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Josh Reviews Disney’s Live-Action Remake of Aladdin

Let me say two things right at the top about Disney’s new live-action remake of their animated classic, Aladdin.  First, I’m just not sure I see much of any creatively interesting rationale behind Disney’s current penchant for remaking so many of their classic animated films in live-action.  (There’s clearly a financial reason, as these films seem like a good way to make money off of pre-existing, beloved properties.)  Two, as an enormous fan of Guy Ritchie’s early films (I hold Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels very close to my heart, and I really love Snatch as well), adapting Disney animated films is really not the type of project I wish he was working on.  But, that all being said, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this new version of Aladdin when I saw it with my kids recently.  The film is fun and funny and gorgeous to look at.

After the prologue, we’re introduced to Aladdin and most of the main characters in a beautiful extended tracking show that takes us all through the nooks and crannies of Agrabah.  It’s a gorgeous shot that really shows off this new film’s production values: the sets, the costumes, the props, and the CGI artistry.  I was impressed.  It was a cool shot and a great way to bring us into the story.  (I love how well-realized Agrabah is in this new film.)

The cast of the film is strong.  I thought Naomi Scott was the film’s standout as Jasmine.  She was completely convincing and earnest in the role, critical qualities, and she has a stupendous singing voice.  Mena Massoud was also strong as Aladdin.  This is a tough role to play in live-action.  It’s easier for the animated Aladdin to be cute and bumbling while still being believable; that’s a harder balance to strike in live-action.  Then there was Will Smith, ably stepping into the big blue shoes of the late, great Robin Williams.  I was very dubious about Mr. Smith’s casting in the role, and the film’s early photos and trailers did not impress.  But, wow, I was really bowled over by how great Will Smith was!  He channels a lot of what Robin Williams brought to the role, while also easily making it his own.  Mr. Smith has the musical chops to own the songs, he’s able to be very funny and, most importantly, also channel the Genie’s sweetness and sincerity.  I thought he was terrific.  I was also very impressed by the CGI work that enabled the very-human Mr. Smith to have a lot of the fast-moving shape-changing whimsy of the animated version.  I really wasn’t sure the film could pull that off, but … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Suicide Squad

Following the disappointment of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie that I found to be overly dour and grim and dull (and, even more problematically, filled with almost nonsensical plotting and paper-thin characters), I thought Suicide Squad looked like a breath of fresh air for the burgeoning DC movie-verse, fun and anarchic.  Sadly, the film has almost all of the exact same problems as Batman v. Superman: the plot makes little sense, the characters are underdeveloped, and the whole thing reeks of desperation to be cool and adult, while failing to be either.  I actually think Batman v. Superman is better than Suicide Squad — something I can’t believe I am writing.  Oy vey!

SuicideSquad.cropped

Created by John Ostrander in the eighties (actually, recreated, as there was a previous Silver Age version of the concept) (and I was happy to see that Mr. Ostrander got a fun shout-out in the third act of the film), the idea behind Suicide Squad is that government operative Amanda Waller (played here by Viola Davis) has gathered a group of meta-human super-villains and attempts to coerce them into doing good on the government’s behalf as a way to commute their sentences (and avoid getting blown up by the bombs she’s had implanted in their necks).  Here in the film, the DC world has been shaken by the arrival, and then departure, of Superman, which lends context to Amanda Waller’s desperation to have some meta-humans she can control.  Of course, the idea of trying to control these super-powered crazies is probably a bad idea.

I am somewhat shocked that this obscure property has made it to the big screen, so in this I applaud DC/Warners for having the guts to dig this deeply into the wonderful history of DC Comics.  I never really expected to see Harley Quinn in live-action on-screen, let alone Deadshot or Katana.  While I think DC/Warners are shooting themselves in the foot by rushing to create a shared cinematic universe — in slavish imitation of what Marvel Studios has done so well — without taking the time to carefully develop each property individually, which has been Marvel’s (very successful) strategy, I must admit that it’s also sort of cool that this new slate of DC movies are dropping us into a universe fully in motion.  Man of Steel was a new origin story for Superman, but Batman v. Superman presented us with a Batman who had been in operation for decades and already had a Robin killed, and a Wonder Woman who had been around since WWI at least, while also suggesting the existence of many other super-humans (all the other members of what will be the Justice League.)  Here … [continued]