“The Old Guard” Review!

I think I should inform you upfront that Netflix’s The Old Guard was always going to be my cup of tea, no matter what. Five immortal warriors from various historical time periods come together to fight the powers-that-be? That has me written all over it. So forgive me if I’m a little bit biased, but yes – The Old Guard is just as good as I had hoped it would be. It doesn’t necessarily exceed my expectations (and in certain places, it did let me down a little), but there’s no doubt in my mind that this will be a movie I rewatch time and time again while I wait for the sequel that director Gina Prince-Bythewood clearly wants to make, based on this film’s very unsubtle ending.

The Old Guard
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The Old Guard was marketed as a nonstop action movie, and that’s definitely not untrue – but I think what was left out of the trailers and promotional material for this film is the extent to which this is actually a drama. If you’re going into this expecting something comparable to Netflix’s Extraction, with brutal fight scenes filling every available moment of runtime, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. And while that might sound strange, considering this film’s entire concept, it actually pays off in the end: The Old Guard delivers on action when it needs to, but it still tells a complex and thoughtful character-driven story about people trying to find meaning and purpose in their overextended existence. We’ll see if that tactic pays off with audiences, but I truly hope it does because did I mention this film sets up a sequel?

If audiences are looking for the next Extraction, however…well, the action scenes in The Old Guard do leave something to be desired. The characters’ fighting styles lack any noticeable sense of finesse or historicity – though they each come equipped with their own weapon of choice from their respective centuries, they’re more often than not just carrying guns, which does feel a bit underwhelming: especially considering how much the huge, double-bladed battleaxe that Charlize Theron’s Andy (short for Andromache the Scythian) wields was played up in the trailers and posters. And though the action scenes get better as the film goes along, there are several that feel relatively middle-of-the-road: not bad, but not cleverly choreographed or visually interesting enough to capture attention. Apart from the climactic third act battle, the strongest fight is one in a drug-smuggler’s plane where Andy and her new recruit, U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (Kiki Layne) wrestle in a battle that requires their wits just as much as, if not more than, their physical strength. Is The Old Guard perhaps too clever for its own good occasionally? Perhaps.

The Old Guard
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That being said, each of the five members of the team does possess healing capabilities that allow them to walk away from any injury, no matter how fatal, without harm – and that is something which is incorporated very well into the film’s writing. It can sometimes rob the tension from action scenes, but it drives the entire plot: it’s the reason why the team has survived as long as they have; it’s the reason why they’re on the run (because pharmaceutical corporations want to capture them and harvest their powers); and it’s, ironically, the reason why they can never be free from pain – unable to die, they have been forced to watch as humanity continues its self-destructive cycle of violence, as their families, loved ones and descendants grow old and perish around them. One of the team members, Napoleonic War veteran Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), tells a heartbreaking account of how his youngest son, dying of cancer, became consumed with jealousy of his immortal father. I’ve seen the concept of immortality tackled countless times in film and TV, but never as well as it is here.

But the film would never have succeeded at selling its hard-to-swallow subject matter without the efforts of its flawless cast. Charlize Theron, unsurprisingly, brings her all to the lead role of Andy, who has lived for so long she’s almost forgotten where and when she came from – but it’s not hard to figure out that she was once one of ancient Greece’s most fearsome war heroines. Kiki Layne, who comes into her own later in the film, shows the makings of a true action hero – and she just happened to do so at the best possible time, considering that the internet is currently fiercely debating who should play Storm in Marvel’s upcoming reboot of the X-Men franchise. Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli play opponents in the Crusades who, after having had to kill each other many times, ended up falling in love – not only did I greatly appreciate the genuine and meaningful LGBTQ+ representation (they actually kiss and show affection for each other!), but I was pleased to discover that Kenzari isn’t anywhere near as bland an actor as his role in Aladdin seemed to suggest. Chiwetel Ejiofor has a smaller role in the film as the team’s constant stalker, CIA agent Copley:¬†who is very clever and very dangerous…but also very offscreen for most of the time.

The Old Guard
dailynews.com

Time is something our immortal protagonists have in plenty, but the film itself doesn’t have quite enough, in my opinion. The Old Guard is just a little over two hours long, but those hours seem to fly by at an alarming rate, and it sometimes feel like we reach certain story beats too early. But while I would criticize that aspect of the movie, I also have to admire that it made me want even more. I’ve mentioned the sequel bait twice already, but third time’s the charm, am I right? Don’t worry, no spoilers here – but let’s just say, there’s a lot of potential for this franchise going forward, if Netflix chooses to go forward.

Will they? Hard to say, what with coronavirus still turning the world upside-down every few minutes and forcing studios to prioritize like never before. But there’s definitely no reason not to, unless the film massively underwhelms audiences – but as someone who doesn’t want to see Extraction ripoffs from now until the end of time, I appreciated this more clever, introspective type of thriller, and I wouldn’t object to another one.

Movie Rating: 8.9/10

“The Old Guard” Trailer Review!

In the first trailer for her upcoming, action-packed Netflix thriller The Old Guard, Charlize Theron brings her star power, intensive martial arts skills obtained from a career of similar projects, and her talents as a producer – and the result looks fresh, innovative and exciting.

Already, comparisons are being made to Chris Hemsworth’s recent thriller Extraction, which debuted on the streaming platform to a record-high view count. The Old Guard would be lucky to enjoy even half of that film’s success, but I’m personally hopeful – and confident – that Theron’s take on a Netflix thriller, working with a more experienced director, will be miles ahead of Extraction in terms of quality: and whereas the former film drew criticisms for what many perceived as a glorified white savior narrative and stereotypical portrayals of Southeast Asian people and culture, The Old Guard doesn’t appear to have any such problems just yet – the cast is authentically diverse, and the film highlights several different cultures from all around the world.

How could it not? The plot of the film revolves around a group of five soldiers from various historical time periods who are unable to die naturally or be killed. Led by Charlize Theron in her new role as battle-axe wielding warrior Andromache of Scythia (who now goes by “Andy” in the modern world), the team also includes Marwan Kenzari, Aladdin‘s Jafar, as a Medieval Muslim warrior who appears to have fallen in love with his former opponent, a Crusader played by Luca Marinelli. Matthia Schoenaerts rounds out the group as a Napoleonic soldier. But the team’s newest recruit, a U.S. Marine named Nile Freeman, is the character who sets the plot in motion, as the audience surrogate with whom we first encounter this strange, close-knit group of battle-hardened immortals. Freeman is played by KiKi Layne, who is moving quickly towards mainstream stardom – and hopefully, after a couple more roles like these, toward the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where she is my first choice to play the mutant goddess Ororo Munroe.

The Old Guard
vanityfair.com

But the Old Guard doesn’t just have to look out for the newest member of their team – now, they also find themselves hunted by the powers-that-be, who want to weaponize their rare ability and use it to create entire armies of immortal soldiers. Chiwetel Ejiofor, here playing a CIA operative with a passion for history, leads the villains from the sidelines, but hopefully he has a chance to get in on the action as well. Still, one gets a sense of brooding menace from several scenes in the trailer – particularly one in which Andy, after realizing she was accidentally caught in a passerby’s selfie, has to swipe the person’s phone and delete the photo. As she explains to Nile, the technological advancements of the modern world make it harder than ever for the Old Guard to remain a secret: and the longer Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character knows about her, the longer he poses a threat not only to their existence, but to the fate of the world itself.

As one would expect, there’s a ton of action: much of it utilizing weaponry one doesn’t typically see in a thriller, including the aforementioned battle-axe, and Kenzari’s character’s scimitar. For me, being somewhat of a military history buff, this looks like my kind of movie: guns, grenades and even bazookas can get repetitive after a while, but an ancient Greek warrior swinging a battle-axe? That never gets old.

So what do you think? Are you intrigued by the film’s premise, or are you just here for one particular member of the Old Guard team? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“Aladdin” Movie Review!

"Aladdin" Movie Review! 1
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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

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