Ep. 117 – Glass, Fyre

January 21, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

 

The CineSnob Podcast returns from another sabbatical to review M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” and the Netflix documentary “Fyre.”

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Kong: Skull Island

March 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”)
Written by: Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) and Max Borenstein (“Godzilla”) and Derek Connolly (“Jurassic World”)

What if “Apocalypse Now” was remade today, but with a twist:  instead of the Viet Cong, you replace them with King Kong? While the movie isn’t shameless enough to title itself “Viet Kong,” instead “Kong: Skull Island” foregoes subtlety—and, damningly, simplicity—to sort of retell Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece with a giant ape and connective tissue to other giant monsters in the pipeline ready to star in their own film franchises. In short, “Kong: Skull Island” is a weird fucking movie, albeit one that squanders that weirdness by bogging it down in a swamp of exposition, an overabundance of characters, and weird shifts in tone.

After a prologue shows us a pair of pilots, one American and one Japanese, crash landing on an island in the South Pacific during World War II and encountering our title character, we’re thrown ahead nearly 30 years to the waning days of the Vietnam War. Satellite photography and mapping is all the rage, and would-be explorer Bill Randa (John Goodman) uses the threat of Russian discovery to convince a senator to finance an exploratory mission with a military escort to Skull Island, which is permanently surrounded by storms.

The military enlists Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a career soldier looking for a fight after having to “cut and run” in Vietnam, and his men to facilitate the expedition. Along for the ride is former British special forces tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), the latter of which provides the story with its inevitable “Beauty and the Beast” allegory. As soon as the team arrives and sets off bombs for, uh, some reason, they’re met with a fury by Kong himself, swatting helicopters out of the air and leaving Packard with a thirst for revenge.

Cool monster fisticuffs aside, “Kong: Skull Island” ends up a mess as we’re expected to follow too many different poorly-drawn characters (big ape included) as they make their way across the unclear geography of Skull Island, during which moments of would-be or unintentional comic relief mar what comes down to a movie about a crazed Samuel L. Jackson taking on King Kong. I mean, that sounds badass, right? But then what the hell is with Tom Hiddleston tossing on a gas mask and grabbing a katana to knife through a flock of pterodactyls in a poisonous gas cloud in slow motion? Is THAT supposed to be badass? Because it’s just sort of laughable. And the glut of characters leaves fine actors, like Goodman, Brie Larson, Shea Whigham, and Toby Kebbell, either stranded with nothing to do or with so little motivation the whole thing feels like a byproduct of bad editing.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

September 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Big Eyes”)
Written by: Jane Goldman (“X-Men: First Class”)

Filmmaker Tim Burton has made an entire career out of being “peculiar.” Even when its putting his own spin on an established franchise, Burton’s gothic, eccentric stamp (at least stylistically) is an omnipresent factor in most of his films. Even when making poor films, Burton is hired to be Burton and is rarely a director for hire. Perhaps that’s why it is so surprising that his new film, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” has zero identity.

After the loss of his grandfather, Jake (Asa Butterfield) decides to investigate a place that he has only heard about and seen in pictures. As a home for kids with certain “peculiarities,” Jake explores the vast land of special powered children and their leader, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). He finds, however, that as special as these children are, danger within them also lies ahead.

For having a decent cast of well known actors, nobody other than Green really makes a mark. Butterfield looks and feels too old to be convincing as the age of the character he is playing, Samuel L. Jackson hams it up as the main villain and Ella Purnell, while certainly looking the part, is bland. It isn’t entirely the fault of the actors, as the script is generic and boring.

“Miss Peregrine’s” feels like an odd hodgepodge of popular young adult series, and sort of meanders for its way too long run time. It flirts with some interesting concepts, and “powers,” so to speak, but at the end of the day, nothing happening on screen is interesting in anyway. The dialogue is dull and stilted and, narratively, the film goes nowhere.

There’s a scene at a boardwalk that is actually one of the very few, but very fleeting bright moments of the film. Bringing out some odd skeleton characters for a big battle, there is at least something intriguing happening on the screen that feels at least mildly entertaining. It is here, and only here, that the film actually feels like a Tim Burton movie.

When watching the film, Burton fans will be looking for his fingerprints, but will find nothing. In fact, it is the film that bares the least of his characteristics than any of his career. There is nothing special, let alone exceptional about any of it, and it truly feels like it could have been directed by anyone else. His artistic vision is unquestionably unique, but for Burton to be successful, his movies need to match his vision with a sense of whimsy. This film, however, is dead on arrival. The most peculiar thing about “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is how soulless it really is.

Ep. 84 – Star Trek Beyond, SDCC trailer dump, and Kiko is treading the boards with a new take on The Little Mermaid’s Ursula

July 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Star Trek Beyond, talk about all the comic book movie trailers that dropped at San Diego Comic Con, and speculate on what stage role Kiko has taken that’s caused him to miss this week’s show.

[00:00-11:48] Intro/Where is Kiko? Is he starring in The Little Mermaid?

[11:48-38:53] SDCC trailers: Justice League, Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, Kong: Skull Island and Doctor Strange, plus casting news featuring Brie Larson, Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone.

[38:53-1:09:53] REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond

[1:09:53-1:17:43] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

The Hateful Eight

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”)
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”)

Three years after Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning “Django Unchained” opened on Christmas Day 2012, the controversial filmmaker delivers another Western bloodbath for fans to eat up this holiday season, this time a 3-hour epic (including prologue and intermission) set in post-Civil War Wyoming. With a strong blizzard bearing down, two bounty hunters, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Ruth (Kurt Russell), the latter chained to fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), find shelter in a local haberdashery where they must keep their eyes on a motley crew of strangers with unknown intentions. As with most of Tarantino’s creations, the film is full of smartly written dialogue and absurd violence. Different is the stage play quality it exhibits since most takes place in a single location. This might be second-tier Tarantino, but there’s plenty to enjoy, especially composer Ennio Morricone’s extraordinary score.

Ep. 50 – Spy, Entourage, Love & Mercy, The Lion’s Mouth Opens, The Rock to star in Big Trouble in Little China remake, and Samuel L. Jackson won’t be in Captain America: Civil War

June 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Podcast

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Click here to download the episode!

In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys from CineSnob.net review “Spy,” “Entourage,” “Love & Mercy,” and “The Lion’s Mouth Opens.” They also discussed Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doing a remake of “Big Trouble in Little China” and Samuel L. Jackson being left out of “Captain America: Civil War.”

[0:00-9:27] Intro/live audience talk/bat boys and ball girls
[9:27-19:47] The Rock to star in Big Trouble in Little China remake
[19:47-26:27] Samuel L. Jackson won’t be in Captain America: Civil War
[26:27-40:44] Spy
[40:44-55:23] Entourage
[55:23-1:06:09] Love & Mercy
[1:06:09-1:17:44] The Lion’s Mouth Opens
[1:17:44-1:28:53] Teases for next week and close

Subscribe to The CineSnob Podcast via RSSiTunes or Stitcher.

To give your feedback, e-mail us at podcast [at] cinesnob [dot] net, or leave a voicemail at 920-FILM-210.

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service

February 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“X-Men: First Class”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“X-Men: First Class”) and Jane Goldman (“X-Men: First Class”)

After going all out with the stylistic violence and edgy humor of “Kick-Ass,” director Matthew Vaughn may have seemed like a surprising choice to reboot the studio-run “X-Men” franchise. Despite this fact, “X-Men: First Class” was a massive success and widely seen as an injection of rejuvenation into the Marvel moneymaker. Perhaps old habits die hard, however, as “Kingsman: The Secret Service” sees Vaughn and writing partner Jane Goldman return to the adult-themed bloodbaths introduced in “Kick-Ass,” complete with a British spy twist.

After losing a valuable member of their spy service, the Kingsman set out to replace a lost member with Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a street kid with little potential. As his mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth) sets out to train Eggsy while trying to foil a billionaire Internet tycoon (Samuel L. Jackson) with a questionable plan to control humanity.

Firth might seem like the last choice for casting in a physical role as a badass, gun-toting spy, and that very well may be why it works so well. It is equal parts unexpected and fantastic as Firth is an unanticipated natural, especially in scenes that call for mayhem. As a lead, Egerton is a natural. Despite his relatively unknown state in American film, he is charismatic and charming, feeding off of Firth while also being able to stand on his own. Even though there are some memorable characters, “Kingsman” isn’t entirely successful on this front. Most notably, Samuel L. Jackson turns in a hammy performance as a villain with an inexplicable lisp that adds nothing to the mix other than its inherent eccentricity.

A lot of the faults of “Kingsman” fall on the screenplay, which struggles to find a steady tone. The first half of the film is almost entirely meant to evoke spy-films and training expertise, while the second half goes completely off the rails and is filled with adult-humor, often times skewing towards the juvenile. It is also worth mentioning that the villain turn and frankly, the entire villain plotline is flimsy at best, with an extremely general mind control device and a convoluted “global warming” explanation that is barely explored.

One thing that is undeniable, however, is that “Kingsman” is sleek and stylish. Taking its cues from its dapperly dressed leads, Vaughn creates quick-paced and visually gratifying action set pieces, none better than an incredibly well choreographed scene of chaos in a church set absolutely brilliantly to the soaring guitar solo of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” The visual effects may look spotty from time to time, but Vaughn shows a clear interest in tailor making a visually unique spy series.

If “Kingsman” has one thing going for it, it is that it knows exactly what kind of movie it is. It is filled with unapologetic, and at times, gratuitous violence. Ultimately, it has one mission, and one mission alone: to entertain by any means necessary. With that being said, your level of entertainment is likely to depend on the length to which you can buy into the film’s absurdity. If you’re in from the get-go, you’ll be able to strap in and enjoy the ride. If you’re like me and on the fence about it, the films climax goes a touch too far, and comes off as way too silly and over-the-top to be considered entertaining. There’s a lot to like about this take on the spy genre, but Vaughn traded substance, sense and characterization for pure bloody mayhem, which is likely to work for some, but not for all.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

April 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Joe and Anthony Russo (“You, Me and Dupree”)
Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Thor: The Dark World”)

Of the stable of Marvel Comics superheroes that make up the cinematic version of The Avengers, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the one tinged with the most melancholy. Originally a shrimpy wannabe World War II enlistee, Rogers was transformed into the super soldier Captain America, accidentally frozen for 70 years, and revived to fight for a cause he’s not so sure he believes in anymore. While he hasn’t aged a day, his best girl went on to marry someone else and grow old and gray. He’s a man out of time, working for an organization, SHIELD, that seems more about intimidation than securing freedom. But Cap is a soldier, and he does what a soldier does:  follow orders.

Cap’s unease continues to grow as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” kicks off. Sent to rescue the crew of a SHIELD ship from Algerian pirates, Rogers’ trust in SHIELD is shaken when fellow team member Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) ignores his orders to covertly retrieve data from the ship’s computers. Back in Washington, D.C., Rogers confronts SHIELD leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about his suspicions. Fury comes clean, letting Rogers in on Operation: Insight, a system of satellites and helicarriers linked to eliminate threats before they happen. Cap isn’t reassured, and during a visit with his former love Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), he laments what has become of the country he signed up to fight for. Meanwhile Fury, after visiting with SHIELD official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) about delaying Operation: Insight, Fury is attacked in the streets of D.C. by a mysterious assassin known as The Winter Solider.

A delicious mixture of superheroics and ‘70s-style political thrills, “The Winter Soldier” plants its flag firmly at the top of the Marvel cinematic universe alongside “The Avengers” and Cap’s first big-screen adventure. While “Iron Man 3” felt like it was laying the groundwork for Robert Downey Jr.’s eventual exit (presumably, anyway) and “Thor: The Dark World” kept most of its action in Asgard, “The Winter Soldier” feels like the first Marvel film since “The Avengers” dominated the box office to actually live in and shake up the world that film left behind. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo turn in a hard-hitting, exceedingly confident film that feels effortless, the same of which can’t be said for the latest adventures of Thor and Iron Man. Evans shines again as Captain America, playing it straight while not turning the part into a clichéd patriot/man from the past. Surprisingly, the veteran Redford comes to play as well, digging his teeth into the material instead of coasting on his decades of movie stardom. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” may not be flawless – once again, the standalone film conveniently ignores the fact that the hero has other super pals he could call on – but it’s close.

RoboCop

February 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton
Directed by: Jose Padilha (“Elite Squad”)
Written by: Joshua Zetumer (debut)

Question: is it fair to judge a remake/reboot by how it compares to the original film? After all, with the near-instant availability of pretty much every movie ever made via streaming or download, its easier than ever to to tick off essential film boxes on your personal movie watching checklist. Remakes don’t exist in a vacuum, especially remakes of beloved modern classics. If we’re being honest, remakes are at least partly banking on the movie-going public having at least a passing knowledge of the original film.

Answer: yeah, absolutely. And when it comes to the new remake of “RoboCop,” the comparison (probably not surprisingly) isn’t favorable.

Like the gory 1987 sci-fi satire, the modern “RoboCop” centers on Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). As an undercover cop, Murphy and his partner Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are made by a drug lord (Patrick Garrow) they’ve been investigating. After a shootout in a restaurant leaves Lewis hospitalized, the drug lord’s goons go after Murphy by detonating a car bomb in front of his home leaving Murphy comatose and paralyzed.

Meanwhile OmniCorp, a giant corporation responsible for producing robotic drones that keep the peace in war-torn Middle Eastern countries, desperately desires to bring its killbots to U.S. soil. Federal law prohibits robots from conducting law enforcement, however, due to the fact that the ‘bots aren’t capable of human decision-making, a law that is a frequent target of rage for outspoken talk show host Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson). The promise of raking in billions of dollars in the American market leads CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) to a revelation: put a man inside a machine. After convincing Murphy’s wife (Abbie Cornish) the only way to save her dying husband is to hand him over to OmniCorp’s Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman), RoboCop is born.

Whereas director Paul Verhoeven’s late-’80s “RoboCop” relished in satirizing hyper violence and corporate greed, Brazilian director Jose Padihla’s PG-13 “RoboCop” sets its sights on the ethical dilemma of drone warfare, only with a muddier, more somber tone. The crux of the too-long subplot about the repeal of legislation banning robot cops – what is this, “The Phantom Menace?”- deals with the notion that a man should be the one pulling the trigger seems to ignore the fact that, well, men pull the triggers on robot drone strikes today. The movie also takes too long to get to the RoboCopping, dispensing buckets of backstory that ultimately doesn’t pay off, taking nearly a full hour to show off Murphy’s new cybernetic construction we all came to see.

Speaking of Murphy, the remake lets him keep his humanity from his initial boot up as RoboCop, a decision that significantly blunts the character’s arc. Instead of memory wipes, this Alex Murphy is less of a soulless automaton and instead just gets hyper-focused and emotionless when his dopamine levels are dialed down.

And, in what is perhaps the film’s worst offense, Samuel L. Jackson’s gets to utter his trademark phrase—motherfucker—only to have it bleeped. Which, when you think about it, sums up the mistakes of a straight-faced, PG-13 remake of “RoboCop” better than anything else.

Django Unchained

December 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jaime Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”)
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”)

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”) takes a no-holds-barred approach to the topic of slavery in “Django Unchained,” a sharply-written, ultra-violent spectacle masked as a spaghetti western. Sergio Leone would be both proud and traumatized.

As a film about racism in America, it’s a welcomed punch to the gut unlike the seriously overrated Oscar-winning 2004 drama “Crash,” which also bashes you over the head with the subject matter, but with far less blood and entertainment value. When conveying slavery on the big screen, not many directors would have the backbone to present it as a savagely dark comedy and gun-blazing action flick. These topics are serious issues about our nation’s dark past. But what Tarantino is able to do here is monumental. By taking something as revolting as slavery and turning it on its head, he uncovers the ugliness of the era in a way we can all appreciate. It’s cynical, cartoonish and shocking at times, but Tarnantino knows how to get our attention and keep it till the last body is riddled with its fair share of bullets.

In “Django Unchained,” Academy Award-winning actor Jaime Foxx (“Ray”), in a title role that was actually written for Will Smith (who wussed out of the movie), stars as Django, a pre-Civil War slave who is given his freedom by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in exchange for helping him track down a trio of murderers. Once the job is complete and Django and Dr. Schultz have developed a kindly partnership, Django teams up with him to go on more bounties so he can make enough money to go buy back his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from whatever slave owner has acquired her.

Upon their journey, Django and Dr. Schultz learn that Broomhilda has been purchased by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio in a terrific supporting role that should garner him an Oscar nom), one of the most well-known slave owners in the American South who gets his kicks in watching able-bodied male slaves brutally fight each other to the death. Once infiltrated onto the plantation of Candieland by pretending to have an interest in buying one of Calvin’s fighters, Django and Dr. Schultz scheme a plan to save Broomhilda before Calvin’s house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) figures out what’s really happening.

While the film loses steam in the last half hour (and includes a ridiculously unfunny cameo by the always arrogant Tarantino), the exaggerated elements of the filmmaker’s narrative, dialogue and style remain much like they have been over the last 20 years. Sure, it’s not in the top tier of what he’s done in the past (“Kill Bill” is a lot more fun and “Pulp Fiction” will forever be his masterpiece), but Tarantino’s films are imaginative and unique. Until he stops serving that up – even if it is the form of a moronic group of Kl Klux Klan members – I’ll have a few scoops.

The Avengers

May 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by: Joss Whedon (“Serenity”)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“The Cabin in the Woods”)

It happens in the second half of the highly-anticipated Marvel comic-book movie “The Avengers,” a precisely planned superhero assemblage that has been culminating since 2008’s release of both “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” reboot (most über-nerds unfairly ignore director Ang Lee’s fascinating “Hulk” of 2003 as art-house nonsense). As “The Avengers” ensemble cast, including Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Chris Hemsworth as Thor, contemplate how to stop the supervillain Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from destroying the earth with his barrage of alien soldiers and machines, Captain America (Chris Evans) takes it upon himself to assign his comrades to do what each one of them does best.

“Hulk … smash,” he says, directing his bulging, green, gamma ray-infused super teammate who swiftly carries out his instructions by ripping apart serpent-like battleships running amok in NYC. It’s a phrase fanboys will be pleased to hear, especially since Marvel seemed to agree with their assessment of Lee’s aforementioned attempt, which prompted the studio to hit the reset button by plugging Edward Norton into Eric Bana’s transforming role as Bruce Banner (the role now belongs to Mark Ruffalo after creative differences arose between Marvel and Norton). From that point on, the comic-book conglomerate knew exactly what they needed their Universe to become.

“The Avengers” isn’t trying to reinvent the comic-book movie like Lee or Christopher Nolan with his “Dark Knight” trilogy. It’s evident that the studio’s main objective is mass commercial appeal and not to clutter things up with complex ideas and themes. That’s exactly what they’ve been doing over the last four years. With releases like “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” they wanted to give fans already invested in these characters concrete evidence no one was going to wax philosophical. They wanted big, blaring scenes capable of melting eyeballs in 3D. In the simplest of terms, they wanted to see Hulk, well, smash.

And smash he does in “The Avengers” alongside the mightiest of heroes, which first appeared together in comic books written by industry savant Stan Lee in the early ’60s. Back then, the squad was created to compete with the ever-growing popularity of DC Comics’ Justice League. While the roster has changed over the years, the modern film adaptations have chosen to follow the characters best able to sidestep their natural comic-book kitsch (sorry Ant-Man, your protruding shoulder pads are just too silly to overcome). With approximately $1.8 billion in box-office revenue worldwide, geekdom has spoken. Despite its flaws, “The Avengers” is solid entertainment.

What better way to appease the geeks than with one of their own? Directed by cult favorite Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”), “The Avengers” is pumped with exciting action sequences and razor-sharp special effects that can compete with anything Marvel has ever put out. Known for his clever writing ability (screw Buffy, the dude wrote Darlene’s “To Whom it Concerns” poem during a Season 2 episode of “Roseanne!”), Whedon’s dialogue is perfect for more charismatic characters like industrialist playboy Tony Stark — though far less so for characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the always doltish Thor, who unfortunately doesn’t provide much oomph to the already ordinary storyline. It starts with Thor’s evil brother Loki, a flimsily written antagonist who is able to get his hands on a powerful cube known as the Tesseract, which holds the key to unlimited sustainable energy. With the planet on the brink of destruction, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) rallies his all-star team together to (trumpet fanfare) save the human race. Before they can do that, however, the Avengers must experience some growing pains as a diverse superhero unit and quibble like kids on the playground. It’s during these fight scenes that fanboy fantasies come true. Watching Thor’s hammer slam down onto Captain America’s shield is the stuff of epic wonder. Other amazing feats of action bliss include the Hulk intercepting a fighter pilot as he ejects from a damaged jet, and Stark changing into his Iron Man suit in midair.

While the narrative itself leaves much to be desired, Whedon, who also has the overrated meta horror movie “The Cabin in the Woods” out at theaters, does have a knack for hilarious pop-culture references, snappy one-liners that get every character involved, and some physical comedy. It all keeps the story from falling into too many past superhero pitfalls. “The Avengers” may not divert much from the typical superhero blueprint, but what hardcore Marvel enthusiast would really want that anyway?

African Cats

April 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (narrator)
Directed by: Alastair Fothergill (“Earth”) and Keith Scholey (debut)

“Who would win in a fight — a gorilla covered in armor or a cobra that spits acid from its fangs?” These were the type of brain-busters my poor parents would have to answer when I was in elementary school; my oversized head filled with useless questions about hypothetical battles between vicious animals I conjured up in my imagination.

It didn’t matter how much time my mom and dad actually wasted making educated guesses just to shut me up. Any answer they gave was the wrong one. Answer gorilla, and I’d ask how that was possible since the venomous acid would easily disintegrate the ape’s iron suit. Answer snake, and I’d wonder why they didn’t consider the limited distance the projectile poison could actually travel airborne, especially if the gorilla climbed a tree or something. Grown-ups.

Flash forward 25 years and I’m sitting on the edge of my seat watching the wildlife documentary “African Cats” as a majestic alpha lion stands at the edge of a river in Kenya staring into the nostrils of a hissing crocodile. My boyhood sense of wonder rushes back as the predators refuse to give way to one another. The visceral scene is so captivating, I’m not the least bit interested why neither of them reaches for their nunchakus.

But this isn’t make-believe like so many other family movies that play for entertainment value alone. There are some important lessons to be learned here; this is a story about an animal’s fight to survive in its natural environment. And while it does get the Disney gloss-over that keeps it sitting safely on a G-rated level, kids will still get the idea of just how the circle of life works without seeing the more savage parts of nature (translation: the big cats roar and bite, but they also mind their manners while ripping apart a gazelle with the help of some kid-friendly editing).

As the third theatrical U.S. release from the Disney offshoot known as Disneynature (“Earth” and “Oceans” debuted on Earth Day in 2009 and 2010 respectively), “African Cats” is in good hands with directors Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill capturing breathtaking footage while combing the African savanna. The narrative, which divides its time between a pride of lions and a coalition of cheetahs, is not unlike what you may find on the Discovery Channel or inside the pages of National Geographic. Once magnified for the big screen, however, the film takes on a whole new dynamic.

In “African Cats,” Scholey and Fothergill, both of whom have spent their lives working in some capacity in wilderness TV and film, set up shop on the Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya. Here they follow Sita, a lone female cheetah and her five helpless cubs, and Layla, an aging lioness and her single cub who are both protected by her pride. Also at the center of the lion’s story is the pride’s defender Fang, identified by the dangling tooth he earned in a lion vs. lion scuffle. To the north, another dominant beast named Kali and his four intimidating sons wait for their opportunity to journey south and invade new territory.

“African Cats” comes on the heels of the IMAX film “Born to be Wild 3D,” which features playful baby elephants and orangutans, and “The Last Lions,” a much darker and overall fulfilling nature documentary set in Botswana that explores more complex themes including grief and abandonment. But it doesn’t break new ground in its recently industrious genre. Instead, it manages to be relevant by photography alone. Without the sweeping aerial shots and the rest of the , the documentary doesn’t add up to more than standard, harmless wilderness fare for the kiddos.

Even with narration by Mr. Badass himself, Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction,” “The Incredibles”), “African Cats” refuses to let its claws out to take advantage of his smooth voiceover. I jest, but imagine how hilarious it would have been to have Jackson deliver the line, “I have had it with these mother******* lions and their mother******* manes!” At least parents could’ve use the “Snakes on a Plane” reference next time one of their kids asks if a lion with a laser beam really is king of the jungle.

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