Film Review: Cruella (2021)

Also known as: Cruella de Vil (working title)
Release Date: May 18th, 2021 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Written by: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, Steve Zissis
Based on: The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong, John McCrea

Gunn Films, Marc Platt Productions, Walt Disney Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“They say there are five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We’ll I’d like to add one more… revenge.” – Cruella de Vil

Cruella is two movies trying to be one movie. Hell, maybe it’s even three movies.

That being said, I do like the film in spite of my better judgment but I’ll explain why while also pointing out the myriad of things wrong with it.

To start, this is just another soulless attempt at Disney trying to cash-in on an old, beloved franchise by making a live action adaptation of some part of it. In the case of this film, it’s a “prequel” of sorts to the 101 Dalmatians franchise. Like some other live action adaptations Disney has done, as of late, this tries to tell the origin story of one of the studio’s most famous villains. But really, this just shows how Disney is out of ideas and how it really keeps trying to inject identity politics into everything it touches now.

Additionally, this is basically trying to capitalize off of the success of 2019’s Joker by taking it’s general concept, switching genders, switching franchises, not going for an R rating and trying to pass it off as something fresh, cool and unique. Let’s also ignore that Warner Bros., who put out Joker, have also put out three movies with his psycho, villain, girlfriend Harley Quinn.

Also, this shows modern Disney’s problem with morality. In almost everything the studio puts out now, it gives audiences situations where it’s obvious that their writers don’t understand the basic concept of good versus evil. I’ve seen this in all the Disney+ Marvel shows and they also did it twice with Maleficent in her two live-action movies that try to justify her villainous behavior and make her the tragic victim.

Cruella is a mess and to be honest, I don’t know where to start with it and I’m not going to cover all of its problems other than to say that the biggest problem of all is that Disney very clearly wanted this to be a “girl power” movie and wanted it to work no matter what, so they forced it into existence without much thought in regards to story, character development, logic and again, morality.

So looking at the story, this movie just does things because it needs the story to work with the studio’s agenda remaining intact. It insults the intelligence of viewers with intelligence and hopes that they don’t start asking questions as the film tries to rush from point-to-point.

Like why does Estella/Cruella essentially have a dual personality? Why did the villain lady agree to see Estella’s mother during an opulent ball the poor mother had no business at? How did Estella get to the fountain in London on her own? Why is Estella as Cruella suddenly a complete bitch to her best friends? Why do the friends stick around? Why does villain lady not recognize Cruella’s posse when they’re front and center at every fucking public troll? Why did Cruella never actually hate the Dalmatians and basically adopts them? Why was her necklace a key to a box that revealed her secret identity that a stranger had and why was the adoptive mother given the secret key necklace when she knew the truth, anyway? There’s a lot more but I’ll leave it at that.

A lot of those questions tie directly to the problem with character development. But honestly, it’s like this movie completely ignores who Cruella de Vil was in the original animated films and even those Glenn Close live-action movies. Cruella is 100 percent evil. She’s a woman that wants to kidnap puppies, kill them and make clothes out of them.

In this movie, we just have a chick with a temper that discovers that the boss she idolizes is the same woman that had her dogs push her mother off of a cliff. Cruella never hates the dogs, though. She kidnaps them to upset her rival and she jokes about making a handbag out of them but by the end of the film, they’re part of her entourage like her own non-Dalmatian mutt.

Now I can suspend disbelief in Estella/Cruella having a dual personality without much explanation but Estella is a pretty kind person that loves her friends, who are essentially her adoptive family. So with that, it’s hard to believe that she would suddenly be a cold bitch to them and just treat them like low level henchmen. Additionally, why the fuck would these two guys, who grew up with her, take her shit? I’d ask if they’re that cucked but I know the answer is “yes” when this is a modern Disney movie.

Moving on to the logic problem, I’ve already kind of hit on that point with the other issues but it is a problem for this film when a viewer isn’t the type of person to just take what’s being spoon-fed to them from sequence-to-sequence. This movie moves at a pace too quick for the casual viewer to really think too deeply about the details and that’s deliberate. It’s similar to how the Disney Star Wars movies are, in that they just quickly move from one thing to the next thing without allowing you to take in the details and ask questions. Again, Disney just needs the story to work to make their point, even if it’s not logical and a bit of a mess.

As far as morality goes, this wants you to cheer this woman, who is doing bad things because the story’s villain is worse. But what you really have is two villains. Still, Disney doesn’t fully commit to the bit because in 2021, you can’t have this woman killing puppies or even implying as such, other than her throwaway joke that immediately draws the ire of her two best friends.

What we end up with is a character that shows the audience that it’s okay to be a vengeful, selfish bitch, as long as you don’t go completely bad. What completely bad is, I don’t know, but neither does Disney. And at the end of the film, you’re left with a character that still really isn’t Cruella de Vil, she’s just some stylish punk rock chick that destroyed her rival and took her empire because the story needed to end, I guess.

Now after all that, if you’re still here, you’re probably assuming that I hate this movie. Well, I don’t. I still liked it in spite of all its problems, which shows me that this could have been a great film on its own, apart from being tied to the 101 Dalmatians franchise and carrying Disney’s woke message.

Had this not been forcibly tied to the Cruella character and just been a movie about a woman who discovers her idol murdered her mother, we could’ve had a really good movie about two feuding fashion industry rivals.

Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are absolutely superb in this and without them, this movie probably would’ve been total shit. But damn are they good, especially in the scenes they’re in together. Additionally, all the other key actors are great and it kind of makes me sad that they didn’t have a script or story that could’ve maximized their talents even better.

I also loved the style of this movie. It primarily takes place in 1970s London, has a punk rock edge to it, but it also takes from 1920s-1940s fashion and architecture, mixes that in, giving the film an unique, somewhat otherworldly, but “lived in” feel. It’s a visual feast and I got lost trying to absorb the details of it all.

In the end, I wish this was just it’s own movie, not tied to a preexisting franchise. I wish it tried to make more logical sense and developed its characters better. It had all these things working for it but Disney’s soulless overproduction of everything it puts out derailed what could’ve been the best film they’ve produced in years.

At this point, though, Disney doesn’t care about quality. They only care about their agenda and the bottom line. But we’re now getting to the point where their agenda will start diminishing that bottom line, regardless of what the Disney owned media wants you to believe with their puff pieces and excuses.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Green Lantern (2011)

Release Date: June 14th, 2011 (New Zealand)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Temuera Morrison, Geoffrey Rush (voice), Michael Clarke Duncan (voice), Taika Waititi, Clancy Brown (voice)

DC Entertainment, De Line Pictures, Warner Bros., 114 Minutes, 123 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“You’re impertinent, Hal Jordan. You’re rash, volatile, opinionated – It seems Abin Sur found another just like himself.” – Sinestro

Man, I had high hopes for this film when it was coming out. Although, I thought Ryan Reynolds was a poor choice, despite liking him in general. He’s just not the Hal Jordan type and luckily he found his superhero calling once he started making Deadpool movies. I’m ignoring his first outing as Deadpool in that Wolverine movie though, as that was atrocious beyond atrociousness.

Anyway, this film was a supreme dud. It could’ve been great, especially coming off of the heels of how great the Geoff Johns run was in the Green Lantern comics just before this movie. Also, this had an incredible cast apart from the Reynolds misfire.

I think my hopes were also high due to how well the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies were in those first few years. But I guess the filmmakers behind this didn’t learn the lessons from the bad comic book adaptations, as they took the villain Parallax and essentially made him a giant fucking cloud like Galactus in the laughably awful Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

For positives, I liked what they were doing with Hector Hammond and I also liked the world building they did with the Green Lantern Corps. I also liked most of the people in the film but they should’ve used Sinestro more, especially with Mark Strong in the role. They also sort of wasted Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett without giving them more and better material to work with.

The special effects were pretty terrible. There are some good effects moments but the film looks overly cartoon-y and the Oa scenes felt more like a Pixar movie than anything I could try and attach to any sort of reality.

Also, giving the Green Lanterns fully CGI costumes was a bad idea.

I guess the biggest disappointment out of this was that it was directed by Martin Campbell, who did two of my favorite James Bond movies: GoldenEye and Casino Royale.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other crappy superhero movies of the ’00s and ’10s.

Film Review: Shazam! (2019)

Also known as: Billy Batson and the Legend of Shazam! (script title), Franklin (working title)
Release Date: March 25th, 2019 (Pathé Unlimited Night – Netherlands)
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Written by: Henry Gayden, Darren Lemke
Based on: Captain Marvel by Bill Parker, C. C. Beck
Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, John Glover

DC Entertainment, DC Comics, Warner Bros., 132 Minutes

Review:

“[to Doctor Thaddeus Sivana] You’re like a bad guy, right?” – Shazam

I watched this back-to-back with the Birds of Prey movie that has a really long, dumb title. As much as that one rubbed me the wrong way, this one let me go to bed that night with a smile on my face. Reason being, unlike Birds of PreyShazam! is a movie that did just about everything right.

To start, I was impressed with Zachary Levi in the title role. He wasn’t just an adult acting like a kid, he really lived the part and was convincing, especially in regards to his enthusiasm, body language and facial expressions.

I also really enjoyed Mark Strong as the villainous Doctor Sivana. While he’s already been Sinestro and played big parts in other comic book movies, I thought that this was his best role yet in the genre.

Speaking of his character, the opening scene was a nice swerve where you expected it to be the origin of Captain Marvel… or Shazam as they are calling him now, in an effort to avoid confusion with Marvel’s Captain Marvel. But the opening origin was actually that of the villain, Doctor Sivana. We see him as a young kid almost acquire the Shazam power but he fails the test due to craving the dark magic that seven demons tried to influence him in taking.

Over the years, Sivana dedicated his life to finding a way back to that mystical place with the dark magic and he does achieve his goal.

To counteract that, the good wizard Shazam seeks out the right candidate to take his power in an effort to save the world from Sivana. He finds the young Billy Batson and this movie then turns into a heck of an entertaining adventure.

While origin movies have been done to death and origins can seem to make a first chapter in a superhero franchise feel somewhat stagnant and derivative, this origin story for both the hero and the villain is just so good and it feels fresh.

Ultimately, this was a great way to introduce this character to a new audience in a new medium and it really set the stage for some hopefully solid sequels. With Dwayne Johnson coming aboard as Black Adam in the second film, I’m really stoked to see the magic he and Zachary Levi can create together onscreen.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the better DC Comics pictures of the last few years.

Film Review: John Carter (2012)

Also known as: John Carter of Mars, A Princess of Mars, Barsoom (working titles)
Release Date: February 22nd, 2012 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon
Based on: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Willem Dafoe, Don Stark, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Haden Church, David Schwimmer, Jon Favreau

Walt Disney Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Did I not tell you he could jump!” – Tars Tarkas

I got to be honest, I didn’t think I’d get much out of this film but I was pleasantly surprised.

I never planned to watch it but I recently started reading Dynamite Entertainment’s comic book adaptations of the Barsoom stuff (titled Warlord of Mars) and I wanted to see how similar the comic book version of A Princess of Mars was to this film, a live action version of the same story.

They were pretty close, for the most part. Having never read the novel though, I’m not sure which is closer to the source material. I’d assume the comic though, as Disney loves to put their own stamp on their adaptations.

This is an action packed, epic adventure story. It’s grand in scale, is a hell of a lot of fun and is basically a swashbuckling romp on Mars. It’s like if you merged Disney’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean movies together and then threw them into outer space.

This was also one of the most expensive movies ever made but completely flopped at the box office and has become one of Disney’s biggest failures. The sad thing is that it wasn’t shit and the film did a fantastic job of world building: setting up future sequels. Honestly, having seen this now, I wish it would have evolved into a franchise.

I thought that Taylor Kitsch was convincing as John Carter and his chemistry with Lynn Collins’ Dejah Thoris was pretty good. But I actually preferred his relationship with his badass Martian dog, Woola. I smiled every time this cosmic canine was on the screen.

Plus, the Michael Giacchino score is superb. I loved the themes in this picture.

My only real complaint about the movie is that I didn’t like some of the character design. I’m not sure how true to the books the look of the Martians was but I preferred the bulkier, heavyset versions in the comics, as opposed to these skinny ones in the film. Still, the actors that played the Martians (primarily Willem Dafoe) did a solid job.

Additionally, the CGI was questionable in the quality of the characters. The special effects work great for the ships, vehicles, landscapes and architecture but the living, breathing characters felt artificial. And that’s kind of baffling considering the immense budget of this top tier motion picture.

None of the flaws are enough to distract you though. The total package is good and I enjoyed it enough to not want to nitpick the shit out of certain things that don’t wreck the film.

I hope that this being a massive flop won’t deter future filmmakers from taking on the Barsoom material. John Carter is a worthy enough character to live on in various forms forever. I just hope that someone can eventually make something that the people want to see because the Barsoom mythos is rich and deserving of further adaptations.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as the first two Brendan Fraser Mummy films and Aquaman.

Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Release Date: September 18th, 2017 (London premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Based on: The Secret Service by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons
Music by: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson
Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Emily Watson, Sophie Cookson, Michael Gambon, Poppy Delevingne

Marv Films, Cloudy Productions, Shangri-La Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 141 Minutes

Review:

“Kingsman is crumpets!” – Poppy

I didn’t see the first Kingsman film until a few months ago. In fact, it was the trailer for this film that made me watch the original, which I had heard good things about but never got around to seeing. I wanted to see this one in the theater, so I made it a point to see the first. I loved the first.

This chapter in the series, which I hope will continue and not just end at two like Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass films, was a great follow-up to the first. It takes the established mythos, builds off of it and gets a bit crazier.

The film starts with the destruction of the Kingsman organization. Everyone is killed except for Eggsy and Merlin. Harry is still alive, as well, but the heroes still think he is dead after the events of the first film. It was kind of shitty seeing Roxy getting killed off early in the film because I was hoping to see more of her after the first picture.

The story then brings the Kingsman to the United States, Kentucky to be exact. They soon meet their American counterpart, the Statesman. The two groups form an alliance and discover the sinister plot that has been set in motion by Poppy, a crazy drug dealer with a nostalgic affinity for the 1950s. Julianne Moore is pretty friggin’ amazing in this role and it may be my favorite thing she has ever done.

The Golden Circle also features Elton John in much more than just a cameo role. He is in the film quite a bit, kicks some ass and delivers some great comedic lines.

Also joining the cast are the head of the Statesman, the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges. We also get Channing Tatum as Tequila, a Statesman agent that doesn’t have enough screen time, and Halle Berry as the Statesman’s equivalent to Merlin. Pedro Pascal is the Statesman that really steals the show, however.

Overall, this film is pretty much equal to the original. They are good companion pieces to each other and there is a real consistency in the quality, style and fun.

I feel that this chapter was more insane, even though the first was pretty ridiculous in all the right ways. You have a scene where the evil Poppy has a new henchman stuff an old henchman into a meat grinder and then she serves him a burger made out of the meat. It’s a moment that made me think, “As cool as this movie is and as much as I think she’d enjoy it, I won’t be bringing my mum to this.”

Even though these films have large ensemble casts with really talented stars, it is Taron Egerton that is the true star and is the glue of these movies. He doesn’t get the props he deserves but I hope doors open up for this kid because he’s incredibly talented and can carry a motion picture, outshining many of the stars around him. He has a presence and you have to take him seriously.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a lot of fun. It is exactly what I hoped for in a Kingsman sequel and I hope it is a sign that the series will maintain its quality, assuming it continues on. I really hope it does.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Release Date: December 13th, 2014 (Butt-Numb-A-Thon)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Based on: The Secret Service by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons
Music by: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson
Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sofia Boutella, Sophie Cookson, Mark Hamill

Marv Films, Cloudy Productions, Shangri-La Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 129 Minutes

Review:

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Harry Hart

I missed this when it initially came out in the theater a few years back and then it sort of got lost in the shuffle of time. However, I’ve really heard nothing but great things about it since it came out and I wanted to give it a watch now that its sequel is coming out.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed and in fact, I was really impressed with the film but I guess I can expect great things from Matthew Vaughn after he gave us Layer CakeKick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. Plus, this thing had a solid cast with Colin Firth, Sam Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Mark Hamill, Sofia Boutella and impressive newcomers Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson.

It is impossible to not compare this film to the James Bond series, as it is a gadget-filled British action spy thriller. The main difference, is this is more of a comedy and features a young spy coming into the fold. Kingsman, though, is a much hipper take on the genre.

You see, as James Bond was forced to evolve into a more serious series at the beginning of the Daniel Craig era, the jovial spirit of the franchise has been missing. It is understandable that it had to change, as films like Austin Powers were parodying it to the point of no return and the Pierce Brosnan era (no fault of Brosnan’s) had gotten too hokey and playful for its own good.

Kingsman brings us back to that classic Bond energy without being overly cheesy. It somehow found the perfect balance between serious and playful for the modern era. It is also cooler than the modern Bond movies and a lot more interesting. It fills the giant void that has been gone for a long time and it has kind of cemented itself in there. In fact, the James Bond franchise could learn a lot from this film.

Parts of the movie, however, are a bit insane and very stylized. The thing is, it works to this film’s benefit. Kingsman knows what it is and it really embraces itself, for better or for worse. That being said, its self-confidence permeates with something truly genuine and fantastically bad ass. It has gravitas that the uber serious modern Bond pictures don’t have. And don’t get me wrong, I generally like the Craig Bond films but Kingsman is the true throwback to the classic era of spy thrillers, even if it brings its own refreshing take to the table.

The entire cast is extraordinary and there really isn’t a weak link. Taron Egerton was perfect casting as the main character, Eggsy. Samuel Jackson, Michael Caine and Mark Strong each had a great presence. It was cool seeing Mark Hamill and Sofia Boutella, now most famous as the newest version of the title character in The Mummy.

It is Colin Firth that really takes the cake in the picture, though. This is a great role for him, a man who has played just about everything and won an Oscar in the process. Honestly, as much as I loved him in The King’s Speech, this is now my favorite Firth role.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a wonderful experience, especially for old school James Bond fans that have been yearning for something in that classic style. While this is a very modernized take on the genre, it truly knows its roots and it balances the new with the old pretty seamlessly. Most importantly, the film is exciting and fun.

Rating: 8/10