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© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Lion King
© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Movies

King of the savanna

The new Lion King is a worthy remake of a classic prince-in-exile tale

Maybe it’s because I still have little people in the house, but I tend to approach Disney’s live-action remakes of animated classics a little differently than a lot of critics. Sure, they’re mostly copies of the originals, and kids could just stay home and watch the old DVDs. But few things make the under-10 set squeal with excitement more than a trip to the movies. So even if these remakes are something of a money grab, as long as they’re done well, most parents will be happy to make a family outing out of seeing them.

While The Lion King doesn’t match the appeal of Cinderella or The Jungle Book, it is for the most part done well. 

Director Jon Favreau is probably best known for playing Happy Hogan in Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Avengers films. Or, if you’re really old like me, you’ll remember him most fondly from the cult classic Swingers, a movie that ushered in a new love for swing dancing among ’90s teens. But it’s in his work behind the camera that Favreau really excels. As with his previous efforts, Elf and The Jungle Book, the PG-rated Lion King shines with innocent humor.

HBO’s fake newsman John Oliver makes the part of Zazu the hornbill uniquely his. The character is now a bit of reporter along with cubs’ guardian and is much funnier for it. Seth Rogen’s gravelly, low-register voice feels created especially for the part of an anthropomorphized warthog. And animated menace never felt more chilling than Chiwetel Ejiofor playing villain Scar. The best of the bunch, though, is the only returning actor from the 1994 version: You can’t do better than James Earl Jones, so Favreau didn’t try—Mufasa remains as majestic-sounding as always.

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Ocean Avenue Entertainment


Ocean Avenue Entertainment

Movies

Faithful farewell

The Long Goodbye shows author Kara Tippetts’ battle to trust God amid her cancer diagnosis

When Kara Tippetts launched her blog, Mundane Faithfulness, in 2012, she could have had no idea how the Lord would call on her to illustrate the title.

Taken from a question Martin Luther posed, “What will you do in the mundane days of faithfulness?” Kara had intended it to cover topics like the daily grind of laundry, screaming kids, and getting dinner on the table. That is, the everyday weariness and joy inherent to motherhood and wife-hood.

But the blog’s focus took an almost immediate turn when, at age 36, the mother of four discovered she had stage 4 breast cancer. Suddenly, she and her husband Jason were fighting for her life while trying to plant a church in a new city in Colorado.

The heartbreaking, convicting, and ultimately joyful new documentary The Long Goodbye, newly available on Netflix, follows Kara and Jason’s fight for faithfulness in the midst of fear. Often in mundane ways.

The strength of the film is that, even though filled with moments that show Scripture meeting the Tippettses in their daily lives, it isn’t churchy. It doesn’t offer shallow, Christianese bromides for their pain. The faith Kara speaks of isn’t the stuff of sunrise-backed self-empowerment memes on Instagram. It’s too hard and too real for that.

Take, for instance, a scene where Jason is describing how wonderful Kara is and, without realizing it, begins talking about her in the past tense. It’s understandable that he wants to prepare himself, perhaps subconsciously, to hold on to memories of his wife while she’s still with him. Yet the quiet alarm in Kara’s eyes as she sits by his side, listening, is painful to see.

But God would not be God if He weren’t there in the painful things. And it’s clear that He is.  

We tend to think of faithful, godly people as bathed in an effortless sense of peace and calm. Not only is that unrealistic, it isn’t reflected in the laments of Scripture. The Long Goodbye shows us Biblical faith that is both honest enough to cry out in hurt and confusion and then obedient enough to confess feelings of jealousy and doubt.

Kara admits she struggles to trust God’s promises in the face of test results that continually bring bad news: “There was one night I was struggling really hard. I had just gotten a new diagnosis, and I was laying in bed crying through Philippians 1:21, which is ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ And I said, ‘Lord, I don’t know that I believe You when You say to die is gain.’” Yet watching Kara fight to believe even in her unbelief is an encouragement to all of us who worry our fear and sorrow in trials mean we’re failing in the Christian life. 

Director Jay Lyons deserves credit for avoiding pitfalls that would do a disservice to the graciousness the Tippettses showed in letting cameras into their experience. Famous faces pop up, like when Joanna Gaines visits to decorate the Tippettses’ home for Christmas after she learns the family is a fan of her show. Or when Ellie Holcomb gives a living room concert. But the focus stays on the mundane, not the glamorous. These household names enter the Tippettses’ world, not the other way around.

Lyons also avoids over-dramatizing family interactions and turning them into something maudlin or false. There isn’t a moment that it feels as if any of the Tippetts family members, even the youngest, are manufacturing emotion for the cameras. 

Kara was blessed with amazing fruitfulness despite diminishing physically. In the three years from diagnosis to death, she wrote two books, spoke at numerous churches, and maintained her blog. More impressively, she continued to be kind and to give herself to friends and family—and now, to all of us who are being encouraged by her example. Although her life, by human estimation, was cut short, The Long Goodbye proves it was still, as God promised her it would be, abundant.

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Jay Maidment/Columbia Pictures/Sony via AP

Zendaya (left) and Tom Holland
Jay Maidment/Columbia Pictures/Sony via AP

Movies

Working vacation

Spider-Man: Far From Home offers rom-com fun and superhero battles but is marred by family-unfriendly jokes

With nearly every big-budget movie release somehow involving superheroes, my favorites now tend to be the ones that are the least superhero-y. To wit: Some early reviewers have complained that Spider-Man: Far From Home takes too long to get down to the serious work of battling bad guys. But I’d argue that the second the villain of the piece steps forward is when the good times slow their roll. Thankfully, that doesn’t come until the halfway point, after we’ve enjoyed big laughs watching sunny Peter Parker (Tom Holland) awkwardly attempt to woo the Gothically inclined MJ (Zendaya) amid gorgeous Venetian and Alpine scenery.

For those who feel as I do, Far From Home is a nice compromise—bubbly rom-com fun on the one hand, CGI-heavy caped crusading on the other. Yes, fans weathered some sorrow with Avengers: Endgame, but this is Marvel. True to brand, even the retrospective for loved ones lost is played for laughs. Spidey, too, is ready to take a break from the heavy stuff. He just wants to see some sights on his European class trip and to tell MJ how he feels, in true Sleepless in Seattle style, at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Unfortunately, a web-slinger’s work is never done. Peter barely sets foot in the Piazza San Marco when Nick Fury arrives with an assignment. 

Without giving away spoilers, director Jon Watts uses newcomer Jake Gyllenhaal to explore modern anxiety over media narratives while avoiding taking political sides. Media—both slick network outfits and indie operators likely to find themselves kicked off Twitter—engage in fake news dissemination. Building on this tension, an end-credits scene potentially sets up a great worldview debate to come.

One downside parents should note is that along with a bit of bad language, this film’s PG-13 rating comes with two porn-related jokes that do a disservice to the sweet, innocent spirit we love about Spidey. Reminder to Marvel: The cinema superhero juggernaut began in part because there were so few options the whole family could enjoy together. Don’t stop saving the day now.

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