The Lion King (2002)

    * Release Date: 09/16/2011
    * Rating: G
    * Runtime: 1 hr 27 mins
    * Genre: Adventure, Children's/family
    * Director: Rob Minkoff
    * Cast: Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Moira Kelly

    One of the most popular Disney animated musicals, The Lion King presents the story of a lion cub's journey to adulthood and acceptance of his royal destiny. Simba (voiced first by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, then by Matthew Broderick) begins life as an honored prince, son of the powerful King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones). The cub's happy childhood turns tragic when his evil uncle Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons) murders Mufasa and drives Simba away from the kingdom. In exile, the young lion befriends the comically bumbling pair of Pumbaa the warthog (voiced by Ernie Sabella) and Timon the meerkat (voiced by Nathan Lane) and lives a carefree jungle life. As he approaches adulthood, however, he is visited by the spirit of his father, who instructs him to defeat the nefarious Scar and reclaim his rightful throne. Borrowing elements from Hamlet, classical mythology, and African folk tales, The Lion King tells its mythic coming-of-age tale with a combination of spectacular visuals and lively music, featuring light, rhythmic songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, and a score by Hans Zimmer. Embraced by children and adults alike, the film also spawned hit songs ("Can You Feel the Love Tonight", "Circle of Life") and a hit Broadway musical. In late 2002, The Lion King was re-released in the large-screen IMAX format.

    Just as surely as the hippos and gazelles that populate the African savannah in Disney’s 1994 hand-drawn classic The Lion King must take their place in the grand, cosmic scheme of things, the best Disney animated movies have their own roles in the “circle of life” that the movie’s opening song of the same name, written by Elton John and Tim Rice, refers to. The films open in theatres and delight kids and adults alike before heading to the home-entertainment sphere, where they find everlasting life by being passed down to future generations.

    However, every once in a while, a beloved Disney title gets reincarnated on the big screen in a newer, spiffier form. Such is the case with The Lion King itself, which arrives in theatres for the first time in 3D in a limited run beginning September 16 before its release on shelves as a special Diamond Edition Blu-ray on October 4.

    An audience of Mouse House devotees were treated to the first public screening of The Lion King in 3D at the Anaheim Convention Center’s multi-tiered arena on Saturday, August 20, 2011, as part of Disney’s fanboy-nirvana D23 Expo. Directors Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers took to the stage to introduce the screening, at one point even offering a spirited rendition of the miniature musical number in which the comedy team of wisenheimer meerkat Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and gaseous warthog Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) distract a band of evil minions by launching into a rapid-fire Hawaiian-themed ditty. One of the co-directors even kept the rhythm going by banging on the makeshift drum of an upside-down water jug.

    Then, the movie began, and it’s gratifying to report that Disney’s 3D conversion of The Lion King is an excellent, fittingly majestic bit of post-production wizardry. Of course, part of what makes the 3D so enveloping is that Minkoff and Allers have already done such an expert job of creating visually layered 2D compositions that the addition of the third dimension is able to stagger those layers in a striking manner. For example, the last shot of malicious Uncle Scar’s (Jeremy Irons, miraculously delivering the best vocal performance in a cast that also includes the booming baritone of James Earl Jones) “Be Prepared” musical number features an elephant’s skeleton in the foreground and the sight of Scar and his hyena underlings bellowing the song’s final notes atop a craggy mountain in the background. In 3D, the viewer can get happily lost in the amplified depth between the shot’s foreground and background action.

    Naturally, there are also more gimmicky, less subtle uses of 3D. Pumbaa’s snout and two horns are repeatedly lunging right at the spectator, and the smoke and dust kicked up in the wake of the wildebeest stampede that (spoiler alert for those who have been living under a rock for the past 17 years!) claims King Mufasa’s (Jones) life seemed to hover in the Anaheim arena’s air. Since perhaps the most eye-catching use of 3D is when a flying character seems to soar in the space between the screen and the audience (think of that fuzzy-butterfly-type creature that stole the show in Disneyland’s 3D attraction Captain EO), the winged movements of Mufasa’s avian adviser Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) make for some of the movie’s showiest 3D touches. But they also lead to my one quibble with the 3D here: because the “you can seemingly reach out and touch Zazu” effects are so attention-grabbing, scenes that aren’t even dramatically centered on Zazu end up inevitably and distractingly being all about the snooty, beaked majordomo.

    As fans would expect, though, the film’s stirring hero’s-quest narrative arc and emotional grace notes register just as strongly in this new format. When young hero Simba (voiced as a cub by Jonathan Taylor Thomas), devastated by father Mufasa’s death, crawls under the giant paw of his dad’s corpse, a few D23 attendees behind me could be heard blowing loudly into their tissues. That’s another benefit of having this film in 3D: those dark glasses do a great job of hiding your tears.
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Dolphin Tale (2011)

    * Release Date: 09/23/2011
    * Rating: PG
    * Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins
    * Genre: Children's/family
    * Director: Charles Martin Smith
    * Cast: Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble, Kris Kristofferson


    Inspired by the incredible true story of Winter, a dolphin who was rescued off the Florida coast after her tail became caught in a crab trap, this uplifting family-oriented adventure from director/co-screenwriter Charles Martin Smith details the unique bond between an injured dolphin and a young boy. When Winter loses her tail in a tragic accident, her young friend convinces the locals to build her a prosthetic replacement, inspiring hope and courage in handicapped people across the globe. Nathan Gamble, Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, and Kris Kristofferson star.

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50/50 (2011)

    * Release Date: 09/30/2011
    * Rating: R
    * Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
    * Genre: Comedy drama
    * Director: Jonathan Levine
    * Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard


    Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in this heartfelt comedy drama about a young man's struggle with discovering that he has cancer in this Mandate Pictures production. Will Reiser provides the script, based on his own experience, with The Daily Show's Evan Goldberg and Ben Karlin handling producing duties. Seth Rogen co-stars, along with Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, and Philip Baker Hall.

    As devourers of pop culture, we're quick to categorize our entertainment for our own safety. Comedy, drama, thriller, sci-fi, horror—everything we have the chance to consume has a label to ensure that we know exactly what we're getting.

    Occasionally, a movie defies classification. While not a revolutionary piece of cinema, 50/50 is especially gratifying simply because of its abandonment of genre and the baggage that comes with owning one. The movie starts with a simple inciting incident: one day, 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns that he has a life-threatening tumor growing on his spine. Of course, the news doesn't sit well with the public radio producer, who's in the middle of work on an exciting piece for his station, just adjusting to living with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and sees his life as a lengthy, exciting prospect. Adam never smokes, he waits to cross the street, he always tucks his shirts in and keeps his sweater vests tidy—what did he do to deserve this?

    But Adam doesn't go on a quest to find his true self or spend days writing a bucket list. He lives his life—and its friends and family who feel the tremors of his disease. Rachael quickly finds herself off balance and unable to cope with Adam's situation, while his mother, Diane (Anjelica Huston), tries to coddle him, finding a new opportunity she never found with her Alzheimer's-stricken husband. His co-workers throw him a guilt-induced party.

    At a total loss, Adam finds comfort in his pal Kyle (Seth Rogen, essentially playing himself), who uplifts his spirits through dedication, marijuana and loose women. Nothing seems to out-weigh the punch-in-the-gut feeling of losing his hair to chemotherapy or barely being able to walk around his house without feeling winded, but Adam stays afloat thanks to Kyle's incessant goofiness and a newfound friendship in his therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick). Equally out of water in her new job, the two bond over their discovery of humanism in the scientific process of beating cancer and, while the growth of their relationship is one of the few things in the film that feels remotely contrived, it gives Adam hope in the face of his possibly-fatal surgery.

    50/50 isn't sugar sweet, nor is it stone cold serious. Director Jonathan Levine allows the events to unfold in a unique and reserved realism, allowing the movie to bounce from laugh-out-loud funny (thanks in a large part to Rogen's star talent in a supporting role) to tearjerker drama without any broad segues. Gordon-Levitt has established himself as one of modern cinema's best watchers, the type of actor who can float through a picture without making too much a ruckus, but who's identifiable and helps us understand his surroundings. But he fits right in to the Apatow-style comedy Rogen and Levine conjure up throughout the movie. In one scene, Adam chows down on some pot brownies courtesy of his elderly chemo-mates (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer), leading him to groove around the hospital hall, spaced out and loving it. It's an uproarious moment, but poignant too—finally, Adam can let go of a bit of his grief.

    Providing a foundation for 50/50's minimalist tactics are the supporting cast. Howard once again proves her versatility, turning an unsympathetic character into a dimensionalized presence. What Rachael does in the film isn't admirable, but thanks to Howard's performance, not entirely unreasonable. Huston and Kendrick are strong and grounded enough that, when Adam begins to check out of life as surgery looms, they don't disappear from the film. But it's Rogen who really steals the show, perhaps because his friend and 50/50 writer Will Reiser based the movie on their real life experiences, but the comedy-first actor steps up later in the film when the weight of reality starts to bring everyone down.

    50/50 isn't a comedy or a drama, but a portrait of real people surviving real hardships. Shedding a few tears over the course of the film is perfectly acceptable—the jokes are that funny and the emotion that powerful.
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Dream House (2011)

    * Release Date: 09/30/2011
    * Rating: PG-13
    * Runtime: Not Yet Available
    * Genre: Thriller
    * Director: Jim Sheridan
    * Cast: Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Elias Koteas

    In Dream House – the new suspense thriller from Jim Sheridan (In America, My Left Foot) – Daniel Craig plays Will Atenton, a successful New York publisher who disavows his high-powered Manhattan lifestyle and relocates along with his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz), and two daughters (Taylor and Claire Astin Geare) to a picturesque New England hamlet. Their new home, a quaint fixer-upper, bears imprints of the family that lived there previously: Old tools and other belongings are strewn about the basement, a secret room abutting the children’s bedroom is filled with discarded toys. Will and Libby see the items as charming artifacts, signs that their house has a history, a soul.

    The new neighborhood is not so bucolic as it seems. The children complain of a man peering in on them from the front yard – a suspicion confirmed when Will discovers footsteps in the snow the next day. If that weren’t ominous enough, Will later learns that five years earlier his new home was the site of a grisly murder spree, in which the previous owner, Peter Ward, was alleged to have killed his wife and two daughters. Acquitted due to a lack of evidence, Ward spent a brief time at a psychiatric facility before being released. Could the shadowy figure glimpsed outside the window be Ward, returning to the scene of the crime, preparing to kill again?

    At this point, Dream House pulls off a whopper of a mid-game twist that effectively re-frames the entire narrative. (I won’t spoil it for you, but if you want to know what it is, just watch the trailer, which rather stupidly gives it away.) Until now, Sheridan has worked steadily to foster the guise of a relatively conventional haunted-house tale, presenting a portrait of idyllic domesticity while simultaneously building an atmosphere of looming peril. After the story drops its bombshell, the film morphs into a sort of supernatural murder mystery, with Craig’s character scouring for clues within his own tortured psyche. Characters and scenes that might have been dismissible as red herrings – a neighbor (Naomi Watts) appears oddly stand-offish; her ex-husband (Martin Csokas) cartoonishly gruff; the town cops inexplicably apathetic – gain sudden relevance.

    It’s a clever gambit; it is also patently absurd. A talented cast helps make the twist easier to swallow, but the film’s second half sheds credulity seemingly by the frame, at points devolving into schlock. Which, in a different film, might bode well for some silly fun, but Sheridan aims for a restrained tone that seems more suitable for a somber character study than a flagrantly preposterous suspense thriller. As it is, Dream House is neither thrilling nor suspenseful.
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Moneyball (2011)

    * Release Date: 09/23/2011
    * Rating: PG13
    * Runtime: 2 hr 6 mins
    * Genre: Drama, Comedy drama
    * Director: Bennett Miller
    * Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright Penn


    Brad Pitt stars in the real-life tale of Major League Baseball general manager Billy Beane, who built up a winning team despite a decreased budget thanks to his sly use of statistical data to calculate the best -- and cheapest -- players for his roster. Aaron Sorkin updates Steve Zaillian's adaptation of Michael Lewis' fly-on-the-wall novel for Columbia Pictures, with Robin Wright, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman co-starring.Source URL:
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