Aladdin (2019)

Will Smith, Alan Tudyk, Navid Negahban, Marwan Kenzari, Naomi Scott, and Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019)

            Disney live action remakes in recent years have been hit or miss to most audiences. I’ve personally enjoyed Cinderella, Maleficent, and Alice in Wonderland, so I do find them entertaining at times. Then there are movies like Dumbo and Beauty and the Beast where I just don’t feel engaged. With the trailer of Will Smith as Genie, many were nervous about the CGI. People were also hesitant about Smith playing a role designed around Robin Williams. While the movie has definite differences, I found Aladdin highly enjoyable.

            The movie starts off with Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) trying to find someone who can enter the Cave of Wonders (a giant animated tiger head made of sand) without the cave collapsing on the one attempting to enter. We then go to Aladdin (Mena Massoud) making his way around the village with some parkour (a form of rapidly moving through the environment). He unknowingly runs into a disguised Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) who gave two girls some bread without paying. Aladdin tricks the baker into letting Jasmine go and they kick off a daring escape number with the song One Jump Ahead. It’s a fun scene that sets off the movie well.

            Jasmine angrily leaves Aladdin after learning that her bracelet was taken by Abu (Aladdin’s pet monkey). We learn Abu took it out of habit. Aladdin and Abu break into the palace to return the bracelet. They make it to Jasmine and her handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad). Jasmine is grateful for Aladdin returning the bracelet and he “steals” a hair pin promising to return it to her later. As Aladdin leaves the palace he gets caught by Jafar and some guards. Aladdin wakes up in the dessert sitting next to Jafar. He asks Aladdin to go into the Cave of Wonders and get only an oil lamp. Aladdin does so but a few other things happen, and he ends up trapped in the cave with Genie (Will Smith).

            This movie is joyful. It’s like a Broadway show brought to life. The dance numbers are tremendous. They’ve added, removed and changed things from the original movie; some of which I liked and others not so much. Jasmine’s character is much more developed and her solo song Speechless helps to deliver a strong message. If you don’t expect the animated Aladdin, I think you’ll have a great time. There was about 20 minutes where I noticed I was just smiling during the movie. Rated PG.

Ryan

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Shazam!

DC’s third solo film since they started trying to create a collective universe succeeds with Shazam! I’m personally a fan of Zachary Levi who plays the character of Shazam in this movie. I got to know him in the tv series Chuck, then I appreciated his voice acting and singing talents in Disney’s Tangled, and I was even surprised he replaced Fandral in Thor: The Dark World. So, the actor himself really helped sell me on the movie. I knew some about the character Shazam going into this, but not what would make him the star of a compelling solo film.

For a little bit of character history and some trivia, Shazam is quite an old character first appearing in 1939. He’s also had another name that until recently he’s used, Captain Marvel. This is confusing as Marvel comics also has Captain Marvel as a character. His name Shazam is also an acronym which explains the source of his powers. He gets his powers from Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury; they do glance over this in the movie.

The movie starts off in the past. We’re shown a boy (Ethan Pugiotto) who meets a wizard and is tested to see if he’s worthy. The boy is tempted by this magical eye associated with the Seven Sins, so the wizard declares him unworthy. We then cut to a more recent past of a mother and a son (David Kohlsmith) at a carnival where the mother is trying to win the son a prize. The son gets a compass as a prize and drops it causing him to lose his mother in the crowd. We cut to years later where Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has tracked down another woman he thinks is his mother, but it’s not her.

Billy has spent years trying to find his mother. He constantly runs away from foster care, and he never really grows close to anyone. He ends up at a new foster home with Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (Cooper Andrews) Vasquez who have several foster children with them. Billy still rejects this family, but he does have some casual conversations with roommate Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). When Freddy is attacked by some bullies, Billy intervenes to help and then runs away via subway car. The subway car ends up magically transporting Billy to the wizard from earlier. The Seven Sins have broken out and the wizard chooses Billy to be Shazam.

This movie does so many things right and truly makes it a fun and funny experience. It’s not often we see a boy, who is lost in life, transform into a super hero with spectacular powers. It’s just fun to see how he deals with these powers. The villain Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) has a well-defined character which runs parallel to Billy’s life in many ways but ultimately they make very different life choices. Something this movie does well is it tells most of its story in chronological order. From an audience perspective, it can be a bit annoying to stop the action to explain why two characters are fighting, and this movie avoids that.

There’s so much good about this movie that it’s hard to go into it all. The family dynamic was interesting without feeling cliché. The villain was well understood, though he may be too scary for younger children. We really get to know the characters and care about them. More than anything though, the movie is just fun. Rated PG-13.

Ryan

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame has so much happening at such a rapid pace that it’s unavoidable to talk about its plot. I’ll try to be as vague as possible about the movie until the second paragraph. Avengers: Endgame continues the story of Avengers: Infinity War where Thanos (Josh Brolin), the movie’s super villain, gathers the Infinity Stones and kills half the universe in one snap of his fingers. With this type of cliffhanger after such an iconic movie, it’s hard to imagine not seeing Endgame. Ultimately this comes off as bittersweet as it’s hard to forget how the heroes failed to prevent such a tragedy.

Spoiler time. We start off with Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) spending time with his family. As he’s teaching his daughter how to shoot arrows, he tells her to go retrieve the arrow she shot. As he turns to speak to his wife we see dust behind him. He calls to his daughter with no response and as he’s looking we see the rest of his family turn to dust. He’s left alone in a field. Really just as the movie starts we’re reminded of the gut-wrenching circumstances of the last film.

We then go to Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) in space with Tony recording journals saying he doesn’t think he’ll make it. Just as Tony is falling asleep he sees a bright light which turns out to be Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson). She brings them back to Earth. Tony is in bad shape and they quickly consult with War Machine (Don Cheadle), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). They learn the Infinity Stones have been used again and Nebula confirms the location of Thanos. They fly off to meet him and quickly defeat him in battle. They learn Thanos used the Infinity Stones to destroy themselves and in frustration, Thor unceremoniously kills Thanos.

The movie then skips to 5 years into the future. We’re shown Steve Rogers in a support meeting for those who have lost those close to them. He explains in the meeting that this has happened to him before when he was trapped in the ice, so he’s not unfamiliar with how others feel. We cut to a warehouse where a rat is crawling around some equipment and it activates a portal to the Quantum Realm that brings Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). He looks around the world confused, unaware of what happened. He finds his daughter to see that she’s much older. We learn that time hasn’t moved for him since he entered the Quantum Realm, and that the unusual way time flows may be the key to fixing this world.

This movie provides about as climactic of an ending to the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far as well as to this story of Thanos. Going back to Iron Man, I don’t think many would expect something this grandiose at the other end. The Russo Brothers really created something that encapsulates an era of film making. While there are some flaws in the movie, they’re negligible in the broad scope of things. I recommend catching up on some of the past movies before you see this one. There are even some inside jokes with the comics. Rated PG-13.

Ryan

US

Jordan Peele was known for his comedic nature until recent years. Then in 2017 critics and box offices were taken by storm by the horror hit Get Out. Now he’s made his horror follow-up with Us, a horror movie where it’s revealed that different versions of people are out to get them. I’d also like to state that I’m not a big fan of horror as a genre. I like movies that make you think or creative concepts, but I’m not into slashers or being scared. I had to be convinced to see Get Out and that’s what convinced me to see Us.

We start off in 1986 with a girl (Madison Curry) watching a television and some odd scenes of rabbits in cages. The girl, Adelaide, and her family go to a carnival where they enjoy time together and the father gets overly enthusiastic about winning some games. The girl wanders away and into a house of mirrors. She gets progressively more scared as the power goes out and she hears a noise. She tries whistling to calm herself, someone whistles back. She starts running bumping into a mirror that she though led her to the exit. Adelaide eventually finds another girl standing still. Adelaide turns around and it looks just like the other girl, and Adelaide screams.

After the incident we see that Adelaide had to go through some therapy for the incident and she wasn’t speaking after it. Then we cut to modern day with a family traveling in a car, the mother a grown-up Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o). They share a scene bonding over the music. We see them interacting in their summer house where the father, Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), reveals he bought a boat. They end up going to the beach the next day despite Adelaide initially objecting. The son, Jason Wilson (Evan Alex) gets lost. Adelaide starts to panic as her son is lost at the beach and she looks around and eventually finds him.

They end up going to the summer house from the beach and Adelaide expresses that she wants to go home. She feels like something is wrong and shares her childhood experience of seeing herself to her disbelieving husband. He agrees and they all get ready for bed. Soon after they see a family standing outside in the driveway. The husband is calm at first, but Adelaide immediately asks to call 911. Adelaide tells her daughter, Zora Wilson (Shahadi Wright Joseph) to get her running shoes on. Eventually the family approaches the house and it’s revealed that they all look like the family.

This movie has an interesting premise for sure. The characters all have their own struggles to overcome which make them much more interesting at the start. There’s likely a deeper meaning to the struggles of the characters, but I don’t want to spoil too much with speculation. To me, this was more frightening than Get Out but not as intriguing. It’s a movie that’s worth talking about after seeing, but it’s not as an enthusiastic recommendation to me. There are still some comedic moments in this one that help break up the dark atmosphere. Rated R.

Ryan

Captain Marvel


While I know much about certain comic book characters, I don’t know as much about Captain Marvel. I’ve only read Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel comic book run, which is similar to the movie version. Otherwise I’ve learned about her through Avenger’s stories, X-Men, Ms. Marvel, or character synopsis. So, I was curious to learn what story they’d try to tell with her. Overall, I think the advertising campaign helped keep that a mystery. Something many may not know is that this takes place mostly in 1995.

The movie starts out with Vers (one of three names for Captain Marvel in this movie), played by Brie Larson, waking up from a dream. She goes to spar with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), where he tells her she needs to focus on controlling her emotions. She talks about how she doesn’t seem to recall her past. They talk about some of Kree society on the planet Hala, which they’re on. We learn of their enemies the alien shapeshifters, the Skrull. Soon enough they get into a conflict with them and Vers is taken captive. The Skrull begin to explore her memories. She eventually frees herself from the Skrulls and crash-lands on Earth.

Some Skrulls follow her to Earth and soon she is met by Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). Fury and Coulson are understandably apprehensive about Vers’s story of space travel and shapeshifting aliens. They’re soon shot at with an alien weapon from the nearby roof. Vers chases after a Skrull. After the chase, it becomes clear to Fury that Ver’s story is real. So Vers and Fury end up teaming up to deal with the threat.

After seeing this movie, I compared it to other Marvel movies. I think this one feels most closely related to Thor. They’re both powerful characters from alien societies. I think they learned from Thor that having a “fish out of water” character isn’t necessarily enough to tell a compelling story, when there are now numerous origin stories. So, they added more action and supporting characters to make a relatable narrative. The story is less overwhelming than it could have been, as introducing two alien societies is a lot to explain in one movie. We could have ended up with several more societies, and that’s hard to keep track of.

There is a lot going on in the movie with three prominent species. The character of Carol Danvers really has a lot of complexity to her as well. I personally think they could have spent multiple movies introducing her prior to Avenger’s: Endgame. Doctor Strange was the last Marvel character to be fully introduced in their own movie and I think his story felt less rushed in comparison. One problem with the character is that they explain early on that she’s supposed to stifle emotion from her Kree training. So, I suspect we’ll see a different version moving forward. I do think this movie nailed the points it needed to for the bigger universe. It’s a fun addition to the great Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rated PG-13.

Ryan

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I’m a comic book fan, so I’m a bit biased towards the genre. Honestly, I prefer older Peter Parker as Spider-Man as I’m used to him. So Spider-Man: Homecoming was a good movie to me, but lacked some of the things I’m accustomed to in the comics. After seeing the end credits of Venom, I wasn’t sure what I’d get as the scene was so silly. While this movie does have some silliness, there are many reasons why it won the Oscar for best animated film in 2018.

Right from the opening, alternate credits give a feeling for the raw style this movie is going for. The movie starts off with a recap of the life of Peter Parker (Chris Pine) over the years. It’s very similar to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man but it has some clear differences. We get a feel for a very triumphant life of Peter vs the evil he faces. Then we cut to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and his daily life. Very early on we get the feeling of a teenager struggling to fit in. He wants to be ordinary at public school, but his parents want him to strive to be better at a highly exclusive private school. After school, Miles goes to see his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). They have a good rapport together and eventually go to a hidden area to do some graffiti. There Miles gets bitten by a spider with the number 42 on it.

The next day Miles wakes up feeling off. He ends up getting his hand stuck to a girl’s hair who is played by Hailee Steinfeld. Then he ends up in his room reading a Spider-Man comic. He sees that he appears to be going through the same things as Spider-Man. Later that night, he goes to the same place he was bitten by the spider and investigates it. While he’s there he gets drawn into a fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. Spider-Man is moderately successful against Goblin and The Prowler, but then things go wrong and Peter gets trapped under some rubble. Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) proceeds to finish Peter off leading to a shocked Miles fleeing only to have the terrifying Prowler pursue him.

Later at Peter’s grave, Miles bumps into someone wearing part of a Spider-Man suit who can shoot webs, played by Jake Johnson. Miles accidentally knocks him out and we get the chase scene used to promote this film found at the end of Venom. There’s a lot more to the movie than this. We get to see more incarnations of Spider-Man as many promotional materials have shown. Each character has their own interesting take on the lore and many are played by well-known actors.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse really does a great job bridging the gap between comics and accessibly through its animated format. It’s funny, action packed, and even has some deeply emotional scenes. The animation style is a bit jarring at first and I was worried about it being an issue. After a minute or two, my brain adjusted to the movement. The style overall lends itself to creating a feel like the comics with even noise lines coming out of a character’s mouth when they laughed. With how well it’s critically received, I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the standard to measure others against. I saw it three times in theaters, so I really enjoyed it, and I’ve not heard anything negative from someone who has seen it. Rated PG.

Ryan

Aquaman

DC movies have largely met with mixed feelings in recent years. Going into this I wasn’t sure what I’d get. Wonder Woman reinvigorated the brand and I think Aquaman continues that trend in solo movies. Much like Wonder Woman, Arthur Curry is from a society that doesn’t live with humans. Unlike her, he lives with his human father on the shore. We start with a bit of a background on how this character came to be.

The movie starts with Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) finding Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) unconscious on the rocks near the lighthouse he mans. He nurses her back to health and they initially struggle to understand each other, but they learn to get along. They seem to fall in love and they have Arthur. When some others from Atlantis come to take Attila back, she realizes they’d keep pursuing them and put her family in danger. She leaves promising one day to come back. She doesn’t return, and we’re introduced to Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) who saves a submarine from pirates including Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Manta swears revenge as his father dies.

After Arthur performs a rescue we see him with his father, Mera (Amber Heard) approaches him warning Arthur he must come to try and claim the throne. He decides not to go with her but then the surface world is attacked by a giant wave that hurts Arthur’s father. It’s sent by Arthur’s half brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson). He partially agrees to Mera’s plan but doesn’t seem interested in finding the Trident of Atlan to prove he’s the true king of Atlantis. After things go wrong, Arthur and Mera begin a quest to find this powerful artifact lost to the ages. This is all the setup to what feels like a story from mythology.           

The movie overall has a few story lines all centered around Arthur Curry, which often can go awry in other films. Here though it just seems to weave together a more elaborate story without getting weighed down by side plots. It’s a story about King Orm, Atlantis, Arthur, the quest for the Trident of Atlan, and Manta. This movie has solid special effects, some beautiful scenery, and overall just speaks to an epic adventure. It barely feels like a super hero movie as it’s more focused on the journey than the action. It’s just a great adventure movie that you really don’t need to know much about the character or universe to enjoy. Rated PG-13.

Ryan