Movie Review: The Lion King

Director Jon Favreau believed he could use computer animation to breathe more reality into the classic tale of a lion cub who’s born into royalty but loses his kingdom. Favreau took that risk and succeeded in inspiring both new and previous generations of viewers.

The African animals look as if they have been photographed on-location. And, unlike the original 1994 film, all the lions are voiced by actors of African descent. Rafiki, the no-nonsense monkey who is the King’s trusted aide, is embodied by John Kani, a South African actor.

A host of award-winning actors, among them Danny Glover (Simba), Beyoncé (Nala), Seth Rogan (Pumbaa), Billy Eichner (Timon) and Chiwetel Ejio (Scar) join veteran James Earl Jones (Mufasa).

The original musical score and songs from Hanz Zimmer, Tim Rice, and Elton John are sung by a celebrity cast that includes Beyoncé’s beautiful voice. The jokes and puns, along with the inspirational messages, also remain intact. I especially enjoyed listening to the lively banter between Pumbaa and Timon in what I like to call the Hakuna Matata (No Worries) segments of the film.

While Favreau followed the original plot very closely, he did add more violence. Or so it appeared. Some of those scenes were difficult to watch.

An extraordinary film that has been described as “a perfect marriage of art and technology.”


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Movie Review: Rocketman

Offering the part of Elton John to 29-year-old Welsh actor Taron Egerton was an inspired move. In addition to resembling a younger Elton, Egerton possesses the musical chops to belt out those memorable tunes. I was surprised to learn that Egerton was the third choice. Justin Timberlake and Tom Hardy were originally cast in the role.

The film begins on a dramatic note. Dressed in a glittery devil costume—complete with horns and wings—Elton pushes through two doors and enters a room filled with people participating in what looks like a group therapy session. Spellbound, everyone listens as Elton confesses to having consumed every drug imaginable along with being a sex addict, a shopaholic, bulimic, and having anger-management issues.

Elton has entered the word of rehab.

And so, begins a personal narrative, punctuated by a series of ballads and musical numbers taken from Elton’s extensive catalogue.

The most heartbreaking scenes involve the child prodigy, first known as Reginald Dwight, struggling to capture the attention of his self-absorbed, often cruel mother—brilliantly played by Bryce Dallas Howard—and his dismissive father (Steven Macintosh). Thankfully, his loving grandmother (Gemma Jones) showed some affection toward Reginald.

In young adulthood, Elton meets up with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). While their working relationship survived the turbulence of Elton’s life, their personal lives often diverged. Elton’s latent homosexuality and flamboyance clashed with Taupin’s heterosexuality and more reserved nature.

Devilishly handsome Richard Madden delivers an excellent performance as Elton’s personal manager and abusive lover. The Scottish actor has been pegged as a possible replacement for Daniel Craig as James Bond.

The film ends on a positive note as pictures of all the actors are shown next to their real-life counterparts. We also learn that Elton John has been addiction-free for 28 years.

Twelve years in the making, Rocketman has succeeded in celebrating Elton John’s music and capturing the drama that surrounded his rise to stardom.

A must-see film!


Movie Review: The Grizzlies

Set in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, an isolated town with the highest suicide rate in Canada, this sports drama is based on actual events circa 2004.

High school English teacher Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) is unprepared for the challenges that await him in the classroom. A naïve, well-intended southerner—referred to as qallunaat by the locals—Russ plans to stay for only one year while he waits for a teaching contract at a private school in Halifax.

After learning (the hard way) that the authoritarian approach doesn’t work with these neglected students, Russ tries to inspire them through sports. At first wary, the students eventually do come around and join the lacrosse team. Slowly—and not without obstacles—Russ succeeds in creating a spirit of camaraderie among the players.

Opposition to this fledgling group can be found almost everywhere in Kugluktuk.

The school principal, Janace (Tantoo Cardinal), tries to discourage Russ from starting this venture. When Russ decides to take the team to Toronto for the high school nationals, Janace advises him not to add to the long list of promises that have been made to the Inuit and never kept.

Several sets of parents and grandparents believe their young charges should be hunting and not spending so much time with the qallunaat.

Alcoholism and abuse exist in many of the homes. From the opening scene where crates of liquor outnumber the passengers in a small plane to a colleague’s advice on surviving life in the North— “I do the same thing everyone else does, I drink” to the depressing night culture…Russ faces many obstacles during that first year.

The specter of suicide can be felt throughout the film. Each time, I was unprepared for the events and ensuing consequences. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to live in a community where everyone has lost a family member or friend to suicide.

While the cast is predominantly male, two young female actresses deliver outstanding performances. I enjoyed watching Miranda (Emerald MacDonald) gain confidence and acquire leadership skills as the team’s manager. Spring (Anna Lambe) experiences the tragic loss of her boyfriend but manages to bounce back and become part of the lacrosse team.

First-time director Miranda de Pencier has crafted a powerful film that humanizes the grim statistics about youth suicide in Canada’s North.

A must-see film!


Movie Review: Poms

While this film has received less-than-glowing reviews, it does deliver a positive message about aging: It’s never too late to follow your dreams.

From the start, we know that Martha (Diane Keaton) is preparing for her demise. She holds an estate sale to dispose of 40+ years of possessions, packs what remains in a suitcase and a box, cancels her chemotherapy appointments, and drives to a retirement community in sunny Georgia.

Upon arrival, Martha realizes that the Sun Springs Retirement Community may not be the best fit for her introverted nature. Everything from flamboyant seniors riding in golf carts to annoying Southern Belles to the welcome sign—The time of your life for the rest of your life—annoys Martha.

Hoping to maintain a low profile, Martha is jolted out of self-imposed isolation by her nosy and noisy neighbor Sheryl (Jackie Weaver). With Sheryl’s help, Martha starts a cheerleading club and enlists six other women (Pam Grier, Rhea Perlman, Phyllis Somerville, Patricia French, Carol Sutton, and Ginny McColl). Their goal: Perform in the Community Variety Show.

Martha’s first challenge is a daunting one: Tailor the choreography to meet the myriad aches and pains of all the participants.

Second, deal with the antics of Miss Vicky (Celia Weston), the resident mean girl who is determined to curtail the rehearsal time of the club.

At this point, the film takes a bizarre twist. Sheryl arranges to use the gym at a local high school where she works as a substitute teacher. Unknown to the women, they will be rehearsing during a pep rally attended by all the students.

When their routine flops, it is recorded and goes viral on the Internet. Shamed and shut out of the Community Variety Show, Sheryl persuades the women to enter a real cheerleading contest in the “18-Plus” age category. With the help of Chloe (Alisha Boe), a “real” cheerleader, the eight women are transformed into a cohesive team.

A short, breezy film (91 minutes), Poms delivers many laughs as it celebrates the camaraderie of the women. I would have liked more details about their backstories. We are given only the skimpiest of information about Martha—retired teacher, no children, sick mother—revealed on photographs. Flashbacks with a younger Martha would have been more effective.

Definitely light fare.


Movie Review: Breakthrough

From start to finish, I found myself on an emotional roller coaster. Goosebumps rose, and tears fell as this incredible story unfolded on the big screen.

It is not surprising that faith leader DeVon Franklin decided to produce the film version of Joyce Smith’s book after only a brief encounter with Joyce, John, and Pastor Jason. Intrigued by Joyce’s account that she went into that emergency room and prayed her son John back to life, DeVon knew the film needed to be made.

The Smith family was involved at all stages of production from script development to meet-and-greets with the cast and crew. During the initial screening, Joyce commented, “You got it right.”

Chrissie Metz delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Joyce Smith, the proud mother of adopted son John (Marcel Ruiz). Metz captures the intensity of Joyce’s faith but still manages to make her vulnerable and likeable.

When the film opens, mother and son are dealing with pubescent angst. Overprotective Joyce likes to smother her son with hugs while John tests his freedom and questions his roots.

The narrative takes an abrupt turn when John falls through an icy Missouri lake and remains submerged for fifteen minutes. On the verge of giving up, an emergency responder (Mike Colter) hears a voice that compels him to keep sweeping the lake floor. Within minutes, John is found and rushed to the ER.

Despite their best efforts, the health-care team is unable to resuscitate John. At the 45-minute mark, Joyce arrives and delivers an anguished plea, begging God to spare her son. Suddenly, John develops a pulse.

Dr. Garrett, a world-renowned specialist, expertly played by Dennis Haysbert, steps in. Compassionate but realistic, Dr. Garrett tries to prepare Joyce and her husband Brian (Josh Lucas) for less-than-ideal scenarios.

Joyce cuts him off with the most poignant lines in the film: “Go and be the best for John. Nothing less. And you just let God do the rest.”

Throughout the film, Joyce remains steadfast in her trust of God while most of the other characters believe she is in denial. A meltdown occurs, and Joyce surrenders to God's will. The morning after, John awakens with all his faculties intact. Two months later, John returns to playing basketball.

Topher Grace delivers an excellent performance as Pastor Jason, the hip young minister with a trendy haircut and wardrobe. Critical of his appearance and radical ideas, Joyce does little to welcome Pastor Jason to her faith community. But that doesn’t stop the pastor from joining Joyce at John’s bedside. Slowly, a bond slowly develops between mother and pastor. In a moving scene at the end of the film, Pastor Jason recognizes everyone who worked on John’s rescue and recovery and all who offered prayers on his behalf.

A must-see film that could reinforce or challenge your beliefs.


Movie Review: Gloria Bell

A long-time fan of Julianne Moore, I looked forward to seeing the Oscar-winning actress take on the role of a fifty-something divorcée who is still hopeful about finding love.

Ms. Moore does not disappoint.

She delivers an understated but effective performance as Gloria Bell, an insurance agent who struggles with work difficulties and an empty nest. A warm-hearted person, she acts as a listening post for her friends and colleagues and tries to connect with her adult children (Michael Cera and Cassi Thomson). She tends to give more than she receives.

Gloria loves to dance at her favorite bar, a ‘70s throwback disco. It took several minutes for me to realize that the story takes place in the present. Many of the scenes involve Gloria driving alone in her car, singing to hits from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. She appears nostalgic for a kinder, gentler era where she was happier and less alone.

One evening, Gloria catches the eye of Arnold, a recently divorced ex-military man who owns and operates a popular paintball range. They connect and begin a passionate romance. They even share a dinner with her children and her ex-husband (Brad Garrett). An uncomfortable situation for Arnold who suddenly takes flight.

As the storyline progresses, we learn that Arnold has boatloads of baggage. Hounded by his adult daughters, Arnold alternates between stalking Gloria and erecting emotional walls.

While Gloria carries her baggage with more grace, she is affected by her daughter’s unexpected pregnancy and move to Norway, her son’s estrangement from his wife, a loud upstairs neighbor with anger management issues, and a potentially troublesome health issue. On a more humorous note, a hairless cat mysteriously visits Gloria’s apartment on a regular basis.

Gloria and Arnold escape to Las Vegas for a weekend, hoping to rekindle their relationship. A frantic call from Arnold’s daughters puts an end to that fantasy. A series of plot twists—one especially bizarre—follows.

I had mixed feelings throughout the film. I enjoyed watching Ms. Moore embrace the nuances of Gloria Bell, and I have a particular fondness for the music, especially Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.” But there doesn’t appear to be much personal growth on Gloria’s part.

Part entertainment, part cautionary tale.


Top 10 Favorite Movies

I’m happy to welcome Soul Mate author Barbara Nolan. Today, Barbara shares her favorite movies and debut novel, Beyond Paradise.

Here’s Barbara!

Here are my top 10 favorite movies and why they are my favorites:



Father of the Bride

Father of the Bride 2—Watch both of these with my daughters and we laugh in the same places—every time.

The Holiday—Definitely a movie about second acts.

White Christmas—Watched this holiday classic every year with my mother until she passed in 2018.

Miracle on 42nd Street—Another holiday classic that is so sweet and nostalgic.

The Great Escape—Had a huge crush on Steve McQueen. Even had his poster in my room as a teen.

West Side Story—The first play I ever saw on Broadway and of course loved the movie.

Jurassic Park—Love Jeff Goldblum’s understated humor.

Sand Pebbles—Again Steve McQueen.

Airport—Still remember seeing it for the first time on the big screen at Radio City in New York.

Blurb

Jonny Vallone, the dark, brooding owner of Manhattan nightclub, Beyond Paradise, doesn’t need any more complications in his life, or women. Then savvy con artist Cheryl Benson, barges into his office and spits out a confession that would make most men run for cover.

Cheryl’s fast-paced, out-of-control life is closing in, and her only hope against a ruthless crime boss is bad boy Jonny and his powerful connections. Her knight in black Brioni has a body made for sin with enough baggage to fill a 747, but when a near-fatal attack throws the two together, they implode in a night of steamy, sheet-gripping passion.

Jonny can’t resist the beautiful blonde with the pleading green eyes plus he has his own agenda with the underworld thug who owns a piece of his soul.

Their wild ride whisks them from the high-powered glitz of Manhattan to the sultry beaches of Miami in a desperate attempt to break free of their shady pasts while trying to tame their fiery passion and the dangerous deceptions swirling around them.

Excerpt

“I’ve got you.” He pushed a stray hair away from her face and kissed her, wanting to taste more of her, be part of her, sink into her sweetness and make all her fears go away.

His eager hands roamed up her back. A decent man would’ve paced himself, given her space, but he’d never been a decent man when desire overwhelmed him. He nipped his way down her slender neck, loving the feel of her skin against his lips. He knew what he wanted. He’d wanted it ever since he’d seen her at the Oasis.

He fumbled with the hem of her T-shirt, and she covered his hand with hers.

“You want me to stop?” His words caught between a sigh and a gasp.

She pushed his hands away, tugged her shirt over her head and flung it onto the couch.

For one tantalizing second her eyes dared him with desires as overpowering and primal as his. Standing, he snatched her hand, jerked her up, and pulled her toward the bedroom, nudged the door open with his foot, then kicked it closed.

A heat boiled in the pit of his stomach and shot through his veins, melting him from the inside out. One part of him wanted to take time and explore every inch of her, while the part that controlled him wanted to tumble her to the bed.

“This isn’t a game.” He meant it as a warning, but the lust in his voice made it sound more like a challenge.

“I know.” She gasped as he snaked his hands around her waist. “‘Cause games have rules.”

buynow

Bio

Barbara Nolan has enjoyed writing most of her life. She became serious about her craft over the last five years.

Coming a bit late to the game, Barbara made up for lost time by acquiring her Certificate in Creative Writing from NYU and devouring any and all webinars and online courses available.

She’s also had the help and influence of many talented professors and editors along the way.

Her passion for reading and words, in general, make this a journey of love. There is nothing she would rather be doing than reading or sitting at the computer writing and editing.

She considers reading a luxury and writing a necessity.

Where to find Barbara…

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