Mel Valentin

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Nothing says redundant, unnecessary, and unneeded like a beat-for-beat, (nearly) shot-for-shot remake of a beloved animated classic like the faux-live-action (re) iteration of Disney’s beloved, 1994 animated classic, The Lion King. Since its premiere twenty-five years ago, The Lion King has become a permanent pop-culture fixture, passed on from generation to generation as one of – if not, the – highlights of Disney’s animation renaissance. Like practically ever Disney film-turned –classic, it’s become a self-perpetuating brand of its own, expanding to straight-to-video sequels, animated TV series, and a Broadway musical that’s become the highest grossing musical of all time. In short, we didn’t need a faux-live-action remake of a classic, maybe just a re-release or even a big-screen, old school animated sequel. For the Disney Industrial Complex eager to exploit its back catalog of animated classics, a live-action (or faux-live-action) version of The Lion King was all but inevitable. Just because you can, though, doesn’t mean you should. The bland, dull, ultimately soporific result, however, suggests that for once, the Disney Industrial Complex erred badly. (more…)

Horror traditionally unfolds in the dark, exploiting our most primal, lizard-brain fears: What we can’t see can – and often does – kill us (it did where our first, bipedal ancestors were concerned), but horror can happen anywhere, not just in the dark. It can happen in a calm, quiet, idyllic settings, like a suburban or rural home. It can happen also under the glaring, never-ending glare of the midnight sun, as perpetually grinning, muslin-clad, pagan cultists invite you and yours to participate in their unique celebration of the summer solstice. And if you’re the typical “ugly American,” entitled, white (or white-adjacent), and privileged, you won’t live to see the end of summer. Part homage to the folk-horror of The Wicker Man, the rural terror of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Americans abroad sub-genre typified by Hostel, and part relationship melodrama, Ari Aster’s (Hereditary) second film, Midsommar, confirms his status as a one-of-a-kind generational talent. (more…)

Spider-Man: Far From Home arrives in multiplexes as the third entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in five months (the 23rd overall in only 11 years), as an epilogue/coda to Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame and Phase 3, and finally, as a semi-anticipated sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s also an exercise in brute-force brand maintenance, primed to sell Avengers and Spider-Man-related merchandise, including, of course, Spider-Man action figures (Spider-Man wears four superhero suits in the new film, from the Iron Spider suit introduced in Avengers: Infinity War, his first, Tony Stark-given tech suit originally seen in Captain America: Civil War, an all-black stealth suit, and a new hybrid suit that swaps out the familiar blue with black, but otherwise keeps Steve Ditko’s design aesthetic). But branding saturation or superhero fatigue isn’t the most significant problem with the Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel: It’s both the not unexpected over-reliance on the late Tony Stark’s long shadow as a central plot driver and yet another weak, underwritten, ultimately underutilized supervillain (minus the “super” part). (more…)

A semi-sequel to the Conjuring films and a direct sequel to Annabelle – in the head-scratching, over-convoluted chronology of the James Wan-produced Conjuring universe, Annabelle appeared up in movie theaters before Annabelle: Creation (even evil dolls deserve origin stories, apparently) –  Annabelle: Creation covered related key, mythology-expanding events that unfolded before Annabelle (making it a prequel to a prequel). Annabelle Comes Home finds the super-creepy doll (and demonic conduit) with the rictus smile and unblinking blue eyes front-and-center again, this time terrorizing Ed and Lorraine Warren’s (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) preteen daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), her ultra-competent babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and Mary Ellen’s oddly death-obsessed best friend (forever), Daniela Rios (Katie Sarife) over the course of a single, inexplicably foggy night. Annabelle Comes Home delivers everything audiences loyal to the Conjuring universe have come to expect, up to and including the obligatory slow-build, slow-burn scenes punctuated by the appearance of a ghostly apparition, occasional jump scares (earned and unearned), and the periodic injection of cathartic humor to offset the potential grimness of the proceedings. (more…)

As a fictionally famous scientist once said, more as a warning than a promise, “Life finds a way.” The same or similar idea applies to Disney-Pixar and the relentless desire and/or drive to leave no piece of intellectual property, even one as beloved by multiple generations as the Toy Story series, unexploited, regardless of the risks involved. The potential billion-dollar upside was simply too much for any profit-oriented movie studio to pass up. At least that’s what the average cynic would say, especially given the toyetic nature of the Toy Story series and a third, presumably final chapter, Toy Story 3, that seemed to end the series on the highest of high notes. Luckily, any fears or concerns about a potentially disappointing fourth entry don’t apply to Toy Story 4, an unreserved, unqualified triumph of story, character, and animation. It’s an all-ages appeal with more than simple, surface-deep pleasures but a film that will join the Pixar pantheon as both a series and a studio best.  (more…)

No Will Smith; no (major) problem.

With Will Smith completely uninterested in returning to the 22-year-old Men in Black franchise (once upon a time, Smith made it look good) and otherwise busy with other commercial pursuits (playing a blue-skinned, top-knotted, magical genie in the recent live-action Aladdin adaptation), Tommy Lee Jones all-but-retired from performing, Sony Pictures unsurprisingly turned to one of the MCU’s MVPs, Chris Hemsworth, and Hemsworth’s Thor: Ragnarok co-star, Tessa Thompson, to restart and/or soft reboot a series that last saw the darkened interior of an air-conditioned movie theater seven years ago (given the rapidity in which pop-culture favorites turn into yesterday’s disposable detritus, zero guarantee moviegoers will respond with more than just passing nostalgia). It was still a gamble. Hemsworth has yet to carry a film outside the MCU. Thompson has yet to topline a major studio film. On individual charisma and collective chemistry alone, Hemsworth and Thompson prove themselves more than worthy of headlining a big-budget, spectacle-driven franchise entry of their own, the F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious, Straight Outta Compton, The Negotiator, Friday) directed Men in Black: International. (more…)

When Bryan Singer’s X-Men opened twenty years ago, few expected a mid-budget superhero team-up to spawn two direct sequels, spin-offs, a reboot, and three sequels to the reboot (not to mention re-energizing the superhero genre), but it did, but like all good things – or all things in general – it had to come to an end, but nothing then or now said it had to end with a flaccid, turgid, ultimately pointless entry like the much-delayed, less-than-anticipated Dark Phoenix. A second go-round in bringing Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s classic comic-book storyline to the big screen – Dark Phoenix drops the “mutant cure” storyline that undermined and ultimately neutered Brett Ratner’s -Men: The Last Stand thirteen years ago – replacing it with a woefully underwritten, under-motivated central arc, Jean Grey’s transformation from troubled mutant with telekinetic and psychokinetic powers, to a rage-filled superpowered, near godlike super-mutant, but repeatedly fails to make her – and by extension, Dark Phoenix: the Movie – intrinsically or organically compelling, let alone passably watchable. Another missed opportunity, another misfire isn’t how nostalgia-prone X-fans wanted to see the series end before the Disney Industrial Complex folds the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that’s what Dark Phoenix delivers. (more…)

Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla reboot left moviegoers – and some, if not most, film critics – generally unfulfilled, wanting more, more action, more Godzilla, and more kaiju-on-kaiju action. Godzilla spent the majority of his self-titled movie’s running time offscreen, shown only tangentially as an after-thought. When he finally made it onscreen, it was only briefly. Even the climactic battle between Godzilla and a no-name pair of generic monsters disappointed. Godzilla won the crown and/or title, of course, but humanity lost, not just lives or property, but the claim of ownership or dominion over the earth and its resources (cue environmental/climate change theme). In the 2014 reboot, San Francisco took the brunt of Godzilla’s final battle. By the end, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands had lost their lives, but in the Godzilla-verse, the human cost of kaiju battles usually gets sidestepped or simply ignored. The spectacle is all, the human drama, if any, always a distant second. That, of course, isn’t so much a criticism as it is an observation that also holds true for the direct sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, an unapologetically dazzling 200-million-dollar love letter to the Godzilla-verse that’s spanned more than sixty years (and counting). (more…)

You don’t have to be a cynic to recognize Disney’s corporate strategy to re-adapt practically the entirety of its animated back catalog into a seemingly endless stream of live-action or CGI-live-action feature-length films aren’t motivated by artistic or aesthetic considerations, but purely commercial ones. And it’s not just about how much box-office revenue this or that new release generates, but also future revenue via Disney’s new streaming service, Disney+, and, of course, extending intellectual property rights further into the future. It also makes sense why Guy Ritchie – no one’s idea of a family-oriented, mainstream director – jumped at the opportunity to direct the live-action remake of Disney’s 1992 animated classic, Aladdin, with Will Smith, a movie star with remarkable consistency, replacing the late Robin Williams as the cosmically powered, blue-skinned, wish-granting genie. (more…)

There’s slow, there’s slow burn, and then there’s Brightburn.

Nepotism can get you far in or out of Hollywood, but in the case of Brightburn, a rote, routine “What If?” Superman-as-supervillain origin story co-written by onetime schlock purveyor-turned-A-list director James Gunn’s brother and cousin, Brian and Mark, respectively, it’s not far enough. Gunn produced Brightburn, but he obviously played a key role in getting the Brightburn script in front of studio executives eager to capitalize on the lucrative superhero genre. He just as likely helped Brian and Mark to shape its not-quite-clever Superman-as-supervillain storyline. Gunn should have given the underwritten, undercooked script four, five, or even six more passes before deeming it worthy of actual production. Brightburn takes a steep dive off a short cliff, repeatedly failing to meet any of the Gunn trio’s supposedly subversive intentions, taking an old-to-comics-new-to-movies premise with promise and potential and instead delivering a flaccid, turgid, ultimately disposable contribution to the genre. (more…)