Here are reviews of several new movies opening this weekend theatrically as well as on streaming:
"The Little Mermaid" (2023)
The latest live-action remake of an animated Disney classic is finally here...and "The Little Mermaid" has many good things going for it, despite it existing in a sea of seemingly awful creative decisions.
With all of these Disney remakes, we have to get over the "why" as in "why are they even doing this?" The obvious answer is that there is tons of money to be made, and lots of old movies that can create new means of making it. In certain cases, they can act as much-needed updates, like the recent Disney+ live-action film, "Peter Pan and Wendy," which allows Disney to leave behind some of its most controversial characters in the past, where they belong. Sometimes, like with the "Aladdin" remake, there is no discernible reason as to "why" the thing exists...it just does.
The best part of the new "The Little Mermaid" is, hands-down, its young star, Halle Bailey, a more-than-capable Ariel. She wins over any of the doubters in her first few seconds on-screen and she shows signs of an A-list, household name to come. The music and themes are all mostly intact, if not adjusted slightly (lyrics from "Kiss the Girl," for example, have been tweaked to include an air of consent), and even if this is a lesser version, it's impossible not to tap your toe and bob along to Sebastian's rendition of "Under the Sea."
Oddly, the character of Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) has been expanded to show him as a fish-out-of-water, in much the same way as Ariel is. Melissa McCarthy nails the voice of Ursula, even if her look is a bit weak. Daveed Diggs is the new voice of Sebastian, and he does OK, even if he comes across more like a Bizarro-World version of our favorite on-screen crustacean.
But the main issues I have are not with the voices, or the expanded story that makes this version an unnecessarily-long two-hours-and-fifteen minutes. It's that there are preposterous creative decisions that seem to have been made - or not made - in regards to the look and feel of the film.
First off, this movie is DARK...and I don't mean in tone, I mean in color palette. In their obsessive and ridiculous quest to make a movie about talking fish and mer-people as physically-accurate as possible, the underwater scenes (you know, where most of the movie happens) are incredibly dark to the point it feels murky. The animated underwater world was full of color, rich blues and colorful swaths of fish and sea creatures glittering all over the screen. Even when we are on land, it is always somehow nighttime, or raining. It's dreary and doesn't match the magic or "fun" that we should be having with these characters.
Then there is the ongoing problem with the anthropomorphic characters like Sebastian and Flounder. "The Little Mermaid" has the same problem - but dedicates itself to realism with the same stubbornness - that the live-action "Beauty & the Beast" had. So much more emotion and character can be wrung from a talking clock or an animated candlestick...seeing an actual clock or a real candelabra bouncing around is more creepy than cool. The same goes with the "realistic" Flounder and Sebastian. They look creepy and emotionless. We might accept their new voices if they weren't so ghastly to look at.
And then, the filmmakers surmise, "We must have them look like the real creatures!" And real fish don't play musical instruments (the "Under the Sea" celebration feels quite under-whelming when it's just fish swimming all around). Imagine that: Someone, somewhere is making creative decisions that in a story featuring talking fish, mermaids and see beasts, that it would be "silly" or "unrealistic" to go one stop further, and show them playing instruments like in the original version.
The verdict is that "The Little Mermaid" was destined to exist as a live-action film, and it doesn't butcher the original. But it doesn't present a good argument for its existence, creatively, either. This is a more PC, a more diverse, telling of the story and perhaps that's enough. It's hard to understand why anyone would waste their time though, when the original film still exists.
Just "existing" is a low bar for Disney, when you consider that the original "The Little Mermaid" brought on a renaissance in animated filmmaking and storytelling. Yes, the Disney magic seems to be gone, but it's only after the movie-going audience trades in their hard-earned cash at the box office, that they'll realize it was a bad deal...and all we are wanting, so desperately as an audience, is for Disney to restore its creative voice.
Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy.
Run Time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Starring: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay.
Directed by Rob Marshall ("Mary Poppins Returns," "Into the Woods," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "Memoirs of a Geisha," "Chicago.")
Hey everyone! It's another generic Gerard Butler film!
If that sounds like good news, than "Kandahar" is right up your alley.
Gerard Butler plays a CIA agent who gets trapped in Afghanistan in enemy territory. With the help of his translator, he must survive long enough to navigate his extraction.
Butler deserves better, but he's also very good at this sort of role...which is why it seems like a new Gerard Butler action film seems to be released every year or so. There was "Plane" last year, then "Angel Has Fallen," "Greenland" and a bevy of other under-cooked action vehicles that now seem to make up Butler's recent filmography. There's nothing wrong with these sort of movies, but there's nothing particular good or memorable about them either. It's as if he and Liam Neeson flip a coin as to who will star in the newest script that lands on their desks. Heads or Tails, it's the audience that mostly suffers.
Genre: Action, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 59 minutes.
Starring: Gerard Butler, Navid Negahban, Ali Fazal, Olivia-Mai Barrett.
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh ("National Champions," "Greenland," "Angel Has Fallen," "Snitch," "Felon").
"You Hurt My Feelings"
In a movie that is all about lies, "You Hurt My Feelings" is one of the more truthful films of 2023. It's also one of the better ones. That's no surprise, given that it comes from writer/director Nicole Holofcener ("Enough Said"), who once again teams with star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with a story that is all about the little lies we tell ourselves - and others - and how sometimes lies are necessary to maintain the status quo of our lives.
Beth (Louis-Dreyfus) is a writer who had success when she published her memoir a few years earlier. She is writing her second book, but how do you follow up what is literally your own life story? Pressured to deliver another "winner" for her publisher, she earns support from her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies), who continues to encourage her, telling her that her new book is amazing. But when Beth overhears Don telling some friends that he actually doesn't like the book, Beth begins questioning everything, including their relationship and marriage. Meanwhile, she offers blind encouragement to her grown son, Eliot (Owen Teague), who is facing struggles of his own.
It's sharp and direct, but never inauthentic. At every step, characters are telling little white lies, and Holofcener masterfully approaches questions dealing with this natural part of life. Don and Beth smile when they each open anniversary presents that aren't all that exciting ("Ooh, a V-Neck sweater! Thanks honey!"). Don, a therapist, absorbs the dysfunction from his clients as he tries to be helpful without being direct. Do we all want the truth from our partner and loved ones, even if the "truth" might be that we suck at our job? Aren't a few fibs here and there an act of support, or are these cruel mind games that we all find ourselves caught up in?
"You Hurt My Feelings" lingers with you for days...quite the accomplishment for a fairly straight-forward, well-acted, 93 minute gem.
Genre: Drama, Comedy.
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes.
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, Owen Teague, Amber Tamblyn, David Cross, Zach Cherry.
Written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener ("The Land of Steady Habits," "Enough Said").
"Being Mary Tyler Moore"
A definitive and loving reflection on one of the greatest TV Icons of the 20th Century. Mary Tyler Moore's life and career is examined by those that knew her and loved her, but it's strung together by interviews with Mary herself...a pioneer who was simply ahead of her time, and who opened up the door for all women who followed. Archival footage gives us perspective on her impact then and now.
"Being Mary Tyler Moore" is now streaming on HBO Max.
Run Time: 1 hour 59 minutes.
Also in theaters this weekend but not being reviewed are "About My Father" and "The Starling Girl."
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