Archive for May, 2019

Courting Princess Jasmine

Aladdin

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Billy Magnussen

Director Guy Ritchie is known for making distinctly quirky British films like Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, so it’s surprising to find that Disney has hired the renegade director to be at the helm of a light and fluffy live action version of Aladdin which is at once glossy and glamorous.

Fortunately, Aladdin is saved by a superb performance by the titular star of the film, Egyptian born actor Mena Massoud who grew up in Canada and nails the role. Massoud’s chemistry especially opposite Hollywood superstar Will Smith (Bad Boys, Wild Wild West) as the Genie is brilliant and although his singing is not as satisfying as his female star Naomi Scott who plays the beautiful Princess Jasmine.

Audiences should not compare this live action version of Aladdin to the 1992 animated film which featured an unforgettable performance by the late comic actor Robin Williams as the Genie. This is a 21st century version of Aladdin and Disney casts the film very cleverly to remake this classic tale.

The evil Jafar played by Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari seeks to oust the street wise thief Aladdin in a bid to steal the magic lamp and court the gorgeous Princess Jasmine wonderfully played by Naomi Scott who is locked up in her palace unable to see the kingdom in which she will one day inherit.

Her protective father, the Sultan played by Navid Negahban (American Assassin, American Sniper) refuses to let his daughter venture out into the city streets so Princess Jasmine is forced to conceal her identity where she first meets Aladdin a street urchin who steals her gold bracelet although he blames it on Abu his faithful monkey.

Channeling his Fresh Prince of Bel Air days, Will Smith does an adequate job as the Genie and Mena Massoud holds his own as Aladdin and many of the well-recognized songs from Aladdin including You Need a Friend like Me will be sure to please younger audiences.

Director Guy Ritchie abandons his usual stylistic flourishes and makes a paint by numbers version of Aladdin in keeping with the Disney tradition which at times is vibrant and exhilarating with flamboyant costumes although he does veer straight into Bollywood territory.

Aladdin is certainly very entertaining, although I did find the middle of the film lacking in a cohesive structure and at times the pacing of the film is off, but director Guy Ritchie delivers a family friendly Disney musical which is rare as it’s not normally where his cinematic talents lie.

Aladdin gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is not brilliant but very entertaining and will certainly appeal to a much younger audience judging by the average age in a Saturday matinee.

Disney once again delivers a hit musical with diversity, vibrancy and a storyline which will have a broad appeal. Recommended viewing for all those that love exotic musicals with a distinctly Eastern flair.

Symphony of Death

John Wick 3 – Parabellum

Director: Chad Stahelski

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Said Taghmaoui, Jerome Flynn, Robin Lord Taylor, Jason Mantzoukas

Director Chad Stahelski assembles an all-star cast for the action packed third installment of the John Wick franchise including Oscar winner Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) as fellow assassin Sofia along with the fabulous Oscar winner Anjelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honour) as the Director. Naturally the superfit Keaun Reeves (Dangerous Liaisons, My Own Private Idaho, The Matrix) reprises his role as the uber cool assassin John Wick who is on the run after committing a sacrificial act by killing a member of the Assassin’s Guild on the grounds of the lavish Continental Hotel in New York City.

In John Wick 3, Parabellum a bounty is placed on Wick’s head and even the shady Russian mafia cannot assist him as the adjudicator comes for his head, featuring a supremely wicked performance by the androgynous actress Asia Kate Dillon who is so brilliant as the mathematical investment banker in the series Billions.

As the rain-soaked atmospheric and hyper-realistic action moves from New York City to Casablanca and then back again, John Wick and his ally Sofia manage to annihilate every assassin which comes for them. There are Ninjas on motorbikes, there is John Wick riding a horse down a Manhattan street. There are vicious dogs which attack a fellow Moroccan based assassin Berrada played by Game of Thrones star Jerome Flynn.

The coolest cast members by far are Ian McShane as the sophisticated unflappable manager of the Continental Winston and Laurence Fishburne who reprises his role as the Bowery King.

Audiences can expect triple the amount of action, unbelievable production design, outlandish stunts and non-stop hyper-realistic entertainment which just continually builds on what the previous two films started. Expect an unbelievably high body count.

John Wick 3 – Parabellum is not for everyone but will certainly satisfy the bloody palate of  insatiable action fans. Keanu Reeves delivers as the muscular non-stop assassin who doesn’t even shed his trademark black suit and tie in the middle of the Sahara as he continually battles the bizarre code of the High Council and the strange Assassin’s Guild where everyone is out for each other’s blood.

The sets are amazing, the action frenetic and audiences will either love or hate the hyper-realism but stylistically director Chad Stahelski out does himself to ensure that the third instalment of John Wick is a symphony of death and destruction which satisfies a broad range of international fans. Audiences should look out for a great cameo by French Moroccan star Said Taghmaoui (Wonder Woman, The Infiltrator) as The Elder.

John Wick 3 – Parabellum gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is strictly for hard core action fans otherwise anyone else watching might find the film laughable. 

An Independent Woman

Gloria Bell

Director: Sebastian Lelio

Cast: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Brad Garrett, Michael Cera, Rita Wilson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Caren Pistorius, Barbara Sukowa, Sean Astin, Holland Taylor

Foreign Language film Oscar winner for A Fantastic Woman, Chilean director Sebastian Lelio recreates an English language version of his Chilean film Gloria called Gloria Bell set in contemporary Los Angeles and starring Oscar winner Julianne Moore (Still Alice).

Moore plays a fifty something divorced woman Gloria Bell who has a mundane insurance job during the day in a downtown L. A. company but who trawls the disco nightclubs in the evening sipping martini’s and dancing with strange men.

Whilst Julianne Moore is brilliant as Gloria Bell a woman who is prone to people pleasing which includes her rather awkward interactions with her grown up children Peter played by Juno star Michael Cera and Anne played by South African born immigrant Caren Pistorius (The Light Between Oceans, Mortal Engines).

Gloria even tries to placate her anxious co-worker Melinda who is on verge of losing her job in a particularly noteworthy scene on an office balcony overlooking downtown L. A. Melinda is played by famed German actress Barbara Sukowa (Atomic Blonde, Hannah Arendt, Lola).

When it comes to men, Gloria despite her disco dancing antics does not have as much luck as she meets the divorcee with serious baggage issues Arnold wonderfully played against type by John Turturro (Fading Gigolo, Barton Fink, Jungle Fever).

Gloria desperately tries to navigate this new relationship with the weird Arnold as he battles to cut ties with his ex-wife and children and is desperately jealous when Gloria introduces him to her ex-husband Dustin played by Brad Garrett and his new wife Fiona played by Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct, The Firm, Mickey Blue Eyes). The only two women Gloria can rely on in times of crisis are her best friend Vicky played by Rita Wilson and her wealthy mother Hillary, a superb cameo by comedic star Holland Taylor.

Director Lelio lets many scenes linger too long for a film which lacks a fast moving storyline yet Gloria Bell is held together by a fabulous performance by Julianne Moore as she inhabits all the garish interior scenes of L. A. nightclubs and Vegas casinos.

Gloria Bell is an interesting portrait of a woman’s journey of self-discovery as she truly becomes an independent woman after she realizes that she cannot rely on her children or the men in her life.

Whilst I have not seen the original 2013 Chilean film Gloria which Sebastian Lelio also directed, audiences might find this Americanized version Gloria Bell slightly bland and very slow moving despite the superb performances and catchy musical score.

Gloria Bell gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is saved by Julianne Moore’s terrific performance but unfortunately becomes a slow moving story of a woman finding her own independence.

My impression was that Gloria Bell simply did not translate well into a contemporary American version despite the auteur efforts of director Sebastian Lelio.

Another Handsome Stranger

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Director: Joe Berlinger

Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, John Malkovich, Angela Sarafyan, Jeffrey Donovan, Haley Joel Osment , Brian Geraghty, Terry Kinney, Kaya Scodelario, Jim Parsons

Based on the memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile stylishly directed by crime documentary film maker Joe Berlinger is a fascinating and deeply disturbing portrait of a devilishly handsome sociopath, the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy superbly played by the gorgeous Zac Efron (The PaperBoy, The Greatest Showman, We are Your Friends) in a determined departure from his comic roles.

Elizabeth Kendall is played by Rules Don’t Apply star Lily Collins who gives a mesmerizing performance as a young girl captivated by Bundy’s killer good looks, his charm and his demonic charisma. Kendall first meets the handsome stranger in a bar in Seattle in 1969 and Berlinger’s film is told from her perspective and rather than focus on the heinous crimes that Bundy committed in several states across America from Utah, Colorado to Florida.

Always maintaining his innocence even when he was arrested for multiple murders in Florida, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile chooses rather to focus on the glamourous media attention that Bundy received both in the Florida courthouse and earlier in Aspen, Colorado where he brazenly escaped from a courthouse in broad daylight in 1977.  

It is really the Florida trial where Bundy even was allowed to defend his own innocence against a unimpressed judge Edward D. Cowart wonderfully played by Oscar nominee John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons) where Berlinger’s film comes into sharp dramatic focus and where Efron excels in some superbly written dialogue between a clearly delusional and narcissistic Bundy and Judge Cowart who is desperately trying to avert the trial from becoming a sensationalist media circus.

As serial killer films go, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is original in the way it handles its subject matter but is no means gripping or scary like Jonathan Demme’s Oscar winning fictional film The Silence of the Lambs which won both Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster’s Oscars for Best Actor and Actress respectively back in 1992.

What is so disturbing besides Zac Efron’s handsome movie star face masquerading as the real Ted Bundy is the apparent ease with which Bundy eluded law enforcement agents in several states and managed to kill, decapitate and rape over 20 young women in the 1970’s before eventually being caught and sentenced to death. Viewers have to bear in mind this was decades before DNA analysis and pervasive social media.

Nevertheless Zac Efron does give a brilliant performance as Bundy aided by Lily Collins as the denial ridden ex-girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall who once trusted Bundy with her young daughter.

Worth seeing for its originality and audacity, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile gets a film rating of 8 out 10 and is helped by a fantastic supporting cast including Jim Parsons, Jeffrey Donovan and Oscar nominee Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense).

Read more about the terrible crimes of Ted Bundy –
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Bundy

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