Tag Archives: Will Smith

Aladdin (2019)

Maybe it’s just time we admit that no remake, perhaps especially a live-action remake, will live up to the extremely high bar set by the animated films of our youth. Not only were these movies straight out of Disney’s renaissance, they are coated in the glittery gold of nostalgia, elevated by the place they had in our lives at the time, rendered flawless and important in our cherished memories. It’s an impossible standard, is what I’m saying. That said, Aladdin is probably among the better ones.

As you know, Aladdin isn’t really about Aladdin. Oh sure, it’s ostensibly about a boy wooing and trying to be worthy of a princess. And about a greedy man who’ll stop at nothing to gain power. But really it’s about a genie trapped in a lamp, longing to be free. Robin Williams 110% stole the first movie. His ad-libbed sessions in the recording studio had Disney re-writing the script to accommodate all of his beautiful material. These were agl0580.pcomp_publicity.v02.1039_grd004.000000.0immense blue shoes to fill, so in a way, I admire the impulse to steer the ship in a different direction, as Will Smith IS a different direction – though not as different as I’d imagined. He makes the character his own, for better or worse, but the fact that this film is such a close remake means inevitably you’ll be comparing movies and this one will be coming up short. It can’t quite recapture the magic, especially when we know every word and anticipate every action. And Will Smith’s Genie is a dull cousin of Williams’. This is not entirely Smith’s fault – who among us could compete with the limitless freedom of a cartoon? Animated Genie is just that – animated. At all freaking times. Will Smith can’t even touch the manic energy of the original, and frankly, his songs leave a little to be desired. I’d heard that his remake of Friend Like Me would be largely hip-hop inspired, but I heard wrong. But it may have been the wiser choice; if you’re going to fail by comparison, then do something to distinguish yourself. The 2019 version is fairly faithful to the original – it has all the basics but none of the colour.

Well, I don’t meant that literally. In fact, that’s one of the things I liked best about the movie: the absolute riot of colour. Jewel tones abound! The colours of spice fill up the screen, sometimes metaphorically but sometimes quite literally. Jasmine’s costumes are the stuff little girls’ dreams are made of. In animation, it’s too expensive to have different outfits for characters, so they mostly wear just on the one thing, a cartoon uniform if you will. And Jasmine’s is no joke. But in the live-action remake, costumers have given themselves permission to create a wardrobe befitting a princess. It’s a feast for the eyes.

I mentioned before that the 2019 film is fairly faithful to the original and that’s true – but there are a few exceptions, and I’m glad that Jasmine is one of them. In the 1992 feature, Jasmine is a passive character. Yes, she’s 15, but she’s very much a damsel in distress. That’s not quite the character the writers meant to portray, but several scenes in which she was to exercise her voice were cut because they were simply too expensive to animate. That decision saved production budget but cost Jasmine something in character. In 2019, she’s a fuller version of herself. Of course, that’s partially because you’ll find her singing a song you don’t recognize (called Speechless – it’s Disney’s bid at an Oscar this year, as only original, written-for-this-movie songs qualify).

Speaking of which: Jasmine and Aladdin. I hereby give you permission to get your Aladdin thirst on. I mean, maybe you’ve always had a certain lustful feeling toward the MV5BZTc3NTA1YmEtZTkyNy00ZDMyLWJkMmItODFkYjU0MTc2N2I0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQxNjcxNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1233,1000_AL_street rat with the not little nipple-less bod. Now he’s played by the very attractive Mena Massoud, who conveys all of his boyishness and charm. Jasmine, meanwhile, is portrayed by  the lovely Naomi Scott. Since cartoon Jasmine is 80% doe eyes, you might think she’d be difficult to replace. In fact, Scott is everything you could ever want in a Jasmine, now with 50% more agency. And unlike Will Smith’s renditions, everything Scott and Massoud sing sounds like the soundtrack of your childhood. You’ll find it difficult not to sing along. Why resist, really? Someone has to be the crazy lady in each and every movie theatre, and it may as well be you.

Director Guy Ritchie brings an energy to the film that’s quite unexpected. I mean, he’s made a career putting hustlers on the big screen, and who is Aladdin if not that? And those were Sean’s favourite scenes: Aladdin deftly avoiding arrest in the streets of Agrabah, streets he knows well, like the back of his hand. He  navigates those in the slight elevation above reality – quick, slick, agile. My favourite scenes, however, were the colourful spectacles I didn’t know Ritchie was capable of. Will Smith’s Genie introduces Prince Ali to Agrabah with fanfare that’s nothing short of visually stunning. It’s choreographed to within an inch of its life, with a rainbow of costumes and a riot of feathers and dancing girls and exotic animals.

Aladdin is a lot of fun if you let it be. It is not the Aladdin of your childhood, but there’s enough room for both of them. Now go be the crazy lady in your local cinema.

 

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Bright

What’s worse than being flat, derivative and uninspired? Being all those things, showing a tiny bit of promise in spite of them, and then throwing the interesting parts away in search of a flashy climax and tidy resolution. That’s Bright.

The concept is sound – what if there were Elves and Orcs and magic in our world? It’s not a new idea and that’s fine. The hodgepodge of fantasy elements forming the basis of this world are standard fare as webright_unit_06597_r_wide-67b1f15cb792c81ccc1359a7e8a2e6c0bce7b718-s900-c85ll, straight out of Tolkien or World of Warcraft. Orcs are brutes with sharp teeth, Elves are beautiful and rich, magic wands are super powerful but not everyone can use them. The script, complete with minority and 1% allegories, practically writes itself.

The problem is, it feels like no extra effort was put in to creating Bright. Like, at all.  Like, I’m pretty sure Will Smith was quoting himself from Men in Black every time he let a sarcastic quip fly. Not incidentally, well over 90% of his lines in Bright are sarcastic quips. Either stop phoning it in or stop being in movies, please.

Joel Edgerton doesn’t phone it in like Smith but he is totally unrecognizable and totally wasted here as the sensitive Orc sidekick. He had no chance of saving this mess. Full disclosure: this is a recurring exchange between Jay and me:

Jay: We should go see [small indie movie]. Joel Edgerton is in it.

Me: Who’s Joel Edgerton again?

Jay: The guy from [slightly older small indie movie that we saw a few months prior].

Me: That was Joel Edgerton?

Jay: We literally just had this conversation when you made me watch the Star Wars prequels.

Me: JOEL EDGERTON IS IN STAR WARS?

Jay: I hate you.

It happened again in Bright only I swear, this time it was not my fault. It was David Ayer’s, and Bright is proof that we should have cut Ayer off long before Suicide Squad. Thanks for writing Training Day, really, but that goodwill was used up long ago.  A glimmer of promise and then an avalanche of mediocrity and disappointment – just like Bright.

Contract Negotiations

The rich and famous are rich and famous for a reason – their unreasonable demands. Turns out actors are not immune. The following are actual clauses found in movie contracts.

Samuel L. Jackson has it in his contract that he gets a break during filming to play golf twice a week. Priorities!

The late Garry Marshall was so close to Hector Elizondo that he put a clause in his contracts stipulating that the actor was guaranteed a role in all Marshall films. Elizondo never knew about the clause but obviously benefitted, appearing in all of Marshall’s films, up until the director’s death last year.

Steve McQueen had a crazy grudge against Paul Newman. When the two starred in The poster_0Towering Inferno in 1974, McQueen demanded that he not only have top billing, but also the exact same pay as Newman—and the EXACT SAME number of lines, which seems like a pretty shitty way to write a script. The two fought it out about the top billing and eventually producers settled on a compromise for the poster: McQueen’s name is first, but Newman’s name, while second, is slightly higher up. Also the picture of McQueen is on the left, but Newman’s picture is again slightly higher up. This coined the term ‘diagonal billing’ because you know movie stars have egos and this shit definitely has come up again.

While working on (the now defunct) Eloise in Paris in 2010, Uma Thurman insisted on receiving heavy discounts if she decided to buy any clothes and\or wigs used during the shoot. Also, “no other cast member [may] receive more favorable dressing rooms.”

Roger Moore asked for and received “unlimited” Montecristo cigars on his James Bond films – I mean, what better way to get into character?

Will Ferrell, who takes pride in being an ass, demanded the following:

1 Electric three-wheel mobility scooter
1 headset microphone (Janet Jackson style)
1 flight of stairs on wheels
1 fake tree on wheels
1 rainbow (can be painted on canvas) on wheels
Guinness beer
Smart Water or Fiji Water
Coke, Diet Coke, 7Up
Raw roasted almonds
Protein bars: Peanut butter chocolate Zone Bars, Peanut Butter Power Bars

Just the necessities, obviously!

Will Smith had a two-and-a-half million dollar trailer built for himself. His contract makes sure the trailer has a spot on every movie set. It sits on 22 wheels, has 14 televisions, and $30,000 worth of leather upholstery. It has a full kitchen with over $$100,000 worth of granite countertops. It has sliding doors like the Star Trek Enterprise, which lead to a wardrobe room. It has pistons that allow it to transform to have a second story, which houses a screening room for watching dailies. There’s a shower in a $25,000 bathroom that has a magic glass door, which can go between opaque and transparent with the push of a button. Sean and I saw this monstrosity on the streets of Manhattan while he was filming MIB3, and you bet the locals were complaining about its size and its generally fucking up traffic, and blocking out sunlight in the surrounding apartments.  Charming?

Lindsey Lohan, known for being oh-so modest, demanded a private jet with a hairstylist, a makeup artist, and a manicurist onboard. She also insisted on a 1-year Russian visa, a Ritz-Carlton penthouse suite, and a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, and that was just to appear on a talk show. I think she may be overestimated her cachet.

While filming Gravity in Surrey, George Clooney insisted on a custom-made beach hut complete with hot tub, private landscaped garden, and basketball court built next to his trailer. He let production pick up the £100,000 tab while making $20M for the movie. Life is fair!

Tom Cruise’s “thing” is as weird as he is: thongs. He’s got thongs written into every contract – up to 50 of them per movie since he only wears them once. He feels they’re imperative for shooting action scenes, keeping him loose and unrestricted. I have a feeling that my underwear is not what’s holding me back. I also doubt the thongs are helping him out all that much, but it’s a nice justification for your fetish, isn’t it?

But just to leave you with something positive, not all contract riders are inspired by selfish greed. Robin Williams always wrote in his contract that on every film he made, production had to hire a certain number of homeless people and put them to work. Remember that next time you watch one of his old gems.

Independence Day: Resurgence

Will Smith was right to avoid this one.  Honestly, he must be embarrassed for his likeness to have made a brief appearance in this debacle.  Jeff Goldblum should feel even worse for having taken the money to appear in this thing.  Independence Day: Resurgence is every bit as terrible as you’ve heard.  Now that it’s on Netflix, I felt I had to check it out to be sure.  I am writing this solely to ensure you don’t make the same mistake.

Independence Day: Resurgid4ence starts out terribly and does not improve one bit.  If anything it gets dumber as it goes, by taking us to a moonbase, then having an alien ship that measures 3,000 miles across sneak past all Earth’s defences, and then creating a totally unnecessary back story for the aliens involving a different alien/robot/spaceship.  Well, totally unnecessary except that it conveniently sets up a sequel!  Do me a favour and stay off Kickstarter if you think a third Independence Day sounds like a good idea.

It’s just a mess.  Like peeing your pants, which two of our heroes admit to doing after one of several mediocre action scenes.  Billy Madison made peeing your pants cool, but Liam Hemsworth and Travis Tope prove here they cannot pull off the same thing.  Not that I could pull it off either but at least I know enough not to try.  Despite what my love of comic book movies may suggest, I’m not six years old.

If you are still on fence about this movie then I’ve failed, and in that case I have to wonder whether you were worth saving anyway.   Independence Day: Resurgence gets a score of 3 soiled undies out of ten.

Collateral Beauty

collateral-beauty-trailerWhile searching for Will Smith’s filmography, I was surprised to see the pleasure with which critics are tearing this movie apart. The reason I was looking for Smith’s info was to try to figure out whether Collateral Beauty is his best dramatic performance (and I quickly realized that since I haven’t seen Ali, I’m disqualified from weighing in on that topic). With that lead-in, it probably goes without saying that I again think it’s been too long since the critics were thrown a juicy morsel, they’re searching for anything to bite down on as a result, and Collateral Beauty has been flagged as an easy target.

Collateral Beauty is not a great movie by any means, but it’s very watchable for several reasons. First, Smith reminds us that he can hold his own against anyone, no matter how many Oscar nominations/wins they may have (his co-stars in Collateral Beauty, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren and Keira Knightly, have two Oscar wins and countless nominations between them – incidentally, how does Michael Pena not have any yet?). Smith is consistently the most interesting person on screen even though for a significant portion of the movie he doesn’t say a word.

Second, there’s something undeniably watchable as the movie tries to take aim at cliches, even when it does so by using other cliches. Perhaps it’s just that the cliches that bother me the most were the ones under attack. I can’t really say any more without spoiling some of the characters’ arcs, so if you want more of a rant on that point then feel free to request more details in the comments section.

Third, I found out early on that I was wrong about how the movie’s plot would play out in a major way, which almost never happens nowadays due to the sheer number of trailers foisted on me (especially when half of them have no qualms about spoiling the best parts of the movie they’re promoting). On a related note, seeing a movie in Hawaii earlier this week was sobering because I think they showed every trailer currently in rotation. I am sure Canadian theatres will soon follow suit and it’s already too much here! Just let me watch the movie I paid for already.

Since I’ve started complaining (it never takes too long), it seems like a good time to talk about negatives from Collateral Beauty, and there are some significant ones.  The bigggest problem is that Smith’s character’s supposed friends treat him in the worst way imaginable during the worst time of his life, and it seems we are supposed to forgive them for it. The film attempts to make it easier for us to do that but its method requires a major swerve by Smith’s character that came too quickly to feel natural, as well as a twist that seemed too convenient a fix.

That same convenient fix also transformed the tertiary characters’ motivations from awful to divine and again the turn felt too abrupt. While it made thematic sense and actually tied the movie together well, the execution was too rough to be satisfying (and it also gave rise to a new (/old) complaint about the trailer that I can’t discuss without getting into spoilers so again, comment if you’re curious to hear more of a rant on this point).

All in all, Collateral Beauty is worth a watch and is definitely not deserving of the hatred it’s receiving from critics. It’s quite decent and gets bonus points for making me choke up a few times (something that doesn’t happen very often). Sure, it’s cheating a bit by focusing on death and loss, but Collateral Beauty is intended as a tearjerker and wholeheartedly embraces its nature. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Collateral Beauty knows what it is and delivers exactly what you’d expect. If you’re in the mood for a sob story then this is your horse. I think riding this teary pony wore Jay out, though, so be prepared if you’re a real cryer like Jay as opposed to a robot who occasionally feels sad (which is the category Jay has put me in and I’ve really got no valid argument against it – beep-boop).

Collateral Beauty gets a score of six teary-eyed robots out of ten.

Suicide Squad [spoilers included]

A hot mess. That’s what it is.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn is just about the only reason to watch this thing, and honestly, I’d like to break up with the rest of the movie and do the post-break-up thing where I cut the rest of the cast out of all the pictures and just make a glorious 18 minute movie out of just the Robbie footage. I’d be happier with that. Not super happy. I still thought the Quinn character was too loosely drawn and scantly introduced. Like, I totally buy that a patient could brainwash her into being evil. But there is no amount of SUICIDE SQUADbrainwashing on the planet that could induce me to speak with a Jersey accent randomly. Or to replace my PhD-level vocabulary with baby talk. That shit is bananas.

I don’t know much about this Suicide Squad outside of what the movie told me, and what the movie told me was downright confusing. Supposedly they’re super-villains, mostly sprung from tremendous prison sentences. Yet assembled they’re pretty…meek. And reserved. And obedient. I thought we’d get to see them just going apeshit in Gotham, unleashing all kinds of gleeful hell, but instead they thoughtfully fight a super bland villain that I felt mislead about in the marketing campaign.

The only thing I really connected to in the movie was the music. I assume that the money they saved on Tom Hardy backing out was funneled directly to the music budget. We don’t know for sure why Hardy left – some say for reshoots for The Revenant, some say he just didn’t like the script (although I expect most of the big stars signed on without seeing a script). I think he was supposed to be the most vanilla cracker out there, Rick Flag, and I can’t imagine him being happy with that crummy role. While I appreciated the music (great big pop anthems that helped perk me back up – my patience and attention floundered considerably, and often), I can also see how it was a cop out. First off: you aren’t Guardians of the Galaxy. Music had a purpose and is part of the universe. In Suicide Squad it just felt they were using music to distract us from the fact that they didn’t know how else to finish a scene. Or begin the next one.

Being part of the Suicide Squad must be a lot like being part of Taylor Swift’s squad. I mean, can you name anyone in it besides Taylor Swift? Harley Quinn is obviously the Taylor Swift here, and Will Smith is The Duff (designated ugly fat friend) – he’s nice to b936730e4fcc67ae733b48c1a797dc91fff102d1have around mostly just to prop her up. Smith didn’t annoy me as much as I feared (this movie has so many bigger problems), but Robbie is the true star. She plays Quinn not with a truly villainous heart, but with a completely troubled one – with loads of vulnerability. When the witch tempts her with a vision, her true heart’s desire is revealed to be…a banal suburban existence, completely with a husband and an infant. Clearly the good Doctor is still buried within her, and is peaking through. Or maybe it’s the baby in her belly poking mama in utero. Because she must be pregnant, right? Why else would the Joker so doggedly rescue her? He’s not exactly the kind of guy who’s all about love, honour, and commitment. But what if she’s his baby mama? Why else would he be seen lying in a womb made out of knives, skirted with baby clothes? It must have been some bad-guy baby shower!

Speaking of the Joker…what the fuck? I’m not in love with Jared Leto’s portrayal, and I’m not certain about David Ayer’s intention. Who is this Joker? Chris Nolan’s Joker was so demented there’s no way he could be in a relationship. You cannot picture Heath Ledger’s Joker having a Netflix and chill night with his girlfriend. So this Joker’s…I’m not sure. Down to earth just seems wrong. But he’s not as twisted. He’s more human, in a hipster’s SUICIDE SQUADironic conception of a Latino gangster-cum-circus clown hybrid kind of way. We didn’t see much of him so it’s hard to tell, but he also didn’t seem as evilly inventive as I’ve come to expect in a Joker. So he’s possessive and he’s got some hacker friends. Big deal. I’m sorry that so many of Leto’s scenes ended up on the cutting room floor because I found him to be the second most compelling character in the bunch, and he’s not even on the squad! He’s the Calvin Harris of the bunch. Or the Tom Hiddleston, I suppose, just trying to steal Taylor Swift away all for himself. Fuck the squad.

And let’s be honest: this movie couldn’t handle the squad. It didn’t know what to do with them. The introductions were wildly variable, and, spoiler alert: the character who noticeably didn’t get one DIES. Yeah, that’s right, Ayer. Your shit is weak. You clearly couldn’t cook up a fun and deliciously depraved story for these fuckers so you gave us this watered down jumble instead. You should have saved it for someone who had the cojones. I think a satisfactory Joker-Quinn story could have been told here instead. DC jumped the gun with Suicide Squad – too many unknown characters, too little for them to do, too little story to make us care. But watching ‘Mister J’ change diapers for little Joker Junior in Arkham? Now that I’d be down for.

 

 

Check out more Suicide Squad discussion on our podcast:

Suicide Squad

Anything I say about Suicide Squad needs to be weighed against the possibly discreditingbatman v superman fact that I liked Batman v. Superman. It was a mess, I’ll give you that. And a whole lot of it didn’t make a bit of sense, even by superhero standards. While there were at least a couple dozen things that I wish had been done completely differently, I walked out feeling exhilarated, as if I had just witnessed the start of something huge. And, for all that Marvel has done right, it’s never really produced a film (with the possible exception of Civil War, which hadn’t come out yet) that felt like such an event.

With Batman v. Superman, I was prepared for the worst. Even the trailers couldn’t hide some of the movie’s bigger problems. With Suicide Squad, which many had dared to hope would save the DC Extended Universe and put it back on the right track, the trailers were filled with bizarre and exciting images and I couldn’t wait to see how they fit into the larger story.

suicide squad 2By now you’ve probably read that a lot of people have felt let down by Suicide Squad. I was too. Its missteps aren’t as embarrassing as BvS’s were but its best moments weren’t as impressive either. Actually, while BvS ended with me feeling like I’d seen the biggest movie of the year, Suicide Squad ended with me wondering “Was that it?”.

Like in BvS, Suicide Squad has a lot to get done and a lot of characters to introduce and ten minutes in it becomes pretty clear that they have no idea what order to do it all in and just decided to throw scenes at you at random. This disorganization continues the whole way through.

As Harley Quinn, Margot Robbie steals every scene she’s in. Clearly insane and easy to suicide squad 1love, Quinn is the only character in the whole ensemble whose actions always make sense and Robbie is the only actor of the bunch who never makes a false move.

I’m a little less enthusiastic about the rest of the team. They include the ruthless hitman and unspoken group leader Deadshot (well, sort of a hybrid between Deadshot and Will Smith, played of course by Will Smith), Australian boomerang nut and notorious asshole Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), human flamethrower and recent pacifist El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Reptilian cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and rope specialist Slipknot (Adam Beach, who as the trailer suggests is barely in the movie). They don’t always come to life like they should but are at their best by far when they interact with each other. That’s the whole fun of the Suicide suicide squad 3Squad. Unfortunately, they don’t get nearly enough chance to just be themselves and play off one another. Like BvS, it’s far too interested in its needlessly complicated plot than it is in its characters.

Jared Leto’s Joker is the biggest disappointment. Not that it’s a bad performance. The Joker is every bit as menacing and captivating as he should be and Leto makes some very interesting choices but he’s barely in the movie and, when he is, his scenes are rarely relevant to the larger story. Leto’s take on the character never really gets a chance to resonate and deserved a film that used him better.

Suicide Squad has some terrific scenes and gets a lot of things right but overall it’s a missed opportunity to get the Extended Universe back on track. What’s worse, it doesn’t give much reason to hope it’ll get any better in future films.