tlk2I watched this more times than the first Lion King movie. I think I was trying to persuade myself that it was better than the original. It isn’t, of course, but it’s still quite good – probably Disney’s best direct to video movie.

The music is not as good as the first movie, and overall things aren’t as bright and colourful and fun. Here the palette is muddy and dark, especially in the final scene, which makes Africa look rather like a Stalinist gulag. The Timon and Pumba characters are given a lot of time…probably a bit too much. I find them distracting.’

But the story’s surprisingly good, picking up where the first one left off. Not a lot of kids movies show the consequences of the hero’s actions, but this one does, with large numbers of Scar’s supporters banished from the tribe and nursing their wounds in the desert. The plot is a bit similar to other Disney movies, but The Lion King wasn’t a paragon of originality either, and the sequel has some twists and turns that probably wouldn’t have worked in the original’s Biblical/Hamlet inspired tale.

The voice talent is mostly intact, except that Rowan Atkinson no longer voices Zazu (and believe me, he’s much missed.) The new villain is just a female Scar without Scar’s sense of humour. I wonder why they didn’t have survive Lion King‘s final scene and make a comeback. When I was 10 and saw the ripped-to-shreds character Nuka, I misunderstood and thought that was exactly what they had done. As it is, Zira creates continuity problems. Where was she when the events of the first movie were happening?

Rafiki’s still in fine form, and Nala and Kovu are good characters. We don’t have the very typical scenario of the main character being the least interesting part of the movie, which is fortunate – some of Disney’s legit theater-released movies can’t say the same. The characterisation is good enough that the real stick-the-knife-in-and-twist scenes in the second half of the movie come off well, and are suitably moving.

In 1932, Walt Disney released a short called Three Little Pigs. The short proved unexpectedly popular, with audiences identifying with the pigs and reviling the wolf (who they saw as symbolic of The Great Depression). Disney banged out several more shorts, and when none of them created the original’s sensation did he is said to have remarked “you can’t follow pigs with pigs.” Maybe not, but you can certainly follow lions with lions, and this movie is proof.

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miley-cyrus-bangerz-album-artI haven’t listened to his album. For one thing, I don’t believe I’d like it. Second, it costs money. Ridiculous. Apparently, in the year 2013, they seriously expect fifteen to twenty dollars for this album. I tried to walk out of the music store with CDs stuffed in my pockets, but they called security. Sometimes I swear this whole “compact disc” format is just a racket to make money.

However, I’ve listened to a few songs from it, and I have some suggestions as to how modern music could be made better.

1. It is not necessary to have a black guy standing around going “ayuh” or “yeah” every few seconds.

2. Please keep the number of “guest stars” to a small number. I’m tired of song titles like “In Da Club ft IBleedCrystal w/ MC NeverLearnedtoRead & DJ IrresponsibleLifestyle.” Adopt George Bezos’s 2-pizzas rule. Could the album’s guest support be fed with just two pizzas? Actually, forget that. Most of the people on this album probably practice bulimia, and thus any number of guest stars could be fed with two pizzas.

3. Putting a hashtag in a song title should be punished by being bastinado’d. It would be a simple: hashtags in your songs equals bruises on your feet. That would solve the problem.

4. Jumping on a flavour-of-the-moment fad will only date your music and make it seem ridiculous to future listeners, like reverb-saturated snares date songs as being from the 80s, and “we built this city…” dates songs as being from a period with terrible taste.

5. Leave your shitty bonus tracks and shitty remixes on the cutting room floor. Stop using them as an excuse to release the same album three times.

6. You might not like the music you made as a child, but it has earned you millions of dollars, which should help dry the tears. And statements like “this is my first real album” are unwise, especially when said album is crappier and more boring than your past ones.

7. If your list of “urban” producers and songwriters looks more like the membership rolls of the Eight Tray Gangster Crips, maybe it’s time to dial back a bit.

8. If all the discussion about you revolves around your shocking antics and your “mature image”, it’s time to quit music and become a porn star, because that’s what people are really paying to see.

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ebertMurray Kempton once said “A critic is someone who enters the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded”, and I’ve always felt the same way. Being a professional critic, even one with a Pulitzer, sounds unsatisfying and wearisome. You’re not a creator. You’re a parasite, feeding off someone else’s work. Even if you help guide a reader to an amazing artist, it’s the artist they’ll remember, not you. This is one of the final books by a man who performed this unfulfilling duty for nearly fifty years.

Roger Ebert was the best film critic of his time, and maybe one of the best writers, too. He was an optimiser, with an uncanny ability to fit twenty words’ meaning into ten words’ space. He was also a master of the dead-on metaphor. “…like an alarm that goes off while nobody is in the room. It does its job and stops, and nobody cares.” Or “…like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time“.

It would be too to write this just by copying and pasting quotes from his reviews. Ebert was much more than just a critic, although he was very good at that. Most of the time, anyway. It’s true that in his final years he started playing softball with his ratings – I got the feeling that he loved movies so much that he didn’t have the heart to criticise them by the end. But those years are not found in this book, which collects all his vitriol from 2000 to 2006 or so.

The title comes from a famous incident in 2005, when he slammed a Rob Schneider movie and provoked an embarrassing reaction from said director. There’s two other another confrontations with irate directors mentioned in the beginning, then it’s on to the reviews. Ebert watched about 500 movies a year, and was indiscriminate in his taste. There’s underground art films, and Hollywood blockbusters, and even childrens’ movies.

The book’s worth reading as a sample of Ebert’s writing, but it’s also an interesting exhibit of the art of criticism. Ebert was perfectly happy to watch a movie he didn’t understand, or one that wasn’t aimed at him. He’d simply describe his reaction, and let that suffice as a review of the movie. As he himself said, “Even when a critic dislikes a movie, if it’s a good review, it has enough information so you can figure out whether you’d like it, anyway.” Although at one point (the review of the first Scooby-Doo movie) he just throws up his hands and tells you to go read someone else’s review.

Ebert was a powerful writer and a clever man, but I wonder whether he regretted any of this. He tried his hand at making movies in the early days. What if he’d stuck at it? He has a good understanding of filmmaking and storytelling, but whether that translates to actual cinematic success is anyone’s guess. Many of these reviews are better than the movies that inspired them, but they probably won’t be remembered as long – if at all. As I said, it must be frustrating being a critic. You’re like a eunuch guarding the sultan’s harem – you know all about it…and you can’t do it.

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