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Review Round-Up: “Aladdin” Sings, “Brightburn” Presents The Dark Side Of The Superman Story, And “The Proposal” Is Absorbing


The round-up returns! For this week’s review round-up, we have a pair of high profile new releases to discuss, along with a strong independent documentary. They couldn’t be more different too, except for the simple fact that they’re all opening on the same day here on this Memorial Day weekend. One is the newest live action remake of a classic Disney animated film in Aladdin, while the other big one is a James Gunn produced high concept horror offering in Brightburn. These movies may be looking at wide releases and different audience members, but the questions is, are they worth seeing? In short, yes. Then, there’s the indie doc The Proposal, which is the best of the bunch. You’ll be able to find out more below, so why don’t we get right down to it? Sound good? Thought so. Now, on with it…

Here we go:

Aladdin

Disney continues to raid their back catalogue for new blockbusters. This time around, they look to one of their iconic animated offerings in Aladdin. This was a tricky one to pull off, what with Robin Williams not being here and all. His voice performance as the Genie is the gold standard for animation voice acting. Luckily for The Mouse, some major charm and enjoyable music help to keep this one afloat. No one is going to look at it as the best possible version of the story, but it manages to stand on its own and succeed as cute entertainment. Low key praise, but praise nonetheless.

The film retains the simple story of the original. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a street rat, surviving through theft. When a chance encounter with an undercover Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) captures his heart, Aladdin winds up recruited by Afar (Marwan Kenzari) to acquire a special lamp. Of course, within the lamp is the Genie (Will Smith), who grants Aladdin three wishes since he’s the one who freed him. Desiring to be a prince in order to woo Jasmine, who needs to marry a prince, an adventure begins, as Aladdin and the Genie also have to contend with some of Jafar’s devious plans. Guy Ritchie directs and co-writes here with John August. Cinematography is by Alan Stewart, while Alan Menken again composes the score, with a new song provided by the musical duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Supporting players here include Billy Magnussen, Navid Negahban, and Nasim Pedrad, among others, along with voice work from the likes of Alan Tudyk and Frank Welker.

By and large, Ritchie and company make this work. A lot of it is due to Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, who have ample chemistry. Will Smith puts a new spin on the Genie, staying out of Williams’ shadow, though he’s not what you’ll remember about this one. The early parts of the story have charm to spare. It’s when the action kicks in during the third act that it loses major steam, along when Ritchie puts in his visual flourishes, which are wholly unnecessary. The original music retains its ability to please, while the new tune from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is as catchy as any other Pasek and Paul effort. Sonically, it’s an undisputed success.

Overall, Aladdin provides family friendly fun, just without the iconic aspect of the original. Bright, lively, and with a positive message, it’s as traditional as Disney gets. Watching Will Smith let loose on the comedy side of things also does have a certain appeal. In the end, the less you think about the animated original while watching, the better. Disney is going to keep on trucking with these sort of adaptations for the foreseeable future, so luckily their mostly solid track record with them continues. Aladdin takes flight, just minus an all timer of a voice performance. Lean in to the newer aspects and you’ll likely have a good time. Give it a shot and see…

Brightburn

Without question, Brightburn has a phenomenal concept. It’s almost impossible not to be fascinated by the what if concept of an evil Superman. Specifically, an evil young Superman. Instead of Clark Kent being about Truth, Justice, and the American Way, what if this alien visitor was about death, destruction, and world domination? The potential for destruction is capably explored here, which mostly uses a small budget to still tell this story in a compelling way. Interestingly, it leans into blood and gore to accentuate just how powerful this being would be. It might gross you out, but fright flick fans will likely get a kick out of it.

The movie is a horror version of a superhero origin story. Here, Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks) and her husband Kyle Breyer (David Denman) are a couple hoping to have a child. Then, one night their small town of Brightburn, Kansas, is visited. They find a spaceship in the woods with a baby boy in it. In true Ma and Pa Kent style, they adopt the child, naming him Brandon. When the boy (Jackson A. Dunn) reaches puberty, the ship he arrived in beings influencing his mind. All of the confusion of his teenage years is mixed in with discovering not only his powers (think everything Superman does), but also a desire to take over the planet. Tori defends her son, largely until it’s too late. David Yarovesky directs a script by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, while James Gunn godfathers as a producer. Tim Williams composed the score, while the cinematography is by Michael Dallatorre. Filling out the cast are Meredith Hagner, Emmie Hunter, Matt Jones, Michael Rooker, and Becky Wahlstrom.

Despite a limited scope, there’s some nice effects on display here. A lot of it is spent on gore, though Brandon’s powers are shown in a way that doesn’t suggest any kind of shoestring budget. Largely, what you get here is what you expect. Elizabeth Banks is solid here, while Jackson A. Dunn is giving your standard child demon performance. Once the proverbial shit hits the fan, there’s a fiendish delight in seeing how it all plays out. As gnarly and horrific as it gets, there’s still somewhat of a tongue in cheek aspect to it all. Essentially, mixing the horrors of puberty with what a bad boy Clark Kent could be makes for a good grindhouse time with Brightburn. It’s not explored deeply, but director David Yarovesky stirs it in with all the Superman imagery.

If you like gory horror, and especially if the thought of an evil version of Superman excites you, Brightburn will entertain you in a big way. James Gunn doesn’t write or direct, but his stamp is all over this one. The darkly funny aspect to the film is never overplayed, but really does keep this from being a morbid experience. This movie only scratches the surface of its potential, but what it ends up with is definitely good enough to warrant a recommendation. Remember the smaller scale that it’s playing on and don’t go in expecting a blockbuster. As long as you do that, there’s a good chance you’ll find a substantial amount of fun here.

The Proposal

There’s a compelling and daring mystery residing at the core of The Proposal, a new documentary hitting theaters this weekend. From artist turned filmmaker Jill Magid, the film wants to have a conversation with its audience. In presenting her quest to bring the work of an artist to public light, Magid is able not just to engage viewers, she also turns them on to her talents as well. Magid is an exciting new talent in the world of non fiction cinema, using simple yet wonderful imagery to supplement her quest for answers. The doc will sneak up on you, ultimately leaving a mark in the process.

This documentary is, to some degree, about the famous Mexican architect Luis Barragán, though that’s only scratching the surface. During the 20th century, Barragán was widely known as “the artist among architects” and was heavily celebrated throughout his career, up until his death in 1988. Then, most of his work was locked away in a bunker in Switzerland, hidden from view and seemingly destined never to be seen again by the world. This is where artist, filmmaker, narrator, and protagonist Jill Magid comes into play. A lover of the man’s art, using it for inspiration throughout her career, she finds it unacceptable that there’s now a wall up around his contributions. Known herself for pushing boundaries, Magid sets out to bring Barragán’s work back to public appreciation. In attempting to resurrect him, if only in spirit, she sets off on a journey that goes in a number of unexpected directions. In exploring what right the public has to art, she asks some very poignant questions, while also paying tribute to a talent she has the deepest admiration for. Jill Magid directs, with cinematography here by Jarred Alterman, as well as a score coming from T. Griffin.

I found the doc to be absolutely beautiful and hypnotic to watch. Even just audio wise, Magid’s voice is calm and compelling in equal measure. As she explores the world of Luis Barragán, you don’t just get a sense of what Barragán’s work was like, you come to understand why she’s so fond of it as well. The mix of artistic and scholarly interpretations of architecture are fascinating, whether you have any prior knowledge or interest in the subject matter. One does not have to have any baseline of information relating to Barragán in order to be thrilled by what Magid has put forth here.

The Proposal is a movie that art lovers will go nuts over. In the process, you may well find an appreciation, or new appreciation, for the work of Barragán. Magid brings her passion to the flick, in a way that easily puts it over the top. Hopefully she opts to pursue more cinematic projects going forward, as she’s got the talent for the medium, that’s for sure. (Full disclosure: I am moderated a Q&A with Jill Magid for this film on Sunday evening in New York City. The review is independent of that, but didn’t want anyone to think there was any sort of influence here). Give it a shot, as the doc is worth seeking out…



Both films hit theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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