The new Aladdin is the best part of Disney's new 'Aladdin'

Mena Massoud, the single best reason to watch 'Aladdin'.
Mena Massoud, the single best reason to watch ‘Aladdin’.
Image: Daniel Smith / Disney

It’s a cliché by this point to wonder about the purpose of Disney’s live-action remakes. They make lots of money, they scratch a nostalgic itch, they reintroduce these stories to a new generation — oh, and did I mention they make lots and lots of money

But the question is impossible to ignore when the films themselves seem torn between recreating every magical moment you loved in the original, and trying to forge something genuinely new — and with few exceptions, the remakes rarely seem to measure up. 

There’s more of Aladdin than ever, but on the whole it’s less satisfying. 

Aladdin, alas, is no exception. It sweats and strains to deliver exactly the Aladdin you remember from your childhood, from the classic songs to the soaring carpet ride. Yet it feels most enchanting in the rare moments that it allows itself to relax a bit and lean into the chemistry of its cast.

The sorriest casualty of Aladdin‘s faithfulness is the Genie. He’s played here by Will Smith, who might have been a brilliant pick if the role had been tailored to his own cool-but-playful persona. But Aladdin seems unwilling to let go of Robin Williams’ Genie, and so Smith is stuck singing songs written for someone else’s talents and delivering jokes in someone else’s cadence, in the body of a character designed for a totally different medium. (No, the blue Genie never stops looking freaky.) It’s no wonder he doesn’t wear them well.

The character’s signature numbers, “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” are near-disasters, though that’s not entirely Smith’s fault. Director Guy Ritchie and his team seem to have no idea how to stage and shoot a musical number; instead of establishing a rhythm and letting us focus on the spectacle, they crowd the screen with so much stuff that it all blurs together, and then speed up the dancing to a bizarre unnatural pace.

Yeah, this never stops feeling bad and weird.

Yeah, this never stops feeling bad and weird.

Image: Disney

Then again, the “more stuff” approach fits with the rest of the film. Aladdin paints Agrabah as a city crowded with people and bursting with color, but it’s hard to understand exactly what the characters mean when they describe it as beautiful, since from our viewpoint it just looks like so many CG-rendered building blocks.

Likewise, the remake adds over half an hour of run time to the original’s slim 90 minutes, giving us more action, more supporting characters, more of Genie’s personal life, and more of Jasmine’s perspective, with mixed results. These additions present new opportunities for the film to dig deeper into the story’s themes and update its lessons, but the necessity of hitting all the nostalgic hallmarks means the story can’t actually get very far in exploring any of them. There’s more of Aladdin than ever, but on the whole it’s less satisfying. 

Still, the remake isn’t a total loss, and that is largely thanks to Aladdin himself. Mena Massoud is perfectly cast as Aladdin, and makes as much clear from his first crooked smile. He nails the character’s boyish mischievousness and his fundamental decency, and is so winning any time he’s onscreen that it suddenly becomes much easier to overlook the film’s major flaws.

Especially since Massoud happens to have fantastic chemistry with everyone else in the film. Smith’s most likable scenes are the ones where he and Massoud simply get to play the Genie and Aladdin as buddies who might egg each other on or help each other out; he and Naomi Scott, who plays Jasmine, sell the heck out of their fairy-tale romance. (Though this film’s “A Whole New World” still leaves something to be desired.) He even manages to build a convincing rapport with his CG monkey and CG carpet.

With Massoud, Aladdin hits that sweet spot all these remakes are aiming for: The comfort of the familiar, with the thrill of a new discovery. If only the rest of the film had been up to his level, this could have been a new classic. As it is, we’re left to wonder why we needed to go through this all again.

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Uber Eats may soon offer an unlimited delivery subscription

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Paying for delivery is so passé, and Uber Eats knows it. Like Postmates, DoorDash and the UK’s Deliveroo, which all offer unlimited food delivery subscriptions, Uber is set to offer a monthly $9.99 pass that includes free delivery from any restaurant at any time (although just to be clear, you’ve still got to pay for the food).

The upcoming feature, discovered by reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong and confirmed by Uber to TechCrunch, would do away with the usual Uber Eats service fee. That’s generally 15 percent of an order cost, so users could stand to save a fair whack if they’re ordering Uber Eats on the reg.

And from Uber’s point of view, the Uber Eats Pass is a solid way to retain customers — if you’re already paying for a delivery service with them then you’re less likely to order elsewhere. No further details yet on when the service will roll out, but given Uber’s already-dominant position in people’s lives, the move could see it become the leading contender in the ongoing battle of food delivery apps.

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Gwendoline Christie correctly predicted who would end up on the Iron Throne 2 whole years ago

This article contains spoilers in abundance. If you haven’t watched the Game of Thrones finale yet, look away now. 

It feels good to be right. 

So it must feel pretty wonderful right now to be Gwendoline Christie, who successfully predicted the ending of Game of Thrones a whopping TWO WHOLE YEARS AGO.

But you know who should be feeling very silly right now? Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. 

In an interview with ExtraTV’s Mario Lopez in 2017, the pair were asked who they believed would end up on the Iron Throne. 

“The odds now are in Daenerys Targaryen’s favour,” Coster-Waldau said confidently. WRONG!

“But don’t you think it’s going to be someone out of left-field, don’t you feel that those seem like the obvious choice?” asked Christie. “What we know about the show is that it constantly surprises you, so I’m wondering if it might be Bran.”

“Just because we keep seeing the world from his perspective, don’t we. We keep seeing the visions,” she explained.

“The Three-Eyed Raven as the king, huh. No, no it doesn’t make sense,” Coster-Waldau muttered in disbelief while shaking his head. 

“Why?” asked Christie. 

“Because he’s already planning the future, he’s seeing into the future and the past, so…” 

“Yes,” replied Christie. “But how do you know we’re currently in the present in the story? The story might not necessarily be in chronological order.”

“But if this is real, right, the Three-Eyed Raven then he also made Jaime push him out the window?”

“Yes,” replies Christie. 

Well, it took two years for the truth to come out, but now we know. 

With foresight like that, I wonder if Christie might actually be Bran IRL. 

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What's next for Westeros? 10 questions for King Bran

What are you, Raven King?
What are you, Raven King?
Image: hbo

We called it. That doesn’t mean we buy it. Still, let’s try to make more sense out of it.

The way Tyrion Lannister told it in the Game of Thrones finale, Bran Stark has the best story in all of Westeros — a story that will help the common folk and the nobles unite behind King Bran the Broken. Ironically, and perhaps in part to keep the ending a surprise, Game of Thrones itself became utterly disinterested in telling Bran’s story — relegating him to season 8’s most persistent background character.

By the time the finale rolled around, then, it was hard to remember that Bran was far more than the kid who overcame adversity, learned to fly and became the nation’s institutional memory, to use Tyrion’s participation-trophy language. The reaction to that kid’s elevation to the throne, therefore, was a collective “meh” when it could have been a collective “holy crap, they put an actual time-traveling psychic in charge of six kingdoms! And he knew it was going to happen! Did he somehow make it happen? There’s a lot to unpack here!” 

Whatever else you made of the grand sweeping arcs of Seasons 7 and 8 — personally, I felt the showrunners stuck the (King’s) landing on the compelling tale of a doomed dragon queen and the men who loved her, and grew impatient with entitled calls for a different ending — we can at least agree that Bran was given short shrift. 

As with the U.S. in 2016, we’re really not sure what kind of creature this electoral college just handed power to, or what he’ll do with it next. Could whatever force of fate that put him on the throne still be working to some sinister purpose, perhaps involving Drogon? 

We may never be able to score an actual interview with him, but here are 10 key questions for the new leader of the Six Kingdoms. 

1. What’s it like in your head?

In Seasons 1 through 6, we saw all Bran’s visions. We saw his early dreams, haunted by the Three-Eyed Raven he was to become. We traveled to the past with him, and saw how he could use then to influence now. Through his eyes, we saw the origin of the Night King. We shared the heartbreak of Hodor’s origins and the drama of Jon Snow’s birth. 

But as soon as Bran returned to Winterfell at the start of Season 7, the showrunners made a conscious decision to shut us out of his head. According to the actor Isaac Hempsted-Wright, they were going for a Dr. Manhattan-from-Watchmen vibe for his character: He knows and sees everything now, so that’s going to make him seem distant and unconcerned with human affairs. 

What kind of things was Bran seeing, though? We had only his minimalist, stalker-ish statements to go on. “I saw you at the crossroads,” he told Arya. He unnerved even Littlefinger by quoting a key line from his past: “Chaos is a ladder.” But there were no more attempts to represent the kind of chaos going on inside Bran’s head. None of the Watchmen-style back and forth across time that made readers sympathetic Dr. Manhattan, no Kubrickian vision in trippy colors. The only message was: You wouldn’t understand

No wonder we all settled into a routine of deriding Bran as the creepy college kid who got too deep into drugs. Is that what it’s like, your grace? Are you an acid casualty? For that matter … 

2. Are you immortal? 

Neither the audience — nor, apparently, Tyrion and the rest of his small council — have the first clue about King Three-Eyed Raven. Or as fans of the dark historical fantasy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell might now call him, The Raven King. (That character brought ill-understood magical forces to an alternate-history Britain; if putting Thrones‘ Raven on the throne is the showrunner’s deliberate nod to Susanna Clarke’s best-selling novel, the BBC adaptation of which is available on Netflix, I doff my geek cap to them.) 

One thing we don’t really know about him, but which the George R.R. Martin books suggest: is this Raven immortal? In A Dance With Dragons, Bran learns that the greenseer in the tree north of the Wall with this title is named Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers — a Targaryen bastard and an expert in dark magic who has lived at least 125 years. 

So could Bran live that long? Could his powers help him live forever (presuming he isn’t killed by White Walkers like the last Three-Eyed Raven)? Did the nobles of Westeros accidentally elevate a ruler who will never vacate the throne? Will there never be another election for king? 

That may not be a bad thing in itself. It could hasten the development of Westeros’ nascent democracy, once people get used to the idea, perhaps with the Hand of the King becoming an elected Prime Minister. Bran would offer some serious Queen Elizabeth II-style continuity. 

Then again, he could be a dictator who intends to remain the only person who selects his Hand. That’s why it’s good to find out these things before you elect someone! 

3. Can you warg into dragons?

Warging, in Game of Thrones‘ language, is the ability to jump into the mind of other creatures, discover their location and (sometimes) control their actions. Bran has done it with direwolves and he’s done it with Hodor. Fans have long wanted to know if wargs like Bran could enter the consciousness of a dragon. A throwaway line at the end of the Small Council meeting suggests that he can. If so …

4. What do you want with Drogon?

Dany’s remaining dragon, now orphaned, was last seen flying her corpse out beyond the sea. He may have returned to Dragonstone, the ancient Targaryen home, or to his birthplace in Essos. Presumably, Bran is about to find out.

But what then? Having a dragon at your disposal seems to be the Thrones equivalent of Tolkien’s  Ring — a powerful, highly corrupting influence. Will Bran be content to just keep one eye on Drogon, making sure he remains far from Westeros? Or is there some magical power moving through him that intends to control this dragon and lay waste to more cities? 

Speaking of which …

5. Why didn’t you tell anyone about King’s Landing?

This issue has been raised before: Bran knew exactly where he needed to be in the Battle of Winterfell. He seemed to be proceeding according to a plan. Did so many people need to die in order to fulfill it? Okay, maybe Theon needed to sacrifice himself in order to give Arya time to stick the Valyrian blade in, but what about all those Unsullied and Dothraki? 

The question becomes even more urgent when we consider that Bran probably knew in advance that Dany was going to burn King’s Landing and its civilian population to the ground. He had plenty of opportunity to talk to Jon about it, who would have told Tyrion and Varys. 

Between the three of them, surely they could have reined in the dragon queen’s worst tendencies one last time; not overtly plotted against her as Varys did alone, but certainly made extra sure she knew that the plan involved no firebombing of innocents. Even if fate is sealed 

If you know in advance that a crime is about to be committed but you don’t tell anyone, you are just as guilty under the law. Does Bran have the blood of King’s Landing on his hands? 

6. When did you know you were going to be King?

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So Bran knew he was going to be king before he traveled to King’s Landing for the post-Dany leadership conference. When was the first time he saw it? 

Does his time-travel greenseeing have limits, or was he simultaneously living his future on the throne when he returned from beyond the Wall? That might help explain why he was such an asshole to Meera Reed

7. Do you understand the magic that made you?

Enough of the (relatively) softball questions. Time to get down to the philosophical nitty-gritty. Bran was lured north of the Wall by the Three-Eyed Raven, who haunted his dreams. He was groomed to take over the role, and the Children of the Forest were on board. But why him, and to what end? 

Considering that the Children of the Forest created the Night King in the first place as a way to punish the world of men, should we perhaps be a little concerned that they were mixed up in your creation? Not for nothing did the “Bran is the Night King” theory refuse to die.

8. Do you have free will?

I’ve always wanted to ask this unanswerable late-night-dorm-room question in an interview setting. King Bran would be the only interviewee for whom it would truly make sense. If there is some sinister Children of the Forest plan at work here, then of course Bran’s going to claim he has free will, or give one of his usual zen-like noncommittal answers. Still, let’s get him on the record. 

9. Is there another reason you chose Tyrion? 

Bran’s very first act as king was to ensure that Tyrion Lannister served as his Hand. “He’s made many mistakes,” said King Raven. “He’s going to spend the rest of his life fixing them.” That seemed nicely fitting, and apparently it got Tyrion off the hook as far as Gray Worm was concerned. 

But this seems pretty damn decisive for a kid who claims he never wanted to be king. Are there other, unspoken reasons? Tyrion happens to be a man with a passion for dragons. He’s one of the few people in King’s Landing who’s seen one up close, and one of the few in the world who has ever petted one. He also has a track record of blindly following Dany, oblivious to the oncoming storm. 

If you did have some sinister design that involved Drogon, Tyrion is exactly whom you would want at your side. 

10. What’s your tax policy?

Martin wrote the Song of Ice and Fire series in part as a political reaction to Lord of the Rings. What he said in a Rolling Stone interview explains why, and is worth quoting at length.

Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine?

None of these questions were answered by the show, either — although it is to the showrunners’ credit that we leave Bran’s Small Council arguing about the kind of piddling issues they’ll confront going forward. In this case, whether the rebuilding of the Westerosi navy should be funded before the rebuilding of the brothels. That’s certainly in the spirit of what Martin meant.

But let’s have more specifics going forward, and let’s not pretend that Tyrion will have all the answers or will never be overruled. Where does King Bran stand on taxation? If the people are going to be taxed, shouldn’t they get something out of it beyond the feudal protection of their liege lords? If the lords of Westeros are going to be taxed, should it be at a greater rate than the people, considering they’re the one-percenters with all the cash? How will he enforce the system while avoiding corruption? What’s his trade policy with the newly independent North? 

If Bran actually has the answers, and if whatever system he sets in place works for Westeros, then seven hells — maybe we should think about running him as a presidential candidate in 2020. 

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'Game of Thrones' finale defended by 'Seinfeld' star Jason Alexander

“I know a little something about finales and disappointed fans.”
Image: Helen sloane / hbo / nBC

Game of Thrones is done and dusted, wrapping up its polarising eighth and final season with an equally debated finale.

While many have criticised the final episode of the beloved HBO series, there are some who have jumped to defend it.

And if anyone knows a thing or two about polarising TV series finales, it’s the Seinfeld cast.

Star of the legendary sitcom Jason Alexander, better known as your ol’ pal George “Can’t-Stand-Ya” Constanza, has offered up kind words for the Game of Thrones crew on Twitter.

“I know a little something about finales and disappointed fans,” he wrote on Tuesday.

“My advice: live in joy that you are part of something that moves people so. You were all magnificent. My family and I loved it all. Thanks.”

Alexander was quick to clarify his support for the Seinfeld finale, which is still being criticised to this day, even by the likes of Stephen Colbert as “disappointing.”

Even Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus joked on the finale of The Late Show with David Letterman, “Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale.” Jerry Seinfeld rather enjoyed this.

“To be clear, I adored the Seinfeld finale,” wrote Alexander. “I just keep getting crap about it from fans.”

So, did you enjoy the Game of Thrones finale? You didn’t? As Seinfeld creator Larry David said of the crap people dished on his show’s finale, “They’ve already written it, and often they’re disappointed, because it’s not what they wrote.”

One thing’s for sure, signing some petition isn’t the answer.

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