Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Aladdin (2019)

Image is property of Disney

Aladdin (2019) – Film Review

Cast: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen

Director: Guy Ritchie

Synopsis: A live action retelling of the 1992 animated classic in which a street urchin is sent by a nefarious vizier to retrieve a magical lamp that contains an all powerful genie…

Review: In many ways, it feels like someone at Disney was almost given the powers of a magical genie themselves. One of their wishes would have been to make the studio lots of money, simply by remaking all their animated back catalogue. Hence, the Disney live action remake train magic carpet has now flown its way to the world of Agrabah and to the story of everyone’s favourite kind hearted street urchin.

With their first live action adaptation this year, Disney was forced into making a few significant alterations. Here though, they have taken the decision not to tamper with things too much. We meet Aladdin (Massoud) an orphaned street urchin who routinely steals items to get by. Though when he meets the beautiful Princess Jasmine (Scott) he falls head over heels in love and strives to win her heart. All the while the villainous Jafar (Kenzari) sends Aladdin to capture a magical lamp in which an all powerful genie will grant its master these wishes three, which Jafar plans to use for nefarious purposes.

Of all the directors in the world Disney could have hired to direct a live action Aladdin film, Guy Ritchie right away feels like an odd choice. The direction Ritchie takes is so unremarkable that it feels like almost anyone could have directed this film and no one would be any the wiser. Stylistically, there’s no risks taken, it’s all very colourful, but nothing stands out. It’s all very unremarkable, which, like with Dumbo feels like a mistake, as there could have been an opportunity to utilise the director’s talents to give these live action films a voice of their own and to really justify their existence. Otherwise, it just feels like the sole purpose of these live action remakes is to just make the studio money.

He might have been the source of much ridicule and scorn in the build up to the film’s release, but to his credit Will Smith actually does a decent job in the role of the Genie. Though Robin Williams’s take on the character will always be iconic, Smith’s efforts to make the character his own are valiant. He’s by far and away the main source of laughter in the film as he tries to get Aladdin to be a suitable match for Princess Jasmine. Though he is basically playing himself, he’s, by far and away, the main source of laughter in the film. Naomi Scott holds her own as Princess Jasmine as she makes an effort to assert herself from the constraints that the society places on women. Though, her chemistry with Massoud’s Aladdin isn’t the best and unfortunately Massoud doesn’t have the charisma required to be a leading man, likewise for Kenzari’s portrayal of Jafar, who is just extremely one dimensional and bland.

The dialogue can feel a little bit wooden at times. There is a decent attempt made to recreate the wonderful songs of the original, and though they are well done, they just don’t live up to the quality of the music that the animated film captured. No expense was spared when it came to the production design, nor the costumes as both are lavish but unfortunately this is just isn’t enough to breathe new life into this story. You could have all the wishes in the world but not even the most powerful of genies would be able to prevent this live action remake from failing to live live up to its animated predecessor.

Splendid production design and costumes, and the Genie was thankfully not the horror story we feared it would be, but a poor villain and some stilted dialogue ensure that this is not a whole new world you’ll want to revisit any time soon.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Thunder Road Pictures

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – Film Review

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston

Director: Chad Stahelski

Synopsis: With a $14million bounty now on his head after breaking Continental rules, John Wick is on the run with nowhere to go, and in the crosshairs of every hit-man and woman in the world….

Review: There’s a moment early on in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum where a character seethes at John Wick for the hell his actions have wrought, “all of this for what?! Because of a puppy?!” “It wasn’t just a puppy,” Wick retorts back. The aforementioned “this” refers to the carnage that has followed since a bunch of ill-judged thugs killed the dog bequeathed to John Wick upon the death of his wife. An event that sent the legendary hitman on a furious rampage of revenge. After said rampage ended, a commitment to a contract once again landed Wick in another spot of bother, and now all hell is about to break loose.

Set immediately in the wake of the previous film, John has been declared “ex-communicado” from the Continental after he violated one of the unbreakable rules of the Continental, by murdering someone on company grounds. Consequently, the High Table has placed a 14 million dollar open contract on John’s head, that soon has every deadly assassin in the world on his trail. The hunter has become the hunted, but God help anyone that does decide to try their hand at taking down Baba Yaga himself.

Neigh chance that the bad guys are living through this one…

Keanu Reeves has made his name as an action star, and once again, he excels in this role. It is undoubtedly one of the key appeals of these films is to see an action star like him, commit to doing some jaw dropping stunts, whilst also getting to see him kill folks, via any means necessary. In this instance, given that he has quite a few people who are out for his blood in a bid to land that 14million dollar jackpot, it gives returning director Chad Stahelski scope to once again gleefully find ways for Wick to creatively finish off his pursuers. The direction is once again imperious and in a series that has already produced mesmerising action scenes, fights involving dogs, horses and other methods ensure that the bonkers factor has been turned up to eleven.

Alongside Reeves, the familiar presence of Ian McShane’s Winston, is suave as ever. The real scene stealers in this new instalment are the women. Halle Berry, who leapt at the opportunity to be a part of the franchise, plays Sofia, a femme fatale with a connection to Wick’s past. Though she frustratingly doesn’t have a great deal of screen-time, when she is on screen, she damn well makes her presence known. Likewise for Asia Kate Dillion, a cold and ruthless representative of the High Table, who’s there to ensure that John Wick pays the penalty for his actions.  Unfortunately, as the film is so top heavy with action, that the surrounding story lacks the deeply personal element that the first two films had in abundance. As such, the moments in between the enthralling actions scenes where the bullets/knives aren’t raining down on the bad guys, do feel a little tedious.

The lack of real emotional drama gives the other two films the edge over Parabellum. However, in spite of this being not as strong as the other two films, you have got to give the plaudits to Stahelski and the stunt teams of these films. The action scenes have been its big selling point from the very first film, and in this respect, they have consistently delivered. Furthermore, for an actor who is now well into his fifties, you’ve also got to hand it to Reeves for committing himself to the role that has reaffirmed him as one of the best action stars working today. If you want peace, prepare for war, or at least some bloody good action scenes, because that’s what Mr Wick, suited, booted, significantly bloodied and bruised, will give to you.

Packed to the brim with thrilling action scenes, but a significantly weaker story bereft of the emotional drama of the previous films prevents this sequel from firing on all cylinders. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Booksmart (2019)

Image is property of Annapurna Pictures and Gloria Sanchez Productions

Booksmart – Film Review

Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams, Billie Lourd, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis

Director: Olivia Wilde

Synopsis: Two high school students who’ve shone academically realise they have have missed out on some major high school/teenager shenanigans. On the last night before graduation, they decide to go out of high school with a bang…

Review: In many ways, high school/secondary school is the place where we really start to grow up, the place where we slowly start to make that steady transition from childhood to adulthood. We undertake some important exams that can potentially shape the rest of our lives. Whilst simultaneously, it’s a time when we usually start going out, partying and with any luck, making long lasting friendships and relationships. Some may choose to party too hard, some may get the balance right, and some may work too hard and not party enough.

Best friends Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) are most definitely the latter. They have spent their time very much concentrated on the academic side of high school with the focus of attaining a place in a top class college. However, as they prepare to graduate, it dawns on them that their focus on their academic work has been so razor sharp, that they have missed out on several years worth of partying and letting their hair down. Desperate to rectify this mistake, they realise that they must use the last night before graduation as their chance to cram as much partying and raucous behaviour into one night as they possibly can.

Look at these pesky up-to-no-good troublemakers….

Putting a refreshing and wholly unique take on the high school sex comedy/drama, is by no means an easy challenge. However, for her directorial debut, Olivia Wilde does exactly that. Having women front and centre, both in front of and behind the camera, definitely plays a massive part in ensuring this film stands out from the crowd. As the leading ladies, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever both give terrific lead performances. These two bounce off each others’ personalities to wonderful and hilarious effect. Their interaction and chemistry on screen is so warm and fuzzy, that they feel like fully fleshed out people. Right from the moment you meet them, they genuinely feel as though they have been friends for years.

Feldstein, who arguably stole the show with a wonderful comedic performance in Lady Bird, maintains that wonderful level of humour in a role that really gives her the chance to shine. She comes across as a bit aloof and snobby to the other students, but there is a warmth and sincerity to her, as well as a brilliant sense of humour.  By contrast, Dever as Amy is a much more withdrawn individual. She carefully chooses the right moments, when she is not with Molly, to come out of her shell.  Both have rich layers to them, so much so that there will almost certainly be people out there who will relate to them in some capacity, whether it be the desire to place emphasis on those hours of studying or being slightly withdrawn when it comes to social interaction, or perhaps even both.

Alongside Wilde in the directors chair, the film’s female team of writers (Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel & Katie Silberman) pen a fantastically witty script full of some truly brilliant jokes that are downright hilarious. There are one or two jokes don’t quite hit their mark, but the rest are just fantastic and extremely unique in terms of the delivery and the punchlines. Try as we might, those high school years are not a constant barrel of laughs, there will be times when some drama unfolds. Wilde’s excellent direction and the sincere performances from every member of this cast, ensure that this is captured in such an honest and authentic manner. It just goes to show that when you do your homework, as the cast and crew most certainly did, that it will pay tremendous dividends. Top marks all around.

Hilarious and heartfelt, with very sincere and genuine performances, a wonderfully refreshing take on the teen drama/coming-of-age comedy. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Long Shot (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate, Good Universe and Point Grey Pictures

Long Shot – Film Review

Cast: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård

Director: Jonathan Levine

Synopsis: As she is preparing her bid for President of the United States, Charlotte Fields (Theron), recruits childhood acquaintance Fred Flarksy (Rogen), an outspoken journalist, as her speechwriter…

Review: In these very politically charged times, to make a film that is very politically orientated is an extremely brave decision to make. It is even more bold to take a genre that you wouldn’t normally associate with politics, like rom-com, and to add a bit of political spice into the mix. The final outcome is an interesting hodgepodge of genres, and while it is not quite a landslide victory, it isn’t too far away.

Fred Flarksy is an outspoken journalist who is down on his luck having just lost his job. As he bids to get back on his feet, he runs into Charlotte Fields, who he once knew as a child. While his life is somewhat in limbo, she is flying high in US politics as the Secretary of State. However, she has her eyes on a much bigger prize and is poised to officially announce her bid for the Presidency. A chance meeting reunites them both, and sensing she can use Fred’s writing skills to pep up her speeches, and boost her ratings, she offers him a job on her official campaign as her speechwriter. Of course, though they don’t seem like the most ideal couple, that doesn’t stop them falling for one another, and an unlikely romance starts to brew between them.

As with any romantic comedy, its primary objectives are to be both romantic and funny, and this film puts an X in both these boxes. Rogen’s background in comedy certainly helps with the comedic aspect as there are plenty of laughs to be found.  As she has proved throughout her career, Theron, is effortlessly watchable as she brings class and sophistication to her performance, a polar opposite to the brash, loudmouth nature of Fred’s personality. However, when the situation requires it, she can also be extremely hilarious as she engages in some amusing shenanigans.

As a pairing, Rogen and Theron certainly seem far from a match made in political heaven, but the chemistry between the two of them is very strong and as the film wears on you completely buy them as a couple and hope to see, in spite of the difficulties of the situation, to make it work between them. Of all the excellent supporting cast, O’Shea Jackson Jr is by far the best of the bunch as Fred’s extremely entertaining, supportive long time best friend. Though it is for the most part extremely entertaining, not all of the jokes hit their targets, as some of them can be extremely cringey.

The world of politics is a very fraught arena right now, and the screenplay from Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling uses that to its advantage. It takes some not-so-subtle digs at certain news organisations, and their CEOs. In addition, it puts the current US political climate under a microscope, analysing a plethora of topics most notably, the intense scrutiny that political candidates, especially female ones can find themselves under. Though it does have plenty of things to say about numerous topics. However, the pacing is not perfect as it does lose its way about half way through the film. There are some familiar rom com tropes, yet the performances of the leading duo ensure that the film has charm and sets it on its way to success in the polls.

 A blend of romance, comedy and politics is an unlikely mesh, but with the backing of the great performances of its leads, Long Shot gets the votes it needs to set it on its way to success.