“I am one of many gems he wears to reflect the light back on him.” Dumbo (2019)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Well, I REALLY don’t understand the critics on this one. Tim Burton’s live-action remake of Disney’s Dumbo is a treat, correcting the dated/troubling politics of the original, expanding the story in logical ways, and making strong declarations for animal rights and compassion overall. My eyes still hurt from ugly crying for two hours earlier today. Highly recommend.

The original animated Dumbo is a beautiful film but deeply odd, held in affection more in our collective foggy sense memory than in the reality of its execution. There is a downright racist depiction of crows as a minstrel chorus (one is even named, yes, “Jim Crow”). Dumbo and Timothy (the mouse) get drunk on champagne and have a hallucinatory trip this side of Woodstock (“pink elephants”). The flick is only 64 minutes long. And there’s an anthropomorphic train (“Casey, Jr.”). Oh, and we all pretty much hate circuses now and the horrors they’ve exacted upon brilliant, beautiful pachyderms over the decades.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

So, as much as I love the original film, and I truly do (in great part because it’s one of those seminal movie-going experiences that shaped a lifelong championing of animal rights and a loathing of bullying of any kind), Dumbo is, in fact, rife for updating and reinvention as Disney continues to strip mine their classic film library to pad quarterly profit earnings … er … expand artistic horizons.

Tim Burton is a director who specializes in Technicolor bad dreams. His relentless storybook/Edward Gorey-book sensibility is a logical fit for a narrative dripping in creepy circus tropes (clowns! leering audiences! mustache-twirling carnival barkers!), focused on the magic of mutant deformation (those ears! that flight!), and the central tragedy of which is the heartrending separation of mother and son (“Baby Mine”). I’ve often found Burton’s cinematic output wildly uneven and maddeningly frustrating with its unrealized potential, but I, for one, found Dumbo one of his stronger efforts in years.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

The script by Ehren Kruger is not terribly inventive but fills out the thin story line of the original with predictable but welcome subplots. The movie’s second half literally bites the hands that feeds in a fairly wicked satire of the antiseptically brutal capitalism of the Disneyland theme park concept itself.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

The cast is a starry array of Burton regulars: Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Michael Keaton (who has developed a lovely niche playing country club sleeze). In that battery-acid tone that is her trademark, Green  who portrays a glitzy diva trapeze artist in Keaton’s employ observes: “I am one of many gems he wears to reflect the light back on him.”

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Colin Farrell is in fine form as a widower who returns from the war-front (WWI) sans one arm and with two young children who desperately need him to reclaim his heart and soul. He and his wife had been equestrian performers in DeVito’s shaggy “Medici Bros. Circus,” and Farrell is faced with the economic pressures of reframing his career amidst familial heartbreak. Enter one too-cute-for-words little blue-eyed-big-eared elephant to heal this tiny clan (see: PaddingtonMary Poppins) as Dumbo seeks to reunite with his own mama.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Maybe I’m too soft a touch for a movie like this, but any film that ends with as a strong a statement I’ve seen from Hollywood in years that animals (CGI-generated or not) belong in nature and that they should be admired and respected and left alone is a winner in my book. Is it a cliche that pretty much every major character rallies by the film’s raucous conclusion to restore Dumbo and his ma to their jungle lives (save two or three souls who, spoiler alert, are grimly punished for their cruelty)? Maybe. But that’s a cliche I’ll take all day long.


Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Of bombast and beefcake: 300 – Rise of an Empire

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

When I first heard a sequel or prequel or alongside-quel (?) for Zack Snyder’s 300 was being planned, I admit I was left scratching my head. I realize Hollywood, like the rather dubious depiction of Persians in these films, can’t turn down the potential for gold, in this case the box office variety … but was another film really necessary?

The original film, as insanely over-the-top as it is, contains a complete cinematic thought. The scruffy Spartan uprising against Xerxes’ Barnum & Bailey-meets-Fellini army of masked freaks has a definite beginning, middle, and somber end. Furthermore, I couldn’t imagine a follow-up film without the wolfish charms of Gerard Butler, whose career skyrocketed and pretty much abruptly ended with the first film.

Well, color me wrong. Make that sepia-toned … like the now-cliched, slow-to-fast-mo cinematography in both flicks.

300: Rise of an Empire still plays astoundingly loose with world history, turning the establishment of Greek democracy into some kind of kinky gladiator orgy of violence, sandals, and pompous speechifyin’. But it’s a lot of fun too, and does supplement nicely the narrative established in the first film.

Childishly gory and with a script that sounds like it was written by 25 monkeys left alone in a room with computer keyboards and Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus, the film is nonetheless stylish and entertaining … imagine Ansel Adams photographing the International Male catalog with production design by Fritz Lang and Hot Topic.

Sullivan Stapleton, looking and acting like Michael Fassbender’s messy brother, is perfectly fine taking the reins from Butler, as an Athenian general fomenting revolution … or something. This film is a welcome change in that it finally gives the women a chance for some serious ass-kicking as well. Spartan queen Lena Headey (so good in 2012’s Dredd) and Persian naval commander Eva Green (Casino Royale) – both such interesting presences – continue their mid-career runs of b-movie foolishness … this time colliding (quite literally) in the same film. Green particularly seems to have an absolute ball being a complete fiend, ratcheting up her smoldering seethe from the box office flop Dark Shadows.

And, yes, Rodrigo Santoro returns as Persian king Xerxes – basically RuPaul’s 8-foot tall, gilded, steroidal, homicidal cousin with a vocoder voice. He is a hoot to watch – character nuance and historical accuracy be damned. Junkie XL turns in a suitably thumping, anachronistic genre mash-up score to propel the zany proceedings along.

I suspect the filmmakers intend some half-baked metaphor for American democracy’s uphill climb against the dark, anarchic forces of some ill-defined Middle Eastern enemy. The movie’s British-accented, lily-white Greek (?) armies of waxed, Soloflex men in Speedos and capes warring against swarthy, monologuing, power-hungry, fabulously-bejeweled Persians can at times be laugh-out-loud ridiculous. This not-so-subtle subtext coupled with the weird mix of homoerotic homophobia and sexist feminism makes for a stomach-churning brew. But as long as you check your brain at the door when you’re issued your IMAX 3-D wraparound BluBlocker sunglasses, you’ll have a good time.


Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Please check out this coverage from BroadwayWorld of upcoming book launch events. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan; by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan; and by Memory Lane Gift Shop in Columbia City, Indiana. Bookbound and Memory Lane both also have copies of Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series.