“Aladdin” (2019)

Aladdin was one of the few Disney Live Action Remakes that I felt had potential. But unfortunately, none of that comes through in this version. It very rarely feels like the filmmakers are doing anything but going through the motions. One of the problems is that by sticking so close to the source material, it’s begging for people to draw comparisons to the original film, and every time it tries to copy the cartoon’s high energy feel, it feels comparatively lethargic. And most of the changes that they do make are either superficial changes that actually change nothing at all, or changes that actually make the story weaker. In short, this film offers no actual reason for why this one should be watched instead of the original, as it manages to convey so much less, with a longer runtime. That being said, some of the visuals are kind of impressive, and most of the actors are passable replacements (although Marwan Kenzari is horrifically miscast as Jafar) and the film is, at the very least, watchable enough. But worst of all, it breaks the cardinal sin of remakes; it assumes that you’ve already seen the original film. It’s nothing more than a soulless husk of the original, with financial incentive being the only reason for its existence.

Rating: 2/5

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“The Sisters Brothers” (2018)

A great Western, and one of last year’s most overlooked movies. All of the performances were absolutely excellent, with John C. Reilly proving once again that when put in a low-budget, non-mainstream drama, he is quite the talented actor. This is a surprisingly dark and more realistic take on the Western genre than I was expecting; it largely does away with typical Western clichés, and instead tells a rather dark and subdued drama, but without feeling like it’s becoming overly grim, unpleasant or forced. The relationships that form or grow between the characters really help sell the film; the conversations the characters have, for the most part, feel like real conversations, and the film is never boring. The pacing maybe could’ve been tightened a touch, but otherwise, this is a great film, and one that I can’t wait to see again.

Rating: 4.5/5

“Russian Ark” (2002)

This is a mesmerizing film experience, that absolutely demands to be seen for fans of cinema. So much care and effort was clearly put into this. The film does primarily feels like it was just an excuse to make a film that consisted solely of one long continuous camera shot, but because of the large amount of actors, all the moving parts involved, its grand scale, and its surprising levels of ambition, it manages to both feel very impressive from a technical standpoint, as well as flow together so naturally and beautifully. The film has a definite dreamlike mood to it, and it captures that tone very well. I personally feel like that backstory of the unseen narrator maybe, possibly having been injured in some kind of accident was completely unnecessary. And the film will probably mean a lot more to someone who has a deep understanding of Russian history. But it’s still an entertaining and well-made film, that deserves to be seen based solely on its technical accomplishments alone.

Rating: 4/5

“Capernaum” (2018)

An instance where a film thinks it’s more insightful than it actually is. Most of the film is just boring, uninteresting scenes, that ultimately amount to very little or even to nothing at all. The characterization is very skimp, and it’s very emotionally manipulative, desperately trying to make you cry, but without feeling earned. The film’s direction is competent, but very standard, and the performances are alright, but nothing great. There are so many other better films that deal with similar concepts of following young kids being forced to deal with hellhole environments, like The Florida Project, Lion, and Moolaadé. The idea of a kid suing his parents for bringing him into this world is interesting, but it barely factors into the narrative, instead primarily saving it for the film’s final 10-15 minutes, but by that time it’s too little too late. It’s not awful, but it’s nowhere near good enough to warrant the surprising amount of praise it’s received. It’s tearjerker porn that insists that’s sad and meaningful, instead of actually being sad and meaningful. Also, the film’s ending has a definite pro-eugenics subtext. Make of that what you will.

Rating: 2.5/5

“Ready or Not” (2019)

Ready or Not is a twisted fun ride. Samara Weaving is a great and compelling lead, as she hits every mark that she should, and her character is well developed gradually. The film is well shot, the production design is fantastic, and the film hits exactly the tone that it should. There are lots of genuinely funny moments of wicked dark comedy; I really dug this film’s sick sense of humor. Also, it was refreshing to see a film where both the heroes and the villains in a horror film act reasonably intelligent. The first two acts are fantastic and showcase the film at its absolute best. Unfortunately, the film makes some story mistakes in the third act that take it down a peg from the genius it could’ve been. The motivational shift in one of the characters is too jarring and isn’t set up properly. The film does a good initial job at setting up the nuance of the film’s antagonists, which the third act completely removes. The film also goes nowhere with the initial subtext about the conflict of nature vs. nurture. And finally, I kind of wish the film’s big reveal was different than what it ended up being, (even if it admittedly does lead to some genuinely hilarious moments regardless). Still, the semi-lackluster third act doesn’t screw up enough to ruin the film. It’s still an entertaining, funny horror comedy, one that could’ve been genuinely fantastic, instead of just great.

Rating: 4/5

“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (2019)

I’m honestly surprised that it took the Fast & Furious franchise this long to do some kind of spin-off. Getting dangerously close to Sci-Fi/Superhero territory with this franchise’s first cybernetic supervillain (played very well by Idris Elba), this film makes it very clear from the get-go that it’s not intended to be taken too seriously. As a conduit in order to see some creative over-the-top action, this film more than gets the job done. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham both have great chemistry, and Vanessa Kirby does great work, and also has the opportunity to show that she too is capable to being a compelling action lead. It’s exciting, it’s funny, and it’s even subtly subversive, which more than makes up for some of it’s weird pacing issues early on. Whether you’re a long-time fan of this franchise, or a newcomer who’s never seen a Fast & Furious film before, this brainless, testosterone-laced, entertaining thrill ride is extremely entertaining and enjoyable.

Rating: 4/5

“Dumbo” (2019)

I was saying before that I wish more “Disney Live Action Remakes,” would take more chances and tell a different story than the original version. And Dumbo at least attempts it, but it doesn’t quite work. I mean, given how incredibly short and minimalistic the original film is, this film basically had no other choice but to tell a different story than the original. But the story they tell is a very generic and uninspired one; it’s basically yet another kid’s film about how the bigger, more elaborate, and more corporate circus is so much more artificial and superficial than the humbler, lower-class circus (quite ironic when you consider this film was made by one of the biggest entertainment corporations on the planet). We’ve seen this before and know exactly where it’s heading. Most of the human characters are boring (Eva Green as Colette is the only exception), the story is predictable, and some of the references to the original film (Pink Elephants, anyone?) feel so forced. There are a few solid moments, and some of the visual animation is gorgeous to look at (Dumbo’s ears in particular look extremely well textured and real-looking). But I still don’t know why this movie was made, even from a business perspective. I’ll give it a little bit of credit for at least attempting something different than the original film, but if this plot was the best they could come up with, they shouldn’t have even tried.

Rating: 2.5/5

“Crawl” (2019)

This film is proof that you can still make an entertaining, old-fashioned Jaws-esque creature feature; you just need to have someone behind the camera who actually knows what they’re doing. Directed by Alexandre Aja, who also directed the cheesy, gloriously over-the-top Piranha 3D, he definitely seems to have an understanding of how to wring genuine tension out of a film like this, namely by filling the cast with sympathetic characters, and striking the perfect balance of not taking itself too seriously, but also grounding the film. It also helps that he knows how to handle an effective jump scare. The film also manages to work in some clever subversion with the typical “creature horror” conventions, making the film feel a little bit more fresh than it had any right to be. Does it have problems? Yes. The CG on the alligators usually doesn’t look very convincing, the characters sometimes act stupidly to artificially raise the tension, and the film sometimes forgets about the extent of how bad character’s injuries are. But overall, this is a quick, fast-paced, entertaining film, that will almost assuredly please any creature feature fan.

Rating: 4/5

“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” (2005)

It seemed to make perfect sense to make a feature length film based on the Wallace & Gromit shorts. And for the most part, it does. This film does, for the most part, capture the charm, ingenuity, and creativity of the shorts, and of course the stop-motion animation is simply stunning. But you also can’t help but feel like sacrifices were made to the film’s story to appeal more to a wider audience. The reason why the shorts were so fantastic is because it really did feel so unique, like there were no other stories like them. Here, while the premise itself is outlandish and creative, the execution has some Americanized coglike quality to it, complete with some kid’s film clichés that you’d expect Wallace & Gromit to be above. But still, even with all those sacrifices that were made, you still get the same low-key charm and likability that the shorts provide; it’s clever, it’s funny, and it’s still these two great characters being these two great characters.

Rating: 4/5

Top 10 Worst Disney Animated Films

Very quickly, let me clarify what I mean by “Disney animated films.” What I’m referring to specifically is the animated films in Disney’s official animated canon. As such, direct-to-video sequels, Disneytoon movies and the like were not considered for this list. Anyway, on to the list.

10. Hercules

And already I’ve lost some of you. This isn’t a bad film (honestly, there aren’t enough bad Disney animated films to fill this list). But it is a film I find very flawed. The main issue I have is that the characters (with the exception of Hades) are just kind of dull. And the really bizarre style, while definitely giving the film a unique visual identity, can also be too distracting at times. Honestly, the film is definitely watchable, with James Woods’ performance as Hades single-handedly elevating it.

9. Saludos Amigos

The one Disney animated film that you’ve probably never even heard of. And it’s not hard to see why. This is a 42-minute long package film in which we see the Disney animators taking a trip to South America, and using what they see as an inspiration for a cartoon which we then get to watch. This feels more like a behind-the-scenes featurette than an actual film. The cartoon shorts are good and creative, but the framing device simply isn’t engaging enough to justify making this into a feature film, especially when you consider how short it is.

8. Dinosaur

This film boasts some incredible 3-D animation, very well integrated into real-life backgrounds. It also boasts an incredibly boring and generic story, with boring and generic characters. Honestly, the best part of the film is the opening scene, which wordlessly shows us the journey of a lost egg. Had the film been at that same level throughout, and especially if they’d decided to tell the story visually without any dialogue whatsoever, I probably would’ve liked this so much more.

7. Home on the Range

I personally don’t think this film is quite as bad as everyone says it is; there are some funny moments, and I do like that the film is attempting to emulate a more old-fashioned Looney Tunes-esque style when it comes to its animation, slapstick, and humor. But even so, I can’t overlook its many flaws; obnoxious characters, very hit or miss timing when it comes to the slapstick, and a dumb plot. I can’t say I regret watching it, but I’d also be lying if I called this a good film, because it’s not.

6. Ralph Breaks the Internet

I was convinced that Wreck-It Ralph didn’t need a sequel, and this film did very little to convince me to the contrary. This film has to bend over backwards with its previously established universe and characters to get the plot moving in the direction they want. And that’s simply not how you write a sequel. On top of that, it’s clear that the writers of this film don’t really understand how the Internet works. It’s not a total waste, because it has some entertaining moments, but as a sequel to a film as good as Wreck-It Ralph, I expected something much better than this.

5. Pocahontas

One of Disney’s more polarizing films, I tend to lean more towards the negative camp on this one. So, what doesn’t work in this film? How about the fact that this film grossly oversimplifies the complicated race relations between the European settlers and the Native Americans? How about the fact that this is a very stock premise (Dances with Wolves already did this 5 years prior)? Or how about the fact that this film beats the message and point it’s trying to make over and over again without any hint of nuance or subtlety? But still, the film isn’t without its pros; the music is incredible, the animation is gorgeous, and Pocahontas is a very likable protagonist. It’s just the film’s script that holds this thing back.

4. The Aristocats

This one was a nostalgic childhood staple at my house. But looking back on it now that I’m an adult, it’s pretty easy to see that it doesn’t hold up especially well. It’s pretty clear that it was trying to do for cats what A Hundred and One Dalmatians did for dogs. The only problem? The villains aren’t anywhere near as memorable this time around, the premise is dumb even by cartoon logic standards, and the plot progression is a lot more convoluted and all over the place than the much more straightforward, but highly effective Dalmatians.

3. Oliver & Company

This was made during a time when Disney was desperately trying to save itself after the financial failure of The Black Cauldron. And it shows. This feels like a movie that was designed solely to be an easily digestible mass-market product to make money, and not because the filmmakers actually had a compelling story they wanted to tell. I mean, it’s the story of Oliver Twist as told via stray dogs in New York City. And very little is done with the story otherwise, other than making the story palatable for kids. The reason this is so high on the list, is because of just how bland and forgettable the whole experience is. And if there’s one thing that a Disney film should never be, it’s forgettable.

2. Brother Bear

Let’s start with the positives first. The animation is at times stunning, the film does a good job at immersing the audience a unique culture, and the climax is actually surprisingly well thought out and compelling. Those are some pretty good positives. So, this begs the question; why is this so high on the list? Simple. The second act sucks. Really bad. Most of the animal characters are annoying, and their more modernized dialogue does not gel at all with the more mystical and old-fashioned dialogue of the humans. On top of that, the plot is extremely predictable (even as a kid, I could see the huge twist coming from a mile away). This is simply an instance where a section of a film is so bad that it completely drags the rest of the film down with it.

1. Chicken Little

This is pretty much the only Disney animated film that they’ve made that I would completely recommend skipping altogether. Honestly, there’s not much else I can add to this conversation that hasn’t already been said; it’s mean-spirited, it’s got some very mixed messages, the characters are awful, and the plot is so far removed from the original fable that they might as well have made it its own thing. This was Disney clearly attempting to copy DreamWorks, but not knowing to write like DreamWorks. This movie is exactly what happens when you both try too hard, and don’t care, simultaneously. It’s a mess, and quite frankly, it’s earned its reputation as Disney’s worst film in their animated canon, hands down.