‘Aladdin’ 2019 Review

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If you have been following this blog for a long time than you know I’m not the biggest fan of these Disney live action remakes. A few I have enjoyed (Mary Poppins Returns, Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella) but even when I enjoy them the overall movement away from animation is not my favorite. Plus, when it goes bad it goes really bad (Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast). So naturally when I heard about a remake of the Disney classic Aladdin I was pretty skeptical. I was made more skeptical when they hired director Guy Ritchie, who I have not been a fan of, to helm the project. Then the casting looked questionable (how do you replace Robin Williams, one of the great vocal performances ever?) and the trailers were uneven at best.

Nevertheless, I always try to set all that baggage aside and go into a movie with an open mind (otherwise why bother?). So what was the result of this live action Aladdin? I’d say it is a decidedly mixed bag. It’s not awful and it’s not a classic like the original. It’s squarely middle of the road entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Let’s start with the positives. The best part about the film is the performances of Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine. They are not only good charismatic actors but they had great chemistry and are pretty decent singers. I really enjoyed the ‘One Jump’ sequence from Massoud and Scott has a power ballad called ‘Speechless’ that felt a little out of place musically but was still a pretty good, well sung piece (written by La La Land’s Pasek and Paul). I also thought they nailed the ‘A Whole New World’ because of their chemistry and good singing. It was everything I could have wanted in that sequence.

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I also enjoyed Will Smith when he wasn’t the blue Genie that we know and love. My friend Jen, who attended the screening with me, said she thought he was playing the part of Hitch, acting as matchmaker between a nervous Aladdin and confident Jasmine. These scenes are funny and well produced. They even have Genie getting some of his own plotlines, which I surprisingly didn’t hate.

The trailers are also misleading on how devoted to the original the remake is. It is not a shot-for-shot remake, which many were afraid of, but instead, tries its own thing. The pacing could be a little tighter in spots but overall the story and script worked. Plus the Alan Menken music is always a treat.

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Unfortunately I also had problems with this new version of Aladdin. The biggest fall in 2 camps: blue Genie sequences and the portrayal of Jafar.

Like I said, I enjoyed the scenes of Will Smith playing matchmaker and mentoring Aladdin as a normal looking version of himself. However, I did not like him as the blue Genie. First of all, he looked ridiculous with cgi that was only slightly better than the first trailer. That said, my biggest problem was they took all the funny out of these scenes. I wonder if they were afraid of fans comparing him to Robin Williams? Unfortunately their solution was to make ‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘Prince Ali’ flat and bland with hardly any jokes or energy to them. It felt like glitzy cruise ship renditions more concerned with checking off boxes instead of digging into a deep manic energy to make us laugh and smile. Also Will Smith doesn’t have a broadway style singing voice, so they should have embraced his more hip-hop style rather than produce weak versions of these iconic tunes.

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My other problem with Aladdin is the portrayal of Jafar by Marwan Kenzari. He had a lot of the trappings of Jafar but the performance was very annoying and whiny. I’ve always thought of Jafar as a pretty bold but sniveling villain and this was just irritating. It also didn’t help that Iago as a live action character was window dressing instead of the comic relief that makes the animated Jafar so full of dry menacing wit.

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I really struggled whether to go smile or frown worthy on this Aladdin. I’m about split down the middle on it but it so pales in comparison to the original animated classic that I’m not going fresh on this one. It’s not awful and has its charms, but I’d still say stay home and watch the original. Tough call but:

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Overall Grade 5 out of 10

If you want to hear Stanford and I talk all about the original Aladdin check out our Talking Disney podcast episode:

The Man from UNCLE Review

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Let’s start out this review by saying I am not a Guy Ritchie fan. Why? Well, simply put I don’t like the way he directs action in a movie.  I hated the way he turned Sherlock Holmes into a bullet dodging, explosion jumping action hero in his Sherlock Holmes movies and I really didn’t like the action in his latest film The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  He uses lots of shaky cam, whip pans, split screens (sometimes 5 or 6 splits) and jerky cuts with extreme closeups like on someone’s eye or cheek in the middle of an action scene! All of that I hate.

That said, I liked The Man from UNCLE.  It’s not going to be a favorite of mine but it almost worked in spite of Guy Ritchie not because of him.  Ignoring the action, I had a fun time with the movie.

The Man from UNCLE is based on a British TV show from the 60s that evidently was an homage to 007 and James Bond style films.  Henry Cavill rescues this movie with tons of charisma and charm as secret agent Napoleon Solo. He reminded me of Cary Grant or Clark Gable.  That old movie star kind of persona you need for this kind of part.

guy ritchie set in rome with henry cavillHe has good chemistry with Armie Hammer who cheesy Russian accent and all he makes it work as agent Illya Kuryakin.

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The two must work together with Alicia Vikander (who overnight is in every movie and is always great) to get her father’s computer disk for a nuclear weapon from an Italian crime donnette played by Elizabeth Debicki (who makes an icy vileness.) It is kind of funny in this movie you have a Brit playing an American.  An American playing a Russian.  A Swede playing a German and an Australian playing an Italian!  Oh well!

UNCLE7Hugh Grant also shows up in about 3 scenes and I wish we had gotten more of him.  If they do a sequel I hope they make him a bigger character.

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The plot is pretty silly and a lot of realizations and twists don’t make sense but I didn’t mind that for this type of spy movie. It’s incredibly stylish with great clothes and pithy dialogue and one liners. That all worked.  The tone can be a little uneven at times and again I blame Guy Ritchie for that.  He stays in scenes too long to a point where it becomes uncomfortable.  For example, several scenes Armie Hammer’s character gets very angry and the scenes go on very long and it causes him to lose his bubbly charisma he has in other scenes.

It could have been easily 20 minutes shorter and been much better but I loved seeing the foreign settings especially Rome and the actors were generally very likable and entertaining that it worked for me.

UNCLE3This is the kind of movie if you see it is on cable give it a watch.  In fact, it might be better that way because the shaky cam and jerky editing of the action scenes works better on a small screen.  It at least is an action movie which doesn’t try to explain everything and just kind of moves from one set piece to another.  You get the feeling it is in on the joke and the camp factor of the film.

If you hated Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes like I did you will definitely see some of the same techniques and it is nauseating and annoying here too but at least suits the project a little bit better.  Plus, the plot doesn’t verge into the supernatural or other eye rolling escapes like in Holmes movies (and no slow motion dodging bullets that they must have done 30 times in the last SH movie).

Perhaps fans of the original show will be annoyed (I’m a massive Sherlock Holmes fan) by his style on their franchise, but as I had never heard of the show it didn’t bother me.  Over all, I had a good time watching this movie despite the terrible action and directing choices.

Overall Grade- C

As far as content it keeps the language to a minimum and the action is so choppy I don’t think it is very upsetting.  There is implied sex but nothing is shown and characters are shot and tortured for a fairly long sequence.

Content Grade- B