In time for the 25th anniversary of the original animated film, Disney returns to Africa for The Lion King, a magnificent CGI remake about Simba (voiced by JD McCrary and, later, Donald Glover), a lion cub born to be king.
Many of us know the story: The wise mandrill, Rafiki (John Kani), initiates the young cub into the community of animals from the lion’s perch on Pride Rock. The soaring chorus of voices singing “The Circle of Life” rises to welcome the prince. King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) gaze on in happiness. But Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Mufasa’s brother, wants to be king. He tempts little Simba and his friend, Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph and, later, Beyoncé), to go to the forbidden elephant graveyard where they are attacked by three hyenas, Scar’s bodyguards. Zazu (John Oliver), a yellow-billed hornbill and Mufasa’s majordomo, alerts Mufasa, who rescues the cubs.
Scar then sets into motion his dastardly plan to kill his brother and Simba so he can become king. He lures his curious nephew to a gorge and then gets the hyenas to cause a herd of wildebeest to stampede. Scar goes to tell Mufasa that Simba is in danger. Mufasa hastens to rescue the cub, but Scar makes sure Mufasa dies. Simba survives, and Scar blames the cub, telling him to leave and never return.
Comic characters Timon (Billy Eichner), a meerkat, and his friend, Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), a warthog, find Simba collapsed in the desert. They bring him to their home and teach him to get over his guilt. In time, the cub turns into a powerful, 400-pound adult. Meanwhile, Scar is turning the Pride Lands into a community and environmental disaster. He wants Sarabi to be his queen, but she refuses. Nala goes for help. She thinks Simba is dead and is shocked to find him. At first, he refuses to return out of lingering shame over his father’s death. Rafiki appears and assures him that it is time to fulfill his destiny.
Fans of the original animated film will not be disappointed, for the story, with some small differences, remains true to the original. It is a film that will fill your eyes with beauty and delight. Themes of character development, family, the common good, and care for creation are woven throughout. The songs are all from the original, but they are shorter, perhaps because this is more drama than musical. Not all remakes are successful, but this version of The Lion King shines.
A-2, PG-13 • Peril, violence.
Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell) is a lost young man when Fred “Hammer” Krager (Bill Camp) takes him into his skinhead “family” in Columbus, Ohio. Bryon is among a collection of run-away teens and young men who come from dysfunctional families, as well as Fred’s wife, Shareen (Vera Farmiga), who masquerades as a caring mother figure. In this new family, Bryon finds a cause and uses his design talents to get inked with white supremacist and Nazi tattoos that cover most of his body. The group lives a life of sex, alcohol, and drugs, and travels around causing mayhem and marching for racial dominance. Bryon joins in to the point of violently disfiguring a black man in an alley. Amid all this, his conscience is trying to get his attention.
He meets Julie (Danielle Macdonald), a poor but strong woman, and her three children. At first Julie and the kids are distant: There have been too many men in their lives, all of whom were violent. But Bryon, Julie, and the children are drawn to each other. Even as Julie urges Bryon to leave the racist group, they decide to marry and try to live a normal life. Bryon is befriended by Daryle (Mike Colter), who gives the young man three options if he stays in the hate group: dying young, life in prison, or listening to Daryle, who helps people exit racist groups and begin again. Things come to a violent climax when Fred accuses Bryon of losing his fervor and puts him to the test. Bryon, ever a flawed person, must make a choice.
Skin is inspired by the true story of Bryon Widner and the work of Daryle Jenkins, who counseled skinhead gang members. This film, written and directed by Oscar-winner Guy Nattiv, chronicles the painful two-year process of removing Bryon’s tattoos. Bell gives the performance of a lifetime, playing completely against type. Macdonald is wonderful as a woman who loves deeply but must put her children first and create a safe space between them and violence. The plans for this riveting film were coming together when the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville took place in 2017. Its relevance for today cannot be overstated.
Not yet rated, R • Racism, violence, language.
Jack (Himesh Patel) gives up teaching to be a musician and songwriter. He plays gigs that are set up by his manager and childhood friend, Ellie (Lily James), but he’s going nowhere fast. During a global blackout, Jack is hit by a bus. When he comes to, he realizes that no one remembers the Beatles or their music. He starts singing and passing their songs off as his own and becomes famous overnight.
This romantic comedy, written by Richard Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle, is funny, sweet, and guaranteed to make you smile. The music is excellent, even when singer Ed Sheeran urges Jack to change the title of the song “Hey, Jude” to “Hey, Dude.” It’s a loving send-up to the Beatles that John Lennon could never imagine. I loved it.
A-3, PG-13 • Some suggestive content.