Tag: jon favreau

The Lion King


The Lion King (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Jon Favreau’s photorealistic CGI orgy “The Lion King” exists solely to underscore the superiority of Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s 1994 classic family film. On every level—from the animation, the dialogue, the timing between words and actions, down to the majestic score and toe-tapping songs—it is without question that the latter is better, stronger, more emotionally intelligent and involving. And so one is forced to wonder, “What’s the point of retelling the same story, one that is occasionally a shot-after-shot replica of the original?” The movie does not provide a good enough answer. If one were naive, one might believe it is out of curiosity and nostalgia. The reality, however, is that the film is meant to be another cash grab.

There is only one sequence in which this modern interpretation does something exactly right. At one point in the story, it is assumed that Simba (voiced by Donald Glover), future king of Pride Rock, perished in a stampede along with his father, Mufasa (the inimitable James Earl Jones). The knowledge of Simba’s survival, now an adult lion who lives in a faraway land, must make it to Pride Rock. Instead of copying a simplistic, straight-to-the-point sequence from the animated film, we a follow a clump of Simba’s mane going through a journey. It is executed with a sense of wonder, humor, patience, and magic. Had the rest of the work functioned on this level, the film could have served as a natural extension of the source material.

The voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. Jones as Mufasa is perfect and there is energy behind JD McCrary’s work as Young Simba. However, John Oliver’s interpretation of the motormouth Zazu, majordomo to the king, is awkward and forced. At times I found it to be irritating and unpleasant. Beyoncé’s Nala, Simba’s best friend and eventual romantic interest, is extremely distracting. Every time Nala speaks, it reeks of Beyoncé rather than the personality of the character. Meanwhile, Seth Rogen’s comic relief Pumbaa and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s villainous Scar, are tolerable but nothing special or memorable. The voice work is such a mixed bag that one cannot help but wonder if these people were cast simply because of their names, not because their voices actually fit the characters.

Every song is done better in the original; they had more life, were more transportive, and certainly more emotional. Perhaps it is because in this film, there is an attempt to modernize the songs. Listen to “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and notice there is a lack of verve behind brilliant one-liners that just so happen to be sung in a song. Emphasis is placed on the beat, for instance, rather than the clash between the cub who would be king and the annoying red-billed hornbill assigned to protect him. Do not get me started on “Be Prepared”—which is supposed to underline Scar’s thirst for power; he so wishes to be king that he is willing to forge a partnership with the hyenas to murder his own brother. This song is completely butchered here. “Hakuna Matata” is supposed to be fun, but the meta-jokes in terms of visuals overwhelm the meaning of the song. Meanwhile, “Spirit,” an original piece, does not hold a candle against any of the songs, new or old. In fact, it feels tacked on, a bizarre appendage.

Spiritualism oozes out of the original’s every pore. It is expressed through kaleidoscopic colors, voice talent that feels exactly right, humanistic dialogue (which is ironic since the characters are not human), down to the highly textured and detailed animation. At times the animation style may even undergo hyperbole in order to make a point. It goes to show that photorealism comes with an important cost: a story that is supposed to be larger-than-life is reduced to something ordinary. For a story that unfolds in the wild, it lacks joy and freedom.

Swingers


Swingers (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mike’s girlfriend of six years broke up with him to be with another man. Being a good friend, Trent (Vince Vaughn), a smooth talker, tries his best to help Mike (Jon Favreau) keep his head up and move on from the split. Since Mike moved to Los Angeles from New York City just recently to pursue being a professional comedian, what better way to find inspiration and women than Las Vegas.

One might take a look at the title the film and assume the worst: a tacky, sex-crazed, mindless frat-boy comedy with neither depth nor ambition to incite genuine laughs that everyone can relate with. I certainly did. I was happy to have been proven wrong even before the opening credits.

Written by Jon Favreau, “Swingers” pays equal attention to the awkwardness of a good-hearted sad sap trying to jump back in the dating pool and the friends who give him the confidence to not be so hard and down on himself. There is a formula to the personalities of the people surrounding the protagonist but it is never apparent or distracting.

Rob (Ron Livingston) is the most sensitive, always having the time and patience to listen to Mike talk about pretty much the same thing each time they go out. Sue (Patrick Van Horn) is the most generous when it comes to sharing his thoughts, lacking a filter as well as the timing of someone used to being attuned to another’s feelings. And then there is Trent, commanding a balance between Sue’s macho act and Rob’s words of wisdom. It makes sense that Mike spends the most time with him.

The funniest scenes involve Mike and Trent getting into all sorts of increasingly embarrassing situations until we want to cringe and hide our faces in order to preserve the remaining dignity they have. The trip to Las Vegas is especially amusing. The duo are convinced somehow that if they entered a casino wearing suits, people who work there would notice and free goodies would be given to them. Though it is of no surprise to us that their plan backfires, their commitment is hilarious on top of their ceaseless effort to come off as high rollers. The comedy works because they do not recognize their situation as funny but everyone else around them—including us—do.

What surprised me most is the picture’s well-written screenplay. Instead of relying on one physical gag after another, there are plenty of instances when characters are allowed to talk. Somehow, there is an unfortunate Hollywood fabrication that guys do not like to talk about their feelings especially when it comes to their perceived inadequacies. This is an offensive assumption and I was impressed that the picture subverts this trend. Yes, young males like to drink, play video games, and hook-up but it does not mean that they are incapable making deep and lasting connections with their fellow male friends. There is a complexity here that is easy to take for granted because it all flows so well.

Directed by Doug Liman, “Swingers” is far from a run-of-the-mill buddy comedy. It has sensitivity and insight sandwiched between good times at parties and bars.

The Jungle Book


The Jungle Book (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

These days it is simply not enough to have beautiful images gracing the screen, especially when it comes to family-friendly films where every age must be engaged and entertained. “The Jungle Book,” directed by Jon Favreau, is able to translate a Disney animation classic, about a boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who is raised in the jungle by wolves, into a live-action adventure that is full of thrills and wonderment. Favreau takes a beloved material that has been told a number of times before and breaths new life into it.

Although the majority of the animals are made using a computer, they are convincingly life-like. The details of their furs, ears, snouts, tails, and eyes are impressive; the longer one admires every feature, the more tactile they appear to be. But it doesn’t stop there. Look at how the filmmakers manage to capture the correct posture of the computer-animated animals when they rest, eat, and interact with one another. One gets the impression that great efforts were made to research actual animals in order to create a most convincing universe.

The film offers numerous memorable sequences, from Mowgli being mesmerized by a giant Indian python (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) to heart-pounding chases involving a villainous Bengal tiger (voiced by Idris Elba) whose face is half-burnt. But one might argue that the best parts of the movie are times when nature is front and center. Two standouts include a terrifying mudslide as unsuspecting water buffaloes make their way on the side of a mountain and the other involves Mowgli’s attempt to kick down honeycombs hanging from a cliff as he is stung by bees.

These two scenes are vastly different yet somehow they fit perfectly in the film. For instance, the former is drenched in black and gray while the latter features kaleidoscopic hues. The mudslide scene reflects a struggle for survival, as signaled by rapid camera movements, while the honey gathering scene highlights a growing bond between a man-cub and a new friend (voiced by Bill Murray)—this time the camera still and overall tone playful. The balancing act is assured and professional. What keeps it all together is the consistent eye for detail.

Admittedly, it took me a good while to get used to the animals’ mouths moving when they speak. The mouth movements and voices are not distracting—in fact, all of the voice actors are well-chosen—but the partnership is, at first, unnatural. After about thirty minutes, however, the transition was complete and I was able to get into the reality that some of the animals were able to speak.

“The Jungle Book,” based on the collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling and screenplay by Justin Marks, dazzles and delights the senses. It might have been improved if the subject of belongingness and home were explored more deeply and with more mature insight.

Zathura: A Space Adventure


Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★

Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson) are brothers, six and ten years of age, respectively, who cannot help but squabble about every little thing. Regardless of the activity, one feels the need to triumph over the other. When their father (Tim Robbins) has to leave to make a special copy of a picture for his work, Danny finds a curious two-player board game underneath the stairs of the basement. Excited, he asks Walter to play. Although Walter refuses, Danny turns a key, pushes a button, and a card is released. On it is a warning of a meteor shower. A few seconds later, tiny rocks begin to bombard their new home. It appears the game has real repercussions.

Based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg, “Zathura: A Space Adventure” is exciting, fun, and has an obvious but important lesson about siblings learning to work together and love one another. The early scenes are very amusing because Danny and Walter reminded me of my brother and I back when we were younger. Although Walter is portrayed as the insensitive half, I understood Walter’s attitude about not wanting to play with his little brother because Danny is not very good at playing sports and he has the tendency to cheat or cry when things do not go his way. When they whine to their dad, as shrill as they sound, it feels very close to actuality. I was surprised that the two are not shown ending up on the floor and throwing punches at each other.

As the unlikely duo take more turns, there is more humor accompanied by increasingly impressive special and visual effects. For example, Lisa (Kirsten Stewart), Walter and Danny’s sister, is rather cold toward her siblings. She would rather sleep and look pretty for her upcoming date after she is asked by her dad to watch over the boys since they have the tendency to be at each other’s throats. Later on, her coldness takes on a physical manifestation in which she is put into cryonic sleep by the game. Ironic happenstances as such allow us to breathe between the more intense scenes.

However, I wished that the fast-paced action is not impeded by the arrival of the astronaut (Dax Shepard). Although the astronaut has some funny lines dispersed throughout and is very useful in quickly getting the kids out of dangerous situations, I was more interested in the lightbulbs that go off in Danny and Walter’s heads as they are challenged by whatever the board has in store for them. It might have taken them some time to extricate themselves from their predicaments, but it is preferable because this is their story.

The film, based on the screenplay by David Koepp and John Kamps, takes its biggest risk by introducing Zorgons, big lizards with teeth that have an affinity for heat. As they take over the house, our protagonists are reduced to hiding and running away from being eaten. The creativity and energy of “Zathura,” directed by Jon Favreau, appeals to kids as well as adults because it is thrilling and quite smart. It is a fantasy, action-adventure that is rooted in something real.

Cowboys & Aliens


Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) woke up in the middle of the desert unable to remember anything prior to his collapse, not even his name. In a state of confusion, he looked at his left arm and there was a bulky bracelet around it. Despite its imposing appearance, it seemed harmless enough. So, he made his way to Absolution, a mining town, its economy depended on Woodrow Dolarhyde’s cattle business (Harrison Ford). The residents feared him greatly so they allowed his son, Percy (Paul Dano), to act like a fool and bully others. But not Jake. When Percy pulled a gun on the amnesiac, the young man was greeted with a knee in the groin. Later, when Jake and Woodrow met to settle an old score, spaceships flew over Absolution, fired destructive laser beams, and kidnapped select citizens. Based on the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, “Cowboys & Aliens,” was a somnolent lullaby despite the staccato of horses’ hooves, swooshing Indian arrows, and thundering explosions followed by beautiful hovering dust. When certain characters met their demise, usually induced by the aliens’ sharp claws, I felt no emotion toward the person struggling for his last breath. This was because the characters were not given enough depth. More time was dedicated to the characters riding horses, squinting at something from a distance, and arguing which was the best course of action in order to track down the extraterrestrial base. The script didn’t help the otherwise good actors who were very capable of embodying heroes we could root for despite forcefully convenient plot devices. Jake and Woodrow were motivated by very different things which was appropriate considering that each figure symbolized a different type of hero in the American Old West. The former wanted to know the truth about who he was while the latter hoped to rescue his only son, internal and external motivations. Yet when the two interacted, the dialogue was so egregious, it sounded like Jake and Woodrow were not really speaking to each other but through one another. Jake’s stoicism and Woodrow’s irascibility became exasperating. I wondered what else the material had to offer, if any, and when, or if, the sluggish pacing would eventually pick up and get the adventure going (or started). Furthermore, the aliens were not very interesting villains. They landed on Earth to look for gold and extract them. Did they need the metal for food, as fertilizer to sustain their dying planet, or was it some kind of a panacea for their diseased or dying comrades? We weren’t given the exact details. But why not? I don’t know if the original material offered a reason, but even if it did not, that was no excuse. Somewhere in the middle of the film, Jake began to have feelings for Ella (Olivia Wilde), a woman who seemed to know Jake’s history. Their feelings for each other poisoned the movie. Not only did their relationship not make any sense, their scenes together took away time from possible explanations about the aliens. This was another example of using romance to band-aid holes in the story that ought to be dealt with directly and astutely. “Cowboys and Aliens,” directed by Jon Favreau, was a failed mash-up of the western and science-fiction genres. It offered no magic nor a sense of adventure.

Thor


Thor (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Powerful ruler Odin (Anthony Hopkins) had two sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), with two very different personalities. Thor couldn’t wait to be king of Asgard. Wielding absolute power, in a symbol of a throne, was at the top of his priorities. Loki, on the other hand, was the quiet one. His actions were preceded by thorough thinking. However, there was brewing jealousy from his end. When Thor and his friends (Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander) had unwisely broken a truce and caused a new war against the Frost Giants, Odin banished Thor to Earth to learn about humility and what it meant to be a great leader. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, “Thor” was unexpectedly comedic. I actually enjoyed the comedy, especially when sarcastic Darcy (Kat Dennings) was on screen, more than the action scenes themselves. Watching the action sequences, although supported by grand special and visual effects, failed to get me to become emotionally invested. I believe it had something to do with the fact that Thor’s evolution from a bellicose warrior to a more controlled leader wasn’t fully convincing. What did being romantically involved have to do with becoming an effective king? From what I gathered, he simply grew weak in the knees whenever he was next to Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a fellow researcher of Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), one of the three people Thor met when he landed on Earth. And given that love was the answer to everything, I failed to understand why she would be attracted to him other than the fact that he had a nice set of abs and biceps. She was supposedly smart but her intelligence was thrown out the window the moment he took off his shirt. It was insulting. The director didn’t take enough time, other than one or two short scenes, to explore the relationship between the two lovers. Jane was supposed to be our conduit so that we would ultimately care about about the title character. As for Thor’s friends in Asgard, I wondered how they could stand him. Surely being a prince wasn’t enough to earn their loyalties. After leading them to a suicide mission and narrowly escaping, none of them questioned Thor’s ability to make smart decisions. Didn’t they have minds of their own? Instead of weighing the complexities of the somewhat cheesy story, I found myself focusing more on spotting other Avengers characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and references to the Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man.” What “Thor” lacked was the crucial journey designed to win us over. When he was on Earth, he didn’t learn what it meant to be human. He just developed a crush. It’s a bad sign when we find ourselves feeling nothing when Thor faced incredible danger.

Elf


Elf (2003)
★★ / ★★★★

A baby orphan snuck into Santa Claus’s bag of presents and ended up in the North Pole. The baby was named Buddy and raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) and whole-heartedly embraced by the elfin community and strange creatures that lived there. But when Buddy became an adult (now played by Will Ferrell), he became more of a nuisance to the elves due to his size so he traveled to New York City to find his biological father (James Caan). The movie started off with promise because it was creative with its joke about a man who was so out of his element but was blind to the fact. Even more amusing were Buddy’s scenes with people in utter disbelief that he actually believed in Santa Claus with fervor to spare. Ferrell did a wonderful job playing a wide-eyed boy stuck in an adult man’s body. The slapstick comedy worked because kids like to put themselves in physically uncomfortable situations. However, the film failed to reach an emotional peak and establish a resonance like the best movies that took place around Christmas. While Ferrell’s interactions with Caan were amusing, I didn’t feel a genuine connection between the father and the son. When the son hugged with enthusiasm, the father reluctantly put his arm around his son to pat him on the back. There was no real growth between them. Too much of film’s running time was dedicated to the biological father’s challenges at work (which did not add up to much) instead of focusing on the problems at home (Mary Steenburgen as the very accepting wife was a joy to watch). I wish there were more scenes between Buddy and a salesgirl who loved to sing named Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). Farrell and Deschanel may not have chemistry (the film unwisely pushed their relationship to a romantic direction), but watching their friendship grow put a big smile on my face. Jovie always looked sad (which was ironic because I’m assuming her name came from the word “jovial”) and did not like to put herself in potentially embarrassing situations. Buddy was all about attracting all kinds of attention. Nevertheless, they got along swimmingly. While the majority of the film was about Buddy’s attempt of reconnection with the human world, the last twenty minutes was more about people believing in Santa Claus. I was left confused and I thought it was completely unnecessary. Perhaps the filmmakers thought that typing up dramatic loose ends was riskier than generating more pedestrian laughs. I thought the last few scenes were a desperate attempt to cover up weak storytelling. Directed by Jon Favreau, “Elf” had its share of funny and silly moments but its story needed a lot of work. Maybe the elves should have worked on the script so it could have had a bit of magic.

Iron Man 2


Iron Man 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man who is as narcissistic and self-centered as ever. This time around, he had to face-off with a Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) who was out for revenge for the wrongs done to his father and an American weapons expert (Sam Rockwell) who craved power in politics. Tony also has to deal with his health, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) being the new CEO of the company, a new sexy assistant (Scarlett Johansson), and Rhodey’s (Don Cheadle) need to deliver the Iron Man suit to his superiors. There was no doubt that “Iron Man 2” was bigger and grander than the original. However, I don’t believe it was one of those sequels that disappointed. What I loved about the first one was the fact that it was an origins story. The first hour bathed us in curiosity and the rest tried to explore the lead character’s depth (although we came to realize he didn’t have much depth at all–which I loved). In “Iron Man 2,” it was more about having fun with the main character and his big ego. I thought it was funny, exciting and I liked that it didn’t try to be darker or deeper than the original. In some ways, I had more fun with the sequel than its predecessor. I was also very into what was happening on screen because of the many hints of The Avengers slowly forming (make sure to stay until after the credits). The tone was different than other superhero films because it made me feel like the superhero that we were watching was not the only one in his universe. I also enjoyed Rourke as Whiplash. He wasn’t given much screen time but every time he was, he generated maximum impact. I thought he was menacing but at the same time I felt somewhat sorry for him. When I looked in his eyes, I saw pain and vulnerability trying to wrestle (pun intended) with anger and thirst for blood. One of this film’s drawbacks was it didn’t spend more time putting Rourke’s character on screen to add some sort of enigma and rivalry between him and Tony Stark. I absolutely loved the race track scene and when Stark visited Whiplash in jail. There was a certain crackle and pop between the two characters when they spoke to each other because Downey Jr. and Rourke knew how to play with certain subtleties in terms of intonations and body languages. Those scenes left me at awe and it’s unfortunate because small moments like the jail scene would probably be ignored since most scenes were loud and bright and glamorous. Bigger and louder isn’t necessarily a bad quality but as the “The Dark Knight” has proven, a nice balance between quiet moments and adrenaline rush makes a superior and ultimately unforgettable superhero film–not just a superhero film but a movie that has the power to stand alone in its own right. Directed by the very funny Jon Favreau, it was apparent that “Iron Man 2” had actors that had fun in their roles so I had fun with it as well. I loved that Favreau put himself in his own movie for kicks. I think most professional critics are wrong about this one because they claimed it was inferior to the first. But I’m saying see it and pretend as if it’s not a sequel. I have no doubt that you will recognize a really good movie in it.

Couples Retreat


Couples Retreat (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Peter Billingsley directs this comedy about four couples who decided to go on a tropical resort that, according to one of the characters, “looks like a screensaver.” Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell were having trouble with their marriage so they asked their friends (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman, Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis, Faizon Love and Kali Hawk) to come along with them to an island for a relationship therapy because it was cheaper to come as a group. I enjoyed the first few minutes of this picture because it was fun and it clearly established the many dynamics of romantic relationships. Although boys will always be boys, there were enough subtleties to keep me interested and observe how it would all unwind. Unfortunately, with a running time of almost two hours, the movie ran a little too long so there were parts that lagged and definitely could have been cut to make the movie more focused. I like all of the actors in this project because I think they were all very funny in other movies but the script wasn’t strong enough to push through the typicality of marriage comedies. It really bothered me when the very same people who were having trouble with their own marriages gave (supposedly) insightful advice. If they were so wise, they wouldn’t have been so deep into a troubled relationship in the first place. However, there was one particular scene that stood out to me. When Vaughn and Akerman were talking to a marriage counselor, the counselor picked them apart; even though they seemed to be happy and content (and having the healthiest relationship in the film), there was still a certain level of resentment underneath it all. They got so used to their habits that they forgot to live life in such a way where hardwork should be met by rewards. During that scene, there was this great silence in the movie theater. It really made me think about where I am in life–that maybe I’m slowly turning into that kind of person. If “Couples Retreat” had more moments like that, I would’ve liked it a lot more. Either that or the comedy should have been consistent from beginning to end instead of most of the laughter being clumped in the first twenty minutes. In “Couples Retreat,” a hit was followed by two misses so I can’t quite give it a recommendation.