‘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:

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Suicide Squad Review

suicide squad cerealI’ve never been the biggest superhero movie person, but over the years movies like The Avengers and X-Men Days of Future Past have won me over. These movies have clever stories, great scripts and charismatic performances by Oscar level talent. 2014 was a particularly memorable year with only 2 bad superhero movies and 4 outstanding films- Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Big Hero 6 and X-Men Days of Future Past. These movies had everything I could want in a superhero movie.

WE WERE SPOILED!!!

Aside from Captain America: Civil War the superhero movies of 2016 have been kind of sucky and unfortunately the latest entry, Suicide Squad does not change that trajectory. Suicide Squad is the latest offering from DC Comics and Warner Brothers and despite promising trailers it fails to deliver on its potential.

After Batman v Superman frustrated many moviegoers in March, Warner Brothers clearly took all the wrong lessons out of the feedback. ‘Make the movies more fun’ is what they heard. So, they rushed David Ayer to write Suicide Squad in 6 weeks and then hacked it to pieces creating a mess of a movie.

suicide squad2That’s not to say there aren’t any redeeming values to Suicide Squad. There are mainly with the casting. All the roles, with 2 exceptions, are well cast. The problem is the script doesn’t give them time to grow as characters or to gel as a unit. Will Smith and Margot Robbie are the standouts as Deadshot and Harley Quinn and I’m curious to see more of them in future films.¬†Viola Davis is also great as Amanda Waller who is an agent forming the Suicide Squad. She is ruthless and you kind of see why she would be interested in super villains.

The story of Suicide Squad is you have this group of villains that are called upon to fight evil metahumans. This is all supposed to be after the events of Batman v Superman but there is never any talk of using the good metahumans like Flash and Wonder Woman (despite briefly seeing Flash in a cameo). And the fact that only 2 of the Suicide Squad are actually metahumans which makes you scratch your head?

The first act of the film starts out clunky with Davis sitting at a table looking through a binder of each of the squad members.¬† Then we see flashback introductions to the characters. It’s kind of like the gossip montages in Ant-Man but repeated over and over again.

But even with that certain characters aren’t introduced at all like Katana. She just walks onto a helicopter and they say ‘oh look it’s Katana. She’s a crazy ninja” (I’m paraphrasing but you get the drift).

Suicide-Squad-Enchantress-OriginSo what are they called upon to do? Well, they are supposed to stop an evil being named Enchantress who kind of needs to be worse than the squad in order for the story to work but she’s just not. I normally don’t care about lame villains but she did nothing for me and I felt the special effects were very poor. She creates this ‘brother’ that looked right out of Gods of Egypt. Again, I wouldn’t have cared about a bad villain if I had cared about the rest of the film.

SUICIDE SQUADFor a movie like this to work it relies on the charisma of the stars and a witty script (this is not a gritty crime drama like The Dark Knight). And the problem with Suicide Squad is the editing is so poorly done that just when characters are starting to interact it cuts away to something that doesn’t matter.

You are supposed to believe that the characters are becoming a family but I didn’t buy it for a second. There’s a moment where Deadshot has to decide whether to hurt Harley Quinn and their relationship wasn’t near built up enough for me to buy his decision. They had one very brief conversation and they are supposed to be big baddies. It didn’t work.

There’s another scene where they are fighting these glob creatures of Enchantress and the creatures stop coming for some reason and they stop fighting evil and have a drink. If the movie had effectively established them as not caring about the mission or stopping the badder guy than I could have bought it but the way it sits it feels random and jarring.

suicide-squad1The other confusing part about the movie is why have Enchantress when you have DC’s greatest villain in the film for like 6 minutes? You could have made the Joker the villain and instead you have a lame villain. That would be like Marvel having Loki as a villain for a 5 minute cameo. It makes no sense.

But speaking of the Joker…Jared Leto goes for it as this new take on the character and I personally was not a fan. The Joker is an agent of chaos. He thrives on creating disorder. He is the last person in the world that would want to be an organized crime boss like in this movie. It felt too outright bad-guy where the Joker is supposed to be a believer in the philosophy of chaos. He should be more complex than having damaged tattooed on your forehead!

suicide squad3All that said, if you can go into Suicide Squad and ignore the script and just enjoy the charismatic performances and the fun soundtrack I think you may have an enjoyable time. It’s a lot like Batman Forever. There’s some engaging performances in Batman Forever, some decent music and production design but the story and script are terrible. So if you can enjoy Batman Forever than you will enjoy Suicide Squad.

At the very least I didn’t feel as manipulated as Batman v Superman and it isn’t as gloomy (although the forced fun added by the studio is so obvious). To me the two movies are about equal in quality but it is a case of picking your poison and what types of problems bother you more than others.

It’s probably very generous but I did like it better than X-Men Apocalypse which underserved all of the characters I love and became destruction porn. I gave X-Men Apocalypse a D+.

So for Suicide Squad Overall Grade- C- for Will Smith and Margot Robbie but I’d say it’s a definite skip.

ps. Those people who started the rotten tomatoes takedown petition are morons.