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: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Also known as: Black Klansman (working title)
Release Date: May 14th, 2018 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
Based on: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Nicholas Turturro, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Paul Walter Hauser

Blumhouse Productions, Monkeypaw Productions, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, QC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, Focus Features, 135 Minutes

Review:

“Darn tootin'” – David Duke

For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. I have to get that out of the way because it’s probably going to sound like I’m overly critical of it, as I continue on in this review.

First and foremost, it was a solid, interesting story with actors that I thought handled the material well. In regards to Adam Driver, this was the first thing that I have seen him in where he wasn’t Kylo Ren or that stupid Logan Lucky movie that made me want to burn the theater down. I really got to see his legit acting chops on full display and I was impressed. He lived up to what other people have told me about him. Well, mostly girls that wanted me to watch Girls. No thanks.

One major thing about this film is that it is based on a true story, the biographical account of these events by the real Ron Stallworth, the main character in the film. The problem, which happens with many Spike Lee movies, is that the director takes some tremendous liberties and sort of uses the real story as a basis to weave his films the way he sees fit, whether honest, accurate or not.

One major moment in this film is the big jab at the end where Stallworth calls David Duke to reveal that he was a black man the entire time. This never happened and Duke wasn’t ever privy to Stallworth being black until it was revealed to him in an interview in 2006.

Another issue I have with the film is that it works perfectly as its own tale but once you get to the end, it immediately switches to real world footage of the 2017 Charlottesville incident. I understand the parallels, everyone does, this film does a great job of painting the picture that Spike Lee needs to get his message across but the switch to modern real world footage is jarring. I know that it is supposed to be jarring but it isn’t jarring because of the incident itself, which is still very fresh in the public’s mind, but because it cheapens the film from an artistic standpoint. It’s heavy handed and forcibly shoehorned into the film in a way that cheapens the effect of Spike’s own picture, basically saying, “Hey, if you don’t get the message after this 135 minute beautiful film I did, than here’s a hammer to the face just to make sure you got it.” Spike Lee is talented enough to make films that speak for themselves and can lead his audience where he needs to without the hammer to the face. And this also looks like he has a lack of confidence in his own storytelling abilities; he shouldn’t. This worked without the exclamation point.

Additionally, this movie was released almost on the one year anniversary of the incident, which means it was already being made and Lee decided to tie it into Charlottesville after the fact or that it was made as a response to it and rushed out, which gets into some of the technical problems the film had.

Most of the film flowed well but there are some key points where I noticed clunky editing and transitions as well as bad audio management. Sometimes it felt as if something got cut from the film, it jumped to the scene after and the transitions were already done so they didn’t really bother to smooth out and polish the later cuts from the film.

Another thing that bothered me was Lee’s apparent lack of environmental awareness. I’ll give two examples.

One, when Stallworth is following the Klansman on a dark country road at night, the Klansman is able to see that a black man is behind him. I’ve driven on dark country roads. You can’t see the face of the person behind you, all you can see is their headlights. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t made into a somewhat important plot point that had an effect on three different scenes.

Two, when Stallworth is watching the Klan meeting towards the end of the movie, he’s watching from a second story window overlooking the meeting room. He is in direct view of David Duke, who is on the stage giving a speech. Every time they show the back wall with the windows you can see the silhouette of Stallworth’s head with it’s large afro. There’s no way that Duke wouldn’t see this while pontificating out to the crowd and while probably paying attention to his surroundings, as he has had threats and is under police protection.

I’m not sure if Spike Lee just doesn’t care about these details, as just telling the story is most important, or if he just didn’t think these scenes through. Again, maybe the film was rushed to try and get it out on the anniversary of Charlottesville.

Another thing that I disliked and it isn’t just in this film, it’s in a lot of films, is that it portrays the vast majority of KKK members (and general bigots) as buffoons. I’m certainly not defending those scumbags but I think in doing that, it dumbs them down in a situation where you need to show how much of a threat they actually are to all people and society as a whole. Are many of them dumb rednecks? Most likely, but playing some of them up for comedic value just makes them bumbling idiots and doesn’t really display them as beacons of pure evil. Granted, I thought Topher Grace did a good job in the role of David Duke and the local president of the KKK also played the role straight but they were the only two.

However, why the hell did Spike Lee cast Nicholas Turturro as a KKK member? Turturro is Italian as fuck and I am also part Italian and I’m pretty sure the Klan didn’t like us either. I guess Spike always needs a Turturro in a movie but this wasn’t the right spot for him and he stuck out like a sore thumb talking and jiving like a Little Italy gelato shop owner.

But enough griping.

I really enjoyed John David Washington as the star of this film. He hasn’t done much but he proved that he is an actor more deserving of bigger roles. Also, Laura Harrier was fantastic and the only other thing I’ve seen her in is Spider-Man: Homecoming. This role was a big jump for her but she knocked it out of the park and hopefully, gets more prominent roles after this film. I also might be crushing hard on her after this.

Back to Adam Driver, he was the focal point of the most challenging scenes in the film and he really steals the picture when he’s present. A lot of the material had to have been difficult but he nails it and carries the bulk of the film on his back.

Spike Lee crafted a pretty good movie, the running time was a bit long but he tends to do that. Initially, it wasn’t as preachy as I thought it would be. Well, at least until the blunt instrument to the face in the last few minutes, but the film made its point very well without him needing to spell it out in all caps like an angry twelve year-old girl tweeting about a breakup.

But, in the end, this was refreshing in a summer full of blockbuster duds.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Spike Lee movies: Do the Right ThingMalcolm X and Bamboozled.

TV Review: Cobra Kai (2018- )

Original Run: April, 2018 (Tribeca Film Festival) – current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: characters created by Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Leo Birenberg, Zach Robinson
Cast: William Zabka, Ralph Macchio, Mary Mouser, Courtney Henggeler, Xolo Mariduena, Tanner Buchanan, Jacob Bertrand, Randee Heller, Peyton List, Martin Kove, Elisabeth Shue, Ed Asner, Paul Walter Hauser

Hurwitz & Schlossberg Productions, Overbrook Entertainment, Sony Pictures Television, YouTube Red, 10 Episodes (so far), 30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I went to the theatrical premiere of this streaming television series. The premiere consisted of just the first two episodes, so that is all I have to go on for this review. I’ll probably update this and adjust the rating after I’ve seen the completion of the first season.

For those that don’t know, this series takes place now, in 2018. It follows Johnny Lawrence, the main bad guy from the original Karate Kid movie. He’s having a hard time in his fifties and really has nothing going right in his life. He runs into Daniel Larusso a.k.a. Daniel-san and the encounter inspires Johnny to reform the Cobra Kai, because he yearns for his glory days in a typical “peaked in high school” sort of way.

What makes this really damn cool and the only reason why this should have been made, is that it brings back both William Zabka and Ralph Macchio as Johnny and Daniel. And man, it was really cool seeing them on the screen together, once again.

I love the tone of this series. It is true to the tone of the original movies but is very different in that it is about those teenagers, thirty-four years later, as adults with adult problems and an event that changed both of them permanently, giving them different trajectories through life.

The show sort of does a bit of role reversal, as Johnny is teaching the young weak teen that is constantly bullied. In fact, Johnny kicks the crap out of the bullies in the same way Miyagi did in the original film where Johnny was one of those original bullies. But Johnny’s methods and agenda are very different than Miyagi’s. At least he’s not a psycho like John Kreese, the original Cobra Kai leader.

I really dig how this show examines these characters and their lives. Daniel has basically become the rich family dad living in the Hills, which is in stark contrast to where he was as a poor teenager trying to hook up with the rich girl. Johnny has gone from the top stud in high school to utter poverty.

This show works and it works well. I had some high expectations for this after I saw the first trailer but those expectations have been surpassed, at least with this small sample size. We’ll see how it goes as the show marches on.

For now, I’m definitely a fan of Cobra Kai and it may just make me subscribe to YouTube Red, at least just to watch this until the season one finale.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The original Karate Kid trilogy of movies, obviously.

Film Review: I, Tonya (2017)

Release Date: September 8th, 2017 (TIFF)
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Written by: Steven Rogers
Music by: Peter Nashel
Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Mckenna Grace, Paul Walter Hauser

LuckyChap Entertainment, Clubhouse Pictures, AI Film, Neon, 119 Minutes

Review:

“I mean, come on! What kind of friggin’ person bashes in their friend’s knee? Who would do that to a friend?” – Tonya Harding

I thought that the trailer for I, Tonya was really good and I wanted to see the film. The main thing I wondered about though, was how they were going to actually portray the events in the movie. Part of me felt like the film could have the effect of making Tonya Harding some sort of misunderstood cult hero or the victim. While the film does humanize her, as it should, and it also shows the abuse she dealt with throughout her life, I feel like it was pretty fair to the story, as no one other than Tonya and those around her, knew what actually happened in regards to the assault on Nancy Kerrigan.

I like the point of view that the film took, in that it was based off of the interviews and testimonials given by Harding, Jeff Gillooly and LaVona Golden. The film’s plot would often show events from the three main characters different interpretations. Tonya would tell her story, then her mom or Jeff would cut in to correct it or defend themselves. I liked the way the plot was structured and the quick cuts worked really well for that quick shifting narrative.

However, that worked to the picture’s detriment too. At least, at one point in the story.

You see, the film worked really well as just a straight up biopic for the first two-thirds or so. I was pretty engaged in the story and Tonya’s life before the Kerrigan incident. In fact, when it shifted to the incident, it pulled me away from a film I was enjoying to where I suddenly found myself knee deep in something else. I thought the film just threw itself into the incident without a better build up, as the vibe immediately felt different and it hit you out of nowhere but I guess that’s how it went down, as far as we know. It was like watching a really good story about a girl who wants to be an Olympic figure skater, overcoming all the odds, as the decks are stacked against her and then like a punch to the gut, you are reminded as to why this is a story in the first place. It just takes you out of your element.

Still, overall, the plot was well structured and the narrative curveball doesn’t do much to derail the film. It just felt like a major hiccup and then it was gone.

The performances in this movie are all fantastic. Allison Janney steals every scene that she is in and her Oscar nomination is well deserved. Margot Robbie was spectacular as Tonya and Sebastian Stan, who I am mostly familiar with as being the Winter Soldier, was the real surprise of the bunch, as he plays a character so far outside of what I’ve see from him. It’s like he went from a badass like John Wick to Kip from Napolean Dynamite. It’s a hell of a transformation from his most famous role.

I don’t think I, Tonya is anywhere near a Picture of the Year contender and it wasn’t nominated. However, the performances have been justly considered and Robbie and Janney are up for Oscars. I think Janney has a real shot but Robbie has much steeper competition in the Lead Actress category.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Its a pretty unique sports biopic, so it’s hard to say.