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Josh Reviews Jon Favreau’s remake of The Lion King

It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that I was writing about the live-action remake of Aladdin, and stating that I don’t see any creatively interesting rationale behind Disney’s current predilection for remaking so many of their classic animated films in live-action. (There’s clearly a financial reason, as these films seem like a good way to make money off of pre-existing, beloved properties.)  The original animated films Aladdin and The Lion King are magnificent, among Disney’s very best.  So what is to be gained from remaking them in live action?

I don’t have an answer to that (again, other than money in Disney’s coffers), but while I don’t think either of these new remade films have much of a reason to exist, I enjoyed Join Favreau’s new version of The Lion King even more than I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s remake of Aladdin!

Mr. Favreau first dipped his toes into these waters with his CGI-remake of The Jungle Book, which I thought was a visual marvel.  Mr. Favreau has gone even further with The Lion King, pushing the boundaries of technology and visual effects.

It’s a mistake to call this a live-action remake of The Lion King, because this new version doesn’t feature any human beings.  (The Jungle Book was mostly CGI, but the boy playing Mowgli was real.)  This new film has been created with astonishing, cutting-edge motion-capture and CGI work.  The result is incredible.  The film looks entirely photo-real, despite the fact that it features an ensemble cast of talking animals.  The world of The Lion King has been brought to astounding, beautiful life.  You easily believe that these talking animals are real.  It’s astonishing… and very cool to see the iconic animated locations of the original film (such as Pride Rock) brought to the screen in a way that makes it look like those places really exist.

The original Lion King features some iconic and memorable vocal performances.  Recasting this film could not have been easy… but Mr. Favreau and his team made all the right choices.  JD McCrary plays young Simba, while Donald Glover plays adult Simba… and Shahadi Wright Joseph plays young Nala, while Beyoncé Knowles-Carter plays adult Nala.  All four actors are perfect.  They give different interpretations of these characters than the original actors did, and yet at the same time they all sounded absolutely perfect for Simba and Nala to me.

I thought the hardest voices to recast would be Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa.  And yet Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen might be my favorite performers in the new film!  They make Timon and Pumbaa entirely their own, while still allowing the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Atlanta Season Two: Robbin’ Season

I was a few years late, but recently I finally caught up with the first season of Donald Glover’s show Atlanta.  It was every bit as fantastic as I’d heard!  (Click here for my full review.)  I didn’t waste any time before moving on to season two, which I enjoyed just as much as season one.

Atlanta Season Two is subtitled Robbin’ Season.  The first episode kicks off with a lengthy sequence of the robbery of a fast-food joint.  This vignette features characters we haven’t met before and won’t see again, but it sets the tone for this thematically rich and endlessly compelling and original season of television.  Darius explains to the audience soon after that robberies increase in the lead-up to the annual holiday season, because “everyone got to eat.”  As the season unfolds, we witness several more literal robberies (Al is ripped off by his long-time drug connect, and in a later episode is held up at gunpoint by three fans on the side of the road; Tracy brazenly steals a pair of shoes from a mall shoe-store; Al’s barber engages in a series of escalating grifts; the gang all get their gear destroyed, and Earn has his laptop stolen, after a college campus performance goes wary).  But more than that, we see many of the show’s characters, particularly Earn, pushed to the brink of desperation by their need to eat, to find a way to keep their heads above water as the world seems to conspire against them.  Atlanta can be a very funny show, but the reason it’s a great show is because of its complexity and depth.

The season started off in a fairly low-key manner, with a series of episodes that were fun and funny and caught us up with the gang in the time that had passed since the end of season one.

Creator and star Donald Glover’s Earn was clearly the main character of season one, but in season two Earn took a step back to let others into the spotlight.  (Earn hardly appeared at all in a three-episode stretch in the middle of the season.)  Al (Paper Boi), played by Brian Tyree Henry, really stepped into focus for me this season.  We got to get to know Al much deeper this year.  We saw his struggle to “keep it real” at the same time as his star is rising.  (We see this most powerfully in “Woods,” in which Al argues with the young woman he is hanging out with over her manipulation of social media to increase her fame; in that same episode, Al’s attempt to walk home like a normal person gets him stuck in an increasingly terrible … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Atlanta Season One!

I’ve read a lot about how great Donald Glover’s show Atlanta was, but I never found the time to check it out.  But it’s stayed on my to-watch list, and I am delighted to have finally gotten a chance to watch the first season.  It’s as fantastic as I’d heard!

The show was created by Donald Glover, who also stars in the lead role as Earn, and who also wrote or directed many of the first season’s ten episodes.  This is a fantastic tour de force, and although the shows are very different, it reminds me a lot of what Aziz Ansari achieved with Master of None.  Both shows represent a powerful creative vision, bringing a very new type of TV show to the screen.

Atlanta follows the struggles of Earn, a young, poor man who talks his way into becoming the manager for his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), who has started to make a name for himself as the rapper Paper Boi.  Earn has fathered a child with Van (Zazie Beetz), who the two are raising together, but he and Van aren’t married and, at various points in the season, aren’t even together as a couple.  Finally, Lakeith Stanfield plays Darius, Paper Boi’s bizarre friend and right-hand-man.

The show is loosely about Earn’s struggles with poverty and his attempts to succeed, for the first time in his life, in his new role as Paper Boi’s manager.  We also follow Earn’s on-again, off-again relationship with Van, and also Alfred’s struggles with his first brush at fame, which proves to be not entirely what he’d expected it to be.

But the show is at once much larger and much smaller than those plot points.  I was impressed how carefully Atlanta was able to focus on these wonderful characters, giving them each a lot of love and attention and fleshing them all out to great depth over the course of just these ten short episodes.  I was particularly pleased by the attention the show gave to Van.  She could easily have fallen to the side in favor of a focus on the three guys, but I loved that the show often paused to give her spotlight and agency.  I think my favorite episode of the season was the Van-focused “Value,” in which we follow her along on an awkward evening with a sort-of-friend (their very different social strata presenting one of many obstacles between the two), and then Van’s creative but ultimately failed attempts to beat a drug-test at work the next day.

Atlanta is technically a comedy, and there are some very funny sequences in this first season.  (The sight of Van accidentally popping the urine-filled condom in her … [continued]