12 Jul 19
It’s time for Simba to roar again. Since 1994 when Disney’s animated musical ‘The Lion King’ opened to rave reviews and blockbuster business, the franchise has continued to expand. Its African setting, its story riffing on Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ and its memorable score by Elton John and Tim Rice made ‘Lion King’ both exotic and familiar as it follows lion cub Simba (Swahili for ‘lion’) from a carefree youth to his destiny as King in the Circle of Life. ‘Lion King’ was the year’s number one box-office hit, won a pair of Oscars for its music and a Golden Globe as Best Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy. Still running on Broadway is Julie Taymor’s Tony-winning adaptation of ‘The Lion King,’ which opened nearly 22 years ago in November 1997. Taymor’s ‘Lion King’ is on tour, currently in Toronto where it’s been playing since October 2017. There have been a pair of direct-to-video spinoffs, two television series (‘Timon and Pumbaa’ and ‘The Lion Guard’), even a 2011 3-D release.
The enthusiasm and anticipation for Disney’s new ‘live action’ ‘The Lion King’ opening nationwide July 19 has pundits wondering if it will challenge ‘Avengers: Endgame’ as the year’s biggest blockbuster hit. Directed by Jon Favreau (who helmed the first Marvel blockbuster ‘Iron Man’), photographed by Caleb Deschanel, with a voice cast that includes Daniel Glover as Simba, Beyonce as Nala, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the villain Scar and James Earl Jones reprising his original role as Mufasa, Simba’s father, this ‘Lion King’ is a photo-realistic version of the musical. Significant changes are in store – the film itself is a half-hour longer, certain characters are more sharply defined and/or expanded. John, Rice and Beyonce collaborated on a new song which makes it automatically a contender, like the film, for year-end awards. Tickets went on sale June 24, 25 years to the day since the original ‘Lion King’ opened.
A Brit Whodunit
‘London Kills, Series 2’ (5 episodes, world premiere July 15, AcornTV) is a classic police procedural. The elite London murder squad — the usual diverse mix of generations, races and ability — discovers a body, proceeds to theorize how and/or why it got where it was discovered, then rounds up possible suspects, informers, witnesses until the mystery is solved, culprit captured and a new case beckons. The cases involve skeletal remains dug up in a backyard, an elderly pub owner’s brutal killing, a father and son’s double shooting. As the series progresses, its biggest mystery remains unsolved: What happened to their boss’s wife who simply disappeared? Detective Inspector David Bradford (Hugo Speer) is not particularly warm and cuddly and as time passes his explanations and alibi don’t quite lay to rest the horrible suspicion that he might have murdered his missing wife. The first 2 episodes are scripted by women but the series is not particularly kind to them.
The new ‘Pet Sematary’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, Paramount, R) switches gender in a key role, with the blessing of author Stephen King. A horror story about pets and people with a stark message about letting the dead die, this zombie thriller has Jason Clarke as the beleaguered dad, John Lithgow an aged neighbor who knows, so to speak, where the undead are buried and Amy Seimetz as a terribly distraught mother. The bonus batch boasts not just 90-plus minutes of content but an all-new alternate ending (!) and seven deleted/extended scenes. There are four additional chapters on Resurrection about rebooting a classic, Final Resting Place, details the search for the right cemetery, Road to Sorrow chronicles creating the iconic cat and Death Comes Home.
This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jason Clarke in a scene from “Pet Sematary.” (Kerry Hayes/Paramount Pictures via AP)
Doris Day’s recent passing at 97 prompted a review of her legacy. She looms large. A successful big band singer who became one of postwar America’s greatest movie stars, Day flourished onscreen for two decades, then retired to retreat to Carmel and focus on dogs. Her film legacy began with musicals both happy (‘Calamity Jane,’ ‘The Pajama Game’) and sad (‘Love Me or Leave Me’). She scored with serious drama (‘Storm Warning’), sparkling, enduring comedy (‘Pillow Talk,’ ‘Teacher’s Pet’) and occasionally thrillers. An instinctive actress, Day so intensely committed to the endangered, emotionally wrecked women she played in thrillers like Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ or Andrew L. Stone’s ‘Julie’ that when filming finished she found herself an emotional basket case. David Miller is best known for the Joan Crawford classic ‘Sudden Fear’ – he knows his way around endangered heroines. Miller’s glossy, London-set 1960 ‘Midnight Lace’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) casts Day as Kit Preston, newly wed to Rex Harrison’s financier, who is stalked, threatened and being clearly driven to suicide. ‘Lace’ begins with what seems a nightmarish dream sequence: Kit in a fog-shrouded Grosvenor Square is threatened by an eerie voice that calls her by name and says she will die. It’s no dream, Harrison calls Scotland Yard and they are on the case. But no one is ever around when Kit receives more malicious, threatening phone calls. No one sees who pushed her in front of an oncoming bus. No one believes her; Kit’s treated like the little boy who cried ‘Wolf,’ an attention-grabbing hysteric. Among the suspects: Myrna Loy, the ‘Thin Man’ icon, as her widowed aunt, John Gavin (in ’60 he also starred in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’) as a conveniently located construction boss, Roddy McDowall, who really is English, as her housekeeper’s mercenary son and dapper Hitchcock favorite John Williams (‘Dial M for Murder’) as the skeptical Scotland Yard detective. Day was required to sustain high-pitched hysteria as Kit’s horrific fears reach their climax. Once an exhausted, burnt out Day wrapped, she vowed there never would be another thriller – and there never was. A most agreeable bonus: Kat Ellinger’s excellent audio commentary.
FILE – In this April 15, 1955 file photo, American actress and singer Doris Day holds a bouquet of roses at Le Bourget Airport in Paris, France after flying in from London. Day, whose wholesome screen presence stood for a time of innocence in ’60s films, has died, her foundation says. She was 97. The Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed Day died early Monday, May 13, 2019, at her Carmel Valley, California, home. (AP Photo, File)
Kathryn Bigelow remains the sole female to win the Academy Award as Best Director. This is now nine years since her victory for ‘The Hurt Locker.’ ‘The Loveless’ (Blu-ray, Arrow Video, Not Rated) in 1979 marked the beginning of Willem Dafoe’s starry rise and Bigelow’s directing and writing debut, shared with Monty Montgomery. Devised as her MFA thesis, Bigelow had migrated from painting to filmmaking and in this 82-minute feature, the images define the movie. Artfully designed to resemble a Fifties small town with its band of outsiders distinguished by their stupendously loud Harleys and black-leather biker jackets, ‘The Loveless’ is now meticulously restored (original elements were found in Technicolor’s Rome vaults). Filmed entirely on locations around Savannah, GA, its million dollar budget was financed by locals who reckoned this project was good for jobs, good for Georgia’s filmmaking image. The cast, mostly non-actors who had the right look, came from Manhattan’s hipster hangouts on the Lower East Side. Cool hot spots like the Mudd Club provided a now-lost cauldron of druggy creativity for the likes of rockabilly star Robert Gordon, downtown diva Tina L’Hotsky and rising actress Marin Kanter. Montgomery offers an audio commentary, cast members, including Dafoe, reminiscence in recently shot interviews. You leave watching them recall ‘Loveless’ feeling the experience had changed lives in an incredibly positive way – and not just because for many, going to Georgia was their first-ever plane ride. Three of the actors have been best buds over the past 30 years. The production was lucky. Due to an actor’s strike, ‘Loveless’ made a separate deal with SAG as a low-budget indie to pay its cast. Veteran film crew members who had no studio work then came to this modest venture way down South. It’s sheer bliss to hear production designer Lilly Kilvert look back at how she scrambled on this, her fourth film, with only four weeks to construct sets in a place she’s never been and where her crew comprised locals who had to be taught their jobs as they did them. With an informative, collectible booklet.
There are major behind-the-scenes names of an obscure 1950 picture called ‘Gone to Earth.’ The biggest name was Alexander Korda, English films’ dominant producer of 1930 and ’40s, who partnered with the American independent producer David O. Selznick (forever identified as the man behind the Oscar winning Best Pictures ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘Rebecca’). Selznick had fallen in love with American actress Jennifer Jones (Best Actress Oscar for the 1943 religious biopic ‘Song of Bernadette’). He divorced his wife, she divorced her husband (Hitchcock icon Robert Walker, ‘Strangers on a Train’) and for the rest of his life, Selznick dedicated himself to Jones’ career. He saw her as the tempestuous, irresistible temptress who didn’t know the power she held over men with movies like ‘Duel in the Sun’ and 1957’s ‘A Farewell to Arms.’ The writing-directing duo behind ‘Gone to Earth’ are also heavyweights: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known as The Archers. These illustrious Brits, favorites of Martin Scorsese, are still celebrated for their 1940s must-see trio: ‘I Know Where I’m Going,’ ‘Black Narcissus’ and ‘The Red Shoes.’ ‘Gone to Earth,’ set in Shropshire, England, in 1897, stars a miscast Jones as a free spirit who rescues, protects and loves animals, especially her little pet fox (often a stuffed child’s play fox). Jones is loved by two very different men: the local parson with his dominating mother and a scandalous aristocrat. The filmmakers endowed ‘Earth’ with striking color, costumes and lavish period detail but at 112 minutes it was a stiff in its English release. Selznick, as notorious about reshuffling and reshooting as Harvey ‘Scissorhands’ Weinstein would be decades later, took the film to Hollywood, hired a director, rewrote, reshot and recut the film to 86 minutes, calling it ‘The Wild Heart’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated). The Blu-ray of ‘Heart’ offers a fascinating contrast between the original British film and the reworked Selznick version. Not only are there 2 versions here, there are 2 film historians offering audio commentaries.
Olivia de Havilland at 103 is a two-time Oscar winning actress whose indelible performances remain a high point of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The British actress, born in Japan and raised in the US, debuted in a prestigious 1934 version of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ solidified her ingenue status opposite swashbuckling Erroll Flynn (‘Captain Blood,’ ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood,’ ‘They Died with Their Boots On’), achieved immortal status as Melanie Wilkes in 1939’s ‘Gone with the Wind’ — and that was just the start. In the 1940s she went to court and broke Hollywood’s contract system. Actors were no longer held in bondage by the studios thanks to her courage. Her Best Actress Oscars came for the 1946 Mitchell Leisen directed ‘To Each His Own’ and William Wyler’s 1949 ‘The Heiress.’ She was Oscar nominated for her teaming with Leisen on 1941’s romantic ‘Hold Back the Dawn’ (Blu-ray, Arrow Academy, Not Rated) — it was also Oscar nominated as Best Picture. Written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, ‘Dawn’ is surprisingly relevant nearly 80s years later with its story of desperate refugees, living in a Mexico border town while waiting to cross into the US. Charles Boyer (‘Gaslight,’ ‘Barefoot in the Park’) is the Romanian who is told by his ex-partner (Paulette Goddard, ‘The Women,’ ‘Modern Times’) that the only way is to marry an American, be admitted, then get a quickie divorce. Which is where de Havilland’s naïve schoolteacher enters, escorting a school group of kids. Leisen’s empathy for an outsider like Boyer’s con artist alongside Wilder’s trademark cynicism make ‘Dawn’ tremendously affecting, never marred by sentimentality. Wilder could be writing about his own life. He came to America in 1934, a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany via Paris, and was given entry for just six months to write a screenplay for Columbia Pictures. Job finished, he found himself in a Mexican border town desperate to return to Hollywood. Eventually a sympathetic consular official stamped his papers. The bonus material has a newly filmed audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin, a remarkable, nearly 85-minute London Q&A from 1971 with de Havilland and film historian John Kobal that is funny, informative, astonishing even. There’s an examination of both the film and Leisen’s career by British critic Geoff Andrew and finally the 1941 hour-long radio adaptation with Boyer, Goddard and Susan Hayward in de Havilland’s role.