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The Lion King

The Lion King is one of the best animated films of all time. It is Disney’s best Pixar-less movie. It’s about a lion named Simba, and Simba is in line to be the king of the Pride Lands. Instead his uncle murders his father and takes over the throne. Simba must avenge his father and assume the throne, but first he runs away to live with a warthog and a meerkat and eat bugs.

The story starts with Mufasa and Sarabi celebrating the birth of their baby by having a monkey dangle him from a high rock over hundreds of wild animals. The baby is Simba, and one day he will be the Lion King, but for now he’s just a curious cub. He spends his days frolicking with and getting beat up by his friend Nala. His uncle is evil and wants to be king. His name is Scar and he has a scar. The writers either ran out of African names to use or just got really lazy. Either way, Scar keeps trying to kill Simba and/or Mufasa (whichever comes first). One day, after Simba and Nala barely escape Scar’s hyena henchmen, Mufasa tells him about the circle of life, how one day he will die and Simba will become king, and a bunch of other life lessons.

Scar eventually succeeds in killing Mufasa, and he makes Simba think that it was his fault. Simba decides to run away instead of dealing with his problems. Simba almost dies but he gets saved by Timon and Pumba. Timon is a sarcastic meerkat and Pumba is a stupid, smelly warthog. They decide to take in Simba and they teach him about Hakuna Matata and how to live a carefree life.

Simba grows up with them, but he can’t forget his past. One day, his old pal Nala shows up on their turf looking for food. Simba and Nala are ecstatic to see each other again and sparks fly. Nala is surprised to learn that Simba is still alive, and Simba is surprised to learn that Scar has taken over the throne and the kingdom is suffering. Nala tells Simba to get his shit together and claim the crown that’s rightfully his. Simba still thinks that he killed his dad and doesn’t want to go back and deal with his inner demons.

But then he talks to a monkey and a cloud that looks and sounds like his dead dad and he decides to go back. Timon and Pumba decide they have to help their friend and they hitch a ride back with Nala.

Simba confronts Scar and finds out the truth about Scar killing his dad and Simba learns it wasn’t his fault. Stuff happens and Simba emerges victorious and becomes the Lion King. And then he and Nala have a baby lion and the circle of life goes on.

If you haven’t seen The Lion King in a while, it’s worth revisiting. The plot is clichéd and tired and not at all unique. But it’s the characters and the dialog and the songs that make this a classic. The opening sequence sucks you in, and you know that you’re going to experience something special in this film. There are a lot of animal puns hidden in the dialog and song lyrics. Tim Rice and Elton John’s songs are great and enhance the movie, along with Hans Zimmer’s score.

The voice cast is pretty impressive. Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick play young and old Simba. James Earl Jones plays Mufasa, Rowan Atkinson (A.K.A. Mr. Bean) plays Zazu, Jeremy Irons plays Scar, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella play Timon and Pumba, and Cheech Marin and Whoopi Goldberg play hyenas. They originally wanted Tommy Chong to play one of the hyenas. Cheech and Chong in a Disney movie? There would have been way more jokes about the grasslands, that’s for sure. We missed out.

This is an awesome movie and it’s like a time machine that takes you back to when you used to watch it as a kid. You remember where you watched it, who you watched it with, you remember singing those damn songs, and trying not to cry when Mufasa dies.

This movie doesn’t have a great story. But it has great moments. It has great music. It has a great cast. It has great visuals. When you add those attributes up, it makes The Lion King better than what it should be. It’s now one of those movies that you have to see. If you haven’t seen The Lion King people look at you funny. No childhood is complete without seeing this movie. If you haven’t seen it by this point, you are probably going out of your way to avoid it, and that’s sad because you deserve a childhood.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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Glory

Glory is based on the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first formal US Army unit made up of black soldiers. And Hollywood is racist, so Matthew Broderick plays the main character. Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai) directs and Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, and Cary Elwes costar in one of the better movies set during the US Civil War.

Captain Robert Gould Shaw (Ferris Bueller) is the son of abolitionists and is currently fighting in the Civil War for the Union Army. He gets injured in a battle and goes home to Boston where he gets promoted to Colonel and assumes control over the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He recruits his friend Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes) to be his second-in-command. He’s also white. The first black guy who joins them is Thomas (Andre Braugher), a childhood friend of Cabot and Shaw’s.

A bunch of men join the unit for a chance to fight, to prove themselves both honorable and equal. Denzel Washington plays Trip, an escaped slave with a chip on his shoulder for understandable reasons. Jihmi Kennedy plays Jupiter Sharts, a free black man who seems naïve and innocent compared to Trip. Morgan Freeman plays Rawlins, who plays the wise old mentor figure who can still kick some ass.

Shaw’s tasked with getting the 54th into fighting shape, something that’s not easy to do. The men train and bond and establish their characters and relationships. They have to fight for boots, rifles, and uniforms. The men work hard and improve, but it becomes clear that they aren’t likely to see any action on account of all the racism.

Shaw blackmails his commanding officers and gets his men to the front lines. They win a small skirmish in South Carolina. And Shaw volunteers the 54th to lead a suicide assault on Fort Wagner. Not to ruin anything, but they pretty much all die. It was a suicide assault after all.

Robert Shaw was a real guy. He really did command the 54th infantry. The movie has to include him. But Shaw is a shitty main character. He is kind of racist but not really. He’s kind of a coward but not really. He just kind of stands around and occasionally does something to advance the plot, but he seems to just be plodding along. All of the good scenes are about Trip, Rawlins, Thomas, and Jupiter. They are the heart of the movie. A movie about a black army unit should focus on the black army unit.

Morgan Freeman is always good, and this movie is no exception. But Denzel Washington steals the show. Trip is a great character. The scene where he gets whipped for desertion is hard to watch, but you can’t turn away. You feel his pain.

The battle scenes are explosive, violent, bloody, and realistic. Edward Zwick knows how to balance out riveting action sequences with quieter and more reflective scenes. This is a great movie, it’s a classic. You watch it and you want to learn more about the 54th. Those brave soldiers fought with courage and honor and deserve to be remembered. They should be the focus of the film, not their white leader.

Critically Rated at 14/17

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The Breakfast Club’s Day Off

The Breakfast Club’s Day Off

The 1980s were a crazy decade. Good things to come out of the ‘80s include DeLoreans, cocaine, Thriller and John Hughes movies. John Hughes was one of the most influential and productive filmmakers of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. We can thank him for such classics as Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck, Weird Science, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Vacation and many others. His two best films are Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the Breakfast Club. John Hughes said in an interview that Ferris Bueller and Sixteen Candles are companion films, but I disagree with him. With respect of course, but I find more parallels between Ferris Bueller and the Breakfast Club. They are the real companion films, made just a year apart, the Breakfast Club in 1985 and Ferris Bueller in 1986.

Before we get started, let me just say casting can make or break a film. Matthew Broderick is Ferris Bueller. The movie wouldn’t have worked without his performance. It is extremely difficult to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience and then jump back to talking to the other characters that aren’t aware they are in a movie. Alan Ruck was a great choice to play Cameron. Mia Sarah (Sloane) didn’t really give an amazing performance, but she didn’t ruin anything either. The Breakfast Club is an ensemble film, and if any of the five main actors were miscast the movie would have fizzled. Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy all deliver great performances, and they play off each other well.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about one person’s best day in high school. It is a fantasy, it is surreal. He is aware that he is in a movie and he talks directly to the audience, offering them advice and giving insight about himself and the other characters like Cameron. Ferris Bueller is who you want to be, he has no problems, he transcends all the cliques and he makes you appreciate living life.

The Breakfast Club is about a group of kids stuck in an all day detention in high school. It is real. They don’t talk to the audience, they talk to each other. Each kid represents a clique, and together they transcend high school politics and become friends, if only for a day. The cliques are still recognizable today, there’s the nerd, the bully, the jock, the princess, and the basket case. They know that life sucks. Some of them live less than ideal lives, and they have lots of real problems that they share with each other.

Ferris Bueller is mobile. He should be at school, but he treats the day like a Saturday and fakes being sick. He, Cameron and Sloane zip around Chicago in a flashy red Ferrari. They do more things than they could have actually done. They execute a plot to get Sloane out of school, they go to the Cubs game, they go to a museum, to a fine dining restaurant, to Sears Tower, and they even hijack a parade. The parade sequence is super extravagant, there are thousands of people singing and dancing to Twist and Shout. It is an extremely elaborate scene.

The Breakfast Club is the exact opposite. It’s a Saturday but they have to go to school for detention. These kids are stuck in the library for almost the entire time. Occasionally they go somewhere else, but they are still trapped in the school.  They are stationary, and events unfold at a more natural and realistic pace. Compare this movie’s dance sequence to the grandiose parade scene in Ferris Bueller. It is much more tame and natural. They are rebelling, but in a quiet way.

The Breakfast Club is a slice of life for these high school students. They are still stuck in the politics of high school; they don’t want to be adults yet. The only two major adult characters are the principal and the janitor. The principal is a jerk, angry, strict and kind of an asshole. He represents growing up and being a suit. The janitor is kind, nice, and genuine. He represents growing up and being a failure. The parents only show up to drop off and pick up the kids at the beginning and end.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about growing up. The adults play a much more active role in the plot. Ferris’s dad shows up a few times around Chicago, unaware how close by Ferris is. Ferris’s mom loves him and checks in on him. Principal Rooney and his secretary Grace are also pretty major roles. Rooney is the main antagonist, willing to do almost anything to catch Ferris Bueller in the act. And how can you forget Ben Stein as the monotonous droning teacher? The adults are featured more because Ferris is aware that he is growing up, and there won’t be too many more days like this one, and that’s why he has to take advantage of it… “Life moves pretty fast.”

Both movies end with the main characters going home and reflecting on their day, and how their day changed their lives. They changed our lives too. They both have classic endings. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has Rooney taking the school bus in sullen defeat, while “Oh Yeah!” is playing and the credits roll, before Ferris Bueller addresses the camera one last time. The Breakfast Club has Brian the Nerd reading in voice over their paper about who they are (they are the Breakfast Club), and it ends on a freeze frame of Bender with his arm raised in triumph.

Both these movies are classics. Trying to decide which is better is impossible. Sometimes Ferris is better, sometimes the Breakfast Club is. It depends on your mood. Do you want surrealism or realism? Fantasy or real life? These are companion films, two similar and yet totally different films from the same writer/director. They are his yin and yang of high school movies, they are both sides of the coin, they are his legacy.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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