“Aladdin” Spinoff In The Works At Disney+!

When I tell you that news broke last night that Disney is producing a spinoff series based on a character from their billion-dollar summer blockbuster Aladdin, a live-action remake of the animated classic, I’m sure your assumption would be something like: oh, a spinoff about Aladdin? I’d watch that.

But it’s not about Aladdin. Guess again.

Princess Jasmine? Jafar?

Wrong on both counts. Last guess.

Um…the Genie? Abu the Monkey? The flying carpet?

Nope. See, you’re not thinking in the mindset of a studio executive, who looks at a great movie with one of Disney’s most ethnically diverse live-action casts and asks themselves: is there any way to make an entire TV show about the one white guy in this movie?

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Still not ringing any bells? That’s because the one white guy in Aladdin only had two scenes, and you probably forgot him long ago, he was so insignificant. Prince Anders, the regal visitor from a far away kingdom called Skanland (in my review of Aladdin, I mistakenly marked it down as Scotland: my bad), made no impression on any of the characters around him, and thus made no impression on us, the audience. And yes, I’m sure Billy Magnussen was doing his very best in the role (and clearly he thinks he was good enough to warrant his own miniseries, as he was apparently involved in pitching this idea to the studio), but Anders came across as an unlikable buffoon who absolutely nobody would want to spend time with – if there was any purpose to his character, that was it. He unsuccessfully courted Princess Jasmine (and in a deleted scene gifted her a giant cannon, which blew up his own ship), and then hung around in the background like a clingy house-guest that everybody was this close to escorting out the door. And yet, he’s getting his very Disney+ streaming series.

Disney has hired Jordan Dunn and Michael Kvamme to write a script for the series (Disney’s first spinoff of a live-action remake), which will star Magnussen. Plot details are still unknown, but if the series is going to have anything to do with Aladdin, it will presumably follow the dim-witted prince on his…journey? Leisurely stroll?…through the city of Agrabah. It is not known whether any of the other main cast of Aladdin will show up in the series – don’t forget, a sequel to that film is also supposedly in the works at Disney.

Despite that, many people are understandably upset that this news broke just days after Aladdin star Mena Massoud revealed that, since the blockbuster’s release back in May, he hasn’t gotten a single audition. While he’s probably going to star in the unconfirmed Aladdin 2, the optics of this announcement are ridiculously bad. Firstly, because nobody was asking for an entire spinoff series about an annoying background character whose biggest scene was deleted from the movie. Secondly, because there are a number of other characters in Aladdin who would make for much more interesting and compelling protagonists: a Jafar prequel series, exploring his rise from street rat to vizier; a fun comedy series following Genie and his new love-interest Dahlia on their voyages around the world; literally anyone else in Agrabah who is actually, oh I don’t know, an Agrabahan (Agrabahon? Agrabahni?).

I also fear that this announcement means Anders isn’t going away anytime soon, and will stick around for the Aladdin sequel, assuming his series has any sort of popularity. Personally, I’d be happy forgetting that this character ever existed – but alas, I don’t have my own personal Genie who can wish this nonsense out of existence.

What do you think of the news? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Gemini Man” Second Trailer!

Nobody’s changed the boring sci-fi logo for this film, which is a real shame – but at least this time around they’ve made it glow, so that’s something. Seriously, I give them three months to swap that logo out for something even remotely interesting, and they give me the exact same thing but in neon blue?

As for the trailer itself, its content has gotten more convoluted than last time, but at least they’ve extracted some of the cringey dialogue like “You made a person out of another person”. But just wait; I’m sure that memorable line is still somewhere in the movie itself, they’ll just trick you into thinking they’ve changed so they can get you into the theater. Who would do such a thing?, you might ask. David Benioff, I might answer in this hypothetical scenario. Benioff, one of the two Game of Thrones screenwriters now literally synonymous with “bad writers” in Google’s database,  is undoubtedly going through a hard time – but that honestly doesn’t excuse the fact that he apparently wrote this film: and besides, he’s getting a job with Disney writing a Star Wars trilogy, so I’m sure he’ll be fine.

Will Smith still seems to be trying really hard to sell this story about an assassin trying to rescue his young clone from a life of brainwashing and manipulation: granted, Gemini Man is able to get to that premise before the upcoming Marvel film Black Widow, which looks like it might include that element as well. But take a wild guess which one will succeed. Anyway, one problem with the trailer is that Will Smith – obviously – plays both himself and his younger-looking clone, and it’s very difficult to figure out when he’s talking or his clone is; leaving aside the fact that they look similar enough that it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. And to top it off, Will Smith is the film’s only selling point, so he has to be the brunt of really bad title-card puns, like “Who WILL Save You?”

One thing this trailer improves is its action: apparently you can do quite a lot with a bicycle – though said bicycle scene seems to be the film’s crown jewel of action scenes so far, which makes me a little nervous. We’ve got a fight in a hardware store with young Will Smith riding a tank into battle – I think it’s young Will Smith, could be the random dude in the suit who shows up occasionally to look evil, though. There’s one cool sequence where our Will Smith throws a grenade at young Will Smith, only to have young Will Smith hit it with a bullet in mid-air and send it ricocheting back. Honestly, I’m having a very hard time finding anything interesting here at all. And having Will Smith (our Will Smith, not young Will Smith) tell the other Will Smith ominously at the end of the trailer that “This has to be stopped, because what if somebody knew what we really are?” – well, that doesn’t cut it either. Because I don’t frankly care what they really are: they’re Will Smith and a CGI construct of Will Smith – the trailers haven’t given me any reason to want to see what happens to them, or what secrets about their past might be uncovered.

Trailer Rating: 4/10

“Aladdin” Movie Review!

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The 2019 live-action of Aladdin has been walking a fine line with critics the past few days, and continues to hover uncertainly – personally, my own review will be a little more positive than many, but I’m not going to let the film entirely off the hook. It had the chance to truly be “A Whole New World”, but it was too tentative to make the leap – Aladdin’s little pep-talk about “do you trust me?” and all that would have really come in handy when the screenwriters were handling this project.

The film starts out a little shaky, going from a visually-stunning glimpse of the nightlife of Agrabah and the various things that our characters are doing before their part in the story begins, to a somewhat-awkward dance number in the marketplace as Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and a disguised Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) run from armed soldiers. The film then briefly tries to imitate the 2017 mega-hit Beauty And The Beast by having its protagonist sit in a window and talk about his deceased mother, and the melodies she would sing to him when he was a baby – and, of course, Jasmine’s mother used to sing the same lullabies…a lot of bonding over dead parents happens in this scene, and it felt very formulaic and dull.

Then, suddenly, things start moving, and the plot jumps into gear. There’s theft and a daring palace heist, and royal visitors from…Scotland? Aladdin is trying to survive on scraps, while Jasmine enjoys a life of splendor and majesty – but she yearns to go out onto the streets and help her starving people, who are seemingly oppressed by the Vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). Exactly why Jafar is oppressing the people is, unfortunately, never explained, nor do the starving people of Agrabah really play much of a part in the story, despite the fact that protecting them is Jasmine’s greatest motivation throughout the film. It would have been truly wonderful to see Jasmine’s connection with the citizens continue to develop as she is in turn disenfranchised and robbed of her own privileges. Sadly, it’s only the first of many things that the film suggests in subtext but never explores.

Aladdin himself is okay through the first act of the movie, decent in the second, and good in the third: Massoud is charming and endearing, and his humility and awkwardness makes him especially fun to watch – the movie does strip those traits away from him pretty abruptly at one point, but Massoud’s acting is just good enough that he can get away with it. He’s also undeniably helped by the fact that he is accompanied by the requisite Adorable Animal Sidekick, and the…Adorable Fabric Sidekick? I am, of course, referring to Aladdin’s pet monkey Abu and magical rug, Carpet: both of whom have numerous opportunities to show off their skills.

Massoud’s Aladdin, however, never comes close to approaching the true grandeur that is Naomi Scott’s Jasmine. An elegant and confident character, Jasmine is so unexpectedly fresh that she never actually felt like the original 1992 animated Jasmine…she was better. Scott, in fact, is so good that she could easily warrant an entire sequel or spin-off series about her character: she is a clear thinker and a strategist, with fierce determination; the type of Princess that needs to be – and can be – the new norm from Disney. Unfortunately, the limitations of film require that only a small part of Jasmine’s personality and backstory can be shown onscreen, but I would have gladly learned more about her mother’s native kingdom, the one that Jafar desperately wants to invade (for unexplained reasons), or her attempts to help the city’s inhabitants while disguised. The film wastes very little, but still too much, time on her prospective suitor Prince Anders (Billy Magnussen) of Scotland, an incredibly forced and unfunny character. Jasmine, however, does get to have relatively fleshed-out relationships with her father, The Sultan (Navid Negahban) and her handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), both of which lend more facets to her already multi-faceted character and help to make her, without a doubt, the movie’s standout performance.

Naomi Scott is also blessed with a beautiful singing-voice: Jasmine’s new song “Speechless” is a powerful shout-out to all people who have been victimized, and whose stories have been silenced – but especially to women, in this age of #MeToo. This song is too good to be sung only once, and happily we get to see two renditions of it in the film (after which, it can be listened to on repeat for the rest of eternity). Scott also lends her vocals to “A Whole New World”, the film’s defining moment, but Massoud is actually a good singer on his own too.

The dance-numbers and songs are fantastic, and all feel very new and exciting – except, perhaps, “A Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali”, both of which look and feel much like they did in the animated film. The music is a highlight – but how could it go wrong with Alan Menken composing? Costuming and production design are very much Hollywood quality, but with a beautiful and authentic Bollywood flair that lends the film something unique, something that Beauty And The Beast does not possess. But what else does Aladdin have, other than that and Naomi Scott?

It has Will Smith.

Yes, we laughed at his first appearance in the trailers, and we continued to laugh well after that. But hey, first impressions can be deceiving, and Will Smith proves that with his incredible performance as The Genie. To follow in the footsteps of an icon like Robin Williams is probably no small feat, and Smith clearly knows that – rather than trying to imitate Williams, he brings something new, something iconic of his own, to the character. Whether the critics and the general audiences will like that, remains to be seen – because despite the fact that the movie is named for the endearing street-rat Aladdin, and despite the fact that Naomi Scott steals the show with pride, Will Smith is the star. He’s also probably the most heavily-criticized part of the movie, whether people are merely joking about his CGI smoke-cloud, or getting fussy about his decision to add rap to his musical numbers (about that, that whole “issue” was completely overblown: if you’re worried about it, just leave before the credits roll).

Thankfully, the movie has Scott, Smith and the Bollywood vibes going on. Jafar is a bit of boring villain, even with new elements added to his backstory: again, there was a lot of opportunity to make him a sympathetic and relateable villain, but the film doesn’t take the extra step that’s needed to make this work. The script has some flaws, and a bit of the dialogue is cringey, especially in the first thirty minutes of the film. The end of the film might have needed a bit more buildup – I, for one, was completely confused as to how everything was going to work out, and not exactly in a good way.

All in all, Aladdin has all the ingredients to make a great film, but it only nervously tests the waters, trying to play it safe. With two great leads and one good one, plus fantastic songs, the movie manages to be very enjoyable (I can’t stress that enough; I enjoyed myself immensely) – but it’s not quite the Whole New World we were hoping for.

Movie Rating: 7.5/10

“Gemini Man” Trailer!

The innovative mind of Ang Lee brings us an original sci-fi action thriller, the premise of which has literally been done by hundreds, if not thousands, of previous sci-fi action thrillers – that’s right, clones. So unique. But, you see, this time it’s Will Smith getting cloned, so there you have it: completely original story.

Granted, Gemini Man has been in development since 1997, so it can hardly be blamed if many other stories have come and gone before it reaches the big screen in October. And it does star Will Smith, which is a draw: in fact, it stars Will Smith in two roles – as the aging assassin Henry Brogen, and the de-aged clone of himself that is hunting him. De-aging techniques have come so far, they’re incredible. The question of why Brogen has been cloned, and how, is presumably one of the film’s plot points, but let’s just say the vague explanation given in the trailer is insufferably bad:

“You made a person out of another person,” the clone says with disbelief. “Then you sent me to kill him.”

And, of course, it features all the typical elements of generic spy films: Random Exploding Car? Check. Government Organization With Something To Hide? Check. Glowing Metallic Title Font? Check.

Maybe there’s a decent movie behind all the incredibly overdone action-thriller tropes that this trailer has put forward, but I’m firmly convinced that Gemini Man is relying way too heavily on the fact that it’s got Will Smith starring in not one, but two lead roles. Action-thrillers have become more and more boringly unoriginal as more and more studios try to unseat the Mission: Impossible films – and I’m predicting that Gemini Man, like its premise, will be just another clone.

Trailer Rating: 5/10

Aladdin First Full-Length Trailer!

As someone who (a) was never a die-hard fan of the original animated Aladdin, (b) isn’t too fond of the Disney Remake trend, and (c) wasn’t impressed by either of the two teasers put out for this Disney Remake of a film I don’t really care one way or the other about – I went into this first full-length trailer more than slightly concerned that this would just be…flat. Meh. Forgettable.

But now, I see how wrong I was.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, this could just be a trick of the trailer-editing: after all, the teaser was greeted with so much backlash that Disney basically had to put together a trailer that was beautiful, nostalgic and action-packed, so I shouldn’t be surprised that this looks so good. Maybe they just stitched together all of the best parts from the movie, and the rest of the film is less than perfect.

But look here: the trailer opens with a cool action sequence of Aladdin (Mena Massoud) dodging some soldiers in the marketplace of Agrabah. After escaping from them, he runs straight into our beloved Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). The tingle of romance in the air is palpable: Massoud does a great job in this scene, and looks completely infatuated. Jasmine herself is in street-garb, maybe hiding her royal identity: it’s been said that in this remake, Jasmine takes more of an interest in the people of her city, and is trying to explore Agrabah to help the impoverished citizens.

The trailer then takes a turn, and gets dark: Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) strides confidently through his underground lair at 0:24, while Iago flies past (more on him in a minute). Jafar looks good enough from the back, though I’m still not sold on his voice. He leads Aladdin through the desert, promising him wealth: wealth enough “to impress a princess”. At 0:35 Jasmine appears again, but now she is in full royal garb: she’s got her tiger, and her guards, and she looks majestic. The palace itself looks absolutely stunning: we haven’t gotten quite enough wide shots of the entire palace, but what we see in this teaser is enough to make me feel very awed and humbled.

Anyway, the next shock is that Aladdin actually speaks! This is the first time that our lead character has said a single word in the promotional material for this film – such an achievement. Well, now that he actually does speak, his voice sounds fine: he’s not got an impressive voice, by any means. Better than Jafar’s, though.

The Cave of Wonders! At 0:43, we enter the Cave – it looks fine. Very blue-toned, still. Not, maybe, as wondrous as I would have liked, but good enough. But whatever: we’ve seen this same scene in all the teasers now, and – but wait! The Lamp! It’s so beautiful, and it’s filled with swirling blue light under what seems to be a transparent lid: a nice touch. I’m now holding my breath, waiting to see what I think of The Genie (Will Smith), The Genie that will emerge from this beautiful lamp and possibly make or break this movie, The Genie that looked so awful in the second teaser. The purple and blue smoke begins to rush from the lamp…

He looks fine.

The Genie looks fine. Still looks like a blue Will Smith, but the CGI has been much more exquisitely handled, and at least now it doesn’t seem like Will Smith’s head has been superimposed on someone else’s body. I mean, am I blown away by The Genie now? No, not exactly – that is to say, not in his Genie form – but he at least looks good enough now that he’s downright bizarre or even disturbing. There’s a snipper of “A Friend Like Me”, which seems good: Carpet has maracas, and that’s what really stood out the most to me about this scene. It really looks fun, and kind of awesome.

Our time in the Cave of Wonders is brief, as we are suddenly back in the desert, with Aladdin and The Genie side-by-side looking out over a barren landscape at 1:09. The Genie is only seen from a distance here, but the CGI looks not-so-good in that one shot.

But now, the trailer really starts making me interested – no, not just interested, but invested. The Genie transforms into, well, Will Smith, but not blue anymore, and it’s a relief. There’s some great humorous banter here. It’s great to see how Aladdin is prepared to just shamelessly take advantage of the fact that he now has three wishes at his disposal: he asks immediately “Can you make me a prince?”

The Genie, though, has a great response: “There’s a lot of gray area in: make me a prince” he states, and demonstrates by literally making a prince for Aladdin. I hope he has more scenes like that in the movie – it’s an almost Alice In Wonderland type joke, and I just love it.

Things start moving really quickly: The Genie changes Aladdin into Prince Ali; there’s a celebration in Agrabah – and another great shot of the palace; and there’s a party where The Genie is playing matchmaker for Aladdin and Jasmine. The next scene after that has Aladdin and Jasmine speaking to each other, probably after the party – Aladdin says he “thought a princess could go anywhere”. “Not this princess” Jasmine replies.

And then, we get our first look at “A Whole New World” – and it looks great. Pure magic, even for someone who really doesn’t consider the original Aladdin to be a great film. This looks really awesome. As our two lovebirds sing their hearts out, however, there’s other stuff going on onscreen that shouldn’t be ignored: Jasmine and Aladdin dancing, Aladdin falling towards the water, Aladdin in the Cave of Wonders again, Aladdin creeping along the rooftops of Agrabah, Aladdin in an icy landscape (wow, this trailer is going overboard to show us Aladdin after barely showing him at all in the first two teasers), and then Jafar with his cobra-staff, looking more impressive and villainous. At 2:02 we see Jasmine singing – this probably comes from the solo musical number they’ve given her for the remake. And then at 2:03 we have…

Wait, hold up…

Aladdin being chased by a giant Iago?

I honestly have no idea what this scene could be, or why Iago is gigantic, but it looks COOL, so I’m going to just accept it.

And then it ends, with one last beautiful glimpse of the Cave of Wonders. It looks very fun, very enjoyable, and everything looks so much better. I can’t wait to see more, and I can’t wait for May, to go see this film! Here’s hoping this is actually indicative of the finished product, and not just the work of some very savvy editors!

Trailer Rating: 8/10