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Aladdin movie review: Will Smith makes the magic happen in Guy Ritchie’s Disney film

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Aladdin
Director – Guy Ritchie
Cast – Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Nasim Pedrad
Rating – 3.5/5

Despite being one of the most unambitious tentpole films of the year, the live-action Aladdin is – by far – the oddest movie that director Guy Ritchie has ever made. And remember, he once made a rom-com for his ex-wife Madonna.

If you’ve been wondering, like me, why Disney has been shying away from highlighting Ritchie’s instantly recognisable trademarks in the trailers, it’s because there aren’t any in the film. This is strange, because Ritchie in the past has managed to bring his very distinct brand of cinema – replete with snazzy editing, flamboyant camerawork, and muscular action – even to properties as seemingly ancient as Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur. And on paper, Aladdin’s origins as a ‘street rat’ fall neatly into Ritchie’s wheelhouse, but he directs with little personality, as if, like the Genie, he has been trapped in a prison as well.

Watch the Aladdin trailer here

This isn’t to say that the new Aladdin is a failure – it most certainly isn’t – but I’d imagine this is simply a case of Ritchie trying to get back into Hollywood’s good books after the back-to-back box office failure of his last two movies. That being said, Aladdin is a vibrant adventure, featuring three excellent central performances, and laced with intelligent subtext about class – like Gully Boy meets Han Solo.

Like Ranveer Singh’s aspiring rapper from that film, Aladdin has also been bred on the streets, constantly reminded of his place in the world, confronted by the very real possibility that he will never be allowed to escape it.

Breaking out of the boxes that one is confined to – regardless of where we are born – is the central theme of Ritchie’s film. It’s what draws Aladdin to Princess Jasmine, who is – for all intents and purposes – a prisoner inside her own home, held under the age-old patriarchal excuse of protection, ‘seen but not heard’. The desire to climb the social ladder is what motivates the villainous vizier Jafar, who is given a heftier backstory in this film, one that neatly mirrors Aladdin’s.

And ironically, the only one who can make their dreams come true is a prisoner himself. Will Smith’s Genie is introduced about 45 minutes into the film, and is single-handedly responsible for injecting it with the energy that is sorely missing in the first act. Genie not only brings the humour, but also gives the film an excuse to be more visually inventive. After some solid, if not spectacular sequences set in the narrow gullies of Agrabah (which sadly never ceases to look like a hollow set surrounded by green screen environments), the Genie introduces himself with a grand, visually arresting musical number. And thankfully, he does not look like chewed up bubble gum anymore.

Aladdin is – and depending on your familiarity with the original animated film, this may or may not come as a surprise – an outright musical. Composer Alan Menken returns, joined this time by La La Land’s Pasek & Paul to produce new music for the film. These are some of its best scenes, especially the reprisal of Prince Ali (which Ritchie directs like a homage to Sridevi’s Himmatwala), and the always stirring A Whole New World, performed, thankfully, by stars Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott in the film, and not, as had been threatened, by Zayn Malik or DJ Khaled, or god forbid, Badshah.

It’s no mean feat for any actor to hold their own opposite the majestic screen presence that is Will Smith, but Ritchie has always had an eye for casting. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are excellent finds. Had it not been for their effortless chemistry, and their fresh-faced innocence, their scenes together could have been awfully bland – especially with no Genie to elevate them.

There’s a reason why Will Smith has been given top billing in the credits, above even the title character. Legal and political reasons aside, this movie would not have worked without him. It helps that he plays Genie as an exaggerated version of his own public persona, a trick that worked immensely well for the late Robin Williams in the original movie, too.

Like every film in Disney’s recent spate of live-action remakes, Aladdin also reeks of cash-grab cynicism. However well you spin it, it has no other reason to exist than to make the Mouse House millions of dollars. Children are just as likely to discover the old film, and perhaps even better off for it. But, crucially, it isn’t cynically made. There’s an earnestness to it that we’re seeing more often now, perhaps because we, as an audience, seem to have had enough of dark, twisted takes; and arguably because the world seems to be losing sight of what is right and what is wrong.

And so, we turn to the movies, as always – to guide us, morally, to remind us, and to show us a whole new world.

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Angrezi Medium Review: Irrfan makes perfect comeback in light-hearted family comedy drama

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Film: Angrezi Medium

Director: Homi Adajania

Cast: Irrfan, Deepak Dobriyal, Radhika Madan, Kareena Kapoor Khan

Angrezi Medium is a slow-moving tale about a father-daughter relationship essayed by Irrfan and Radhika Madan in perfect capacities. The lack of the mother figure is substituted by a brother, Deepak Dobriyal, who despite a legal dispute with Irrfan loves him dearly. An ensemble supporting cast including Pankaj Tripathi, Dimple Kapadia, Ranvir Shorey and Kiku Sharda lend their own flavours to this widely cultural text. To see an A-lister like Kareena Kapoor Khan play a supporting role is also game-changing in its own way.

Homi Adajania’s directorial has a slack pace throughout which is especially felt in the first half of the film. Despite it being culturally deeply rooted in the Udaipur landscape, with a backdrop of a family feud on the name of ‘Ghasiteram’, the overall narrative of the film is basic and in fact depends quite a lot on the nuances that the actors’ bring with their characters to the screen.

Radhika Madan and Irrfan ace their role, and it is refreshing to see a shy and yet bold, not so outspoken and fiery daughter figure in Angrezi Medium. A change in the arch of liberal womanhood per se. And, despite the presence of a domineering supporting cast, the film focuses on the struggles of Irrfan as a coming-of-age father when his relationship with his freedom-seeking daughter evolves during the course of the film. Yet, Deepak Dobriyal’s performance deserves a special mention and he stands out in parts individually, sometimes even stealing the show with his performance.

There are interesting cultural motifs inserted here and there in the film, though Irrfan largely remains the same rich doting father from Hindi Medium who would go to all extremes to get his daughter’s dreams fulfilled.Apart from the strength of its actors’ performances, perhaps, the screenplay could have been more worked upon. The filmmaker can be found enjoying himself a little too much with the film. The design suited the text as did the dialogues. Other little discrepancies were largely overshadowed by the filmmaker’s attempt to put to use whatever he could to make his film a complete entertainer.

The music of Angrezi Medium borrows from its source film some of the tracks, while putting in iconic Bollywood numbers during the sad alcohol parties organized by Deepak, Irrfan and Kiku to share who is the unhappiest of all. The background score suits the genre of the film.

Angrezi Medium marks Irrfan’s return to the acting table after a year. A much-awaited film in that regard, Irrfan’s performance is likely to gather much applause as the film hits theatres this Friday.

The film is a light-hearted family comedy drama that has a message to give, like Hindi Medium, though not punched into the audience’s face and repeated dismally. A kind of a comedy that comes in once in a while with refreshing dialogues, new situational comedy elements and is just plain fun.

Rating: 2.5

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The Body movie review: Rishi Kapoor-Emraan Hashmi’s film lacks depth

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The Body
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Vedhika Kumar
Director: Jeetu Joseph

It takes a deft hand to make a murder mystery that keeps you engaged and offers a zinger as the climax. Alas, Rishi Kapoor and Emraan Hashmi-starrer The Body is not that film.

Despite having a readymade story, director Jeetu Joseph fails to deliver or keep you interested throughout the length of the film. Given the plot and characters, it could have been quite a thrilling watch but poor treatment and a dry narrative leaves no scope for the actors – Rishi Kapoor, Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala – to perform beyond a point. A remake of a 2012 Spanish film by the same name, The Body is slow, scattered and a half-baked attempt at making a murder mystery.

Watch the trailer for The Body here:

The film begins with the body of a millionaire businesswoman, Maya (Dhulipala), going missing from a morgue. SP Jairaj Rawal (Kapoor) who is investigating the case believes the dead woman’s husband, Ajay (Hashmi) killed his wife by inducing a heart attack and then stole her body from the morgue to escape an autopsy.

As the events unfold over a span of one night – 8 hours to be precise – Hashmi gets plenty of hints that Maya is alive. Or is it her ghost? Meanwhile, his girlfriend Ritu (Kumar) is there to offer constant support to him to deal with the crisis. Will the cops find the body? Or will Ajay’s fears turn into reality?

Hindustantimes

The Body has many questions and what-will-happen-next moments but without the thrill you would expect in a murder mystery. Joseph plays it safe, and doesn’t play around much with his characters. and doesn’t play around much with his characters.

Kapoor is in his elements as he returns to the screen after almost a year. He owns his part as the cranky police officer who has his own baggage – he lost his wife in a car crash, which he refuses to believe was an accident. He’s a tough nut to crack but holds your attention when he’s there.

Hindustantimes

Hashmi, on the other hand, is shown as a diffident college professor who hits the jackpot when he marries Maya. He’s charming in parts but given that throughout the film he’s confined to the four walls of a morgue, he seems to be struggling to put pieces together and be seen.

While Sobhita as the svelte, rich and gorgeous entrepreneur born with a silver spoon is convincing, Vedhika is a bit of a misfit and doesn’t have a strong screen presence. She is mostly reduced to sobbing while telling Ajay, ‘tum wahan se bhaag jao’.

Hindustantimes

As the series of events unfold, you’re shown flashbacks which are, each time, topped with a romantic song. Even though they’re shot at the most picturesque locales and look pretty, they totally take you away from the story.

By the time you reach climax, you have made your own deductions and the twist makes you go ‘wow’ and ‘blah’ at the same time. The Body is mediocre at best, watch it if you truly like thrillers but don’t expect it to make it to your top 5 list.

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Frozen 2 movie review: Elsa and Anna make a case for reparations in more beautiful but needless sequel

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Frozen 2
Director: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
Cast: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff

One of the easiest tests for assessing a sequel’s quality is comparing its cast and crew to the original. Are the leads back? Is someone else making it? Did the director have to be thrown out and another brought in their place to fill the hole? Frozen II passes this test with flying colours. Everyone from the original is back, including all the voice actors (Oscar-winners and otherwise) and also the directors. Which means, those who read the script were confident about it and so maybe, you should be, too. However, the test is often deemed unreliable for one factor–the sweet, clinking sound of coins dropping in their purses.

Frozen is still the most successful animated film ever made with a box office haul of $1.27 billion. And this isn’t even a fraction of the money it made for Disney with its Elsa tiffin boxes, Anna backpacks and Olaf toilet plungers. Of course, a sequel is too glossy an idea to not entertain. Another movie means four more Elsa costumes and four more Elsa dolls for your child’s collection. I’ll pray to my god that you find the four-in-one version, for the sake of your wallet and your sanity. That’s the least I can do after writing a review that tells you why you should bring your kids for Frozen II anyway.

Watch Frozen 2 trailer here:

In its second part, the story of ice queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) and her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) takes a more colourful albeit less enchanting turn. Set in the season of autumn, the screen aflush with stunning hues; the fiery red maple leaves, the soft auburns of hidden forests, the icy blues of Elsa’s snow outfits and the royal aubergines of Anna’s cloak. It’s an aesthetic fit for an Instagram trend. #VSCOgirls are shook.

But beautiful visuals were not all that was promised. Six years ago, Frozen gave Disney one of the most refreshing stories about princesses and magic. It wasn’t just a musical delight — although repeated listenings did …uh… made one particular song hard to ‘let go’ from your head. Frozen subverted long-held ideas about the meaning of true love and why one must always find it in a suitor. With a lot of pomp and pageantry, it sang about a woman’s need to break free from isolation and embrace her powers; and finally, learning to trust the ones closest to her. It was a story about how people can help others heal and grow stronger. Things change for Elsa as she breaks away from her sallow, lonely origins and embraces a happier side with her sister.

This image released by Disney shows Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, in a scene from "Frozen 2." (Disney via AP)

With Frozen II, there is no relationship to resolve or personality issues to address. Therefore, the story, the tension and the central conflict feels forced from the very beginning to the absolute end. This time when we meet the two sisters of Arendelle, an undisclosed amount of time has passed since the original. Everything seems happy and joyous in her kingdom but Elsa has been hearing eerie voices call out to her. In the spirit of every kids movie ever, she decides to chase after it and once again brings peril to her kingdom with her ever-growing icy powers that are beyond her control.

To bring things back in order, she goes searching for answers in an enchanted forest and Anna is bent on staying by her side. Last time’s events should have been enough to remind Elsa that Anna can hold her own and even save her in times of need. But the days of not trusting her sister and infantilizing her are still not behind her. The entire party, including the sisters, Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) get divided into different groups when Elsa ditches them to save Arendelle and to find her true self. Cue a song sequence in which Elsa sings at night in a kingdom of isolation with not a footstep to be seen. Welcome back to Frozen (2013).

Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, from left, Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff and Sven in a scene from Frozen 2.

In between a few death hoaxes and one stunning song (Into The Unknown) and one that will make 1991 Bryan Adams proud (Lost In The Woods), the film also makes a case for reparations…? The wronged people of the forest should be given their due for all that they suffered for decades and it falls on Elsa and Anna to make a tough decision for the good of their kingdom. What could have been a powerful opportunity to draw parallels with contemporary realities and teach a lesson or two in sacrifice and acceptance, was too quickly resolved with not much of a sacrifice. Of course, the real world doesn’t have ice queens to help them out.

The film, even without a strong, beating, motivated heart at its core is still not dull enough to be unwatchable. Josh Gad’s Olaf is once again one of the best things about the film. He still gets the most hilarious lines; his laugh is just as infectious as we remember it; his stupidity is the kind that make you burst into giggles rather than roll your eyes in frustration. In a standout scene, he gives a hilarious recap of the events of the original and it’s the most exciting and impressive piece of writing in the whole film. As a sad cherry on the cake, Olaf looks forward to adulthood and how he will be wiser when he grows up — a sly dig at all the grown-ups in theatre, realising how wrong he is about it all. It’ll stab at your heart when he realises none of it was true and frankly, he has one of the best character arcs in the film. Can’t believe I just said that about an anthropomorphic pile of snow.

Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, and Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad, in a scene from Frozen 2.

Frozen II, however, falls short on the musical front, something that made the original Disney so memorable. Each song was catchy, crisp and brilliant in the first film. However, with the sequel, dig my brain as hard as I might, I can’t remember a single line of lyrics from more than one song. Idina Menzel knocks it out of the park once again with the powerful Into The Unknown, and the haunting chorus is still ringing in my ear, hours later. And karaoke lovers beware, this one will be tougher than its predecessor to sing.

But one catchy song is too less, one great snowman too little a reward for those who have waited six years for this. Maybe now that we have realised it was not really worth it, can we finally let it go?

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