Guest essay: “Circle of Life”

“Circle of Life”

By Sandra Reid

Imagine picking up a kitten for the first time, or maybe even a human baby. Alternatively seeing the sunrise or visiting the zoo. There is exactly one song that comes to mind in each of these scenarios, the iconic “Circle of Life.”

Whether performing a jumbled collection of syllables to reach for the legendary Zulu solo at the beginning or howling the chorus on seeing a baby, the song has permeated our everyday lives in a way never matched even by the likes of “Let It Go.”

It changed how major films introduce their themes, characters, and titles. The now over-saturated late title drop had been done in a few action movies previously, but “Circle of Life” codified how to make it work; awe-inspiring score and animation all seeped in operatic sincerity.

Even in the musical adaptation it alone could be worth the price of admission with gorgeous puppets and costumes surrounding Pride Rock as it rises over the stage.

As the essential jaw-dropping opener, Disney had set their own stakes and standards at and impossibly high level for this remake.

 

Sandra Reid has publications in The Rowdy Scholar and Spectrum along with articles in The Metropolitan.

“Song review: ‘Circle of Life’”

By Hunter Goddard

It is all too easy for the unimaginative filmmaker to consign the music in their film to forgettable background noise, but sometimes, a song can elevate the motion picture accompanying it into something immortal: an experience; a memory; a dream.

Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s animated musical, The Lion King (1994), is bookended with the choral leitmotifs of its signature track, “Circle of Life.”

This circular structure sings with the lyricism of Walt Disney’s Renaissance, and echoes with the poeticism of the film’s Shakespearean themes.

Composed by Elton John, written by Tim Rice, and performed by Carmen Twillie (who sings the English verses) and Lebo M. (who sings the Zulu), the record was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

It is the sunrise and sunset of the movie, the birth and death, the love and agony. Its notes soar to vertiginous heights while its vocals reach lows beneath our very skin, crawling along the goosebumps it raises on our flesh and the chills it strikes down our spines.

Such tonal polarization surrounds us with the picture’s epic theses of our history shaping our destiny, and the passionately drawn vistas of Simba’s birth at the beginning, then his own cub’s at the end, harmonize with each other divinely.

Ultimately, “Circle of Life” is a songwriting at its most cinematic, so vital to the imagery onscreen, visual and audio together collaborate into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Amazon Prime review: Jordan Peele’s “Us” (2019)

Once upon a time, there was a girl, and the girl had a shadow…

If you don’t know what to watch next, Jordan Peele’s Us (2019) is available on Amazon Prime.

The psychological horror film had the all-time second-best opening weekend for a live-action feature after James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), and the third-best behind Andy Muschietti’s It (2017) and David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018), but the best for an original horror script.

Peele, who won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his directorial debut, Get Out (2017), is also the screenwriter for Us.

On Rotten Tomatoes, ninety-four percent of critical reviews aggregated for Us are positive.

Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke star as Adelaide Thomas and Gabe Wilson, who visit the family lake house in Santa Cruz with their children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex).

Adelaide is doubtful about the trip because of the mysterious, traumatic event which befell her at the beach when she was a child. Their first night there, a family of four strangers invade the Wilsons’ home and reveal themselves to be their doppelgängers as the Wilsons fight for survival.

Together, Us and Get Out showcase not only Peele’s genius for the horror genre, but also his talent for filmmaking in general.

His background in comedy does not arrest his passion for horror, but rather refines it with laugh-out-loud dialogue that endears you to the cast all the more devastatingly when the terror comes to claim them.

Us is as rich with subtext as its predecessor, yet speaks with a voice all its own. Where Get Out is a slow-burn suspense thriller, Us is a fast-paced horror show.

Nevertheless, between the two, Get Out is the superior movie, but only because it is so difficult to meet, much less exceed. Get Out is one of the greatest pictures of our time, and one of the most important horror pictures ever, a once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece.

This isn’t to say that Us isn’t still a scissor’s cut above the competition, because it is. Nyong’o’s dynamic performance alone, characterizing both hero and villain, deserves multiple viewings in order to truly experience each layer of nuance she delivers to this dual role.

In a way, Us is more subtle and sophisticated than Get Out, a thematic cocktail of motifs and visual metaphors and double meanings as open to interpretation as a hall of mirror is infinite with reflections.

Us might have been stronger, in fact, if it was more ambiguous, but as it is, it is still a horror piece more lovingly choreographed than the mainstream, cheaply-shot Hollywood release made for no other reason than to rake in an easy profit.

And that twist ending will echo through you forever.

“Midsommar” actor says cast was speechless at first screening

Leading man Jack Reynor is quoted as saying the cast of Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019) sat thunderstruck through their first viewing of the horror film in New York earlier this month, despite knowing everything about the narrative, according to Entertainment Weekly. Reynor says the first two acts of the follow-up to Hereditary (2018) are brimming with gallows humor, but the final third is artfully crafted to overwhelm the audience a la Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976). Reynor co-stars alongside Florence Pugh as an American couple who visit a secluded Swedish commune while travelling across Scandinavia, where a cult awaits them.

The making of Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday” (2019)

Danny Boyle’s Beatles jukebox musical, Yesterday (2019), originally began as a screenplay titled Cover Version by Jack Barth and Mackenzie Crook, with Crook slated to direct, according to The New York Times. After approaching executive producer Nick Angel for his connections in the music industry, Angel asked Richard Curtis, writer of Mike Newell’s Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and his own Love Actually (2003), to rewrite the script, sharing a story credit with Barth. Curtis’s production deal at Working Title and Universal got Boyle involved, and Apple Corps and Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the copyright holders behind most of the band’s discography, were persuaded the film would be prestigious and lucrative enough to share the rights.

AMC Theatres introduces “AMC Artisan Films” as an alternative to blockbusters

AMC Theatres is launching a new programming-marketing strategy called “AMC Artisan Films” to draw attention to more character- and narrative-focused features as opposed to blockbusters, according to Variety. Elizabeth Frank, the company’s executive vice president of worldwide programming, says not only is AMC known in the industry for distributing blockbusters, they also carry more artist-driven titles than any North American competitor. In an effort to boost the success of these lesser-known movies, AMC Artisan Films is seeking earlier runs from platform releases, as well as playing them longer in the theater in the hope that there will be enough time for positive word-of-mouth to reach audiences.

Inside New Jersey’s filmmaking renaissance

After the New Jersey Legislature approved tax credits for film and television production and Governor Phil Murphy signed it into law in July 2018, industry revenue could double and local businesses could expect hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Asbury Park Press. Todd Phillips’s Batman flick, Joker (2019), Alan Taylor’s prequel to HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007), The Many Saints of Newark (2020), and Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic musical, West Side Story (2020), are all shooting in the state. Former Governor Chris Christie, in an effort to curb the budget, suspended the film and TV program in 2010 and allowed it to expire in 2015, blocking the 2009 incentive for MTV’s Jersey Shore (2009-2012).