CVIndependent

Sat09262020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

The Best!

1. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino said a lot of interesting things while promoting this movie, including a threat that he would only be directing one more film after this (and he’s backing away from that being his R-rated Star Trek idea, to the surprise of absolutely no one). So … depending on what he does next, this could be the last “big” movie from QT. If so, I’d say it’s a fitting finish. It’s also the best movie of the year.

2. Uncut Gems: Adam Sandler goes full-throttle nuts in what is easily the best performance within the best film of his career.

3. Midsommar: The horror genre had a banner year thanks in part to Ari Aster, who took terror out of the night and put it in broad daylight for this warped breakup movie. Florence Pugh—who gets my vote for Performer of the Year thanks to this, Little Women and Fighting With My Family—has established herself as a sure bet.

4. The Lighthouse: While this is more of a psychological thriller, there’s plenty of horror in watching farty Willem Dafoe and squirmy Robert Pattinson driving each other crazy on a remote island during a lighthouse-watch stint.

5. Marriage Story: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver break hearts in Noah Baumbach’s best movie to date, courtesy of Netflix.

6. 1917: Director Sam Mendes delivers perhaps his best film yet, about two British World War I soldiers trying to save 1,600 men before they advance into a German trap. It’s done to look like one continuous shot … and done well. This won a couple of Golden Globes, and while the Golden Globes are idiotic, 1917 is definitely award-worthy.

7. Waves: Startling performances all around and a tremendous visual flair make Waves a solid step forward for director Trey Edward Shults (It Comes at Night). Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (also great in this year’s Luce) sparkle in this film.

8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The year’s most heartwarming story, with Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers, and director Marielle Heller creating sweet vibes.

9. Honey Boy: Shia LaBeouf returned with a vengeance this year, supplying both the screenplay and a gripping performance as his own dad in this autobiographical take on his pre-adolescent and teen years. Talk about public therapy. (The film was produced by Amazon and will be streaming soon.)

10. Us: As I said above, horror had a nice year, and Jordan Peele continues his march away from comedy toward scariness with this chilling doppelganger thriller.


The Worst!

1. Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker: The Force Awakens was written by Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who wrote The Empire Strikes Back. This one was co-written by J.J. Abrams and the meathead hack who penned Batman v Superman. That’s right: They handed the storytelling power for one of cinema’s all-time-great storylines to the man who crapped that monstrosity out of his computer. You thought the Return of the Jedi Ewok hoedown was a bad conclusion to the first trilogy? Well, say hello to Palpatine’s Hellraiser Disco Rave Extravaganza.

2. Rambo: Last Blood: It’s been fun seeing Rocky again in the Creed films. As for Sylvester Stallone’s other HGH-enhanced alter ego, the last two efforts in the series have seen … let’s say, diminishing returns, as his hair got shorter (just like Samson in the Bible!).

3. Glass: Just when M. Night Shyamalan was starting to restore my faith in his abilities, he unleashes this, a case study in how not to invent a movie franchise on the fly.

4. Cats: So I was watching this and just trying to survive. Suddenly, things picked up a bit when a song that actually contained a pretty melody sprang from the speakers. Turns out it was the song Taylor Swift wrote, a blossoming flower in the middle of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sewage dump. Taylor came out of the sky later in the film as a CGI human-cat monster and tried to save the movie, but all was lost by then.

5. Yesterday: I just couldn’t get behind this movie. The central character is a plagiarist asshole, and I hated his renditions of Beatles music. Stay home, and listen to the reissue of Abbey Road.

6. Dumbo/The Lion King/Aladdin: While Aladdin was just slightly bad, Dumbo was terrible, and The Lion King was a complete waste of time. Disney, I love you, but you have to stop with this nonsense. Don’t worry; you will still make money. Hell, the amount of dough I drop on coffee mugs in your souvenir stores rivals what these stupid movies made.

7. Hellboy: Maybe they should’ve let David Harbour be funnier in the title role? He kicked comedy ass when he hosted Saturday Night Live. But here, he’s a total dud as Ron Perlman’s replacement.

8. Mary Magdalene: Jesus was a lot of things, but super-boring wasn’t one of them. This pretentious slog was just an excuse for Joaquin Phoenix to hang out with girlfriend Rooney Mara and get paid.

9. The Dirt: The only thing cool about watching this shitshow was the knowledge that Mötley Crüe was over as a band. Now comes the news that those fucksticks will be touring again, which takes away any good vibe that could be experienced watching this.

10. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot: Some critics had the audacity to call this Sam Elliott film one of the year’s best. To those folks, I say: Mushrooms can apparently be a fun recreational drug sometimes, but you shouldn’t take them when you are writing your reviews or operating a band saw.

While they didn’t make the year’s Top 10 worst list, boos go out to Godzilla: King of the Monsters for being soul crushingly dull, and Joker, perhaps the year’s most overrated mediocre film. I was very excited for both … almost as excited as I was for the new Star Wars.

Screw you, J.J. Abrams!!!

Published in Previews and Features

Will Smith’s big blue Genie is the surprising highlight of the fair-to-middling Aladdin, the live-action remake of the Disney animated classic.

Smith does just fine in the role the great Robin Williams voiced in 1992, and the character gets fleshed out in a manner that is genuinely moving at times—even if his blueness is perhaps a bit creepy from some angles. (It also looks like he’s pushing a big poop out the top of his head, thanks to that hairstyle.) In fact, if they decided to make a horror spinoff where the blue genie starts biting off heads, that would be kind of awesome. He’s scary already.

Director Guy Ritchie goes the full musical route, and while he has a reasonably talented cast, the whole enterprise feels a bit unnecessary. This is not a bad movie by any means, but it is overlong—and one cast member in particular ultimately brings things down.

Mena Massoud is a halfway decent Aladdin, while Naomi Scott provides a luminous Jasmine. Both do good jobs singing the famous songs, and they certainly look the parts. Their magic carpet ride while belting “A Whole New World” is charming, and they make a cute couple. It’s a shame this is all in the service of something that, no matter how much money is being thrown at the screen, feels hollow.

Beyond the general been-there, done-that vibe, the film’s downfall is Marwan Kenzari being woefully miscast as Jafar. In the animated movie, Jafar was a demonic force. Here, he’s a little whiny guy wearing a goofy hat—and his parrot is nowhere nearly as memorable as the one voiced by Gilbert Gottfried in the original. If Kenzari’s Jafar registered even the slightest level of menace, it might’ve been enough to render Aladdin recommendable. But … man, this guy really stinks up the place. Each time he walks onscreen, it’s like a steel-tipped boot kick to the movie’s crotch.

Nasim Pedrad of Saturday Night Live fame is a welcome presence as Dalla, Jasmine’s handmaiden. She’s good here, and it would be nice to see her score some higher-profile roles, because she hasn’t been doing enough since departing SNL.

Many of the songs from the original make it into the new version, as do a couple of new tunes. Smith puts fun spins on “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” and Scott hits the post on “A Whole New World” and the new “Speechless.” Besides “World” and “Friend,” the music isn’t all that catchy. It wasn’t all that catchy in the original, either.

Disney is remaking its animated classics into live-action films like crazy. Aladdin winds up somewhere near the top of the bottom half. It’s not nearly as good as The Jungle Book or Cinderella, but it’s better than Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. Disney isn’t stopping anytime soon, with The Lion King coming out later this summer and Mulan on the horizon.

So … Aladdin is not very good, but it’s not the travesty it looked like it was going to be. The blue Genie is indeed weird and a little scary, but Smith makes it a fun kind of weird. As for Jafar, he’s Jar Jar Binks bad—the kind of bad you just can’t get around. The film seems to be suggesting a sequel that would most assuredly include Jafar, so recast strategies should be put into play immediately. Recast Jafar! And get Gilbert Gottfried back as the parrot!

At this rate, Disney is going to run out of animated movies to remake somewhere around 2023, at which time it will probably start remaking the remakes. I’m expecting a live-action redo of the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake somewhere around 2025.

Aladdin is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews