Review – Aladdin

“You seem to bring me the rough, but not the diamond.” – Jafar

Mena Massoud and Marwan Kenzari

Another year, another live-action remake of a Disney Classic. After global billion dollar box office-hit Beauty and the Beast, it didn’t take long before Disney to announce another ’90s animation was getting the treatment. Aladdin was released back in 1992, made history as being the first animated feature ever to gross more than $500 million and it was also the biggest success film that year! This lead to numerous sequels and tv-shows, until now.

British director Guy Ritchie (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) is a bold choice to direct a musical, since he’s better known for his more gritty comedies. But maybe we’ve been missing out on a hidden talent of his.. or maybe not! This is Ritchie’s most ambitious project so far, and it will all depend on the success of Aladdin, if he’ll ever get an opportunity like this again.

First of all, Aladdin has gained quite the fanbase over 2 generations of kids. So there’s the nostalgia of the animated version they’ll have to compete with. Second, a lot of media had reported on early set pictures that made everything look a bit too much Bollywood instead of keeping it more Middle Eastern. Was this project doomed from the start?

Going in with the lowest of expectations, might be the best chance this movie has to win over audiences. Aladdin is more of a “retelling” of the animated feature, co-written by Guy Ritchie himself. There are of course some similarities with the tale we’re all familiar with, and this could cause for some fans to leave the cinema empty-handed when they don’t see their favourite scene making it into this live action version. The story relies the most on its comedic timing in some of the dialogue to distract people from the horrid CGI that blurs the screen more than 80% of the time. You can tell Ritchie is inexperienced in this genre and interrupts big musical dance scenes (who are by the way, clumsy in every way) with unnecessary comedic moments that felt forced.

The other co-writer is John August (Dark Shadows), who was able to help flesh out Jasmine (Naomi Scott) a bit more, as she wants to become the next ruler of Agrabah. Another character that wants to steal the spotlight – but fails miserably – is Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). He’s too one-dimensional to come across as a threat and let’s be honest, not every cosplayer is an actor. Jasmine on the other hand is here to be shown as more than just a princess waiting to marry a prince. Scott sings two new “female empowering pop ballads” and is the true MVP of the entire film. She delivers the looks, has the acting (AND singing!) chops and commands your attention whenever appearing on screen.

Mena Massoud plays Aladdin, a humble thief turning into a hero. His chemistry with Scott is very natural. Will Smith is who everyone was so afraid of to be portraying Genie, largely due to Robin Williams‘ memorable vocal performance. He’s more known as a rapper, not a singer, but he makes this role his own instead of trying to duplicate the animated version of his character. He delivers a distressed and comedic sophisticated Genie with a certain stage presence that’ll make you laugh more than once. But even though you might’ve have thought Will Smith was painted blue, it looks like this character is almost entirely motion capture and copy-pasted into every scene. He floats on a cloudy legless lower body and most of the time looks as fake as the background.

A whole new world, maybe? But a better one.. not quite! Aladdin isn’t a total disappointment, but one day that game of roulette will end with a bang and end the cow that is Disney Classics. Leave a classic as it is, it’ll never be as good.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Originally written for novastreamnetwork.com

Review – John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

“I still have time.” – John Wick

Para bellum – prepare for war (Latin – English). John Wick is back for more than two hours of hardcore violence with a hint of comedy spiced with exhilaratingly exhausting chases all over the globe. Chad Stahelski‘s John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is an epic pandemonium, made to satisfy fans of this franchise, but also to surprise the non-believers with his superbly choreographed fight sequences.

This chapter starts where the last film ended. Wick is running out of time and in less than an hour he will be excommunicated from the global community of assassins and can’t use any of their hideouts or facilities anymore. Every assassin in New York will be hunting him down – since the price on his head is a staggering $14 million.

If you really think assassins have the patience to wait until the High Table (the global organisation of assassins) tells you the hunt has begun, you’re in for a surprise. There’s killers everywhere and Wick bumps into one very tall man early on in a library, for some close-up combat with books. It doesn’t take long before the next battle starts in an antique store where cabinets get shattered to start a lethal knife throwing sequence with deadly consequences.

Our man knows he can’t keep battling an entire city of assassins forever, he goes looking for a way out and this is where we get to know a bit more about John himself. Anjelica Huston plays a cold-blooded woman who knows John from a previous life. After handing her a talisman he once earned for doing something terrible, he’s here to ask for a favour – sneak him out of the US. They owe him that one thing, and Wick is off to Morocco to get rid of his death sentence.

Once arrived in North Africa, we get another look at Wick’s lost past we know so little about. He has another marker/medallion in his pocket, to collect another favour. This one is destined for Sofia (Halle Berry, reminding us how bad ass she still is), whose daughter he rescued from an unspecified danger long ago. She has a pair of German shepherds who steal the show as bad guy’s genitals butchers. The cinematography here is breathtaking, especially when we get to the Sahara and see Wick climbing the dunes in his suit. It’s an action packed act that makes you ready for what you’re about to witness back in New York City.

A representative of the High Table has already arrived in the city and is here to punish those who helped Wick break the rules in the last film. The “Adjudicator” (Asia Kate Dillon) gives both the king of the Bowery’s bums (Laurence Fishburne) and director of assassins’ hotel The Continental, Winston (Ian McShane), seven days to put their affairs in order before they’re removed from their roles. Whatever that may mean. While Wick was on his way back, the Adjudicator visited some sidewalk sushi bar and hired the chef/hitman to lead a crew of assassins that will make an end to John Wick’s legacy once and for all.

Zero (Mark Dacascos) and his crew, are fans of the legendary Wick. While they fangirl in between throwing him through glass walls, they’re still here to finish him off. This final showdown happens in Winston’s all-glass administrative offices, where nothing is what it seems. Playing with cold glass walls and neon lights has never been more impressive and fun. Even when everything gets smashed to smithereens.

With every chapter, this franchise gets bolder and more impressive. This bares the question if they can keep this level of excitement going like other successful franchises, or if this is Reeves’ magnum opus as Wick?! I’d say “dulce periculum” and keep them coming. Let his legacy live on!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review – Avengers: Endgame

“I love you 3000.” – Tony Stark

Josh Brolin is Thanos

Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his fingers while wearing the Infinity Gauntlet, and half of all life in the universe disappeared. That’s how last year’s Avengers: Infinity War ended and left us craving for its epic conclusion.

One year later, we are finally in the Endgame. The Russo Brothers filmed this arc of the Marvel Cinematic Universe back to back and reminds us of the “snap”, as we sit down to witness what’s coming. Unaware of the battle happening in Wakanda, a family is in for a surprise that will have some serious consequences. Not just for them, but for the entire universe that doesn’t know how to move on.

The surviving Avengers – Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) plus brand new members Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and marvellous Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) set off on a mission to stop Thanos once and for all. Will they find Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) in time to join them on this quest? And if so, what if it all fails in the end and make things even worse?

11 years and 21 films have been leading up to this chapter. Avengers: Endgamesays farewell to characters that have been part of our lives for such a long time, tears are inevitable. Emotions will peak, because movie fans have sat in the backseat for such a long time and got to know these heroes as if we’re part of the team. Plots will be wrapped up (even some continuity errors are being corrected, to make sure everything is correct). Everything is at stake and there is only one solution. This is it.

Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely‘s script knows just how to find that balance between science, drama and action. These guys know what they’re doing and find the heart in the midst of all the heroism. The battle of Wakanda was just a warm up – you ain’t seen nothing yet! The Avengers and all of their friends get enough screentime to be remembered with honour or to leave an everlasting mark on all of us. Our superheroes have some extra tricks up their sleeves to keep things exciting. Every one of them gets a moment to shine and the clash we witness in the third act of Endgame is one of the most perfectly constructed and visually mesmerising war scenes you will witness – maybe, EVER! There will be laughs, you will cheer and gasp and you will definitely cry.

After Endgame, there’s a whole new saga to start and an entire universe to explore. But for now, let’s just enjoy the finale to our Infinity Saga and take one last bow to salute them. Thank you Avengers. We love you 3000!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Non-spoiler review originally published on novastreamnetwork.com

Review – The Curse of La Llorona

“She Wants Your Children”

La Llorona is a very well known tale in Latin American folklore. It’s the story of a woman who, after her husband left, drowned her kids in a fit of rage, realised what she had done and took her own life. The legend goes that now she kidnaps children and drowns them, mistaking them for her own. Urban legends and ghost stories are always a good formula for a horror movie, so the ever expanding Conjuring Universe is cashing in on this and making it one of the best chapters we’ve seen so far.

It’s a very impressive film I must say. Having watched all the other Conjuring Universe-films (Annabelle and her sequel, The Nun and The Conjuring 1 & 2), TheCurse of La Llorona or its Australian title The Curse of The Weeping Woman is the best chapter after the very first Conjuring. The cheap scares were more effective, mostly because there’s more build-up and atmosphere, and feels more deserved.

The film starts in the 1600s with Maria (Marisol Ramirez), later known as our titular ghost, taking her children to the lake. We jump to the 1970s, and meet Anna (Linda Cardellini) – a freshly widowed social worker providing for her two children (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen and Roman Christou) – who discovers that one of her clients, Patricia (Patricia Valesquez), has her two boys locked up in a closet. The boys are quickly taken out of her custody and La Llorona strikes, passing on the curse to Anna’s children. Desperate for a solution, she turns to an eccentric priest (Raymond Cruz) to rid their house of its newly acquainted curse.

The Weeping Woman mostly takes place inside Anna’s house, but there’s more layers to the story. Personal grief while trying to take care of children who are also in mourning, the whole stigma around a single mother working, mixed-race kids, and why this Latin American curse hits them. They’re all part of the story and blend pretty well to make it one cohesive tale. Cardellini shows us a side of her acting chops we haven’t seen before, and sells it very well. After her last big film Green Book, where her part was almost non-existent, its nice to see a woman of this calibre lead a horror film and isn’t afraid to take on a different challenge. The genuine fear, but taking charge of her role as a protective mother always feels and looks real.

As far as the rest of the cast, there’s not much to talk about. Cruz as a priest is a little bit fascinating, but doesn’t have a big enough role to get excited about or to leave a lasting impression. The children are mostly screaming or thrown through rooms like dolls by La Llorona.

It might feel a little bit repetitive at times and plays out like a short film stretched out to a feature length film (best comparison I can give you is Lights Out, directed by David F. Sandberg – Shazam!). The best bits of the film definitely include Cardellini and some incredible imagery. But only being 93 minutes long, is more than enough for the story to be told. Director Michael Chaves is also taking over from James Wan to direct The Conjuring 3 (he’s still producing and writing the screenplay), so I guess this director is just getting started and will grow to a larger scale in his next feature. Just don’t rely too much on what other horror masters have done in the past, create your own urban legends and voice.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review – Little

“She woke up like This.”

Issa Rae and Marsai Martin

This modern day version of Big – but in reverse, shows all the good bits in the trailer. So if you’ve seen the trailer, you know what you’re in for. That doesn’t mean I didn’t laugh throughout the film, because it is funny. It’s predictable and had a cute message in the end, that wants you to stay true to yourself. 

Little isn’t anything new, we’ve seen this story multiple times before, in the way of a bodyswap like Freaky Friday or in the ’80s comedy “Big” with Tom Hanks. But it’s harmless fun, mostly thanks to the cast, which seems to try harder than what’s given to them.

Screenwriters Tracy Oliver and Tina Gordon‘s (who also directed this film) underdeveloped script is contrived, full of plotholes and unnecessary scenes that don’t help the story progress. Little is enjoyable when you just focus on what’s in front of you and don’t think too much about all of it.

Regina Hall plays a tough, rude tech mogul who, because of some weird magic trick, wakes up one morning in the body of her 13-year-old self. She then spends the rest of the movie figuring out how to reverse the curse, learning a few useful life lessons along the way. As usual, Hall embraces the role and dives full in. But sometimes, you should say ‘no’ to delivering jokes that seem very outdated and entirely inappropriate. Especially in 2019, transphobic jokes are just not done. Lucky this happens in the beginning of the film, trying to show us just how mean she actually is, but I think this could’ve been shown to the audience in a different way. Hall has worked with producer Will Packer before on hit-comedy Girls Trip, which is one of the better comedies I’ve seen in the last decade.

Issa Rae plays Hall’s long suffering personal assistant and is as charming as she is in her Emmy– and Golden Globe-nominated HBO-series Insecure. Although I thought the more the story progressed, the less screen time she got and kind of turned into a supporting character. As if the writers decided to wrap up her part in the whole story. Very unfortunate, because her chemistry with Marsai Martin is a pleasure to behold.

Speaking of Marsai Martin, she is the star of this movie. As the 13-year old version of Hall’s character, she owns every scene she is in and dominates with a screen presence I haven’t seen from a child actor in a very long time. Martin is a revelation, who might look cute, but turns out to be a performer with first-class comic timing and true acting chops. She might seem Little, but she is enormously talented.

Interesting note is that Martin has become the youngest person ever to earn an executive-producing credit on a major Hollywood production, with this movie. Little isn’t going to make anyone forget about “Big“, Hanks made too much of an impact on that film to erase it from anyone’s mind. But Little just gave us a new star. And I’m happy to have witnessed that on the silver screen.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Originally written for novastreamnetwork.com