I was amazed and mesmerized the first time I saw a work of art by Audrey Flack, the now 88-year-old New York City-born pioneer of the Photorealism movement of painting. The piece, called “Bounty,” was being shown at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.
Paintings of the Photorealism school look like photographs, but they are so much more than that. They are subjectively emotional and also make a social statement. The centerpiece of “Bounty” is a parrot, which is nestled amidst food and drink and other tangible elements of human, probably Flack’s, existence. The vibrant color palette is alluring.
Because of her turning away from the popularity of abstract expressionism, which she embraced in the 1950s, and her newfound exploration of photorealism, Flack quickly rose to prominence in the 1960s and never looked back. Her importance over the decades has not diminished.
I thought of Flack while watching the new motion picture version of “The Lion King,” which first thrilled audiences in 1994 as an animated feature. In fact, some people consider the cartoon “Lion King,” which is a great and entertaining work, to be the last wondrous example of hand-drawn animation.
In 1995, “Toy Story” would be released, and its digital delights wowed moviegoers, thus altering the landscape of how animated pictures would be created.
The new “Lion King” is a virtual reality experience. It is Photorealism on the screen expanded to new heights. The animals look real, as if we are watching a documentary, but they are computer-generated. This is both the film’s high point and its nadir.
The movie looks fantastic, but the anthropomorphic creatures, familiar to almost everyone, are trapped in an emotionless visual zoo. Imagine a documentary with talking animals, but they are saying things you’ve heard before. The worse thing possible has happened to the lions Mufasa and Simba and the other characters.
At its core, the “The Lion King” has no heart. It’s a cold, scene-by-scene retelling of the 1994 edition. There is practically no difference between the two features except for filmmaking technique and different voice actors, although James Earl Jones returns to read Mufasa’s lines.
In the beauty of the African savanna, the young lion Simba, who adores his father, Mufasa, hopes to succeed him as King of the Pridelands. However, his envious uncle, Scar, engineers a coup d’etat, which results in Mufasa's death. Simba is exiled and grows up with his animal friends, warthog Pumbaa and meerkat Timon, both of whom have a joyful lifestyle. The Pridelands is a tense place, and soon Simba must battle Scar to claim the throne.
The songs, including “Circle Of Life” and “Hakuna Matata,” by Elton John (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) are back, with some new tunes added. The voices are mostly male, with solid heavy-hitting done by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Donald Glover (Simba), John Oliver (Zazu), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), John Kani (Rafiki), the aforementioned Jones, as well as Alfre Woodard (Sarabi). Less strong are Beyonce Knowles-Carter (Nala) and Billy Eichner (Timon), neither of whom are as aurally on-target as Moira Kelly and Nathan Lane, who voiced the same roles two decades ago.
Director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson have managed to extend the running time from a tight and energetic 88-minutes (’94) to a padded and ordinary 118-minutes, encasing the exact same material.
This “Lion King” is acceptable, but I can’t write that there’s a reason to immediately rush out and see it. It’s a calculated, corporate money grab that looks magical, but fails the freshness test.
THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE: When they hear his name, and aren’t looking at him or have forgotten meeting him, which is easy, many people think lonely Casey Davies is a woman. This theme is your entree to a movie showcase for new levels of toxic masculinity. It’s also filled with robust dark comedy, the kind that some folks will loathe and not find funny at all. This may include adherents of the martial arts for whom a visit to their dojo is a spiritual journey.
Written and directed by Riley Stearns, “The Art Of Self-Defense” follows Casey after he’s beaten by a group of helmet-wearing motorcyclists. He’s a boring fellow, a person who barely seems to register on a scale of genial behavior. Marginally employed, he speaks in a dull monotone.
Casey has the personality of a green grape. His only friend is his pet dachshund. He’s trying to learn French, but he will be told that the German language is more masculine.
After signing-up for martial arts lessons, Casey comes under the spell of the dojo’s mysterious owner, who calls himself Sensei and speaks in riddles. Simple instructions become more serious brainwashing, which leads to damaging, shocking violence. The movie glides into a series of brutal jolts. It becomes an interpretation of “Fight Club” with unexpected flourishes.
Stearns has created a superb caustic satire, with horror movie overtones. Moments may make you laugh aloud. Male nudity and surreal violence abound. The film offers myriad surprises and shocks to the system.
Both Jesse Eisenberg, as Casey, and the great Alessandro Nivola, as Sensei, are exceptional. A very good Imogen Poots is the only female. This is a film that starts slowly, but becomes engaging. When it reaches its climax, you will probably be stunned.
Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette. Contact him at email@example.com.