1 Star Movies

Aladdin (2019)

Unless you own a copy of a special edition on Blu-ray or DVD (or VHS for that matter), your best chance of finding a copy of the original Aladdin from 1992 would be to go to Family Video (or better yet, the library) and try your luck there. The new Disney streaming service, Disney +, won’t be available til November 12th, which is supposed to have all the original classics for viewers to witness. I mention these for one simple reason: you are far better doing all you can to see the original than the newest live action Aladdin remake, which is more than a let down.

Directed by Guy Ritchie (a somewhat peculiar choice, despite his talent), the film is mostly faithful to the original story, with some adjustments. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is still a “street rat”, able to get by with his faithful monkey Abu by stealing (though he does still have a good heart, as he shows again by giving food to those worse off than him). He makes a quick connection with a local girl, who we know is Jasmine in hiding (played by Naomi Scott). Unlike the original, this film does not show her trying to escape her palace life. That life, of course, is not the most glamourous, as she is told by her Sultan father (Navid Negahban) that the best way for her to live life is to get married to a prince and keep her mouth shut when it comes to (for lack of a better word) political matters. Behind the scenes of the Sultan is Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) and his mischievous parrot Iago. He manages to get Aladdin to (you know) go into the cave of wonders and fetch a lamp, containing the genie (Will Smith, for those who did not know).

At this point in the review, it is time to know whether Will Smith works as the genie. The answer is (for the most part) a sad, “No.” Let us first state the obvious: what Robin Williams did in the original animated film was a landmark performance for film animation (and film in general), resulting in what is arguably the best performance in animation history, never to be topped. Smith himself has said that he was nervous in trying to play the role. To his credit, he does not (for the most part) try to duplicate all of the Williams performance, but try to make it his own. When he is not in his blue form, it is just under par. In his blue form, it is cringeworthy. Will Smith is undoubtably talented and one of the most charming actors alive, but when it came to universality (which is what the Genie should really be all about), Robin Williams will always be number one.

It should be noted that the Genie is not always in his blue form. This is so he can be somewhat of an advisor to Aladdin when he is pretending to be Prince Ali in order to impress the princess. This leads to something that I never expected for the Genie (spoiler): He finds a love interest. This interest is the Princess’s handmaiden (more like best friend) Dahlia (former SNL alum Nasim Pedrad). Am I the only kid from the 90s who thinks the Genie having a love interest is just … off?

This is not to say that the film doesn’t have positive attributes. Most of those come from the lead roles (who, I am happy to say, do some form of justice to “A Whole New World”). Massound’s Aladdin is like a kid friendly version of the characters from the Assassin’s Creed video games (he does do a lot of building hopping). The stand out, however, is Scott’s Jasmine. There is one new song (supplied by the legendary Alan Menken who worked on the original) called “Speechless”. This is sung (twice) by Jasmine in order to show female empowerment. I guess I should not be too surprised at this, but I am still not sure if it was needed for the story. One thing is for sure: Naomi Scott can sing rather well (I admit I got some moments that almost reminded me of Idina Menzel from Frozen). It is a breakthrough performance, and then some.

There are one or two added scares to the film (though there is no giant snake, there is a giant bird), but I would think the film would be okay for kids eight and up (as always, I urge parents to have their kids see the original first).

Aladdin also has some value in teaching us how to be ourselves as God intended (something we all struggle with). It also reminds us (with the idea of wishing) that what we wish for is not always what we wanted. The Genie (regardless of who plays the role) can also be seen as somewhat of a Christ like figure. Someone who inspires confidence, giving us opportunities we could not adhere ourselves, realizing our inner strength, pushing us to do the right thing. After all, we never will have a friend like Christ, right? (Not that it has to be stated, but of course I don’t think God is like a genie who grants wishes.)

I am not denying any of these lessons, or saying they are unimportant. What I am saying is simple: They were in the original, so why not just watch that?

I close by saying that the only reason Aladdin was not the most painful part of my day was because it was followed by a scheduled root canal. Then again, that did have Novacaine.


Rating: 1 out of 5.

3 Stars Movies

Pokemon Detective Pikachu (2019)

There is a time in everyone’s childhood where (most) of the things we liked as kids become too childish, and we move on to other things that are more mature (basically adolescene). For me, the world of Pokemon snuck in just before I reached this stage as it became one of the staples of my childhood (as well as most kids in the 90s). The games were what intrigued me the most (I did not collect the cards as much as my little brother did), and survived (to say the least) the first animated movie (the show was better). I stopped being totally interested after the second or third generation.

Now, a few years after the huge mobile explosion that is Pokemon Go (which I still dabble in), we have the first live action film in Pokemon Detective Pikachu. While the film is not likely to appeal to those who don’t know a Squirtle from a Pidgey, the film is still nearly as close to a good Pokemon film as we will get. The film starts out with Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) being told that his long estranged father has perished in a car accident. Though he has not seen his father in years (his mother passed away when he was young), he decides to visit the city after being told the details by his father’s partner, Lt. Yoshida (Ken Watanabe).

Unlike the video games (at least the ones I played), there is no fighting in the city (at least legally). Thanks to a business guru named Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), people and Pokemon live together (somewhat peacefully). Still, Tim realizes that things don’t completely add up. When he arrives at his father’s apartment, he runs into a Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). Even if you are not at all familiar with Pokemon, you should at least know that they only say their name (or are they named after what they say?) For some reason, Tim can clearly understand the wisecracking electric rodent, and even though he says he does not need a Pokemon, he can clearly use help in finding out what really happened to his father. He gets more intel from rookie reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), accompanied by her Psyduck (and if you know Pokemon, you know you don’t want Psyduck to have a headache).

As of this writing, there are over 800 different types of Pokemon (seven generations). A very wise choice was made in keeping the number of them very limited on screen. For the most part, we get some good crowd favorites ranging in minor cameos (the always lovable Jigglypuff and her “singing” voice, the ridiculous Magikarp, though we do get to see it evolve with wondrous results) to more powerhouses like Charizard and the legendary Mewtwo. Sadly, for a Pokemon movie, there are very few action scenes (the battle scenes we do get are rather effective). The film plays more like a semi-noir flick (On “The Big Picture” Podcast, host Sean Fennessey said it best when he described the film as “a Humphrey Bogart movie with Pokemon”.) I am not arguing that film noirs are bad (I am a huge fan of Bogie). Its just that if a movie is going to be about Pokemon, I would have wanted more battles.

Undoubtedly, if there is one reason for people (fan or not) to see the film, it is Ryan Reynolds. I walked in expecting a PG version of Deadpool, and that is basically what happened. There are snappy one liners (“At this point, how can you now believe in climate change?”) that are a wonder, mainly because of Reynolds. There are times when it feels like he was just free to adlib most of his dialogue.

Parents, there is very little here to worry about. Despite some mild (maybe two or three times is a minor four letter word used) swearing, there is nothing that should stop you from taking you kids.

It is not hard to imagine that some of you reading this have thought of the whole “Pokemon thing” silly and ridiculous. Fair enough. However, God gave us one of the best gifts, imagination. Some of us have only limited this to playing “pretend” or having an “imaginary friend” (mine was named Gerald), but others have taken it to great lengths. These are names such as Walt Disney, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne, P.L. Travers, George Lucas, J.K. Rowling, and Stan Lee. Each of these individuals excelled with their imagination and gave worlds that some of us would find near impossible to “live” without. Moreover, Jesus frequently gave some of his best teachings through the use of storytelling (e.g., parables). Perhaps if Jesus’s life and ministry were to have occurred in the 21st century, he might have used film to speak to his audience.

The man who created the Universe of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri, may not be completely well known here in the states (at least not as much, I imagine, as he is in Japan), but even non fans of Pokemon have to show some respect for what he did. His universe may not have as many fans as that of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, or the MCU, but the ideals and core values are still there. It brings the kid out in adult fans. To quote C.S. Lewis, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”


Rating: 3 out of 5.

5 Stars Movies

High Noon (1952)

Over the years, I have found that the more movies you see, the more theories form in your imagination.

Many have emerged in my mind, dealing with subjects ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Adam Sandler. With recent superhero films (mainly those in the MCU), I began thinking of what movies they would see in their daily lives (provided they had the time). One that kept coming to mind was High Noon, considered by many to be one of the best westerns ever made.