Anyone who knows me knows that I went through a pretty hardcore Hamilton phase when that musical first hit Broadway. I played the album all the time, I knew the vast majority of the lyrics. I adored that show. And I still do, even if I think In the Heights is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s superior show. So, naturally, when the news broke that Disney+ would be debuting the live capture of the show, recorded just before the original cast departed, over a year earlier than expected, I was devilishly excited. I’d only seen bits and pieces of the show, having never had a chance to see it in person, and I was so ready to finally see this show that I loved. Well, now that I’ve seen the film, how do I feel? I mean, it’s Hamilton and I love Hamilton. But, to be honest, this capture is a bit of a mixed bag. (4 out of 5 wands.)
Hamilton (directed by Thomas Kail, written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda) An unforgettable cinematic stage performance, the filmed version of the original Broadway production of “Hamilton” combines the best elements of live theater, film and streaming to bring the cultural phenomenon to homes around the world for a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Hamilton” is the story of America then, told by America now. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway, “Hamilton” has taken the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton and created a revolutionary moment in theatre—a musical that has had a profound impact on culture, politics, and education. Filmed at The Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in June of 2016, the film transports its audience into the world of the Broadway show in a uniquely intimate way.
One of the things I’ve most wanted from a Star Wars story was something that felt similar to Firefly. There’s just something I find endlessly fascinating about watching a group of loveable outlaws struggles against an oppressive government. That’s exactly what Firefly excelled at and it would seem that the Star Wars universe would be perfect for such a story. And for a long time, George Lucas was working on a show that explored the underworld of the Star Wars universe, but it was ultimately deemed too expensive to do in the latter half of the first decade of the 2000s and was completely shelved when Disney bought Lucasfilm. A glimpse of hope seemed to shine, though, when the first trailers for The Mandalorian hit the internet and it genuinely seemed as though The Mandalorian might be the show I was longing to see. You had the leader, Pedro Pascal’s unnamed Mandalorian, appearing to assemble some kind of crew to accomplish some kind of mission. Unfortunately, the actual show we got was less Firefly and more Saturday morning cartoon. Is this necessarily a bad thing? No, but it probably shouldn’t have been advertised as anything more than that. Regardless, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in The Mandalorian, even if it is often poorly paced, seemingly aimless, and occasionally frustrating to watch. (Spoilers for all eight episodes of The Mandalorian’s first season.)
The Mandalorian (created by Jon Favreau)
After the fall of the Empire, a lone gunfighter (Pedro Pascal) makes his way through the lawless galaxy.
Oh, Star Wars. Is it the curse of nearly every Star Wars film made after 1983 to be extremely divisive? While I wasn’t one of the people who abhorred The Last Jedi, I also wasn’t one of the people who adored it. There were some solid ideas (that, admittedly, weren’t executed very well) mixed in with some less-than-stellar ideas, and the movie didn’t really do a great job at setting up the final film in the trilogy – which, really, is the entire purpose of a trilogy’s middle film. So, in the wake of all of that, was it ever really possible for The Rise of Skywalker to actually be very good or remotely satisfying? I’d argue it wasn’t, which is exactly the mindset I went into this movie with. Somehow, I was still disappointed, though. In fact, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a deeply frustrating film. In trying to please everybody, it pleases nobody. It tries to cram too much plot, and too much poorly-thought-out fan service into too little a runtime to make something remotely interesting. (Very mild spoilers may follow; you’ve been warned.)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (written by J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio; directed by J.J. Abrams)
Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams join forces once again to take viewers on an epic journey to a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the riveting conclusion of the seminal Skywalker saga, where new legends will be born and the final battle for freedom is yet to come.
At San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend, Disney/Marvel announced the slate of titles making up Phase Four of the MCU. Among the titles announced are five films – Black Widow, Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Thor: Love and Thunder – and five Disney+ shows – Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, What If?, and Hawkeye. Some of these movies/shows seem interesting, others I don’t know enough about yet; but, overall, I found it rather hard to get excited for any of them as it all just sort of feels like an endless onslaught of similar-looking and feeling blockbusters that slowly erode any innovation within the artform. I wasn’t the only person with a take like this and, as you’d expect, there were some MCU-fans pretty unhappy with those who were less-than-enthusiastic about the news. One such fan replied to a pretty popular (progressive) YouTuber’s tweet, suggesting that the mixed reaction was partially in response to the Phase Four lineup consisting of films that focused on women/people of color/LGBTQ+ characters more than previous MCU films have. This accusation leveled at this particular YouTuber was a bit ludicrous as this YouTuber has long championed diversity in films, but it did lead to a conversation about how viewing Disney films has turned into a bit of a moral stance, often pushed by Disney’s own PR team. The idea goes that by watching one of Disney’s films featuring progressive ideas (such as having a diverse cast), you’re taking a moral stance in support of an issue rather than just giving your money to a corporation that doesn’t really care about these issues you care about. It’s an interesting conversation, and a kind of funny one, especially in light of Disney’s long history of immorality. (A quick note – I am not trying to insult or criticize anyone who is excited about any of Disney’s upcoming films, nor am I trying to insult or criticize anyone who really enjoys these movies. What I am trying to criticize is Disney’s framing of the viewing of their films as a moral statement while they do very immoral things as a company.)
In news that will surprise exactly nobody: I didn’t like this remake of The Lion King. I historically haven’t liked any of the recent Disney “live-action” remakes, but I dislike this one for reasons that are different to why I didn’t like the others. But first, it’s important to note that I was never on the hype train for the original version of The Lion King. Sure, it’s a wonderfully enjoyable movie with a killer soundtrack, but it wasn’t notably better than any of the other films from that era of the Disney Rennaissance. It had all the usual problems found in those movies: odd pacing, a saggy middle, and supporting characters and villains that ended up far more interesting than the main character. But it was still very well done, featured some stellar animation, and was full of heart. All of what made the original Lion King a classic is gone in this photo-realistic CGI remake (I refuse to call it a live-action remake because none of this movie was filmed live; it was all done in a computer so it’s every bit as animated as the original version was, just with a different form of animation). Instead, we’re left with some pretty impressive looking CGI animals that are devoid of any life or heart and a movie that hews so closely to the original that it begs the question: why bother making this at all?
The Lion King (written by Jeff Nathanson, directed by Jon Favreau)
From Disney Live Action, director Jon Favreau’s all-new “The Lion King” journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba (JD McCrary as a child; Donald Glover as an adult) idolizes his father, King Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Mufasa’s brother-and former heir to the throne-has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends (Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner), Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
It’s not exactly a secret that I’m not the biggest fan of the MCU. It’s not that I have anything against the series as a whole, and I’ve quite liked a number of the movies, but a much larger number of them tend to be exceedingly mediocre movies. There’s nothing wrong with a movie that’s just “okay” – but when it’s film after film after film that all feel the same and don’t aspire to be much better than simply “fine”, it can get really exhausting very quickly. There’s really only one or two MCU movies that I thought were actually bad (Civil War and Endgame), but both of them were huge team-up movies. I tend to have nicer thoughts for the solo films. As for this iteration of Spider-Man, well… I didn’t love his appearance in Civil War and Homecoming‘s tone felt a bit too ’80s-teen-movie at times for my tastes, but he’s a solid character and Tom Holland is doing a very good job with his portrayal and the character has some of the best villains in the entire Marvel universe (and Homecoming’s usage of The Vulture was very good), so I have more positive thoughts about Spider-Man than I do for some other MCU movies. So, with the upcoming release of the newest Spider-Man movie, Far From Home, it’s time to see what’s next for Spider-Man in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame. Is this movie better than Endgame was? Answer: Yes, but that’s not exactly a high hurdle to clear – and Far From Home barely clears it. (This review will be as spoiler-free as possible, but if you don’t want to know anything about the movie, this is your warning.)
Spider-Man: Far From Home (written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, directed by Jon Watts)
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the next chapter of the Spider-Man: Homecoming series! Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya), and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter’s plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!
This was the first Toy Story film I wasn’t excited to see. When Toy Story 3 came out in 2010, it felt like the perfect ending to the Toy Story series. It was a beautiful close to a trilogy of films that had, quite literally, spanned an entire generation of children. So, naturally, when it was announced that Disney/Pixar was going to release another film in the series, potentially ruining that perfect ending, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. Disney had made some TV specials set in the aftermath of Toy Story 3, but that was about as far as I wanted it to go. I’m happy to say, however, that this fourth film largely acts as an epilogue to the previous three, respecting that beautiful ending while giving the characters – notably Woody – some extra closure. It’s largely unnecessary but fairly enjoyable. (Mild spoilers ahead.)
Toy Story 4 (written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom, directed by Josh Cooley) Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) has always been confident about his place in the world, and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that’s Andy or Bonnie. So when Bonnie’s beloved new craft-project-turned-toy, Forky (voice of Tony Hale), declares himself as “trash” and not a toy, Woody takes it upon himself to show Forky why he should embrace being a toy. But when Bonnie takes the whole gang on her family’s road trip excursion, Woody ends up on an unexpected detour that includes a reunion with his long-lost friend Bo Peep (voice of Annie Potts). After years of being on her own, Bo’s adventurous spirit and life on the road belie her delicate porcelain exterior. As Woody and Bo realize they’re worlds apart when it comes to life as a toy, they soon come to find that’s the least of their worries.
I love Aladdin. It’s probably my favorite of the “Disney Renaissance films” and so, naturally, I’d be pretty hesitant about any new adaptation of it. The Broadway version mostly ended up working out, though I haven’t actually managed to see it – just heard the soundtrack and seem some of the officially released footage. It seems fun enough, but, for obvious reasons, it could never match the sheer energy found within the original animated tale. The same, it turns out, rings true for this live-action remake of Aladdin. The energy of the original isn’t there, nor is the creativity – of the Broadway version or of the original version. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s not a good one either. Mostly, it’s just a boring rehash of a beloved classic with a few new twists thrown in in a lame attempt to make it seem more distinct. (Some spoilers ahead!)
Aladdin (written by John August and Guy Ritchie and directed by Guy Ritchie)
Aladdin (Mena Massoud), street rat, frees a genie (Will Smith) from a lamp, granting all of his wishes and transforming himself into a charming prince in order to marry a beautiful princess, Jasmin (Naomi Scott). But soon, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), an evil sorcerer, becomes hell-bent on securing the lamp for his own sinister purposes.
After what feels like ages of anticipation, the title of Star Wars: Episode IX has been revealed as The Rise of Skywalker. Today was the first day of panels at this year’s Star Wars: Celebration and, naturally, the whole shindig kicked off with a panel for Episode IX, complete with J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Joonas Suotamo, and Naomi Ackie, where Stephen Colbert asked the cast and crew a bunch of questions about the film that none of them could really answer. The closest thing to any real information we got is that 1) some time passes between the ending of The Last Jedi and the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker, 2) Naomi Ackie plays a character named Jannah, and 3) The whole gang would be going on an adventure together. The really good reveals didn’t come until the last few minutes of the panel when the teaser trailer was finally shown, revealing the title of the film at the end of the trailer.
Mary Poppins is one of Disney’s best live-action musicals. It jump-started the film career of Julie Andrews and provided audiences with some of the best known Disney songs. With that in mind, how does one make a sequel to such a classic, beloved film? According to Rob Marshall (director of Mary Poppins Returns) and David Magee (writer of Mary Poppins Returns), the best way to make a sequel is to essentially remake the original film, using a similar (but less interesting) plot and far less memorable songs.
In Depression-era London, a now-grown Jane and Michael Banks, along with Michael’s three children, are visited by the enigmatic Mary Poppins following a personal loss. Through her unique magical skills, and with the aid of her friend Jack, she helps the family rediscover the joy and wonder missing in their lives.