*cking the humans up. Cornal falls into the "magical Black character" trope pretty quickly, as his whole purpose in the film is to repeatedly save Maleficent from death and reiterate the importance of making peace with the humans for some altruistic reason that's never explained. He sacrifices himself to save her, which is ultimately worthless, since Maleficent proceeds to declare war on the humans alongside Borra, anyway. I really hope Ejiofor got a fat paycheck.

2. The Fascist (aka The Queen)

Ingredients for a compelling villain: white, rich, and xenophobic

If you saw the posters for Maleficent 2, you know Michelle Pfeiffer is in this movie. She plays Queen Ingrith, the mother of Prince Philip, and easily the most dynamic character in the whole film. Her hammy, villain-of-the-week performance is mesmerizing, even if her motives are nothing short of autocratic fascism. In an expository scene with Maleficent's daughter Aurora, Queen Ingrith explains how she considers the Fey "savages" and that leaders who support civility and tolerance are "weak." Her mission is to conduct a fairy genocide so that she can plunder the Moors for its natural resources.

The crux of her scheme is the invention of a weaponized magical powder (from here on to be referred to as a WMP) that evaporates fairies on contact. There's a particularly cruel, drawn-out scene wherein her warlock henchman, played by the esteemed Warwick Davis (who played Filius Flitwick from the Harry Potter franchise), is instructed to murder a fairy with the newly formed powder. We're forced to bear witness as the fairy screams and writhes in terror until the powder hits, disintegrating them into an inanimate flower. Kinda heavy for a Disney movie, right?

Lookit 'em, plotting genocide like it's a last-minute party arrangement

Here are just a few more of Queen Ingrith's excessive tyrannical exploits, which Maleficent 2 seems keen on showing children:

  • She invites all the mythical folk from the Moors to the palace for a royal wedding, where the unassuming fairies are bombarded with the WMPs inside the chapel. We're treated to a close-up of a tree monster's face as it's struck – weeds and vines sprout out of its open eyes and mouth, a belabored sigh escaping as it dies.
  • She catapults WMP bombs at the Fey as they approach the palace, disintegrating them by the hundreds out of the sky. When the Fey reach the walls, imperial soldiers harpoon them with steel grappling hooks and blast them apart with WMP grenades.
  • Queen Ingrith shoots a WMP arrow at Aurora, striking Maleficent as she pulls Aurora aside. Maleficent then disintegrates in Aurora's arms, leaving her to weep in despair (This film is rated PG, by the way).
  • With Maleficent's ashes blowing in the wind, Queen Ingrith explains to Aurora that what makes a great leader: "The ability to instill fear in your subjects, and then use that fear against your enemies." She continues to say that all the murder and carnage she caused was all in the name of the State – I mean, the kingdom of Ulstead.

All of the motivation for Pfieffer's character is so ham-fisted and excessive that I actually enjoyed her performance in spite of myself. With a master plan straight out of Stalin's playbook, mixed with some Hitleresque sentimentality, she made for a comically malevolent villain that the titular Maleficent couldn't even come close to matching.

3. The White Savior Wedding

What every little girl should aspire to have - a wedding ring!

Alright. This is the lamest and most contrived part of the entire movie, and I hate it more than words can describe.

The bloodshed ends when Maleficent gets reincarnated as a Phoenix from Aurora's tears, and literally everyone, human and Fey, stops fighting to look at the giant bird. Prince Philip takes this opportunity to proclaim to everyone (in earshot, I guess?) that Alstead will never attack the Moors again, and from that day forth they will "move forward, and find their way in peace."

All's well that ends well, right? Ha, you wish—you may have forgotten this was a princess movie, but Rønning sure didn't! Aurora belts out that there's going to be a wedding, like right then, and it will be a uniting of two kingdoms (the Moors and Alstead, presumably). Everyone's invited and she pinky promises everybody will be safe. You know, not like the wedding that happened an hour ago where half of her friends and subjects were brutally massacred. This one's gonna be all about peace. And…love, I guess.

Look at how much work went into this wedding sequence. How about a funeral for the murdered fairies??

The best part is the look on everyone's faces, Fey and soldiers both, as confusion and apprehension runs rampant. They have no idea who this lady is. Can you imagine spending hours fighting for your life, and then you immediately have to go to some random girl's wedding? Can't it wait until tomorrow? Apparently not. Prince Philip presumably hires a minister and procures floral arrangements, and there's a 4-minute sequence of Aurora walking down the aisle. They say "I do," and everyone in the whole kingdom cheers. It's truly insulting to watch—especially considering a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, white woman is representing the Fay and the fairies, whom we've already established represent marginalized people from oppressed lands. A Christian wedding saves the day, and everyone lives happily ever after. I guess they didn't move the dead bodies from the chapel, since this wedding took place outside on the lawn. Whoops.

...rated PG

So what have we learned from Maleficent 2? Well for one, colonialist narratives are so ingrained in our culture that appropriating the expression of indigenous people is a go-to aesthetic for representing the "other" in a fantasy story. Finding common ground with those different than you is best accomplished under the conditions of archaic Christian rituals. And Michelle Pfieffer can play any villainous role that's handed to her and blow it out of the water. This movie isn't worth watching, but if you do, at least you'll be entertained. I'm not sure anything I enjoyed about it was necessarily intentional, but given the track record for these Disney live-action cash-grabs, you gotta take what you can get.

FILM

"Ad Astra" or How the Perfect Astronaut Saves the Universe

World War Z called: They want their infallible action hero back.

Ad Astra is a technically stunning film.

The cinematography and sound design set a new bar for what an outer space adventure film should feel like. The film cleverly utilizes designs from real-life spacecrafts to shape the "near-future" aesthetic of the Space Corps and blends dazzling lights and sounds to create a believably fantastical world just beyond the stars. If Ad Astra looks a lot like Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, that's because they share the same cinematographer (award-winning DP Hoyte van Hoytema). It's like watching a moving painting, and IMAX provides a visual feast.

The plot, unfortunately, is not as impressive. Brad Pitt plays Major Roy McBride, a cool-under-pressure astronaut whose heart rate never rises above 80 bpm. He's charming and collected, handsome and capable. He knows how to fly a spaceship, shoot a laser gun, and lead a team. We're told through voiceover that McBride is a tortured soul; his pragmatic, cool-guy demeanor is a mask to hide his internal anguish and resentment. Through flashbacks, we discover he had a beautiful wife (Liv Tyler) who left him. We also learn that his father went missing in space over 16 years ago but has been heralded as an astronaut hero for going further into space than any human before. So when McBride receives word that his father may be alive and connected to a series of shock waves suddenly devastating planet Earth, he takes it upon himself to travel into space to find him.

Pretty cool, right? The plot seems tailor-made to push McBride to the edge of his composure, eliciting feelings that he's been compartmentalizing and forcing him to confront his demons! Except that never happens. Pitt's performance is stellar, tormented and nuanced, but the emotional burden he executes so well never actually plays into the narrative. Instead, what starts out like a solid character piece devolves into just another action movie. McBride gets caught up in an epic Moon rover chase and keeps his composure under enemy fire. He survives a violent catastrophe en route to Mars. Do his emotions ever get the better of him, threatening to sabotage his mission? Nope. He handles all his problems perfectly, always returning in one piece. He never even seems stressed, and there's no voiceover to tell us otherwise.

Rinse and repeat. Trouble pops up, McBride is badass, everything works out. People die around him, but he never gets a scratch, physical or otherwise. His emotions never get the best of him, and he does the right thing at every opportunity. There's a moment when McBride is faced with violence during the climactic scene – the perfect opportunity to have him lose his cool and reveal the inner agony that's been alluded to the whole movie. But he passively tries to de-escalate. Ultimately,he just floats around stoically as the movie takes care of his conflict for him.

It's hard to criticize Ad Astra when it gets so many things right. It's a superb visual achievement, a truly immersive movie-going experience full of fantastic performances. The Moon rover chase scene alone is worth the price of admission. But Pitt's performance is underutilized; and while the story promises character depth, it doesn't seem to be in service of anything greater. It's great that Brad Pitt can still impress us, but I wish he was allowed to enhance the story.

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡/5

TV

4 Burning Questions After Watching “Mindhunter” Season Two

What's the deeper message Mindhunter is trying to tell us?

There's a scene in episode six of Mindhunter 's season two wherein detective Holden Ford, played by Jonathan Groff, tells the police chief in Atlanta that all serial killers want a lasting story: a mythos.

His tone implies that this is something ultimately distasteful, something to manipulate for the sake of coercing the killer to make a mistake. The irony, of course, is that Mindhunter's entire existence creates that mythos for real-life serial killers. I'm far from the first to say that elevating murderers to mythical status for the sake of sensationalism is irresponsible and vapid. So is Mindhunter getting at something deeper than simply depicting real-life serial killer investigations with unparalleled accuracy? If so, what is it? Let's explore the following questions:

mindhunter season two

1. Why do we care so much about Charles Manson?

After watching Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I (and everyone else on Twitter) heard the news that Damon Herriman, who plays Charles Manson in that film, was also going to be playing Manson in the new season of Mindhunter. So, I got my popcorn and binged the new season of Netflix's Emmy-nominated show all the way through. I repeatedly watched the scene where detectives Holden Ford and Bill Tench (played by Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) go to meet Charles Manson for the first time. The dialogue in this scene is expertly crafted to mirror actual interviews with the serial killer, and Herriman's mannerisms are equally similar, to a disturbing degree.

Son of Sam in Mindhunter The makeup is pretty spectacular.

They did it. Producer David Fincher, director Andrew Dominik, and writers Pamela Cederquist and Liz Hannah made the single most compelling rendition of Charles Manson ever put to screen. So... now what? Did we learn something about the Manson case we didn't know before? Did this scene give us the opportunity to look at Charles Manson himself with fresh, new eyes? Not really. The problem with mirroring real-life situations is that it leaves little room for a new, enlightening story.

But Mindhunter doesn't seem interested in giving us a rounded exploration of the character of Charles Manson—they just wanted to blow our minds with how disturbingly similar Damon Herriman looks and acts like him. They want us to go: "Holy crap, did you see that swastika tattoo? It looks just like the real thing!"

How is Ed Kemper more likable than Holden Ford?

2. Why do the serial killers have more depth and emotion than the detectives?

By the nature of the show, the characters who investigate the serial killers need to be emotionally tough enough to mentally withstand the horrible things these men have done, so that they can learn how to catch them. Right? But as the show progresses, the main cast (a.k.a. the good guy investigators) lack emotional growth.

Look at all that... emotional depth.

Holden Ford is the most emotionally numb of the cohort, focusing all his energy on breaking down the psychology of his serial killer subjects. We connect with him as our conduit, as he's always the one pushing to learn more about how these killers think—something we are also desperate to know. Wendy Carr, a closeted psychology professor who consults with the FBI, is equally cold. She never breaks her rigid, fervent expression for a second, no matter what situation she's in. Bill Tench has a little more of a softer side, being a family man with a warm, deep voice; we automatically connect with him. But his considerable personal struggles this season are thinly explored; he's so grounded in practicality that we can only glean what he's feeling and thinking by the amount of cigarettes he burns through at a given time—or in a short monologue to one of his coworkers that finally clues in the viewer.

Is she concerned about the case, or thinking about lunch? Hm.

On the other hand, the show excels at portraying the emotional depths of serial killers. Let's look at Manson again. He sees himself as a savior of sorts, picking up lost "children" and showing them love. "These children that come at you with knives, they're your children," he says, claiming that he didn't manipulate them, he just "tried to help them stand up." He's all the more nefarious because he has a purpose: to care and nurture those lost and in need of refuge. Manson exists here as a physical manifestation of evil, the result of societal corruption that maybe all serial killers experience before turning to rape and murder. As inane and baffling as his rhetoric is, he channels real frustration with the status quo of the '70s. He was an infamously disturbed and vile man, but Mindhunter consistently challenges our understanding of evil with layered depictions of serial killers.

3. Why is Trench's wife so insufferable?

You can count the number of female characters with speaking roles in Mindhunter on one hand, so it's disappointing that the female character with the second most screen time, Tench's wife Nancy, is emotionally compromised throughout the entire run of the second season. Of course it's made clear why (before the traumatic incident with her son, she was perfectly normal). But episode after episode, her character is this bizarre combination of curt, combative, and completely unhinged.

It's almost like the writers said, "Okay, Nancy needs to go crazy after her son does the thing, and everyone is going to understand and feel sympathetic towards her, because of this incredible trauma that's befallen her." And then they just kind of stopped writing her character from there. She doesn't learn anything new from this experience, and her journey doesn't impact the story at all. She's just kind of there—being a mess, and being mean to our beloved detective Bill. But maybe Nancy's spinout is so frustrating because of the severe juxtaposition between her and Bill. He is so painfully calm, logical, and reasonable. It makes you go: "Yea, Nancy! Can't you see how nuts this is? Get a grip!" In the end though, it's not Nancy's fault. It's the writers.

4. Why is Netflix making so much content about murderers?

Making a Murderer. The Ted Bundy Tapes. Abducted in Plain Sight. I Am A Killer. Netflix's original programming includes these and literally dozens of other true crime features available to stream on the platform right now. But why? Why so much? It's easy to look back at Making a Murderer and the award-winning podcast Serial as the kick-off of the true crime wave. Since then, there have been quite a few think-pieces criticizing the phenomenon; and with 151 million subscribers and counting, Netflix is one of our key suppliers, satiating our cravings to explore the psyches of murderers. There are a few obvious reasons why Netflix is going to cash in:

A. True crime is popular and will always attracts eyeballs.

B. You don't have to put work into the storytelling, since the material is already so salacious.

C. Production costs for docu-series are extremely low (compared to narrative shows like Stranger Things and House of Cards), so Netflix can expect a huge return on investment.

Mindhunter is a logical compromise, since its budget is presumably very large and the storytelling is crafted meticulously. It's a narrative show that works extremely hard to incorporate the serial killers' real-life motives and behaviors as accurately as possible. But do we need this? Is this fixation on carnage and human depravity really necessary to create quality content? For a show that examines the darkest depths of the human psyche, Mindhunters is surprisingly light on emotional depth and instead leans heavily on tone and style. The cinematography is some of the best in Netflix's repertoire of shows, and the neo-noir aesthetic is so damn consistent that I'd be surprised if they don't actually win an Emmy next year.

But if we are going to have a show that puts so much emphasis on real-life murderers and real-life victims, it should be expected that the same level of care and attention go into leaving us, the 151 million of potential viewers, with some sort of message about it. If you're going to talk about it, have something to say. Sadly, I don't think Mindhunter has much to say about its subjects other than: "Look how historically accurate we made Son of Sam's face look!" And that doesn't feel like enough.

FILM

What I Learned about Toxic Masculinity from "Hobbs and Shaw"

How a two-hour d*ck-measuring contest became a beacon for my masculine enlightenment.

We know the Fast and the Furious franchise.

It would be silly to try to pretend this series was going to offer anything even remotely resembling character depth or a logical story. That's not why people pay money to see these films. We pay for the stunts, we pay for the fights, and we pay for the explosions. But as a spinoff from the billion-dollar franchise, Hobbs and Shaw seems a little leaner than the films before it, a little more stream-lined, and weaker for it. The original Fast and the Furious franchise beat us over the head with a general theme of "family is important." Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) have no allegiance to this theme—or any theme, really. They're here to do one thing: be the manliest f**king men that were ever men on the goddamn planet.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw - Official Trailer #2 [HD] www.youtube.com

This wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the film were to explore these elements in a constructive way—if they were to leverage the greasy, muscle-bound macho men to make a statement about… anything: our fear of automation taking over the world; our paranoia around secret, all-powerful organizations; the very real prospect that eugenics is inevitable, and we should all start freezing our reproductive material. Plus, that might explain some of the stuff the bad guy (played Idris Elba) was trying to do. Instead, director David Leitch, who previously directed Deadpool 2 and John Wick 1, continues his reputation for delivering spectacular stunts and gritty fight scenes. But when it comes to this film's dramatic, emotional beats, the opportunities escape him. This may not be entirely Leitch's fault. The script, written by Chris Morgan, only vaguely alludes to themes instead of actually exploring them.

But the ultimate problem is that Hobbs and Shaw is so damn tone-deaf about its own messaging that The Rock and Statham's characters are distractingly oblivious to how destructive and inappropriate their behavior is. As protagonists, their actions are framed as admirable displays of power, strength, and manhood. I'm here to be the buzzkill and call out that it's not cool—especially these days.

hobbs and shaw toxic masculinity Source: Hollywood Reporter

Obviously, talking about toxic masculinity in media isn't new, and it's controversial by nature. It always pisses someone off, namely men; and as a man, I admit I have to readily check myself when someone writes something on the Internet that hurts my male ego. But you know what? Screw my male ego—watching Hobbs and Shaw is both a palate cleanser and a wake up call: It is pure male fantasy wrapped in childish wish-fulfillment, so much so that it makes an unwitting mockery of machismo in general. From the cinematography to the dialogue, you could teach a college course on toxic masculinity using just this film as a text. In short, toxic masculinity is the driving force behind every motivation of the film. The toxic elements in the film are easy to spot when you think about how all of the obstacles in the story get resolved. Inevitably, problems are solved in one of the following ways:

  • Being the strongest
  • Being hyper-competitive
  • Objectifying female characters

Being the Strongest (and inevitably the most violent):

While the old Fast and Furious gang drives cars, Hobbs and Shaw punch things. The Rock is a 6-foot-3-inch, 236 lb mound of muscle that is objectively the biggest and strongest "natural" human in the universe. He spends the entire runtime throwing furniture, smashing barriers, and bashing in bad guys. Statham's character is the same, except he replaces big, hulking brawn with slick, fast martial arts.

Is this awesome to watch? Absolutely. Does it get boring after the first hour? Yes, it does. These are two invincible, superhuman men, careening through piles of faceless baddies. The Rock runs down the side of a goddamn building holding a steel grappling hook with his bare hands. They will always win. Similarly, there's no substance to their characters other than being really strong. Apparently, that's all you need to be a hero.

Hobbs Vs Shaw - Elevator Fight Scene - FAST AND FURIOUS 9 Hobbs And Shaw (2019) Movie CLIP 4K www.youtube.com

Being Hyper-competitive:

Hobbs and Shaw do not like each other. From their very first moment on-screen together, they exude nothing but contempt for each other's existence. Their relationship is a back and forth tit-for-tat that never ends. The Rock and Statham have fantastic chemistry, but they're subjugated to such childish dialogue that I couldn't tell if the jokes were written or just spit-balled on set. Although that's not to say that some weren't funny.

Their competitive behavior did bring out the funniest scene in the whole movie.

Pick A Door Fight Scene - FAST & FURIOUS: HOBBS AND SHAW (2019) Movie Clip www.youtube.com

Objectifying Female Characters:

As the worst action-movie trope goes, any female character with value in the story must be either sexy or ass-kicking––two traits men find desirable and all-too-often mutually exclusive. Hobbs and Shaw leans into this trope hard. There are a total of four female characters with speaking roles in the film, and two of them are the main characters' mothers. As for the remaining two: One's reduced to being simply "sexy," and the other "violent." Admittedly, I don't even remember the "sexy" one's name. She's barely even introduced as a person; instead, the first time she appears on-screen, she blankly walks into the room, waits patiently for Shaw to approach her, and then they make out. That's basically all she does.

Vanessa Kirby plays the second female character with a speaking role, and she at least has a modicum of development. She starts off being a badass MI6 agent who is just as physically capable as all the men. She even has some emotional depth through her relationship with her brother, Shaw. But once she's infected with the super-dangerous virus (that the film tries to pass off as a plot), she loses most of her agency. She completely relies on the boys to get her out of a jam, which they are both more than happy to do.

Hobbs & Shaw's Sister Fight Trailer (NEW, 2019) Dwayne Johnson Movie HD www.youtube.com


Therein lies the problem with having violence dictate the progression of the story. There's no room for characters to make any meaningful choices that reflect who they are as people. We can't have anyone figure anything out without punching, because that's all the characters are shown to be capable of.

With all that being said, America seems to like this movie (enough for it to earn $181 million at its opening). I enjoyed it, too, in spite of myself. The Rock is limitlessly charming, and Jason Statham has incredible charisma and great comedic timing. They both kick-ass and are really fun to watch. But I'm going to argue that a $200 million action-blockbuster can be successful with more than just brute, gratuitous, man-child pandering. We can reach deeper into ourselves and find a story that goes further than punches and sexy ladies. I don't know what that looks like yet, and I'm not sure 2020 will have anything new to show us, either.

FILM

Disney Doesn't Care About Your Childhood: “The Lion King” Is Just a CGI Flex

Photo-realistic lions singing to each other is an uncanny valley experience you'll never got used to.

Are we sure this isn't a nature documentary?

Disney

The Lion King "live-action" remake, visually speaking, is an artistic and technological marvel.

Every single character in this film is depicted as a photo-realistic animal, right down to the wrinkles on Timone's nose and the tufts of dirt in Rafiki's hair. Even the characters' movements are completely rooted in reality, with each digital character having weight and presence on screen so convincingly real that you honestly forget you're looking at CG characters at all. The attention to detail in this film is truly awe-inspiring.

Look. At. Those. Hairs.Disney

But while the incredibly talented VFX team at Disney rooted every animal in reality, the basic demands of The Lion King story seemed to have been a secondary concern—namely, the singing and speaking. The Lion King is a musical, after all, and what we got in the 1994 original were characters who had moving lips and big, expressive eyes to illustrate their emotions and motivations—you know, the kind of thing you can do with hand-drawn animation. Since Disney decided to have a completely realistic take on these characters, a lot of that personality and expression just doesn't come across. When Mufasa and Simba are having a conversation, for example, it just looks like two lions staring at each other with human voices coming vaguely from their direction. Their mouths move up and down, but their dead, beady little eyes show nothing but emptiness. It's weird.

Which begs the question: Was this the best story to tell with photo-realistic animals? The Lion King is essentially Hamlet the musical, and most would assume that a literal lion might not be able to pull off the emotion and charisma required of a Shakespeare story. With that being said, The Lion King 2019 tries to stay beat-for-beat with the original animated classic. If you look at the original movie's runtime compared to the 2019 remake, you'll notice there's an additional 30 minutes in the remake. Most of that time goes to the first act, which was my favorite part of the movie, with baby Simba and baby Nala simply playing and romping about. Granted, this definitely dragged on way too long before we got the story really going—but c'mon. Did you see the stills from this movie? Baby Simba is cute as f**k.

I mean...Disney

Can the whole movie be about baby Simba?Disney

There were also some character changes in this film that really elevate the experience—namely Timon and Pumbaa. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen bring these intensely realistic characters to life in a way that's sorely missing in the remake's other performances. The two have such delightful chemistry that it made me want to just stick with them for the rest of the movie. The decision to add their off-the-cuff jokes to the script was a commendable choice from director Jon Favreau, who clearly saw the talents of these two performers and let them take the lead.

For instance, my favorite line comes at the end of the "Simba growing up" montage, right when it looks like it's going to be a shot-for-shot remake of the original. When Simba continues to sing after the music stops, Pumbaa quips, "You've gained 400 pounds since you started!" I didn't think a Disney movie could be so tastefully meta, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I just want to watch these three for two hours <3Disney

The heroes of the movie.IMDB

As for the rest of the performances, everyone is pretty good. John Oliver plays a great Zazu; but again, his performance is neutered by the fact that his character doesn't have lips: It just looks like a very normal bird flapping hysterically at lions for two hours. Mufasa is actually great, because James Earl Jones has the presence of God in his voice, so at least that loans itself well to watching a photo-realistic king of the jungle roam around the screen. Scar is also good; there have been complaints online about Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance compared to that of Jeremy Irons, but at least Ejiofor's quiet confidence is fitting for his commanding photo-realistic character. Frankly, the animated Scar had so much dimension and expression that complemented Irons' vocal articulation, you're just not going to be able to replicate that expression in CG—let's not forget when Will Smith unfortunately tried it.

#HyenaGangEntertainment Weekly

Since this film is technically a musical, let's briefly touch on the musical performances: They're fine. It really seems like they were an afterthought, and I can't really blame Favreau for this. This biggest challenge to overcome was making literal singing lions seem convincing on screen, and I think he did the best he could. Still, the musical numbers from the original are so poorly replicated here that if they were something you loved from the original, you're going to be seriously disappointed. "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," the song that really kicks off the musical energy in the film, is very lackluster in its presentation. Remember that the hand-drawn original had colorful spectacles and dramatic actions, like Simba and Nala riding on the backs of f**cking ostriches and a cohort of zebras saluting them, culminating with a massive animal tower made of parading elephants, giraffes, gazelles, anteaters, and flamingos, with Simba and Nala standing on top! In comparison, this remake has Simba and Nala running around a pond, with those same animals there but not seeming to notice them: not really the same impact. They also dare to cut down one of the best songs from the original, "Be Prepared," to a 30-second chant, which I take personal grievance with. With the last song of the film, the quintessential "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," Faverou decided to have the whole song sung in Simba and Nala's heads, probably to avoid the awkward lip-syncing issues. It ends up feeling like a Nat Geo documentary with Beyoncé's vocals in the background.

Oh look... some regular a** lions. How romantic.Disney

Surprisingly, the most disappointing performances come from Donald Glover and Beyoncé as Simba and Nala. I would guess they were both picked for their star-power and not necessarily for their voice acting abilities. Glover plays a pretty forgettable Simba, who lacks the headstrong and playful personality that Mathew Broderick brought to the original. That's not a huge gripe compared to Beyonce's performance, though. I'm honestly not sure what happened there. All of her lines are spoken as overly-enunciated statements rather than normal conversation, and it's so, so distracting. At first I couldn't understand why the first interaction between Simba and Nala is so awkward. There are long beats of painful silence between their lines, which gives you too much time to remember that you're looking at CG lions with inexplicably human voices… And then you keep thinking: "Oh, sh*t…Beyoncé's in this movie!"

Mufasa is a badass, even in photorealism.Disney

Honestly, this movie is a lot of fun if you just enjoy it for what it is and don't expect it to capture the same wonder of the original. This movie is a big creative leap for Disney, but it's not exactly what any of us were expecting. The CG effects and character design in The Lion King 2019 are the absolute best I've ever seen, which is enough for me to want to see it again. But if you care more about seeing your beloved musical numbers and characters brought to new life on screen, you might not want to put down $15 to see this in theaters. If you've got kids, take them, and you won't be bored. But if you're emotionally invested, maybe wait for this to drop on Disney Plus in a few months. After all, this is just the latest flavor of 90s nostalgia for Disney to exploit, and amidst the company's ever-growing arsenal of remade animated classics, this one is sure to make a heap of money.

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡/5