Saturday, May 25, 2019



Now that I've seen it, I'm still wondering: What's the point of Disney's new Aladdin? It's a film shorn of all artistic ambition. It exists solely to make money and exert Disney's power. Ironically, the film's big "lesson" is that it's not important how much money or power you have.


The new Aladdin is not awful in the way that the torpid, bloated Beauty and the Beast was awful. Indeed, three of its actors -- Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Jasmine, and Nasim Pedrad as a new character, Jasmine's handmaid Dalia -- are quite wonderful. They alone are reason to see the movie.

Will Smith as the Genie, alas, is not. As genial of a presence as he may be, he is not a natural comedian, yet director Guy Ritchie seems desperate to make him into Robin Williams. If the original 1992 Aladdin felt like the movie was just trying to keep up with Williams, this Aladdin leaves Smith struggling to keep up with it, and the Genie falls flat.

So, too, does its wimpy villain, a thin-voiced Jafar (Marwan Kenzari, who can't help that he's all wrong for the role). This Aladdin takes away Jafar's songs, adds in an atrocious new one for Jasmine, and continues scrubbing Howard Ashman's original lyrics of potential offense. It's just a "ten-thousand"-ish retread (that'll make sense to sharp-eared viewers) that will feel right at home on the new Disney+ streaming service, and ... hey, wait a minute! That's the point!

Viewed May 25, 2019 -- AMC Burbank 16


Saturday, May 18, 2019

"Avengers: Endgame"


It's unreasonable at this point to expect a Marvel movie, particularly an Avengers movie, to play by the usual rules of cinematic storytelling. True, Avengers: Endgame is no Last Year at Marienbad, but to any moviegoer who hasn't been paying strict attention to every nuance of more than 10 years' worth of movies, much of Avengers: Endgame is downright inscrutable.

It's a long and complicated movie. For many diehard fans it evokes deep, genuine emotion. I can only report what I felt, which was largely nothing at all. I'm not even so much of it made sense. (Nor, it would appear, are some fans.) That reaction surprised me, because I found the previous film, Avengers: Infinity War, to be unexpectedly compelling and focused. Avengers: Endgame, by comparison, is as flabby and glib as the mighty Thor has become, but is missing his spirit.

Chris Hemsworth's Thor is one of the few truly bright spots in the movie; a reunion scene with his mother (Rene Russo) is emotionally compelling, though the rest of the movie lacks its heart and motivation.

As the massive climax to a decades' worth of movies, Avengers: Endgame throws everything up on screen, with a CG-laden final battle that seems more like watching a video game. Many people were invested in the previous films. While I've seen most of them, they've never resonated, so the apparent shocks of the climax left me cold.

One thing's for sure: There's a lot of it. An awful lot of it.

Viewed May 18, 2019 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


Monday, May 13, 2019

"A Dog's Journey"


A Dog's Purpose was a treacly, sentimental Hallmark card of a movie that grossed $205 million worldwide in 2017, guaranteeing a sequel. And that's what we've got. A Dog's Journey is essentially the exact same movie, like one of those interchangeable cable Christmas movies. And that suits me just fine.

A Dog's Journey is every bit as manufactured, glossy, simplistic and effective as its predecessor. It practically shames you into enjoying it. But if A Dog's Journey doesn't in fact wring a few tears out of your eyes (stop rolling them!), you're inhuman or, worse, a cat person.

Dennis Quaid, who sort of starred in the first movie, is back to provide the connective tissue as Ethan, the boy-man who "belongs" to a dog named Bailey. In the first film, Bailey gets adopted by Ethan as a boy, grows up with him, then dies, is reincarnated, dies again, gets reincarnated again, and over and over until he winds up with Ethan once again, proving that even death can't separate a boy and his dog.

This time around exactly the same thing happens, except it's a girl -- Ethan's granddaughter (played with perfect generic blandness by Kathryn Prescott). Things get pretty tough to watch for a while as Bailey keeps, well, dying.

This is an attack dog of a movie that knows exactly where to aim to inflict maximum damage, and refuses to let go. It's so damned cute you won't care.

Death by puppies. Could be a lot worse.

Viewed May 13, 2019 -- ArcLight Hollywood


Sunday, April 7, 2019



Shazam! is the most fun and delightful super hero movie since Superman in 1978, and that's saying something. It's not as complex and complete as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which is in a class by itself, but it's up there.

Shazam! can be enjoyed entirely on its own, outside of the exhausting, meticulously curated super hero mythos -- or, at least, almost. The movie's few stumbles come when it tries to please its corporate overlords by weaving in other elements of the DC "franchise." Those parts feel inorganic and clunky.

Otherwise, Shazam! is its own thing, and gloriously so. After two unnecessarily long prologues, it begins when 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is summoned to the underground lair of a wizard named Shazam (Djimon Honsou), who not only bestows super powers -- but also turns him into a 30-ish grown-up (Zachary Levi) with a ridiculous light-up costume. So, Shazam! becomes like "Big in Tights," a comparison it recognizes and embraces wholeheartedly.

Billy is part of a foster family, which includes disabled Freddy (Jack Dylan Graser), who starts acting like the hero's manager. These two guys (three, really) have insanely great chemistry. Less exciting is the "super-villain" angle -- Mark Strong's baddie lacks the charm of the rest of the proceedings; the final battle is overlong and overdone. But Shazam! is otherwise good -- really good. We don't need a single new super hero movie, but since we're gonna get 'em, can they please all be like this?

Viewed April 6, 2019 -- AMC Sunset 5


Thursday, April 4, 2019

"Pet Sematary"


True confession time: I have never seen the original Pet Sematary from 1989, nor read Stephen King's book on which it was based, so whatever I thought of this version has nothing to do comparing what has come before. I just sat and watched the story unfold.

It's a pretty good story, though it takes a long, long time to get where it's going, and once it gets there it finds there actually isn't a whole lot to do, which means it runs only an hour and 40 minutes. It's the perfect length, because while Pet Sematary does meander a lot, it never wears out its welcome, though it's awfully padded and probably would work best at "Twilight Zone" length.

A doctor (Jason Clarke) moves his family to rural Maine to get away (ha ha) from the stress of the big city. When the family cat dies, a neighbor (John Lithgow) shows the doctor a place beyond the local "Pet Sematary" where what gets buried doesn't stay dead. When the doctor and his wife (Amy Seimetz) lose their daughter (Jeté Lawrence) in a terrible accident -- well, see the previous sentence.

The movie is moody, scary and efficient, with some nice unexplored metaphors about parts of our lives that never really die, and being unable to let go. Those might have made a great movie. Instead, Pet Sematary is just okay, exactly good enough. Besides, if you're looking for metaphors in a Stephen King movie, you're probably in the wrong place.

Viewed April 4, 2019 -- AMC Burbank


Sunday, March 31, 2019

"Hotel Mumbai"


There are times when Hotel Mumbai is almost too excruciating to watch, and others when it seems uncomfortably to be playing a horrifying real-life terrorist attack for entertainment. There's a fine line between dramatization and exploitation and Hotel Mumbai stays on the right side of the line ... barely.

Director Anthony Maras makes his feature film debut with this film, and he's a director to watch: Hotel Mumbai generates genuine suspense despite a pre-ordained outcome; is filled with actors who manage to deliver real and jolting performances; and always keeps its audience riveted. The latter is a considerable achievement because Hotel Mumbai is harrowing, brutal and almost sadistically intense.

Maras and co-writer John Collee sometimes bring just a hair too much '70s disaster movie tone to Hotel Mumbai, particularly in the introductory scenes, when we meet characters like the earnest young steward (Dev Patel), the wealthy Americans (Armie Hammer, Nazanin Bodiadi), the dedicated chef (Anupam Kher), and the sleazy Russian (Jason Isaacs). Still, the approach does find important humanity amid the horror, as they all are inside Mumbai's Taj Hotel on Nov. 26, 2008, when a group of terrorists lay brutal siege to the landmark and to the city.

Hotel Mumbai is not a movie to watch as much as it is a movie to witness. If it feels too much to bear at times, that speaks to the creative achievement of its filmmakers -- and, perhaps, to the unfathomable brutality of the times in which we live.

Viewed March 31, 2019 -- AMC Sunset 5


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Catching Up: "Wildlife"


From now on, when anyone asks what movie I think should have won Best Picture instead of Green Book, here is my answer: Wildlife, a movie that came and went from theaters in a couple of weeks, was overlooked in every major awards show, and that might be the best movie of 2018.

It's the directorial debut of actor Paul Dano, which he wrote with his partner, actress Zoe Kazan. To recite the narrative of Wildlife, which is based on a novel by Richard Ford, might make it seem trite and mundane, but I assure you it is anything but those things.  Wildlife is told through the eyes of 14-year-old Joe (Ed Oxenbould, who is wise and wonderful), who watches, with both alarm and helplessness, his parents fall away from each other.

It's set in 1960, when men and women knew exactly what was expected of them. The trouble for Joe's family is that his father, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), and his mother, Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) don't want to live up to those expectations. Constantly jobless Jerry takes a job fighting a massive wildfire. While he's gone, normally stoic Jeanette has a breakdown -- or maybe it's an epiphany.

Mulligan's portrait of a woman losing herself is harrowing and filled with beautiful empathy. It's a luminous performance in a film that calmly, intimately observes the complicated, contradictory, awful, beautiful, confusing way people are, and the despair -- not to mention the hope -- that all that messiness can leave behind.

Viewed March 27, 2019 -- Amazon Prime