TimeOut's film reviewers Francesca Rudkin, Toby Woollaston and Dominic Corry take a look at the new movies on offer this weekend - including whether the Aladdin reboot is worth the hype.
Disney's latest live action remounting of an animated classic satisfies a base level of entertainment throughout, if never quite reaching the heights of spectacle and joy it seems to be aiming for.
In the ancient Middle Eastern city of Agrabah, the titular nimble street thief (played by Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud) dreams of a life beyond that he was born into. Sparks fly when he meets Princess Jasmine (Indian-English actor Naomi Scott), but Aladdin becomes caught up in a plot by Jafar (Tunisian-Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari), advisor to Jasmine's father the Sultan, to gain possession of a magic lamp.
Aladdin soon gets the lamp himself, from which he conjures an all-powerful genie (Will Smith), and attempts to use his powers to make himself a worthy suitor for the princess, who is only allowed to marry a prince.
The film mostly follows the path of the 1992 animated version, with the biggest changes centring on Princess Jasmine, who is now a bit more in control of her own destiny. Of the cast, Scott makes the largest impression, especially in her own musical numbers.
Massoud is a perfectly servicable Aladdin, charming enough while never quite jumping off the screen.
As with all his roles, Smith brings much of his own personal flavour to the manic genie character. His charisma carries the performance, but anyone who's seen the animated version won't be able to fully put aside Robin Williams' iconic riffing in the role.
Indeed, the most powerful moments here come from the nostalgia-driven emotions evoked by the iconic songs from the original, which isn't the best sign for a film trying to stand on its own two feet.
- Dominic Corry
Cast: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith
Director: Guy Ritchie
Running time: 128 mins
Verdict: Colourful, lively and diverting, with some highly emotivce songs, but never escpaes the shadow of its inspiration.
The Hummingbird Project
The Social Network's Jesse Eisenberg is back in nerdy, fine form in Canadian director Kim Nguyen's latest offering.
Eisenberg plays Vincent, the slightly manic brains behind a convoluted scheme to take on Wall Street by laying a fibre-optic cable in an absolutely straight line from the Kansas electronic exchange to a Wall Street databank centre in New Jersey. Yes, this does mean passing through the Appalachian Mountains and other tricky terrain.
Vincent and cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgard) work for a trading company dealing in the high-speed trading of stocks and commodities. Any advantage they can get, such as a network system which is a millisecond faster than their competition, means they can make millions more.
Vincent and Anton aren't interested in giving away their genius idea to their demanding boss, Eva Torres (Salma Hayek), and instead strike out on their own. Vincent is the hustler, securing funding to lay the cable and getting permission from landowners, government departments and the like to tear up the countryside.
Anton is the reclusive mathematical genius responsible for finding a way to make their cable one-16th of a millisecond faster than everyone else's. You probably won't recognise Skarsgard (Big Little Lies), he's the bald actor quietly out-nerding Eisenberg.
To make a film about laying a cable more exciting than it sounds, Nguyen has given the narrative a "race against time" tension, with Torres determined to beat the traitors at their own game.
The desire to be even more rich, to the detriment of almost everything - the environment, the landowners, the law, and Vincent's health - sees the absurdity level increase throughout the film, despite Nguyen taking a relatively low-key approach to telling this story.
The result is mixed. To the good, this a story told with great attention to detail, and it's worth noting that the documentary style may lead you to think it's based on a real story - it's not.
On the downside, it's underwhelming. The lack of momentum, messages delivered without real punch, and plucky characters who are only mildly endearing, means this fascinating premise fizzles out.
- Francesca Rudkin
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgard, Salma Hayek
Director: Kim Nguyen
Running Time: 110 mins
Verdict: Fascinating story but its telling leaves you cold.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
It's been three decades in the making but Terry Gilliam has finally done it! For so long, the spectre of cinematic death has loomed large over his project, but the fact that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has been released at all represents a marvel of directorial tenacity.
It was certainly an ambitious assignment, made more so by some spectacular bad luck; illness, floods, financial difficulties and a number of other studio ailments. But finally it's here and it's wonderful to see Gilliam having the last laugh ... even if his film isn't very good.
Quixote is unmistakably a Gilliam film, popping and fizzing with the ex-Python's eccentric grandeur. A testament to its lengthy gestation, the film runs the stylistic gamut of his back-catalogue; breathing the leathery pungency of Time Bandits, the derailed loopiness of Brazil and the woozy nausea of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The story (confused as it is), operates as a fevered auto-biopic of a director's arm-wrestle with his art. Adam Driver plays Toby, an aspiring feature director who has been put out to pasture on a diet of advertising work. Cynical of his vocation and struggling for motivation, he relives his past through a chance job in rural Spain where his career began. The film blurs the lines between reality and fantasy as he reconnects with a village cobbler (played by the wonderful Jonathan Pryce) who thinks he is the famed Don Quixote de la Mancha. Toby's flirtation with Quixote's delusions leads them both down a comical path of madness and redemption.
Quixote's grand visual style is undoubtedly mesmerising, but unfortunately the writing bloats a production already struggling to support the weight of its troubled past, unduly hampering it with swathes of incoherence too bothersome to wade through. Indeed, when Driver exclaims midway through the film "This is insane!", I think he might've mistaken his line for a margin note.
Alas, Gilliam has clearly suffered from his lengthy stare down this production's endless rabbit hole. And despite periods of biting comedy and some delightful old-school production heft, this is a project that would have been better left to wither on the vine.
- Toby Woollaston
Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Adam Driver, Olga Kurylenko
Director: Terry Gilliam
Running time: 132 mins
Rating: M (Violence & offensive language)
Verdict: A disappointing end to a courageous production.