Skip to main content

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin
(2019)

(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

From what I can see, Aladdin 2019 sticks fairly rigidly to the 1992 version (Guy Ritchie and John August still wangle screenplay credits, however), but with an additional romantic subplot for the Genie (Will Smith) and some extra (as in, on top of the nascent struggle for marital rights of the animated original) female empowerment for Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). The latter is squirm-inducingly crude, with power anthem Speechless written especially for the movie and dad (Navid Negahban) abdicating his Sultan-ness so that his daughter can take his place. For which the movie’s in good company this year, what with Avengers: Endgame proving similarly as subtle as a brick, and all the worse for getting accolades for playing the progressive card in the most cynically base manner. I guess Disney will do anything they can to ensure their various princesses have been fitted out with as much feminist cred as they possibly can, up to and including patronising their target audience (who may not know the difference, but where’s your self-respect, Disney?), and Jasmine was formerly lacking somewhat on that front. A shame this late-stage shamelessness wasn’t handled with a bit more aplomb, as Scott – who reminded me a little of Sarah Michelle Gellar – is a highlight of the movie, adept with the vocals and possessed of good chemistry with Mena Massoud’s Aladdin.

This bears emphasising, as the odds looked stacked against Ritchie’s venture into Disney territory from the first, with the debate about how his style would clash with the Mouse House, to the casting difficulties the picture experienced, to the underwhelming first look at Will Smith’s Genie. Indeed, everyone in the movie looked stiff, insubstantial or unenthused in the early promotional materials, so it’s a relief that all those in prime positions work so well.

Massoud brings strong comic timing and physicality, and an easy rapport with Smith (the jam routine), and if his singing voice isn’t amazing, well, it at least matches the generally perfunctory execution of the numbers. Smith is really good when he’s allowed to be Will Smith rather than required to go through the motions of that ker-razee Robin Williams material (this is where the movie is guilty of slavishly following the original’s best beats, even if it’s to the detriment of the whole; The Jungle Book made the same mistake by including the classic songs). He’s particularly affecting as a slightly (only slightly) bashful human incarnation wooing Nasim Pedrad’s Dalia (who also has great comic timing). Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar fails to enter the pantheon of villainous greats – you really need the villain in this sort of fare to be so joyously rotten that you root for them – but he’s sufficiently serviceable (Alan Tudyk, however,isgreat voicing parrot Iago). On the support front, Billy Mangussen steals his two scenes as an idiot prince of Skånland.

As for Ritchie, he’s definitely on tempered form, keeping the action sequences rattling along nicely – notably anything with the carpet – but only really attempting to apply his style to the musical numbers in the opening parkour-infused One Jump Ahead. As a consequence, the Bollywood-inflected routines tend to pass by without much claim to the attention. The visuals and general design are big and cartoonish, but Ritchie’s stylistic verve has always come from a musical approach to editing, and that’s largely absent, alas. The effects work is good, although Iago is much more engaging than the slightly uncanny-valley Abu (with those two and a tiger left over from Jungle Book, Hollywood animal trainers of yore must have all packed up and gone home). His best moment finds Genie atypically – for all his irreverence – fourth-wall breaking, as Smith “steps” into the audience and rewinds the reel to view Abu’s responsibility for the first wish. A moment worthy of Joe Dante.

So, of the four live-action Disneys this year, I had Dumbo pegged to go great guns and it only went and stiffed, while I thought this would be a stinker and it has turned out to be quite enjoyable. Coming up, Maleficent 2 looks every bit as enticing as the first while The Lion King still appears too damn photoreal to really evoke any emotional response. But seems like it will nevertheless be unstoppable. It’s unlikely that Aladdin, for all its relative merits, will entirely brush off those initial bad vibes; certainly not to the extent that its box office will reflect the love of the original. And there’s also, as if it need saying, the factor that parents may be becoming a bit choosy on what they drag the mites to when there’s a deluge of Disney reheats available each year rather than just that one crown jewel.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

The past is a statement. The future is a question.

Justified Season Six
(SPOILERS) There have been more than enough damp squib or so-so show finales of late to have greeted the demise of Justified with some trepidation. Thankfully it avoids almost every pitfall it might have succumbed to and gives us a satisfying send-off that feels fitting for its characters. This is a series that, even at its weakest (the previous season) is leagues ahead of most fare in an increasingly saturated sphere, so it’s a relief – even if there was never much doubt on past form – that it doesn’t drop the ball.

And of those character fates? In a show that often pulls back from giving Raylan Givens the great hero moments (despite his maintaining a veneer of ultra-cool, and getting “supporting hero” moments as he does in the finale, 6.13 The Promise), it feels appropriate that his entire (stated) motivation for the season should be undermined. He doesn’t get to take down Boyd Crowder, except in an incarcerating sense, but as always he is sanguine about it. After…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

You’re only seeing what’s in front of you. You’re not seeing what’s above you.

Mr. Robot Season 2
(SPOILERS) I suspect my problem with Mr. Robot may be that I want it to be something it isn’t, which would entail it being a much better show than it is. And that’s its own fault, really, or rather creator and writer-director of umpteen episodes Sam Esmail’s, who has intentionally and provocatively lured his audience into thinking this really is an up-to-the-minute, pertinent, relevant, zeitgeisty show, one that not only has a huge amount to say about the illusory nature of our socio-economic system, and consequently the bedrock of our collective paradigm, but also the thorny subject of reality itself, both of which have been variably enticing dramatic fodder since the Wachowski siblings and David Fincher released a one-two punch at the end of the previous millennium.

In that sense, Mr. Robot’s thematic conceit is very much of a piece with its narrative form; it’s a conjuring act, a series of sleights of hand designed to dazzle the viewer into going with the flow, rath…

It’s the Mount Everest of haunted houses.

The Legend of Hell House (1973)
(SPOILERS) In retrospect, 1973 looks like a banner year for the changing face of the horror movie. The writing was on the wall for Hammer, which had ruled the roost in Britain for so long, and in the US the release of The Exorcist completed a transformation of the genre that had begun with Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby; the realistic horror film, where the terror was to be found in the everyday (the home, the family). Then there was Don’t Look Now, which refracted horror tropes through a typically Nic Roeg eye, fracturing time and vision in a meditative exploration of death and grief. The Wicker Man, meanwhile, would gather its reputation over the passing years. It stands as a kind of anti-horror movie, eschewing standard scares and shock tactics for a dawning realisation of the starkness of opposing belief systems and the fragility of faith.

In comparison to this trio, The Legend of Hell House is something of a throwback; its slightly stagey tone, and cobweb…