And Now For Something Completely…similar to the previous remake…

Did we need a remake of Aladdin?

I get it. You have little ones at home. Summer Camp is out. You’ve made so many trips to the ice cream place that you’re hoping you don’t have to put on a swimsuit again till next year. There are many families that will look forward to going to see the NEW Aladdin; a family film that can be enjoyed together. This might replace the worn out DVD at home and give someone in the family ideas for a Halloween costume. Dad and Mom might appreciate that the casting is more ethnically-appropriate and the animation is lovely. Everyone can enjoy the songs that are now so well-known. Directed by Guy Ritchie, I expected a more updated version of this tale from 1001 Arabian Nights. The story sticks pretty close to the 1992 version featuring Robin William’s Genie. Will Smith is a good replacement, there’s a Bollywood number and beautiful sets and Aladdin is a good end of summer film to enjoy.

If however, you’re itchin’ for Fall Films and something that’s a little more challenging or unique than this summer’s spat of sequels, superhero films and remakes…there’s hope for you. Director and Writer, Lulu Wang has already been winning accolades for her touching, personal film. The Farewell was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the film won Audience Favorite. This delightful film, based on a true story, presents a Chinese family hiding the truth about the grandmother’s diagnosis. One of the most popular Indie Films of the summer and I’ll review it next week.

There are lots of great films released this summer that fit the bill as entertaining but also breaking the mold of the typical summer fare.  For a twist on the high school party film, see the female-centric comedy, Booksmart. The young stars are self-assured in their nerdiness and it’s a great portrait of true friendship even if it’s for mature teens with fumbling teen sex and crass language. If you’re an action film lover, I’d suggest Stuber, the fight scenes are funny, the actors, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista have great chemistry and though the plot is ludicrous the concept of an Uber driver fighting crime is original.

Looking for an unusual and lyrical take on San Francisco’s gentrification? A great cast was assembled to tell this tale of two men trying to find home and family. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is artfully-shot and directed. Local childhood friends, Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails wrote this paean to SF and to male friendship. It’s a quiet film with an insider’s look at some thorny issues and I’m betting that it’ll win some awards. The NY Times published a “The Best Movies of 2019 So Far” list as have many other publications. Look for lists that don’t consist of blockbusters and Disney films and you’ll find many great films you may have missed. Many of these films are now available to stream and there are some new films and series for Fall Season on television now.

I’m looking forward to the Telluride Film Festival over the Labor Day Weekend. I often see some of my new favorite films of the year…that likely won’t be released till NEXT year. Oh Hollywood…

Summer is for Sequels

MIB 4 to Toy Story 4…summer sequels abound at the movie theaters right now. If it’s not a sequel; it’s a remake. Was anyone dying to see a new Aladdin? Or breathlessly awaiting the live action remake of The Lion King? Yes, perhaps there are families that are glad to have new versions of these films so they can stop watching the originals play non-stop at home…or any age-appropriate film to take the little ones to on a hot summer day.

Reviews of such films are not really necessary. If your family loved the first one, they’ll likely all go see the next three or four with diminishing interest and often, with lackluster stories. The joy of the Toy Story films was that Pixar Studios seemed to invest more time and care with each sequel to make it fresh and awarded the audience films that contained some of the wonder of the first film and new characters that everyone loved. So it is with sad heart that I report that this final of the series, Toy Story 4, bucks that narrative.

In trying to reinvent the story to provide us with new dimensions to a few of the characters, the animators send the toys on a road trip. If you’re going to create a film that features a spork, we needed an empowering story or ground-breaking animation…something riveting to justify this journey of an eating utensil and the girl who loves him. Most of the film centers on the interactions between Forky and Woody…and later, Woody and Bo Peep. While I applaud the feminist take on Bo Peep’s character, it also crossed my mind that she’s not really a “toy”. She’s part of a lamp. How did she become the love interest? But my mind wandered. I blame the lackluster writing in the film.

The animation to show Bo Peep’s shiny porcelain surface and the well-drawn interior of the Thrift Shop with it’s antique toys show the Pixar attention to detail. There’s a wonderful villain in the lovely damaged Gabby Gabby doll with her army of mechanical Dummies that move in a herky-jerky motion to make them more scary. It was fun to have Keanu Reeves show up as the Canadian Daredevil, Duke Caboom, but why have an actor who grew up in Canada not give the toy a Canadian accent? Odd choice.

As the action sequences roll along creating little tension, there’s less time for character development and the toys become less interesting. The story grows more preposterous as the Dad is forced to drive the RV back to the rescue at the small town carnival. In this Pixar film, the “real characters” are the ones with the blandest personalities. The only human with any dimension is the carny that has a few funny scenes with the toys.

When Woody makes a choice for love over becoming a forgotten toy, the other toys seem to easily accept the change. There’s little fanfare and off the other toys ride into the night. No tears, no tug at the heartstrings…just a sigh that that the studio let these beloved characters have a swan song that wasn’t deserving of them.

Stay for the credit sequence if you want more of the same poor writing and character development…or flee the theater and find some ice cream to comfort your inner child.

Drinks with Films Rating: 1 old fashioned phosphate drink (out of 5) and I’m sorely disappointed in the lack of an animated Short to go with the film. Often one of the best animated Shorts of the year, this lackluster production didn’t include one.