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‘Aladdin’ Review: This Is Not What You Wished For

In my household growing up, Aladdin was a huge, huge deal. Being the older sister of a little brother, the Disney catalogue at that point had few films that could entertain us both in equal measure, and as a result the 1992 animated classic is probably the animated feature that I have seen most in my life. Following the likes of CinderellaThe Jungle BookBeauty And The Beast and Dumbo, it was only a matter of time before Prince Ali and co. were given the live action treatment. I’m not going to lie, I went in nervous as hell.

2019’s Aladdin brings the same story to the big screen, the tale of a young street rat (played by Mena Massoud) who uses the power of a magical Genie (Will Smith) to become a Prince and win the heart of the Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the Sultan’s daughter. Here’s the thing, I wanted to really love Aladdin, like really really love it like I loved Mary Poppins Returns, but unfortunately this just didn’t do it for me. There are definitely certain things to like about the film, but if I were to write a pros and cons list, the cons would almost certainly win out.

There is something that all of these cartoon to live action adaptation have had in common from the beginning, and that is a lack of kinetic energy compared to the animated originals. In the case of Aladdin, this energy is most clearly lost, in my opinion, in the majority of musical set pieces that fall completely flat (the only exception, interestingly, being Jasmine’s new number). One Jump Ahead feels like a strange, underusing, over directed fever dream, Friend Like Me felt physically painful to me, and A Whole New World seriously fails to capture the soaring magic of the cartoon carpet ride. I will give Prince Ali and Arabian nights their due, however. I have seen many people praising the colours of the film, but I couldn’t disagree more. Certain scenes may be vibrant, but I can’t celebrate the colouring of an Aladdin remake when the cave of wonders was more grey stone than golden treasure and the A Whole New World sequence bordered on Battle of Winterfell levels of darkness. Guy Ritchie, what’s going on bro?

Interestingly, the majority of positive change that the film provides is in its slight story tweaks rather that its showmanship. Princess Jasmine in particular is given far more agency in this 21st century update, something that feels more fitting both for the times and for the vibe of the movie. The picture also possesses a fun levity and a fast pace that helps you along even in those moments where the performances or the songs aren’t quite doing it for you. Ultimately, if there is such a duel attitude as being unimpressed whilst simultaneously mildly entertained, then that is what Aladdin evokes.

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Emma review – Austen’s sweet satire gets a multiplex makeover

In the world of classic authors, it’s fair to say that Jane Austen is a name that has become equally synonymous with cinema as it is with literature. From Pride And Prejudice to Sense And Sensibility to Mansfield Park, Austen’s work has proved to be a fertile ground for movie magic in the past. Published in 1815, Emma is a story that might be more familiar to film lovers in the form of 1995’s Clueless, a modern take that became one of the most beloved teen movies of all time. For her directorial debut, however, filmmaker Autumn de Wilde has decided to take us back to a time with which Austen herself might have been more familiar.

For those few who didn’t have to study it at school, Emma tells the story of Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), a “handsome, clever and rich” young woman who takes delight in meddling in the romantic escapades of her friends and close associates. From matchmaking for her governess (played by Gemma Whelan) to blocking an undesirable marriage proposal for a close companion (played by Mia Goth), Emma uses her wit and intelligence to manipulate those around her, all whilst determining never to marry herself despite a growing attraction to family friend George Knightley (Johnny Flynn).

You can see why the plot of this centuries old novel would make for such a perfect 1990s high school comedy in Clueless, the romantic twists and turns and sharp wit of the original source material are massively transferable to a modern adaptation, but that doesn’t mean they still aren’t enjoyable in a more traditional setting also. This 2020 iteration of Emma might not be an absolute banger, but it is certainly pleasant and proficient enough to provide a fulfilling period experience.

The film runs at a snappy pace and has snappy dialogue to match, and this helps to maintain a light and breezy tone from start to finish which is always welcome in a genre (period) that can sometimes feel bogged down. The different kinds of characters are the most enjoyable and defining element of Emma, from the sassy, headstrong protagonist to her hilarious hypochondriac father (Bill Nighy) to the boring but goodhearted village neighbour Miss Bates (Miranda Hart), the narrative introduces us to a plethora of endearing people, and then uses them as chess pieces in a story that, whilst perhaps not earth shattering by modern standards, has a gentle universal appeal that proves why the work of Jane Austen still feels relevant today.

If I were to be really picky, I’d say that the film flags a little bit in the middle before building up steam for a satisfying final third, but I can’t say that it is boring or unappealing at any point. It’s not Clueless, but then what is!?

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Review: ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ Is Fine and Forgettable

As with “A Christmas Carol” and the Grinch, every generation gets its own version of “The Nutcracker,” it seems.

The latest incarnation of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story is Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” a hokey oddity that glissades along with a few charms and a pleasant score by James Newton Howard heavily incorporating themes from Tchaikovsky’s ballet (though there’s little dancing).

Children who are 10 and under may be enchanted by the abundantly whimsical holiday-themed visuals; accompanying adults might chuckle at the movie’s leaden attempt at a girl-empowering message. Anyone squeamish about rodents — even ones that have been rendered sort of cute by CGI — might consider steering clear.

On Christmas Eve in Victorian-era London, Clara (Mackenzie Foy), a budding inventor, receives a special, egg-shaped box left for her by her recently deceased mother. With it is a note that reads in part: “Everything you need is inside.” But lo! The key to unlock the egg is nowhere to be found, and thus her journey to discover what lies inside it (and, of course, herself) unfolds.

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‘The Witches’ Review: A Tale of Mice and Women, Toil and Trouble

There’s no eye of newt or toe of frog in “Roald Dahl’s The Witches,” Robert Zemeckis’s take on the 1983 book — just a mischief of mice, a cantankerous cat and an occasional s-s-snake. There are people, too; some buzz around in the background while others push the story forward. Chief among these are an unnamed orphan, call him the Boy (Jahzir Bruno, sweetly sensitive), and his loving grandmother (Octavia Spencer), who form a wee bulwark against witches who appear fair but are most foul.

Narrated by a distracting Chris Rock, the story primarily takes place in flashback, in 1967, starting with an accident that kills the Boy’s parents. He moves into the Alabama home of his Grandma, whose warm embrace eases his pain. Zemeckis, working from a script written with Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro, handles this setup effortlessly, with his two cozily inviting leads, low-key visual panache and customary restive camerawork. Within minutes, Zemeckis has created a vibrantly inhabited world, even if the golden oldies on the soundtrack are overly familiar, as is his habit, and Grandma’s caky cornbread looks more Northern than Southern.

The witches sidle in, disguised and cunning. One materializes in a once-upon-a-time tale; another pops up in the present. Amid intimations of doom, Grandma and the Boy decamp to a resort hotel, a nonsensical turn that’s effectively a narrative contrivance. There, they soon find themselves facing down a coven of witches stirring up trouble. United by their hatred of children, the twisted sisters are led by the Grand High Witch (an amusing Anne Hathaway), who arrives with a black cat, a trunk stuffed with cash and a vile plan. Speaking in a vaguely Eastern European accent with Nordic notes, she has a cavernous mouth and jagged teeth right out of del Toro’s imaginarium.

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Film review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Now that I’ve covered the arrival at Shell Cottage and Voldemort taking the Elder Wand in my re-read blogging, it’s time to review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1!

For all my reviews of the Harry Potter films, I’ve been giving them scores as films in general, as in how they appeal to me as a movie-goer – and as adaptations, which is more about how they appeal to me as a Harry Potter fan. But just what makes a good adaptation? For me, how faithful the film is to the source material is only part of it, though still very important. A written story is likely to have some parts that won’t be as effective in a visual medium, and the adaptation process allows the opportunity to bring new creative choices to the table, creating a unique experience. So for me, a good adaptation provides the same big picture as the source material (though the details can vary if necessary); makes the story run smoothly, consistently and comprehensibly in a more limited time frame; and any changes that are made tend to have a positive or neutral impact, rather than making no sense, or detracting from the original story’s themes.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Black Adam stars Dwayne Johnson, Noah Centineo, Aldis Hodge, Pierce Brosnan, Quintessa Swindell, Mo Amer, Marwan Kenzari, Bodhi Sabongui, James Cusati-Moyer, Sarah Shahi and Uli Latukefu. The film arrives in theaters July 29, 2022