Aladdin

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Swanner: A young street rat frees a genie from an old lamp. Once freed, the genie grants him three wishes. Following in the success of the live action The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast, Disney now gives the 1991 animated film Aladdin a big screen live action reboot. The two big questions here are can Will Smith fill the shoes of Robin William’s genie and why is Guy Ritchie, a filmmaker known for his crime action films directing this family musical.

Judd: I’m not a Disney purist, and I haven’t seen the original since the last century on a VHS tape, so I’m able to look at this Aladdin for what it is, as it stands, and not what it was and/or should have been. I have no idea who made a better genie Williams or Smith, but I will say that I was disappointed in the quality of Smith’s voice – as well as the voices of most of the performers. For songs that have become standards and a show that has made its way onto Broadway, I was expecting better singers. As far as Guy Ritchie’s direction, I think Aladdin makes up for some of his more recent mistakes.

Swanner: I was surprised with Smith’s voice too, especially on the opening number Arabian Nights. I also was surprised with a lot of the acting. Up until Smith shows up, it was all pretty terrible. Once there, the genie sets the pace and the shows works from there on. What does work are the sets and costumes. It’s beautiful and worth the cost. I also liked the addition of Jasmine’s song Speechless and Naomi Scott gives a strong girl power rendition. Answering my first question, Will Smith doesn’t try to imitate Robin Williams’ and really shines in the film. Since he was entertaining, it made the rough spots palatable.

Judd: The movie has a very “Disney Channel” feel to it, and it looked cheap – though it obviously was not. Much of that has to do with the fact that the movie was shot for a 3D experience, and we saw it in 2D, which made everything overly bright and lacking texture. Cheap would also describe Aladdin’s wig, but now I’m just being picky. I agree that the movie shines in the large set pieces, with the greatest spectacle coming from the Prince Ali number, which would have been amazing in 3D. However, I felt that Jasmine’s “Speechless” felt tacked on and unnecessary. I know they were going for the Disney Princess Girl Power Moment™, but the movie isn’t about her, which is evident in the title alone. One subtle twist that was very Ritchie is that Aladdin is a parkour expert and dashes about Agrabah with gymnastic athleticism that is borderline ridiculous, but I thought worked.

Swanner: Answering my second question, I really have to blame Ritchie for what doesn’t work here, but then someone did hired him to write and direct so maybe the the fault goes higher. I’m not sure what someone thought Ritchie would bring to the film, since none of his style was anywhere to be seen. By the way, Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar was definitely Disney Channel acting. Was the film entertaining? Sure, but it just wasn’t very good.

Judd: I want to disagree that Ritchie is as fault, but better performances could have been coaxed out of the actors  – particularly Kenzari – and the movie should have felt bigger and grander than it was. You’ve convinced me that Aladdin adds to Ritchie’s growing pile of not quite good enough.

Swanner: 2 ½ stars
Judd: 2 ½ stars

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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Swanner: When we last saw John Wick, he and his dog were on the run from the international assassin’s guild, the High Table, who has lost favor with Wick and has placed a bounty on his head of $14 million dollars. This has every would be assassin looking to kill Wick. Chad Stahelski returns to direct for this third installment, bringing his years of stunt work into one big beautiful big screen dance. When I say dance, I mean there is less choreography in West Side Story than in The John Wick’s films. It’s hypnotic, and a work of art.

I always remind people that in John Wick’s world, everyone is an assassin, from the homeless man on the streets, to the woman selling tickets at the box office. So, when they hear that $14 million dollars is offered for his head…everyone wants that payout. In this third installment, Wick looks for help from his allies. He goes to the director (Angelica Huston), Sophia (Halle Berry), The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), and even the The Manager (Ian McShane) for help, but all know by helping Wick they could be facing the same fate. The cast is as good as it sounds…yes, even Halle Berry. Berry’s character has two shepherds that completely steal every scene they’re in, and now I want a shepherd.

During the screening, the audience was laughing every time he has a really great kill. It’s not because we are all desensitized with the violence, no; it’s because John Wick is a hero. He loved his wife and his dog. Once both were taken from him, someone had to pay. Our Hero likes his revenge, and so do we. Say what you want about vigilante films. Sure, we know there are laws that we have to follow, but in film, we see the good in immediate payback. You mess with me, you mess with my dog…

Swanner: 4 stars

 

Pokemon Detective Pikachu

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Swanner: In Pokemon Detective Pikachu, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) gets the call that his father was killed. When he arrives outside his father’s apartment he meets Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) a reporter who tells Tim that his father was working on something big that got him killed. Once in his father’s apartment he meets Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) who was his father’s Pokemon, but he has lost his memory.  Together they will find out how his father was killed or if his father is really dead at all.

Judd: The movie was directed by Rob Letterman who has other children’s animated films under his belt, and written by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, and Derek Connolly. While the performances are all fine, with Bill Nighy and Ken Wantanbe rounding out the rest of the cast, the movie will appeal to fans of the cartoon, but a confusing script and too many forced cameos by various Pokemon (Pokemen?) leave the uninitiated wanting.

Swanner: I really have no background with the Pokemon world, so I was surprised that adults had Pokemons as well. I thought it was just a thing for children, much like this film. You mentioned the performances were fine. I found the two leads lacking experience in CGI acting, with their eyes and hands missing their mark, and the general performances very Disney Channel. All the “adults” were fine. Ultimately this really is just another Ryan Reynolds vehicle. 

Judd: I was too confused by the script to notice the missed marks. Goodman has daddy issues, the villain has daddy issues, there are a couple twists that come out of nowhere, and a literal plot device that was so easy to defeat it was almost like the screenwriters weren’t even trying. Maybe if there weren’t so many of them, the script would have felt more coherent.

Swanner: As I mentioned, it felt like a kids movie. It was enjoyable learning about the different Pokemon monsters but I think most folks will already be familiar with them. Past that, it was a simple story with very few surprises. Nothing too complicated, I found myself just going with it. It’s not a film I expect myself to watch again, and I was entertained while I watched the screening, but I think it’s target audience would like it more. 

Swanner 2 stars
Judd: 1 ½ stars

Poms

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Swanner: In Poms, Martha (Diane Keaton) has just moved into a retirement community and as she puts it, she waiting for death. She just wants to be left alone. She’s told that as a member of the community she has to join one of the established clubs or start one of her own. She, along with her neighbor Sheryl (Jacki Weaver), start a cheerleading club which has many in the community worried about injuries and the overall embarrassment of it.

This film is directed by Zara Hayes from a screenplay by Shane Atkinson. The two give us a sweet story of getting older but trying not to get old at the same time. The script is full of the usual old folks jokes, but the “you’ll break a hip” never seems to get old… pun intended. The film feels like a made for TV movie with the overall look and odd editing. It looks like they didn’t have much of a budget to work with, but that doesn’t take away with how likable the film plays.

Keaton and Weaver both being movie stars bring that quality to the film, but the rest of the talented cast rounds out this lovely film. Pam Grier, Rhea Perlman, Bruce McGill, Celia Weston, Phyllis Somerville, and the other ladies remind us that there are a lot of out of work actresses over the age of 50 who can shine in a film. It’s also nice to see movies being made for the folks who still want to see movies on the big screen and not on their smart phones. Hopefully Poms will inspire more films being made about the people who make up over 50% of the population.

Swanner 3 Stars

Long Shot

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In Long Shot, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is the current Secretary of State, but she has aspirations of being President. After polling reveals that she’s not funny enough, she decides to hire Fred (Seth Rogen), the guy she grew up next door to, who is a progressive activist writer with a flair for humor. While traveling around the world, trying to sell her environmental plan, they secretly start dating and ultimately fall in love. Will America support this Beauty and the Beast romance and make her President? Everyone around them says: Hell No!

Director Jonathan Levine and writers Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah create a world where Princess Diana would have been able to date someone like Guy Fieri. This isn’t your standard fish out of water romantic comedy. Theron is wonderful playing a presidential hopeful, and no one plays a “couldn’t you have done better” love interest than Rogen. I like that the film has that 30’s/40’s charm to it but updated here to be very current, and an R rating, so it is filled with more fucks than you hear in a vigilante film.

The rest of the cast is hilarious including Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkick, Andy Serkis (who we actually see without CGI), and June Diane Raphael who steals just about every scene she’s in. This is a very adult comedy but that just made me love it all the more. The chemistry between the two leads is incredible because you never doubt for a minute Theron would fall for Rogen. This is defiantly going to be included in my favorite Rom Coms, and you know how I love a good Rom Com.

Swanner:  4 Stars