Aladdin (2019) Film Review

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When it comes to the live action remakes of Disney’s animated classics, the results most definitely vary. For me, some are absolutely enchanting (Cinderella), while others are middling and underwhelming (Maleficent). When it comes to Aladdin, I will be honest and say I was extremely nervous to see this movie. Not only does the 1992 Aladdin rank at number 4 in my list of favorite animated films, but the trailers left a lot to be desired and felt somewhat off and disjointed. It’s puzzling how the trailers did not do the film justice, but it just goes to show you how significant context is. Those fears were not only put to rest, but absolutely vanished and replaced with sheer delight and overall love. Indeed, much like the classic song we are treated to a shining, shimmering, splendid film that is infused just the right amount of nostalgia and feel of the original, while also adding some wonderful and rich new story beats, character enhancements, and music. Aladdin is a visually sumptuous, funny, and heartfelt retelling of the classic story that soared right into my heart.

Casting/Performances & Story/Character Enhancements

When it comes to any film, but especially in these Disney remakes, casting, and in turn performances, plays a crucial role in the overall quality of the film. And one of Aladdin’s finest attributes is indeed its cast. Mena Massoud is a brilliant and perfect Aladdin. He’s charming, funny and earnest with a dynamic energy and dazzling smile to match. He was able to make Aladdin’s agility look natural and believable, and his journey of self discovery that his strength of character was always there really touching. Naomi Scott’s Jasmine is equally terrific, infusing the feisty princess with heart, compassion, strength and an intelligence that comes from inherent nobility and desire to truly help her people. Individually, they are fantastic. Together they are equally wonderful with significantly more screen time together which added some lovely depth to their relationship, and showcased a natural, sweet, romantic chemistry that helps makes Aladdin and Jasmine remain of Disney’s greatest couples.

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Of course, a great deal of the film’s success rests on Will Smith’s Genie’s shoulders, and is undoubtedly who audiences were anticipating the most. No one can ever replace or replicate Robin Williams. What he created was unique, brilliant and beloved. But Smith truly brought his own amazing spin to the character. He brought a great deal of charm, sweetness and humor, and with the music a hip hop flair that he is not only known for but does exceedingly well. He was charismatic, but also at times profound and importantly very human. And that may be one of the best things Smith brought to the role. Instead of trying to replicate the larger than life portrayal by Williams, this Genie is more grounded, which not only felt appropriate but was undeniably likable. And like the original, the friendship between Aladdin and Genie is poignant and the cornerstone to the film’s themes, and the chemistry between both actors is terrific. I’m going out on a limb here and saying that this may be my favorite role Will Smith has ever done.

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The more human and grounded qualities in the other cast members and characters, as well as the story additions and changes are also what made the film work so well. What works in an animated film may not always translate or work in a live action one. Moreover, it’s important to distinguish it from its predecessor and add the necessary story beats needed for a new and longer live action film. In Aladdin’s case, these changes felt necessary and were executed beautifully. Jafar for example is an amazing villain in the animated version, but mostly a mustache twirling, over the top kind of villain whose evilness is obvious. That is great and works perfectly in an animated film. But I loved what they did with this new version of Jafar, who is younger, handsome and much more subdued. Marwan Kenzari grounds the character and showcases that villainy not only can come from a place of hardship but also that evil may not always look as such. It can be simmering under a surface that can be very attractive and persuasive. Honestly, much like they did with Gaston’s character in Beauty and Beast it’s important to portray villains in this realistic way. The same can be said for the Sultan (Navid Negahban), who is more reverent and realistic rather than goofy, as well as the animal characters of Abu, Iago and Rajah. There is obviously still the fantastical element about them but they feel closer to reality and in turn perfectly blended into the story. I smiled whenever they were on screen. Moreover, some other character and story additions that I absolutely loved were Jasmine’s hand maiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) who was sweet, funny and gave Jasmine a true friend and another scene partner that added real humor and heart. Some other changes were made at the climax and conclusion to the story that I won’t spoil, but they were refreshing, added dynamic action, and meaningful messages that a modern audience will certainly appreciate.

Direction and Visuals

I am a fan of many of Guy Ritchie’s films and his signature style. Aladdin is a much brighter and happier story than his usual fare but he was still able to bring his moments of slowed down or sped up film that is his trademark in some of the dancing and action sequences that I comes to expect from his work. This may be off putting or odd to some, especially if unfamiliar that this is Ritchie’s trademark visual that he always employs. I personally find it fun, but it may not be for some viewers. In addition to the direction, indeed all of the visuals are sumptuous and wondrous, from the rich and colorful costumes and sets to the sweeping camera work. These truly are an artistic feast that are both similar to the original but something entirely different and often as magnificent as what we saw in Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. And while the blue version of the Genie is still a bit jarring on first glance, you quickly get used to it and are simply looking at the character.

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Music and Songs

If I were to rank my favorite Disney soundtracks, 1992’s Aladdin is tied for the top spot with The Little Mermaid, so there was certainly a great deal to live up to with these new versions of the songs and score. All of the songs that we love are included and are brought to life with amazing and fresh takes and a different but wonderful energy. It’s difficult to actually choose a favorite, but “Friend Like Me,” which was already so fun and colorful in the original, has the same kind of fun flair and new hip hop vibe, also found in “Prince Ali,” which is slower, but drawn out in a way that almost felt necessary with the changes to Genie’s character. There is definitely a vibrant Bollywood influence to this number, while “One Jump Ahead” is just fun and gives added interaction between Aladdin and Jasmine. “A Whole New World,” which is my favorite Disney song, perhaps may not soar as high as the original, but at the same time, it’s almost impossible to do so. What is does do a give us a beautiful new version on this romantic scene. And I loved it vocally, orchestra wise, and visually with new locals the couple flies throughout and a lovely depiction of their inherent and natural chemistry. The new song “Speechless,” which is a anthem of strength given to Jasmine’s character, is a great song and moment for her arc. However, it’s inclusion, which is sung in a dream like sequence, and songwriters are La La Land and The Greatest Showman’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, instead of one of Menken’s other collaborators feels a bit disconnected and decidedly different from the rest of the songs. Is the song great? Yes, indeed it is. But its style does feel like a Paul and Pasek song as opposed to a Menken song.

Lastly, what is truly remarkable is that Menken composed new versions of his Aladdin themes and motifs as well as all new orchestrations for the entirely of the film, all of which are magnificent. They are deep, rich, and gorgeous and profoundly demonstrate what we already knew- that that Menken is not only a living legend for his body of work, but can still compose equally brilliant new musical scores. Menken should be revered in the same breath as such illustrious composers as John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

Final Thoughts

If you are debating whether to see this new version of Disney’s Aladdin, especially if you are a tremendous fan of the original or not always sure about live action remakes, I cannot recommend this film enough. Currently, for me this Aladdin ranks just below 2015’s Cinderella, but another viewing may move that to a tie for the top spot. Regardless, what I do know is that despite trepidation Aladdin proved to be a funny, effervescent, colorful and heartfelt diamond in the rough.

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A Journey of Kismet, Anxiety, Healing, YouTube, and the Magic of Disney

In life for as many changes as we experience there are also many constants. For myself, the longest one has been my love for Disney and those who share this passion. It’s also said that life is a journey, not a destination. And it’s a statement I definitely agree with. But I would amend this philosophy with what I’ve also found to be true- That life is filled with many journeys towards destinations that are merely paths, that lead you down more paths; and is often the case, it’s a domino effect that has a lastly impact on your life. Which leads me towards my purpose in writing and sharing this. Many that I’ve been following me are aware, but many also are not, so let me enlighten you. I always wanted to create and share things that bring people happiness and to spread some positivity in the world. That is my goal for The Girly Nerd: to create my own content as well as share such that does just that. But sometimes life throws you curve balls and it can be a great struggle. It can be difficult to share things like this- to be open and vulnerable and wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s honestly somewhat terrifying to open up this way with my personal struggles, especially when you have dealt with anxiety, depression and wounds of cruelty and rejection. Consequently it can very difficult to reach out to people in any way. But with encouragement from family, friends, and those inspirations that one finds in life, as well as the caveat that perhaps others may be helped with my story, I’ve been sharing more with all of you and I cannot thank those who have helped me enough.

(Additive: Since I began writing this, one of my most beloved college professors passed away suddenly and she was the second one I’ve lost. Both were young and this hits me deeply, so it’s a wake up call).

I’ve also come to realize that in what feels like kismet, so many of my experiences and these paths are interconnected. So no matter who sees this, it’s important for me to share what’s led me to this place, in my effort to be less passive, to engage and connect more with lovely people, and be brave enough to put myself out there more. On Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram I’ve made an effort to do just that- chatting, liking, commenting, and such with those I truly like.  Once such source of motivation to do so is Jennifer Morrison, who has become such an inspiration not only through her Once Upon a Time character Emma but also through her own grace through life. And a quote she herself said has come to mean a great deal, especially at present time. “Don’t wish for your fairy tale. Fight for your fairy tale. Slay your dragon, then go to the ball.” And so, I slowly but surely find myself doing just that. Not just dreaming but fighting and slaying those demons that are hurting and holding me back. I am not perfect; some days are still hard. But isn’t that part of everyone’s journey?

First I must preface this with the times in my life where, when I recently stopped and thought about it, have striking similarities to the present. In my last semester of college, a few weeks in, I became ill with a severe kidney infection. I vividly remember asking my doctor when I could return to school. He laughed because my recovery was going to be long- not astronomically long, but long enough that it would make it so I couldn’t possibly catch up in my classes. I was about to graduate and here I had to delay it for a whole other semester. It was disappointing and dejecting to say the least, on top of feeling awful physically. But out of something bad, came something wonderful. When I was well enough I  began auditing one class and talked to my advisor about going to Graduate School for my Master’s after finishing my Bachelor’s. And if I hadn’t gotten sick I would have been with different students and class options and professors. But because of the timing it led me to some of the greatest friends I’ve ever made in my life. They are my steadfast support and loving kindred spirits and if I hadn’t gotten ill I may never have met them. And I cannot imagine a life where they are not part of it.

Similarly, a job I had after college required a laptop, which funnily enough with a new computer it led me to both streaming TV shows for the first time and to tumblr, which led me to discovering the show Chuck and becoming a fan of Zachary Levi, getting into the fandom of Once Upon a Time, and discovering the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. And this led me to writing for The Nerd Machine, attending NerdHQ, and becoming more immersed and actively in social media where I began writing so much and creating art, as well as becoming motivated to create The Girly Nerd. Though social media can be fickle and often negative when you immerse yourself in these worlds, in the end despite some hurtful experiences, I’ve also had some amazing experiences and found some lifelong, wonderful friends. There were some low points and struggles job wise and emotionally, but these wonderful things were brought about because of them. It truly shows that with storms come rainbows. And take one thing out of the equation and things would be completely different.

And thus leads me to the real my real purpose with this piece, and thank you for reading this far and indulging my typical loquacious ways. In those experiences above, certain individuals proved to not only be kind, lovely and positive, but also inspiring to me in my present state. For the past few years I have been struggling a great deal with my health both physically and mentally. I developed anemia on top of hypothyroidism, which is being well handled now with medication, but I often was still feeling a lack of energy, motivation and often sadness. Recently, I was given an official diagnosis of anxiety and dysthymia, which is a mild depression. It was difficult to hear this, and it’s even more difficult to talk about. But in today’s age it seems people are more open and encouraging regarding things like this. And I finally feel at a place where I am not only getting to a better place, and more actively working to feel better, but also brave enough to talk about it.

Zachary Levi has proved to be truly inspiring and a wonderful person not only the many times I met him (If you have not listened to the first time I did so, with an interview with him and Mandy Moore, you can do so here), but he’s also been so encouraging to others in the ways he talks about his own life’s journey and encouraging to talk about your own mental health and how important self care is. As I mentioned, Jennifer Morrison is ever an inspiration with her grace and work ethic and similar philosophy of learning to be brave and open with both yourself and others, especially when loving yourself may be difficult. Being a fan of hers introduced me to her sister in law Eleanora Morrison, whose very open dialogue about journey with her health she so bravely shared, and now she is doing amazingly with her own magazine Eleanora Magazine, once again proving to be an inspiration for me. And finally Maxwell Glick, who I discovered in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and was so happy to meet at NerdHQ a few years back, led me to discovering his YouTube channel.

Which leads me to now. For so long Maxwell’s, aka MrCheezyPop, was the only YouTube channel I watched. But for awhile I got out of the habit of doing so, among other things and I didn’t find much joy, energy or motivation for much of anything. Some days I found even getting up for the day difficult. The thought of writing or creating anything became a source of anxiousness instead of joy. Now I know why. And I won’t pretend these struggles are completely gone. But I am in such a better place for the reasons above and one more- the very reason I am writing this article. One day (and a day I am so thankful for) I began to watch Maxwell’s channel again. And once again, like the other times in my life, a beautiful domino effect occurred. Finding so much joy, and with the convenience of being able to watch YouTube on my smart TV, I started up with these videos again and they brought me so much happiness. And with the wonderful way YouTube works, you can discover more and more wonders. And oh my goodness, so began a long line of discovery. Through MrCheezyPop I discovered FreshBaked, Tiffany Mink, Sarah Sterling, Leo Camacho, and the Hayes Family Vlog. Through FreshBaked I discovered TheTimTracker, and through their channel I found Justin Scarred and AdamtheWoo, which led me to Life Disney & Beyond, Disney Kittee and Fairy Tales and Fitness. Over the course of a year, though I was still not always in the best place, I had found these channels filled with fun, positivity and such truly wonderful people. I don’t want to be too hyperbolic and say this saved me, but I can say that these discoveries changed me, helped me beyond measure, and made my life brighter. I don’t even want to imagine where I would be if I had not had that fateful day where I decided to watch Maxwell’s videos again. Like these other moments I truly believe the universe was working its magic for me. I found my soul reawakened.

So here I am wanting to share all of these wonderful people in gratitude, and admiration, deep appreciation, and even a hand of friendship. And between YouTube and Instagram I find new, lovely people all the time. The online community can be a crazy place, and sometimes dark and cruel. But you can also find amazing, gifted, beautiful, kind souls. I may not know many of the following well, and some more than others; but you never know, that may change. And that would be lovely. With no agenda and a bit of hope, connecting with others is an important part of life. To any of the following who sees this, I want to say above all THANK YOU, and whatever may come, I am better off. As I said in my Favorite Films of 2018 about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a deep love of any kind of media has “the ability to awaken and move the soul in a profound way. For we see how [it] can bring people together- reach across time and space and not only make us feel, but help us feel connected to others. Isn’t that what the finest books, or films, or music or art can accomplish- create an unique kind of radiant magic that can helps create unbreakable bonds of love, family and friendship. In a world filed with darkness, this is a glowing beacon of light and hope.” And to everyone else who reads this, I hope you discover this wondrous Disney community for yourself and let that magic into your life. You will not regret it.

And here they all are:
Maxwell Glick (MrCheezyPop)
I definitely owe a great deal to Maxwell as I would not have discovered any of the other channels otherwise. But even beyond this, with him you will find the epitome of positivity, kindness and class with his “Adventures Through Happiness.” Fun food reviews, which is probably his trademark, hilarious reactions videos, Disney Parks trips in not only Disneyland and Disney World, his videos are truly the best. The channel has evolved a great deal in exciting and wonderful ways and I also love the special events, film reviews, and even more fantastic things beyond the world of Disney that I personally love and relate to such as Top 10 lists, original music videos and pop music, insights into his acting works, and sports. No matter what I find myself always smiling, laughing or at peace with these videos. Max is funny, sweet, positive and a wonderful guy in every way. Every day could be made magical with such a kindred spirit.

FreshBaked
These are without a doubt my favorite Disneyland walk through vloggers. Led by David, wife Liz and friend Ian, each week I adore becoming immersed with whatever they are doing in Disneyland whether it be rides, food, or special events. They also do Secrets and Histories, Construction Updates, weekly fun livesteams all with so much positivity and lighthearted fun. I laugh so much and definitely relate to them, most especially Liz who is beyond sweet and funny with the Friends and fave film references. And their reverence for Disney history is ever relatable. Founding member Sara is no longer part of FreshBaked but I highly recommend going back and watching past videos. I unabashedly admit watching a great many of the past trip reports at the same time as the new ones. And special shout out also to Damion who runs the FreshBaked Twitter! They are all such wonderful, kind individuals who let us feel like we are right there with them in the Happiest Place on Earth.

Sara still does her own thing as Lady Romey and I recommend following her further adventures because she such a lively and loving person as well extremely creative with her shop. I bought an adorable sign for Halloween which I just love. She also has been very open and raw with her personal struggles and it’s truly touching and inspirational.

TheTimTracker
Tim and Jenn Tracker have had a long YouTube career and like Freshbaked I have gone back and watched a great many of their past videos as well as their new content every week. These two are truly the sweetest individuals, and certainly couple goals. I have never been to any other Disney park besides Disneyland, but I feel like I have thanks to them, and definitely know what I need to when I hopefully do someday. Their channel has evolved a great deal and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing this transformation and see them continue to do new things within Florida, a brand new podcast, as well as the constants with their home vlogs. But what I really love is that they have obviously remained very open, honest, funny, genuine and kind people. And I have to also say, for me personally, their videos have an overwhelming calming effect on me, which for someone who struggles with anxiety, is invaluable. I’ve also found myself working “Ding Dang,” “Holy Macaroni,” and “And now it’s time to pay the price” into my vernacular. The Trackers are the absolute best of the best!

Tiffany Mink, Sarah Sterling, Leo Camacho
They all have individual channels, but these three are so interconnected to me and are upbeat, creative, nice and funny people. I honestly aspire to be as creative and confident as they are!! The original Disney Bounders as far as I can tell, they all do their own thing but collaborate a great deal. I love Tiffany’s unboxings and creative fashion and Disney hacks, Sarah’s Disney histories, tips and park videos, and Leo’s gaming and top 10’s especially. Their presence is a bit more on Instagram now, but YouTube still has a lot of fun stuff to watch.

Justin Scarred
Justin is the very definition of just a cool and funny dude. But he’s also very honest and vulnerable in his struggles with anxiety that he’s dealt with in the more introspective moments. His video editing style is so fun and creative, making all of the Disney History and trip reports beyond fun. There’s more than just Disney, but all kinds of outings around California and beyond, many with fiancée Ally. The first video I actually watched included Justin’s story of how the two met, and it’s was so touching and frankly #GOALS! Both are sweet and a great balance of outgoing and more introverted. There’s so much to love in Randomland.

AdamtheWoo (TheDailyWoo)
Adam is another guy who I would above all call simply cool. The variety and amount of amazing things Adam has visited across the country is astonishing and I am still trying to catch up. Of course I especially appreciate the Disney Parks videos, but I am also a fan of the Universal trips, and other places of interest such as filming locations- the Back to the Future House is a personal favorite. He begins all his videos with the phrase “Join me. Shall You?” and if you do you won’t regret it.

Life Disney & Beyond
In Disney and other life adventures with Katie and Spencer, we get bright, happy times with this extremely sweet and positive couple who implore us all to live by the beautiful philosophy to live your best life. That is definitely something we all could aspire to and although I haven’t been watching their videos for as long, they certainly already have made an impact, especially with the struggles I’ve been going through. For that I am so thankful. Their videos always bring a smile to my face.

Disney Kittee
Becka is the YouTuber I have connected with the most and certainly one of the lovely ladies I relate to the most in personality and the kinds of things I enjoy and hope to do more of. Although we do have some different favorites and interests (and oh how I wish I could sing as beautifully as she), Becka is the kind of lovely person we all would want to be friends with and share stories and a love of Disney. Seeing her share some of her insecurities has helped me a great deal try to be braver. Her unboxings are so much fun, especially if you adore Disney merchandise, and I adore her trip vlogs, amazing Pin Boards, and the mystery pins which she often shares with her husband- the two of them are so adorable together! And of course her Magic Mail Mondays, one of which I was a part of because I simply had to send something, are a joy to watch as they shine a light of so many great people. And your Disney sketch is still coming, I promise!! Becka is a beautiful soul.

Fairy Tales and Fitness
Kaitlyn, much like DisneyKitte is someone I greatly relate to and thoroughly enjoy watching and getting to know. She has such as sweet and calming demeanor and her love for all things Disney, and positive attitude is just lovely. Her style and favorites are so akin to my own, so of course I love watching her shopping hauls, and trips to the all of the Disney Springs stores. Even though I can’t visit them myself, I love seeing all the new merchandise. I don’t call myself the Girly Nerd for nothing, so it is a joy finding a channel with so much girly delights. Her videos also often include her husband as well as her sweet mom and their relationship reminds me so much of me and my Mom. Everything here is a breath of fresh air.

Hayes Family Vlog
I discovered this channel the most recently, and it truly is an inspirational and heartwarming one. Following the Hayes family’s adventures through Disneyland and mostly little Malia’s encounters with Disney characters will melt the heart of even the biggest of Grinch’s. And for me who is about the easiest, softest touch in the world, I cannot help by always smile, and often cry. Malia has an autoimmune condition called Alopecia, and in addition to raising awareness, the Hayes family want everyone to know, and show through this brave and adorable little girl, that beauty is everywhere, and encourage us all to “live your best day ever” every day. That is a beautiful message!!

These are in my opinion some of the loveliest people you will find in the Disney community, but I am sure I will discover more. And I hope I get to know them all better. That is what is so wonderful. It’s such a large community with room for everyone. And it’s a very warm and positive atmosphere that I am so happy to be immersing myself in- and in so many ways. And I dare say Walt himself would be happy and proud of all the magic he has inspired.

Memory Monday: Tangled Interview with Zachary Levi & Mandy Moore

In November 2011, I was part of a round table interview for Tangled with the voices of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider themselves, Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi. This was such a fun interview with myself and three of women where we asked what it was like being a part of Disney’s 50 animated film.

My Questions: Being Disney fans, what’s it like now being a part of Disney’s legacy?

The film is a beautiful one- which scenes struck you both and were your favorites?

Listen to the interview below!!

If interested in the subsequent article I wrote after the interview you can read that here:  https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column/spiritual-themes-to-be-found-in-disneys-tangled-1449

A Visit to Disneyland’s Club 33

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This past year I had a supreme honor and opportunity I never thought I would have. Visiting the Happiest Place on Earth with some friends we all were given the chance to dine at Disneyland’s most coveted restaurant: the illustrious Club 33. It’s a place some Disney attendees don’t even know exists. And those who do, know that being able to dine there is rare and special. It’s a place that was originally formed for Walt Disney to entertain VIPS and dignitaries in the park, away from the hustle and bustle, to relax with fine food and elegant decor. Now it’s a Club that has a limited members list, with the chance for non members to attend based usually on knowing someone who is.

I knew this was probably a once in a lifetime occurrence so myself and my friends soaked up everything and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The service was impeccable, the food divine and the entire atmosphere grand and yet intimate. Club 33 is indeed a beautiful place and I will always cherish that I was able to attend, and with people who are so dear to me.

 

 

Our lunch consisted of 4 courses. Here was our menu.

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I ordered the Steak Tartare of Filet Mignon, the Tricore Salad, the Grilled Angus Filet Mignon, and Chocolate Profiteroles. To say the food was delicious is an understatement. It was delectable and one of the best meals I’ve ever had. We were celebrating my Friend’s upcoming wedding, so also they treated us to an extra dessert of delicious beignets.

 

And in between courses and after lunch we were able to take as many photos as we wished. And I certainly was inspired! The décor alone was lovely, but the view onto New Orleans Square and the Rivers of America on gorgeous wrought iron balconies was just exquisite. You already feel special when you are there, but this made it feel even more so.

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Of course, a visit to Club 33 wouldn’t be complete without getting a few souvenirs to commemorate the occasion. Even the bag the purchases come in is pretty and fancy. I picked up what was called a paper weight, but something I have hung up on my wall, along with a lovely key chain.

 

 

If the chance to attend Club 33 ever comes your way, do not hesitate. It’s a special experience and I know I will always be grateful I got to visit, even if it was just once.I will cherish this day always!!

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2018 Year in Review: Favorite Films of the Year

With Awards Season in full swing and many “Best Films” of the year being shared, here at The Girly Nerd, it is high time to share what were my favorite films in 2018. And there were an abundance of amazing ones. Common denominators certainly were abound: Netflix, post apocalyptic drama, super heroes, the return of the rom-com, welcome and meaningful diversity, and the beauty of stories and recapturing our childhoods and what truly matters. Without further ado here are my favorites for 2018, with some special acknowledge of standout performers and outstanding directors.

10. Dumplin’ dumplin_004.0

Dolly Parton once said “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose” and that is definitely the mantra that Dumplin’ employs so beautifully as Willowdean, the daughter of a former beauty queen, along with some fellow “revolutionaries” join their local pageant to prove a point about what pageants are, only for everyone involved to discover something profound about themselves and life. Dumplin’ is about embracing who you truly are, learning to forgive and not to judge others, and living and loving your best life, brought to life with great humor and heart.

9. What Still Remains what-still-remains

An evocative, thought provoking post apocalyptic drama, What Still Remains examines an extreme but profound “what if” scenario. What if you were living in a desolate world where so much of the population was gone and some that remained were lost in the most inhuman way imaginable. Would you in turn lose your humanity, in order to “survive” or would you maintain it because losing that would be equally devastating- because essentially you would be losing yourself. In this story that is what Anna encounters, when fellow survivor Peter brings her to his village which seems welcoming but underneath it all, does what cults do- twist religion and abandon the concept of free will and choice. Led by a nuanced and often chilling performance by Colin O’Donoghue, we see with Peter how the charismatic can be hiding something truly sinister within themselves (and casting someone as striking and charming as he is talented as O’Donoghue is brilliant), as well as the devastation of dark choices that cause us to lose our own humanity and try to take away those of others. Perhaps their world is bleak, but we must never lose ourselves or hope that something brighter is within reach.

8. Black Pantherblack-panther-movie-characters

The world of Wakanda is an extraordinary one and I have no doubt that most who were captivated by this world, found themselves chanting “Wakanda Forever” as the credits to Black Panther rolled and beyond. We first met the new king of Wakanda T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War and right away were drawn into his story and fine character. But Black Panther not only expands his story but the entirely of this world with even more remarkable characters, my personal favorite being T’Challa’s sister, and true genius Shuri. The accomplishments and exemplary thing about this film are two-fold. Not only is the story engrossing, acting wonderful, aesthetics gorgeous, and themes resonant, but we see representation with real, full and non stereotypical characters. This should be and hopefully will begin to be commonplace. But above all Black Panther is simply a wonderful and captivating film. A comic book film it may be with extraordinary circumstances, and heroes and villains alike. But at its heart, it’s resonant story about integrity and honor and learning how the world and the motivations of others are more complicated than we perhaps thought.

7. A Quiet Placejohn-krasinski-a-quiet-place-1200x675

Can you imagine a world where sound was your damnation? Where if you make any kind of loud noise, your life will most likely be lost, hunted down by a monster? That is the haunting concept of A Quiet Place, which is an extraordinarily artistic and evocative take on the classic thriller, post apocalyptic world. In truth, this film is about the power of love between family, most especially that between parent and child.  Anyone who is a parent is no doubt deeply moved by this tale of a family in a desolate world where sound, and the monstrous creatures that attack when they hear it, is their daily enemy. One of their children is deaf, and that combined with their necessary situation, provided such an effective usage of sound and sign language. When we are in young Regan’s perspective the film is almost completely silent to represent her point of view and it is truly affecting. The anxieties of the family are high when the birth of another child is imminent and they are separated. Not only on the edge of your seat in the traditional thriller way, A Quiet Place accomplishes what many films of the same nature do not. It deeply moves us. Director John Kraskinski said this was a love letter to his daughters, and with his on and off screen wife Emily Blunt, they created a story of true love, sacrifice and hope abound with the significance of always striving to learn and invent, and most especially to not just listen with our ears, but with our hearts and minds. A Quiet Place is a quietly profound film.

6. Crazy Rich Asianscrazy ricj

Funny, sweet, hilarious and another welcome and profoundly diverse film, I could not say it better than the wonderful Michelle Yeoh about what this films accomplishes so wonderfully, “To be represented- we’re not just a token for diversity. Real representation means you have a meaningful character with hopes and dreams and in Crazy Rich Asians that’s what we all have.” Diversity is not a trend, and something that should be done haphazardly or without much thought. It should be done, (and is in this film it is) in a beautiful and meaningful way. The world is a large place and everyone should be able to see themselves at some point on screen in a significant way that has us crying or laughing and having that moment of true recognition. What is also special about Crazy Rich Asians is that it’s about both diversity and universality, and it’s a celebration of that. We have seen this kind of romance story before with love having to overcome class differences, and pressures from family. What’s different is who is portraying these characters. It’s both specific in culture but also universal thematically. It’s about family, love and traditions that are specific to the Asian culture but can be relatable to all. But even if it weren’t it still would remain praiseworthy. Crazy Rich Asians is the type of film that I truly love and hope to see more and more in years to come.

5. Avengers: Infinity Waravengers

A film that is the culmination of over 10 years and 18 films is bound to have a great deal riding on its shoulders. And the first part of this climatic cinematic event, in one of the most spectacular cinematic universes of story and character was just that- absolutely spectacular! Marvel is most certainly a master of creating dynamic films filled with real emotion and amazing action, and with so many characters filling the screen, the task of balancing all of them, giving them sufficient screen time, all while managing to create a coherent and compelling story that was 10 years in the making, is indeed a tall order. And boy did they deliver. The first two Avengers films were amazing films, as are so many of the other individual films for every character, but there was something special about this one. What was most compelling was the way this truly centered on the villain- Thanos- as he is hell bent on erasing half of the universe, and like most villains feels he is totally justified.  You feel every moment and are on the edge of your seat, and the film flies by until it reaches the climatic battle which was one of the most, again, compelling spectacles to ever grace the screen- and for one very significant reason. It wasn’t just about the amazing effects and cool imagery. It was because it felt human. And when Thanos wins with a snap of his fingers of that coveted Infinity Gauntlet, we felt the depth of this “victory” down to own very souls.

4. Mary Poppins Returnsmp retirns

Magical, colorful, a feast for the eyes and ears, and a wonder for the heart and soul, Mary Poppins Returns accomplishes something that seemed impossible. It created a new and wondrous version of the practically perfect nanny and her adventurous and wise ways, infused with heart, poignancy and above all, magic. And I will be perfectly honest- when I first heard about the film I was adamantly against attempting to recreate the perfection that is the 1964 classic. But as time moved on and I saw who was involved, from the top notch casting of Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, to director Rob Marshall who has proven to immensely talented at bringing musicals to life with vitality with Chicago and Into the Woods, and lastly to composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman whose songs for the TV series Smash play on repeat in my home on a regular basis, I went from opposition to cautious optimism, to out right hope and excitement. And that shift in feelings was more than warranted. It may not reach the levels as the original in story and song, but more than succeeds in bringing warmth and heart into characters new and old as well as simply being stunning in its visuals and orchestration.

Emily Blunt more than makes the character her own with wit and cheekiness and the oh so important subtle emotion when dealing with Michael Banks and his children who have lost their mother and may lose their home. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the perfect blend of charming and sweet, much like Bert was with an added depth and connection to Jane Banks that was both unexpected and lovely. Ben Whishaw feels so much like his late father (portrayed originally by David Tomlinson) that it’s uncanny, while Emily Mortimer was a lovely blend of tried and true giggly effervescent Jane and social activist that would make her Suffragette mother proud. The greatest songs are without a doubt, the lovely and soft “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” the rousing  “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and above all “Nowhere to Go But Up” which literally soars and is the film’s, most timeless tune. The cameos by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Landsbury will make your heart happy, the music smile and the story cry. Mary Poppins Returns is magical in every way and shows us that things are never truly lost because they will always remain in our hearts.

3. Sun Dogssundogsjennifermorrison

Some of the finest films are simple stories, well told. Sun Dogs is a beautifully crafted film with moving performances, immaculate direction, and affecting themes in a story that is poignant, humorous and touching all at once. A lovely marriage of story and artistry, this film that takes place in a post 9-11 world, where the earnest Ned Chipley, who has dealt with a mental deficiency since birth, wants more than anything to join the Marines, help keep the country safe, and above all save lives. And when he thinks he stumbles onto a possible terrorist threat, he and a young girl named Tally go on a journey of self discovery, that is often mirrored in that of his parents and indeed the audience. Fine performances by Michael Angarano, Melissa Benoist, Ed O’Neil and Allison Janney, you feel deeply for all of these characters, and will simultaneously laugh and cry. Sensitive issues it may be, but they are handled with tender care and respect. You feel and sympathize with Ned, but you don’t pity him. His earnestness is so heartfelt even when everything is not what it seems. And above all the themes combined with these characters draw you into the story in a way that is truly gripping.

The full length feature directorial debut of Jennifer Morrison (whose talent is superb and surely has a fine directing career ahead of her), the direction of the film is sublime in its subtlety and specificity, visually interesting and reflective of the film’s main themes. (In fact, look out for a more in depth film study on this one soon.) As Morrison said, “Sun Dogs shines a light on the idea that every person has a purpose in life. I believe that we are all misfits in one way or another. We feel misunderstood. We fail. We struggle. We hope. It’s what makes us unique in our search for meaning.” And therein lies the true heart of the film. Through Ned, and indeed all of the characters, we see and can relate to feeling lost or needing someone to believe in us, hold our hand and be there in sincere understanding or compassion. Moreover, the phrase, “Hello, how are you today?” takes on new meaning as we learn that even the simplest of gesture can save someone’s life in more ways than one. We all are searching for that meaning in life and our purpose and in Sun Dogs that is expressed in a truly beautiful and meaningful way.

2. Christopher Robinchristopher robin

Can a film have heartbeat? Does a film have the ability to simply and effortlessly tap into childhood nostalgia and the remembrance of life’s true wonders and beauties in a way that reaches your very soul? In the case of Christopher Robin, the answer is unequivocally a resounding YES!! The Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne, 1977 Disney film, and other incarnations of the classic characters have always held a special place in my heart, but this latest film perhaps made me feel more than all the others combined, as we once again ask, is it possible to say an audible “Awww” throughout an entire movie? The heart of Christopher Robin lies within its ability to tap into feelings beyond comparison, with visuals that are so realistic you actually believe that Pooh and his friends truly are real and have returned to Christopher’s life when he needed them the most, with fine performances by Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell as well as the immaculate voice work and artistry  of every single person who brought Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and the rest of the 100 Acre Wood to life.

Visually and thematically, Christopher Robin is brilliant and beautiful in its simplicity, subtlety and unabashed sweetness. With muted colors that reflect the time period, and a subtle use of vibrancy seen in Pooh and his friends and single red balloon, as well as a gentle direction and similar themes to director Marc Forster’s equally stunning Finding Neverland, this film can makes us smile and cry and touch our hearts with its poignant wisdom about life, friendship and family. We all must grow up and mature, but we need not lose that ability to find joy in life’s simplest treasures and never lose our child like wonder. We may be lost but we can always be found when we open our hearts to tthat wonder and joy, found as easily as a bright red balloon in a vast sea of gray. And that is something truly special.

1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society guernsey

Acclaimed author Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic,” and is that ever the case. And although King’s works and Guernsey couldn’t be more different, his assessment is attune to what the book and this subsequent original Netflix film expresses. But Guernsey indeed takes this even steps further in an exquisitely delicate and moving depiction of a group of people who come together under the darkest of circumstances in the shadow of the Nazi occupation of World War II, showcasing the ways they manage to find joy and comfort despite everything. Make no mistake, the fear and loss this society formed out of self preservation experiences is profound, but when a young author connects with this group of individuals young and old, they all find something they truly needed: a collective family who understand the importance and resplendent joy of the written word, and truly human connections.

Guernsey is the type of period movie, so exquisitely filmed that your eyes are in a constant state of awe from the London golden parties to its cobblestone streets. And most especially, you will wish you could transport to every single beautiful local in this seaside British town. Indeed, from the cinematography, to the costumes, to the score, Guernsey is a wondrous delight, while the performances and story, much like Christopher Robin, have the ability to awaken and move the soul in a profound way. For we see how books can bring people together- reach across time and space and not only make us feel, but help us feel connected to others. Isn’t that what the finest books, or films, or music, or art can accomplish- create an unique kind of radiant magic that can help create unbreakable bonds of love, family and friendship. In a world filed with darkness, this is a glowing beacon of light and hope. The Guernsey Society may have created a group to save their lives in the literal sense, but the way it truly saved them can never truly be measured. And that is why this film sits at the top of this year’s finest.

Honorable Mentions: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, When We First Met
Yet to See: Ralph Breaks the Internet, The Incredibles 2

Stand Out Performers:
Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place & Mary Poppins Returns)
Michael Angarano (Sun Dogs)
Awkafina (Crazy Rich Asians)
Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War)
Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)
Lily James (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)
Colin O’Donoghue (What Still Remains)
Ben Whishaw (Mary Poppins Returns)

Outstanding Directors:
Jennifer Morrison (Sun Dogs)
John Krasinski (A Quiet Place)
Marc Forster (Christopher Robin)
Rob Marshall (Mary Poppins Returns)
Mike Newell (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)