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Review Catch-Up: Superheroes, spies, gangsters, and street rats

by Nathaniel R

As ever we've fallen behind. Here are four pictures currently in theaters that didn't get a proper review or a podcast discussion on the site. File under better late than never because we didn't mean to ignore them. Would love to hear your thoughts, too... 

The Gangster, The Cop, and The Devil (Lee Won-Tae)
Synopsis: A powerful gangster and an aggressive cop form an uncomfortable alliance to catch a serial killer

: The ingenious hook scene of this movie, which we won't spoil though presumably most reviews and the trailer do, gives even the weakest moments of this genre-riff a pulpy electric crackle. Not that there are many weak spots beyond the plotholes. Though indulgently violent and rather broad at all times, it's consistently exciting due to the premise and the charismatic star turn (x 3).

Aladdin (Guy Ritchie)
Synopsis: A remake of the 1992 Disney classic about a 'street rat', the princess he loves, and a magical lamp with a blue genie inside. 

: Points for not copy and pasting the animated film like Beauty & The Beast so drably did, but subtract all those points and them some, for a truly dire production. The design is gawdy without the joy of camp. The pacing is manic. The editing is bizarre. The performances are somewhat dull (though Naomi Scott tries hard) which is a pity given the racially appriopriate casting and the new conception of Jasmine both of which we'd like to cheer without the caveat of 'missed opportunity'. Worst of all Guy Ritchie proves he has no inkling whatsoever as to how to shoot a musical sequence (only two are even mildly entertaining). Even the direct "quotes" from the animated classic lack comic timing ... like the magic carpet pushing Aladdin and Jasmine into a kiss. It was so funny and sweet in the original, and here just dutifully happens... without comic timing or extra care before we move on to the next thing. Sadly the only "Original" song is also weak filler, and worse still, sticks out badly, not sounding even an iota like it belongs to the same song score.

Avengers: Endgame (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo) 
Synopsis: The Avengers use the quantum realm to travel through time in order to beat Thanos at his Infinity Stone snapping game.

: Like Infinity War with its cheap but unforgettable cliffhanger (listen, we all knew they weren't dead but for some reason everyone pretended they were), Endgame doesn't even begin to work as its own entity (as feature films should). Still, as the culmination of a 20+ film series it's a must-see spectacle. Though it takes far too long to get going (the early scenes are needlessly repetitive and this would have been sharper as a 140 minute movie or somesuch), once it's up and running it's full of thrills. If you're going to do both fan-service and nostalgia as plotting, do it like Endgame with ingenious (ret)construction to deliver on those fronts with surprising and witty revisits to past movies. "Hail Hydra!"
MVPs: Iron Man and Captain America which is not surprising given the MCU's focus. The surprise is who lands in runner up position: Thor's fatsuit and... wait for it... Nebula???? but many of the heroes get one good beat within the overpopulated film. Sadly, the finale Avengers movie (for now) realllly doesn't do right by Black Widow despite Scarlett Johansson's soulful work. There are a lot of articles online explaining why and many of them make sound arguments that we co-sign. The biggest disappointment was surely that Captain Marvel was barely in it given her solo film build-up just before this one arrived. 

: As culmination of a series: B+; As its own thing: C+ (There is no way this movie will age well, which fans might not care about it but it's a sticking point for this fan. If a movie requires you to have watched at least 12 and possibly 21 movies to fully feel and appreciate it, it's not working on its own terms; Future audiences, if there are any, will shrug.)

Red Joan (Trevor Nunn)
Synopsis: Joan Stanley, an elderly British woman is exposed as a KGB spy. 

: While Judi Dench's famous mug is supersized on the movie poster, with her younger self (Sophie Cookson) a small figure underneath the Luminosity of the Dame, the movie is a reverse of this equation, only really coming to life in its flashbacks. And even then "life" is a generous word, since the movie struggles to pop even within its most spy-movie moments. The lead actresses are both solid but the direction by Trevor Nunn is dull. Nunn, a reknowned theater director, started well in the movies (Lady Jane, 1986) but has rarely worked in the cinema since.

You can see the Reviews page, newly updated, for the full list of 2019 screenings with links to reviews, interviews, and podcasts.

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Reader Comments (10)

Re: Aladdin. Mena Massoud is a better dancer than singer, but the dance sequences are so ineptly directed/shot/edited. Who was more to blame for that? Not sure, but it reflects badly on all three.

I disagree about the design of the film, though. I thought it was fun and far superior to the Beauty and the Beast remake that made me want to gouge my eyes out.

The comedy was all over the place. Somethings surprised me, some made me smile weakly, and some hit the wall and dropped with a thud. So uneven.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCash

Avengers: Endgame

I thoroughly agree that this movie makes Infinity War's ending worse. The fan service moments at times felt nice and well done, but for the most part bordered on fan-fiction, and that's not a good thing. The thing that really annoyed me the most was that only Steve and Tony got proper endings. Yet this is supposed to be an ensemble story, which again proves my point that NONE of these people know how how those work. HOWEVER, Chris Evens gives some of his best work here (even though I have issues with his character's ending), and Tom Holland is a fucking constellation every time he's on screen. Overall, this felt like a mid-season finale of a TV show then it did the ending to a movie, which annoys me because (no matter how much comic book fans wanna say these aren't) it's a fucking movie!

SPEAKING OF NOT ENDINGS, the news that Far From Home is now being considered the end of Phase 3 is a dumb idea on Kevin Fiege/Marvel's end. You've been marketing this as the end for the last year. Why do you want to confuse the casual fans like that? Between that and everything else he, the Russo bros, and the writers have been revealing over the past month just shows their general...incompetence in movie-making.

This movie, as its own piece: C+
The MCU as a whole: C (I appreciate the ambition and idea, but the execution has been poor. Inconsistent acting from people across multiple films, direction and writing that at times felt like they were in a TV show, and just by the end I felt burned out.)

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterChris

RED JOAN is the only one of these I have seen. Whilst your review was indeed on the negative side, I still feel that you have overpraised it. This was one of the most boring uninspired movies I saw last year. And yes, Dench is hardly in it so even she can't begin to save it. I give it an E grade. (is that an F grade in USA?)

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

I agree with everything you said about Aladdin. On the nose. Guy Ritchie is....fine, but the man films a boring musical sequence. Naomi Scott is actually half-Indian, half-white. Not sure if that means she counts or not but at least she wasn’t Alicia Vikander in brownface. And man, dead-on again about Endgame. I actually loved Infinity War far more than you did, because it worked well by itself. Spacey, superhero Apocalypse Now with a purple Kurtz. Endgame just felt like a shamelessly loving send off, that gets a little stale on repeat viewing. But still...that’s America’s ass.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterkris01

Chris: I'm a little less negative toward the film part of the MCU as a whole, honestly. I don't think "It's TV-like" is a useful identification of the problem, mostly because of how the actual Marvel shows look. Just say "flat", which is often true of the MCU.

MCU Film Branch overall: B (Some great moments, some okay-ish moments, but mostly pretty good.)
MCU TV Branch Overall: C (Yeah, the high points (Jessica Jones S1, SHIELD S2, Cloak and Dagger S2) are as good as the better movies, but you also have to dig through garbage like Jessica Jones S2 (where's the villain...?), Daredevil S3 (rancid bleeping anti-stylish-costume subtext) and Runaways S2 (stupid and dull as dishwater) if you decide to commit to the TV branch.)

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

There's a really dark, interesting movie post Endgame that Marvel/Disney will never touch - those snapped away never should've been brought back. After a few days or even a few weeks, sure, but five years?! People would've been forced to move on. What happens when you're brought back to a world that moved on without you? What happened to the people that died because their pilot or train conductor got snapped away? Did they come back too? So many questions. I'm sure they'll be addressed in one way or another, but not beyond a surface level. Hell, Aunt May is letting Peter go to Europe after just getting back...

Anywho, great fan service, but not great movie. I thought Infinity War was leaps and bounds better. Even as a total fake out, i thought it worked as a stand alone. It seems weird how much Endgame seems to have already faded from the public consciousness, despite being one of the biggest movies ever to be released. Maybe Game of Thrones ending on such a bad note really did suck all of the air out of the room.

June 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVal

kris01 - Are we seriously gatekeeping brownness in 2019?

June 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

I know and I understand most of Aladdin's detractors, but wow it could've been way worse. I know that's not saying much, but I thought the movie was funny and most importantly Massoud and Scott have sizzling chemistry. Plus, while I acknowledge he's no WIlliams, Smith is the best he's been in years in a VERY tricky role, and while Jafar is probably more grounded than I wanted/expected, the small tweaks made sense (being a past thief is excellent). I do agree that while Ritchie was a great choice for the action sequences, the musical sequences did slightly suffer but I think most of it STILL worked because of how iconic and great the songs are so I don't think it was a total loss. It certainly didn't feel like a 2+ hour movie (unlike BaTB).

As for Jasmine's ballad, yeah it's a slight miss opportunity. Scott is great, but it did feel tonally off with the rest of the songs/score. It was exacerbated by styling it completely differently from the rest. Oh how I wish they had extended the second reprise of "One Jump Ahead" and styled it the same as the new song (with the world on pause) to really hone in on the parallels of both of their journeys.

June 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

On the contrary, Avengers:Endgame, to me, is a masterpiece. Are we really considering that we should even think of rating this film forgetting everything that came before? Really? It was NEVER intended to be a stand-alone film (even if Marvel double-thought and said it was its own thing). and it clearly shows throughout the whole running time, that the whole MCU has been building up to this film. It's another episode, another chapter in a serial. The movie is emotional, thrilling, entertaining (despite the 3 hours runtime), quotable, full of twists and turns, and rewatchable. The mere fact of how the film juggles with so many characters, timelines, and not only brings a satisfying and earned resolution to the first three phases of the MCU but also subtlely opens this universe into a multiverse for the future, is simply outstanding and feels that it has been done effortlessly. The action set pieces are to die for, so everything arount it, rises to the expectations and then some.

I really can't do anything else to praise the film and everyone involved. It won't win Best Picture but certainly is a strong candidate for a BP nomination

June 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

@beyaccount, no. I literally said I dunno if her casting was appropriate or not. I dunno if it matters if shes not Arab. That is what I said. I was just riffing off something Nat said. Is that cool with you?

June 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterkris01

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