Lion King – New Live Action Benchmark

Lion King (2019)

Reviewer: Autar Kaw

Grade: B

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Drama, Family, Musical

Rating: PG

Running Time: 118 minutes

I had high hopes for Lion King as I watched the animation version 25 years ago with my kids who were still in single digits in age, and when Britton 8 used to be a cinema theater on Dale Mabry.

The CGI is out of this world and Glover, Beyonce, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogan earn their paycheck and more. The movie is surely a technical marvel, and numerical methods abound in its making.

I am assuming that the future is not too far when if an actor throws a tantrum or does not show up for a shoot, they can just replace him with CGI. I hate those over-the-shoulder shots because they cannot get two actors together on the same day. The chemistry is surely missing in such scenes.

What was not that good was the lack of expression on the faces of the lions. I heard the director wanted to depict true expressions of lions, but real lions do not sing and talk either. Maybe they do.

All the songs except “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” sounded like karaoke and they did not have that oomph which Carmen Twille, Elton John and Jeremy Iron put in the songs of the original movie.  Also, my favorite character Rafiki’s role was truncated, if not chopped. He did not say – “It’sh time” and he did not slap Simba on the head and say, “It’s in the pasht”.

It is still worth it, if you have not seen the animation version on the big screen, and if you believe in pure nostalgia of a 25-year revival.


Detroit (2017)
ReviewerAutar Kaw
Grade: C
Genre: Crime, Drama, History, Thriller
Rating: R
Running Time: 143 minutes

I reached the theater 10 minutes before the movie start-time and assumed that the theater would be packed. There were people, just a handful, mostly who munched on the popcorn through the quiet scenes and put their shoes on the seats in front of them.

I had decent expectations for the movie directed by my fav – Kathryn Bigelow whose Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty were impressive cinema. This powerful story of racism, which no one wants to voluntarily think or talk about, went mostly downhill for me after the initial impressive animated montage lesson of the history of blacks moving to the north for factory jobs.

The shaky camera is impressive in small doses but it just took away from the story in a major way for me. It was relentless just like the pain inflicted on fellow humans in the movie. The tone of the film color does take one back to the late 60s, but that also made it guilty of pushing an unwelcome caricature of complex themes and human nature.

Depicting racism through a white-colored prism is a painful balance and it simply failed here. I would have settled for neutrality.


Gifted (2017)
ReviewerAutar Kaw
Grade: B
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 101 minutes

Gifted is a movie about an uncle raising an academically gifted orphaned niece in a regular environment to let her be a kid as long as she can.  However, her rich maternal grandmother has other plans – take the custody of the niece away from her son of low means by using the family court, and then use the prodigy to solve the millennium problem of the existence and smoothness of the Navier-Stokes equation (My wife asked me if I know how to solve Navier-Stokes equation.  I answered affirmatively that I used it in undergraduate and graduate fluids mechanics courses – I simply assume the parts that I cannot calculate to be zero, and the solution then falls into place very nicely).

Gifted is just a Hallmark movie on steroids and the presence of Chris Evans makes the lasses swoon, while Octavia Spencer gives her best as the concerned neighbor but has a limited on-screen time.   It is not a bad movie – you will laugh one moment and cry the next, but you will know where it is going next.

PS. I do not know how many of you will recognize the above integral – it is the normal distribution function.  It can be solved exactly only if the upper limit of integration is infinity.  To find the exact solution, one has to write it as a double integral and transform the coordinates to polar.

Girl with the Dragon Tatoo

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  (2011)
ReviewerAutar Kaw
Grade: B
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R
Running Time: 158 minutes

Well, I wish I could say better things about the English version of “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”.   If you have seen the Swedish version like I have, I give the movie a C+, else it is a B.  The reason for the above conditional (if-then-else) grading is that there is no suspense left after you have seen the foreign version.


Anders Linden/Columbia Pictures

The movie does not soften the Swedish version in any way, and that may be disturbing to the puritanical lives we portray to the outside world.  David Fincher’s uncompromising style is present throughout the film, although it gets drably in the middle of the almost 3-hour saga (160 minutes).    The sound quality and the fake accents with constant mumbling make you play annoyingly-close attention to the words – I am waiting for “Mission Impossible 4” where I will cover my ears.  I was hoping that somewhere I could push a button for subtitles. Or, do I need to get my ears checked because of my old age.  But the clear diction of Christopher Plummer and Joely Richardson convinced me otherwise.

Now the good stuff – the cinematography and the music are well done.   In that respect, I have not seen a wintery movie like this since Fargo (1996).  Rooney Mara is a transformed actress and she may be an Oscar contender.  She gives the character of Lisbeth credence in some ways Noomi Rapace could not or did not.  Mara’s portrayal of compartmentalization of life’s needs was even scarier than that of real-life Bill Clinton’s.  Pay close attention to her compartmentalized focus in the scene where she retrieves her stolen bag.  I am hoping that Mara does not follow Marisa Tomei where she has to get naked in every other movie to prove her acting chops or to pay her rent.

Daniel Craig is his expected usual self and I cannot wait for the next five Bond movies (the introductory credits in the movie seemed to be an homage to the Bond movies) he plans to make (but he will be forced to go on a diet/exercise regimen as they refused to show his paunch for more than a second in the film).

Bottom line – go see it if you have not seen the original; if you have seen the original, you can wait for the DVD; if you have Netflix, it may be time to see the Swedish version again.

Based on my review, my daughter made a comment – why did they have to do Swedish accents and base it in Sweden – they could have changed locations and had American accents like they did in the well-done English version of “Let the Right One In”.


Sully (2016)
ReviewerAutar Kaw
Grade: B
Genre: Biography, Drama
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 95 minutes

Well, Sully is another low-key semi-masterpiece by Clint Eastwood.

Tom Hanks with gray hair and a paunch carries the weight that a reluctant hero does. We all know the ending but the story has had many other players (passengers, coast guard, air traffic controllers, union, NTSB, transit) and they have been knitted well in the movie.

Why a grade of B – because it is straight forward and the nonlinearity of the presentation does not compensate for it, and also because Sully in his sarcasm points out, “Engineers are not pilots”.

Laura Linney as Sully’s wife was a waste of talent – but might have been just a paycheck role for her. On the other hand, Aaron Eckhart as the first flight officer gives an analytical performance.

Read the real critics reviews.


Theory of Everything (20XX) 
ReviewerAutar Kaw
Grade: B
Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes

The theory of everything is a brief 2-hour history of the life of Stephen Hawking. The acting is great but the science has been trivialized to sudden inspirations rather than what would have been years of calculations and proofs, and disappointments and elations. The life stories have also been cleaned up a little except for a few marital indiscretions that many will not condemn. It was enjoyable as the humor was quite subtle and refreshing.

I am here to tell you that STEM degrees are hard, and they are challenging. The more we bring this revelation to the forefront, the better off we will be. It does not mean that it has to be boring and unreachable and that we keep teaching science courses the way we have been for decades. We still need to strive for diversity in STEM as that is where the new and exciting trails of science and engineering will be created.


Reviewer: Autar Kaw
Grade: B
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated: R
Running Time: 119 minutes

A movie about a washed-out actor trying to make it on Broadway is one that will be loved by some and hated by others. I liked it and it is not a popcorn movie. The acting ensemble of six – Keaton, Watts, Norton, Stone, Galafinikas and Ryan is worthy of a watch. I did not know that Keaton is so versatile in his depiction of emotions, and Watts always makes it look so easy.

The music was chaotic and it put me on the edge – may be that is what the city of NY is supposed to be portrayed as. It will be nominated for original score for the Oscars but I think it would be for the wrong reasons.

Whatever you may think about the movie, it is a cinematography marvel because of its fluid motion camera work and many long single-shot takes. There are some good lines, but some may be pretentious, but then again we are talking about actors acting as actors.

The movie is not playing in regular theaters – so we went to Zephyrhills Cinema 10 – that may have been a bad choice as the sound system is as good as the Tampa theater. Tickets are cheap and so is the popcorn, but once one gets used to the good stuff at Muvico 20, one gets spoiled.